Archive | May 8th, 2019

Globalizing China: Confucius Institutes and the Paradoxes of Authenticity and Modernity

Confucius Institutes, the language and culture programs funded by the Chinese government, have been established in more than 1,500 high schools and colleges worldwide since their debut in 2004. A centerpiece of China’s soft power policy, they represent an effort to smooth China’s path to superpower status by enhancing its global appeal. Yet Confucius Institutes have given rise to voluble and contentious public debate in host countries, where they have been both welcomed as a source of educational funding and cultural enrichment, and feared as spy outposts, neocolonial incursions, and obstructions to academic freedom. China in the World turns an anthropological lens on this highly visible and controversial globalization project in an effort to provide fresh insight into China’s shifting place in the world.

Taking the study of soft power policy into the classroom, this article offers an anthropological intervention into a subject that has been dominated by the methods and analyses of international relations and political science. It shows that concerns about Confucius Institutes reflect broader debates over globalization and modernity and ultimately about a changing global order. Examining the production of soft power policy in situ allows us to move beyond program intentions to see how Confucius Institutes actually shape day-to-day classroom interactions. By assessing the perspectives of participants and exploring the complex ways in which students, teachers, parents, and program administrators interpret the Confucius Institute curriculum, significant gaps are revealed between China’s soft power policy intentions and the effects of those policies in practice.

China in the World brings original, long-term ethnographic research to bear on how representations of and knowledge about China are constructed, consumed, and articulated in encounters between China, the United States, and the Confucius Institute programs themselves. It moves a controversial topic beyond the realm of policy making to examine the mechanisms through which policy is implemented, engaged, and contested by a multitude of stakeholders and actors. It provides new insight into how policy actually works, showing that it takes more than financial wherewithal and official resolve to turn cultural presence into power. The chapter presented here is adapted from China in the World.

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We gathered, twenty-six American high school students and three chaperones, at a US airport, sporting matching T-shirts that advertised our group as members of the Chinese Bridge summer program sponsored by Hanban, the Beijing institute that directs the worldwide Confucian Institute programs. We were set to join more than six hundred US high school students on a seventeen-day study tour of China, starting in Beijing and then, in smaller groups of eighty to one hundred, heading to various provinces for an additional two weeks of language and culture instruction before returning to Beijing for more touring and an elaborate farewell ceremony. Each year, Hanban sponsors five to six hundred US students on a visit to China. While the students on our tour paid for their airfare and a small administrative fee, some of which was used to partially reimburse the travel fees of the chaperones, once they were in China, Hanban covered all expenses, including domestic travel, housing, meals, Chinese language classes, tourist excursions, and cultural performances. Members of our group came from a variety of local schools with Confucius Institutes and had studied Chinese for at least one year prior to our departure. Several had grown up in Chinese-speaking households in the United States and were functionally fluent in the language.1

After clearing US airport security, our Chinese Bridge group boarded a plane bound for Beijing. A layover in Tokyo offered one gleeful cluster of students an opportunity to avail themselves of “local” culture in the form of a Japanese McDonald’s, while others gathered around the chaperones in the boarding area and chatted about what to expect when we finally reached Chinese soil. Questions about bathroom facilities dominated the conversation. “Will we be able to shower every day?” one of the students asked, and students groaned when a chaperone informed them that, yes, indeed, they would encounter many squat toilets and reminded them that “you are going there partially for the experience, too.”

It was well after midnight when we arrived at our final destination, a boarding school on the outskirts of Beijing where a massive marble statue of Confucius saluted our entrance to the campus. While students were shuffled off to bed, chaperones were ushered down a dimly lit, cavernous hallway decorated on one side with a mural of China’s cultural glories (including the Potala Palace in Tibet and the terra-cotta warriors) superimposed with images of a rocket, a bullet train, and the vibrantly red 2010 Shanghai Expo China Pavilion. The text on the mural, in English and Chinese, read “Beautiful China,” providing a gloss for the meaning of these juxtaposed images. Upon reaching a large conference room, we were welcomed to Beijing by an official from Hanban who further elaborated on the mural’s combination of the traditional and the modern. Although “the Great Wall is a famous symbol,” she took care to tell us, “now Beijing is a successful and modern city. It successfully held the Olympics.” Interpreting our presence as configuring desire, she added, “I’m so glad you find Chinese culture so amazing.”

Mural on wall at Beijing boarding school. Photo by J. Hubbert

As a mechanism of soft power efforts to operationalize culture, the Chinese Bridge program hosts American high school students for a visit to China in the hope of creating a generation of citizens in foreign countries who hold favorable opinions about China and the Chinese state, thereby, as Nye explains, “getting others to want the outcomes that you want” (2004, 5) through cooptation rather than coercion. This article explores the paradoxes of modernity and authenticity that emerged as the Chinese Bridge program sought to create soft power through offering China as a new model of the global through reconfiguring local tradition in the service of a new kind of global modernity, as the mural on the wall and the introductory speech suggested. We might think of these efforts as an attempt at the hybridity of what Latour (1993) calls the paradox of the modern, in which the modern has always existed in hybrid form. While Latour theorizes this in terms of rigid dichotomies of nature/culture, we might consider how China here invokes tradition in such a way as to conceptualize it as a source of the modern that contests both representations of China as ontologically backward and the West as ontologically contemporary and theorizations of globalization that see modernity and tradition as antithetical and distinctive projections.

Soft power engagements such as CIs reflect not only how nations assess both their assets and their locations in global hierarchies of power but also the complex ways that meaning is actualized by diverse constituencies and representations rather than by policy alone. Thus, although the Chinese Bridge program provides a valuable example of the CCP’s attempt to redefine China’s place in the world by positioning the nation as an active subject rather than an object of cultural and economic flows, it also demonstrates the paradoxes of authenticity when the international targets of those policies misinterpret or reject the program’s reconfiguration of China’s changing place in the world because of their own ideas about China and about what constitutes the authenticity of local and global.2 At the same time, we note that there are different target audiences for soft power efforts and that these paradoxes are “read” differently by distinct audiences. From policy’s perspective, such paradoxes are read as “misinterpretations” by the global audience but are countered by a domestic audience whose “appropriate” reading of soft power engagements—China as an emergent embodiment of modernity and the global—encourages national unity and stability, conditions that are central to China’s global goals of projecting itself as a peaceful superpower and to its domestic goals of continued development.

Evoking International Desire for China

From the very beginning, China’s CI program has problematized the assumed processes of globalization, an example of an erstwhile peripheral target of globalization now engaging in the process as a source rather than a recipient. Historically, dominant Western representations of globalization have configured the center or the “metropole,” broadly understood as Europe and the United States, as the cradle of globalization and the model of what is considered the cosmopolitan and modern global. The “periphery” then is theorized as the parochial local as well as the object of globalization. The global, in contrast, represents the commonsensical “norm,” the unmarked universal that is an “obvious” object of desire (the West), while the local is marked as particular to a place—the counterpart of the global—quaint perhaps, but not an apparent source of universal value and practice.

The juxtaposition of the global (bullet trains and Olympic games) and the local (terra-cotta warriors and Tibetan palaces) in the CI official’s introduction and the boarding school’s mural reflected two mechanisms employed by CIs to challenge these assumptions and establish China as a model for the global. I term the first of these strategies “witnessing the modern,” through which summer program students were provided with numerous experiences that allowed students to “witness” the expected tangible results of China’s fast-track modernization and its rightful place on the global stage, phenomena that evoked what Tsing (2000a) calls the “charisma” of the global. The second strategy I term the “embodied performance of tradition,” in which students were invited to experience China as a model for a singular kind of global through encounters with traditional Chinese culture, what Schmidt labels a “politics of affect,” through which students are meant to demonstrate an appreciation of China through “mimetic cultural performance” (2013, 661). As we shall see, the first of these strategies replicates dominant concepts of the global—as a place of avant-garde architecture, high technology, and luxury consumption—while the second presents China as a new model for globalization precisely because it has resisted globalization’s homogeneity by maintaining its traditions.3

Witnessing the Modern

After two days in Beijing, the students and chaperones in the summer program were dispatched in smaller groups to various provincial cities, where they were hosted by a variety of universities that had formal affiliations with CIs in the United States. Our cohort was joined by two other groups of American students for a total of fifty students and five chaperones. We were posted to a large city in eastern China where we studied at a small inner-city branch of the university and were housed at a hotel on the outskirts of town, a thirty-minute bus ride away.4 Our host university had also built an immense new campus in the suburbs, and on our first day after leaving Beijing we were treated to a tour of the grounds and the campus’s new library, a stunning, multistoried granite building replete with floor-to-ceiling stacks of books and the latest in computer technology.

Newly constructed university campus. Photo by J. Hubbert

The university had yet to open fully for operations, and as we meandered through the otherwise silent hallways, one of the CI teachers asked a student why she was not taking pictures of the library. “They took off all the plastic on the computers for you,” she remarked, seeming to suggest that the students failed to comprehend the importance of the occasion. The students, who were no strangers to architectural grandeur and familiar with more bustling libraries, were not entirely clear about the rationale for our visit until I explained that the school was excited to show us their new campus, which was a marked material improvement from the old and somewhat decrepit buildings the university had occupied before. Although our hosts had anticipated that the students would be eager to share pictures of this architectural and technological splendor with friends and family at home, the students were not interested in replicating experiences with which they were already familiar, as their apathy and shuttered cameras suggested.5

Over the next two weeks, our excursions to such sites as museums, an airplane assembly factory, and extravagant shopping malls confirmed our hosts’ commitment to our witnessing the modern, taking routes to our destinations that revealed to us newly developed thoroughfares, luxury automobile dealerships, “villa” housing, modernist skyscrapers, and lush golf courses, all internationally recognizable as contemporary manifestations of global arrival. The sites we visited and witnessed through the bus windows reflected common expectations about what constitutes a global built environment, and scholars have noted how emerging nations, as Aihwa Ong explains, “exercise their power by assembling glass and steel towers to project particular visions of the world (2011, 1) that resemble the skylines of “global cities” such as New York and London. Ong also notes how Asian cities have emerged in the twenty-first century as “fertile sites” for architectural experiments that “reinvent what urban norms can count as ‘global’” (2011, 2). In twenty-first-century China, billions have been spent hiring the world’s most high-profile architects and constructing a skyline that, as noted architect Rem Koolhaas explains, now “rises in the East” (cited in Ong 2011, 2), drawing attention away from New York and London as the foremost sites of architectural innovation and symbols of globalization. These CI tour group excursions reconfirmed the conceptual terra firma of the built environment, offering students an opportunity to witness the monumentalization of space. These particular tours were revelations not of “we can do it differently” but of “we can do modern, and do it as well,” pedagogical experiences that substantiated an accepted form of globalization through a built environment that, while not unique or reinvented as a form of difference, was recognizable globally as a contemporary manifestation of presumed globalization.“`

Another such CI projection of China’s ability to embody the global was through introducing students to the city’s “Italian-style street”—a former Italian concession in an old Western treaty port with Italian-style buildings that had been restored and turned into a pedestrian mall. The introduction began with a film shown in the CI classroom that described the area, which we were to visit shortly, as “a dramatic experience with humanity and commerce, an emotional clash between tradition and modernity, a fantastic journey to search for exoticness and Chinese style.” With Italian opera playing in the soundtrack, the film’s sepia-toned images on-screen moved fluidly from ancient Italy to ancient China before ending in a burst of color showing China’s own version of an Italian town, a scene of well-heeled travelers, late-model cars, and rows of equal-sized Chinese and Italian flags flying side by side that suggested the equivalence of the two nations. Subsequent images featured advanced development and urban renovation, and voice-overs touted the neighborhood as the “largest place of Italian culture in Asia” and as an urban space of “unending prosperity.” Employing a language of syncretism, the lecture that followed the film explained that this neighborhood was an example of “Chinese lifestyle European architecture” and a “typical blend of Chinese and Western culture” that exhibited how “China is able to blend different cultures so successfully.” During our visit to the Italian town, we witnessed tourists being taken for rides in horse-drawn carriages by drivers wearing American-style cowboy hats and Chinese brides and grooms having their pictures taken wearing Western wedding attire. Dining on pizza and sipping Starbucks lattes despite the heat, the students experienced China as a globalized space of consumption meant to showcase the level of luxury achieved by China’s economic boom and the country’s ability to globalize in syncretic and imaginative fashion. Ong notes how oftentimes these manifestations of globalization are assumed to “create a global space that effaces national identity,” thwart “national sovereignty,” and subject local spaces to the “logic of placeless capital” (Ong 2011, 205). Yet, what we see in this case is not merely a reduction of the nation to the logic of global capital, but more what Ong calls a “play of exception,” in which it is global capital that is the tool for national sovereignty, marking the nation as the manifestation of the global for the sake of local (China’s) political power.

Riding back to our hotel, one of the CI officials sitting next to me reiterated the intended purpose of such tours, exclaiming, “This is a really worthwhile program; it changes students’ ideas about China. They realize that China is much more modern than they thought.” And indeed, students frequently expressed a new awareness. “I’m surprised at how modern China is,” one told me. “I hadn’t expected that.” Similarly, another stated, “I thought China was going to be big and crowded,” then added, with a tone of surprise, “but it’s modern.” CI teachers I talked with in the United States were accustomed to such reactions and over the years had recounted to me the sometimes anachronistic images students and parents brought into the CI classroom. “One parent asked me if we had two-story buildings,” one teacher told me, while another reported having been asked if her parents would arrange her marriage and if women still bound their feet. Although “they know about the Olympics,” this teacher continued, “I think we need to show them the real China, modern China, that it’s like the United States, the modern cities. They are surprised by this.” Yet the summer program students often appended a caveat to their appreciation of China’s modernity, such as one who noted, “But then when you’re sitting on the bus and the guide is pointing out all this modern stuff, you look on the other side and you instantly see all this real poverty. The two are right next to each other.” In these narratives, somehow “real poverty” at home in the United States had less symbolic power. While modern and antiquated were visibly contiguous in both China and the United States, modern rarely emerged for China as the predominant signifier, while poverty never emerged as an essentialized indicator of the West. And rather than the luxury car dealership, what the students chose to memorialize in their photographs was the urban Walmart, the American purveyor of inexpensive products made in China, thus configuring China as a supplier of consumption for global others rather than a model of the global, the object, not the subject, of globalization. Thus despite the CI’s effort to offer China as modernity’s embodiment, students often continued to perceive it as not quite having achieved the status of the global modern.

(Mis)Reading the Modern

After several days of such experiences, on a bus ride back to our hotel, students asked me why, if they were there to study Chinese and learn about China, we were spending long days visiting museums and airplane assembly factories and driving by car dealerships and skyscrapers. Less than a week into our seventeen-day excursion, the planned and clearly didactic activities were already beginning to wear on students’ nerves. “My mom tricked me into coming here,” one student moaned, expressing his frustration with a tour that was clearly not meeting his expectations. Attempts by Confucius Institutes to establish appreciation for China by providing evidence that would allow students to categorize China as the unmarked global rather than the particular, traditional local were not read as identification with their norms for the global but rather as betrayal and coercion. “It feels like jail, bus jail, school jail, no opportunities to just wander around,” another student moaned, slumping into a lounge chair in the hotel lobby and pulling out his cell phone to check his texts from home.

The sites that our Chinese hosts had intended to model the irreducibly global—the dramatic architecture and world-class museums—were instead being experienced by students as forms of censorship and control that reinforced common Western perceptions of China’s authoritarian political life. These students equated the “real” China they were being shown with image control, not with evidence of modernity. Rather than reading along with a narrative of spectacle that offered visions of Chinese global commensurability, they had come to view these experiences with disbelief and distrust. As we chatted one day, one of the girls said, “If I had known it was going to be all this museum stuff, I wouldn’t have come. . . . It’s all image control. . . . I would like to know what China is really like, not the PR trip we’ve been on.” While the historical eras and global hierarchies of power are different, China’s efforts to fashion a particular image through cultural exchange reflect Soviet-US/European cultural exchanges in the period between the two world wars, in which the treatment of European and American visitors to the Soviet Union speaks volumes to how the Soviet Union understood itself as a global power (David-Fox 2011). Drawing upon the concept of the Potemkin village, originally staged to deceive Catherine the Great into thinking Russia more developed than it was, Michael David-Fox explores how the Soviet Union guided foreigners through a “cultural show” (2011, 98) that staged political lessons for visitors from the capitalist West designed to counter assumptions about Russian backwardness and institute an image of Russia as the path forward for global development. This era led directly into a cultural Cold War period that David Caute characterizes as follows: “Never before had empires felt so compelling a need to prove their virtue, to demonstrate their spiritual superiority, to claim the high ground of ‘progress,’ to win public support and admiration by gaining ascendancy in each and every event of what might be styled the Cultural Olympics” (cited in David-Fox 2011, 321). Yet while the original Potemkin villages were temporary structures, designed purposefully to deceive, there was nothing either provisional or intentionally misleading about the monumental built environment featured on the CI tours that caused the skepticism. It was not so much the object but the pedagogy that proved frustrating for the students.

In case the students should miss the intended meaning of these expeditions, the guides and teachers continually engaged in a process I began to think of as the “perpetual presence of the adverb”: China had “skillfully” integrated, “rapidly” modernized, “successfully” globalized, they informed us. Teachers and guides also frequently attempted to shape the students’ learning by making sure they recognized that the intended objects of attention, in the words of one teacher, were “specific to Chinese culture and can teach us about China.” Clearly, our guides believed that China needed to be taught, not merely experienced. This belief—or at least this hope—was expressed by our host university’s vice dean of international affairs shortly before we returned to Beijing: “You must feel so proud of what you did in this short ten days. You’ve learned so many new things and had so many new experiences. It all must have impressed you and left a big impression. You can now see what Chinese culture is like. . . . You can now see what China is really like. It’s better to see than to hear.”6

Confucius Institute guides, who were themselves, as they explained to me frequently over the years, impressed by and proud of how rapidly China had come to embody these markers of the global, were perplexed by the students’ responses and questioned me about why the students failed to come to similar conclusions.7 Interpreting the students’ dissatisfaction as a result of their not yet being “used to” China, the response of the guides and teachers, like that of any good host, was to try to provide students with what teachers assumed they were accustomed to in their everyday lives.8 One day, for example, we pulled into a deserted parking lot at lunchtime and waited in confusion for fifteen minutes before employees from a local McDonald’s climbed aboard with boxes full of Big Macs, French fries, and sodas. But as we chewed on our burgers and sipped our sodas in the parking lot, the student sitting next to me, rather than appreciating these efforts, complained, “I didn’t come to China to eat McDonald’s; I came to China to eat Chinese food,” his earlier dash to the Tokyo airport McDonald’s clearly forgotten. During our visit, I often noticed similar forms of hospitality, particularly at mealtimes, when alongside Chinese food, students were offered French fries and milk. When I questioned one of our guides about the ubiquitous French fries and the trip to McDonald’s, she replied that they wanted to make the students feel comfortable and “at home.” While making the students feel at home was a marker of gracious hospitality, it also demonstrated that China, too, had McDonald’s and milk and other recognized forms of global consumption. But many students often found these reminders of home unwelcome, both because they were seeking experiences that were different from home and because these attempts were often perceived as inadequate. The French fries, the students complained, were usually cold, and the milk was always warm, suggesting to the students that despite China’s efforts to achieve global commensurability by showcasing its modernization, the nation remained, in Homi Bhabha’s words, “almost the same, but not quite” (1984, 127). Although China might have gotten monumental architecture and luxury goods right, the same could not be said about the consumption of fast food and dairy products. Hospitality, Andrew Shryock contends (2012, S20), can be seen as a “test of sovereignty,” and the students’ refusal to submit to the CI guides’ assemblage of meaning in these interactions injected doubt about China’s ability to be the protective host and to model the global.9

The more our hosts provided material examples of China’s modernity that were meant to stress China’s rightful position on the global stage, the more their efforts were met with skepticism from the students, setting off what Robert Albro calls “boundary-patrolling” discourses that reify cultural difference and confirm negative stereotypes rather than promote diplomacy (Albro 2015). Indeed, as we exited a museum after having listened to detailed information on the building’s spectacular architecture and world-class status, and on China’s history of persecution at the hands of foreign imperialists, two students pulled me aside and asked why the museum tour guide “seems to leave out stuff and make it always seem like they [the Chinese] are the good guys.” The students were clearly either ignoring or blissfully unaware of how their own historical textbooks engaged in similar practices. “It’s all so controlled,” another grumbled. The CI program’s categories and opportunities for witnessing the modern had produced “zones of boredom and unreadability” (Tsing 2005,172). Confucius Institute attempts to relocate the locus of the global, to construct a global marker of appreciation for China through powerful and even charismatic evidentiary moments of categorization and validation, were not read by students as identification but rather as coercion.

Embodying Tradition

In short, Hanban’s efforts to produce soft power sometimes failed to resonate with American students. While Hanban strove to present an image of the Chinese nation as universally modern, student responses suggest that rather than commonality, commensurability, and evidence of China’s status as a global power, they sought particularity and what they perceived to be Chinese authenticity. The Chinese Bridge program attempted to fulfill that desire and advance its soft power objectives with a second strategy of presenting China not only as a worthy member of the global community but also as a superior model of globalization that, by maintaining a vibrant traditional “local” culture rather than succumbing to Western cultural imperialism, rejected the widespread perception that globalization initiates the cultural homogenization of the world.

The form of local particularity emphasized in CI programming and curriculum around the world highlights a China defined not only by its global modernization but also by its long cultural tradition. As Schmidt has argued, Hanban’s presentation of Chinese tradition suggests an attempt to “replace affective economies of fear” regarding China’s place in the world with “affective economies of a beneficial and good PRC” by making Chinese culture fun (2014, 357). I also suggest that this turn to tradition entails an attempt to restructure relations of global and local. As Jean Comaroff and John Comaroff have highlighted, “|‘Locality’ is not everywhere, nor for every purpose, the same thing; sometimes it is a family, sometimes a town, a nation, sometimes a flow or a field, sometimes a continent or even the world; often it lies at the point of articulation among two or more of these things” (1999, 294). It is this point of articulation that is important here, for the CIs thus not only posed China as challenging what “counts” for the local and the global; they also suggested a reconceptualization of the relationship between the local and the global.

Hanban headquarters. Photo by J. Hubbert

The first stop on the Chinese Bridge program’s tour of Beijing was a trip to Hanban headquarters, an interactive and educational space that offered a glimpse of how local tradition would be rendered and experienced over the next two weeks. In the “Exploratorium” section, an instructional space that resembled US children’s museums by offering opportunities for hands-on manipulation of artifacts and computerized lessons on history, students could don Beijing opera costumes, manipulate beads on a massive abacus, make paper and print a book, and view ink-brush paintings, all either common symbols of traditional Chinese culture or recognized examples of historically advanced technological accomplishments. Students could also take computer quizzes asking such questions as “Which of the following is in Beijing: the Terra Cotta Warriors or the Temple of Heaven?”—an ostensible geography question that also called attention to globally recognized historic and cultural splendors of China. In a nearby room, students engaged in more applied activities, moving between tables staffed by arts and crafts experts demonstrating how to paint Beijing opera masks, tie Chinese knots, and cut paper into intricate forms, and offering samples for interested students to take home.10

The lessons on cultural tradition continued later that afternoon and into the evening. Our visit to Hanban headquarters was followed by stops at a Confucian temple and a Tibetan Buddhist temple, which the tour guide framed as examples of China’s ethnic harmony, cultural focus on education, and religious freedom (the last of these “as long as it doesn’t get too political,” he explained). During our evening lecture, titled “Getting to Know China,” the speaker referenced these afternoon activities and explained that Confucianism is key to understanding Chinese thought, emphasizing its philosophical focus on social order, good government, harmony, education, and filial piety (joking “That’s why we have tiger moms”). Much of his lecture provided background information intended to set the stage for the presentation of cultural traditions that would dominate our activities for the remainder of our visit, including discussions of yin-yang symbols, calligraphy, Chinese food, the Chinese zodiac, and the color red.

What was omitted from this lecture became visible when the speaker ended his presentation with a question-and-answer session. One student, speaking in Chinese, seemed to equate Chairman Mao with the absolute rulers of China’s imperial past by asking why the speaker had excluded Mao from his hurried list of Chinese historical dynasties. His face clouding over, the speaker brusquely responded that the last dynasty had ended in 1911, well before Mao came to power, and that Mao was not an emperor. The student, looking confused, asked her question again in English, which revealed that she had actually meant to ask why cats (a word that in Chinese has the same sound as Mao) had not been included in the list of zodiac signs. What had been perceived as a challenge to the lecturer’s apparent repression of contentious figures in Chinese history was in fact merely a reference to a cultural product (the Chinese lunar calendar) that is standard pedagogical fare in CI classrooms and was invoked frequently during the rest of our journey.11

After leaving Beijing, on most days the students gathered for several hours of Chinese instruction in the morning and after lunch for lectures on traditional culture and historic sites, including such topics as tile-roofed architecture, Confucianism, and the terra-cotta warriors. Following the lectures, local experts would demonstrate China’s art and craft traditions and then set students free to try their hands at cutting “double happiness” symbols from red paper, painting Beijing opera masks, and tying Chinese knots. These activities not only replicated almost exactly those at Hanban headquarters but were staple activities in CIs’ pedagogical method of combining language learning and cultural appreciation activities, and thus the students had “performed” China this way many times before in their CC classrooms.12

Opera mask activities. Photo by J. Hubbert

As I watched the students perform China through these activities over the span of our visit, it increasingly became clear that the practices intended to promote soft power had actually backfired in several ways. While this may have been a result of cultural differences in expectations—with American students perhaps less tolerant of repetition and uniformity than their hosts expected—their effectiveness also appeared limited by Hanban’s strategy of defining authenticity as “Culture with a capital C,” demonstrated by these projects’ failure to produce the intended admiration and appreciation. “Do we really have to do this?” one student moaned as an instructor pulled out piles of red paper and boxes of scissors to explain traditional Chinese paper-cutting techniques, complaining that “I’ve done this so many times.” To spur interest, one of the chaperones suggested having a competition for the best paper cut, but it seemed to have little effect, as evidenced by a row of boys in the back napping with their heads on the tables. And on opera-mask-painting day, students engaged not only in eye rolling and nap taking, but also, to the displeasure of the teachers, took considerable poetic license with their projects, several of which more closely resembled characters from Planet of the Apes and Batman than standard Chinese opera characters. As one student said to me toward the end of our seventeen-day tour, stressing the last word, “I want to come back on a college overseas trip, but not on a Confucius Institute trip. I want more culture, not all this Culture.

Students were eager to experience culture with an anthropological lowercase c, a different kind of particularity than was offered by the CI program. The contrast between the normalized “global” Chinese culture presented by the Chinese Bridge program and the exoticized local Chinese culture desired by the students demonstrates the gaps that can occur between soft power policy intentions and their actual effects. The students’ grumbling was not about China itself but about the didacticism and pedestrian classes and art projects through which it was being presented.13 Their days were structured from morning until night, with neither opportunity nor permission to explore beyond the confines of the mandated tour activities. The frames of reference through which Hanban attempted to advance China as characterizing the global remained illegible to the students, highlighting the paradoxical notions of authenticity that the various actors brought to the setting. Precisely because China has not consistently preserved past traditions within the modern, Hanban could only resort to paper cutting and terra-cotta warriors as emblematic of “tradition.” And yet, the authentic local offered by the CIs through these traditional practices had become so common and normalized—so global—that they no longer constituted a form of essentialized difference or at least the exoticized difference sought by students, as we will see in the following pages.

While the final week of our visit continued this pattern of language instruction, visits to historical sites and cultural monuments, meals with host families, and traditional arts and crafts projects, the afternoons were now dominated by hours of practice for a grand finale performance that would be presented in Beijing on the last evening of our stay. Local instructors had choreographed traditional and modern dance routines and selected students to perform, dressing them in traditional Chinese minority and Han costumes accessorized with feathered fans and elaborate headdresses. I grinned as I watched one Chinese American student, outfitted in a leopard-print costume, leap across the floor and proclaim himself the “Asian Macklemore,” a reference to the Seattle-based American rapper, and grimaced as I overheard the following exchange between two students: “What do we win if we’re the best group?” “Nothing. They make you stay in China longer.”

Preparing for the grand performance. Photo by J. Hubbert

During the final performance in Beijing, students from all over the United States came together to perform their routines. One group break-danced to Taiwanese pop idol Jay Chou’s hit sensation “Qinghuaci” (Blue and White Porcelain), a melodramatic love song that evokes traditional Chinese art forms, while another performed a tightly choreographed paean to filial piety that included prostrations before an immense image of Confucius and was set to a Chinese song about respecting one’s parents and elders. Still others mimicked the elaborate kung fu moves of Shaolin monks set to music. In the finale, all the performers joined onstage to sing and dance to “Beijing Welcomes You,” a theme song of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

These kinds of cultural performances are standard fare in China, similar most notably in the popular Chinese New Year Gala, an extravagant dance and musical variety show regularly viewed by more than 90 percent of the population (Liu Kang 2012, 928). Comparable state-sponsored “minority” performances featuring dancers and musicians in ethnic dress performing “traditional” routines are also common, an attempt to demonstrate China’s ethnic heterogeneity and multiculturalism.14 But the students themselves tended eventually to see these performances as what Dean MacCannell has termed “staged authenticity” (1976, 91), a phrase that implies the opposite of authenticity. Well before our arrival back in Beijing, many of the students in our group had wearied of Hanban’s attempts at inducing students to embody tradition; paper cutting, painting opera masks, and dressing up in traditional and minority costumes were not the form of authenticity they hoped to encounter during their visit, where they sought to learn about what they understood to be “the real China,” not Hanban’s sanitized version.

Ironically, the soft power objectives of the Chinese Bridge program were often more effectively met by moments in which the more blatant attempts to win hearts and minds were trumped by the unplanned and unintended. The unscheduled and unguided evening activities of the students illuminate some of the disparate assumptions and objectives of the China tour held by students and Hanban officials and teachers. The highly scripted days of the program often ended with students, tired and frustrated, wandering around the hotel hallways in search of experiences that seemed less derivative and universal. Because our hotel was located in a newly emerging area of town that afforded little in the way of entertainment and commerce, I frequently found myself the leader of unscripted nighttime excursions to an adjacent outdoor night market. Chinese night markets are typically informal and dynamic open-air spaces that come to life after sunset. This particular market was tucked into a corner of an intersection of two main thoroughfares and consisted of temporary stalls set up largely by migrants to the region or laid-off local laborers to market their various foodstuffs.

Most of the food at the market was quite unfamiliar to Americans, including baby octopus skewers, deep-fried grubs on a stick, “stinky tofu,” and spicy mutton. Yet, upon our arrival at the market, the students would race from stall to stall, asking questions about the cuisine, pantomiming animatedly when their rudimentary Chinese proved insufficient or enlisting my help with translation, and purchasing various food items, the more unrecognizable the better. Using their cell phone cameras, which were constantly out, they captured images of the sellers, the fare, and fellow students. “This is the real China,” one exclaimed as she stuffed a pungent bite of stinky tofu into her mouth. After our first visit, other students pleaded with me to accompany them to the market upon hearing that this was where one could find what they understood to be a genuine version of China. These market excursions provided students with an opportunity to experience what they perceived as a form of Chinese authenticity, in which snacking on unidentified creatures roasted on a stick delineated the “real.” To students, the value of these encounters rested upon a margin of essentialized difference that could not be overcome by the host university’s endeavors to improve the image of China by providing them with the global familiar or the prepackaged traditional. Student constructions of authenticity were based on consumption of the forbidden, the off-plan, the exotic unknown. Yet, what they placed value on was not the object of consumption itself, which was typically proclaimed “gross” by those who consumed it, but the act of consumption.15 Here the students performed China for each other and for the recipients of their Instagrams and Snapchats back home, mugging grimaces after ingesting deep-fried silkworm or smirking with octopus legs protruding from the corners of their mouths. Here the exotic indigestible was the object of a desire not to satisfy hunger, but for adventure and difference that reinforced, one could argue, their own sense of cosmopolitanism and globality, and their teenaged pushing at boundaries.16

Other visits to various retail outlets illustrated the distinctions between what students and guides considered culture that spoke positively for China. When our guides took us to upscale shopping malls whose luxury rivaled anything in the United States, students would wander around in desultory fashion and complain about the excursion. They appeared to come alive, though, on shopping trips to the informal markets that sold imitation Western products and inexpensive Chinese handicrafts. Indeed, some of the most animated discussions of the trip consisted of “battle stories” about bargaining with merchants for fake Beats headphones and Converse knock-offs. As a student I interviewed in the United States explained, visiting the “fake brands market” was “really cool”: when her group went to the market, “they [the merchants] tried to rip us off, of course.” She found this to be “the funnest part of the trip.” Seeming to reinforce the hierarchies of difference and power the program was intended to refute, the “fun” for this and other students lay in conquering the local by refusing to pay the higher prices targeted for global tourists, demanding that the market salesperson surrender to their demands to lower the price of their counterfeit goods. Rather than situate China as a model of the modern global, these excursions offered a space for the relatively affluent to enact their self-conceptions as knowing, cosmopolitan travelers not willing to be duped in a market whose flexible pricing was based on one’s skin tone or, for the phenotypically Asian students, one’s Chinese language abilities.

While students in general complained about the cold French fries, warm milk, lack of hot water, and somewhat dilapidated living conditions, they were forgiving of what they perceived to be the authentic China—symbolized here in exotic foodstuffs and bargaining for merchandise. Even if the food was “gross” and goods were overpriced imitations, they were imagined as involving experiences of the real China. That student assessments of local authenticity reflected not only the object (exotic food or branded products) but the form of its delivery (night markets or upscale shopping centers) was perhaps most visible when the CI offered this same “culture” but in a different format—alien foodstuffs at an expensive restaurant. By the end of our stay outside Beijing, the teachers and guides had become aware of student complaints and responded by trying to add activities to the standard Hanban package in order to counteract students’ seeming weariness with the familiar.17 One of these special activities was a guided boat tour of the city’s river that meandered through the downtown region, an experience that one of our guides suggested would allow us to witness the “spectacular sights and impressive development of the city,” while another was an elaborate and costly lunch at a local restaurant that was renowned for its preparation of a local delicacy called goubuli.18 During the lunch, the goubuli buns were accompanied by an endless stream of intricate delicacies that were greeted with vocal approbation by the Chinese guests and skepticism by the students, who found the food unfamiliar in texture and taste and ate very little, to the dismay of their hosts, who had spent a good deal of money on the adventure and gone to great lengths to procure last-minute tables at this popular upscale restaurant. Although the dishes at the banquet were no more “exotic” than those the students consumed so gleefully at the night market, they remained largely untouched and students complained to me that they were being “forced” to attend another boring public relations production. As Mei Zhan reports of a similar incident when soccer star David Beckham toured China and refused to consume the “exotic” dishes of a celebratory banquet in his honor, for the students, this food, in this context, was coded as the “imaginary of a traditional, exotic Chinese culture out of sync with a cosmopolitan world” (2005, 33). In contrast, the teachers and guides who accompanied us were aghast at the waste that sat before them and on the return bus revealed that they had not eaten because their university could not afford the extra expense of feeding everyone. As we got off the bus and the teachers ran into the cafeteria to see if any food remained from lunch, it was clear that the lunch had reproduced differences that confirmed rather than challenged students’ sense that China continued to lack the necessary ingredients to be counted as “global.”

Even when the CI offered particularity through opportunities to perform and consume the local, the activities failed to bridge the gap in expectations of the students, who resisted CI offerings of culture as tainted by an attempt to render them malleable soft power targets. These perceptions seemed confirmed when, at the end of our stay in China, students were required to compose final essays describing their experiences and many of them wrote about the excitement over their night market encounters for what they considered to be authentic China. One, for example, wrote as follows: “One night my friend and I got invited to visit the night market and we really wanted to go. Once we got there, I instantly loved it. Even though there were so many exotic foods and smells, I was out of the hotel and just enjoyed being out and experiencing in person instead of from a bus window. That night I felt adventurous and I managed to try a larva and octopus! It was really interesting and fun. . . . Overall I really enjoy walking on the streets day or night and just feel immersed into the culture because that it is why I wanted to come to China.”

However, when students turned in their essays, CI teachers quickly instructed them to remove references to their night market adventures and instead highlight Hanban-sanctioned activities that reflected the official intentions and values of the Chinese Bridge program. When one of the teachers explained to me that the students “need to mention the extra things that Hanban has done for them,” such as “the special lunch and the boat ride,” and I passed on this request to the students, they moaned, “But the night market was my favorite.” But by then, students had gotten the message that Hanban meant to communicate China as an exemplary peaceful first world nation, not a land of bizarre indigestibles. Along with their required essays, they were asked to hand in a copy of their favorite picture of their time in China, and I overheard two debating which one to chose. One asked the other, “Which official picture are you going to send?”—by “official” clearly referring to a picture that would portray China “appropriately” in the eyes of the CIs. Acerbically, her friend responded, “They want the photo to show the way they want you to see it, and then you need to say thank you.” The tourist boat trip, opera masks, and traditional foodstuffs in an upmarket restaurant intended to improve China’s image had simply fed into student skepticism and perceptions of propaganda and, by this time, a desire for home.

Russell Cobb notes how the word “authenticity” is only “a few linguistic paces removed from the word ‘authoritarian’” (2014, 1), and the paradox of authenticity could hardly be less palpable in these student CI experiences. While students were unable to articulate what, for them, constituted the authentic real of China, they presumed that anything prepackaged by Hanban, precisely because it was prepared, could not count for an authentic China/local that might be understood as an alternative form of modernity. Although students identified their own subject positions as grounded in and attributed to a universal global, China reemerged in these excursions as the parochial local that rendered their own resolute globality possible. In this construction, students embodied the global and China the local, and the CI program, rather than successfully producing a vision of China as an alternative global through invoking authentic tradition, offered the opportunity to produce the students as the “adepts” (Orta 2013, 697) who managed the global. As for students in the MBA study tours in Mexico studied by Andrew Orta, these excursions in China were “value added” projects that boosted their own worth as global citizens (Orta 2013, 697) rather than that of the Chinese nation, precisely because of their ability to recognize and manage the authentic local.

Evoking Domestic Desire for China

The paradoxes of modernity and authenticity seemingly inherent in the CI program did not necessarily mean the China tours were entirely unsuccessful in terms of their goals of soft power production, both because there were always a few students who truly enjoyed their experiences and, as is discussed in this section, because there is more than one type of spectator whose opinion and support are at stake. As student experiences of this tour frequently revealed, the more Hanban’s instrumentalization of culture became apparent—the less “authentic” and more “authoritarian” it was perceived—the more it fed into students’ worst perceptions about China’s structures of governance and control. However, translating culture into national comprehensive power on the global stage requires more than the acquiescence of a global audience; soft power is not reducible to the realm of international diplomacy. As scholars of soft power have observed in general, power in the global arena also necessitates domestic approval of processes and practices that structure China’s place in the world (Barr 2012; Cai 2010) and as Ingrid d’Hooghe (2014) has observed in particular, Chinese officials recognize that soft power and public diplomacy also serve an important domestic function.19 Framing the CIs solely as a tool of global persuasion misses an important point about the language programs as a form of domestic soft power in which China tells a story to its own citizens about globalization in order, as Shanghai’s Tongji University scholar Cai Jianguo explains of another soft power project, to provide “my nation” and “Chinese people” with the opportunity to “learn from the [2010 Shanghai] Expo through embracing the latest achievements of human civilization” (Cai 2010). Considering soft power from a domestic perspective also allows us to grapple with the rise of China in a more complex fashion than common discourses of a global Chinese threat might suggest.

Before I ventured to China on the Chinese Bridge program, a principal at a high school with a CI reassured me that in his experience, although “there’s a blatant propaganda element to all of this trip” that would “include a lot of cheesy photo opportunities . . . the photos are as intrusive as it gets, no one’s trying to indoctrinate anyone. These photos end up on the desks of politicians, who can say, ‘See what we do’.” What this comment about photos ending up on official desktops suggests is that soft power efforts are intended not only to provide global audiences with information but also to respond to domestic concerns about authority, representation, and CI program expense.20 While, for instance, Italy Town might seem to a global audience just another unauthorized reproduction of global products akin to the fake designer handbags that proliferate at informal markets in China, to a domestic audience it might indicate the authenticity of the nation’s globalization and encourage the nation’s citizens to “feel confident in their homeland and [promote] a sense of belonging” (Barr 2012, 82). Chinese scholars have argued that soft power must assume a holistic approach and be developed both internationally and domestically through “making China’s culture . . . attractive to both a Chinese and an international audience (Glaser and Murphy 2009, 20). The soft power of spectacle, in other words, depends as much on the specific audience as it does on the performance itself.21

Scholars have argued that being “global” means to be perceived as the site of universal desire and value “that needs no justification” (Handler 2013, 186; see also Ho 2009 and Orta 2013). A central facet of reconceptualizing what counts as local and global—as China is trying to do—thus involves the production and materialization of desire, something that is at the heart of soft power efforts. And on our first day in Beijing, we were given several hints of the mechanisms through which soft power productions were also a domestic mode of engagement that sought to show a local audience the world’s desire for China’s globalization. It was also clear that attempts to illustrate desire for China were not entirely directed toward a global audience. The hour-long bus ride from our dorm to Hanban headquarters on our first day in Beijing took us past suburban housing developments with such names as Beijing Riviera and Palm Beach, reproductions of a more commonly assumed flow of desire from East to West. Upon our arrival, however, desire that was represented as flowing instead from West to East was on immediate and evident display. In the first room of our headquarters tour, glass cases arranged in a maze-like formation led viewers through a display on the history and current state of the CI program. One of the first displays began with a quote from Wang Yongli, current deputy director of Hanban: “China, like an economic giant, suddenly appears in front of the world and everybody is shocked. They want to know the history and the home of this giant.” The global encounter in that case was embodied by a young Chinese teacher assigned to the CI at the London School of Economics, where she tutored “high profile business professionals from London’s bustling economic sector in Chinese for business dealings.” This display’s illustration of the world “working together” presented CIs not as an attempt by China to push its programs onto an unwilling global population but as a response to a demand for Chinese for the purpose of increasing the economic productivity of Europe.22 The direction of this desire was later reinforced by a display that quoted a statement by the director of an American CI at a major US university that the US government itself was “pushing for students to learn Chinese.”23 As an affirmation of Hanban’s success in fulfilling that American desire, a nearby poster declared that 82 percent of surveyed Confucius Institute students liked the program, 76 percent believed that learning Chinese would help them in the future, and 75 percent were interested in visiting China. While this display could easily be interpreted as an attempt to convince the American students and chaperones of the direction of desire—we were, after all, the invited guests—in practice it was the Chinese teachers and guides who composed the main audience. Students assiduously avoided the display cases in favor of the more interactive sections of the building, while the CI teachers and guides with whom I toured the building and read the promotional information on display remarked consistently with both surprise and pride at the spread of the CIs around the world and at how much China had accomplished in such a short time.24

This first day at headquarters provided us with a second hint of the mechanisms through which soft power productions were also a domestic mode of engagement in the form of a fifteen-foot banner that identified us as part of the Chinese Bridge program and accompanied us for the duration of our stay in China. The welcome speech that day was followed by the first of many photo sessions of the students with CI administrators and chaperones in which those in front were kneeling and holding the banner. For all seventeen days, we were rarely without a professional photographer documenting our experience in China, the banner unfurled and our visit memorialized at museums, airplane factories, Beijing opera performances, airports, and restaurants and through the images and videos that were reproduced in local media and on the Hanban Web page that evening or the following day.

On our visit to the airplane factory, for instance, our guides positioned us in front of the massive corporate sign outside the entrance gate holding the banner as the official photographer took numerous pictures, simultaneously documenting our American presence and China’s accomplishments in the field of aviation. The next day, one of the young tour guides ran up to me after breakfast and asked excitedly if I had seen the local news that evening, which had featured a story about our presence in the city and visit to the factory that included our picture with the banner. Rather than address an overseas audience, this story offered Chinese citizens the opportunity to behold foreigners appreciating China’s global modernity under the tutelage and beneficence of the CI program. Hanban’s efforts to demonstrate China as an object of desire by inviting six hundred American students to consume its globalization also provided evidence to its domestic population, which might read the very presence of the students as desire for China.

Yet, as I had suspected from earlier conversations with American CI administrators and as became increasingly evident throughout our time in China, the CI photographers’ photos and videos were not randomly composed but highlighted a particular type of foreigner desiring China’s global modernity and consequently challenging what counts for the global and assumed object of desire. Although half of the students in our group were phenotypically Asian, the photographers typically focused their lenses on our Caucasian members.25 This intention could be observed even on our first-day visit to Hanban headquarters, where the opening exhibit of the world’s CIs consisted almost exclusively of photographs of European and US CIs. This was augmented by a continuously looping video of the previous year’s Hanban-sponsored international Chinese Bridge language competition, which featured only the Caucasian and a few African youth exhibiting their Chinese language skills in performances and “expressing warmly their love of China.”26

This process of particularizing the ethnically appropriate target of soft power policy began even before the students arrive in China. One of the American CI administrators on the Chinese Bridge trip that summer explained to me that when the program first began, Hanban had been explicit about which ethnic groups were eligible for the program, and another administrator reported that she once had to advocate specifically for the inclusion of a couple of Chinese American students, arguing that, because these particular students spoke better Chinese, they could assist the non–Chinese language speakers. Yet another related a story about the trouble several years ago their group had including a Chinese American student who had been adopted from China. Yet over time, the programs became increasingly unable to fill their available slots with non–ethnically Asian students, and by the year of my visit half of our group consisted of children of immigrants from China, Chinese children adopted by Caucasian parents, and other Chinese Americans. Nonetheless, the final video montage of our group’s activities revealed this preference for the white witness, as nearly all the close-ups were of non-Asian students. Similarly, the two students who were chosen to introduce the final celebratory performance in Beijing that was performed in front of a line-up of dignitaries from central headquarters appeared to be the two blondest, most classically “foreign” girls of the six hundred students invited to China. One who was observably not selected for her prowess in the language, ended her introductory address exclaiming in Chinese, “I love you, I love China.”

This emphasis on the white foreigner desiring China projects a particular claim about China’s global position, one that upends extant racial hierarchies that undergird global hierarchies of power. Although the Chinese American students in our group were largely invisible in the visual record of the program, they themselves largely rejected the “brother” and “sister” appellations they were subjected to in public markets or in the assumption, by teachers and guides, that they felt some sort of “natural” affinity for China. Their responses to the program instead reinforced their own structural “whiteness” as members of a middle class who failed to engage with the CIs’ offerings that were intended to produce appreciation. Playing on this identity, one of the Chinese American students, when called upon in class to write a paragraph in Chinese, jokingly responded in an indignant voice, “What do you think I look like, Chinese?”

Despite this structural whiteness of the Asian American students, Hanban photographers time and time again overlooked those students who presented less obvious “difference” from the local norm, less seeming need for education about China, and less symbolic power as a CI soft power policy target.27 In the displays at headquarters, the promotional videos, and the closing ceremony, it was the white foreigner, the assumed universal norm, who was revealed as appreciating the Chinese other. This marks a reversal of common assumptions of desire that challenges the directionality of globalization and the assumption that global means whiteness. Yet as I sat in the closing ceremony pondering the photography and the performance, the obvious delight of the first two rows of the audience, which were filled with visiting dignitaries from Hanban and other governmental offices, and the massive Chinese couplet that framed the stage on both sides quoting the last line of an esoteric Tang dynasty poem by Shi Jianwu—“Conviction allows one to cope with changes in the world”—it was also evident that the white foreigner was not the only potential target of Hanban’s representational efforts. It was unlikely that the students and US chaperones around me could either read or comprehend the couplet’s message that the global order was indeed changing and that China was offering a new model for managing that change. Its message addressed not only China’s power in the international realm but its national cohesion and cultural significance in the domestic context,28 offering visions of national greatness in the interest of state power to a local audience.29 Soft power production in this case is as much in the interest of enhancing domestic governance and civic pride as it is about global competitiveness.30

This pleasure among Chinese officials and guests in seeing the students perform Chinese culture so successfully, despite the students’ often negative responses to the cultural activities of the Chinese Bridge tour, to a certain extent reflects, perhaps counterintuitively, a measure of success for the CIs in their ability to have globalized China. While student expectations for authentic cultural difference were not met by the paper cutting and opera masks, these practices and images had become so common and normalized that they no longer constituted some form of essentialized difference. Students had mastered paper cutting and knot tying, they could already sing along to Jay Chou, and they were familiar with the basic tenets of Confucian philosophy that stressed the importance of family ties and education. Thus rather than analyze Hanban’s efforts merely as hackneyed attempts to create desire, we can also see how these invocations of tradition are central to China’s claims of political legitimacy domestically (Hubbert 2017) and, in the context of the CIs, constitute a key method of soft power strategy for a nation that sees its cultural heritage as a “huge reservoir of great and positive assets” (Guo 2008, 28). Watching students confirm this was clearly a joyful experience for the domestic audience.

Conclusion: An Economy of Appearances

This chapter has explored one of Hanban’s most popular programs, the annual Chinese Bridge travel-study excursion to China for high school students studying Chinese at CIs in the United States. The program seeks to contest conceptions of the global as a fixed space located in the West and to offer contemporary China and its traditional culture as sites for the production and expression of alternative ways of being global. The summer program was not suggesting the universal promotion of Confucius or opera masks—the content itself is somewhat irrelevant—but arguing that a nation may be “global” through the production of the resolutely and authentically “local.” Yet the fundamental problem for China’s attempts to establish soft power through this reconfiguration returns directly to the product itself and the fraught nature of “culture” as a form of power. For it was clear in the Chinese Bridge program that not all culture is equal and official strategies for the promotion of soft power through Chinese culture collided with student expectations of what constituted the “real” cultured China. While Hanban sought to remap the United States as China’s frontier zone of possibilities, the students were more likely to see China as their own untamed Wild West, to be conquered as a marker of their own cosmopolitanism, not China’s. Summer programming worked to redefine globalization and position China as a subject rather than an object of cultural and economic flows, and as an initiator of what it means to be global, yet the objects of its soft power efforts often failed to recognize it as such; the officially authentic local sometimes emerged as “jail,” reinforcing perceptions of censorship and political control. And bizarre indigestibles, perceived as the truly authentic, constructed value, but not for China. Similar to how Chinese medicine operates as a “bridge” between cultures (Zhan 2009), the “bridge” of the Chinese Bridge program is not easily spanned. This is because, for “East and West, China and America . . . are not fixed and easily identifiable nodes within circuits of globalization but rather are shifting and uneven spatiotemporal imaginaries produced and refigured through particular translocal encounters” (Zhan 2009, 179).

Yet, it is not merely a “gap” between policy and practice that is at work here, nor a necessary result of a set of practices that produce policy only “in the sense that actors . . . devote their energies to maintaining coherent representations regardless of events” (Mosse 2005, 2). As this chapter has explored, the CI production of power for China occurred sometimes through the nonscripted, ad hoc, off-policy experiences of China, rather than the planned excursions and characterizations, and sometimes had little relationship with policy itself. Rather, these frictions emerge through the inherent paradoxes in the forms of global modernity and authenticity promoted through the CIs and anticipated and experienced by the students, manifest in this case in the illustrations and expectations of global and local on the part of both policy makers and policy targets.

To invoke, in a modified manner, Anna Tsing’s idea of an economy of appearances—what she defines as the dramatization of dreams that attracts investors (2000b, 118)—here the CI economy of appearances depends upon the simultaneous production of geographic and dramatic performances, the self-conscious making of a spectacle to aid in the gathering of power (Tsing 2000b, 118). Tsing’s discussion of the economy of appearances renders evident how analyses of the global frequently juxtapose both its physical presence and its spectacular conception to an imagined, parochial Other, understood as the “local.” Here, the geographic production of globalization arrives in the form of the Chinese presence of some seventeen hundred CIs around the world, evidence, Hanban’s displays suggest, of the world’s desire. And when CI critics equate the growth of CIs with a necessary diminution of US power, it is presence that is fetishized as performance, marking a successful economy of appearances in which the “self-conscious making of a spectacle” (Tsing 2005, 57) emerges as a form of presumed state power. Yet global presence remains insufficient as a foundation for embodying the global, and China must also dramatize, through the actions of those who are meant to “desire” China, a coherent narrative and practice of globalization to render geographic presence an efficacious source of power. Hanban expects the students to appreciate the glories of China’s ancient past andrevel in its astonishing modernity and yet fails to grasp the paradoxes in trying to present both simultaneously as markers of an authentic globalization. The oxymoronic goals of convincing a foreign audience of China’s modernity by stressing its glorious past represent an attempt at rewriting the implicit rules of the source and directionality of globalization and its constitution but appear to have in this case reinforced the juxtaposition between the spectacular conception of physical global presence and its imagined, parochial Other. Victims of Hanban’s own “success” at globalizing the CI programs, the authentic ancient, now standard fare around the world, emerged in its origins as a metaphorical cousin of authoritarian politics.

Indeed, after most of the Chinese Bridge’s scheduled programs were completed and the only thing left was the farewell ceremony and a bus ride to the airport, students were instructed to complete an exit survey that included, among many others, two questions that asked, “Do you intend to further your study in China?” and “If not, do you plan to learn Chinese in the future?” Interestingly, many of the students answered the first question in the negative and the second in the positive, not intending to study Chinese within China in the future, but continuing to learn the language. While the tour may have frequently rendered the object “China” problematic, “Chinese” may persist as an object of desire. In that case, language remains intact as an intended soft power attraction and route to the global, but sometimes only when divorced from the broader intended object of desire—China—itself. Through attending to both policy strategy and engagements in practice, we can see more clearly not only how China is working to challenge expectations for the global, but also how soft power policy effect is more than the sum of its intentional parts. It also allows us to expand our conception of soft power’s audience and hence of soft power policy’s effects since policy envisions different communities in relation to different goals and encounters, and “success” may also be defined by the reactions of the domestic audience as well as the foreign global.


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Jennifer Hubbert is Associate Professor of Anthropology and Asian studies and chair of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon.

Global Research is indebted to The Asia Pacific Journal for having brought this important article to our attention


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Such sponsored trips explain some of the enthusiasm of cash-strapped US school administrators, for they can bolster the students’ study abroad and cultural enrichment opportunities at no cost to the school.

I focus here on the disparities between policy intention and policy actualization to highlight the more common results of soft power policy effects. Of our group of twenty-six students, there were two or three who reacted far more positively than the rest to the program’s soft power intentions. These students tended to be those who received special validation for their language proficiency or who found themselves the target of attention they were not used to receiving at home because they specifically sought the company of the guides and teachers while other students tended to gather among themselves.

My conversations with CI teachers and administrators also revealed that CIs were intended to enhance China’s own globalization process, for example, through fostering business connections that would promote economic development and academic exchanges that would enhance domestic university reputations as “global” universities. Refers to Chinese universities not the American ones, right?

All names and places have either been changed or excised from the text for purposes of anonymity. Many universities in China have similarly moved their urban campuses to or built satellite campuses in more rural locations, both because they need to expand and because the property is far less expensive.

Taylor (2014, 219) invokes the felicitously phrased concept of the “pity of modernity” to illustrate the disappointment of tourists who discover signs of global modernization in the very places they are hoping to find local difference. This describes succinctly the frustrations of the students who went to China predominantly seeking exoticism and distinction, not commensurability.

This reflects a belief that, as one Chinese college president declared, “Many westerners’ biases toward China result from their lack of understanding of the essence of the Chinese culture” and that “promotion of the Chinese culture is a good remedy for dissolving the ‘China threat’ argument” (cited in Lai 2012, 85).

Given what they revealed about their training, they were also likely instructed to respond in such a manner.

CI teachers I interviewed in the United States who had acted as chaperones on these Chinese Bridge summer trips sometimes expressed frustration with the lack of appreciation expressed by the American students and chaperones. One invoked a comparison with gift giving to express his sense that this behavior was inappropriate. “When you receive a gift, even if you don’t like it, you don’t criticize it.”

The presence of such markers of the global, as the McDonald’s that dot the landscape and internationally lauded contemporary architecture, reveals an environment ripe for the global production of soft power; indeed it is globalization that enables the production of soft power and demands it assume a prominent role in international relations (Nye 2004). Yet, as Kalathil argues (2011), this same environment also has the potential to reveal the gaps between soft power narratives and perceptions of “reality”: the contiguous modernity and poverty and the cold French fries became instead experiences through which students refuted efforts to equate globalization with being a model of or for the global.

10 Schmidt’s 2014 essay provides an extensive description and analysis of the Exploratorium.

11 Several years later, I was reminded of this incident of misinterpretation while observing a CI class at a high school. While discussing the AP Chinese test’s culture section, the teacher reminded the students that the exam always included questions about China’s dynastic history and then sang them a song that listed all the emperors as a mnemonic device. This time, the song included Mao Zedong.

12 Albro explains how oftentimes cultural diplomacy fails as a strategy for effective intercultural dialogue because the intended audience “watches the show but is seldom an active participant in it” (2015, 385). Through directly engaging the students in such activities, Hanban attempted to promote a more embodied mimetic experience, calling literally upon students, in their reenactments of the past, to “understand” China through rehearsing a select form of cultural practice. This is meant, as Schmidt explains, to “elicit a feeling, a happy feeling which makes the PRC happy by association [and] . . . in which China is a ‘good’ and happy, and most importantly, benign place” (2014, 372). Schmidt’s analysis ends at the level of potential, and she warns us in her conclusion, citing Berlant (2010, 116), that “shifts in affective atmosphere are not equal to changing the world,” a cautionary but prescient speculation that, as we move through policy analysis into the realm of engagement, this becomes apparent.

13 Hua and Wei offer similar analysis from their research in a CI in the United Kingdom. Students confronted with these forms of traditional culture in the classroom similarly assessed them as inauthentic and felt that only when they could visit China itself would they encounter “authentic Chinese” culture (2014, 333).

14 See, for example, Gladney 1994; Litzinger 2000; and Schein 2000.

15 Thus, as hooks suggests, locating value in the body of the “eater” of the Other ([1992] 2006).

16 See Clifford 1992 for a related discussion of traveling, cosmopolitanism, and assumptions of difference.

17 Earlier and later conversations with CI teachers in the United States reinforced this recognition that Chinese Bridge programming was not achieving its intended results. One Chinese teacher who chaperoned a group a year after I attended was quite frank with me in his assessment:

The students had no interest. When we went to Hanban headquarters it was pointless. Students just laid on the floor, some actually slept. Hanban is stupid. Hanban wants communication and conversation but I couldn’t really see what the goal or the point of the visits to places like headquarters would accomplish. It got better when we left Beijing and students were allowed to go out with Chinese students. Really what this all does though is help the American students treasure their own lives in the United States. . . . They complain about the United States a lot and then they realize there is this whole other reality to the world that makes the United States look really good. I had students actually say this to me. It makes them feel really lucky and then they stop complaining.

This first sentiment, that the programs were not enticing to an American student audience, was also invoked at a 2012 House of Representatives hearing on public diplomacy and China that frequently addressed the CIs. One of the panelists, Robert Daly, then director of the Maryland China Initiative at the University of Maryland, College Park, noted that the language programs “tend to deal in culture as decoration, culture as celebration, culture as friendship ritual. If we are going to criticize their programs, one of the things we can throw at them is that they often, actually, can be sort of dull and uninteresting in those ways” (US Congress 2012, 37).

18 At lunch, our leaders explained the history behind the unusual name of the restaurant’s feature dish. According to local lore, goubuli is said to derive from the childhood name of the dish’s creator, who had been nicknamed “Doggy” (Gouzi) by his parents to protect him from bad luck, for why would evil gods desire to harm a child named for a dog? When the child grew up to become a renowned chef, his steamed buns were so popular that customers had difficulty placing orders. They hence joked that Gou does not pay attention (bu li) and the buns became known as goubuli.

19 Hongying Wang argues that China’s government promotes global soft power projects, such as the CIs, largely to bolster domestic legitimacy (2011, 52). Michael Barr likewise concludes that soft power deployment at home is as critical as its projections abroad for national development (2012).

20 CI teachers in the United States frequently complained to me about the expense of the language programs when, as they argued, rural education in China was so deficient. Graan argues that nation-branding efforts, similar to soft power projections, also allow the state to respond to domestic challenges to its authority (2013, 165).

21 Barr, for example, argues that Chinese soft power engagements are important for its drive to instill loyalty to the party and strengthen its legitimacy (2012, 81).

22 This perspective attempts to reaffirm the program’s constitution, which declares that CIs “devote themselves to satisfying the demands of people from different countries and regions in the world who learn the Chinese language.” The constitution and bylaws can be found at

23 In a later conversation with the director of this particular CI, she explained to me that her program turned down the teachers offered by Hanban, agreeing to take the money on condition that the university hire its own faculty. She also noted that her organization has taken three hundred American students to China but has avoided the Chinese Bridge program, traveling independently instead. Calling her program a “square peg in a round hole,” she shared that an upcoming CI-sponsored film festival at her school was showing a series of films that introduced China in a less-than-flattering light. Her point was to affirm that while the Chinese government funded the CI, the programming at her institution was solely under the purview of the American directors. This was an unusual arrangement. Most programs have a Chinese administrator who coordinates activities.

24 Beyond Hanban headquarters, Chinese media frequently cite what they describe as a global demand for learning the Chinese language as evidence of the world’s attraction to China and the rationale for the spread of CIs. Reporting on this supposed international demand for Chinese instruction, an article in, a Chinese government-authorized Internet portal, stated that “Nancy Jervis, vice president of the China Institute in New York . . . spoke of her disbelief that the ‘Chinese language could become so popular’” and that “France, exhorted by its China-loving President Jacques Chirac, has seen 110 of its top universities open Chinese departments.” This interest had also spread far beyond the West, according to the article, which claimed that “Chinese teaching is also a pillar of Sino-African cooperation,” as illustrated by a group of African universities and student organizations that had “addressed a letter to the Chinese ambassador to Liberia wishing to soon be able to learn Chinese language and culture” and “sent up a clamor asking for a Confucius Institute” (Li 2007). According to one author, even the Swedes, who are “normally keen on protecting their own language . . . have shown great enthusiasm in learning Chinese and have admirably opened their arms to the Confucius Institute” (Guo 2008, 33) (although the Swedish CI discussed by this author has since been shut down). The underlying assumption of these claims is that the popularity of a nation’s native language corresponds to an inherent interest in and admiration for that nation. These assertions of desire mirror the protestations of a China fever discussed in Chapter 3.

25 Stambach notes a similar experience at a CI in the American Midwest, in which Chinese students were recruited to attend a CI cooking class but excluded from the “series of photographs” chronicling the event that were “a means of documenting the work of the Confucius Institutes to Hanban administrators” (2014, 81).

26 This was a line spoken by one of the American students in the video. Fallon (2014) offers an interesting analysis of a Hanban-sponsored Chinese language skit performed by foreigners very similar to the one featured in this film. She argues that in featuring the Caucasian students wearing traditional Chinese clothing, it is as if China “absorbs” them into its culture, thus challenging typical racial hierarchies, while the African student in traditional native African dress, and the only foreigner not in Chinese clothing, sings about how learning Chinese will provide opportunities for her future, thus placing China in a superior position as the benevolent provider.

27 Ebron (1999) analyzes similar processes in homeland tours for African Americans.

28 Li makes a similar point (2009, 28).

29 See also Zhang and Li 2010. Indeed, domestically, the Chinese government portrays the global spread of CIs as a national cause, designed to strengthen China’s sense of self-esteem (Wang and Adamson 2015).

30 Zhou and Luk, for example, see the CIs as playing a role in “strengthening national identity, national dignity and national cohesiveness” (2016, 7). The presentation of national culture thus emerges as a resource for the national solidarity of the domestic audience.

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Abdication, Succession and Japan’s Imperial Future: An Emperor’s Dilemma


On 30 April 2019, 86-year-old Emperor Akihito 明仁made history. He became the first modern emperor to abdicate. Indeed, his was the first abdication since that of Emperor Kōkaku 光格over two centuries before in 1817. By the same token, the succession of Akihito’s 59-year-old son, Crown Prince Naruhito 徳仁on 1 May was an historic event. For he was the first in modern times to succeed to the throne while his father was alive and well. The trigger for all these firsts was an extraordinary event that took place nearly three years before. On 8 August 2016, Emperor Akihito appeared on NHK, Japan’s public broadcaster, to address the nation. He gave an understated but riveting performance. Speaking of his advanced years and the growing burden of his duties, he intimated his desire to abdicate. Abdication rumors had been circulating for some weeks, but his address dispelled all doubt. An address of this sort was quite without precedent. The Constitution requires that succession to the throne accord with the Imperial Household Law of 1946, but that law does not recognize abdication. The emperor was thus challenging the law. The challenge, however circumspect, was a political act, and political acts are not permitted him under the Constitution. It is little wonder that he caused a stir; it is no less than remarkable that he got his way.1

The emperor’s TV address, watched by some 12% of the population, triggered a national debate that led to Prime Minister Abe Shinzō’s government enacting a special abdication bill, which became law in June 2017.2 It was this bill that enabled Akihito to abdicate, yielding the throne to his son. Emperor Akihito raised fundamental questions about the role of the emperor in 21st Century Japanese society. What are emperors for? What is their place in contemporary Japan, and what are their future prospects? This article sets out to explore precisely these questions. The place to start is that August 2016 address.

1. The Emperor’s Words: O-kotoba

Image on the right: Emperor Akihito delivering his address to the nation on NHK, 8 August 20163

The emperor began by framing his reign as a personal search for meaning. He had dutifully carried out the “acts of the emperor in matters of state” as stipulated in Article 7 of the Constitution. These include convocation of the Diet, dissolution of the House of Representatives, attestation of ministerial appointments, awarding of honors, and so on. However, he had “spent [his] days searching for and contemplating on” the meaning of Article 1’s designation of him as “symbol of the State and of the unity of the people.” The Constitution, after all, fails to elucidate what action is required of, or indeed permitted to, a “symbol of the State.” The emperor’s search led him to conclude that he must serve as “an active and inherent part of society, responding to the expectations of the people.”

What matters, he said, is to “stand by the people, listen to their voices, and be close to them in their thoughts.” Many of those who tuned in to his eleven-minute broadcast must have cast their minds back to the visits he made with the empress throughout Japan, especially in times of national crisis. Never was the emperor closer to the people than in 2011 after the Great East Japan earthquake. Historically a distant figure, he made a powerful TV appearance after the disaster struck, articulating his concerns, offering solace and hope.4 He and the empress visited survivors in Saitama, Chiba, Ibaraki, Miyagi, Iwate, Fukushima, and Tochigi prefectures, and, of course, in Tokyo, too.5 In his August 2016 broadcast, the emperor left no doubt that such active devotion to the Japanese people was his calling. It was demanded of him, he believed, as “symbol of the State.”

It was at this point in the broadcast that the emperor broached his dilemma. What to do when an emperor has become too old to serve the people? He acknowledged, only to dismiss, the constitutional answer: the appointment of a regent. A regency was, in his view, no solution. For when an emperor ceases to serve the people, he no longer functions as symbol. His role is done, and he must step down. Emperor Akihito intimated that stepping down was, indeed, his intention. He was especially concerned lest he become a burden to the people. He was thinking ahead here to his own death, and to the “heavy mourning” that would endure for months were he to die in situ as emperor. If he gave up the throne, he would inconvenience no one; his son Naruhito would succeed him, and continue the vital work of public service uninterrupted. Such was his “earnest wish.” Emperor Akihito concluded with a plea to the people of Japan: “I sincerely hope for your understanding.”6 Nowhere in his address did the emperor deploy the word “abdication,” but this was the radical solution he offered.7

2. Abdication

Emperor Akihito’s address was more than an appeal for understanding: it was a personal challenge to the law, and a call for critical reflection on the role of the emperor in the 21st Century. It was undeniably political. During his thirty-year reign, the emperor made several statements frieghted with political meaning. In 2001, he declared “a certain kinship with Korea” on learning that the mother of Emperor Kanmu 桓武– the 8th Century founder of the city of Kyoto – was descended from Korean immigrants.8 In 2004, he said it was desirable not to compel Japanese school pupils to sing the national anthem.9 In 2009, he reflected that the monarchy under the 1946 Constitution was closer to Japan’s “traditional model” than it had been under the 1889 Constitution. The 1946 Constitution, he implied, was more appropriate for the 21st Century.10 Likewise, in 2013, he praised the postwar Constitution for laying the foundations of peace and democracy.11 These issues – relations with Korea, the anthem and the Constitution – were all, to differing degrees, political. The emperor’s statements were political interventions, but he had never before questioned the law. Nor, of course, had he played any role in fashioning the law.

What did the Japanese people make of it all? The Yomiuri newspaper, Japan’s best-selling daily, conducted an opinion poll three days after the NHK broadcast and found that it had won the approval of 93% of the population. This figure was reflected in other media surveys. The Asahi reported that 84% supported abdication, while 5% opposed it. The Mainichi survey yielded a somewhat lower 67% approval rating, but it rose to 84% in a second survey. Of those polled by the Kyōdō news agency, 86% approved changing the law to allow abdication.12 In any case, it was abundantly clear that the emperor’s wish to abdicate accorded with the “will of the people,” albeit after the fact. This degree of popular support was little cause for surprise, given the consistently high ratings the emperor and empress had enjoyed in recent years, especially since the disaster of 2011.13

What is interesting is the reaction of ultra-conservative groups, the self-appointed guardians of Japan’s imperial legacy. The most vociferous among them today is Nippon Kaigi 日本会議 (Japan Conference; hereafter NK). This is a powerful group, whose board features many Shinto religious leaders. The chief priests of the Ise Shrines, the Yasukuni Shrine, and the Meiji Shrine are among them. But NK matters because Prime Minister Shinzō Abe and the majority of his cabinet are members.14 How did NK respond to the emperor’s address? NK was swift to deny press reports that it was “vigorously opposed” to abdication, but statements by key NK members suggested otherwise. The most articulate among them was Kobori Keiichirō 小堀桂一郎, emeritus professor of Tokyo University and incumbent NK Vice-Chairman.

PM Abe Shinzō addressing Nippon Kaigi’s 20th anniversary gathering, 27 November 201715

Kobori was “confused” by the emperor’s pressing the government to take extra-constitutional measures to satisfy his personal wishes. He wondered at the government’s apparent compliance, and was dismayed at the precedent set, namely of an emperor successfully challenging the Constitution. For Kobori and his colleagues, however, the real issue lay elsewhere, in the nature of emperorship. Is it really necessary, asked Kobori, for the emperor to engage in those actions that he finds so meaningful? Kobori’s answer was no. “Symbol of the state,” he argued, does not require social engagement from the emperor. That the emperor’s age rendered him no longer able to serve the people was, therefore, no reason for him to abdicate. Kobori blamed the American makers of the “anti-kokutai Constitution” for creating confusion about the emperor’s role.16

Other NK members were less measured. Murata Haruki 村田春樹authored an extraordinary opinion piece in the journal Seiron 正論in October 2017. His critique of Emperor Akihito makes for fascinating reading. Murata saw the emperor’s wish to abdicate as symptomatic of his failure to appreciate the unique nature of Japanese emperorship. The emperor cannot refer to himself as an individual, as he did in the broadcast, since he is semi-divine; he has no need for popular approval, since he is neither politician nor performer, but descendant of the Sun Goddess; and he has no business appearing on TV to address the people; it is his ancestors – the Sun Goddess and the first emperor Jinmu above all – whom he should be addressing.17 Murata found, moreover, that Emperor Akihito had breached the Constitution on three counts: 1) he had failed to consult the will of the people before taking action; 2) he was responsible for the fact that an abdication bill – not the Imperial Household Law – would determine succession for the first time ever; and 3) as a consequence, he had effectively exercised legislative power. All of this, asserted Murata, was “blatantly in breach of the Constitution.”18

Nippon Kaigi is, in fact, divided over the abdication issue, but it is clear that what matters to Kobori, Murata and their fellows is not the person of the reigning emperor, nor the Constitution, but the unbroken imperial line that began, so they believe, with the Sun Goddess. Emperor Akihito’s words and actions constituted a threat to their view of emperorship. Clearly, if an emperor can change the rules of succession on a whim, the myth becomes untenable. What then would they and their allies have had the emperor do? On the specific issue of succession, they wanted him to hand the burdensome tasks over to a regent, and stay put. As a general principle, emperors should abstain from the sort of public service in which Emperor Akihito found meaning. They should instead remain within the walls of the palace, perform their acts “in matters of state,” and otherwise devote themselves to prayer.

Emperor Akihito was clearly not averse to praying. Indeed, he stressed the importance of prayer twice in his TV address. “The first and foremost duty of the Emperor,” he insisted, “is to pray for peace and happiness of all the people.” He reflected further that it was always incumbent on him to “think of the people and pray for the people, with deep respect and love for the people.”19 But for him, prayer alone was never sufficient. The NK position, by contrast, is that “symbol of the State” means precisely the emperor’s performance of prayer at the shrine-complex within the Tokyo palace. The complex in question, built in 1888, is known as the kyūchū sanden宮中三殿, and as the name suggests, it comprises three sites. There is a central shrine for the Sun Goddess (the kashikodokoro賢所) , which is flanked by the kōreiden皇霊殿, a shrine dedicated to the imperial ancestors (the spirits, that is, of all deceased emperors since the time of the mythical Emperor Jinmu), and by a shrine for the myriad gods of heaven and earth (the shinden神殿). It is worth noting in passing that the rites which Akihito and his father before him performed at the shrine-complex since 1945 are precisely those of prewar Japan; they differ only in that they are private, and no longer public, events.

Emperor Akihito enters the kashikodokoro shrine in the imperial palace to report his abdication to the Sun Goddess, 12 March 201920

There is every reason to believe that Prime Minister Abe shared the concerns of his fellow NK members. He appears to have known of the emperor’s wishes since the autumn of 2015, but denied him permission – or so it is claimed – to raise the matter at his birthday press conference in December that year. The emperor’s frustration grew thereafter, and in July 2016, he had the Imperial Household tell NHK of his wish to abdicate. NHK informed the nation in a broadcast on the night of 13 July, and this paved the way for the emperor’s address on 8 August.21 Opinion polls quickly made it clear that a large majority of Japanese were sympathetic to the emperor; the broadcast and print media generated support and sustained interest. The prime minister had no choice but to act.

The choice facing Prime Minister Abe was between a change to the Imperial Household Law, allowing abdication for all future emperors, and the enactment of an abdication bill, applicable to Emperor Akihito alone. The emperor was known to favor the former; the prime minister would only countenance the latter. He moved swiftly to appoint a council of experts to advise him. Over a six-month period starting in autumn 2016, he consulted twenty experts, eight of whom were affiliated with, or openly sympathetic to, NK.22 Their final report recommended the enactment of a one-off abdication bill. The bill was duly drafted and approved by the Diet.

3. Succession

Emperor Akihito was reportedly shocked by the criticism leveled at him by certain experts during the consultation period, and he was displeased, too, with the compromised outcome.23 Still, it rendered abdication possible for the first time in 200 years. The emperor duly abdicated on 30 April 2019 in a brief rite in the Matsu no Ma 松の間chamber of the palace.24 He stood with the empress before an audience of some 300 dignitaries. Prime Minister Abe faced them, and delivered a short speech, expressing his respect and gratitude for the emperor’s reign on behalf of the Japanese people. The emperor responded by articulating his love and respect for the people of Japan. He thanked them for supporting his symbolic role, and concluded with a prayer that the new Reiwa 令和era might be one of peace and happiness.25

Then, at 10.30 am on 1 May, Crown Prince Naruhito received the sword and jewel of the imperial regalia in the very brief senso 践祚succession rite.26 This senso took place in the same Matsu no Ma chamber in the presence of the prime minister, the chief justice of the Supreme Court, the speaker of the Lower House and the president of the Upper House, among others, and was an entirely male affair. In line with prewar practice, the participation of the empress and the many other female members of the imperial family was not permitted. After the senso, the emperor proceeded directly to the palace shrine-complex to inform the Sun Goddess and his ancestors of his succession. In a third ritual phase, Emperor Naruhito, accompanied now by the empress, returned to the Matsu no Ma to receive the heads of the three branches of government and some 250 dignitaries, and deliver his inaugural address to the nation.27 Here, he spoke of his deep respect for his father and mother for their unwavering devotion to the people. He, for his part, promised to think always of the people and be with them. He committed himself to fulfilling his constitutional role as symbolic emperor, and prayed for peace.

What happens next? On 4 May, members of the general public will be admitted to the palace grounds, and the emperor and empress will appear on the veranda of the Chōwaden building to greet them. Then, on 22 October, the emperor and empress will ascend their respective thrones before an assembly of dignitaries, Japanese and foreign, in the sokui 即位enthronement rite. They will then parade through the streets of Tokyo, before hosting a banquet in the evening. The abdication, sensoand sokui rites are held as “acts in matters of state.” It is worth pointing out that, although they are broadly secular in nature, they are not entirely so. At the very least, the sword and the jewel that feature in all three rites are sacred objects, and treated as such. According to Japan’s seventh century state foundation myths, these objects, along with a sacred mirror, were handed by the Sun Goddess to her grandson before he descended to earth. These objects are testament, in other words, to the sacred nature of Japanese emperorship.

The climax of the enthronement sequence is indisputably sacred in character. This is the daijōsai 大嘗祭or “rite of great feasting,” which will take place on the night of 14-15 November. A complex of wooden buildings, featuring two main pavilions (the Yukiden悠紀田and Sukiden主基田), will be erected on the palace grounds. Both pavilions are furnished with bed and shroud to welcome the Sun Goddess. Two different districts of Japan – the Yuki field to the west of Tokyo and the Suki field to the east – supply the rice for feasting. In each pavilion, the emperor will offer the Sun Goddess meals of rice, before partaking of it himself. He will emerge at dawn, transformed by his mystical communion with his ancestress.

This enthronement sequence – sensosokui and daijōsai – is of great vintage. In some form or other, the rites can be traced back to the 7th Century. They have played a vital role in producing and reaffirming Japan’s emperor-centered order for over a millennium.28 The daijōsai, in particular, has undergone multiple interpretations over time, and its mise-en-scène has changed drastically, too. Only in modern times has it been it regarded as the most important of the three enthronement rites, and this is because it was interpreted now as the ultimate act of imperial piety. It served, by the same token, as dramatic proof that the emperor was indeed descended from the Sun Goddess. It was for this reason that the modern daijōsai as performed by the Meiji, Taishō and Shōwa emperors were staged as truly national events; they sought to engage the whole of Japan and, indeed, the empire with the imperial myth.

Emperor Akihito’s daijōsai, the first in the postwar era, took place on the night of 22-23 November 1990. It had the distinction of being the first ever to cause legal controversy. The controversy and its resolution deserve to be more widely known. Articles 20 and 89 of the Constitution provide for the separation of state and religion. And yet, the state funded the daijōsai, which is “religious” to the extent that it features the Sun Goddess. The government fended off accusations of unconstitutionality by citing the “object and effect” principle established in a landmark Supreme Court ruling in 1977.29 The essence of the ruling was that the state may engage with religion, so long as neither the “object” nor the “effect” of its engagement amounts to the promotion of any specific religion. The government’s position was that public funding of the daijōsaicontravened neither criteria. Many citizens’ groups disagreed, and took legal action, but their suits all foundered on the “object and effect” principle.30

Prince Akishino no Miya Fumihito 秋篠宮文仁with the Princess at his birthday press conference, November 201831

Controversy surrounds the 2019 daijōsai, too. Citizens’ groups are poised once more to take legal action against the government, even though they stand little chance of success. This time, however, they appear to have the moral support of Prince Akishino no Miya Fumihito, the new emperor’s younger brother and next in line to the throne. At his birthday meeting with the press on 11 November 2018, the prince queried the wisdom of the government underwriting the daijōsai as it had in 1990. He confessed it left him feeling “uneasy.” The cause of his uneasiness was this: the government sets aside two funds for imperial family use. There is the “court fund” (kyūteihi宮廷費), totaling some $83 million, which covers all of the emperor’s public activities – his “acts in matters of state.” There is also a much more modest “imperial family fund” (naiteihi内廷費) of some $2.7 million, which is for the private use of the emperor and his family.32

Both funds are, of course, tax payers’ money, but the prince is uneasy at the government’s insistence on using the “court fund” to underwrite the “religious” daijōsai. This implies that the daijōsai is, after all, a public not private act.33 The prince’s radical idea, intended to preserve the constitutional separation of state and religion, was that the daijōsai be scaled back to a point where it might be covered entirely by the “imperial family fund.” The prince had raised this matter time and again with Imperial Household officials, but, he lamented, they had “refused to pay him heed.” He was, indeed, ignored by both the Imperial Household and the Abe administration.34 No one doubts that the prince was articulating views shared by his older brother and father.

In any case, the daijōsai rite remains essential to emperor-making in Japan. In its postwar manifestation, it merits attention as one further piece of evidence of the sacred encroaching into Japan’s public sphere. By “the sacred,” I refer specifically to ritual performances involving the Sun Goddess, and to the myth of the emperor’s descent from the Sun Goddess, which the rites serve to animate. The postwar Constitution sought to confine the sacred to the private sphere of the imperial court, and yet, in the seven decades since its promulgation – and especially during Abe Shinzō’s premiership – the sacred has become ever more public. Abe’s active association with the Ise Shrines is a case in point. In 2013, when the Ise Shrines underwent their vicennial rebuild, he played a key ritual role, escorting the Sun Goddess on her solemn progress through the night from old shrine to new.35 In 2016, he hosted the G7 summit in Ise, and took heads of the G7 states to the shrines as though they were a national site. In law, of course, they are a private religious juridical entity. In both 2017 and 2018, Abe participated in the niinamesai 新嘗祭court rite, which also celebrates the Sun Goddess. The rite is held within the palace’s shrine complex annually on 23 November.36 It is in this broader context that the Abe administration will fund Emperor Naruhito’s daijōsaiin November 2019.

Prime Minister Abe Shinzō at the palace shrine-complex, 23 November 201837

2018 marked the 150th anniversary of the Meiji Restoration, which brought emperors out of the shadows of the premodern court, allowing them to occupy the center of modern Japan’s public culture. The myth of the emperor’s descent from the Sun Goddess, which the Meiji government actively promoted and exploited, remains alive and well today. The myth, and the rites that sustain it, will be on more secure footing if the Abe administration effects its promised revisions to the Constitution. Article 20 deals with the separation of state and religion. The government plans to retain the principle of separation, of course, but wishes to render the daijōsai and other imperial court rites as non-religious “social rituals or customary practices.”38 If, and when, the revisions are effected, there will be no further impediment to the state’s sponsorship of, and engagement with, such events. Their place in the public sphere will be assured.

We have seen evidence that the imperial institution itself is highly contested. The emperor’s 2016 address, the abdication bill that it produced, and the very fact that an emperor abdicated for the first time in two hundred years, have highlighted the multiplicity of views on emperorship in 21st Century Japan. The prohibition of abdication, it should be stressed, is modern. There are fifty-eight known cases of emperors abdicating before the practice was prohibited in the late 19th Century. Meiji bureaucrats ended abdication, fearful that it threatened the myth that guaranteed the stability of the imperial line. Their concerns are shared today by NK members with close ties to the Abe administration.

Let us not forget that there is, objectively speaking, a graver challenge to the imperial institution than abdication. It is the absence of male heirs. Emperor Naruhito’s younger brother, Crown Prince Akishino no Miya, is now next in line to the throne, and his son the 13-year-old Hisahito 悠仁will succeed him. If Hisahito produces no male heirs, that is it. This dire situation has generated impassioned debate about the pros and cons of female succession to the throne. According to the latest polls, 76% of the population would be happy to see a woman enthroned. There is, after all, ample precedent for this: women have succeeded to the throne on ten previous occasions. What is striking is that 74% have no objection to the offspring of a woman emperor succeeding to the throne. If this were to happen, it would be an historical first.39

Finally, it should be pointed out that, for ultraconservatives, the abdication issue and the future of the imperial line are intimately related. Yagi Hidetsugu八木秀次, a radical conservative intellectual, who is sometimes referred to as Prime Minister Abe’s “brain,” puts it like this:

If an emperor is free to abdicate, it won’t be long before a man is free to decline the throne. Abdication, as the free choice of the emperor, can only lead in time to a man’s right to refuse succession. [When this comes to pass,] the emperor system, which depends on an unbroken line of male heirs, will collapse.40

The historic precedent set by Akihito’s abdication and the absence of male heirs will ensure that Japanese emperorship is contested for years to come.


Note to readers: please click the share buttons below. Forward this article to your email lists. Crosspost on your blog site, internet forums. etc.

This is a revised, updated and expanded version of an article that was first published in Spanish as “El emperador ha hablado” (Vanguardia Dossier: 71 Japón debilidad y fortaleza (2018), pp. 39-42.) A much-abridged version will appear in Joy Hendry. Understanding Japanese Society. Routledge, 2019. The author would like to thank Geoffrey Wilkinson, Nick Breen and Mark Selden for helpful comments on earlier drafts.

John Breen is a professor at the International Research Center for Japanese Studies in Kyoto, where he edits the journal Japan Review.

Global Research is indebted to The Asia Pacific Journal for having brought this important article to our attention


Asahi shinbun

Breen, John and Mark Teeuwen. A New history of Shinto. Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.

Gomi Yōji. Seizen taii o meguru Abe shushō no sakubō. Takarajimasha Shinsho, 2017

Guthmann, Thiery. “Nationalist Circles in Japan Today: The Impossibility of Secularization.” Japan Review30 (2017).

Hara Takeshi. Heisei no shūen: taii to tennō, kōgo. Iwanami Shoten, 2019

Hosaka Masayasu. Tennō heika “seizen taii” e no omoi. Mainichi Shinbun Shuppan, 2016

Jiyūminshutō comp. Nihonkoku kenpō kaisei sōan. 2012

Kobori Keichirō. “Tennō = shōchōkan no konjaku.” Kōdō (January 2018)

Mainichi shinbun

Murata Haruki. “Sakunen hachigatsu yōka no Heika no Okotoba wa.” Seiron 326 (1 October 2017)

Shirai Satoshi. Kokutairon: Kiku to seijōki. Shūeisha Shinsho, 2018

Teeuwen, Mark and John Breen. A Social History of the Ise Shrines: Divine Capital. Bloomsbury, 2017.


The official designation of the emperor’s address is Shōchō toshite no o-tsutome ni tsuite no tennō heika no o-kotoba象徴としてのお務めについての天皇陛下のおことば. The address can be replayed on the Kunaichō website, where the Japanese and English transcriptions can also be found: here and here.

The full Japanese title of the bill is Tennō no taii tō ni kansuru kōshitsu tenpan tokureihō 天皇の退位等に関する皇室典範特例法. The bill’s nine articles can be accessed here.


The emperor’s address in the aftermath of the Great East Japan earthquake can be replayed on the Kunaichō website; the Japanese text and English translation can be accessed there too: here and here.

For an overview of the activities of the emperor and empress at this time, see here.

The closest critical reading of the emperor’s address can be found in Hara Takeshi原武史. Heisei no shūen: taii to tennō, kōgo平成の終焉:退位と天皇皇后. Iwanami Shoten, 2019, pp.11-68.

Abdication is hardly a new issue for the imperial family. In 1946, Prince Mikasa no Miya三笠宮, Akihito’s uncle, famously attacked the government’s refusal to sanction abdication. The government was effectively “binding the emperor in chains, making him a slave of the cabinet.” (Asahi Shinbun 17 December 2017)

For the original Japanese, see here. There is an English translation at here.

Asahi shinbun 28 October 2004.

10 The emperor offered this view of the postwar constitution at a press conference to celebrate his 50thwedding anniversary. Note that here, too, he mentioned his struggle to interpret the meaning of “symbol of the state and of the Unity of the People.” For the original Japanese and an English translation, see: here.

11 The occasion for this statement was the emperor’s birthday press conference. See, for the Japanese original, here and, for the English translation, here.

12 For a survey of polls, see Hosaka Masayasu保阪正康. Tennō heika “seizen taii” e no omoi天皇陛下生前退位への思い. Mainichi Shinbun Shuppan, 2016, pp.85-88.

13 The latest poll conducted by the Asahi newspaper in April 2019 shows that 76% of the population “feel an intimacy” with the imperial family. This is the highest “intimacy factor” ever recorded. (Asahi Shinbun, 19 April 2019.)

14 For a recent academic study of Nippon Kaigi, see Thiery Guthmann. “Nationalist Circles in Japan Today: The Impossibility of Secularization.” Japan Review, 30 (2017), pp.207-235.

15 Source

16 Kobori Keichiirō has articulated his views most cogently in Kōdō弘道, the journal of the conservative organization, Nippon Kōdōkai日本弘道会. See “Tennō = shōchōkan no konjaku.” 天皇象徴感の今昔 Kōdō(January 2018), pp. 6-11. Kobori refers frequently in his recent writings to the “kokutai-wrecking Constitution.”

17 Murata Haruki. “Sakunen hachigatsu yōka no heika no o-kotoba wa.” 昨年八月八日の陛下のお言葉Seiron 326 (1 October 2017), p. 3.

18 Ibid.

19 Source

20 Source

21 For the events behind NHK’s July broadcast, which was watched by 14 million people, see Gomi Yōji五味洋治. Seizen taii o meguru Abe shushō no sakubō生前退位をめぐる安倍首相の策謀. Takarajimasha Shinsho, 2017, pp. 20-24, and Hosaka. Tennō heika, pp. 14-16 and pp. 81-83.

22 On the advisory council (yūshokusha kaigi有職者会議) and its experts, see Hara. Heisei no shūen, pp. 4-6, and Gomi. Seizen taii, pp. 104-109. The agenda and the minutes of the several council meetings are accessible on the website of the Prime Minister’s Office.

23 For the emperor’s shock, see both Mainichi shinbun 21 May 2017 and the discussion in Shirai Satoshi白井聡. Kokutairon: Kiku to seijōki菊と星条旗. Shūeisha Shinsho, 2018, pp.16-19.

24 The official name given to the abdication is Taii rei seiden no gi 退位礼正殿の儀or (Palace rite of abdication.)

25 The emperor’s address in both English and Japanese can be accessed on the Imperial Household website: hereand here.

26 The official designation of the rite is Kenji tō shōkei no gi剣璽等承継の儀. Ken is “sword” and ji is “jewel.” , meaning “et cetera,” refers to the fact that the emperor receives other objects, too. These objects include the state seal (kokuji国璽) and the imperial seal (gyoji御璽) and also the entire palace shrine-complex.

27 This audience is officially known as the Sokuigo chōken no gi 即位後朝見の儀or “Rite of audience after succession.”

28 For a concise critical history of the daijōsai, see John Breen and Mark Teeuwen. A New history of Shinto. (Wiley-Blackwell, 2011), Chapter 5.

29 This is known in Japanese as mokuteki kōka kijun目的効果基準.

30 For a summary view of the legal controversy concerning the 1999 daijōsai, see Breen and Teeuwen 2011, Chapter 5.

31 Source

32 It is, incidentally, this latter fund which pays for the rites performed by the emperor and empress at the palace shrine-complex.

33 The total budget for the 2019 daijōsai is set by the government at $21 million.

34 The full text of the prince’s statement on the daijōsai can be accessed on the Imperial Household home page.

35 On postwar conservative administrations’ cultivation of the Ise shrines, see Mark Teeuwen and John Breen. A Social History of the Ise Shrines: Divine Capital. Bloomsbury, 2017, especially Chapter 10.

36 The niinamesai is the annual version of the once-in-a-reign daijōsai. The prime minister informed the nation of his participation on Twitter.

37 Source

38 For the LDP’s proposed revisions to Article 20, see Jiyūminshutō comp. Nihonkoku kenpō kaisei sōan(2012), p.7

39 The poll referred to was conducted by the Asahi shinbun, and published on 19 April 2019.

40 Asahi Shinbun 10 September 2016. For Yagi’s intimate relationship to PM Abe, see also Asahi Shinbun 28 March 2018.

Posted in JapanComments Off on Abdication, Succession and Japan’s Imperial Future: An Emperor’s Dilemma

IEA: Renewable Energy Growth Is Stalling. Wind and Solar Energy

Renewable energy deployment stalled out last year, raising alarm bells about the pace of the clean energy transition.

In 2018, total deployment of renewable energy stood at about 180 gigawatts (GW), which was the same as the previous year. It was the first time since 2001 that capacity failed to increase year-on-year, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Adding 180 GW of clean energy is a massive total, but still falls short of what is needed to clean up the electricity sector. It equates to roughly 60 percent of what is needed each year in order to meet long-term climate goals, the IEA said. The agency said that the world needs to add about 300 GW of renewable energy each year through 2030 in order to meet the targets laid out in the Paris Climate Agreement.

Worse, last year, CO2 emissions from energy rose 1.7 percent, setting another record high at 33 Gigatonnes. So, while emissions need to decline sharply, they haven’t even flattened out yet. Renewable energy continues to grow, but so does demand for oil and gas.

“The world cannot afford to press “pause” on the expansion of renewables and governments need to act quickly to correct this situation and enable a faster flow of new projects,” Fatih Birol, the IEA’s Executive Director, said in a statement.

“Thanks to rapidly declining costs, the competitiveness of renewables is no longer heavily tied to financial incentives. What they mainly need are stable policies supported by a long-term vision but also a focus on integrating renewables into power systems in a cost-effective and optimal way. Stop-and-go policies are particularly harmful to markets and jobs,” Birol added.

For the last four years, growth of wind had slowed, but the gap was made up by faster growth from solar. The difference in 2018 was that solar’s exponential growth flattened out. The reason for that lies in China, where the government pared back incentives on solar in order to cut expenditures and cope with grid integration challenges, the IEA said. Still, China added 44 GW of solar last year, the most by far out of any other country and nearly half of the 97 GW global total. But that was down from 53 GW that China installed in 2017.

Costs continue to fall, making renewable energy the cheapest option in many markets, which should ensure strong growth going forward. In the U.S., wind and solar are now cheaper than operating existing coal plants in much of the country. In fact, in April, renewable energy surpassed coal in terms of electricity generation for the first time, accounting for 24 percent of the total, compared to coal’s 20 percent market share.

But, despite the momentum, the transition is not fast enough. A new UN report finds that the world is facing a mass die-off of biodiversity, with as many as one million plant and animal species at risk of extinction. Also, the world is on track to blow through its carbon budget within 12 years.

Because of this urgency, a wave of new policies supporting a faster roll out of electric vehicles and renewable energy is inevitable. At the state level, renewable energy mandates are proliferating. In the Democratic primary for president, candidates are trying to outdo each other in terms of ambition on clean energy and climate change. For instance, what was once considered an extreme position, such as banning oil and gas drilling on public lands, has now become a mainstream position in the Democratic Party, at least for the candidates running for president.

Another example of the shifting Overton window came in late April when former Texas Congressman and presidential contender Beto O’Rourke recently called for $5 trillion in spending over the next 10 years in an effort to cut emissions to zero by 2050. It’s ambitious by any measure, but faced some pushback for not going far enough, which says a lot about the growing concern about climate change. In fact, climate change ranked as the top issue for Democratic voters, according to a recent poll.

The oil and gas industry has enjoyed a golden era under the Trump administration, but it may only be temporary.

Posted in EnvironmentComments Off on IEA: Renewable Energy Growth Is Stalling. Wind and Solar Energy

Will the Trump Regime Attack Venezuela and Iran?


Imperial madness defines US geopolitics under Republicans and undemocratic Dems, seeking dominion over planet earth, its resources and populations.

Naked aggression and other hostile actions are its favored strategies. Trump delegated his geopolitical agenda to hardline extremists Pompeo and Bolton.

They’re spoiling for more wars than already, Venezuela and Iran in the eye of their storm — supported by congressional hardliners and major media, providing propaganda services for their imperial agenda.

On Monday after meeting with Pompeo in Rovaniemi, Finland, Sergey Lavrov said US military intervention in Venezuela would be “catastrophic.”

His warning applies equally to Iran.

“I don’t see any supporters of a reckless military solution” in Venezuela, he stressed, not regionally or in Europe.

Nor is there any international support for US belligerence against Iran, Israel, the Saudis, and perhaps the UAE likely the only nations for it.

Hostile Trump regime actions against Iran and Venezuela are all about wanting to isolate their countries, crush their economies, and immiserate their people — its actions in flagrant violation of international and US constitutional law.

Measures against Iran include withdrawing from the JCPOA nuclear deal, imposing multiple rounds of sanctions on its officials and enterprises, threatening sanctions on nations buying its oil and continuing normal relations with its ruling authorities, designating its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp (IGRC) a terrorist organization, along with threatening military action against the country.

In response to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani earlier saying US confrontation with the Islamic Republic would be “the mother of all (regional) wars,” Trump shot back tweeting:

Donald J. Trump



Bipartisan hardliners in Washington support transforming Iran into a US puppet state, eliminating Israel’s main regional rival, a scheme the Jewish state has been pushing for by its majority extremists.

Prior to joining the Trump regime, Pompeo and Bolton publicly urged terror-bombing strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities — despite knowing they include no military component, nor is there any evidence that Tehran seeks it, just the opposite.

The Islamic Republic abhors these weapons, wanting them eliminated everywhere. Trump regime hardliners want regime change in Iran and Venezuela by whatever it takes to achieve it.

If war by other means fails, naked aggression remains an ominous possibility against both countries — despite no world community support for going this far.

Iranian retaliation against US and Israeli sites would clearly follow Pentagon surgical strikes on its nuclear and/or military facilities, destabilizing the region, risking global war if Russia intervenes as it did in Syria at the behest of Damascus.

Time and again, the Islamic Republic is accused of things it had nothing to do with. According to National Iranian American Council director Triti Parsi, “Bolton wants war (with Iran). He will do any provocation to get” it.

On Sunday, he ominously said the following:

“In response to a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings (sic), the United States is deploying the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group and a bomber task force to the US Central Command region to send a clear and unmistakable message to (Iran) that any attack on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force.”

Pompeo made similar remarks, falsely claiming the Trump regime has seen “escalatory actions from the Iranians,” adding:

“(W)e have good reason to want to communicate clearly about how the Iranians should understand how we will respond to actions they may take.”

Fact: Iran hasn’t attacked another countries in centuries. It threatens none now.

The US threatens everyone everywhere, at war in multiple theaters, threatening more aggression against Iran, Venezuela, perhaps against Cuba and Nicaragua as well — what the scourge of imperialism is all about.

Hostile statements by Bolton and Pompeo, along with Trump regime actions against the Islamic Republic and Venezuela ominously resemble anti-Iraq Bush/Cheney rhetoric in the run-up to their 2003 aggression — based on Big Lies and deception.

Neocon extremist head of the undemocratic Foundation for Defense of Democracies Mark Dubowitzurges war on Iran, earlier saying:

“The next time a Revolutionary Guard attack boat harasses the US Navy (sic), we should sink it, put it in the bottom of the Gulf. That would be a good start,” adding:

Israel is striking Iranian and other targets in Syria. “I thing the US could do the same.” Analyst Seyed Hossein Mousavian believes “(a)s the US pushes Iran to the brink, Tehran may need to get tough,” adding:

Trump regime hardliners are “laying siege to Iran in ways similar to the way (Bush/Cheney) did as it prepared to wage an illegal war against Iraq.”

Will they convince DJT to attack Iran and Venezuela, ignoring the risk of possible global war?

In early 2017, senior Iranian National Security and Foreign Policy Commission member Mojtaba Zonour warned that Tehran would retaliate swiftly if its territory is struck – saying it’s able to hit regional targets with destructive force in minutes.

“(O)nly seven minutes are needed for (an) Iranian missile to hit Tel Aviv,” he added. Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) General Amir Ali Hajizadeh said “(i)f the enemy makes a mistake, our roaring missiles will come down on them.”

Over five million Venezuelans are armed and mobilized in citizen assemblies to defend the revolution from internal and external efforts to undermine it, Maduro explained.

Venezuela’s military stands with him against US regime change tactics, committed to protect the republic and its social democracy, its forces trained and able to wage protracted guerrilla war against Yankee imperialism.

If the Trump regime attacks Venezuela and/or Iran militarily, all bets are off. Both countries will go all-out to defend their sovereignty.

If Russia intervenes to help them as it acted in Syria, global war could follow. What’s unthinkable is possible — maybe inevitable given US rage for wanting all sovereign independent governments eliminated.

Posted in USA, Iran, VenezuelaComments Off on Will the Trump Regime Attack Venezuela and Iran?

Victory Day Reminds the World About the Evils of Fascism



Russia, most of the countries of the former Soviet Union, and Israel all celebrate the end of World War II on 9 May, with this year’s commemoration in Moscow being the 74th in history. This solemn day marks the victory of freedom over fascism and is practically regarded as sacred for the survivors and their descendants.

It serves as a reminder to the world of the evils of fascism and the horrible consequences that have befallen tens of millions of civilians at the hands of a genocidal ethnonationalist supremacist ideology. There are serious concerns that these terrifying ideas that were thought to have been defeated once and for all are experiencing a revival in modern-day Europe, which makes this year’s Victory Day events more relevant than ever.

French President Emmanuel Macron attends a ceremony marking the 74th anniversary of World War II victory in Europe at the Arc de Triomphe, Paris, May 9, 2019. /VCG Photo

Having said that, it should be acknowledged that World War II did not end in Europe but in Asia a few months afterward. In fact, that global conflict also began there too, but this is not commonly recognized because of the Western-centric historical worldview.

Imperial Japan followed its own variation of Hitler’s fascist ideology that preached the ethno-nationalist supremacy of the Japanese people. It was used to justify their country’s aggressive wars of conquest in East and Southeast Asia in pursuit of the so-called “Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere,” their version of Hitler’s Third Reich. Just like their European ally, the Imperial Japanese committed unspeakable acts of genocide during this time.

The Nanjing Massacre is the most well-known of these atrocities among the non-Chinese individuals who are interested in this historical period, but countless others were carried out that have yet to be universally condemned for the acts of evil that they were.

One prominent example is the inhumane biological and chemical weapons experiments that were conducted by the Japanese on Chinese and other victims through the secret “Unit 731” project. Most of the world has never heard about these crimes against humanity, but hopefully, that will one day change and they come to recognize them for what they obviously are. In any case, at least the victims are commemorated by China.

The communists had yet to succeed in their hard-fought revolution by the time that the Japanese finally surrendered on 15 August, but their brave anti-imperialist resistance is acknowledged as being a key factor behind the empire’s eventual defeat. Communist freedom fighters seriously complicated Japan’s occupation of China and the illegal carving out of several puppet states that followed, bleeding the aggressors to the point where they had to deploy millions of troops to the mainland to quell unrest which therefore made them comparatively more vulnerable along the other fronts that the USSR and the U.S. later attacked them from.

Russian President Vladimir Putin lays flowers at the Mamayev Kurgan Memorial in Volgograd during an event to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the battle of Stalingrad in World War II, Russia, February 2, 2018. /VCG Photo

Another important point to make in connection with the global victory over fascism is that it could not have happened without the communists in both the USSR and China. Their people’s ideological dedication to the cause inspired them to resist in the most dramatic ways and to continue fighting even after it seemed at times that all hope was lost, which in the Chinese case ultimately contributed to the communist party’s victory at the end of the civil war a few years later. While most of the world united in their opposition to fascism and many countries’ citizens lost their lives because of it, the Soviet Union and China suffered the most from this ideological scourge in terms human casualties, which is why it is important to pay homage to their victims and never forget their sacrifices.

It then brings the article back to its lead-in news event, the Victory Day commemorations in Russia. The Chinese and all other anti-fascist people stand in solidarity with their Russian comrades-in-arms who valiantly fought to defeat this wretched ideology. But in the meantime, it is important to remind the world that the destructive flames of fascism were not fully extinguished on 9 May but were finally put out once and for all more than three months later on August 15 with the Empire of Japan’s unilateral surrender.

That said, it is equally important to ensure that fascism never rises again anywhere in the world – be it in Europe, Asia, or elsewhere – and that all instances of this possibly happening are universally condemned in the strongest way possible whenever they occur.

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The US and Iran Flex Their Muscles. The Iran Nuclear Deal (JCPOA) One Year after US Withdrawal


One year after the US unilateral withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal (known also as JCPOA- Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action), the US is flexing its muscles by announcing an already previously scheduled departure of the Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group as a measure to frighten Iran and force it to the negotiation table. Iran responded by showing a video that included several US Navy in the Persian Gulf as potential targets to its forces. Both messages clearly aim to avoid a war. This is why Iran is expected to refer back to resolutions 26, 36 and 37 to send a warning to the UN to rectify the violation of the deal by the US or else Tehran will be in its legal position to “cease performing its commitments in whole or in part”. This is what President Hassan Rouhani is expected to announce tomorrow Wednesday the 8thof May, according to Iranian official sources, who expect Iran to stay in the deal for now.

“Iran doesn’t want to trigger a hostile reaction from the United Nations and its European allies, so that they do not join the US in imposing sanctions as they did in 2011. This is why Iran will remain as a signature member of the JCPOA. Today, those who praised and signed the nuclear deal are standing, if only verbally, against the US unilateral withdrawal from the deal and its imposition of one-sided sanctions”, said the official source to me.

Iran is expected to abide by the article 26, calling upon the US administration, the President and the Congress to “refrain from imposing new nuclear-related sanctions… re-introduce or re-impose sanctions specific in Annex II”. According to article 26, US failure to respect the deal will offer Iran “ground to cease performing its commitments under this JCPOA in whole or in part”.

Source: author

Iran is expected to invoke Article 36 that states “if Iran believed that any of the EU+3 were not meeting their commitments under this JCPOA, Iran could refer the issue to the Joint Commission for resolution…that will have 15 days to resolve the issue, unless the time period is extended by consensus”. Therefore, the Iranians responsible are not expected to go to a military war against the US but to adopt a gradual legal step before using its right to break its commitments, partially or fully.

According to Iranian sources, those in Iran calling for “an immediate and complete withdrawal from the JCPOA failed to convince the majority of decision-makers to adopt a radical approach, unless the UN and Europe (United Kingdom, France and Germany) were to fail to lift the sanctions on Iran and do nothing to support Iranian export of oil and import of needed technology and goods. Iran would then have the option of disregarding concerns related to Arak Nuclear Complex heavy water production plant to produce and reprocess weapons-grade plutonium and to restart unrestricted enrichment”.

It is clear that Iran doesn’t want to close the Strait of Hormuz, as much as it is clear that the US is not looking for a military confrontation with Iran. The US Navy, as a normal procedure, is still in regular contact with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) stationed at the entrance of the Hormuz Strait, even if the IRGC is on the US terrorism list.

Source: author

The US administration would have preferred to support a Middle Eastern country willing to declare war on Iran. Nevertheless, Iran is not Yemen and has destructive fire power sufficient to dissuade any regional country from attacking it. Thus, a war with a slim chance of a favourable outcome for the West is not expected despite the rise of tensions in the Persian Gulf.

The US is failing to intimidate Iran and force it to the negotiation table. The US demands, composed of 12 points, are and will remain impossible for Iran to meet or to come close to. Iran will never withdraw from Syria unless on the request of President Bashar al-Assad, and is not in a position to cease its supports to its partners in the Middle East unless the constitution is amended. And last, Iran considers its missile production a defensive strategy against any possible aggression. This strategy reflects Iran’s experience during the Iraq-Iran war in 1980’s, when Iran was much less well equipped than it is today.

Notwithstanding overwhelming US military capabilities, the US administration is sending signals of weakness to its regional allies and to Iran. Tehran’s challenges to the US are also watched carefully by the Gulf countries who will think carefully before confronting Iran any time in the future.

President Hassan Rouhani has rejected Trump’s request for a meeting eight times. The US administration will, without any doubt, fail to bring Iran to the negotiation table by sending the Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group and seems incapable of imposing zero oil export on Iran. The Middle East is boiling and miscalculations can be expected. Nevertheless, it is more about a show of force than about the possibility of war.

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Boondoggle, Inc.: Making Sense of the $1.25 Trillion National Security State Budget

In its latest budget request, the Trump administration is asking for a near-record $750 billion for the Pentagon and related defense activities, an astonishing figure by any measure. If passed by Congress, it will, in fact, be one of the largest military budgets in American history, topping peak levels reached during the Korean and Vietnam Wars. And keep one thing in mind: that $750 billion represents only part of the actual annual cost of our national security state.

There are at least 10 separate pots of money dedicated to fighting wars, preparing for yet more wars, and dealing with the consequences of wars already fought. So the next time a president, a general, a secretary of defense, or a hawkish member of Congressinsists that the U.S. military is woefully underfunded, think twice. A careful look at U.S. defense expenditures offers a healthy corrective to such wildly inaccurate claims.

Now, let’s take a brief dollar-by-dollar tour of the U.S. national security state of 2019, tallying the sums up as we go, and see just where we finally land (or perhaps the word should be “soar”), financially speaking.

The Pentagon’s “Base” Budget: The Pentagon’s regular, or “base,” budget is slated to be $544.5 billion in Fiscal Year 2020, a healthy sum but only a modest down payment on total military spending.

As you might imagine, that base budget provides basic operating funds for the Department of Defense, much of which will actually be squandered on preparations for ongoing wars never authorized by Congress, overpriced weapons systems that aren’t actually needed, or outright waste, an expansive category that includes everything from cost overruns to unnecessary bureaucracy. That $544.5 billion is the amount publicly reported by the Pentagon for its essential expenses and includes as well $9.6 billion in mandatory spending that goes toward items like military retirement.

Among those basic expenses, let’s start with waste, a category even the biggest boosters of Pentagon spending can’t defend. The Pentagon’s own Defense Business Board found that cutting unnecessary overhead, including a bloated bureaucracy and a startlingly large shadow workforce of private contractors, would save $125 billion over five years. Perhaps you won’t be surprised to learn that the board’s proposal has done little to quiet calls for more money. Instead, from the highest reaches of the Pentagon (and the president himself) came a proposal to create a Space Force, a sixth military service that’s all but guaranteed to further bloat its bureaucracy and duplicate work already being done by the other services. Even Pentagon planners estimate that the future Space Force will cost $13 billion over the next five years (and that’s undoubtedly a low-ball figure).

In addition, the Defense Department employs an army of private contractors — more than 600,000 of them — many doing jobs that could be done far more cheaply by civilian government employees. Cutting the private contractor work force by 15% to a mere half-million people would promptly save more than $20 billion per year. And don’t forget the cost overruns on major weapons programs like the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent — the Pentagon’s unwieldy name for the Air Force’s new intercontinental ballistic missile — and routine overpayments for even minor spare parts (like $8,000 for a helicopter gear worth less than $500, a markup of more than 1,500%).

Then there are the overpriced weapons systems the military can’t even afford to operate like the $13-billion aircraft carrier, 200 nuclear bombers at $564 million a pop, and the F-35 combat aircraft, the most expensive weapons system in history, at a price tag of at least $1.4 trillion over the lifetime of the program. The Project On Government Oversight (POGO) has found — and the Government Accountability Office recently substantiated — that, despite years of work and staggering costs, the F-35 may never perform as advertised.

And don’t forget the Pentagon’s recent push for long-range strike weapons and new reconnaissance systems designed for future wars with a nuclear-armed Russia or China, the kind of conflicts that could easily escalate into World War III, where such weaponry would be beside the point. Imagine if any of that money were devoted to figuring out how to prevent such conflicts, rather than hatching yet more schemes for how to fight them.

Base Budget total: $554.1 billion

The War Budget: As if its regular budget weren’t enough, the Pentagon also maintains its very own slush fund, formally known as the Overseas Contingency Operations account, or OCO. In theory, the fund is meant to pay for the war on terror — that is, the U.S. wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Syria, and elsewhere across the Middle East and Africa. In practice, it does that and so much more.

After a fight over shutting down the government led to the formation of a bipartisan commission on deficit reduction — known as Simpson-Bowles after its co-chairs, former Clinton Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles and former Republican Senator Alan Simpson — Congress passed the Budget Control Act of 2011. It officially put caps on both military and domestic spending that were supposed to save a total of $2 trillion over 10 years. Half of that figure was to come from the Pentagon, as well as from nuclear weapons spending at the Department of Energy. As it happened, though, there was a huge loophole: that war budget was exempt from the caps. The Pentagon promptly began to put tens of billions of dollars into it for pet projects that had nothing whatsoever to do with current wars (and the process has never stopped). The level of abuse of this fund remained largely secret for years, with the Pentagon admitting only in 2016 that just half of the money in the OCO went to actual wars, prompting critics and numerous members of Congress — including then-Congressman Mick Mulvaney, now President Trump’s latest chief of staff — to dub it a “slush fund.”

This year’s budget proposal supersizes the slush in that fund to a figure that would likely be considered absurd if it weren’t part of the Pentagon budget. Of the nearly $174 billion proposed for the war budget and “emergency” funding, only a little more than $25 billion is meant to directly pay for the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. The rest will be set aside for what’s termed “enduring” activities that would continue even if those wars ended, or to pay for routine Pentagon activities that couldn’t be funded within the constraints of the budget caps. The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives is expected to work to alter this arrangement. Even if the House leadership were to have its way, however, most of its reductions in the war budget would be offset by lifting caps on the regular Pentagon budget by corresponding amounts. (It’s worth noting that President Trump’s budget calls for someday eliminating the slush fund.)

The 2020 OCO also includes $9.2 billion in “emergency” spending for building Trump’s beloved wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, among other things. Talk about a slush fund! There is no emergency, of course. The executive branch is just seizing taxpayer dollars that Congress refused to provide. Even supporters of the president’s wall should be troubled by this money grab. As 36 former Republican members of Congress recently argued, “What powers are ceded to a president whose policies you support may also be used by presidents whose policies you abhor.” Of all of Trump’s “security”-related proposals, this is undoubtedly the most likely to be eliminated, or at least scaled back, given the congressional Democrats against it.

War Budget total: $173.8 billion

Running tally: $727.9 billion

The Department of Energy/Nuclear Budget: It may surprise you to know that work on the deadliest weapons in the U.S. arsenal, nuclear warheads, is housed in the Department of Energy (DOE), not the Pentagon. The DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration runs a nationwide research, development, and production network for nuclear warheads and naval nuclear reactors that stretchesfrom Livermore, California, to Albuquerque and Los Alamos, New Mexico, to Kansas City, Missouri, to Oak Ridge, Tennessee, to Savannah River, South Carolina. Its laboratories also have a long history of program mismanagement, with some projects coming in at nearly eight times the initial estimates.

Nuclear Budget total: $24.8 billion

Running tally: $752.7 billion

“Defense Related Activities”: This category covers the $9 billion that annually goes to agencies other than the Pentagon, the bulk of it to the FBI for homeland security-related activities.

Defense Related Activities total: $9 billion

Running tally: $761.7 billion

The five categories outlined above make up the budget of what’s officially known as “national defense.” Under the Budget Control Act, this spending should have been capped at $630 billion. The $761.7 billion proposed for the 2020 budget is, however, only the beginning of the story.

The Veterans Affairs Budget: The wars of this century have created a new generation of veterans. In all, over 2.7 million U.S. military personnel have cycled through the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. Many of them remain in need of substantial support to deal with the physical and mental wounds of war. As a result, the budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs has gone through the roof, more than tripling in this century to a proposed $216 billion. And this massive figure may not even prove enough to provide the necessary services.

More than 6,900 U.S. military personnel have died in Washington’s post-9/11 wars, with more than 30,000 wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan alone. These casualties are, however, just the tip of the iceberg. Hundreds of thousands of returning troops suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), illnesses created by exposure to toxic burn pits, or traumatic brain injuries. The U.S. government is committed to providing care for these veterans for the rest of their lives. An analysis by the Costs of War Project at Brown University has determined that obligations to veterans of the Iraq and Afghan wars alone will total more than $1 trillion in the years to come. This cost of war is rarely considered when leaders in Washington decide to send U.S. troops into combat.

Veterans Affairs total: $216 billion

Running tally: $977.7 billion

The Homeland Security Budget: The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is a mega-agency created after the 9/11 attacks. At the time, it swallowed 22 then-existing government organizations, creating a massive department that currently has nearly a quarter of a million employees. Agenciesthat are now part of DHS include the Coast Guard, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Secret Service, the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office, and the Office of Intelligence and Analysis.

While some of DHS’s activities — such as airport security and defense against the smuggling of a nuclear weapon or “dirty bomb” into our midst — have a clear security rationale, many others do not. ICE — America’s deportation force — has done far more to cause suffering among innocent people than to thwart criminals or terrorists. Other questionable DHS activities include grants to local law enforcement agencies to help them buy military-grade equipment.

Homeland Security total: $69.2 billion

Running tally: $1.0469 trillion

The International Affairs Budget: This includes the budgets of the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Diplomacy is one of the most effective ways to make the United States and the world more secure, but it has been under assault in the Trump years. The Fiscal Year 2020 budget calls for a one-third cut in international affairs spending, leaving it at about one-fifteenth of the amount allocated for the Pentagon and related agencies grouped under the category of “national defense.” And that doesn’t even account for the fact that more than 10% of the international affairs budget supports military aid efforts, most notably the $5.4 billion Foreign Military Financing (FMF) program. The bulk of FMF goes to Israel and Egypt, but in all over a dozen countries receive funding under it, including Jordan, Lebanon, Djibouti, Tunisia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine, Georgia, the Philippines, and Vietnam.

International Affairs total: $51 billion

Running tally: $1.0979 trillion     

The Intelligence Budget: The United States has 17 separate intelligence agencies. In addition to the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis and the FBI, mentioned above, they are the CIA; the National Security Agency; the Defense Intelligence Agency; the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research; the Drug Enforcement Agency’s Office of National Security Intelligence; the Treasury Department’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis; the Department of Energy’s Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence; the National Reconnaissance Office; the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency; Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance; the Army’s Intelligence and Security Command; the Office of Naval Intelligence; Marine Corps Intelligence; and Coast Guard Intelligence. And then there’s that 17th one, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, set up to coordinate the activities of the other 16.

We know remarkably little about the nature of the nation’s intelligence spending, other than its supposed total, released in a report every year. By now, it’s more than $80 billion. The bulk of this funding, including for the CIA and NSA, is believed to be hidden under obscure line items in the Pentagon budget. Since intelligence spending is not a separate funding stream, it’s not counted in our tally below (though, for all we know, some of it should be).

Intelligence Budget total: $80 billion

Running tally (still): $1.0979 trillion

Defense Share of Interest on the National Debt: The interest on the national debt is well on its way to becoming one of the most expensive items in the federal budget. Within a decade, it is projected to exceed the Pentagon’s regular budget in size. For now, of the more than $500 billion in interest taxpayers fork over to service the government’s debt each year, about $156 billion can be attributed to Pentagon spending.

Defense Share of National Debt total: $156.3 billion

Final tally: $1.2542 trillion

So, our final annual tally for war, preparations for war, and the impact of war comes to more than $1.25 trillion — more than double the Pentagon’s base budget. If the average taxpayer were aware that this amount was being spent in the name of national defense — with much of it wasted, misguided, or simply counterproductive — it might be far harder for the national security state to consume ever-growing sums with minimal public pushback. For now, however, the gravy train is running full speed ahead and its main beneficiaries — Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, and their cohorts — are laughing all the way to the bank.

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5G Apocalypse, The Imminent Dangers ‘Video’


What is 5G? We need to know the dangers of this technology.

A full length documentary by Sacha Stone exposing the 5G existential threat to humanity in a way we never imagined possible!

Scientists, environmental groups, medical doctors and citizens around the world are appealing to all governments to halt telecommunications companies’ deployment of 5G (fifth generation) wireless networks, which they call “an experiment on humanity and the environment that is defined as a crime under international law.”


Watch the video below.

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Pandering to ‘Israel’ Means War with Iran

The United States is moving dangerously forward in what appears to be a deliberate attempt to provoke a war with Iran, apparently based on threat intelligence provided by Israel. The claims made by National Security Advisor John Bolton and by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that there is solid evidence of Iran’s intention to attack US forces in the Persian Gulf region is almost certainly a fabrication, possibly deliberately contrived by Bolton and company in collaboration with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It will be used to justify sending bombers and additional naval air resources to confront any possible moves by Tehran to maintain its oil exports, which were blocked by Washington last week. If the US Navy tries to board ships carrying Iranian oil it will undoubtedly, and justifiably, provoke a violent response from Iran, which is precisely what Bolton, Pompeo and Netanyahu are seeking.

It would be difficult to find in the history books another example of a war fought for no reason whatsoever. As ignorant as President Donald Trump and his triumvirate or psychotics Bolton, Pompeo and Elliott Abrams are, even they surely know that Iran poses no threat to the United States. If they believe at all that a war is necessary, they no doubt base their judgment on the perception that the United States must maintain its number one position in the world by occasionally attacking and defeating someone to serve as an example of what might happen if one defies Washington. Understanding that, the Iranians would be wise to avoid confrontation until the sages in the White House move on to some easier target, which at the moment would appear to be Venezuela.

The influence of Israel over US foreign policy is undeniable, with Washington now declaring that it will “review ties” with other nations that are considered to be unfriendly to the Jewish state. For observers who might also believe that Israel and its allies in the US are the driving force behind America’s belligerency in the Middle East, there are possibly some other games that are in play, all involving Benjamin Netanyahu and his band of merry cutthroats. It is becoming increasingly apparent that foreign politicians have realized that the easiest way to gain Washington’s favor is to do something that will please Israel. In practical terms, the door to Capitol Hill and the White House is opened through the good offices of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

Israel is desperate to confirm its legitimacy in international fora, where it has few friends in spite of an intensive lobbying campaign. It seeks to have countries that do not have an embassy in Israel to take steps to establish one, and it also wants more nations that do already have an embassy in Tel Aviv to move to Jerusalem, building on the White House’s decision taken last year to do just that. Not surprisingly, nations and political leaders who are on the make and want American support have drawn the correct conclusions and pander to Israel as a first step.

One only has to cite the example of Venezuela. Juan Guaido, the candidate favored by Washington for regime change, has undoubtedly a lot of things on his plate but he has proven willing to make some time to say what Benjamin Netanyahu wants to hear, as reported by the Israeli media. The Times of Israel describes how

“Venezuela’s self-proclaimed leader Juan Guaido is working to re-establish diplomatic relations with Israel and isn’t ruling out placing his country’s embassy in Jerusalem, according to an interview with an Israeli newspaper published Tuesday.”

One would think that Guaido would consider his interview sufficient, but he has also taken the pandering process one step farther, reportedly displaying huge video images of the flags of both Israel and the United States at his rallies.

This deference to Israel’s interests produced an almost immediate positive result with Netanyahu recognizing him as the legitimate Venezuelan head of state, followed by an echo chamber of effusive congratulations from US (sic) Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, who praised the Jewish state for “standing with the people of Venezuela and the forces of freedom and democracy.” Donald Trump’s esteemed special envoy for international negotiations, Jason Greenblatt, also joined in, praising the Israeli government for its “courageous stand in solidarity with the Venezuelan people.”

A similar bonding took place regarding Brazil, where hard right conservative leader Jair Bolsonaro was recently elected president. Netanyahu attended the Bolsonaro inauguration last December and the two men benefit from strong support from Christian Evangelicals. Bolsonaro repaid the favor by promising that Israel would be his first foreign trip. In the event he went to Washington first, but the state visit to Israel took place in April, just before that country’s elections, in a bid to demonstrate international support for Netanyahu.

Brazilian Jews constitute a wealthy and powerful community which reacted positively to Bolsonaro’s pledges to fight corruption and high crime rates while also repairing a struggling economy. They also appreciated his stance on Israel. He committed to moving the Brazilian embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, though he has backpedaled a bit on that pledge. And he also promised to shut the Palestinian embassy in the capital Brasilia. He famously asked and answered his own question,

“Is Palestine a country? Palestine is not a country, so there should be no embassy here. You do not negotiate with terrorists.”

Bolsonaro’s pro-Israel anti-Venezuela credentials also endeared him to Donald Trump on a visit to Washington in mid-March which was described by the media as a “love fest.” The Brazilian leader’s visits to Israel and the US as well as Guaido’s promises to Israel reveal that the foreign policies of Tel Aviv and Washington have become inextricably intertwined, with supplicant nations and politicians wisely seeking to do homage to both regimes to gain favor. It is a development that would shock the Founding Fathers, most particularly George Washington, who warned against entangling alliances, and it means that American interests will be seen through an Israeli prism, a reality that has already produced very bad results.

Posted in USA, ZIO-NAZI, IranComments Off on Pandering to ‘Israel’ Means War with Iran

Why Does Trump Like Communist Vietnam? Because It’s Capitalist


Before Donald Trump’s February summit with Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, The Washington Post ran an article headlined, “The US wants North Korea to follow the ‘miracle’ of Vietnam’s path.”

“In light of the once-unimaginable prosperity and partnership we have with Vietnam today, I have a message for Chairman Kim Jong Un: President Trump believes your country can replicate this path,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, as quoted in The Post article.

In 2019, the evolution of Vietnam toward capitalism, praised by the Trump administration, is not without irony. A ruinous and brutal U.S. war against North Vietnam and its Viet Cong supporters in the south ended with the U.S. withdrawal of military troops in 1973, followed by a complete end to the conflict in 1975.

Indeed, it was a little under 45 years ago that the U.S. military departed Vietnam with more than 58,000 soldiers dead and its tail between its legs. In the end, the North Vietnamese forces had won a decisive victory against the United States and the South Vietnamese army (the Army of the Republic of Vietnam). The North and South Vietnamese combatants lost nearly 1.5 million soldiers and at least 2 million civilians. According to The Balance, “Vietnam was the most heavily bombed country in history.”

Nearly three times more bombs were dropped on Vietnam than the U.S. used in World War II. In addition, 20 million gallons of herbicides were used to clear plants and trees in an effort to try and expose the Viet Cong. There was also the widespread use of the toxic Agent Orange, napalm and other deadly chemicals. The legacy that the U.S. left behind in Vietnam was gruesome and full of atrocities.

Image on the right: Until his death in 1969 Ho Chi Minh, the communist leader of Vietnam, led a war against the French and then the US. His nation became a victor against both powers despite having almost no advanced weaponry at his military’s disposal.

A statue of Ho Chi Minh

The bloody combat could have been avoided. Following World War II, Ho Chi Minh had written to President Harry Truman,seeking his support to prevent the French from returning to govern Vietnam as a colony. Truman ignored Minh’s appeal and even began supporting the French military struggle for control in 1950. When the French were routed in 1954 at Dien Bien Phu, the country was divided into North and South Vietnam by an international agreement. It did not take long for the U.S. to begin supporting a puppet “democratic” government in the South, leading to a full-fledged conflict with North Vietnam in the ’60s.

After the war with the U.S. and South Vietnam was over, North and South Vietnam became one unified communist state.

The United States justified the conflict as a means to stop the spread of communism during the Cold War. Vietnam historically had an often antagonistic relationship with China, however, so, U.S. leaders’ fear of the Chinese Communist Party controlling Vietnam along with the Soviet Union was a toothless Cold War fear. Indeed, that fear became a moot point when in the late 1980s, the Vietnam Communist Party began to turn from socialism and government-owned industries to betting its economic future on neoliberal capitalism.

Vietnam’s shift to capitalism, which now is in full swing, came partly as a result of several factors. Firstly, the nation was economically devastated by the war with the U.S. — particularly the bombing of infrastructure and agricultural fields. Compounding this obstacle, the nation had traditionally been reliant on subsistence agricultural production, which hampered industrialization of the nation. Furthermore, the U.S. embargo against Vietnam was not officially lifted until 1994. In addition, with the fall of the Soviet Union and the movement of China toward state capitalism, Vietnam followed suit.

John Battelle wrote about Vietnam’s neighbor in a recent commentary, “The End of Democratic Capitalism,” in Medium: “It’s now inarguable that the most muscular version of capitalism worldwide is the brand currently practiced by the Chinese state. Let’s call it autocratic capitalism  — for it is a market-driven economic system where the market is controlled by an autocratic state.”

Battelle adds “Growth is capitalism’s most sacred goal, and the Chinese know it.” So, apparently, do the single-party rulers of Vietnam.

A Pizza Hut stands in a mall

From Adidas and North Face to Pizza Hut and McDonald’s, Vietnam has become a rapidly expanding consumer market for global corporation branded products.

As USA Today states in a 2015 article, “Vietnam … may actually be one of the most pro-capitalist countries on Earth. Almost all Vietnamese people — 95% of them — now support capitalism, according to the Pew Research Center, which polled nearly 45 nations late last year on economic issues.” In the United States, by contrast, Pew found that only 70 percent thought a “free market” system was ideal.

As early as 1993, U.S. multinational corporations began seeking out investments in Vietnam. A February 3, 1993, New York Times article noted, “Almost 18 years after United States diplomats fled Saigon before the advancing communist troops, American capitalists are trickling back, hoping to employ their former enemies and ready the country for a corporate invasion.”

Although the U.S. lags behind Asian nations, such as South Korea, China and Japan, in investment in Vietnam, its presence is visible throughout the country, whether it be in Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonald outletsCoca-Cola or other Western and Asian name brands and corporations. At the center of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) stands the opulent Park Hyatt Hotel, a sprawling symbol of gilded capitalism. Room rates there begin at $350 a night. Indeed, Vietnam is so eager to seek U.S. capital investment that it has downplayed the catastrophic war by only sparingly reminding citizens and tourists that it ever occurred.

For example, in Ho Chi Minh City the former Exhibition House for U.S. and Puppet Crimes first had its name changed to the Exhibition House for Crimes and War Aggression and then in 1995 to the euphemistic War Remnants Museum. There one can see the destruction and massive death caused by the U.S. and French when they failed to recolonize Vietnam after WWII, but the tone is muted. Smaller museums (including the “Hanoi Hilton,” where John McCain was imprisoned) and war sites are scattered around the country. They often appear to be relics from a long time ago.

There are occasional outdoor displays in Vietnam of U.S. military equipment left behind in the rush to end the war. They are few in number and some have the appearance of junkyards. There is little signage that even identifies the hardware with the destructive conflict with the U.S. The majority of Vietnamese people were born after the war, and the state has its eyes on becoming a “developed nation,” not on looking backward.

The move to an energized capitalism is now overseen by Nguyen Phu Trong, who last autumn assumed the dual roles of Communist Party secretary and president of Vietnam. If any animosity remains toward the U.S., it was hard to find it, as I traveled from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City this past December, in a nation that now values individual economic competition and gain over socialist principles. A Pew 2017 poll found that 84 percent of Vietnamese citizens had a positive view of the U.S.

The state still controls many areas of the economy, such as much of the land use and investment in a variety of ventures, including the lucrative area of tourism. Indeed, up to one-third of the Vietnamese economy is still state owned. The country, however, joined the World Trade Organization in 2007, in return for capital and trading opportunities, and all but surrendered its economic adherence to communism.

Primarily due to the influx of foreign capital, Vietnam has been experiencing a 6 percent to 7 percent gross domestic growth in the past few years. Many of the more than 90 million Vietnamese citizens are rising to the middle class, but, as in the U.S., only a few are rising to the top income tier – and many are left eking out a barely livable existence.

Those who work for well-paying foreign companies and enjoy larger salaries – and those in the booming tourist industry – have created a market for global products. The “haves” have become ardent consumers. Vietnam Briefing found “a survey conducted by Nielsen concluded that Vietnam ranks third in the world in terms of fondness for branded goods.”

Many expensive brands have a presence in Vietnam. They include, according to Vietnam BriefingLouis VuittonDiorBurberryErmenegildo ZegnaBulgari and Hermes. The Briefing notes that “the Hermes boutique in Hanoi, opened in 2008, increased its profits gradually by 20 to 30 percent each year.”

Although the primary means of transportation in Vietnam is motorbikes, dealers for luxury cars have also opened. The ownership of automobiles is rising, particularly in Ho Chi Minh City.

Most financial analysts who specialize in Vietnam put the poverty rate in 2018 at about 10 percent(down from about 85 percent in 1993), but that is a relative figure in a nation where the average worker’s salary is somewhere just below $2200.

Vietnam’s recent financial growth is not solving the country’s economic disparities. In fact, it is increasing them. In Vietnam what is evident is the inevitable result of soaring capitalism: income inequality. What is happening there is one more example of how economic injustice is built into capitalism even in a nation whose government is nominally communist.

Indeed, a 2017 analysis by Oxfam warns of signs that Vietnam is moving toward an increasingly inequitable society. It does not help, the report finds, that the tax system in Vietnam is generally regressive. This means that Vietnamese citizens are subject to many flat taxes and fees, regardless of income. Since 2009, corporate taxes have been reduced from 28 to 20 percent. And, the report notes, “tax avoidance and evasion are also letting the richest multinationals off the hook and sucking money out of the budget.” Therefore, the tax burden disproportionately relies on lower income earners, many of them rural farmers and members of Indigenous populations.

A person carries produce in a market

As the number of wealthy rise in Vietnam on the back of capitalism, inequality also is increasing. The rural poor still come to cities and towns to sell produce, for example, often by carrying baskets suspended from a wooden strip on their shoulders.

The Oxfam study flatly states, “Economic inequality in Vietnam is growing by any measure. World Bank data shows that income inequality in Vietnam has increased in the last two decades, and more importantly, the richest are taking a disproportionate share of income.”

Oxfam notes that advancement opportunities for those in the lower economic strata are hampered by barriers such as tuition for secondary education and charges for essential supplies for primary school, such as textbooks. As another example of disparity, Oxfam explains that Vietnam’s health system is more accessible to the wealthy. Many of the costs normally absorbed by a socialist state are being offloaded to individuals, many of them of limited means.

As the UN confirmed as early as 2008, the glaring injustice of Vietnam’s rush to capitalism is the economic division it is creating among the nation’s citizens: “According to statistics … 29.9 percent of the gross national income is held by rich people, who account for just 10 percent of the population.” The concentration of money among the wealthy and upper middle class has only increased since that time, as the Oxfam report concluded.

Meanwhile, the nominally communist government severely limits free speech. As Foreign Policy notes,Vietnam wants to curry the favor of Western politicians and global corporations, but not to open up the nation into a forum for democracy. That is just fine with the U.S., especially with Donald Trump.

What is important to the U.S. government is nations directing their economies to global capitalism. That they evolve into democratic societies, despite bipartisan platitudinous claims to the contrary, is of secondary and minimal priority to D.C. policy makers.

In fact, single-party governments that adopt capitalistic economic systems are more stable as far as corporations and investors are concerned. Therefore, multinational corporations may prefer a “communist” Vietnam or China to nations that allow an unpredictable democratic process.

Conveniently overlooked by the U.S. government’s glee at the explosion of global capitalism in Vietnam is the alleged corruption of the Vietnamese government. A 2015 Guardian article stated, “Transparency International last year reported that Vietnam is perceived to be one of the most corrupt countries in the world, doing worse than 118 others and scoring only 31 out of a possible 100 good points on its index.”

It is hardly a new development that the U.S. government downplays economic inequity and corruption in governments that it supports. Why would the U.S. government be concerned about economic injustice in Vietnam when it fosters it at home? As for the tolerance of corruption, look no further than the Trump White House.

Ho Chi Minh died in 1969, six years before the North Vietnamese army took control of South Vietnam. By the late 1980s, five-year collectivization plans — and the other factors cited earlier in this article — had failed to improve the economy. As a result, Vietnam has embarked on a path that makes it a member of the global neoliberal community, which ensures that inequity and corruption will continue to persist there.

Posted in USA, VietnamComments Off on Why Does Trump Like Communist Vietnam? Because It’s Capitalist

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