Category Archives for "Foreign Affairs"

Feb 03

Arriving in a new and less welcoming America after years abroad

By Mitchell Blatt | Foreign Affairs , Local Politics

On December 5, 2016, I arrived at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Fresh off the plane from China, I was tired and irritable waiting in the immigration line. Then on a TV screen hanging from the ceiling came a familiar face.

President Obama, with his bright, toothy grin, smiled at the arriving travelers. “Americans are some of the friendliest people in the world,” he said in his message, “and they will welcome you to your community … no matter where you come from.” Around me I saw men of every race in business suits, women in headscarves, women in dresses, and people in traditional garb.

I relaxed and felt the pride of returning to one’s country. But my sense of patriotism at that moment was tempered by an abiding anxiety and despair. Imagine what the feeling will be when Donald Trump addresses Americans and foreigners taking their first steps into our country. What message will he send?

This is the man who referred to an American judge as “Mexican” and said his ethnicity should disqualify him from presiding over a case, the man who tweeted anti-Semitic messages from white nationalist accounts, the man who built his political brand on questioning the place of birth and religion of America’s first black president. This man, with his long record of antagonism towards minorities and immigrants, is among the last people you would want to greet diverse travelers at America’s ports of entry.

The very demeanor of the man is disagreeable. He talks like a child. Everything is either “tremendous” or “a disaster.” He can’t go one minute without congratulating himself. There’s nothing welcoming looking at him. His forced smile is that of a used car salesman who just sold you a lemon. Most of the time, though, when he’s not aware of the cameras, he’s skulking around with a scowl like he just read a tweet about his crowd size.

It didn’t take long to find out. Less than two weeks into his presidency, permanent American residents are being detained at airports. Five-year-olds are being handcuffed and removed from their parents. Interpreters who worked with the American forces on our self-proclaimed goal to stabilize Iraq are being told they can’t come to America, and Syrian refugees of any religion are being kept out even if they’ve already been vetted and acquired the proper papers, some even forcibly deported.

There’s more to come that will affect students, tourists, and immigrants from all around the world. One draft order would deport legal immigrants who legally use welfare programs. Another would clamp down on foreign workers. Buried in the text of the immigration ban that Trump already signed are provisions calling for the government to create a database of travel documents and require pointless interviews for any temporary visa holders who wants to extend their visa. Multiple executive orders call for the government to release reports on alleged crimes committed by immigrants and foreigners, reminiscent of Breitbart’s coverage of crimes committed by refugees and minorities under the leadership of Steve Bannon.

It’s not just that Trump doesn’t care about the value immigrants bring to America. It’s not that he simply wants there to be a semblance of order governing immigration. He could have made the already difficult immigration process harder without blocking people who already went through the process. The blanket bans, the wide-ranging scope that targets visa-holders and green card-holders, those measures serve no conceivable purpose other than spite.

As an international traveler who is fortunate enough to have been born in the most powerful country in the world, and thus have access to more than 160 countries visa-free, I feel sorry for the people who went through a process for over a year, paid large sums of money, and are blocked from entering the “shining city on the hill” at their last steps just because of where they were born. I feel embarrassed, having explained many times to people of the world, how America is a country of immigrants, how anyone can be an American, part of a wondrous culture created through exchange. Was I wrong? Were the naive Chinese citizens who told me I “didn’t look American” because my eyes were the wrong color right after all?

I have friends from China who wished to be American, who loved America so much they called themselves “American” when we met. I have friends who wanted the American values of freedom and democracy for their country, who wait to know whether America will protect them, even as Americans themselves take their system of government and rule of law for granted.

Is America still all its patriots and poets say she is? Will America welcome you, “no matter where you come from”? Has it ever been “exceptional”? There have been times before when those words didn’t ring true either. Today’s self-proclaimed “patriots,” who spout on about “America First” in front of a flag while defending their unconstitutional executive order, certainly lose their right to invoke any of the self-glorifying mythology.

But as long as once-strangers fleeing persecution are met with well-wishers and lawyers who will file a habeas appeal on their behalf, America will retain some of the friendliest people in the world.

Dec 12

“Sometimes you need someone who doesn’t act professional”: Taiwanese on Trump

By Mitchell Blatt | China , Foreign Affairs , New Writing

Whatever one thinks about Trump the person, the vast majority of Taiwanese are ecstatic that Trump appeared to give their country a little respect and took a (pre-planned) phone call from Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen. I wrote about the circumstances behind Taiwan’s domestic politics at Red Alert Politics and how Taiwan’s youth are increasingly united around independence: What Trump’s call means to Taiwan’s ‘strawberry generation'”.

Now here are brief comments from two other young Taiwanese I talked to recently.

Ryan, a bartender who has worked in Nanjing, China, the Republic of China’s old capital, said:

“Finally there’s a politician who is not political. Sometimes you just need someone who does not act like a professional to make a change. When you try to break through an impasse, you’ll need a random genius to break it, then you’ll have a chance to rebuild something.”

Mohan, whom I met at a hostel in Nanjing, China, said:

“That Trump had a phone call with Tsai Ing-wen made me especially happy. Although China has developed pretty well, life isn’t just about money. The mainstream thinking of Chinese people still isn’t in accord with the tide in the world.”

Aug 16

Dispatches from the Kabul Cafe: Heidi Kingstone’s Reportage Puts Afghanistan’s Problems in Stark Relief

By Mitchell Blatt | Foreign Affairs , Literature

51MDNIaxOdL._SX319_BO1,204,203,200_Fourteen years after America’s invasion of Iraq and the establishment of a new government, it is widely accepted that Afghanistan is an unstable state with democratic deficits and that the results of the intervention were far from the goals. A report from the Vision of Humanity in 2013 that called that Afghanistan the least peaceful in the world put those failures in stark relief. But just to hear the numbers—4,500 people died from terrorist attacks in 2014, 20% of young women are literate—doesn’t do justice to the victims.

Each number in those datasets is a real person. Heidi Kingstone, in her book Dispatches from the Kabul Cafe, gives voice to some of their stories, especially those of the women who are usually silent. Kingstone, a Canadian foreign correspondent with experience in Iraq as well, who has been published in the Financial Times, the Spectator and the Guardian, lived and worked in Afghanistan from 2007 to 2011. Her time there, being towards the end of the mission, after the irrational exuberance of the first days of “flowering democracy,” gives her a good position to comment on the problems the operation has faced.

To start with, she shows the human stakes, with a picture of a free-spirited woman who is faced with violence when she turns down a man’s advances and must go into hiding.Continue reading

Dec 13

The Anniversary of the Nanjing Massacre and Rising Chinese Nationalism

By Mitchell Blatt | Foreign Affairs

Xi Jinping gave a speech at the 77th anniversary of the Nanjing Massacre memorial event that shamed Japanese massacre deniers.

BBC quoted Xi as saying,

“Anyone who tries to deny the massacre will not be allowed by history, the souls of the 300,000 deceased victims, 1.3 billion Chinese people and all people loving peace and justice in the world.”

A subtle jab at Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo who visited the Yasukuni Shrine, where some of the commanders who were found guilty by the military tribunal for involvement in the incident are enshrined?

While there is an annual ceremony at the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall, this is the first year the president has presided over a national event and the first year it has been a national holiday. It is one of three holidays recently implemented as memorials to Sino-Japanese War-related incidents, according to the BBC.
Continue reading

Sep 30

What is Hong Kong’s Nomination Committee, and What Does it Have to Do With Occupy Central?

By Mitchell Blatt | Foreign Affairs

With Occupy Central in full force blocking some streets in Hong Kong, some people may be asking, what are the protests all about?

At the end of August, China’s central government endorsed a proposal that would limit candidates for Hong Kong chief executive, essentially restricting potential candidacies to those who support Beijing. The proposal calls for two or three candidates, each of whom needs to win at least half of the nominations from the Nomination Committee, on the ballot for public voting.

While some democratic protesters called for civic nominations that would allow Hong Kong citizens to nominate candidates directly–a measure supported by Occupy Central–the main thrust of the protests aren’t about civic nominations. The restrictions on candidates in the National People’s Congress proposal simply make it impossible for candidates from liberal pan-democratic parties to run for chief executive, denying the public a choice.

Here is what Hong Kong’s Basic Law (Article 45) says about the chief executive elections:

The method for selecting the Chief Executive shall be specified in the light of the actual situation in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and in accordance with the principle of gradual and orderly progress. The ultimate aim is the selection of the Chief Executive by universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures.

There are three important points:
1.) Basic Law states the “nominating committee” should nominate the chief executive.
2.) The nominating committee should be “broadly representative.”
3.) The last line says it should be “in accordance with democratic procedures”, which pro-Beijing officials say means that it should have a 50 percent nomination threshold.
Continue reading

Sep 01

Beijing Rules Out Democracy in Hong Kong; Occupy Central Plans to Occupy

By Mitchell Blatt | Foreign Affairs

The key point in the ruling by China’s legislature over the 2017 Hong Kong chief executive elections wasn’t over open nominations. It was over the nominating threshold.

China ruled that candidates must win endorsements from half of the members of the nomination committee to make the ballot. In 2012, the pan-democratic side of Hong Kong politics (in contrast to the pro-Beijing/pro-establishment side) did have a candidate in the chief executive race in the form of the Democratic Party’s Albert Ho. Ho received 184 votes, 34 more than the 150 needed to make the ballot.

While the pan-democrats had just enough votes on the then-approximately 1,200 member Election Committee to nominate a candidate, they got crushed in the final voting, and Ho ended up with less than half the number of votes as nominations he got. (The Democratic Party takes some criticism in pan-democratic circles for having compromised in 2010 on democratic reforms, but they do have the largest number of legislators on the pan-democratic side.) If the elections happened in 2017 under the same nomination rules, the pan-democrats would likely have a candidate on the ballot for public votes.
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Aug 26

Support Using American Force if The Benefits Outweigh the Costs… …Even if Your Children Aren’t in the Military

By Mitchell Blatt | Foreign Affairs

Don't talk to me until you learn some sense.

Don’t talk to me until you learn some sense.

“My first question to anyone who is on television saying, we have to get tough, we need to put boots on the ground and we need to go to war in one of these places is, I will hear you out if you tell me you are prepared to send your son, your daughter, your grandson, your granddaughter to that war of which you are beating the drums. If you aren’t, I have no patience with you, and don’t even talk to me.”

Ex-CBS News host Dan Rather made the familiar argument that if you don’t have children serving in the armed forces, then you shouldn’t support fighting a war. This comes in the context of conflict in Ukraine and American air strikes on ISIS in Iraq. Speaking of Iraq, we also heard it the last time America invaded Iraq. At the moment, President Obama has said there won’t be combat troops going to Iraq.

Anyway, whether or not America sends combat troops to Iraq should have nothing to do with how many families have family members serving and everything to do with whether or not it is in America’s interests, weighing the benefits against the costs, to do so.

True, the personal costs might be greater for parents who have children serving in the armed forces, but the military is a national asset deployed for national defense. If threats posed against America are large enough, and combating those threats requires war, then that is when America should go to war to defend itself.
Continue reading

Jul 27

A Rejoinder to Ron Paul

By Mitchell Blatt | Foreign Affairs

For the past few years, Ron Paul has been castigating the Obama administration and members of Congress who support arming rebels in Syria.

His typical argument goes something like the one he made on June 14, 2013:
“The rebels, we don’t even know who they are. … It’s probably going to help the al Qaeda. The weapons we send over there are probably going to end up in the hands of the al Qaeda and will be used against the American people.”

After chemical weapons use was suspected by Assad (which Paul called a false flag), the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity published an article calling the push for an attack by the West “Another Western War Crime In The Making.”

Clearly Paul is anti-war, it would seem.

It would seem.
Continue reading

May 09

A Judicial Coup for the Rich? Reviewing Giles’s Book in the Aftermath of Yingluck’s Dismissal

By Mitchell Blatt | Foreign Affairs , Literature

600px-9147ri-Yingluck_ShinawatraThailand’s Constitutional Court has ruled that Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra must step down, making her the second member of the Shinawatra family to be dismissed from a prime minister post after protests by the People’s Alliance for Democracy. Her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, was ousted in a 2006 military coup, the subject of Giles Ji Ungpakorn’s book A Coup for the Rich (available for download at Wikileaks).

Giles’s book is a quick take (144 pages) on the 2006 coup, published shortly after it happened, from a left-wing perspective. Giles described in detail not only the events surrounding the coup but also the background of Thai politics and history that builds the context for the P.A.D. movement and the coup. The book was banned for “insulting the monarchy”, and Giles fled Thailand to avoid Lese Majesty charges.

Giles, who published the book while working as an associate professor of political science at Chulalongkorn University, is listed as a founding member of the socialist group Turn Left Thailand in an international communist journal. His left-wing political lean is palpable throughout the book.

Still, anyone with a grasp of politics can read through his opinions and apply their own ideology. When he portrays the anti-government protesters as being concerned about government “‘over-spend[ing]’ on welfare” to those whom they (Giles asserts) view as “‘ignorant rural and urban poor’”, a left-winger might consider the P.A.D. activists to be greedy and uncompassionate, while a free-market supporter (right-winger, conservative, neoliberal… pick your descriptor) might consider the P.A.D. to be hard-working people who support pro-growth economic policies. For Giles, it is a fight between “the poor who understand and are committed to democracy” versus “the so-called middle classes who are determined to hang on to their privileges by any means possible.”
Continue reading

Apr 26

Obama Offers Ambiguous Backing of Japan on Senkaku Islands, Resurrects 2013 Syria Argument

By Mitchell Blatt | Foreign Affairs

President Obama expressed the “We Didn’t Start the Fire” doctrine during his visit in Tokyo, stating that the Senkaku Islands, disputed by China but administered by Japan, would fall under the U.S.-Japan security agreement if China claimed them by force, but the strength of his support remains very ambiguous.

He stated that the agreement covers the islands, but he stressed that the agreement precedes him.

“Let me reiterate that our treaty commitments to Japan’s security are absolute and article five covers all territories under Japan’s administration including the Senkaku islands.” (CNBC)

“The treaty between the U.S. and Japan preceded my birth, so obviously this isn’t the red line that I’m drawing.” (Japan Today)

He didn’t start the fire. It was always burning since the U.S. and Japan signed the revised Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan in 1960. The flames were lit in 1938 when the Second Sino-Japanese War began. Or in 1931 when Japan invaded Manchuria. Or in 1894 when Japan won the First Sino-Japanese War and took the Senkaku Islands along with some imperialist possessions. The point is historic events have a relation on today, and we didn’t cause them!Continue reading

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Mitchell Blatt is an intrepid travel writer, and an author of two top China guidebooks, who brings his readers deep into the cultures of the places he explores. Subscribe now to get real stories of real people in real places around the world delivered right to your inbox.