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Leadership in Turbulent Times

accessed Sep 11, 2018





"Abraham Lincoln as a young man withstood a depression so severe that his friends moved all the sharp objects from his room."




True Grit.jpg

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accessed Sep 12, 2018



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accessed Sep 12, 2018




1.大逆轉 陸留美人才83%海歸


2.美國教授遭北大解聘驅逐 臨行之言 字字扎心!


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Jennifer Schuessler, “Calligraphy? Chicken scratch? Both, actually”

The New York Times International Edition,

July 19, 2018

accessed July 24, 2018




Compare the handwritings. On the left is the tidy letter of a seven-year-old girl who would become queen ruling an empire that saw no setting sun. On the right is that of the "mad monk" who corrupted the Tsarist Russian court before it collapsed in 1917. (Queen Victoria vs Rasputin)


We are living in a golden age of both fretting about handwriting and fetishizing it. Polemicists lament that cursive is going the way of the dodo. Meanwhile, oldschool devotees of pen and paper post their work on social media with hashtags like #snailmail and #penpal.

“The Magic of Handwriting,” an exhibition at the Morgan Library & Museum in New York, might seem at first glance to be part of this nostalgia. Instead, it simply luxuriates in the humble, intimate and sometimes very messy traces that some of the great figures of history have left behind.

The show features some 140 items from the encyclopedic holdings of the Brazilian collector Pedro Corrêa do Lago, who got his start at the age of 11, when he wrote to prominent figures to ask for their autographs. Today, he owns roughly 100,000 letters, notes, receipts, manuscripts, signed photographs and other pieces documenting notable lives in the arts, politics, science and other fields.

During an interview at the museum, the loquacious Mr. Corrêa do Lago, 60, called his collection “a symbolic snapshot of Western culture over the past 500 years.” He also sees it as it the product a kind of madness. “It became an absolutely crazy project that drowned all the money I made,” he said, with a laugh. “I should be in a straitjacket.”

Here is a sampling of items from the exhibition, and the sometimes quirky, sidelong glances they offer at their creators.

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accessed July 23, 2018



林中斌 2018.7.23







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China’s Economic Outlook in Six Charts

IMF July 26, 2018
accessed August 10, 2018


今年726日,國際貨幣基金會發表 "中國經濟前景的6張圖表"


感謝Frank Liu 提供資訊

林中斌 2018.8.23

p.s. : Why did IMF seem to differ in tone from Trump's White House which has avoided affirming the prospect of China's rise? Is it because, unlike World Bank which is led by an American, IMF is headed by a European? These days, the Europeans are not totally pleased by the U.S. President.

China’s Economic Outlook in Six Charts
July 26, 2018

2. A focus on high-quality growth. China is at an historic juncture. After decades of high-speed growth, the government is now focusing on high-quality growth….Even with a gradual slowdown in growth, China could become the world’s largest economy by 2030.








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"With Ships and Missiles, China Is Ready to Challenge U.S. Navy in Pacific"

New York Times, Aug 29, 2018


accessed September 10, 2018


●2017 軍艦與潛艦總數:
中國 317:美國 283
今年3月,美國印太艦隊司令Philip S. Davidson上將說:"除了正式開戰之外,中國現在已可在各種狀況下控制南海。...未來即使開戰,美國沒有把握打贏中國"

“China is now capable of controlling the South China Sea in all scenarios short of war with the United States,” the new commander of the United States Indo-Pacific Command, Adm. Philip S. Davidson, acknowledged in written remarks submitted during his Senate confirmation process in March.....
“There is no guarantee that the United States would win a future conflict with China,” he concluded.

蘭德公司的專家Lyle Morris說:"中國在西沙南沙部署飛彈使得美國必須部署軍艦在它們射程以外,但中國飛彈射程愈來越遠,使得美國這招變為不可能。"

Lyle Morris, an analyst with the RAND Corporation, said that China’s deployment of missiles in the disputed Paracel and Spratly Islands “will dramatically change how the U.S. military operates” across Asia and the Pacific.

The best American response, he added, would be “to find new and innovative methods” of deploying ships outside their range. Given the longer range of the ballistic missiles, however, that is not possible “in most contingencies” the American Navy would be likely to face in Asia.

The carriers attract the most attention but China’s naval expansion has been far broader. The Chinese Navy — officially the People’s Liberation Army Navy — has built more than 100 warships and submarines in the last decade alone, more than the entire naval fleets of all but a handful of nations.



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東亞列國:和縱新局 (Balance in FluxEast Asian Power Dynamics)

May 19, 2018

This is a keynote delivered at the annual international conference organized by the Graduate Institute of International Affairs and Strategic Studies. (more notes in English follow those in Chinese)
題目是 東亞列國:和縱新局 (Balance in FluxEast Asian Power Dynamics)

林中斌 2018.5.23

●The topic was "Balance in Flux East Asian Power Dynamics".
●The keynote began by challenging two mainstream views.
1. North Korea turns to the U.S. to foil China
2. China is increasingly isolated in East Asia
●Recent foreign policy adjustments of China's neighbors have suggested a re-evaluation of these mainstream views.
●Two factors are offered to explain the new trend.
●One is President Donald Trump's "America First" policy and his policy unpredictability.
●The second is Beijing's grand strategy of "Dominating East Asia without War" characterized by "extra-military emphasis" and "struggle without breaking" 
(Beijing's grand strategy was first presented October 4, 2004 at the U.S.-Taiwan Defense Industry Conference, Hilton Scottsdale Resort and Villas, Scottsdale, Arizona. See Chong-Pin Lin, " Win with Wisdom: when wrestling with a giant"
以智取勝 Taipei: Global Defense Magazine 2005 p.v)
(For "Struggle without Breaking", see Chong-Pin Lin, "Behind Rising East Asian Maritime Tensions with China: Struggle without Breaking" Asian Survey Vol.55 Number 3, May-June 2015 pp.478-500)

Chong-Pin Lin May 23, 2018





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Keith Bradsher, ”China takes a victory lap”  

Mark Lander and Ana Swanson, “Infighting stalls drive for trade agreement”


2018.5.23 ,國際紐約時報登載兩篇調查。

--中方這圈貿易談判"賽跑"贏了(China takes a victory lap)

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/21/business/china-trade-trump.html accessed May 24, 2018

-- 美方內鬥阻礙了達成貿易協定(Infighting stalls drive for trade agreement)

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/21/us/politics/trump-trade-china.html accessed May 24, 2018

-- 要點是川普先硬後軟。因為他同時想要川金會,和逼迫北京讓步的美中貿易協定。於是他拿不定主意,猶豫了。

-- 中方戰略前後一致。

-- 美方內鬥嚴重。商務部長Steven Mnuchin的聲明幾小時後被自己人貿易代表Robert Lighthizer 公開推翻。


-- 最後雙方聲明沒有數字。讓中方過了。

林中斌 試摘譯 2018.5.24

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談判桌大翻轉 美國衰老 陸年輕

旺報 2018.05.23 P.A6


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Thomas Friedman, "Is the U.S. Becoming Like China"

International New York Times May 11, 2018 p.11




*"...in both Beijing and Washington, self-censorship, and biting one's tongue, is more rife than ever-- but for different reasons. In Beijing it's so you won't get arrested. In Washington it's so you won't get into a fight. In both cases, the net results are fewer people talking truth across ideological lines."


*“In the 466 days since he took the oath of office, President Trump has made 3,001 false or misleading claims, according to The Fact Checker’s database that analyzes, categorizes and tracks every suspect statement uttered by the president. That’s an average of nearly 6.5 claims a day.

I suspect President Xi has a far higher truth batting average in his public statements than President Trump.”

"川普上任466天以來,發表過3,001件錯話或謊言, 平均每天6.5件。"

*"I suspect President Xi has a far higher truth batting average in his public statements than President Trump."


*"But Trump clearly wants us to act like China: 'Don't show me your values. Show me your money and arms purchases."


*Trump, who was surely not 100 percent joking when he said in March of President Xi: “President for life. … I think it’s great. Maybe we’ll want to give that a shot someday.”

●川普顯然不是在開玩笑,當他今年三月談到習主席時曾說: "元首終身職...我認為太好了。也許哪天我們也該試試看。"

林中斌 試摘譯 2018.5.16

The U.S. and China: More Alike Than We’d Like?

By Thomas L. Friedman Opinion Columnist May 8, 2018


accessed May 16, 2018


A billboard in Beijing noted achievements of President Xi Jinping.CreditKyodo News, via Getty Images

It is impossible to visit China these days and not compare and contrast the drama playing out in Beijing politics with the drama playing out in Washington politics. While the differences are many, I am sorry to report that some of the parallels are getting too close for comfort.

Let’s start with the fact that the anti-corruption crackdown by President Xi Jinping has created a climate of fear in China these days — whether about interacting with foreigners or saying the wrong thing or behaving too extravagantly so as to attract the state “anti-corruption” detectives.

But because “corruption” has not been clearly defined — and can be used to get rid of anyone for any reason — people don’t know where the line is, so they’re extra cautious. That’s why during a week in Beijing the most frequent expression I heard was, “Youre not quoting me on this, right?”

But if the Chinese are afraid to talk to one another, in America we’ve forgotten how to talk to one another.

In Washington these days it is not uncommon for people to be invited to a dinner or a public gathering and think to themselves: “I hope none of them will be there.” And the them people are talking about is not someone of a different faith or race — which would be awful enough — but it’s someone just from a different political party.

In other words, in both Beijing and Washington, self-censorship, and biting one’s tongue, is more rife than ever — but for different reasons. In Beijing it’s so you won’t get arrested. In Washington it’s so you won’t get into a fight. In both cases, though, the net results are fewer people talking truth across ideological lines.

At the same time, in China today, if you’re a Communist Party official or senior bureaucrat, you have to toe the ruling party’s line or you could be quickly purged or imprisoned. In America today, if you’re a Republican Party congressman or senator, you, too, have to toe the ruling party’s line or you could be quickly purged or primaried — or get a tweet in the back from the president.

But there is one difference: In China’s ruling Communist Party, it’s never safe to criticize the president. In America’s ruling Republican Party, you can criticize the president, or vote your conscience, if you’re dying, retiring or whispering.

Or, as a dying Senator John McCain observed in his new book: “This is my last term. … I’m freer than colleagues who will face the voters again. I can speak my mind without fearing the consequences much. And I can vote my conscience without worry.”


The Chinese government will not hesitate to put out propaganda to support the government or defend China’s interests, whether the facts are true or not. Ditto Donald Trump and his White House. Last week The Washington Post reported: “In the 466 days since he took the oath of office, President Trump has made 3,001 false or misleading claims, according to The Fact Checker’s database that analyzes, categorizes and tracks every suspect statement uttered by the president. That’s an average of nearly 6.5 claims a day.”

I suspect President Xi has a far higher truth batting average in his public statements than President Trump.

The fawning and lack of skepticism with which China Central Television covers Xi, though, is indistinguishable from the fawning and lack of skepticism by “Fox & Friends” and Sean Hannity when discussing Trump.

That probably partially explains why more and more Chinese do not think that we are as “exceptional” a nation as we think we are — and they are now ready to say so: loudly. I was struck by how many officials and experts at a Tsinghua University seminar I attended were so willing to baldly state that their top-down, one-party system of governance and state-directed capitalism was superior to our multiparty, democratic, free-market system.

And the two big pieces of evidence they always cited was that they never went through the kind of 2008 economic meltdown that we did, and their system never put up a leader as undisciplined, dishonest and unstable as Donald Trump (at least not since Mao).

On this I often pushed back on my Chinese interlocutors to be humbler and warier of what the future may hold. Their one-party, one-man decision-making system can make big decisions fast. But it can also make big wrong decisions fast. For instance, Bloomberg News reported in February: “In 2008, China’s total debt was about 141 percent of its gross domestic product. By mid-2017 that number had risen to 256 percent. Countries that take on such a large amount of debt in such a short period typically face a hard landing.”

But Xi and the Chinese Communist Party at least stimulated their economy in order to avoid a real economic crisis — for themselves and the world. Trump and his Republican Party just added $1.5 trillion to America’s debt to pay for tax cuts for businesses and individuals at a time when our economy was already on the rise. Trump did so knowing that he would be here to take credit for any boom — and be long gone when we have to do the belt-tightening necessary so that interest on the debt doesn’t devour all nondefense spending and lead to a bust.


The Times needs your voice. We welcome your on-topic commentary, criticism and expertise.

One contrast, Chinese are ready to sacrifice to make China great again. Trump wants to make America great again without asking us to do anything hard — just cut taxes and regulations for rich people and corporations and keep pumping fossil fuels, and not invest in public goods like education and infrastructure, which have been the real engines of China’s resurgence.

Chinese foreign policy has always been transactional, saying to neighbors, “Give us access to your markets and we will build you infrastructure that we can both use — then we will be allies.” U.S. foreign policy, while it has always had its cynical, transactional side, particularly in the Cold War, has tended more toward, “Share our values and then we can be allies.”

But Trump clearly wants us to act more like China: “Don’t show me your values. Show me your money and your arms purchases. Don’t think of me as your ally. Think of me as your landlord. Pay for our protection and we can be friends.”

Fortunately, for now, one big difference remains: While Xi has cowed his news media, Trump, despite all his efforts to discredit our free press, has actually ended up invigorating it. Fox aside, it’s feistier than ever. And while institutions and the rule of law in China have always been a weak restraint on its leaders, institutions built over 250 years in America have continued to restrain Trump — for now.

But they will have to hold for at least another two and a half years, and that will not be easy with a president like Trump, who was surely not 100 percent joking when he said in March of President Xi: “President for life. … I think it’s great. Maybe we’ll want to give that a shot someday.”

Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook and Twitter (@NYTopinion), and sign up for the Opinion Today newsletter.

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國防部前副部長多年失聰 「奇蹟」復原竟是這原因(動畫)



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王輝生,力挺安倍 台灣竟輸中國


陳君碩,防尼克森震撼重演 安倍向陸示好



2018.5.13 自由時報評論已不諱言中日關係加溫,臺日關係相反。




*"安倍與北京改善關係是一種未雨綢繆" (2016.8.7 林中斌)

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林蒼生, “清富,順自然的企業家

聯合報 2018513

*應該把精力放在優點的延伸 ,而非缺點的糾正。


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Robert E. Rubin , “Philosophy Pays Off” 

International New York Time May 2, 2018

林中斌試摘譯 2018.5.12

Robert E. Rubin: Philosophy Prepared Me for a Career in Finance and Government
By Robert E. Rubin

Mr. Rubin was secretary of the Treasury from 1995 to 1999.

April 30, 2018

When I arrived at Harvard in 1956 as a freshman, I felt overwhelmed academically. Unlike many of my classmates who had gone to rigorous private schools, I graduated from a Florida public school that in those days rarely sent kids to elite colleges in the North. Even after four years of high school French, I couldn’t pass the exam to get out of the entry-level class at Harvard. In math, I was relegated to the remedial course.

The dean tried to reassure us at orientation by noting that only 2 percent of the class would fail out. I thought my classmates were lucky: I’d somehow manage to fill the quota all by myself.

My tenuous feeling about being at Harvard would never fully dissipate. But to my surprise, and that of my advisers, my grades were quite good at the end of the year. The upside of entering Harvard with less academic preparation than many of my classmates was that it forced me to rethink much of what I thought I knew.

So, too, did Raphael Demos. Professor Demos, an authority on Greek philosophy, was Harvard’s Alford Professor of Natural Religion, Moral Philosophy and Civil Policy. But to me, when I took a class with him my sophomore year, he was a genial little man with white hair and an exceptional talent for engaging students from the lecture hall stage, using an overturned wastebasket as his lectern.

Professor Demos would use Plato and other great philosophers to demonstrate that proving any proposition to be true in the final and ultimate sense was impossible. His approach to critical thinking planted a seed in me that grew during my years at Harvard and throughout my life. The approach appealed to what was probably my natural but latent tendency toward questioning and skepticism.

I concluded that you can’t prove anything in absolute terms, from which I extrapolated that all significant decisions are about probabilities. Internalizing the core tenet of Professor Demos’s teaching — weighing risk and analyzing odds and trade-offs — was central to everything I did professionally in the decades ahead in finance and government.

At the same time that I was processing Professor Demos’s class, one of the big ideas floating around coffeehouses in Cambridge, Mass., was existential philosophy. In time, I arrived at my own interpretation of that way of thinking. To me, existentialism is an internalized sense of perspective. I came to believe that on one hand, the present matters a great deal, but on the other hand, in the totality of space and time, the here and now becomes insignificant.

I’m asked from time to time which undergraduate courses best prepared me for working at Goldman Sachs and in the government. People assume I’ll list courses in economics or finance, but I always answer that the key was Professor Demos’s philosophy course and the conversations about existentialism in coffee shops around campus. For me, embracing these two perspectives brought me a sense of calm in what were incredibly stressful situations.

There was a point in the early 1980s when the Goldman Sachs arbitrage department, which I led, lost more money in one month than it had made in almost any one year, driven by severe declines in the equity markets. Given the vicissitudes of markets, there was no way to tell whether we’d reached the nadir and recovery was around the corner — or whether we were about to go over a cliff. Despite the immense pressure, and the emotional state of the markets, I drew on an existential perspective, and my colleagues and I made careful, probabilistic decisions to adjust our portfolio, and we weathered the storm.

During my time in the Clinton White House, my colleagues and I tackled similarly complex situations. One extraordinarily complicated issue was the 1995 budget battle, which transformed into a debt-limit crisis and two government shutdowns. Compounding the severity of this policy debate for me was the experience of being personally vilified. Despite the complexity of the issues and the emotions involved, we managed to keep our balance and stand our ground. The Republican-controlled Congress eventually raised the debt limit, as we had advocated.

In both of those situations — one on Wall Street, the other in Washington — I drew from Professor Demos’s philosophy class and the existentialist lessons from the coffeehouses, which shaped my thinking on how to make decisions and helped me build a durable sense of remove and perspective.

Despite having such a profound impact on my way of thinking, I never actually met Professor Demos. I was just one of a hundred or so young faces sitting in a lecture hall, taking in his every word. If I had the chance, I would thank him for challenging me all those many years ago. He crystallized for me the power of critical thinking: asking questions, recognizing that there are no provable certainties and analyzing the probabilities. And that, coupled with my coffeehouse lessons, was the best preparation one could have — not just for a career but also for life.

Robert E. Rubin, secretary of the Treasury from 1995 to 1999, is senior counselor to Centerview Partners.



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Will China's New Trade/Debt
Diplomacy Strategy Reshape

The World?

accessed April 27, 2018

以下是《 國際經濟》雜誌今年年初邀稿下所提出之淺見。


林中斌 2018.4.27

Will China’s New Trade/Debt Diplomacy Strategy Reshape the World?

Chong-Pin Lin

Word count 492 word limit500 Due date February 16, 2018

Three factors suggest that China’s new strategy may succeed.

First, economy, rather than military might or political ideology, takes command in the 21st century. In democracies, economic performance has long swayed the voters in elections. Since the former Soviet Union, notorious for its anti-democratic governance, collapsed in 1991 due to its unsustainable economy, political leaders of all governments, democratic or otherwise, have equated the economic viability of their countries to their own political future. That explained the 2017 turn-about of British Prime Minister Theresa May from suspension to approval on the Hinkley Point C nuclear reactor project. It was heavily financed by China, which caused a political backlash May must face but eventually overcame. The same applies to Sri Lanka’s President Maithripala Sirisena on the Hambandota Port project which, launched by his predecessor in cooperation with China, was first suspended in 2015 and then approved in 2017 for a 99-year lease to Beijing for $292 million due to the country’s mounting debt to China. The Port has potentials of becoming a naval base for China, which raised security concerns of India, Japan and the U.S. Given time, economic benefits offered by China to a recipient country may just overtake political and security reservations.

Second, China’s skillful blend of the hard and the soft prongs in foreign policy makes its “debt diplomacy” more effective than expected. With the “Belt Road Initiative” under the way, Beijing’s unsaid goal seems to be dominating “Eurasiafrica”— the landmass cluster of Europe, Asia and Africa -- without war. When China was poor, it was prone to warfighting. As China began to rise, it has become averse to bloody conflict. The People’s Republic fought five wars from its founding in 1949 to 1979 when Deng Xiaoping launched the modernization drive. From 1979 to 2018, China has fought no war except the 1988 clash with Vietnam over the Johnson Reef in the South China Sea.

China’s grand strategy in the new century is to deploy “extra-military” instruments -- such as economic, diplomatic, and cultural ones – on the front, with the rapidly advancing military capabilities on the back, which allows China to quietly expand its influence far and wide while encountering minimum resistance. The extra-military approach transcends ,but not excludes, the military ones. The idea is reminiscent of Teddy Roosevelt’s adage, “Hold a big stick and speak softly”.

Third, China’s internal economic obstacles are rooted in flawed policy, which in turn has stemmed from its problematic officialdom. Clean officials tended to be incompetent, while competent officials, corrupt. At the 19th Party Congress in October 2017, China’s President Xi Jinping emerged the strongest leader since Mao Zedong. After five years of persistent and pervasive anti-corruption campaign, Xi has appointed clean and competent officials in key positions. The Harvard educated Liu He, touted as “the brain' behind Xi’s economic overhaul”, has disagreed with Premier Li Keqiang’s conservative approach may succeed in reining in China’s soaring debt without creating a collapse in the market.

Chong-Pin Lin is a former deputy defense minister of Taiwan and co-author of a recent book Sunlight Through the CloudsCracking the Taiwan-U.S.-China Complex in Chinese.

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China vs US 中美貿易戰?

Zou Yue CGTN April 2018

accessed April 23, 2018

China vs US? 中美貿易戰?

Zou Yue CGTN April 2018

* 這段對中美貿易戰精短的評論似乎不偏任何一方。

-- This succinct and lively commentary on the prospect of U.S -China trade war appears to take no side.

* 結果發現是北京環球電視網(CGTV)

-- It turns out to be from China's Global TV Network.

* 幾乎無暇的英語發音、典型西方式社會科學的兩面並呈的論法、還有引用西方熟知的伊索寓言巧妙的掩蓋了評論的來源。

-- The skillful pro-and-con argument, the almost accent-free English, and the reference to an Aesop fable familiar to the West can easily mask its origin in Beijing.

林中斌 2018.4.23

Chong-Pin Lin April 23, 2018


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The Failures of Anti-Trumpism


accessed April 16, 2018

The Failures of Anti-Trumpism/反川普運動的失敗

As things stand now, Trump will not only finish his term but also will win the re-election in 2020.

Chong-Pin Lin April 17, 2018




林中斌 2018.4.16

The Failures of Anti-Trumpism


● 我們沒有說服選民:川普民調40%,比去年此時高,並未掉下。

● 我們撼不動他:他的權力比一年以前更大,不是更小。不順他心的閣員,都已被請走了。




● 反川普的人自以為是驕傲的態度,令人受不了。

● 選民可以忍受他許多荒誕的行為,因為他們認為川普和他們同一邊。

● 我們愈聚焦川普的個性,選民愈會當川普代表人民為對抗華府的英雄。

林中斌試行簡譯 2018.4.16

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"DARPA wants to connect human brains and machine"

accessed April 16, 2018

"DARPA wants to connect human brains and machine"

Defense News March 26, 2018


-- 下世代非侵入性神經科技 (Next-generation Nonsurgical Neurotechnology):用意念操控機器的技術將要使用在武器上了。

-- 正確名稱是N3次方。但臉書文字輸入系統不支持如此表達。

林中斌 2018.4.16



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“A Silk Road Through Ice”


accessed April 27, 2018

冰絲路 Ice Silk Road





A silk road through ice


WHEN the occupants of “Snowpanda House” in Ahtari zoo, Finland, were first allowed to play in the open air in mid-February, they bounded out and rolled in the white stuff. Xi Jinping, China’s president, had said the furry animals would act as “messengers of friendship” when he promised them to Finland during a visit last year en route to America. On the same trip Mr Xi used a refuelling stop in Alaska to butter up his hosts there, too. The American north was “a mythical, almost mystical place”, a local spokesperson quoted him as saying—a bit “like a Shangri-La”.


Mr Xi has been showing a growing interest in Arctic countries. In 2014 he revealed in a speech that China itself wanted to become a “polar great power”. Last year he met leaders from seven of the eight members of the Arctic Council, a group of northern countries that admitted China and four other Asian states as observers in 2013. In January the Chinese government published its first policy document outlining its Arctic strategy. The paper referred to China as “a near-Arctic nation” (never mind that its most northerly settlement is no closer to the Arctic than Berlin is). It also linked China’s Arctic plans with Mr Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative, a scheme for building infrastructure abroad to improve links between Asia, Africa and Europe.


China’s ambitions are fuelled by a wide range of interests. It wants access to the Arctic for its researchers so they can work out how melting ice affects weather patterns, among other things. Their findings could help China devise responses to its problems with air pollution and water scarcity. China is also keen to tap into the Arctic resources that will become easier to exploit as the ice cap retreats. They include fish, minerals, oil and gas. The region could hold a quarter of the world’s as-yet-undiscovered hydrocarbons, according to the United States Geological Survey. Chinese firms are interested in mining zinc, uranium and rare earths in Greenland.


As the ice melts, it may become more feasible for cargo ships to sail through Arctic waters. China is excited by this possibility (its media speak of an “ice silk road”). In the coming decades such routes could cut several thousand kilometres off journeys between Shanghai and Europe. Sending ships through the Arctic could also help to revive port cities in China’s north-eastern rustbelt, notes Anne-Marie Brady, the author of a recent book, “China as a Polar Great Power”. China is thinking of building ports and other infrastructure in the Arctic to facilitate shipping. State-linked firms in China talk of building an Arctic railway across Finland.


Chinese analysts believe that using Arctic routes would help China strategically, too. It could reduce the need to ship goods through the Malacca Strait, a choke-point connecting the Pacific and Indian oceans. Much of China’s global shipping passes through the strait. It worries endlessly about the strait’s vulnerability to blockade—for example, should war break out with America.


There are no heated territorial disputes in the Arctic, but there are sensitivities, including Canada’s claim to the North-West Passage, a trans-Arctic waterway that America regards as international—ie, belonging to no single state. China does not want to be seen as a clumsy interloper. One point of the policy document was to allay fears that China might muscle its way into the Arctic as it has in the South China Sea. The paper stresses that China will play by international rules and co-operate with the Arctic Council (its members include polar great-powers to reckon with: America and Russia).


Plenty of non-Arctic countries, including European ones, have similar dreams. But China is “by far the outlier” in terms of the amount of money it has pledged or already poured into the region, says Marc Lanteigne of Massey University in New Zealand. Its biggest investments have been in Russia, including a gas plant that began operating in Siberia in December. Russia was once deeply cynical about China’s intentions. But since the crisis in Ukraine it has had to look east for investment in its Arctic regions.


The interest shown by Chinese firms could be good news for many Arctic communities. Few other investors have shown themselves willing to stomach the high costs and slow pay-offs involved in developing the far north. But Chinese involvement attracts criticism, too. Greens who would rather see the Arctic kept pristine fear that Chinese money could encourage projects that cause pollution. No one wants to see the kind of problems that have afflicted some Chinese investments in Africa, where the outsiders stand accused of loading locals with debt while disregarding environmental and labour laws. The relative stability of the Arctic will attract Chinese firms looking for places to park their money where conflict is unlikely.


The main concern of Arctic countries is that China’s ambitions will result in a gradual rewiring of the region’s politics in ways that give China more influence in determining how the Arctic is managed. Greenland is a place to watch. Political elites there favour independence from Denmark but resist taking the plunge because the island’s economy is so dependent on Danish support. The prospect of Chinese investment could change that. Should Greenland become independent, China could use its clout there to help further its own interests at meetings of Arctic states, in the same way that it uses its influence over Cambodia and Laos to prevent the Association of South-East Asian Nations from criticising Chinese behaviour in their neighbourhood.


For all the reassuring language of China’s official statements on the Arctic, it is possible that its calculations may change as its Arctic investments grow. China’s diplomats may begin to chafe at their limited say in how the Arctic is run. At present, like other observers, China may not speak or vote at meetings of the Arctic Council, which is by far the most prominent of several regional forums. Aki Tonami at the University of Tsukuba in Japan says China’s policy paper devotes less space to the Arctic Council than might be expected, given the organisation’s importance. In the years to come China may prefer to deal with Arctic issues bilaterally or in settings such as the UN where it feels it has a bigger say, reckons Adam MacDonald of Dalhousie University in Canada. Or China could start pushing for a restructuring of the Arctic Council in ways that give non-Arctic states a more prominent role.


But tinkering with the Arctic’s administrative structure would be risky. Many countries believe the existing one has done a good job of promoting good-neighbourliness. That it is taking longer than expected for the economic benefits of a melting Arctic to become readily accessible may also help explain why countries in the region have not been bickering more: there have been few spoils to divvy up.


It might be easier to work out how to accommodate the evolving interests of non-Arctic countries were America—the region’s most powerful country—to show more interest. Andrew Holland of the American Security Project, a think-tank, believes the United States will pay limited attention to Arctic debates while Donald Trump remains president. China’s route to the pole is widening.

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