So much going on! Press release on the events leading up to the conference.

IAF, State Theatre present mini Chinese film series

TRAVERSE CITY — In collaboration with the State Theatre, NMC’s International Affairs Forum will present four Chinese films between March and May as a springboard to its upcoming China conference in June.
The films range from high-stakes thrillers to historical epics, family classics to incisive contemporary documentaries:
  • March 25: Infernal Affairs at 6 pm – This award-winning 2002 thriller is the story of the race between a Chinese mafia mole in a police department and an undercover cop, each attempting to identify the other. After winning top prizes in Asia, in 2006 Martin Scorsese remade the film as The Departed which went on to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. Post-film discussion facilitated by Gary Howe, who lived in China and graduated from the Hopkins-Nanjing Center before returning to Traverse City where he teaches world geography at NMC and serves as an elected city commissioner.
  • April 15: The Last Emperor at 6 pm – Winner of nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, this 1987 film was the first authorized by the Chinese government to be filmed in the Forbidden City. It follows the true story of Puyi, China’s last emperor, from his ascent to the throne as a small boy to his imprisonment and political rehabilitation by Communists.
  • May 3: Big Bird in China at 10 am (25-cent kids matinee) – Everyone’s favorite Sesame Street character meets Chinese schoolchildren, learns Chinese words and visits sites like the Great Wall. Filmed on location in Beijing and other locales, this is a great way to introduce kids – and parents – to China!
  • May 13: Ai Wei Wei: Never Sorry at 6 pm  – The 2012 hit documentary, one of the favorites at the eighth Traverse City Film Festival, chronicles Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei as he prepares for a series of exhibitions and gets into an increasing number of clashes with the Chinese government. A fascinating look at contemporary China and one of its most compelling public figures.
The Traverse City Film Festival, under the leadership and direction of its founder and president Michael Moore, owns and operates the State Theatre as a year-round, community-based, and volunteer-run art house movie theater. The State shows great independent films year-round, along with many special programs, including this China-related series.
“With Chinese cinema’s rich artistic legacy and the unique ability of film to transcend borders, this film series aims to offer a compelling cultural exploration of China. We hope it will spark community-wide conversation,” said Moore.
Regular admission ticket prices apply for the movies, including the 25 cent Saturday kids matinee price for Big Bird in China.  Visit for complete details and ticket information.
The film series is among several China-focused spring events IAF is presenting or partnering with in an effort to shed light and generate curiosity about the world’s most populous nation prior to its conference, “China: Competitor or Partner?” set for the Hagerty Center June 5-6. Tickets for the conference, whose speakers include a former assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs and the Beijing correspondent for The Economist, go on sale April 30.
“Our region’s education, business and cultural ties with China are growing, creating both opportunities and challenges,” said IAF board member and China conference chair Debbie Rough. “IAF believes its role is to help Grand Traverse residents gain a clear view of the big picture, through both the conference and the prelude events.”
The presenting conference sponsors are NMC and the FIM Group.
“FIM Group is honored to partner with Northwestern Michigan College on the China Conference. We see this conference as an opportunity for our community to engage deeper into international connections and activate a dialogue of advancement,” said FIM Group president Paul Sutherland.
In addition to the film series, IAF’s spring lectures – the third Thursday of each month at Milliken Auditorium — all feature speakers on Chinese and Asian issues. Tickets are $10 at door or free to student and educators.
IAF is also co-sponsoring award-winning Chinese-American author Anchee Min’s April 24 appearance at the National Writers Series. Min’s writing has been praised for its raw, sharp language and historical accuracy. Min credits the English language with giving her a means to express herself, arming her with the voice and vocabulary to write about growing up during China’s Cultural Revolution. “There was no way for me to describe those experiences or talk about those feelings in Chinese,” she has said of a language too burdened by Maoist rhetoric. Today, she writes candidly about events she was once encouraged to bury. The New York Times has called her “a wild, passionate and fearless American writer.”
NMC’s Dennos Museum Center spring exhibitions also dovetail with the Chinese/Asia focus, including the return of the popular Tibetan monks creating a sand mandala painting April 14-19 and an exhibition by Korean sculptor Seung Mo Park starting May 3. A special exhibit of contemporary Chinese photography entitled “How to Return?” curated by the m97 Gallery in Shanghai will also be featured at the June conference.h
For more conference information, visit



Karen Segal
International Affairs Forum co-chair
(231) 715-6064

Why a China conference in Traverse City?

Half of my career, I lived and worked overseas, mostly in the Asia/Pacific region. Although I received loads of cultural training, my opinions of people from other countries changed most drastically when I was with them on a daily basis. How ignorant I was. Opening myself to new ways of doing things was a challenge, but understanding and embracing differences brought great rewards. There is always more to learn.

That’s why Northwestern Michigan College’s International Affairs Forum is such an asset to our community. For more than 20 years, IAF has invited top-notch global leaders to Milliken Auditorium on the third Thursday of the month. Why are we passionate about involving the community in global topics? The fact is we can think and act globally and still support local. The two can, do, and must co-exist.

No part of the world is more crucial to our future than China. That’s why IAF and other local partners and sponsors have organized the region’s first two-day conference on China, “China: Competitor or Partner?” set for June 5-6. One goal: to bring greater understanding of what is already going on in business, education and culture with China right here in Northern Michigan. Plans for student exchanges by Traverse City Area Public Schools are just one example.

We have discovered local companies exporting, partnering and manufacturing in China. There are even a few whose businesses were rescued by Chinese investors who came forward to keep the plants open and the communities afloat. These stories will be shared at the conference to help us discuss the impact, opportunities and demands that Chinese engagement brings.

Today, Michigan businesses are experiencing rapid growth in their trade with China. Last year, Michigan exported $3.2 billion worth of goods and services to China, just behind Canada and Mexico. Michigan is one of the top 10 states for direct investment from China with more than $917 million in capital from China in 2012.

Often I host international visitors in Traverse City … some Caucasian and many not. They feel a bit strange here as they walk downtown and see very little diversity. I have walked in their shoes, when I looked very different from the locals and had limited language skills. My guests ask why people stare at them or look at them strangely. I explain it may be from lack of exposure to people from overseas, and most likely it is just curiosity.

As Traverse City engages in business, educational and cultural initiatives globally, let’s hope that when international guests leave, they take positive memories of people who welcomed them and treated them with dignity and respect. Likewise, as we travel, that we leave an image of people open to listening, learning and sharing.

Please plan to join us for an immersion in Asian and Chinese topics with Chinese, American and global experts beginning in February. Participate in the IAF lectures, support this local conference and expand your global horizons.

(Originally posted at The Traverse City Record Eagle –


The hard part’s not over in ridding Syria of chemical weapons

It may not have been the result of grand strategy, but it looks like a face-saving political solution could allow us to step back from our plans to bomb Syria.

The president has agreed to take Secretary of State John Kerry’s suggestion to the United Nations Security Council that Syria turn over its chemical weapons stockpile to international inspection and control. The skeptics are already arguing that the rapid Russian and Syrian agreement to this offer is just a delaying tactic. Some are calling for the U.S. air and missile strikes to go ahead, despite the developments of the past few days. We ought to be ready to take “yes” for an answer, but it won’t be easy.

I spent three years negotiating arms control and nonproliferation regimes with the Soviet Union and Russia, and a year in Moscow implementing a chemical weapons destruction agreement. That experience tells me that the task ahead in Syria is going to be long and difficult. us

Chemical weapons come in two types: old-style weapons in which all the elements that can trigger a toxic chemical attack are in one bomb or container. In more recent times, nations began to deploy “binary” chemical weapons, in which the toxic agent and the chemical that would trigger the release of that deadly agent were in separate containers. These were considered safer and less susceptible to accidental release.

Destruction of such weapons will be a monumental task — and costly, too. The U.S. stockpile (30,000 tons) is far greater than Syria’s but our own experience should serve as a warning. Our stockpile is being destroyed but it is taking longer (more than 20 years) and costing far more than we envisioned when we agreed with Russia to each destroy our respective weapons and precursor chemicals.

When I negotiated with the Russian chemical weapons “czar” in Moscow, we were discussing the Soviet Union’s stockpile of 40,000 tons of chemical weapons, some dating back to World War I. That destruction effort is also still ongoing to this day. It required building destruction furnaces with sophisticated environmental protection systems, training destruction technicians for what would become a lifelong effort for many of them, and developing emergency plans should anything go wrong.

These obstacles are not reasons to reject our own proposal to bring Syria’s arsenal under control but will require us to approach this problem carefully and patiently. Syria has a large stockpile of the old style “unitary” weapons. They cannot be quickly rounded up and stored safely. With a civil war going on, we do not want to demand that the government quickly load these weapons on trucks, which might be hijacked, only to be taken to marshaling sites that do not yet exist.

The task of controlling weapons need not immediately require that they be moved, but will demand something like military or civilian “boots on the ground” to monitor this first stage in what will be a long and expensive process. If we approach this with Russia as a joint effort we just might be able to pull it off — both of us have the trained experts needed to do the job.

We managed to avert a further escalation of the Syrian civil war. A way ahead to remove Assad’s chemical arsenal from his control has begun. Now, we need the patience to go about this in a way that carries out the task without undue delay or imprudent haste. Pursuing this task in a cooperative approach with Russia might even allow us, together, to find common ground for resolving the fundamental problems underlying the Syrian civil war.

(Originally posted in The Detroit Free Press –


Political Activist and Best-Selling Author of Infidel with guest host Jack Segal - top NATO Adviser on Afghanistan and Former U.S. Diplomat. As one of today’s most admired and controversial political figures, Ayaan Hirsi Ali burst into international headlines following the 2004 murder of her colleague, Theo van Gogh, at the hands of a religious fundamentalist. Ayaan was immediately forced into hiding, having written the screenplay for Theo’s Submission, a fierce 11-minute critique of Islam. The treatment of women in the Islamic religion has been a clarion call for the Somolia-born Ayaan. At age 22, she fled to the Netherlands to escape an arranged marriage to a stranger. Her move to this secular, democratic country proved a pivotal turning point in her life. She began advocating for downtrodden women, attended college and was elected to the Dutch parliament.

Ayaan’s memoir Infidel was an international best-seller, praised by The New York Times as “brave, inspiring and beautifully written.” A second book, Nomad, follows Ayaan as she leaves behind the emotional roller coaster of her life in Europe and takes on the new challenge of helping Americans acknowledge the challenge of radical Islam. Now a U.S. resident with her husband, well-known British historian Niall Ferguson, Ayaan is the founder of the AHA Foundation, which works to “protect and defend the rights of women and girls in the West from oppression justified by religion and culture.”

During this evening, co-sponsored with the International Affairs Forum, Ayaan will be in conversation with foreign policy expert Jack Segal. This is sure to be an evening during which the world’s headlines come to life on the NWS stage. Be prepared for a riveting conversation between the two on faith, women, politics, religion and culture in a changing century.

RELEASED - PHC Johnny Bivera, N00PH, CNO PAOCredit as U.S. Navy photo by Johnny Bivera

The Challenge of Moving on From 9/11

Two years ago, General Stan McChrystal – then Commander in Afghanistan – addressed his troops in Kandahar, “I’ll bet everyone here remembers what they were doing on 9/11.” Incautiously, he turned to the nearest soldier and asked him whether he recalled what he was doing that day. The soldier eagerly replied, “Yes Sir.  I was having the braces removed from my teeth.”

A new generation

Today, we have armed forces full of kids who were wearing braces on 9/11. They’re the shock troops of the “war on terror”. They’ve all seen the video of the twin towers coming down and the burning wreckage of the Pentagon and United 97, but they didn’t live that experience. They were children then; now they’re soldiers – “volunteers” from towns where jobs are scarce and the military looks like a better option than flipping burgers. These soldiers are being asked now to fight and die in that “war on terror” and we have a hard time explaining why.  Why 9/11 happened…why the “war on terror” seems it will never end…Afghanistan, Somalia, Pakistan, Yemen.  So much terror to war against.

September 11, 2001:  I recall a photograph of a man dressed in a business suit falling through the air from high in one of the twin towers. He had chosen to die that way, rather than wait for the flames. Two hours earlier, his biggest decision had been which colour tie to wear.

After that day of horror, I returned home and asked my wife, “What do they want from us.” She replied, “They want us to know they exist.” That most horrific day woke us all to the reality that there are people out there who ‘exist’ and whose hatred for us is unbounded; who have grievances.

9/11 didn’t just happen. It didn’t begin in 2001. It forces us to consider what we did that made ‘them’ so angry, and to look forward and ask what, if anything, we might do to make things better.

So why are ‘they’ so angry at us? Perhaps it began when Iran’s elected government was replaced with the Shah (1953), when Afghan warlords and the likes of Osama bin Laden were armed and supported against the USSR (1979-89), when western governments supported Egypt’s Mubarak (1981-2011), when foreign troops were based in Saudi Arabia (1990-2003), or when the West lifted sanctions against a ‘rehabilitated’ Qadaffi (2006-2011).

The genesis of anger

Perhaps ‘they’ hate the fact that over 230,000 foreign troops are stationed today at bases across the Muslim world; that western nations have done little about the abuses of the King of Bahrain or the Assad regime because we need a home base for the US 5th fleet; that we talk of an ‘enduring partnership’ with a corrupt Afghan elite; that a lunatic cleric in the USA burns copies of the Holy Quran; that slurs against Muslims spew from the lips of high officials…such signals cause them to believe the worst of us.

To many Muslims, we don’t seem to stand for the things that make us great: democracy, respect for human dignity, fairness. Much has been cast aside in the name of this ‘war on terror’. As Bobby Kennedy said during his 1966 tour of South Africa, we must stand for something – it’s not enough to stand against that which we fear.

But we must not blame ourselves for 9/11. The blame rests squarely with a tiny Muslim minority. Violent, extremist Mullahs have taken over in some parts of the Muslim world. Western Pakistan is loaded with them. Yemen and Somalia have more than their fair share.  They gain traction wherever lack of opportunity and a visible foreign military presence intersect with a disdain for our standards of morality and human rights.

They question our goals in their countries; in their homes. They believe that we want to steal their land and their women, and that we dishonour their religion. A small but determined group among them has set their sights on violently lashing out against our society: 9/11, Madrid, London, the near-miss on that airliner bound for Detroit.   They hope to sap our strength through endless wars of attrition.  Bin Laden had that dream. The voices countering these extremists are few and live in fear for their lives. Clearly, the ‘war on terror’ has only just begun.

We must begin to ask what we can do to prove to the believers in Islam that we can co-exist – that we now know that they ‘exist’. We can’t solve the problems of all the Muslim world’s poor and frustrated.  But we can begin to remove our troops from places where they’re not wanted – Afghanistan, first and foremost. We can also reduce our dependence on resources that tie us to despots, reassess our friendship with nations whose policies we should abhor and demand that our leaders look beyond drone attacks and military surges for ways to engage with a generation of young Muslims who are waiting to see whether we are who we say we are. That’s the challenge of 9/11. We owe it to the victims that day, and since.

(Originally posted at –