17 January, 2017

Travels and Meet Ups

One quick announcement for the readership: posting will probably be light over the next three weeks, as I will be spending that time away from Beijing, instead criss-crossing my way across America. I will certainly spend at least a week in Utah, and a week in DC, and possibly a bit of time in Texas as well. If you would like to meet up--or if you know anyone in these places you think I ought to meet--please send me a message and we will see if we can make it happen. You can contact me on twitter here, or through my e-mail, which can be seen on the right side-bar. 

05 January, 2017

The Cambodian Tilt Towards China

A map of "Khmer Krom," territory once dominated by Khmer speakers before it was conquered by Vietnam in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Image Source: Douc Sokha, "​សហគមន៍​ខ្មែរក្រោម​ថា​រកឃើញ​ឯកសារ​ជាង​៤០០០​ទំព័រ​ ទាក់ទង​នឹង​ការ​កាត់​ទឹកដី​កម្ពុជា​ក្រោម​ឲ្យ​វៀតណាម​​", Vod Hot News (15 February 2015)
Folks, I have a piece up at Foreign Policy on two of my favorite topics--Cambodian politics and China's international relations. Most analysts see the relationship between the two countries purely in terms of money. Hun Sen wants it, the Chinese are willing to give it, and Chinese money doesn't come with the -its-time-to-promote-human-rights type conditions Western aid does.

There is a great deal of truth to that narrative. However, I argue that is one an element critical to Sino-Cambodian ties that tends to get overlooked. It will remain a factor regardless of who is running the show in Phnom Penh: the Vietnamese.

Here are a few quotes:
Ethnic disharmony is not hard to spot in Southeast Asia, but few of its prejudices — outside of the Myanmese hatred toward the Rohingya, at least — can match the distrust and disgust the average Khmer feels toward the Vietnamese. Recall how conservative Americans talked about the Soviet Union at the height of communist power, add the way their counterparts in modern Europe discuss Arab immigration now, and then throw in a dash of the humiliation that marked Germany in interwar years, and then you might come close to getting a fair idea of how wild and vitriolic a force anti-Vietnamese rhetoric is in Cambodian politics....

Although both Vietnamese immigration and government influence has waned since Hanoi ordered its troops to withdraw from Cambodian territory, distrust of Vietnam’s government and disgust toward Cambodia’s Vietnamese minority remain. You can see this even in the Khmer communities of the United States. To walk the streets of an American Cambodiatown is to see a half-dozen posters warning of Vietnamese aggression, or (if you speak Khmer) be pressed to attend activist get-togethers or donate to help fight Vietnamese imperialism.

Many of these donations go straight into the coffers of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), the opposition to Hun Sen’s ruling regime. The CNRP faces a stacked deck when squaring off against hostile authorities, but anti-Vietnamese agitation is a game they can’t lose. When the Vietnamese overthrew the Khmer Rouge, the man they chose to head their new puppet regime was none other than Hun Sen. The party he now heads is a direct descendant of the party the Vietnamese created to rule Cambodia. While Westerners sometimes call Hun Sen a Chinese puppet, his domestic enemies are far more likely to attack him as a Vietnamese figurehead....

The United States, a longtime ally of the Thais and newfound courter of Vietnamese affection, could not be trusted to put Cambodian interests above the other powers in the region. In Beijing, the Cambodians see a more reliable great power — an ally that not only has a fractious relationship with Cambodia’s traditional enemy, but one that has demonstrated a willingness to go to war with that country to preserve a favorable balance of power in Southeast Asia. Indeed, the last war China waged was not only against the Vietnamese, it was against them in defense of Cambodia. Beijing’s decision to send troops across Vietnam’s northern border as the bulk of the Vietnamese army was fighting an insurgency in Cambodia, and then to keep a threatening military presence on that border through the next decade, badly hampered the Vietnamese push to become the premier armed power in Southeast Asia. For Cambodia, the strategic benefits of friendship with China could not be clearer. Playing spoiler in ASEAN meetings is a small price to pay to guarantee this friendship. [1]
and then the conclusion:
In Cambodian terms, Hun Sen’s decision to tilt Cambodian foreign policy toward Beijing is quite moderate. Other voices in Cambodian politics advocate even closer ties to China in hopes of generating more leverage vis-à-vis the Vietnamese. Rainsy declared in 2014 to a group of CNRP party supporters that his party is “on the side of China, and we support China in fighting against Vietnam over the South China Sea issue. … The islands belong to China, but the Viets are trying to occupy them, because the Viets are very bad.” He would later defend these comments in a post on his Facebook page, arguing, “when it comes to ensuring the survival of Cambodia as an independent nation, there is a saying as old as the world: the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
The CNRP, acutely aware of its image in Western circles, has since distanced itself from Rainsy’s comments, but his logic is solid. If Vietnam truly does threaten the sovereignty of Cambodia, closer relations with China is a geopolitical imperative. Cambodia’s politicians have depended, since French colonialism if not earlier, on foreign sponsors. But being tarred as a friend of the Vietnamese is the most toxic slur in Cambodian politics. For Hun Sen or Rainsy, leaning toward China doesn’t send a message of dependence on Beijing, but of hostility toward Hanoi.
Even radical changes in Cambodia’s internal politics are unlikely to produce a revolution in Cambodia’s foreign relations. Hun Sen’s patronage machine requires huge influxes of money to maintain. China provides that. It does so without asking Hun Sen to protect the liberties of average Cambodians in return. But even if the machine were to fall apart and the opposition were to rise to power, Cambodia’s new leaders would face strong political pressure to give Beijing pride of place.
Cambodia is a small country tucked between its historical enemies. The grip anti-Vietnamese sentiment has on the Cambodian masses only strengthens this geopolitical anxiety. As long as Cambodian nationalism defines itself in opposition to the Vietnamese, Cambodian politicians will never stop searching for a great power that can stand as a bulwark against Vietnam. For the foreseeable future, that country will be China. Next to this, the perceived balance of power between China and the United States will never be anything more than a sideshow. (emphasis added, hyperlinks not included) [2]

I encourage you to go over to Foreign Policy and read the whole thing.

One of the themes that I touch on in this piece, but don't fully develop for reasons of space, is that we sometimes focus too much on the grand drama of great power rivalry when looking at regions like Southeast Asia and don't narrow in on the smaller domestic pressures that might force politicians to choose one great power over another. This is probably because most analysts who focus on things like Sino-American rivalry don't have much experience or interest the domestic political squabbles of small countries on the Pacific periphery. But this is and always has been a major part of the 'why' behind who joins one side or another in great power competitions. It is a pattern that stretches all the way back to the Peloponnesian War. If you think the Bangkok's decision to work more closely with the PLA, or Duterte's unremitting efforts to undermine the U.S.-Philippines alliance have nothing to do with the domestic political economy of each country, then you are foolish. There is much more afoot here than a simple calculation of Chinese and American power, and if we refuse to recognize this we will be continually blind-sided by events to come.

Some folks have suggested on twitter that it is a bit silly to call Hun Sen "hostile" towards Hanoi, and I agree with this. Hun Sen is not hostile towards the Vietnamese--but he does benefit from appearing to be so when the occasion demands it. This is Hun Sen's special skill: an ability to appear to be exactly the person his wants his audience wants him to be. I cannot think of very many other actors on the international stage who are as talented at, well, acting, as he is. The best way to judge Hun Sen, then, is from his record. That record suggests Hun Sen has long been accustomed to accommodating Hanoi, while slowly building up the strength of Sino-Cambodian ties in the background in case Hanoi ever asks too much of him. 

The CNRP is harder to judge, for the simple reason they have never actually been in charge of Cambodian foreign policy, and thus have no real track record to judge from. All we have to go on for them is rhetoric, and as the article notes, that rhetoric is mixed. I reached out to the CNRP to get a clarification of what official party policy is at the moment. Monovithya Kem,  Deputy Director-General of Public Affairs for the CNRP, sent me a response, but it came too late to make it into the article's final draft. As I had extreme trouble finding any statement from the party on the South China Sea problem issued in the last year, it will be a public service to publish :
The CNRP official position on foreign affairs is a non-alignment one, meaning Cambodia will not be a client state to any foreign power. Our position on any international matters would take into account regional security and Cambodia's interests. We believe in the empowerment of ASEAN to be a stronger institution so that through this platform ASEAN nations can address critical regional issues together. [3]
I suspect there will be need to quote this in the future. 


[1] Tanner Greer, "Cambodia Wants China As Its Neighborhood Bully," Foreign Policy (6 January 2015)

[2] ibid

[3] Personal correspondence with  Monovithya Kem, dated 3 January 2017.

03 January, 2017

Every Book I Read in 2016

Image Source

New Year's Day has come and gone, meaning that it is time, per established tradition, to report the full list of books that I read over the last year. This tradition is now four years old, but I am still surprised with its popularity. These posts have not generated the highest hit counts the Scholar's Stage has seen (that honor is a near tie between this year's "History Was Written by the Losers" and last year's "Pre-modern Battlefields Were Absolutely Terrifying"), but they still bring in an outstanding amount of traffic. I suspect this just reflects the unusual size of these lists. This year's post will prove an interesting test of the theory: whereas the lists for 2013, 2014, and 2015 all had more than 70 separate titles to their name, the 2016 list does not reach 50. 

I have puzzled over this result the entire year, for it was clear to me by February that I was reading at a far slower pace than before. While I can partly blame the low total on the extreme length of many of the books I did read (Menon's adaptation of the Mahabharata, Toland's Rising Sun, Carver's China's Quest, etc.), I think the main reason I read less this year is that I have devoted so much of my time to language study. Time is the currency of language learning; the more you spend using and reviewing a language, the better you get. My Chinese improved a great deal this year. The cost of progress was the personal study time I normally would spend reading. 

As in past years, I have bolded and linked to the Amazon page of the ten best books I read for the first time this year. All titles are listed roughly in chronological order--from the date when I finished them, not when I started them. (Before any Thucydides Roundtable readers ask: This is not the first time I have read the Landmark Thucydides, so it does not make the cut. However, it shall be added forthwith to my quantum library). 

The stand out books of 2016 were written by Michael Bazzell. How I originally came across Bazzell's body of work I've forgotten, but I am incredibly grateful that I did. Here was what I put up on Facebook the day I finished Personal Digital Security:
I am already declaring this the best book I have read in 2016. It will take a very, very good book to top this; it is probably the most useful thing I have read in two or three years.

I am not a techie. I have assumed that because I am not a techie that truly protecting my computer, my online profiles, and my digital information was beyond my capacity, and that all I could do is keep to some common sense rules and hope my low profile would keep me and my data safe.
This was wrong. It is completely possible for you or anyone to learn how to secure their digital assets. In this book Michael Bazzell, a former FBI cybercrime investigator, shows you how to do that. He teaches both the broader principles of digital security and the concrete specifics, down to the names of specific programs and screenshots of specific procedures. If you have the technical literacy to use Microsoft Excel then you can read this book--and likely you will find yourself far more technically literate at the end of it. The language is accessible but not dramatic and his instructions are clear even though methodical. I cannot recommend this book more highly.
I still stand by this. I can also confirm that this helpful approach is repeated in his other books, Hiding from the Internet and Open Source Intelligence Techniques

If it makes you more excited to buy these books (or listen to the podcast version for updates), Mr. Bazzell is also the main technical adviser for the hit-TV show Mr. Robot

What was the best book you read in 2016?


Nathan Thompson, Bobe Cone, and John Kranz, Society's Genome: Genetic Diversity's Role in Digital Preservation (Spectra Logic, 2016).

Peter Harmsen, Nanjing 1937: Battle For A Doomed City, (Philadelphia: Casemate, 2013).

David Ochmanek, Andrew R. Hoehn, James T. Quinlivan, Seth G. Jones, Edward L. Warner, America's Security Deficit: Addressing the Imbalance Between Strategy and Resources in a Turbulent World: Strategic Rethink (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2015).

Marija Babovićc´ and Danilo Vukovićc, Cambodia: A Survey of Livelihood Strategies and Expectations for the Future (San Fransisco: Asia Foundation, 2016).

Vishakhadatta, Rakshasa's Ring, trans. Michael Coulson (New York: New York University Press, 2005).

Kalidasa, The Recognition of Sakuntala: A Play in Seven Acts, trans. W.J. Johnson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008).

Hans van de Ven, War and Nationalism in China, 1925-1945 (New York: Routledge, 2004),

Shudraka, Little Clay Cart, trans. Diwakar Archarya (New York: New York University Press, 2009).

Michael Barnhart, Japan Prepares for Total War: The Search For Economic Security, 1919-1941 (Ithica: Cornell University Press, 1991).

Ye Deming, Fan Huizhen, Liu Xiuzhi and Xiao Meimei, Shiyong Shiting Hanyu 3 [Practical Audio-Visual Chinese 3], 2nd ed,  (Taipei:Cheng Chung Book Co, 2007).

Stanley Chao, Selling to China: A Guide to Doing Business in China for Small- and Medium-Sized Companies (Bloomington: iUniverse Books, 2012).

Arthur Waldron, From War to Nationalism: China's Turning Point, 1924-1925 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003).

Jonathan Adelman and Chu-yu Shih, Symbolic War: Chinese Use of Force, 1840-1980 (Taipei: Institute of International Relations, 1994).

Asian Productivity Organization. APO Productivity Databook 2015 (Tokyo: APO, 2016).

John Toland, The Rising Sun: The Rise and Fall of the Japanese Empire, 1937-1945 (New York: Modern Library, reprint, 2003; or. ed. 1971).

R. Taggart Murphy, Japan and the Shackles of the Past (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.

Taylor Pearson, The End of Jobs: Money, Meaning, and Freedom Without the Nine-to-Five (Amazon Digital Services, 2015).

William Shakespeare, King Lear in Globe Illustrated Shakespeare: The Complete Works Annotated (New York: Greenwhich House Publishing, 1984).

Ye Deming, Fan Huizhen, Liu Xiuzhi and Xiao Meimei, Shiyong Shiting Hanyu 4 [Practical Audio-Visual Chinese 4], 2nd ed, (Taipei:Cheng Chung Book Co, 2007).

A.C. Graham, Disputers of the Dao: Philosophical Argument in Ancient China (Chicago: Open Court, 1988).

E. G. Pulleyblank, The Background of the Rebellion of An Lu-Shan, (London: Oxford University Press, 1955).

Yukiko Koshiro. Imperial Eclipse: Japan’s Strategic Thinking About Continental Asia before August 1945 (Ithica: Cornell University Press, 2013).

Michael Bazzel, Personal Digital Security, rev. ed. (Amazon Digital Services, 2016).

BP p.l.c., BP 2016 Energy Outlook (London: BP p.l.c., 2016).

Canadian Security Intelligence Service, 2018 Security Outlook: Potential Risks and Threats (Ottawa, 2016).

Peter Mattis, Analyzing the Chinese Military: A Review Essay and Research Guide on the People’s Liberation Army (Washington DC: Jamestown Foundation, 2015).

Zhang Xiaoming, Deng Xiaoping’s Long War: The Military Conflict Between China and Vietnam, 1979-1991 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2015).

Mark Edward Lewis, Writing and Authority in Ancient China (Albany: SUNY Press, 1999).

Michael Bazzel, Hiding From the Internet: Eliminating Personal Online Information . (Amazon Digital Services, 2016).

Robert Haddick, Fire on the Water: China, America, and the Future of the Pacific (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2014).

Hans Georg-Moeller, Daoism Explained: From the Dream of the Butterfly to the Fishnet Allegory (Chicago: Open Court Publishing, 2004).

David C. Gompert, Astrid Cevallos, and Cristina L. Garafola, War with China: Thinking Through the Unthinkable (Santa Monica, RAND, 2016).

Edward Slingerland, Effortless Action: Wu Wei and Conceptual Metaphor and Spiritual Ideal in Ancient China (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).

Rob Robideua, The Incognito Toolkit (Creative Commons: 2014).

Lyle Goldstein, Meeting China Halfway: How to Defuse the Emerging US-China Rivalry (Washington DC: Georgetown University Press, 2014).

J.E. London, Song of Wrath: The Peloponnesian War Begins (New York: Basic Books, 2014).

Paul Goodwin and Alice Miller, China’s Forbearance Has Limits: Chinese Threat and Retaliation Signaling and Its Implications for a Sino-American Military Confrontation (Washington DC: Institute for National Strategic Studies, 2013).

Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1847).

Donald Kagan, The Outbreak of the Peloponnesian War (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1964).

John Ferling, Almost a Miracle: The American Victory in the War for Independence (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).

James C. Bennet, A Time for Audacity: New Options Beyond Europe (self published, 2016).

George Orwell, Animal Farm 

James Madison, The Constitutional Convention: A Narrative History from the Notesof James Madison, Edward Larson and Michael Winship, eds., (New York: Random House, 2005).

Sebastian Strangio, Hun Sen’s Cambodia (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014).

Ma Qianfei, Hanyu Kouyu Sucheng (Zhongjipian) [Short-Term Intermediate Course in Spoken Chinese], 2nd ed, (Beijing: Beijing Language and Culture University Press, 2007).

Shi Ji, ed., Hanyu Fenji Yuedu 3 [Graded Chinese Reader 3], (Beijing: Singolingua, 2009).

David Smyth, Colloquial Cambodian: The Complete Course for Beginners (New York: Routledge, 1996).

Robert Strassler, ed., The Landmark Thucydides: A Comprehensive Guide to the Peloponnesian War, Richard Crawley, trans. (New York: Free Press, 1996).

Jonathan Slack, Genes: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014).

Read in part, but not in whole:

John W. Carver, China’s Quest: History of the Foreign Relations of the People’s Republic of China; Zhu Ziyi, Hanyu Yuedu Sucheng, 2nd ed; Peng Guanqian, Zhao Zhiyin, and Luo Yong, Zhongguo Guofang [China’s National Defense]; Charles and Mary Beard, History of the United States, China reprint; Archie Barnes, Chinese Through Poetry: An Introduction to the Language and Imagery of Traditional Verse;  Elizabeth Becker, When the War Was Over: Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge Revolution;  Michael Bazzell, Open Source Intelligence Techniques: Resources for Searching and Analyzing Online Information; Gordan Bing, Due Diligence Techniques and Analysis; S.C.M. Paine, The Wars for Asia, 1911-1949; A.E. Poe, Complete Tales and Poems; Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics; Ramesh Menon, Mahabharata: A Modern Retelling; Christopher Lew, The Third Chinese Revolutionary Civil War, 1945–49: An Analysis of Communist Strategy and Leadership.