Friday, June 29, 2007

China's More Responsible Future

I am reposting another one of my comments in the ongoing debate taking place on TPM Cafe's Book Club this week on Josh Kurlantzick's book Charm Offensive. In essence, I am saying that for China to be a successful leader in the world community, it will need to show accountability and responsible behavior. Here is my posting:

I would like to try to synthesize some of the points made in the book club so far and apply them to Josh’s thesis. Recent posts have identified several weaknesses in China’s soft power, what I call the vulnerability of China’s brand, and the limitations of soft power as a tool of statecraft. Others have pointed to increased trade flows between China, Russia, Brazil, and others and the emergence of counterbalancing groupings, such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, as evidence of an alternative to U.S.-led institutions and norms—or simply an expansion of options available to these states, as Nick Gvosdev put it yesterday at our Carnegie Council meeting on the G8.

Perhaps we can use these points to ask of China’s use of soft power, charm, sticky power, economic diplomacy, etc.—so what?

A similar notion to “a world without the west” drove my research project at CSIS a couple of years ago. But I put it like this: What if China becomes very powerful but not democratic? My answer is that the United States and other democracies should form a web of “comprehensive economic partnership agreements” or CEPAs that offer deep economic integration to likeminded countries that respect certain levels of human rights and freedoms. In so doing, the United States rewards good governance and acts as an exemplar, an idea developed by Michael Signer in Democracy journal.

Synthesizing the forum’s points might yield this question: What kind of world will be living in when and if China becomes very powerful? Carnegie Endowment scholar Sandra Polaski estimates that China’s GDP per capita in 2020 would be comparable to Hungary’s or Poland’s GDP per capita today. And a Council on Foreign Relations task force led by Harold Brown concluded that China’s forces are about two decades away from rivaling the U.S. military. This is all assuming no disasters in China’s financial system, environment, or political realm. But for the sake of argument, we might ask, what will the world look like in 20 years?

Four trends make me hopeful about the way China might wield its growing influence in the future.

The first trend is the demand from the Chinese people for a better, more accountable government and more personal freedoms. As many of you know, many Chinese see their government as the biggest problem in China, while the Chinese government’s biggest fear is its own people. Meanwhile, annual labor and environmental protests are reaching the hundreds of thousands in China, and there is a growing civil society movement on environmental issues in China. In other words, the CCP cannot act with impunity and as the Chinese population gets more prosperous, the pressure to reform grows.

The second is the demand from China’s economic partners—for China to be more accountable, more responsible, and more respectful of local civil societies and people. As examples, this demand comes from American consumers, asking for safe pet food and toys; from Africans and Southeast Asians, asking for better quality products from China; and from poorer Asian and African recipients of Chinese FDI, asking for better treatment of local residents.

The third demand is from the international community for what Josh referred to earlier as public goods or protecting the commons—helping to combat piracy, stop weapons proliferation, reduce greenhouse emissions, and advance overall human welfare. As noted earlier, China is free riding on American security to become prosperous. China depends greatly on the world for markets, capital, and security. The more China becomes exposed to the world, the more it will be forced to care about the world’s welfare. Its relationship with the world matters.

A final trend relates to John Feffer’s elegant comment on zero sum analyses. Although it is useful for planning or gaming purposes, for a deeper understanding it is too simplistic to view a development in international relations in zero sum terms. This forum is a book discussion, so I would like to mention a book I happen to be reading, Robert Wright’s Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny. Wright identifies a pattern in human history—as cooperation tends to overcome greed, humans find nonzero sum or win-win relationships. The result is a moral progress.

As Thomas Barnett has argued, America’s relationship with China presents an opportunity to combat global problems such as terrorism and global warming. The alternative is intolerable. Moreover, it is America’s relationship with China that will help shape the world’s destiny, whether the United States or China likes it or not.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Starbucks Agrees to Ethiopian Coffee Trademarking reports that Starbucks and Ethiopia recently signed a distribution, marketing, and licensing agreement that should help Ethiopian coffee farmers reap value from the intellectual property of their distinctive, deluxe coffees:
Eight months ago Oxfam began working to raise awareness of Ethiopians' efforts to gain control over their fine coffee brands. Today, Starbucks has honored its commitments to Ethiopian coffee farmers by becoming one of the first in the industry to join the innovative Ethiopian trademarking initiative.
We covered this story last winter, looking at how Oxfam threw the weight of its powerful nonprofit brand behind the cause of poor Ethiopian coffee farmers. At stake were the Sidamo, Harrar, and Yirgacheffe varietals, thought to be among the best in the world. Policy Innovations raises its mug to this multistakeholder cooperation.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Lee Hsien-Loong: ASEAN Needs Charter

Speaking at the 16th World Economic Forum on East Asia in Singapore over the weekend (press release here), Prime Minister Lee Hsien-Loong praised the economic progress made in India, China, Japan, and Korea, but had a more tempered assessment on ASEAN:

"Within Southeast Asia, the picture is mixed. Some countries like Vietnam are pressing ahead with reforms, and are in the early stages of take-off. Others have not restructured their economies and reformed their institutions to the extent that investors had hoped to see. Investment flows have reflected these differences. Nevertheless, Southeast Asia as a whole has regained its balance, and with high energy prices benefiting the oil-exporting economies, the region is moving forward again.

The ASEAN countries realise that they need to strengthen their cooperation with one another in order to stay on the radar screen of international companies and investors. This is why ASEAN is drafting a Charter to strengthen its institutions and define its long-term goals. We are also striving for an ASEAN Community by 2015, to create a single economic entity and realise the full potential of our combined market of 550 million people."

China's Charm Offensive Debated

TPM Cafe is debating Josh Kurlantzick's new book Charm Offensive. I am reposting my comment with links here:

Josh's book is an excellent resource on a topic that is increasingly important—the role of nontraditional foreign policy tools in this era of globalization. The combination of the growing strength of nonstate actors and the increasingly intolerable cost of state-to-state total warfare gives these tools more weight. I had the privilege of seeing Josh present his book to a packed audience at the Asian Institute of Management in Manila. I agree that China has been exploring soft power for years as armed conflict has become less of an option given that the CCP's domestic legitimacy derives from providing economic growth to its people—something that is mostly inconsistent with all out warfare. But I would like to point out a few areas of possible debate.

First, it might help to define soft power. Looking at his book here on my desk, Joseph Nye writes, "Soft power rests on the ability to shape the preferences of others." It is not the same as influence. Most relevant here, Nye names three sources of soft power: "its culture (in places where it is attractive to others), its political values (when it lives up to them at home and abroad), and its foreign policies (when they are seen as legitimate and having moral authority)." It is this last source—moral authority—that seems to be lacking in Josh's analysis. In particular Nye writes, "When a country's culture includes universal values and its policies promote values and interests that others share, it increases the probability of obtaining its desired outcomes because of the relationships of attraction and duty that it creates." The United States benefits from a "universalistic culture," Nye writes.

Josh notes that China's image in Washington is not great. Why? Something I cheekily call China Revisionism. Last week's IHT editorial captures this mood: "...The latest reminders are reports of slave labor in Chinese factories and the discovery that some of the popular Thomas the Tank Engine toys manufactured in China have lead in their paint. Before that, it was the contaminated dog food, the stubborn support of Sudan for its oil, the regular reports of human rights abuses, the huge economic disparities between city and country, the controls on the media." But these issues are not just obsessions among the privileged in the United States. They also matter to prosperous Asians, in Japan and Singapore for example, and to Chinese that have the wherewithal and access to information.

The idea that China is a model for other countries is questionable. To paraphrase a China-watcher friend of mine, a Chinese model of economic growth has appeal mainly with states that are failures—and Josh is right to say that these states are also those that have been alienated by Washington. Russia may be an exception of one that can mix limited freedoms at home and exert power and prestige abroad. But Russia would never sign off on a China-led region much less international community. Indeed over the past ten years, the Chinese have seen as expansion in their personal freedoms in the areas of speech, mobility, and religion. If anything, while the majority of Chinese remain very poor, China's experience reminds us that prosperity and democratic society are linked.

Will China use its soft power to prod countries to choose China over the United States? We cannot be sure, but I doubt it. As senior Pentagon officials have said to me, the United States will seek to avoid a situation in which a country is forced to choose between China and the United States. It is likely that China has a similar position especially given that China's most important international relationship is that one it has with the United States. China is doing much—including sending FDI to politically strategic U.S. states—to nurture that relationship.

Looking at culture, China does have a great asset on which to draw—its successful Diaspora in many large cities around the world. And as Josh mentions, China is using a soft touch in establishing Confucius Centers that stick to teaching Chinese rather than trying to propagandize. But Chinese cultural influence still has a long way to go to match up to the superlative that often describe American cultural power in movies, books, media, and scholarship. A wonderful book on this subject is America's Inadvertent Empire by William Odom and Robert Dujarric. To give a taste, they write on the advantage America enjoys in the university gap, "…American academic publications in the social sciences and humanities enjoy an international following that is second to none." Who is one of the most renowned scholars to critique the "Washington Consensus"? None other than American economist Joseph Stiglitz of Columbia University.

How does China's soft power play out on the world stage? For all practical purposes, China's soft power base is vulnerable. Darfur is becoming a case study for how vulnerable China's "brand" is. China would like to be seen as supporting universal values and human rights rather than as a pariah. Finally, as the New York Times magazine pointed out over the weekend in its article "Hard Realities of Soft Power," perceived meddling can produce blowback—as it has for the United States in Iran.

Friday, June 22, 2007

China Revisionism Already (Again)?

China was a threat because it was weak in the 1980s. Then it was a threat because it was strong in the late 1990s. Is it time again for a revision of the world's thinking again on China? I have noticed a steady increase in the number of informed observers talking about China's weaknesses rather than its strengths, making James Mann's thesis that China could be a "model" a bit dated. See Mann's Washington Post essay "A Shining Model of Wealth Without Liberty" here.

These days, informed observers inside and outside China are talking about pollution, food safety, income gaps, environmental degradation, slave labor, and income disparities... and lack of equity and ethics in China. Just today, the IHT ran an editorial called "The China puzzle" here. The piece is typical of this latest revisionism on China:

"...The latest reminders are reports of slave labor in Chinese factories and the discovery that some of the popular Thomas the Tank Engine toys manufactured in China have lead in their paint. Before that, it was the contaminated dog food, the stubborn support of Sudan for its oil, the regular reports of human rights abuses, the huge economic disparities between city and country, the controls on the media.

Why rehearse these faults now? Because governments and companies tend to become so seduced or intimidated by China that they won't hold it to high standards of human rights and business ethics.

Western companies have been so anxious to transfer manufacturing to China's cheap factories that they have been happy to close their eyes to what else goes on over there - just as Google or Yahoo were happy to assist in repressing information to get a toe into the Chinese market, or as Washington and other Western capitals compete in trying to please visiting Chinese leaders..."

We will probably see many revisions in our understanding of China. Clearly, reality falls somewhere in the complicated, complex middle.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Ethics Case Studies Needed at B-Schools

The Wall Street Journal ran an interview with London Business School senior fellow Craig Smith, who also leads a project with the European Academy of Business in Society to get CSR into mainstream business courses. Smith says the biggest obstacles to getting MBA courses to teach ethics effectively is a lack of case studies, which business schools often use as a main part of their curriculum in general.

"We did an audit and found that about 1,000 cases out there with something on corporate responsibility, but many are not usable because they're dated or because social responsibility is only tangential to the case," Smith said.

Smith also said many professors simply feel reluctant discussing ethical issues because it is out of their "comfort zone," but he recommends professors use discussions to spark debate.

Getting people to think about ethics is what the Carnegie Council is all about. Our program Global Policy Innovations publishes Policy Innovations online magazine, which features innovative solutions to ethical problems in the context of economic globalization. We have a section devoted to these Innovations here. You could call them case studies in global civil society solutions.

Our program has also launched a workshop series that serves as a dialogue between corporations and civil society. At these workshops, participants learn about corporate and civil society approaches to shared ethical problems. Read about and listen to the first iteration with BP, GE, the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, and the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility here.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Chinese Health Innovation

The International Herald Tribune reports that Chinese physicians and researchers are set to test an innovative new tactic in the fight against malaria. The idea is to "take the medical world's last line of defense against malaria, the drug artemisinin, and dispense it in combination with another drug as a mass treatment to the 40,000 people living on Moheli Island, a small island off the east coast of Africa where the disease in endemic."

The human malaria parasite infects only people and female mosquitoes, the means of transmission. Mosquitoes, however, have a lifespan of only 30 days. The researchers believe that if the population-wide treatment is administered again 40 days later, then the parasite will be largely cleared from the population's blood. Subsequent isolated infections could be treated individually.

The big worry about this technique is whether it will accelerate resistance to artemisinin. The Chinese team doesn't believe their technique is any riskier than the current patchwork of how the drug is administered, and early results from their work in Cambodia have been promising.

On a related note, Policy Innovations recently covered some of the issues surrounding health innovation, intellectual property, and access to medicines:

Prizes, Not Patents
By Joseph Stiglitz

WHO Pushes Pharmaceutical Innovation
By Saul Gomez

Patents, Compulsory License and Access to Medicines
By Martin Khor

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Bill Gates: Reducing Inequity Is Top Priority

Bill Gates gave this inspiring commencement speech last week at Harvard. His central message is something that we would agree with at the Carnegie Council:

"...humanity’s greatest advances are not in its discoveries – but in how those discoveries are applied to reduce inequity. Whether through democracy, strong public education, quality health care, or broad economic opportunity – reducing inequity is the highest human achievement." He is calling for a fairer world, one in which people use discoveries but go further by applying them for good.

We would agree: The motto of this blog and our online magazine Policy Innovations is innovations + ethics = better globalization.

Now, it is the duty of higher education to teach students about these problems, to give students a more global perspective. It seems Gates saw some failure but also some hope in this regard:

"I left campus knowing little about the millions of young people cheated out of educational opportunities here in this country. And I knew nothing about the millions of people living in unspeakable poverty and disease in developing countries.

It took me decades to find out.

You graduates came to Harvard at a different time. You know more about the world’s inequities than the classes that came before. In your years here, I hope you’ve had a chance to think about how – in this age of accelerating technology – we can finally take on these inequities, and we can solve them."

Gates's hope is well founded, I think. As I have written here, here, and here, in just the eight years since I attended graduate school, I have noticed a remarkable embrace of social activism, and ethical and global awareness in the academy. This movement has something to do with this generation of students' rejection of cynicism pervasive in politics, disappointment in government's ability to provide solutions, and a reassessment of the role of the corporation in society. These are positive developments, and America can be proud of this generation of young people.

A top mission of Policy Innovations is to provide students with case studies of people and their ideas for global social justice. We are happy to hear of more and more schools putting our website on their syllabi and asking to hear our story.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Making Moral Sense

After reading a Peter Singer commentary on whether we should trust our moral intuition I took Harvard's Moral Sense Test, "a series of moral dilemmas to probe the psychological mechanisms underlying our moral judgments." It's a quick, interesting exercise where subjects rate the choices of characters in various scenarios. Without ruining any surprises (in case you take the test), to me the interesting tension is between intention and consequence. I was reminded of the Buddhist concept kun long, which I understand as a person's overall state of heart and mind, closely linked to motivation and an integral part of ethical decision-making.

Recent research suggests that Craig Newmark might be on to something when he does things because they feel right. There is increased brain activity in the emotional centers during moral decision-making of a personal nature—for example, when imagining physically killing someone as opposed to flipping a switch to kill someone. But Singer would probably say that Newmark doesn't go far enough. "The fact that our moral intuitions are universal and part of our human nature does not mean that they are right," he says. I'm skeptical about Singer separating ethical reasoning from our evolution, from how it is lived, but that's the mental lab of philosophy.

Singer's reasoning matches with other research that New York Times science writer Dennis Overbye describes in an article on free will (Times Select). He writes that "the conscious mind is like a monkey riding a tiger of subconscious decisions and actions in progress, frantically making up stories about being in control."—the order of brain activity is action then decision, contrary to the traditional model.

Philosopher Daniel Dennett is not fazed by this reversal. Overbye paraphrases him: is precisely our immersion in causality and the material world that frees us. Evolution, history and culture, he explains, have endowed us with feedback systems that give us the unique ability to reflect and think things over and to imagine the future.

That, Dennett believes, is what makes us moral agents.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Craig Newmark on Digital Social Responsiblity

Craigslist Founder Craig Newmark (his blog cnewmark is here) just finished speaking on "Digital Social Responsibility: Searching for Ethics on the Internet" this afternoon at the Japan Society in New York City. Dan Rosenblum and his team at the Japan Society put together this event as part of their corporate program's Tech Epoch series. New York Times correspondent Brad Stone was moderating. Policy Innovations got to listen to Newmark's insightful comments.

Newmark's main theme was that his business has worked on the basis of shared values, specifically trust, in the U.S. society. The biggest problem at craigslist? "Misinformation gangs" spreading lies about political candidates. The reason this problem is more serious than spamming, housing scams, etc. is because billions of dollars are at stake.

I paraphrase some more of Newmark's highlights here:
  • Craigslist works based on trust and universal values in the U.S.--these are based on Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (Abrahamic religions). It works on the premise that most people treat people the way they would like to be treated. There are few bad guys but they are noisier than their numbers would suggest.
  • The company's moral imperative is to work with the victims of scams and the police to catch the bad guys. But you have to balance this effort with the privacy rights of bad guys. Sometimes we have to operate on an internal moral compass or what "feels right."
  • Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are pioneers in speaking truth to power, helping the health of our democracy. Another pioneer is blogger and writer Dan Gillmore. While craigslist is for the now, wikipedia is for the ages--it allows history to be written by all people, not just the victors of history.
  • The Internet started with Johannes Gutenberg and the "blogger" Martin Luther came up with the first killer app. known as the Reformation.
  • While Tim O'Reilly advocates an ethical code of conduct for bloggers, Craig agrees that bloggers should at least disclose their affiliations. (Devin says: I agree with the code that anonymous postings should be avoided. As O'Reilly puts it, "When people are anonymous, they will often let themselves say or do things that they would never do when they are identified.")
  • The Web can help remind us where society is supposed to be going and it can help to expose crimes like corruption. (The Internet can help create a more ethical society.)
  • Not sure what web 3.0 means but it has something to do with collaborative filtering and trustworthiness metrics. Finally, he joked despite its emergence, Craig is disappointed we still don't fly around with jet packs.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Trade-Labor Linkage

Policy Innovations innovators Sanjay Reddy and Christian Barry respond to Jagdish Bhagwati's recent op-ed in the Financial Times, "Foes of free trade get a foot in the door" in which he argues that many of those who want the inclusion of labor standards in trade agreements do so out of fear and self-interest. Bhagwati labels such people as foes of free trade.

Reddy and Barry in this June 2, 2007 letter to the FT remind us that not all proponents of linkage are protectionists. They note that there is another way:

"There is an alternative approach to linkage, which would provide an attractive means of furthering the interests of poorer countries. This alternative would extend the transparent, rule-based approach of the WTO system to include an appropriate concern for labour standards (thereby excluding opportunistic actions by wealthy importing countries). It would require that poorer countries undertake only those efforts to promote labour standards that are reasonable to expect in light of their circumstances; while also ensuring that these countries gain by providing them with additional access to northern markets and other forms of reward for their efforts."