Friday, December 05, 2003

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It's the little behind-the-scenes connections that professor Lieberthal draws that make the class absolutely fascinating. For example, today he talked about the recent escalation in cross-Straits tensions between China and Taiwan. The people of Taiwan will be voting in presidential elections next year and incumbent, DPP candidate Chen Shui-bian, is pursuing a strategy of hinting at Taiwanese moves towards independence. This is obviously meant to incite the authorities in Beijing, whose hostile reaction tends to inflame Chen's native Taiwanese supporters because they see China as a big bully. But Chen knows (as does the mainland government) that even if the PRC says nothing in response, the Taiwanese president will be able to assert that Taiwan has nothing to fear from the mainland because they are silent, and gain support from the very same crowd of separatists.

So either way, Chen Shui-bian gets to play off the PRC government and build support for his campaign. It happens that PRC Premiere Wen Jiabao will be visiting Washington next week (for some reason, he is skipping Ann Arbor) and prof Lieberthal says that one of the things he'll be sure to bring up is a request for Bush to bring pressure on Chen to stop his inflammatory rhetoric.

This is all fascinating. Lieberthal is an old-school China watcher, except that he now has the advantage of being able to visit China and chat with high-level government officials. He has some revealing stories to tell.

Speaking of fascinating, I recently stumbled onto some magazines that are a window into the past. I've been studying in the Center for Chinese Studies Annex, that run down house across the street from Frieze and the Modern Languages Building. Upstairs is a small kitchen with a table and a refrigerator (don't go snaking my Mountain Dew now!), and big windows look out over the street and let in a pleasant natural light. This old building used to house the offices of Ken Lieberthal and Michel Oksenberg, back when they were working together on China studies here at U of M. The upstairs is now abandoned but the previous occupants left stashes of old magazines, including pictorials publications from the 1970's, still Cultural Revolution era. Pictures of Mao and Lin Biao holding the little red book, and later Chairman Hua Guofeng greeting foreign dignitaries. "Reviews" of the latest performances of the revolutionary operas. And in a dusty closet, two wall maps of China, and a cardboard box of papers typewritten by grad students probably twenty years ago.

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