A New China Hand Witch Hunt is Brewing in Washington

Silicon Hutong Command Post
Nearly Midnight

The Washington Times, that bastion of neocon thought, is running a story on a report that has been laid on the desk of Thomas Finegar, the personal analyst to U.S. Intelligence Czar that looks set to start a battle inside the intelligence community.

The report details over a dozen major U.S. intelligence failures over the last decade or so vis-a-vis China’s military improvements. That’s not the big deal.

What is scary is the blamestorming that has begun, with some blaming poor collection (a common complaint about the U.S. intelligence community,) and others, more ominously, are blaming a small coterie of China Hands in the community who ostensibly hid these developments in order to curry favor with China.

This is a dangerous accusation. We’re sliding into McCarthy territory here, regardless of whatever may have motivated the reports authors. It stretches credulity to believe that such a conspiracy existed – and it will be miserably difficult to prove.

In the meantime, the U.S.’s ability to monitor China will take a hit as the analysts andcollectors spend more time worrying about saving their jobs than doing them.

Texas Firm Gets Exclusive E-Learning Contract

Last entry before Taps
In the Bunker in the Hutong

Texas-based Gatlin Education Services (GES) has apparently been given an exclusive contract to aggregate all major online course providers to supply the Chinese educational system with online learning products starting this summer.

This all sounds really good for GES, and for their sake I hope it’s true. It’s nice to see a company that has really earned its stripes in a business (GES, for those who don’t know, handles online instruction for a large number of major universities and adult education schools in the U.S.), rather than one that has earned its stripes by having some overseas Chinese tap a brother-in-law in some ministry to get his contract.

Some concerns:

1. The word “exclusive”. China is no longer big on exclusives – at least not exclusives that mean much. In the press release, director Lu Moli of CNPIEC seems pretty definitive about China just having one source of online education.

I wonder if anyone asked the Ministry of Education whether GES could have the national exclusive. Given that the MoE isn’t even listed here, one wonders.

2. There is no discussion of what GES is going to do to market these courses and make them affordable to Chinese. If they’re expecting CNPIEC to sell them, they’re in for a surprise. The press release says the importer will “make the courses available.” That don’t mean marketing, fellows, and guess what? Despite what you may have been told, those courses won’t sell themselves.

3. Check out this language:
Due to the Chinese government's stated initiative to becomefluent in English before the 2008 Olympics, courses will be offered in English
and some will be offered in both Chinese and English.

First word of advice to GES – FIRE YOUR PR AGENCY or at least let somebody else do your international assignments. The Chinese Government is NOT planning on becoming fluent in the English language before 2008, and saying they are in your press release makes you look stupid.

Second word of advice: translate the course material. For all of the people learning English around here, you may be shocked to know that many of them (and all of their non-English speaking colleagues) would prefer to take their courses in Chinese.

4. There’s no mention at all of how the students are going to get instructional support. Hmm. Kind of kills the value, eh?

5. No mention of localization. Hello, guys? What good is a Real Estate course designed for the U.S. in a place like China, where you can’t even get a loan for a second-hand house or refinance a mortgage or get “comps” on houses sold in your neighborhood? And I could go on…

Clearly, there could be a lot of information GEC is holding back for fear of competition. I really hope so. It would be sad to see a company that has so much to offer Chinese students crash and burn because it didn’t do its homework.

Thought Leadership and Blogs

In the Hutong, waiting for the rain.

Trevor Cook at Jackson Wells Morris in Australia has released a preliminary finding from their corporate blogging survey. It appears that while many companies and executives list “thought leadership” as a priority at the beginning of the process, that declines in importance – and reality – over time. Bloggers see themselves as building a community.

Thought leadership is much easier to establish than sustain, and the temptation to shift to a community format can be high. But both goals have their own value, and both have their own demands. Here are some thoughts:

1. Thought Leadership Blogs don’t have to be daily or weekly. One of the joys of RSS and encouraging readers to take an RSS feed is that it eliminates the need to keep the site sticky. If you’ve got something interesting to say, post it, and it shows up on the feed.

2. If you REALLY need to make your thought leadership blog regular, you have two options. First, intersperse other smart thinkers who influence you with your own entries. Second, bring in guests to post their smartness on your blog. I really like these ideas, and am going to start following them myself.

3. If you want to build a community blog, do it separately. Community blogs are more about conversations than thought leadership. I go to “big thinker” blogs to read smart things, not to watch a moderated discussion. If you need both, do companion blogs – it’s a much better approach for your audience.

Corporate Governance, Chinese Style

In the Hutong, sitting on a stool, waving a paper fan, jeans rolled up.

The folks over at China Aviation Oil, the company nearly every China-bound airline loves to hate because of the high monopoly we-hate-foreigners prices CAO charges international airlines for fuel, are apparently getting a bit of comeuppance. Cris Prystay over at the AWSJ in Singapore notes that no less a personage than Jia Changbin, CAO Holdings’ Beijing-based CEO, has been arrested, charged with three criminal offenses and had his passport confiscated by Singaporean authorities. He’s out on S$250k bail, but he’s not going anywhere soon.

I think it’s great that China is getting serious about improving corporate governance. I just think it’s a damned shame they’ve had to outsource enforcement to Singapore.

China Quietly Adds a Layer to the Great Firewall

In the Hutong, deep, deep inside the Bunker

The Washington Post site is blocked.

The guys at BeijingLUG are reporting some bizarre internet behavior – and verifying that some interesting blocking – never before seen – is happening at the international gateways. Dumb stuff – even Zinio.com, where one downloads electronic editions of major magazines available ONLY with a U.S. credit card, is likewise blocked.

It’s getting really ugly here again. That’s no news.

The question is – why now?

Why, all of a sudden, after a long, long liberalization, have the leadership of China decided that they need to crack down again?

The ostensible reason given is always stabilization.

Stupid twice.

China’s continued stability depends on a constant inflow of foreign cash and jobs. Here’s the problem. Businessmen in this country need access to their information. If they can’t get it, they will be increasingly inclined to take their business – and their regional headquarters, and their employment – elsewhere.

And when the economy’s growth drops off, and the property bubble bursts, and foreigners stop hiring scads of local workers because they’re shipping out to India or whereever, THEN where is this place going to be?