Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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June 30, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

PANDA SLUGGER....It sometimes seems as if right-wing hawks in America must get together every few years to assign each country in the world its own personal Chicken Little, someone to consistently make the maximal case for that country's danger to American security. Iraq, for example, had Ahmed Chalabi. Iran has Michael Ledeen.

For China, that person is Michael Pillsbury, a Mandarin-speaking scholar who can be relied on to provide the most nerve-wracking possible view of China's future military capability to anyone willing to listen. And needless to say, he has the ear of Donald Rumsfeld. After all, China hawkery is the ultimate trump card when budget season rolls around and it's time to justify yet another carrier group.

There's only one problem: it turns out that Pillsbury plays a little fast and loose when he explains China's alleged future plans to American audiences. Soyoung Ho provides chapter and verse this month in "Panda Slugger," a profile of Pillsbury that includes the following explanation of one particular future terror that he warns about relentlessly:

And what about the "Assassin's Mace," one of Pillsbury's major preoccupations? Here, Pillsbury appears to have taken a common Chinese term, shashoujian, and decided, based on his own unfamiliarity with it ("I first saw this unusual term in...1995," he writes in a 2003 article) that it indicates what he calls a "secret project."

In fact, though, the term has been around for centuries and has been revived in contemporary Chinese pop culture, a slangy phrase that appears in articles about everything from soccer to romance. Pillsbury cites public speeches by Chinese leaders and articles in Chinese newspapers that speak of developing "shashoujian" weapons, but he never explains how this adds up to evidence of a secret program. It's as if a Chinese researcher, hearing a U.S. official speaking of a need for "kick-ass weapons," were to become confused by the term "kick-ass" and conclude that there must be a secret "kick-ass weapons" program. In short, Pillsbury has identified a secret program that, by all indications, is literally no more than a figure of speech.

There's much more than this, though. You can read the whole story here.

Kevin Drum 1:07 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (57)

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Comments

Excellent, excellent article.

Posted by: No Borders No Limits on June 30, 2006 at 1:22 AM | PERMALINK

A secret program that is talked about in speeches by government leaders that later appear in newspaper articles? I thought we were the only country that had "secret" programs that our leaders tell everyone about which later appear in newspapers. The damn Chinese have trumped us yet again!!

Posted by: Vladi G on June 30, 2006 at 1:35 AM | PERMALINK

Oh, crap. Does this mean we're going to liberate China on a search for KAWMDs?

Posted by: The Confidence Man on June 30, 2006 at 1:43 AM | PERMALINK

Kick ass!

Posted by: nutty little nut nut on June 30, 2006 at 1:44 AM | PERMALINK

How do these guys get in the door at the Pentagon? Jesus.

Posted by: Lone on June 30, 2006 at 1:45 AM | PERMALINK

I would feel better about China if only they would completely renounce mass murderer Mao Tse- tung, give a full accounting of his crimes and victims, take that obscene portrait of him in Beijing down and burn that bastard's miserable body publicly. The official veneration of Mao is akin to Germany still publicly honoring Adolf Hitler.

I know this isn't the thrust of the discussion, but I'm reading Jung Chang's biography of Mao and he truly was one of the worst monsters in human history.

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Posted by: wwcxmmc on June 30, 2006 at 1:48 AM | PERMALINK

Hitler. Mao. Bush.

Posted by: nutty little nut nut on June 30, 2006 at 1:51 AM | PERMALINK

Nice article. Further confirmation, if any needed, that this administration only takes advice from those who already promote the correct views. I know others have pointed this out, but it is ironic that, even down to the corruption, these guys mimic the Soviets.

Urrrh. Gives me the creeps.

I was confused by his use of "Cassandra" to describe these advisors. Surely they are the opposite: doomed to totally mispredict the future but to be believed.

And they say a country gets the government it deserves. What the hell did we do to deserve all this?

Posted by: notthere on June 30, 2006 at 1:52 AM | PERMALINK

I thought they were going to kick our ass by taking our jobs.

Posted by: B on June 30, 2006 at 1:55 AM | PERMALINK

As has been prophesied before, the world ends when people of yellow color ruled the world. To bring about the second coming of Christ, we must bring the world to its end. Invade China.

Posted by: Left Behind Advocate on June 30, 2006 at 1:57 AM | PERMALINK

As much as I hate W, I wouldn't put him in the Hitler/Stalin/Mao club.

Posted by: Joe on June 30, 2006 at 2:00 AM | PERMALINK

It is a documented fact that some Chinese red army fascists have studied assymetric war. The sort you can read about through RAND ( sear J Arquilla- Rondfeldt )This is highly dangerous warfare for the last evil empire. I would wish the red fascists all the best except I regard you swine as the ( slightly) lesser of two evils. Thats why I say take out Marxist Leninist filth exactly the way you take out Sharia style pukes - by any means necessary.
Grow some fucking balls for fucks sake. You haven't even won the cold war yet you fucking losers. You want to send a message to the right fascists? Send a fucking nuclear message to a couple of LEFT fascists. That will get their attention ...and as a bonus they might stop fucking around with the net.

Posted by: professor rat on June 30, 2006 at 2:15 AM | PERMALINK

I thought they were going to kick our ass by taking our jobs.

Nah, they'll pervert us all through the liberal diffusion of culturally polluting Chinese porn spam.

More a case of top secret 'Kink Ass' weaponry.

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Posted by: aacxmmc on June 30, 2006 at 2:18 AM | PERMALINK

BTW, professor rat - was that was satire (red army fascists,Marxist Leninist filth, LEFT fascists)? Pretty funny if it was!

If it wasn't, however, may I suggest you remove the '.au' from your email address. It's embarrassing to other Australians to be connected to such tripe.

Posted by: floopmeister on June 30, 2006 at 2:24 AM | PERMALINK

One or two hundred thousand is a pretty good start but is truly bush-league compared to the Hitler/Stalin/Mao club.

The only reason he hasn't done as much damage as these guys (yet) is because of that damn democracy thing and those pesky constitutional restraints that he is trying his best to make obsolete.

Oh, and it would be too much like a fulltime job.

Posted by: notthere on June 30, 2006 at 2:33 AM | PERMALINK

Mmmm...Panda!

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Posted by: aacxmmc on June 30, 2006 at 2:59 AM | PERMALINK

Just Wondering, still . . .

Is it just too inflammatory to mention Palestine-Israel?

Posted by: notthere on June 30, 2006 at 3:06 AM | PERMALINK

This story brings to mind Gilda Radner's wonderful Emily Latella's "Oh, never mind." comment. Never have so many been led by so clueless an administration.

Posted by: Common Sense on June 30, 2006 at 3:19 AM | PERMALINK

Is "aacxmmc" trying to say something here? It keeps posting relentlessly.

I, too, thought rat might have been joking with that "assymetric" bit. Or perhaps the hidden implication is that China has reached the stage at which it can "kick" asymmetrical warfare and go toe-to-toe with the big guys.

Posted by: bad Jim on June 30, 2006 at 4:08 AM | PERMALINK

FWIW, back in Feb-March 04 the Chinese nationally circulated newspaper (Cankao xiaoxi) was filled with articles about the potential of Chinese electronic warfare against Taiwan. The trick is that all these articles were reprints of articles originally reprinted on Taiwan, as RN is basically the most public outlet of the national intelligence gathering apparatus, and consists virtually exclusively of reprints and translations from the foreign press (for its purposes, Taiwan and Hong Kong are treated as "foreign"). Its circulation was originally restricted, but it went to the public newstands sometime in the 1980s. Generally what they print is what the original article actually said--as when they translate the NYT, for instance, it is almost always accurate--but they often leave certain sensitive parts out, and of course there is a process of choice in deciding what to choose in the first place.

I didn't know exactly what the purpose of this mini-campaign was, but it did coincide with the run-up to the last presidential election in Taiwan.

Posted by: drylake on June 30, 2006 at 4:32 AM | PERMALINK

FWIW, back in Feb-March 04 the Chinese nationally circulated newspaper (Cankao xiaoxi) was filled with articles about the potential of Chinese electronic warfare against Taiwan. The trick is that all these articles were reprints of articles originally printed on Taiwan, as RN is basically the most public outlet of the national intelligence gathering apparatus, and consists virtually exclusively of reprints and translations from the foreign press (for its purposes, Taiwan and Hong Kong are treated as "foreign"). Its circulation was originally restricted, but it went to the public newstands sometime in the 1980s. Generally what they print is what the original article actually said--as when they translate the NYT, for instance, it is almost always accurate--but they often leave certain sensitive parts out, and of course there is a process of choice in deciding what to choose in the first place.

I didn't know exactly what the purpose of this mini-campaign was, but it did coincide with the run-up to the last presidential election in Taiwan.

Posted by: drylake on June 30, 2006 at 4:33 AM | PERMALINK

Does anyone read Chinese? I wonder if those Chinese posts might be relevant for once.

Posted by: Alex on June 30, 2006 at 4:58 AM | PERMALINK

Yeah, and the Patriotic Fist societies were only boxing clubs until the Boxer Rebellion.

Posted by: minion of rove on June 30, 2006 at 7:38 AM | PERMALINK

I, for one, welcome our new squid overlords.

[garbled]

No, this is Pharyngula.

[garbled]

No, I'm sure this is the right place for this comment.

[garbled]

Spider sex is all very well, but we're talking about cephalopods.

[garbled]

Mmmm. A drink at the bar or do you just want to come up to my room?

Posted by: bad Jim on June 30, 2006 at 7:44 AM | PERMALINK

Can't have a fascist dictatorship without bogeymen! Pillsbury is just practicing for when he's needed.

Posted by: CN on June 30, 2006 at 7:57 AM | PERMALINK

It's the latest thing- an opponent much smaller than you is ever so much more dangerous than an equal opponent because- they're assymetrical!

All part of the Bush Doctrine- some people will believe anything, and those are the ones you want to focus on.

Posted by: serial catowner on June 30, 2006 at 8:48 AM | PERMALINK

Full disclosure- assymetry will hook me like a marlin and reel me in like a trout. 'Nuff said.

Posted by: serial catowner on June 30, 2006 at 8:50 AM | PERMALINK

the world needs chicken littles. the problem for the US and the world is that in America, instead of keeping them in their rightful place screaming on the sidelines, Americans have gone and put them in charge, the veritable madman with his finger on the button.

A couple of rules for success:

1) If you want to see tomorrow do not put religious whack jobs who believe in the end of world in charge of the largest, most destructive military on earth, or put their finger in the nuclear button.
2) If you want effect government, do not put people who think government is useless and should be destroyed in charge of government.
.

Posted by: pluege on June 30, 2006 at 8:58 AM | PERMALINK

Dude... Panda Slugger is the most awesome name for a band!

Posted by: collin on June 30, 2006 at 9:19 AM | PERMALINK

Actually, Assassin's Mace is a pretty awsome name for a band as well. Perhaps they could tour together.

Posted by: collin on June 30, 2006 at 9:22 AM | PERMALINK

Pillsbury plays a little fast and loose when he explains China's alleged future plans

This should be no surprise. Iraq, Iran, now China...fast and loose (aka "lying") is standard op.

Posted by: ckelly on June 30, 2006 at 9:44 AM | PERMALINK

By the way, if this blog was in China it would be banned. They are such enlightened people over there.

Posted by: Orwell on June 30, 2006 at 10:06 AM | PERMALINK

By the way, if this blog was in China it would be banned. They are such enlightened people over there.

Yeah, probably so. Did you have a point to make?

Anyway, so what if this Pillsbury dough-boy has his hair on fire about China? You know what we can do to China, especially with them toting the note on our debt? Exactly: jack shit.

Posted by: Alek Hidell on June 30, 2006 at 10:19 AM | PERMALINK

I hereby ignore everything you said in your post so that I can declare three things: 1) China is still the greatest threat in the world's history no matter what Kevin Drum says, 2) You liberals are unserious about national security for not agreeing completely with this, and 3) Thank God we have a president like George W. Bush whose administration will be nothing less than supremely competent in executing the invasion and defeat of the Red Chinese menace.

Posted by: American Hawk's stand-in on June 30, 2006 at 10:22 AM | PERMALINK

A banned blog attracts no trolls.

Posted by: Irony Man on June 30, 2006 at 10:38 AM | PERMALINK

obviously Pillsbury is a little out there.
so?

That China went on a sudden, drastic and unpredicted defense buildup over the last 8 years isn't a myth....or a secret.

That China will also have a massive male to female imbalance in the next 20 years is also not a secret....that historically such a gender imbalance is a recipe for aggression is well-documented.

That defense procurement cycles in the U.S. take 8-20 years is also not a secret.

Prudence dictates that we take all of the above into account.

Posted by: Nathan on June 30, 2006 at 10:56 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin

Miss HO's profile of me is fiction - I don't have any influence at the Pentagon, did all the books and reports she cites for the Clinton Administration, have blurbs on the covers of my books from Democrats as well as neo cons, m books have been translated into Chinse and published in China by Xinhua Press, part of the government of China. I told Miss HO, who is South Korean, not Chinese that I support the recent policy recommendations by both Senate Ddemocrat Leader Harry Reid and House Democrat Leader Nancy Pelosi on China. My last 4 reports are all on line - sponsored by the Congressional China Commission a bipartisan commission set up by Senator Robert Byrd in 2001, perhaps President Bush's harshest critic. I am not Ahmed Chalabi, or a Neocon, and Miss Ho's own view of China's future as uncerain is exactly what I believe. Miss Ho is the vicitm of a hoax and took her editors with her for a ride!

Posted by: Michael Pillsbury on June 30, 2006 at 10:58 AM | PERMALINK

Lord, I hope that's not the real Michael Pillsbury. But I can't rule out that it isn't - not considering the clowns we have in charge now.

Posted by: Alek Hidell on June 30, 2006 at 11:07 AM | PERMALINK

actually I shouldn't have said that "obviously Pillsbury is a little out there"...I don't know anything about him.

most of more interesting articles on China's military rise are published by the Naval War College...I haven't seen Pillsbury's name on any of them.

Posted by: Nathan on June 30, 2006 at 11:11 AM | PERMALINK

My last report in April 2005 focused on technological competitiveness of China, and cites favorably the comments on the need to increase NSF budget by Democratic Senator Barbara Mikulski and House Science Committee ranking Democrat Bart Gordon.

This 160 page report is on line - sponsored by the Congressional China Commission a bipartisan commission set up by Senator Robert Byrd in 2001, perhaps President Bush's harshest critic.

The only Assassin's Mace weapon I know in the world is Miss Ho -- but she kicked the wrong ass.

Posted by: Michae Pillsbury on June 30, 2006 at 11:13 AM | PERMALINK

"How do these guys get in the door at the Pentagon? Jesus."


Seeing as one of the main by-products of this bullshit is increased defense budgets, I would suggest to follow the money to find the answer to that question.

Posted by: Dismayed Liberal on June 30, 2006 at 11:35 AM | PERMALINK

I think Hunter S Thompson's term for this type was "Used-Car Salesman".

Posted by: Osama_Been_Forgotten on June 30, 2006 at 11:39 AM | PERMALINK

I don't know whether her portrayal of Pillsbury is accurate, but there are some passages in her article that raise serious concerns about her credibility.

"Thanks in part to Pillsbury's influence, the Pentagon's 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review, or QDR--the blueprint for future defense strategy and spending--identifies China as the nation with "the greatest potential to compete militarily with the United States.""

um, bullshit. that would have been true even if Kunicich was the primary influence on the QDR. why? because its obviously true.

"And the Pentagon's most recent annual report to Congress on China's military contains passages that appear to be lifted directly out of Pillsbury's writings, including warnings of "asymmetric programs" in the works."

Anyone who knows anything at all about defense issues, or even just peruses Janes once in a while will know that "asymmetric" warfare, programs et al are standard verbiage...and that yes, China, (like everyone else) is building up its "asymmetric" capabilities. I can say without question that this passage (Ms. Ho's) was written by someone completely ignorant of defense affairs. No one else would have identified the use of "asymmetric" with reference to China as proof of someone's influence.

"Actually, scores of China experts within the military, the intelligence community, and the academy devote their lives precisely to assessing the Chinese military and its possible impact on U.S. interests over the next five or 10 years. Nearly all have arrived at the same conclusion: that China's military is nowhere close to being a credible threat to the United States or its interests."

This is only true if she defines our interests very narrowly (and within that time frame). The consensus of the defense community is that China is within a couple years (if not now) of having the capacity to invade and occupy Taiwan (if we did not intervene)...yes, they are a good 15-30 years away from having a legitimate blue water navy...but their littoral abilities in Asia are already quite robust and will be much more so within 10 years.
None of this is disputed.
If Korea, Taiwan, Japan and Thailand are not U.S. interests, then yes, China's military poses no credible threat and won't for the next 10 years. (longer actually)...but what Ms. Ho seems to be unaware of is that an analyst who concluded that China would be a serious competitor in 15-20 years would advocate investment now -- why? because defense procurement cycles are so long. it takes 10 years to build a carrier and declare IOC...

China, after all, has ICBMs with the ability to reach the U.S. with MIRVs...the only other nation currently with that ability? Russia. (if Great Britain and France put their boomers close enough they could as well I guess) That's not a credible threat?

"China's military technology is widely considered to be about 20 years behind that of the United States,"

in some areas...absolutely. in others...well, they've been purchasing the latest Russian hardware...which sometimes is not far from par (cruise missiles, aviation (excepting the F-22 (and the JSF which isn't flying yet))

"If China were to have any serious capacity to project power beyond its shores, it would need what any great power has: aircraft carriers."

Russia never had real aircraft carriers (they had a few of the Charles de Gaulle type). Nuff said. Yes, for blue water power projection, aircraft carriers and marine aviation are a necessity. China is a long way from that. But for power projection throughout much of Asia....they don't need them.

If Ms. Ho had bothered to ask whoever she purportedly polled among defense analysts (did she go to Rand? Janes?) and asked them if Chinese military writing was implicitly concerned with potentially fighting the U.S....she might have found out that it is a standard assumption.

Posted by: Nathan on June 30, 2006 at 11:40 AM | PERMALINK

If we wanted to get serious about China, we'd stop funnelling trillions of dollars to them from Wal Mart, and George's Iraq venture.

The official veneration of Mao is akin to Germany still publicly honoring Adolf Hitler.

Or talking about putting Bush on Mt. Rushmore. Or naming an aircraft carrier after Reagan. Or naming an oil tanker "Condoleeza".

Posted by: Osama_Been_Forgotten on June 30, 2006 at 11:50 AM | PERMALINK

Michae with the sore ass,

Your April report is linked to here:

http://www.uscc.gov/researchpapers/comm_research_archive.php

The report doesn't seem to say anything about encouraging visas for foreign graduate students and highly educated workers. However, the NSF budget would be a great place to start.

Posted by: B on June 30, 2006 at 11:53 AM | PERMALINK

In terms of an actual superpower conflict, I think China laughs at our aircraft carriers. They're only good for projecting force against the third world. They can be easily tracked by satellite and a tactical nuke or a number of conventional cruise missiles would easily remove them from the equation.

As for the third world, I'm guessing that China will simply rely upon it's economic power to get what it wants. They don't give a crap about dictators in the middle east or genocides in africa as long as the oil keeps flowing.

Posted by: B on June 30, 2006 at 12:00 PM | PERMALINK

B...you might want to look up the ranges of Silkworms, etc. (btw, it would take a heck of a lot of cruise missiles to take out a carrier)...then you might want to look up the circumference covered by a carrier battle group (i.e. how close are enemy surface ships, subs and aircraft going to get?)...

then get back to me.

Posted by: Nathan on June 30, 2006 at 2:46 PM | PERMALINK

Nathan: it would take a heck of a lot of cruise missiles to take out a carrier)...then you might want to look up the circumference covered by a carrier battle group (i.e. how close are enemy surface ships, subs and aircraft going to get?)...

Don't get too cocky about our CBG's. The truth is that nobody knows how vulnerable they are. The USN hasn't fought a hot war against a major adversary since WWII.

There have been plenty of exercises where subs have taken out carriers. Often non-nuclear subs had the advantage in littoral waters (one reason the USN's nuke-only policy may be a mistake).

Are Chinese subs (including the Russian imports) anywhere near as good as ours? Of course not, but they're improving fast. They're probably nosiy. But a carrier is a tempting enough target to use saturation techniques against. Trade N subs for one carrier.

BTW, our CBG's would have better range if they hadn't ditched the F-14D's in favor of the F/A-18 Super Turkey. There's a reason the first planes to hit Afghanistan were F-14's - the F/A-18's didn't have the range.

Posted by: alex on June 30, 2006 at 3:42 PM | PERMALINK

"Often non-nuclear subs had the advantage in littoral waters"

correct...which is why you keep carriers in blue water. a saturation cruise missile attack is worrisome...which is why you simply stay out of range.
(of course, this does lessen the effectiveness of our marine aviation...but once you've established air superiority (which is why the F-22 is more important than the JSF...given air superiority legacy aircraft will work just fine) then you can put tankers up).

"Are Chinese subs (including the Russian imports) anywhere near as good as ours? Of course not, but they're improving fast. They're probably nosiy. But a carrier is a tempting enough target to use saturation techniques against. Trade N subs for one carrier."

Take a lot of torpedos to sink a carrier.
of course, the way you protect a carrier from subs is very simple. establish ASW pickets all around and use active sonar. doesn't matter how quiet the subs are...

your general thrust (that China's capability is rapidly improving) is, of course, correct...and why Ms. Ho is out to lunch.

Posted by: Nathan on June 30, 2006 at 4:26 PM | PERMALINK

Nathan: which is why you keep carriers in blue water

I don't know how blue you have to be in order to stay safe. The subs we have to worry about may not have trans-Pacific capabilities, but a few hundred miles is no problem. Further than that and the USN might as well stay in home port.

The effectiveness of sonar (including active) depends heavily on depth, sea floor, thermoclines, etc. Guess I'll have to check the charts for a few hundred miles around Taiwan. I'm sure lots of USN people have them memorized.

which is why the F-22 is more important than the JSF

We agree here. I'm actually moving towards the POV that we'd be better off making more F-22's (which would dramatically reduce the price) and a naval version (as originally envisioned) and scrapping the JSF (the Marines and the British wouldn't be too happy).

Take a lot of torpedos to sink a carrier.

from Naval War College Review, Spring 2005, Vol. 58, No. 2

Large aircraft carriers are not invulnerable to these weapons. Carriers are more likely to be rendered immobile and suffer mission degradation than to be sunk by standard 53 cmdiameter torpedoes, but during the Cold War the Soviet Union developed 65 cm torpedoes specifically designed to sink them. The Type 093 nuclear submarines being built by China are believed to have torpedo tubes capable of firing 65 cm weapons.

of course, the way you protect a carrier from subs is very simple. establish ASW pickets all around and use active sonar. doesn't matter how quiet the subs are...

I'm not sure it's so simple. Read the paper I linked to for more info on ASW difficulties.

your general thrust (that China's capability is rapidly improving) is, of course, correct...and why Ms. Ho is out to lunch.

Again, we agree. I think the US needs to decide whether we should stick to our Taiwan, etc. defense commitments or not. There's a good argument that we shouldn't. Is Taiwan worth one drop of American blood? Personally I can't decide if that would be keeping our noses where they belong or pulling a Munich. If we are going to maintain those commitments though, we need the ability to back them up. Keeping the commitments but not having the resources is the worst of both worlds.

Of course the silliest thing about our China "policy" is the idea of "lanes" (latest bureaucratese for contradicting ourselves). Why does China need weapons if they can sink us with a sell order? And even if China was the most peaceful country in the world, do we want to sell them our country?

Posted by: alex on June 30, 2006 at 5:08 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe the new kick ass weapon is a defensive array of seafloor tethered long-range wake-homing torpedos covering an area within 400 nm of Taiwan.

Posted by: B on June 30, 2006 at 5:09 PM | PERMALINK

B and nathan and Alex - your comments are pretty sophisticated - now that Miss Ho has sunk/exposed me, with impunity behind the First Amendment, maybe one of you could take my place? Then you could give her an interview and see what she does with your words? she is south korean and wants help with her visa, which has expired, she said to some of her sources.

Posted by: Michael Pillsbury on June 30, 2006 at 5:29 PM | PERMALINK

I told Miss HO, who is South Korean, not Chinese that I support...

... she is south korean and wants help with her visa, which has expired, she said to some of her sources.

That's the second time her nationality has been invoked. Why bring it up? Does she lose street cred for being of South Korean origins and "not Chinese?"

The rest of this comment is left as an exercise for the reader.

Posted by: YooHooligan on June 30, 2006 at 9:01 PM | PERMALINK

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Posted by: dd on July 1, 2006 at 9:14 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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