Tag Archives: diplomacy

Cold Temperatures and Spunky Daughters


Author Gary Moreau, aka Avam Hale in fiction

My two daughters, now 14 and 16 years old, live with their mother in Charlotte, North Carolina. They came to visit over the holidays, however, and, as always it was delightful to see them both, despite the frigid temperatures that have engulfed much of the northern US over the last week or so.

Because of the cold temperatures, we decided that shopping would be more appropriate than skiing or ice-skating on their first day here in Michigan. They both had a couple of gift cards that they received as gifts and were eager to spend them, so the plan came together splendidly.

Before leaving home, however, my oldest daughter and I had the following exchange:

“Dad, can I have some money for shopping?”

“I just gave you a gift card. And I know you have others. Why can’t you use them?”

“That’s true, but I have to buy some warmer clothes. And it was your choice to move to Michigan when you moved back from China so it seems only fair that you buy me some warmer clothes given that I’ve only come to Michigan to visit you. Doesn’t quite seem fair that I’d have to spend my gift money on clothes that I don’t really need in North Carolina.”

It was not an atypical conversation. My daughter is brilliant, clever, articulate, and very, very quick on her feet. She would make a first class litigator some day.


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I was, therefore, in no way offended by the conversation. And while I’d like to think I don’t always give in, I thought it was a worthy performance, as it were, and I gave her a modest amount of money to buy some warmer clothes. Frankly, while I try to teach my daughters to be thoughtful, considerate, and respectful of others, particularly their elders, I was rather proud of her spunk.

My Chinese wife, however, while she showed no reaction at the time, was, I would find out later, aghast. She wasn’t angered by the conversation. The parent/child relationship is very special in Chinese culture and my wife wouldn’t presume to insert herself. She was, however, at a total loss to understand my daughter’s logic. She could not fathom a Chinese child ever saying such a thing to his or her own father. It wasn’t so much disrespectful in the Chinese worldview as it was simply beyond comprehension.

Filial piety is at the heart of Confucian obligation and Chinese culture. Aging parents, it is assumed in China, will live with their adult child. While the concept of Chinese obligation does not extend to holding a door open for a stranger or acknowledging a queue, it would be unthinkable for most Chinese to even consider putting a parent in a senior or assisted living home.

Having expressed her bewilderment that evening as we got ready for bed, my wife did not expect an explanation, and I long ago stopped feeling obligated to provide one in such circumstances. In the Chinese worldview many things just are and don’t warrant an explanation. And, in fact, they are often baffled that Americans spend so much time and effort in a futile attempt to explain the inexplicable and largely unimportant.

This, frankly, is one of the ways in which I think Americans and the Chinese can learn from each other. They’re right that we spend far too much time and effort on things that really aren’t all that important. And, as a result, we sometimes fall short on the stuff that really does matter.

On the other hand, it is our scrappy American curiosity and mental agility that has made the US the center of the technology universe. And while it is that same quality that has spawned the legal quagmire that we often find ourselves drowning in as a nation, the ability to articulate and defend your position is one of the most important life skills to have in the shrinking, integrated, and complex world of the 21st Century.

The ability to both project and defend your position is, in fact, increasingly important in the world of commerce and technology, particularly now that functional distinctions are disappearing and collaboration is the hallmark of most successful ventures of every stripe. We all have to sell in a world of ideas and apps. The ability to execute in isolation is rarely enough.

Collaboration, in fact, is essential to just about every profession today, including diplomacy. And, I believe, is the larger lesson that we can take from this little side story of filial piety—or not—into 2018.

When it comes to political leadership, power is really of secondary importance. How a government comes to power is subordinate to how it uses that power. And how it uses that power is typically defined by perceived obligation. As the men or women in power, on whose behalf do the political leaders of a country exercise their power?

Obligation, however, is itself a duality. On the other side of obligation is mutual obligation, or what might be more accurately described as deference. And, of course, deference is likewise a duality. I can defer to you because you have a gun to my head or because I, for whatever reason, choose to.

When the three components of politics and diplomacy—power, obligation, and deference—are in balance, there is peace and the world at least has the opportunity to progress, although there may be other influences (such as the ability to present/defend your ideas) as to how far the world progresses how quickly. When there is imbalance, however, progress stalls, and can, in fact, turn into destruction. (Think North Korea, Syria, Afghanistan—plenty of options.)


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If we define a society in terms of its common governance, we all want to belong to a society in which the three elements of power, obligation, and deference are in relative balance. We might say that it is the most balanced state that best allows the energy of the society to be applied toward collective advancement.

When there is an imbalance, on the other hand, society does not progress because, as is true of all ecosystems in the universe, its energy is consumed with correcting the imbalance. As in the larger universe, balance is the ideal state which all energy seeks.

Of all forms of governance that have existed over the course of history, it can be legitimately argued that American democracy has achieved a relatively high level of balance, which, in turn, allowed its social energy, shaped and directed by strong values of opportunity and achievement, to forge the American Century, from which the US emerged as the lone superpower, the world’s largest economy, and the primary architect of digital commerce and social media.

That is not to say that imbalance did not occur over the last two and one-half centuries. Those periods of imbalance, however, were largely, but by no means completely, corrected. While the Civil War, for example, helped to correct the imbalance resulting from the slave trade, it clearly didn’t abolish slavery per se. It was an important inflection point, to be sure, but it was a nudge in the end. Racism was not eradicated and continues to absorb much of our collective energy in non-productive and destructive ways.

Technology, which has impacted the world in so many ways, has, more than anything else, empowered a heightened awareness of imbalances between power, obligation, and deference around the world. Women, the LGBTQ community, the physically and mentally challenged, the uneducated, and the poor, have always been enslaved, to varying degrees, by the Western white male oligopoly of the modern era. And technology, more than anything else, has made that reality more transparent.

Technology has, however, also raised the stakes of the imbalance. The gap between the advantaged and the disadvantaged has grown much wider, and the impact of that gap far more significant.

Consider, for example, in a strictly material way, what it meant to be enslaved in ancient Egypt or the early 19th Century South. There were huge differences in the quality and dignity of life, of course, but nobody had access to modern medicine, indoor plumbing, electricity, or efficient transportation. While the powerful lived in beautiful palaces and manor homes, the fundamental differences were not as great as the difference between the world’s poorest and most oppressed people today and the uber-billionaires who, quite literally, live in a parallel dimension of privacy and privilege.

This fundamental shift, largely caused by technology, has profound implications for governance in today’s inter-connected world. The more advanced an ecosystem is, the more it relies on balance, and the easier it is for that balance to be lost.

All of which leads me to wonder what 2018 will bring. Will we work collaboratively to instill a sense of global balance that just may save the planet and allow the collective “we” to enjoy peace and prosperity? Or will we fall back on traditional norms of power, obligation, and deference, that have historically divided and selectively oppressed us?

If we can learn from each other, as I hope both my wife and daughter can, I am personally optimistic. I am still out forty bucks, but that’s a small price to pay for so much food for thought.

You may contact the author at gary@gmoreau.com
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What Would Sun Tzu Do?


Author Gary Moreau, aka Avam Hale in fiction

With North Korea’s recent successful test of a Hwasong-15 missile that reached an altitude of 2,800 miles, more than ten times the altitude of the International Space Station, Kim Jong-un is back on the front page. This, experts suggest, gives the hermit nation the established ability to strike Washington, D.C. with a pre-emptive nuclear strike launched from within its own borders.

When confronted with the issue by reporters, Trump, characteristically, was dismissive: “We will take care of it.” How, exactly, no one knows. Sanctions clearly haven’t worked and whatever diplomacy Secretary Tillerson has been pursuing behind the scenes apparently hasn’t either. (Adding even more urgency to the issue, Tillerson, the one politician even broaching diplomacy, is rumored to be on the way out.)

According to The Washington Post, “A growing chorus of voices in Washington is calling for serious consideration of military action against North Korea,” although it is inconceivable that such options have not already been considered and ruled out as impractical. The loss of life, particularly in South Korea, would easily rival the 20 million Russians who perished during World War II, redefining the geopolitical landscape for decades to come.

China has clearly noted that it would consider any pre-emptive strike by the US to be an intolerable violation of sovereignty. Such military aggression, moreover, would be senseless unless the US was willing to follow its ordnance into the country to pick up the pieces and reshape the nation, and there is virtually no way the Chinese would allow this to happen without their strongest possible resistance.

Depending on whether Trump or China is higher on their derisory priority list on any given day, many Western media outlets have attempted to position the latest missile test as either indicative of China’s failure to follow through on the perceived commitment to resolve the Korean Peninsula issue, or Trump’s foolhardiness for believing he had that kind of personal pull in Beijing.

Personally, I think there is little incentive for China to do anything except sit back and watch. If it believes that Kim’s regime will ultimately collapse, it has little to gain by getting its hands dirty now, short of preventing the US from establishing a US military presence on the 880-mile border China shares with North Korea. Let it collapse and then step in to either push for a unification of the Korean Peninsula, with security and political assurances from the current South Korean government, or turn North Korea into an autonomous Chinese political zone not unlike Hong Kong, Macau, or Tibet. (The latter, I believe, is the more likely scenario, all things considered.)

Two things, I believe, we can say with certainty:

1. Given any say in the matter, the people of North Korea will choose a Chinese protectorate over a US protectorate. Unless South Korea takes significant steps to distance itself from the US they will not, in all likelihood, even choose unification over China. Dennis Rodman’s diplomacy aside, the North Koreans do not see the US as Donald Trump sees us.

2. China will do nothing to give Trump face. In other words, he will accomplish nothing with China’s help if they believe he stands ready to take credit for it. He is quite literally shooting himself in the foot by touting his relationship with Xi Jinping in the context of his great self-acclaimed negotiating skills. To give Trump credit would be to compromise the Chinese Dream that is at the heart of Xi’s political agenda and legacy. He won’t do it; he has no incentive to.

To this latter point, I am quite confident that China did not release LiAngelo Ball and his UCLA basketball teammates after being arrested for shoplifting in Hangzhou because Trump asked them to. They did so because they concluded that it was in their best interest. It may, in fact, have been a simple test to see how Trump would respond.


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Trump’s reaction, in fact, could not have been worse in terms of his future ability to influence Chinese behavior. In his willingness to start a Twitter feud with LaVar Ball, Trump demonstrated beyond a doubt that he has no understanding of Chinese culture and the importance of face, particularly in the political arena. Certainly someone in Washington understands this.

I believe the most effective option for the US and the world remains the same. The US must withdraw its military presence from the Korean Peninsula unilaterally, while maintaining its commitment to protect South Korea from aggression using all of its resources, including nuclear weapons, if necessary.

Given the unlikelihood that a contained exchange of cannon fire along the 38th parallel will be sufficient to convince Kim Jong-un to dismantle his nuclear capabilities, it is hard to see how a military withdrawal from the Korean Peninsula would materially compromise the US’ treaty obligations to South Korea or Japan.

Nor would it, in fact, cause a US loss of face in the region. As famous Chinese military general Sun Tzu is often quoted to have said, “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” In the eyes of Asia, it would take a strong and courageous America to unilaterally to pursue such a strategy, putting the clear burden for resolution of the North Korean problem at the doorstep of Beijing’s leadership.


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The proof is in the rhetoric. Why has China not seen fit to rattle its sword to the extent President Trump has? Why are there no anonymous quotes coming out of the Great Hall of the People? Is it because China is afraid? Or is it because China is clever and understands the importance of face in true diplomacy?

China can resolve the North Korean problem. And it will, if we allow them to solve it at their own pace and in their own way. In the meantime, North Korea is contained. There is no way that China will allow Kim Jong-un to unleash a single nuclear device on Guam, Japan, or the US. And there is no way that China would not know of such an attack long before the missile leaves the ground.

What is it that American diplomats are so afraid of? Does the Munich Pact still haunt the souls of our diplomatic core? The times and the circumstances could not be more different.

This would not be peace through appeasement. This would be peace through strength and confidence and a willingness to put humanity above any one individual’s standing in the polls. This is not an issue for Twitter. This is an issue for men and women of greatness to take the lead in the name of peace and stability.

If they fail to do so, history will not remember them kindly.

You may contact the author at gary@gmoreau.com
Visit my personal blog at www.gmoreau.com

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Follow on Twitter @gmoreaubooks


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China’s One Child Policy

Author Gary Moreau

I published Understanding China: There is Reason for the Difference in 2015. And I had been compiling the content of the book for the eight years I had lived and worked in China, putting it all in the context of what was then my sixty-one years of life experience.

While books are normally classified as fiction or non-fiction, I’ve always thought of this book as a book of understanding. As noted in the introduction I was trying to decipher the why behind the what regarding the differences between Western and Chinese culture. The objective was to become less frustrated by the differences, when simply knowing what to expect wasn’t enough, and to become more pro-active in my ability to influence behaviors in the workplace and marketplace.

Books, however, except for classic literature, tend to be a snapshot taken at a point of time. The author’s thinking naturally evolves over time. The subject matter likewise evolves. And in the case of China that evolution continues at breakneck speed, or, what I call in the book China Time.

I am giving an American college lecture on China next week and in the preparation I started to think about the ways in which my thinking had changed since writing the book. In addition to the evening lecture I am conducting a Q&A session with a class that is using Understanding China as a textbook this semester to answer the class’ questions and provide further elaboration on points of interest.

As a result of this introspection the one area in which I concluded my thinking had changed the most was in regard to China’s one child policy, officially known as the family planning policy. The policy was implemented in 1979 in response to rapid population growth that the country deemed unsustainable. (China’s population has nearly tripled since 1949 and the founding of the PRC.)

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In the book I reiterated the commonly held belief, both inside and outside of China, that the one child policy would inhibit the natural development of the ability to collaborate and work as a team, essential qualities in the modern workplace. The single child of single child parents, with no aunts, uncles, or cousins, I believed, would not learn the skills of diplomacy or cooperation necessary in our shrinking world due to the lack of competition for scarce resources, material as well as emotional, during their youth.

In retrospect, I was wrong. And here’s why.

In Western cultures we put primary emphasis on individual rights and freedoms. You have merely to glance at your preferred source of news today to see this reality on display in today’s Western political arena. Compromise and cooperation, let alone civility, is notably absent in most of our public discourse.

The Chinese, however, are much more collectivist in their perspective and cultural emphasis. They understand and support the idea of the common good, and are quite willing to sacrifice their personal rights in support of that collective well being.

My widowed Chinese wife, for example, who grew up in a family of five children, with ten aunts and uncles and close to fifty cousins, was herself limited to one child. When asked, however, she sincerely supports the government’s decision to implement the policy. While she would have preferred to have more children, she believes it was the pragmatic thing to do for the benefit of China as a whole. As a result, she holds no grudge whatsoever against the government for what, to most Westerners, would be perceived as a gross violation of her individual rights and freedoms.

I also, at the time of writing the book, failed to fully integrate into my thinking the degree to which Chinese culture is built on relationships and the Confucian obligation that flows from them. In essence, it is this circle of relationships and obligations that serve to provide the same influences on a Chinese child that siblings and cousins provide in most Western cultures. Society essentially serves as a giant eco-system of extended family even though each individual set of parents may themselves have only one child.

If you go for a walk in a public park in Beijing, for example, as I often did, you will encounter relatively few individuals. You will encounter a few young couples that are, perhaps, courting or recently married. But most of the people you will encounter will be in groups, large and small.

Many will be families, which are often three-generational. (Child, parents, grandparents) Most, however, will simply be groups of individuals out for a collective outing. Some will simply be friends while others may be work units, such as a department within a company, spending time together both by choice and as a result of their sense of obligation to socialize with their workmates.

It is this abundance of social interaction, in the context of a culture that emphasizes obligation within a relationship, which provides much of the development of social and collaborative skills that Westerners of my generation learned within the larger family unit common to the West at the time.

In fact, with the advent of the nuclear family and a noted reduction in the birth rate in many Western cultures, it might be argued that the West is moving in the opposite direction. It is the West, not the East, which is suffering from an inability to work together, compromise, and collaborate. Certainly the curtain political climate here in the US would support that conclusion. (It’s an observation. If the comment makes you angry, you might be proving my point.)

In recent years, of course, the Chinese government has eased the restrictions of the one child policy, largely in anticipation of a rapidly graying society and the recognition that the Chinese labor force will shrink considerably in the years ahead.

It has had some possible impact on birth rates although it hasn’t been material and isolating the true cause is difficult at best. In one Western news report I recently read, for example, the writer noted that the birth rate in China grew last year and attributed that increase solely to the modification made to the one child policy.

The writer failed to note, however, that last year was the Year of the Monkey, the monkey being considered a very auspicious sign, while the year before was the Year of the Sheep. The sheep is generally considered a less propitious sign.

While taken by most Chinese and foreigners with a large grain of salt, these zodiacal predictions do impact birth rates nonetheless. Some expectant mothers, for example, asked their doctors to induce labor to insure their child was born in the Year of the Dragon (2012); the dragon commonly considered to be one of the most favorable signs to be born under.

The one child policy, of course, isn’t the only area where my thinking has evolved since publishing Understanding China. I mostly got it right, I think. And that’s not bad when writing about a culture and a place as fluid as present day China.

Contact: You may reach the author at understandingchina@yahoo.com. Mr. Moreau is also available for public speaking and the provision of third-party written content on a wide variety of topics for your website or other communications material.