March 2008 Archives

Beijing is facing a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't scenario right now in southern Africa, and one that threatens to bring more heat on a central Chinese government already struggling to paint a positive image of itself in the midst of international criticism over the situation in Tibet. At issue is the election in Zimbabwe.

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As it stands now, the people of Zimbabwe are waiting to find out whether President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF will maintain its 28 year hold on power, or whether the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) will take over. Governments the world over are watching this situation quite closely, and none more than Zimbabwe's largest investor, China. But rather than having any sort of concern over losing investment in Zimbabwe, the central government is most likely concerned about what a Mugabe win will do when it comes to public relations on the international stage.

In the lead up to the British handover of Zimbabwe back to its people in 1980, two Marxist factions within the country warred with one another for ultimate supremacy. The then-Soviet Union backed the Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU), while China put its support behind Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU). China bet on the right horse, with Mugabe's ZANU sweeping into power in the 1980 elections. From that point on, the Chinese government has been one of Mr. Mugabe's strongest supporters, and continues to heap aide and investment into his country, despite numerous sanctions levied against the Zimbabwean government over alleged human rights abuses. As such, these elections in Zimbabwe this weekend couldn't have come at a worse time for China.

Many observers believe that Mr. Mugabe will not release his grip on power, even if the polls show that the MDC has won victory. Thumbnail image for Mugabe voting.jpg And, given previous election controversy in Zimbabwe, even if Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF does win, it's highly likely that the results of the vote will be condemned by the majority of the international community, given consistent allegations of vote rigging. Hence the bad PR situation Beijing finds itself in.

If Mr. Mugabe is declared the winner, Beijing will be obligated to sanctify the election results and continue to throw its support behind Mr. Mugabe's government, which will fly in the face of the vast majority of the international community, and will give more fuel for those who would use China's actions as a reason to boycott the Olympics. If Mr. Mugabe loses, but still maintains power, Beijing will be called to the carpet to justify allowing Chinese companies to continue to do business in a country with an illegitimate government.

Tsvangirai voting.jpg The best case scenario for Beijing is the election and safe transition of power to Morgan Tsvangirai and his MDC. Whether or not that will happen is anyone's guess over the coming hours and days. If it does, the CPC might lose an ideological partner, but will avoid giving more political ammunition for the anti-China ideologues around the world.

It appears - and I stress the term appears -- today that Beijing municipal authorities have confirmed a rumor that has been circulating around the capital's pubs and restaurants the past couple of weeks; smoking restrictions are going to be implemented in advance of the Olympics.

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Beijing to ban smoking in public places from May
Updated: 2008-03-31 11:57

BEIJING -- The Chinese capital will ban smoking in most public places starting from May 1 -- a big step toward tobacco control in a nation of 350 million smokers. The move will also meet China's pledge of a smoke-free Olympics. More than 150 Chinese cities already have limited restrictions in place, but the capital will be the first to ban smoking in all restaurants, offices and schools, English-language China Daily reported Monday. Beijing has had some smoking restrictions since 1996, when the municipal government prohibited lighting up in large public venues such as schools, sports arenas and movie theaters. The new rules, which were announced on Saturday, expand the scope to include restaurants, bars, Internet cafes, hotels, offices, holiday resorts and all indoor areas of medical facilities. Hotels must also have rooms for non-smokers, but the ratio is still being discussed, said Cui Xiaobo, a renowned tobacco control expert who helped draft the new rule. Institutions that fail to comply face immediate fines of up to 5,000 yuan (713 U.S. dollars), while it has not yet been decided how to deal with smokers breaking the new rule.

Speaking to a manager last week at one of my favorite haunts here in Beijing, The Purple Haze, I was told that while there had been quite a bit of discussion within bar and restaurant circles, no official rules have been brought forth.

I'm of two minds on this subject. Having lived previously in Vancouver, which had a city-wide smoking ban in place in bars and restaurants, I found that it was somewhat nice not having to get strong whiffs of smoke up my nose while I was trying to eat. That said, I am a smoker myself. And I enjoy nothing more than being able to relax with a beer at a pub or restaurant and have a cigarette. And I really wasn't a fan of having to trudge outside during a rainy Vancouver winter to hack a butt. But, much like a lot of things in life, you get used to it. Before the smoking ban was implemented in Vancouver, the bar and restaurant owners association was screaming bloody blue murder, saying a complete ban would cause incalculable financial losses. That never happened. However, Beijing may be a bit different. This is a smoking society. Anyone who has ever been to an official function is likely aware that its almost protocol to offer guests cigarettes as a gesture of respect. Handing out cigarettes has also become a tradition at weddings. Smoking is almost a way of life here in China.

With that in mind, I have my doubts about whether this smoking ban will be put in place. Reading through the Xinhua report, one can't help but recognize the vagueness of the language, which leads me to believe that the government is simply planning on saying one thing, and doing another. As well, one has to wonder how Beijing is going to enforce any type of smoking ban. In this new era of bureaucratic reduction here in China, I highly doubt were going to be seeing roving bands of Taliban-like beard inspectors cruising around Beijing looking for bars and restaurants breaking a smoking ban. So, unless a snitch line is set up, there is going to be little incentive for bar and restaurant owners to enforce the rules.

I am not a supporter of smoking. I know it sounds hypocritical, but it's true. I have warned off numerous young people who have considered lighting up, because I know what a pain in the arse it is to try to quit. That said, come May 1st, I highly doubt I'm going to be forced outdoors to get my fix.

CNN defends itself

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cnn_war_announcement_1991.jpg CNN has decided to issue a statement regarding the criticism it has received online and elsewhere:

CNN has been singled out for criticism for our coverage of events in Tibet through an Web site and elsewhere. We have provided comprehensive coverage of all sides of this story, but two specific allegations relate to pro-Tibetan bias. We would like to take this chance to respond to them:

Allegation 1: CNN intentionally cropped an image in order to remove Tibetan protesters throwing stones at Chinese trucks.
CNN refutes all allegations by bloggers that it distorts its coverage of the events in Tibet to portray either side in a more favorable light. We have consistently and repeatedly shown all sides of this story. The one image in question was used wholly appropriately in the specific editorial context and there could be no confusion regarding what it was showing, not least because it was captioned: "Tibetans throw stones at army vehicles on a street in the capital Lhasa." The picture gallery included in Tibet stories includes the image. (See the gallery)
We have also published images showing violence by Tibetans against the Chinese. A March 18 story shows Tibetan youths attacking a Chinese man. (Read the story)
Additionally, we have published video from the Chinese media apparently showing Tibetans attacking Chinese interests in Lhasa. (Watch the video)
Allegation 2: CNN referred to Tibet as a "country."
CNN's policy is to refer to Tibet as "Tibet Autonomous Region of China." In our dozens of stories on the topic to date, we are aware of only two instances where it was incorrectly referenced as a country.
CNN's reputation is based on reporting global news accurately and impartially, while our coverage through the use of words, images or video always reflects a wide range of opinions and points of view on every story.

Nobody on this blog dislikes China, and nobody wants to see China fail. In fact, in discussions with friends, relatives, and colleagues overseas, almost all of us defend China against unfair criticism or accusations (obviously much more recently, as the Tibet situation has unfolded). China is a complicated place, and there are no easy answers.

But man, this stuff is getting harder and harder to defend. Western news organizations in China have been called repeatedly and harassed over their apparently biased news coverage:

CNN was the chief target of the Chinese ire, but hardly any western press escaped the torrent of rage. Their anger even spilled over to the New York Times and Washington Post, which Chinese consider, or used to consider, beacons of journalism. Staff at the papers' Beijing offices have been busy answering anonymous, angry phone calls and enduring a torrent of insults. As the Xinhua News Agency puts it, western press has "intentionally played tricks on photos and TV footage to mislead the audience" and the "biased reports by western press is the result of infiltration by political force." A website ( was established to "gather, sort through, and publish evidence of the EVILS of mainstream western media."
Similar comments can be found on any online bulletin board discussing the incident. "The time has passed when the western countries could try covering the sky with the lies of a few filthy mouthpieces," wrote one anonymous commentator. The revolutionary fever and provocative slogans are most familiar to people who have lived through the Cultural Revolution and they still work pretty well--the campaign attracted thousands of supporters in only a couple of days.
Is this how the majority of people in China feel? When I tentatively raised the topic with a long-time friend, who is well-educated and mild in manner, I was immediately cut short by a righteous lecture. "What do you have to complain about hostile phone calls?" he said. "Those shameless western mouthpieces deserved it! And It's only for the best that CNN and BBC are blacked out so your lot could not pollute those weak-minded Chinese with your lies!"

And lest anybody think these are polite calls expressing distaste for western journalism procedures, the TIME China blog sets us straight according to an Internet post it has found:

"The phone is our weapon," he writes, then advises people to "Phone them to death. If someone answers, uses Chinese English to ask about their mothers, then hang up. If no one answers, keep calling so they can't receive calls or make them. Drown the sons of bitches with noise!" 『传媒江湖』 [焦点评论]拿起电话 呼死 XXXX (转载) 作者:scqx88 提交日期:2008-3-24 21:55:00   电话就是我们的武器, 呼死 XXXX,  如果有人接, 请用中英文问候他老妈, 然后挂掉,  如果没人接, 就一直打, 这样让他们没电话进也没电话出, 吵死这帮狗杂种!

Look... I will be the first one to say that Chinese people have a right to question the coverage they receive (although, from time to time, it would be nice if they took their newfound dedication to fair and unbiased journalism practises and focused it at their own domestic press). However, calling these news organizations and hanging up, or insulting them, is childish, and completely unbecoming of a great nation. The people that engage in this kind of petty behaviour not only have little effect on the journalists they torment, but also hurt the image and genuine concerns of the people they claim to represent (ie. the Chinese people).

Complaining is your right. Being upset is your right. But handle it in a mature and adult fashion. Call and discuss what you don't like. Make suggestions and constructive criticism. Write letters to CNN headquarters in Atlanta. I'm afraid the receptionist who picks up the phone in Beijing can't be of much help.

If the Chinese people are concerned about their image in the west (and I'm not saying they are), this doesn't help. And neither does this.

Let's hope this is just an aberration.

An excellent opinion piece by Richard Spencer in the Daily Telegraph tells a side of the Tibet unrest that we haven't heard:

Those dependent on what the government has to say saw only soft-focus pictures of smiling folk dancers and peasants improving their lives through money funnelled from Beijing. That many Tibetans resented the Chinese would have seemed at best incomprehensible and at worst racist to an audience brought up on an ideologically correct vision of China's ethnic minorities living in harmony.

He looks at a friendship between a Han Chinese and an ethnic Tibetan that has fallen apart since the protests (or riots -- take your pick) in Lhasa.

Check it out.


Not that we want to promote Richard Spencer too much, but he has just posted his latest blog entry. It's his persperspective on the accusations of western media bias, and it's a fascinating read:

Sure, it is easy to jump from these errors to "the western media is biased and hates China so why don't you just go and leave us alone". But that, as far as I can see, is pretty much it. Why are we biased? How are we biased? What, specifically, are we saying or not saying about China and Tibet that so offends? What, apart from these pictures, have we got wrong?
Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for _44512835_bbcchinese203.jpg It seems that Xi'an is where it's at for the BBC. At least, that is, in terms of web-blocking--user reports pinpoint the city as where it all became accessible first. But now a slightly more surprising bit of information has been thrown into the mix: BBC Chinese is reportedly unblocked in Xi'an, according to users reporting to the Chinese Service:

According to the BBC, Xi'an users say mainland Internet users in Xi'an can access the BBC Chinese network, but Beijing netizens say they are still unable to see the BBC Chinese network.

As the Chinese Service correctly identifies, the site is not easily accessible in Beijing. Yet there have been some reports saying the site loads in the capital.

danwei_ps_2.jpg Western media bias has come to the fore in recent days with the launch of the Anti-CNN website, which outlines some of the apparent western media bias with regards to the unrest in Tibet. The Chinese mainstream media have picked up on the theme, and have run stories criticizing western outlets for not fact-checking their material.

There is no doubt that the cases cited are abhorrent examples of what journalism should aspire to be. Anytime simple facts are incorrect, or photos mislabelled, it shows carelessness and a lack of attention to the craft. Anybody who labels Nepalese police as Chinese, labels protests in Nepal as protests in Lhasa, or artfully crops photographs to alter the context (all of which happened) should face full criticism of not only the Chinese, but anyone who cares about free speech, fairness, and objectivity.

Mistakes made in the western media were timely, as it nicely coincided with Tuesday night's Danwei Plenary Session. I attended along with fellow Zhongnanhai writer Chris, and we both came away rather impressed with the guests, the audience questions, and the nuanced discussion which followed. There are, however, a couple of things I'd humbly like to add on this general topic, if not on the Plenary itself.

First, there must be tens of thousands of stories, photos, and videos of the unrest in Tibet. Mistakes should never be tolerated, but if, in that avalanche of coverage in this digital era, only a handful of examples of bias have been discovered, I would say that strengthens the argument that the western media generally does a decent job.

Second, an audience member asked a question regarding the use of the word "crackdown", and more specifically why western journalists use this word in relation to Tibet, but not in relation to the semi-recent riots in France. I met up with a few colleagues for hot pot afterwards, and we got into an interesting debate on this word. I generally feel "crackdown" doesn't necessarily come with negative connotations. For example, a Chinese "crackdown" on DVD piracy is generally believed to be a good thing (well, unless you like stocking up at the Lido). The problem, we felt, is that "crackdown" reminds people of the non-event in a big square in Beijing in 1989. To western minds, I would submit, a "crackdown in Tibet" conjures up images of peaceful monks praying for a modicum of freedom and peace while big, burly Chinese military officers come in to crack some skulls. If this is the perceived notion, then journalists should be careful when using the word "crackdown".

Jonathan Watts, the correspondent for the Guardian newspaper (who was filling in for an absent Jaime FlorCruz from CNN), said that he has struggled to use the correct terminology in his stories. Are the Tibetans rioters or protesters? Are the Chinese "cracking down" or "restoring order"? He said that he's used nearly all the terms, and makes a judgement call based on that individual situation. I believe that's as best as can be asked.

Lindsey Hilsum, the China correspondent for Britain's Channel 4 News, said the biggest problem isn't the terminology or bias but rather the lack of access to Tibet. Whether it was a crackdown, riot, protest, or civil disorder, no journalist can label anything properly unless they get access to the region. Unfortunately, that hadn't happened at the time of the plenary (it was reported later that journalists are now trickling into Tibet).

The other two panelists, Raymond Zhou from the China Daily and Steven Lin from Sohu also provided unique insights. Raymond feels that western journalists spend too much time focusing on issues like censorship and democracy. Both feel a free press would be good for China, but must be introduced slowly. They also feel that foreign reporters tend to gravitate towards the negative.

Generally speaking, I don't believe the foreign journalists based in China have been churning out biased coverage. In fact, of all the foreign media, those who have lived and worked in China will most likely provide the most nuances to their coverage - which is why it's surprising the government wouldn't allow them into Tibet. There are a number of western commentators based in the UK, America, and other countries that like to bloviate on China's crimes without having much understanding of the country. I might not like it, perhaps the Chinese don't like it, and maybe Danwei doesn't either, but in a free-speech environment they're entitled to their opinions, too. If China is confident in itself, it must allow these reporters into the region to verify the government's word. If the Chinese authorities can't manage that, then suspicions are raised and fodder is given to its harshest critics.

Finally, slightly off topic, I was a guest on Adler Online, a nationally-syndicated Canadian radio show, at 2 o'clock Tuesday morning (gotta love that time difference) to discuss Tibet. His producer called me for a chat prior to the segment, and her anger at China was vitriolic. She favors a boycott of the Olympic games. I reckon the host of the program, Charles Adler, does too. Following our segment, he took calls from Canadians to get their opinions. 100% of the callers (the phone segment was only 15 minutes in length) favoured a complete Olympic boycott by the Canadian Olympic Committee.

Feelings on the subject of Tibet are obviously running deep. While I tend to consider "moral equivalency" a convenient but often inaccurate crutch when two sides are firmly entrenched, both sides of this dispute nontheless need to look in the mirror, calm down, and begin making efforts to understand the other.

Journalists are caught in the middle, and whether Chinese or foreign, their jobs are under that much more scrutiny on such a polarizing issue.

(Note: You can listen to the interview on the national edition of Adler Online via its flagship station, CJOB in Winnipeg. Go here, click on Mon Mar 24, 1pm. The interview will start following the 5 minute hourly news.)

With all the turmoil and controversy that's been brewing in China's southwestern regions as of late, I find it somewhat ironic that this week has seen a self-motivated decision of an autocratic leadership to endow its people with the right to choose. And right next door, no less. I direct your attention to Bhutan.


This country is really an enigma, and is simply unknown to the vast majority of the world, given its size, location and policies toward tourism. Flag_of_Bhutan.png Known to its people as the Land of the Thunder Dragon, and often described as the last Shangri-La, Bhutan this week became a democracy. After just over 100 years of Royal rule, the people of Bhutan voted on Monday in parliamentary elections for the first time ever.

Bhutan is really an interesting story, and one that could call into question the CPC's theory about 'liberating a backwards people.' For those who aren't familiar with Bhutan, allow me to give you a somewhat brief synopsis of the country.

The Bhutanese people share a common ancestry with the Tibetans and the Nepalese. bhutan_young monk.jpg Some archaeological evidence suggests that the region might have been settled around 4,000 years ago, but no one is really sure. Bhutan wasn't even really a country until the early 1600's when a Tibetan lama unified a collection of tribal states under one law. And in 1907 Bhutan became an absolute monarchy. From all accounts, the Bhutanese people were quite happy to be ruled by the monarchy. But despite this, the monarchy decided in 2005 to bring in a new constitution, and the vote by the people this week officially sealed Bhutan as the world's newest democracy.

Bhutan's whole mandate is happiness. In fact, this is a country that has developed a system to measure happiness. It's even got a term: Gross National Happiness. Though it's pretty difficult to define, it is a system that Bhutan uses to measure quality of life. Because Bhutan is made up predominantly of Buddhists and some Hindus, there is a very strong spiritual base. As such, back in 1972 the then-king decided that instead of focusing on economic development, his country would try to grow under a more holistic approach, something that flies in the face of the break-neck economic growth mandate Bhutan's giant neighbor to the north has undertaken. Still, Bhutan's economy is growing quite quickly. In 2006, Bhutan's Gross Domestic Product grew by 14 percent, thanks to the sale of Hydro electric power to India. And a survey done to calculate the Gross National Happiness in 2005 showed that 45 percent of Bhutanese were 'very happy,' 52 percent were just 'happy' and 3 percent were 'unhappy.' It's with this in mind that I consider the 'liberation' of Tibet by China.

Nobody came into Bhutan and messed with it. Nobody tried to 'help' it develop. The world left Bhutan alone. As a result, the some 700,000 people of Bhutan are now determining their own political future and - according to the GNH stats from that country - seem to be doing just fine.

What's done is done. No one can change what has happened with Tibet. But given what is happening next door in Bhutan, I can't help but wonder what things would be like if the Chinese government didn't decide to 'help' in Tibet some 50 odd years ago.

Behold! The Beeb!

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When I first arrived in China over two years ago, I was somewhat irked by the fact that I was unable to get my daily dose of news from the BBC. Now after using hundreds of Proxies, and investing in a VPN -- What happens? You guessed it. It's unblocked -- kind of. It seems as though the firewall is still in place for Chinese language services on the website and for any links in Chinese.

'People in China are able to access English language stories on the BBC News website in full, after years of strict control by Beijing.

The Communist authorities often block news sites such as the BBC in a policy dubbed the "great firewall of China".

But BBC staff working in China now say they are able to access news stories that would have been blocked before.'

Now, the cynic in me questions the reasoning behind this. And bear with me here. Could it be that this website has become unblocked as part of a 'knee jerk' reaction to the fact that Media coverage of recent events has, at best, been 'questionable due in part, to the fact that foreign journalists have been denied access to these troubled areas? And that the authorities are trying to give a 'balanced' viewpoint to those that can read English? Or, is it another way to inflame people by saying: 'Look, this is what they're saying...'

Or are we seeing the start of the 'Opening Up' policy in the final countdown to the Olympics? If so, why have the BBC been rejected by the Chinese government as part of the foreign media organisations trip to Tibet?

Full article available here.

By Cam MacMurchy

The protests against the Chinese government - and more specifically, it's hosting of the Olympic Games - are spreading. The lighting of the Olympic torch, a normally sombre ceremony in Greece, was disrupted by a group from Reporters without Borders calling on China to ease up on Tibetan protesters:

"We cannot let the Chinese government seize the Olympic flame, a symbol of peace without denouncing the dramatic situation of human rights in the country," the group said.

Thumbnail image for TorchTest.jpg

Moments after the incident, a Tibetan woman doused herself in red paint and lay in the road before a torch runner while police arrested two other Tibetan protesters planning a peaceful demonstration about a mile from the ancient sanctuary at the birthplace of the Olympics Games.

The incident was being broadcast live on Chinese TV when it had to cut away.

The protests have begun stirring some deeper feelings, which perhaps other foreigners can attest to as well. There is no doubt that the Chinese government has created this situation itself; it has dismissed its foreign critics and resorted to vitriolic hyperbole anytime somebody challenges the official government position. As anybody in PR well knows, this doesn't work when dealing with a free press and free people. The party's stubbornness and lack of finesse on this issue is coming home to roost.

For all those that claim China is effective at controlling information, I agree - but only information for domestic consumption. Normally that's good enough, but the Olympics are a global event and don't just belong to China. As such, it needs to do a better job of communicating effectively in a language (and I mean figuratively, not literally) that can be understood by people and critics outside of the country.

I had a talk with a good friend tonight about these most recent protests. She told me, over MSN:

I feel sorry for my country ... we try hard to hold the Olympics ... and we put our effort ... but we don't know how to deal with the rest of the world

Everybody is shocked by this ... I mean Chinese ... they don't know how to handle it ... but it is just common for foreigners to criticize government

I feel for her, and I feel for China. I would submit that the Chinese people will feel attacked by these protests and criticisms, when in fact they are aimed at the Chinese government. I think criticisms in other countries are assumed to be directed at the government and not necessarily the people, but an extra effort is needed in China to make this distinction. Here, many people consider the government and the country to be one and the same.

Finally, as someone who has lived in China for nearly four years and has been visiting since the 1990s, I feel a sense of pride in China's accomplishments. I want to see the country succeed and do well, and stage a memorable games. With this in mind, I'm saddened by the protests, which seem to be becoming even more vitriolic. The Chinese people are invested emotionally in these games, and an Olympics marred by violence, protests, and boycotts would be a loss of face that may take decades to fully overcome.

That being said, and this is where the moral dilemma comes in, China must answer for its policies. I just wish this government was more prepared for this, and cleaned up its own house before inviting over the guests.

The Communist Party of China had this coming, and it chose to ignore the warnings. Now it is faced with a mess of its own making.

It's just too bad the Chinese people are caught in the crossfire.

Now imagine that you are a the epitome of the perfect Mother -- all that you want is to desperately find your daughter the perfect husband. After a quick Google search it appears as though your prayers have been answered, or have they? Read on...

A Chinese 'army major' who dated a string of girls and cheated them out of £16,000 (RMB 224,031) has allegedly been exposed as a con artist - and a woman.

Li Xu.jpg
Police say Li Xu, from Anxian town, Sichuan province, had been disguising herself as an army officer for two years.

She was arrested after Liu Lian, of Datong city, Shanxi province, reported she had been cheated out of £11,000 (RMB 154,021) by an army major named Li Zhanyu who she had met on the internet.

Li had described himself as a university-educated army major, reports Oriental Today.

Liu Lian said: "He said he wanted to date my daughter, but first needed money to break up with his current girlfriend. He also promised to find my daughter a good job."

But, after Liu wired the money, Li disappeared from her life.

Police caught up with him at an internet cafe in Kaifeng city. He reportedly told arresting officers: "You'll regret this. You'll pay for this. I'll call the leaders of the National Public Security Department."

Police thought he was a conman at this stage but their suspicions grew during questioning as they noticed his high-pitched voice and fair complexion.

A check-up by female police revealed Li to be a 25-year-old woman. She confessed she had cheated another two women with the same marriage con.

Li has been transferred to police in Shanxi province where she faces charges.

Hold on a minute...

'...their suspicions grew during questioning as they noticed his high-pitched voice and fair complexion.'


'A check-up by female police revealed Li to be a 25-year-old woman.'

Now one look at the above photograph reveals to me that the person in it either has some kind of 'padding' of the chest, or -- shine a light -- is a woman. And before I get inundated with comments about how some men can be a little large in that area, spare me.

Now I'm all for meeting people online, and indeed meeting them socially for a drink or dinner, from what I've been told it can be relatively harmless. But if that picture would have ended up in my inbox -- believe me I would have been suspicious.

But really, I ask you -- How can it take three people to identify this person as a woman?

I guarantee that this 'Major' didn't take part in any of the winter training that Chris mentions below...

Full story available here.

China Intercontinental Press (CIP) has once again bagged its That's China title. And along with it goes the magazine's entire staff.

The publisher, which is linked to the Chinese State Council, says they pulled the title for "restructuring." Yet one former employee holds a different view: "the real reason [for the shutdown] is we've begun making a profit and started building the brand; the press obviously does not want to share the cake with other investors," a former editor notes.

Thumbnail image for that's.jpg

It isn't immediately clear who the other investors are.

Still, this has a familiar ring to it.

In 2004 CIP, the publisher of the That's series in Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou, sparked a legal battle with Mark Kitto, the then CEO of the three publications. Seeing the huge profits the monthly English language listings magazines were making, the Chinese publisher launched a rival title, That's China. That the new title directly infringed on the That's brand name and duplicated its content was of little concern to CIP. In an article titled That's China in Prospect magazine, the rightfully embittered Kitto explains what happened:

After seven years building up a magazine empire in China, I had it stolen by the state. I lived in the grey zone that is China's media business and, despite my commitment to the country, paid a high price.

The price does indeed appear to have been high. He later continues:

The three that's magazines I had built from an investment of $20,000 were turning over $4m a year, with annual profits from Shanghai alone of half a million, ploughed back into the business. Once Beijing broke even, I would be in the money. I was managing 120 staff and four offices, and printing magazines with combined circulations of almost 100,000 a month. But they existed only on their own paper. No one owned them. Not me, not one of the many publishers I worked with, none of the advertising agencies I put my business through, not even government agencies like Yangzhou news, which sheltered us. The publisher, now China Intercontinental Press, held the licences, which I rented from them. I owned the trademark to the that's name, my trump card, and I controlled the operation of the magazines from a grey zone between official sanction and popular appeal.

That's China continued publishing for a time, only later to fall off the radar. It appeared again as a direct mail magazine under the same name in the middle of 2007, this time without duplicating content.

Much of the CIP's influence on these publications has to do with it holding their publication licenses, called kanhao (刊号) in China. It is extremely difficult to obtain a legal license, leaving few options for those hoping to enter the business. Many operate without one, which usually doesn't last long. Another choice is partnering with an exiting title and renting their license, but this kind of arrangement often sours. Danwei has excellent posts about the kanhao system here and here.

Before its second wind faded, That's China was available at large hotels across the country for free. There were also plans to make it available internationally. Will the "restructuring" give That's China a Third Coming? Some things, it seems, are not meant to happen. Working with CIP is surely one of them.

Found via Shanghaiist, this clip shows how one group of Chinese military police warmed themselves through a winter training session. I'm left wondering how effective this actually is. Let the war games begin, gentleman.

This is the latest article by your correspondent in the Victoria Times Colonist. In it, I take a look at the deep-seated resentment on either side of the divide and what compromises might be made in an effort to find a solution:

China will not let go of Tibet. The region's only chance for full independence is with the overthrow of the Communist party, which is as firmly entrenched as ever.
China is so confident of its hold on the region it will send the Olympic torch through the streets of Lhasa in mere weeks as a reminder of its control. Resorting to violence and the killing of Chinese will reduce the cause's moral authority and only stiffen the resolve of the Chinese.

You can read the full article here.

I find it difficult being on the edge of a knife at times. It is often difficult being a Western journalist who works for a state-run organization here in the Middle Kingdom. That being said, I do love my life here in China. The people are generally friendly and the weather isn't as bad as I thought it would be (save the 'non-blue sky days). But what drew me to China more than anything was the fact that I was just not happy in my native Canada. And why was I unhappy? It wasn't the non-blue sky days or the liberal freedoms that we're entitled to as Canadians. No... it was the hypocracy and unfavorable way in which those who choose to idealize a subject will portray it in the media organs that I worked at.

I love being a Westerner in China. It affords me a lot of opportunities that otherwise wouldn't be available to me. It also gives me a chance to absorb different concepts and theories that aren't my own. Are they right? Not sure. Maybe some. Maybe not. I'm not one to make a definative judgement on the grander scale. I mean, who is (minus your particular diety)? But what I do get peeved at is obvious attempts within the media to skew a concept to their own thinking. I posit this slight snippit from the South China Morning Post article about the situation in Tibet as an example of what I'm trying to convey:

Scholars condemn Beijing over Tibet
Beijing should open up talks with the Dalai Lama, allow UN investigators into Tibet and stop using rhetoric redolent of the Cultural Revolution, mainland intellectuals have said in an open letter.

The article goes on to say the letter was penned by

"30 intellectuals, including writer Wang Lixiong, a respected author on Tibet, dissident writer Liu Xiaobo, novelest Yu Jie, human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang and Ding Zilin of the Tian'anmen Mothers group, which represents families of victims of the Tian'anmen Square crackdown.

Ok... well, I understand why these people would be making these statements. And hell, I probably agree with them. But to use this item, and these people who have and obvious axe to grind against the government, as the front left article on page 4 of the in SCMP, which also includes the banner:

Intellectuals say official rhetoric on unrest smacks of Cultural Revolution

Well... I'm no editor...but really?

This whole Tibet issue has become too polarized. We need to take a step back from the situation, especially those of us in the media. I can understand why we Westerners have this prediliction toward wanting to back up this cause. Hey, it's catchy... people dig it... it's the groovy thing to talk about. But when it comes to reporting on it, let's try to get our 'facts' in line. The 'fact' is that we have no 'facts.' And using B-S like this from a group of 'scholars' is just a cheap way to fill a page, and does nothing toward understanding the situation that is unfolding.

With all the world's attention focused on the situation in Tibet right now, with the Dalai Lama holding news conferences and the Chinese government trotting out a list of countries that support China's efforts (Myanmar being conspicuous in its absence), China may have lucked out in avoiding a lot of scrutiny over the latest tainted product scandal.

BEIJING (Reuters) - China has identified a contaminant in batches of blood-thinner heparin supplied by a U.S.-owned plant in China for export to the United States that has been linked to serious reactions and deaths. It is the latest in health scares involving Chinese exports in recent months which have ranged from food and drugs to toothpaste and pet food. China's State Food and Drug Administration (SFDA) said that the contaminant was "basically the same" as that found by U.S. health regulators in batches of Baxter International Inc's blood-thinner heparin. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Wednesday said it had identified "over-sulfated chondroitin sulfate" in Baxter's drug, and was investigating whether the chemical was purposely or inadvertently added during manufacturing in China. Last month Baxter recalled most if its U.S. supplies of heparin, used in kidney dialysis as well as heart and other surgeries to prevent blood clots. Chondroitin sulfate is widely sold as a dietary supplement to treat joint pain. The over-sulfated version is not know to occur naturally and therefore likely was chemically modified, an FDA official said on Wednesday. The FDA is probing whether the contaminant is the cause of up to 19 deaths and hundreds of serious breathing problems and other reactions reported in the United States.

Ah, how quickly we forget all the other woes this country faces sometimes when the tanks start rolling!

2344635770_4f6b730dc2.jpg The unrest in Tibet is having a dramatic effect on Taiwan's national elections. Ma Ying-jeou, the KMT candidate, had held a commanding lead in the polls by advocating a common market, or economic zone, with China.

Of course, Ma's lead was also attributable to rampant corruption within the DPP. Many Taiwanese feel the economy, rather than relations with China, is the number one concern heading into Saturday's elections. But Tibet has thrown a wrench into everything.

Ma's traditional pro-China policy has come under fire (courtesy of the Thirsty Ghosts blog, h/t to Michael Turton's A View from Taiwan blog):

Those plans now appear in danger as public outrage here over Beijing's ongoing crackdown in Tibet has forced Ma to mothball his ''China-friendly'' persona. With just three days left before the island's presidential election Saturday, the frontrunner is scrambling to prevent rival Frank Hsieh of the DPP from painting him as a Beijing apologist amid the clampdown.
''At the beginning of Mr. Ma's campaign, he was rarely harsh on China. But because of [Hsieh's] attacks for being soft on the Tibet issue, Ma's had to adjust his strategy,'' said Huang Kwei-bo, a political scientist at National Chengchi University.
''I sense a shift [in Ma's rhetoric],'' Huang said.
Making matters worse were Wen Jiabao's Tuesday comments, which ''forced Mr. Ma's hand,'' he said.
'"It was very unwise for Wen to talk about Tibet and Taiwan together -- that will remind people here of China's view of the island as a renegade province,'' he added, referring to Wen's blaming the Dalai Lama for riots by Tibetans and then slamming Taiwan's referenda in the same press conference.

Yes, that was a bad move by Wen. Any issue regarding separatism involving Xinjiang, Taiwan, Tibet, or Hong Kong is felt by the other three. Tibetan protesters, and Beijing's military, have unwittingly given the Taiwanese a huge reason to return the DPP to power under Frank Hsieh. Taiwanese have traditionally looked at Hong Kong, and problems in the territory under Chinese rule, to justify their decision to remain independent. But Tibet provides a more startling comparison.

And it looks like China's crackdown in Tibet is putting the scare into Taiwan voters:

Ma enjoyed a 20-point advance in the last opinion poll 11 days ago before a pre-election ban took effect, but that was before bloodshed in the Himalayan region focused attention on Taiwan's own future.
The self-ruled island split from the mainland in 1949 but is still claimed by China, and the pro-independence Hsieh has argued that a Ma-led Kuomintang administration would make reunification more likely.
"Ma's lead over Hsieh is narrowing," said George Tsai, a political science professor at Chinese Cultural University.

Turton agrees with this sentiment after attending an event featuring Jonathan Manthorpe, a Canadian who wrote the book Forbidden Nation (an excellent history lesson on Taiwan, by the way):

Manthorpe talked for roughly 45 minutes. Unlike many newsman, Manthorpe was aware that the published polls in the pro-Blue papers are nonsense. He said that people he respected from both parties had told him the election was tight. It's Ma's election to lose, but if he screws up, he could lose.
On Tibet, Manthorpe said that everyone had told him that it would have little effect on the election. He did say it could have an effect if the election is close. My own prediction is that if Hsieh wins, the KMT will immediately blame it on Tibet even though they are saying beforehand that Tibet will have no effect.

I still think Ma has the advantage, mainly because of the DPP's corruption scandals. Corruption has a way of bringing down governments awfully fast, and the Pan-Green coaltion will be no exception.

But Tibet has thrown the DPP dog a bone; it remains to be seen whether it will be enough. Turton argues, however, that even if Ma wins, he will merely be a figurehead:

As everyone braces for a probable Ma victory, there's a new line out that Ma and Beijing might not necessarily work with each other as well as people like me believe. Lots of people in the community of Taiwan observers are taking that position. I remain skeptical. Because for all that Ma has criticized Beijing, he hasn't said that Tibet should be independent. At heart, I believe, Ma remains committed to the China-as-Zion theology of the ROC. In any case, the focus on Ma is wrong; if Ma himself ran the KMT, I would have fewer worries -- but the ideologues at the top like Lien Chan, who think of themselves as Chinese and despise Taiwan, are running the show. Ma has never shown any ability to stand up to them. I'm afraid that those betting on a Ma show of strength are trying to build castles out of pudding....

Election day is Saturday. Let's hope CNN returns by then.

By Hugh Jorgen

I'm no angel; my parents will regrettably attest to that. Taking the family car out for a late-night joy ride when I was 12 years old and getting caught by the cops was probably one of the higher profile moments of my childhood that will forever exclude me from owning my own pair of wings. But if I had to describe myself as either a bad boy or a nice guy, I guess I'd have to put a tentative checkmark in the box next to the latter. So I was somewhat heartened to come across this article on a Harvard University study. This is another one of those "human nature" experiments that tests our innate tendencies toward niceness or nastiness, punishment or rewards. In this particular experiment, researcher Howard Nowak focused on human behavior in brinkmanship-style situations. Essentially, his findings indicate that punishment by adversaries may not be as effective as incentives. More interestingly, adversaries who lean toward offering incentives tend to get what they want. In other words, nice guys do finish first.

It's with this tiny bit of scientific enlightenment that I dare to draw a parallel with the current Tibet conflict in an attempt to glimpse the big picture. In this case, the game would be the "Court of Public Opinion" and the players are obviously native Tibetans vs. the Chinese government. In my humble opinion, regardless of what the magnitude of these protests is or the reason behind them, the Chinese government has lost this round. There are plenty of deep-seated, historical reasons for the protests and the debate continues about who the real victims are. But in a wider context, the reasons for the unrest may not be as important right now as the results of it. The reality is that the damage has been done. Those results, and the opinions and sentiments of the international community, stem, in large part, from credibility - and China's central government has been running low on that for a long time.

Credibility is something that takes a long time to earn, and, like trust, can be lost in an instant. But credibility, and having more of it than your adversary, comes in extremely handy in the court of public opinion. It can make the difference in swaying public opinion in your favor. The Dalai Lama, for instance, has for decades built up vast amounts of international credibility. For starters, he does not and never has advocated violence. He is charismatic and inspirational. He is a man of peace and compassion whose message of mutual respect has been embraced by people and governments from around the world. He welcomes other points of view. He does not seek independence for Tibet. He has repeatedly stated he only seeks a degree of autonomy for Tibet. The Dalai Lama meets with world leaders and average people regularly and - more importantly- he speaks to them in words and language they can understand.

By contrast, the Chinese government is afraid of words. It believes words can somehow lead to destabilizing its grip on power, and as such, it expends colossal amounts of energy and resources to control words. The evidence of this fear is endless. Youtube is blocked, website access is squeezed, foreign reporters are barred from Tibet, and international news broadcasts are censored incessantly. But it goes well beyond just suppressing freedom of speech. It relentlessly propagates its own message through state-run media. Whether it's protests in Tibet or the recent snow job during the spring festival, the message is always the same and always one-sided: the government is in control and the government is doing a wonderful job of looking after the welfare of the Chinese people. Several of my younger Chinese friends, who come from various regions of China, tell me younger generations are becoming increasingly disaffected by what they call empty words from their government. For historical reasons, they say, Chinese leaders have always felt compelled to consistently preach morality to the people. The problem is the message has never been updated and it no longer resonates with large segments of the population. One friend recently told me that the inability of the government to speak to and connect with the people is leading to an ever-widening chasm between Chinese leaders and the younger generations. To achieve the same old predictable message in English, state-run media like Xinhua and CCTV consistently roll out a dusty old basket of archaic phrases. Chris Obrien, a former Xinhua editor, has written a great piece on the garbled language that is constantly churned out by state-run agencies.

This political terminology even has a Chinese name: ti fa. "Unswervingly promoting a moderately prosperous society", "deepening trust in an all-round way", "extending bilateral cooperation for win-win results", and "vowing to strengthen strategic ties with country X" are vague, stiff phrases that are rolled out daily on the propaganda conveyor belt. They sound important, but really don't mean anything.

Let's be clear: every government does propaganda. But there is a difference between effectively controlling the message, and floating out the same old crap. In this case, the PR folks in the central government could use a refresher course on getting their message out to the international community in the 21st century. Wagging your finger at a deeply religious man who has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and is looked up to by billions of people and trying to convince the world that he is the nefarious mastermind of a "clique" that was instrumental in promoting unrest in his homeland is absolutely pointless. In fact, it makes you look foolish. And how was this menacing "Dalai clique" conjured up? Has the Dalai Lama, as the central government would have us believe, been parading around a Beverly Hills mall with a bunch of valley girls saying things like "That's sooo whatever"? The bottom line is when you try to feed the world and your own people the same old tired one-sided lines, sooner or later most everyone catches on and changes the channel. Bye bye credibility. So when an inevitable crisis comes along and the foreign media smells blood, who are you going to believe? The Nobel Peace Prize winner or the folks who are unswervingly vowing to suppress other points of view, in an all round way? My guess is the score in this latest round is Dalai Lama 1, Chinese central government 0.

The solution to these recurring dilemmas is to start allowing more access to both sides of the story - and there will always be more than one side of the story. If a thinking person doesn't get more than one side of the story, the reaction will always be one of suspicion about the messenger. Stop looking like you have something to hide. If you look like you have something to hide, you probably do. Take your itchy trigger finger off that censor button. In the case of Tibet, open up a dialogue with the indigenous people to find out what they need beyond a flashy new railway and flush toilets. (Had Serbians done a better job of this earlier, cartographers could put their markers and maps back in their desks). Instead of expending vast amounts of energy on trying to convince the world there is no problem in Tibet, use that energy to preempt the inevitable flare-ups. Stop demonizing their spiritual leader and learn what it will take to the ease this simmering resentment. And while you're at it, start talking with the Dalai Lama. He's not such a bad guy. More importantly, he's got international credibility - and he's nice.

It's important to note that the Harvard study focused on individuals, not countries, ethnic groups or governments, but it is not unreasonable to extrapolate the wider implications of this study. As the study's co-author, David Rand, notes from the results: "In general, the thing that is most, sort of, rational and best for your own self-interest is to be nice." That's the kind of message anyone could believe.

Hugh Jorgen works in Chinese state-run media. Zhongnanhai welcomes submissions at

For those interested in the detailed control structure within the Tibet Government in Exile, related NGO's, and those who are calling for armed resistance against the Chinese government, you could do worse than reading China Matters (proxy required).

China Matters is a high-level blog which delves deeply into hot political subjects, most recently Benazir Bhutto's return and assassination in Pakistan and the North Korean nuclear issue. The writer behind the blog has turned his attention to the power struggle for the heart of Tibet's resistance in his post titled "Black Days for the Dalai Lama":

The Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC) describes itself as the largest Tibetan emigre NGO, with 30,000 members and over 80 chapters.
It's pretty militant.
Its Secretary for Cultural Affairs, Lhakpa Tsering, set himself on fire in Mumbai in November 2006 to protest Hu Jintao's visit--an interesting nugget that the Washington Post's Rama Lakshmi failed to share with her readers when she quoted Tsering's emotional account of a phone call from Lhasa during the current unrest.

He argues the Dalai Lama's "Third Way" may be losing steam. Check it out.

You know something is big news when the headline screams from the Drudge Report:

Ah, I thought to myself. Tibet has finally pushed the Eliot Spitzer $4,300 hoooker off the front page. And Obama and Hillary's cage match. And the Bear Stearns meltdown. Yes, it's a good week if you're a news junkie, if nothing else.

What this means is that the crackdown in Tibet is gathering steam internationally, fulfilling one of China's worst nightmares. It has worked tirelessly to compromise on nearly every sensitive issue to halt talks of a boycott, even agreeing to press Sudan to ease up in Darfur. Nothing has rattled the Olympic plans yet: no country is boycotting, no sponsors have pulled out. Only the odd athlete or politician with an axe to grind made comments about China's human rights situation, but nothing seemed to gain any traction. Even Steven Spielberg's withdrawal didn't seem to have much affect.

The wheels haven't fallen off yet, but they are getting rickety. I would suggest there is a finite amount of time for China to wrap up this Tibet mess in the cleanest and most efficient way possible to avoid any lasting fallout. If it doesn't - or can't - do so, the growing calls among people in other nations will continue getting louder. At some point, foreign governments will have to do something - anything - to show their displeasure.

That's where the Olympic opening ceremony boycott comes in, which Paul referenced below (for the record, I planned to write about this idea before noticing Paul's post).

Pressure is mounting, and politicians are starting to feel it:

A Dutch lawmaker, Joel Voordewind, had already suggested last month that countries "take part in the games but skip the party beforehand."
Even before the Tibetan protests, three-time Olympic swimming gold medalist Pieter van den Hoogenband of the Netherlands called on Rogge to speak out on behalf of all athletes urging China to improve its human rights situation. On Monday, world 50-meter butterfly champion Roland Schoeman of South Africa said the IOC "should stand up and say, 'The way these people (Tibetans) are being treated is not acceptable.'"
Luciano Barra, a longtime Italian Olympic official who was deputy CEO of the 2006 Turin Winter Games, also believes the IOC should prepared to do and say more.
"For a question of credibility, the public opinion will say, 'You are just thinking about the games, not thinking about millions of people and freedom," he said.

Public opinion is powerful everywhere, but especially in western democracies. If enough people cause enough trouble, raise awareness of the Tibet issue, and swing the pendulum of public opinion in favor of punishing China, governments of these nations will have little choice but to comply. The question is, what can they do to appease domestic rabblerousers without damaging often lucrative trading relationships with China?

I happen to think an opening ceremony boycott might work. Paul mentioned below that China wants everything to go perfectly and that it's serious about its image. It is for this exact reason that, if governments feel strongly enough about the Tibet issue, it must make use of China's weakness on this point. I have been interviewed repeatedly on Canadian radio, and one of the questions I get asked most is: why don't people push China more to improve its human rights record and democratic freedoms? The answer lies in the economics: China is simply too vast of a market, with too much cheap labor, and too many money-making opportunities to be messed with. Western governments turn a blind eye to China's record (as noted recently when the US removed China from it's top 10 worst human rights offenders list), as do western companies. Nobody cares if Chinese people, like Hu Jia, or the Tibetans or Xinjiang people, suffer if there is a buck to be made. It's amazing how fast champions of liberty and human rights start towing the Communist Party line.

I write this somewhat hypocritically. I am in China and I'm enjoying it. I genuinely love the country, its people, and its history, and I highly I doubt I would risk what I'm doing here to stand up for Tibetans or other jailed dissidents. For this, I openly admit my shame. I don't like what's happening in Tibet right now, and I genuinely would like to see the Olympic games go off without a hitch. Even after this violence in Tibet, I am still personally opposed to a full Olympic boycott. This is a big moment in China's recent history, and the whole country is deeply emotionally involved. But, at some point China will have to answer for some of its past sins, just like America is still doing with regards to slavery, and Germany is still doing with regards to the Holocaust. It would be great of China had dealt with this already, leaving critics little to chew on as August 8th nears. But China hasn't admitted it's done anything wrong in Tibet yet (and surely even the die-hard Sinophiles must admit China has committed crimes in Tibet) - worse, it's still moving full-steam ahead with oppression, censorship, and brutality. If one can't use the one moment when China may listen to these concerns - the Olympics - when can one?

At the end of the day, as I mentioned previously, China and Tibet will need to come to a long-term solution to this problem. If China believes that crackdowns and demonizing the Dalai Lama will work, it is dead wrong. It will need to show some compromise on the issues that are important to Tibetans; not just dumping economic aid and development money into the region and expecting graciousness and undying loyalty to the motherland in return. China has shown little interest in treating the Tibetans as equal partners, and honestly listening to their concerns and desires. Perhaps a little soft pressure from foreign countries during China's big moment might help.

(Note: This article assumes that China has committed crimes in Tibet. This is a personal belief based on a number of books and periodicals that I've read on Tibetan history. That being said, this is a sensitive and emotional issue and is open to debate.

Furthermore, this article did not touch on the violence the Tibetans have instigated during this specific period of unrest. I'm aware that many innocent Han Chinese were attacked, and this should never be supported or tolerated, regardless of one's position. I have ignored the minutiae of these specific incidents to focus on the broader question, which is the general discontent among Tibetans living under Chinese rule.)

Great hall.jpgThe Chinese government likes to put on a good (and I use that term loosely) show. Watching the closing ceremony of the National People's Congress (repeatedly, and one full day after the whole thing was wrapped up!) on CCTV 新闻 (News), one quickly realizes that this government puts an S-load of emphasis on outward appearances. And that's S-load with a capital 'S.' Each and every one of the stone-faced politicians was neatly trimmed and pressed. President Hu Jintao smiled at the appropriate occasions. It was communist theatre at its finest. I think a lot of this goes back to the old, cold-war theory that if something looks out of place, it might be seen by the CIA or other covert agency as a sign of weakness, which will open the door for Chiang Kai-shek to reinvade or some damn thing. Whatever the reason behind it, the CPC loves its theatrics. As such, this is why I think this new theory being kicked around now about 'punishing' China over this whole Tibet situation by boycotting the opening ceremonies at the Olympics isn't such a hot idea.

As I've stated on numerous occasions in the past, I don't mind at all when someone sticks their finger in this government's eye from time to time. But when it comes to the Olympics, I don't think it's the right move. Anyone who has spent more than 10 minutes in this country knows that this government and the people in general are going 'koo koo for Olympic puffs,' or something to that effect. They're throwing their heart and soul into trying to prove that China is all growed up and ready to come out and play with the big boys. As such, if there are empty seats on August 8th beside Hu Jintao, Chiang Kai-shek might just see his opening.

The CPC knows how to hold a grudge. And nothing is going to piss off this government more than screwing with this country's 'coming out party.' As such, my advice to world leaders is to tread cautiously when it comes to this issue. Criticize from afar if you so desire, but when August 8th rolls around, just kick back and enjoy the show, because, even with the dramatic loss of Spielberg, I have a feeling that his Mexican, non-union equivalent has a shiny firework or two in his bag of tricks that should make for some at least mild entertainment to crack open the 2008 Games.

I was struck by a post on Tim Johnson's excellent China Rises blog. He, like dozens of other foreign correspondents, are doing their best to get inside the Tibetan Autonomous Region and find out, first hand, what's going on.

He describes his experience this way:

We foreign reporters all take precautions. We have to switch vehicles often. Some of us swap out SIM cards in our mobile phones, or just turn them off. That way, authorities cannot triangulate mobile phone signals and figure out our locations.
None of us are doing anything illegal. It's just that it's very easy for officials in the hinterlands to stop us and ask endless questions, creating delays, or simply bar us from entering areas for unspecified security reasons.

You could be forgiven for thinking Johnson is in the former Soviet Union, North Korea, Myanmar, or some other brutal authoritarian regime. But no, this is the Olympic host; in a country, I might add, which says foreign correspondents can travel and report the news freely.

Like Paul mentioned, not every western person supports full Tibetan autonomy (and by autonomy, I think you know what I mean... just trying to avoid putting too many watchwords together). It's a complicated situation.

The only thing we know for sure, and I know I am stating the incredibly obvious, is this is not good for China in the lead-up to the Olympics. From what I've read so far, the military has used restraint. This is a good move if China is to salvage any respectability when this is all said and done.

Gobi Desert.jpgI've thought to myself in the past that I'd rather eat sand than watch a Chinese government news conference. Well... thanks to today's sandstorm and the end of the NPC session, both have become a disturbing reality.

Beijing's proximity to the Gobi Desert aside, what's really got my dander up today isn't the fact that Premier Wen Jiabao spewed a boatload of nothing for an hour to the foreign media news was the phraseology that this government has adopted when it comes to the situation with the Tibetans, and in particular with their spiritual leader. The Dalai Lama's supporters have now become a 'clique.'

Unlike many of my fellow Westerners, I have very little interest in the Tibetan independence movement. Call it apathy if you will, or perhaps a lack of understanding, but I've become somewhat jaded by the fact that many a self-righteous wanker has jumped onboard the Tibetan cause because it seems like the cool thing to do. I don't begrudge the Tibetans for doing what they think they need to do. Give'r. But don't start preaching to me about the right to freedom and all this other kind of crap because you watched Richard Gere Richard Gere.jpg on Barbara Walters and thought that he made a lot of sense and you really, really liked him in "Pretty Woman." But what I find more highly condescending is the Chinese government's coining of the 'Dalai clique.' I'm sorry...what??? Spiritual Buddhists who are shooting for their autonomy aren't a bunch of 8th graders sitting around at the mall trying to conjure up theories as to how they're going to get someone to pick them up a 12 pack of Schlitz. Call them rebels, traitors, malcontents or whatever. But don't equate these people - the same people you're claiming to want to help - to a high school 'posse' who want to chill in their 'crib.'

I've seen the Dalai Lama speak in person. I'm not religious by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, if it turns out there is a god, he/she probably has me on the pious version of the FBI's 10 Most Wanted List. However, watching him speak, at the time side by side with the Bishop Desmond Tutu in a stadium in Vancouver, I couldn't help but be impressed with the ease in which he cavorted with his religious counterpart and avoided the temptation someone in his position might have had to politicize his speech, instead talking about how love for one's fellow human being is going to be the key to world peace. Dalai and Desmond.jpg I found what he said simple, yet profound in its simplicity. I left the event (which I was covering for work) with a new found respect for a man I really had little knowledge about. So, when the Chinese government starts throwing around juvenile, school yard language to describe those who have respect for the Dalai Lama, I can't help but be personally offended. If I ever happen to cross paths with the spin doctor who coined this distinction, I would have two words: Grow up.


Not since the crackdown in 1989 has Tibet (er... the Tibetan Autonomous Region) been so unstable. Reports out of Lhasa indicate the city is in lockdown. The Washington Post picks it up from here:

Hundreds of protesters swarmed Tibet's capital Friday, clashing with police and setting fire to shops and cars in a spasm of violence worse than any there in nearly 20 years. Doctors reported dozens of injured streaming into hospitals, and there were unconfirmed reports of several deaths as Lhasa descended into what one witness called "a state of siege."
By nightfall, armored personnel carriers had rolled into the center of the city. "The army is everywhere," said one hotel worker, who added that he was afraid to go outside.

This text and hundreds of filed stories like it are now circulating the globe, along with photos like we've posted here, less than five months ahead of the Olympics - that moment when China was to show itself off as a modern and responsible citizen capable of leading the world.

The protests in Tibet are a PR nightmare. The problem is, since 'capturing' Tibet in the 1950s (I'm being polite), the Chinese government has used only band-aid solutions to calm unrest; read: violent crackdowns. It happened in 1959 and again in 1989, with sporadic disturbances in between. By some estimates, more than 2 million Tibetans have died as a result of the Chinese occupation.

China has made an historical claim to Tibet, one that has been debated ad nauseum. I'm not about to wade into that complex labryth of theories, as it seems somewhat unimportant. I'll explain this later.

What we do know is that Tibet was independent at the time China invaded in 1950. If it was part of China prior, of course, then there would be no need to "invade" in the first place. Following Tibet's "liberation", Mao attempted to bring his "religion is poison" mantra to the people -- and the Tibetans were a particularly tough sell. After wining and dining the Dalai Lama in Beijing, the Tibetans' God King had to flee to Dharamsala in the late 1950s. He hasn't been back since.

Now, I understand why China is in Tibet. I've had Chinese tell me that this is the way of the world: countries need resources, so they invade other, weaker regions to take them. Western countries have been doing that for centuries. And, at the moment, Tibet is now governed as a part of China. China won: it took control of Tibet, it put its military there, it has largely Han-icized Lhasa, and it has built a train which will bring millions more Han Chinese into the region to pacify it.

But here's the thing China needs to understand: this resentment, which boils over into violence from time to time, isn't going away. I mentioned earlier that whatever Tibet's past, it is only marginally important to Tibet's future. That's because Tibetans are not Chinese: they speak Tibetan, have Tibetan culture, share Tibetan traditions, eat Tibetan food. Regardless of whether they were once ruled by China, India, Russia, or independent, they are a distinct ethnic group. More importantly, they are religious, and their highest religious figure, the Dalai Lama, is reviled by their Chinese rulers and banned from their territory.

China wants to pacify the region and make the Tibetans embrace China. They have done this by pouring in economic aid and development and modernizing the region. It is increasingly open to tourism. But what China fails to grasp is these are secondary concerns to a deeply religious people: they want autonomy, they want to pray, they want to see their leader. And this can not be wiped out by tanks or troops or bullets or economic aid.

China will no more get Tibetans to abandon their love of the Dalai Lama than they could get Catholics to abandon the Pope. People will die for their religious beliefs, something China, as a secular country, finds difficult to comprehend. In a money-driven society, they seem to find it hard to fathom how development and modernity can't seem to make people happy, and in this case, pacify them.

This is to say that, almost 60 years following the invasion, there is still unrest in Tibet. China still needs to rule it with a firm hand. A whole generation of Tibetans has died since the invasion, and new generations have grown up still resenting the Chinese for marching onto their land and taking away their autonomy. More generations will follow.

So what can China do?

China has to understand the dynamics at play. Religion and autonomy are important to the Tibetans; so is the Dalai Lama. China needs to engage Tibetans and find some common ground. They need to be treated with respect, and perhaps they will return the gesture.

The Dalai Lama has stated on numerous occasions that he no longer seeks independence for Tibet. Rather, he is looking for a Hong Kong-style autonomy. I think that would be difficult to achieve. Hong Kong is surrounded by an international border, has its own 'central bank', its own currency, its own laws and regulations. I think that, perhaps, it's too late for Tibet to go down that path.

Rather, Tibetans need to be put in charge of their own affairs, political persecution needs to end, and there must be a mechanism to see the return of the Dalai Lama before his death. China needs to understand if it treats Tibetans well, and makes certain concessions on issues of importance to them, there will be no need to burn down Chinese shops and throw stones at police. Tibet will be more prosperous under Chinese rule; of this, I have little doubt. But China will continue to receive a diplomatic black eye - year in and year out - as long as it continues to rule with force.


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The world often wonders what happens on Friday at Zhongnanhai. A recent probe into the matter has revealed a shocking truth:


The design comes from Threadless, a tee shirt company that welcomes design submissions.

Reading the news items from my home country about a Parliamentary vote on Thursday has just reinforced my concerns that while we as Canadians consider ourselves open and 'of the world,' that in fact, a good percentage of the population really has no clue about the realities in the rest of the world. And it is idiots, like this twinkie pictured here, that I'm referring too. Idiot protester.jpg This dolt was a protester who had to be removed from Parliament because he was protesting against a Commons vote to extend Canada's mission in Afghanistan.

Thankfully, 198 of our Members of Parliament had enough sense to vote to extend the mission, compared to the 77 ideologues who would pander to the protesters for their votes, rather than trying to take a clear look at the situation that country has faced the last 30 years.

Afghanistan is wedged in what I would describe as a geographical and political no-man's land. In fact, I'm quite sure a lot of people here in China don't even realize that Afghanistan actually shares a border, albeit a small one, with their country. Hence why all the Afghanistan scenes in the recently-released (and already readily available in good quality DVD form here in China) film "The Kite Runner" were shot near Kashgar, in western Xinjiang. And to many Canadians, Afghanistan is just some place over there in the Middle East. And while a lot of people like to equate the ongoing conflict in that country to the widely reviled 'war on terror' of the Bush administration, the reality is that the world has simply neglected Afghanistan for far too long. A lot of people, especially the younger generation, have either forgotten or don't even know that Afghanistan was ground zero in the fight for dominance between the United States and the Soviet Union toward the end of the Cold War. For those unaware, in an effort to extend its influence toward the Middle East region, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979 to prop up the then-Marxist government in power in Afghanistan, which was facing stiff resistance from the Mujahideen. What resulted was a 9 year war between the Soviets and the CIA-backed Mujahideen fighters that eventually saw CCCP forces withdraw, eventually leading to enough discontent in Russia to spark the democratic revolution that led to the fall of the Soviet Union a few years later. And how was Afghanistan rewarded by the United States and its anti-communist allies for its role in all this? Neglect. After the Soviets withdrew, the world - including its large and border-sharing neighbor to the east China -- simply forgot about Afghanistan. I can sum this point up no better than in the final quote in the 2007 Academy Award nominated film "Charlie Wilson's War" (an excellent watch, by the way): Charlie Wilson's War.jpg'We did a lot of great things in Afghanistan...then we fucked up the end game.' - Charlie Wilson. As such, ignorance of the country eventually let the zealots in the country take over, and led us to the situation that it's in today.

Nobody, especially me, likes the idea of war... but I say bravo to those Canadian MP's who voted to support the efforts to stabilize Afghanistan by keeping our troops there until at least 2011. And to the MP's and protesters who decided against it, I posit this thought: Let the Taliban retake control of the country, then plan your next overseas vacation there, because I would just love to see how well they would welcome and treat you as a non-radicalized Muslim guest!

I only hope that one day Afghanistan will become stable enough for me to feel safe visiting, because as a person who loves the past, I find that country -- the cross road between the West and the East -- a facinating place with a rich and often unknown history.

This week's work on the news beat (and I use the term 'news' somewhat sheepishly) has given me an opportunity to reflect on how the lines can often become blurred when it comes to politics, people and our perceptions of both.

Earlier this week I had a chance to go to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs building here in Beijing (a building that must have cost a small fortune, judging by the elaborate art work on display in the lobby) to interview a man by the name of Liu GuijinLiu Guijin.jpg. For those who are not familiar with the name, he is the man that Beijing tapped last year to be China's special envoy to Darfur. As such, Mr. Liu has been the subject of a lot of intense scrutiny and has been labeled by many people as the poster boy for China's involvement in Sudan. (which, as we all are pretty well aware, isn't looked upon very favorably by a lot of folks around the world) I'm not going to bother going into a lot of what Mr. Liu had to say during our 30 minute interview (complete with video, much to my embarrassment, on this link),me and liu guijin2.jpg mainly because it was all on message and never strayed from the Chinese government's consistent stance, which is that China is being unfairly criticized in the media and by foreign governments for not doing enough to stop the fighting. And, I don't really want to bother getting into the debate over whether or not this contention is correct. (but you folks go right ahead, if that tickles your fancy) But what I did find somewhat interesting was our chat after the microphone was off.

Because I've been in the media for over 10 years now, I have rubbed shoulders with my fair share of politicians and diplomats. Of course, most often this has always been in an official capacity. Generally politicians and members of the media rarely go beyond the politician/reporter relationship, mainly because the politician is worried about the reporter writing about the man behind the message, and the reporter is worried that if they get too close to the politician it will obscure their objectivity. That being said, I've come to know a good number of politicians on a more personal level. Some are generally good folks, others are complete wankers. And in the case of Mr. Liu, I have to say that I found him to be in the former. Mr. Liu knew that I am Canadian, and was quick to point out that his wife was one of the first students in China to be allowed to study abroad in Canada in the 1970's. (He said she studied at the University of Ottawa and at UBC in Vancouver) He also revealed that his own university education in Shanghai was cut off after one year by the start of the Cultural Revolution, and that he was one of the thousands of 'rusticated youth' who were sent out the countryside - as Mr. Liu somewhat dismissively and, with the ever so slight tinge of distain, said was - to further reduce their bourgeoisie tendencies. He also admitted that while he's happy to be serving his government, the Darfur gig is something he won't want to be doing for the foreseeable future. Bottom line, I would add Liu Guijin to the list of politicians that I wouldn't mind sitting down and having a beer with.

My interview got me to thinking afterward, though, about how often times we perceive politics as personality. I have lost count of how many times listeners to the various radio stations I've worked at will call up and criticize either myself, my colleagues or the people we interview in personal, and often scathing attacks because they didn't agree with how the story was portrayed or the politics or message that said interviewee was putting forward. Same thing happens all the time in the blogosphere as well. And, to be honest, being in the public spotlight, if these types of things don't roll off you, they'll eat you alive. As such, you just learn to accept that people consider you a free public service or tool at their disposal to treat as they will. So this leads me to my main question for you: Can, or should, we separate the message from the man, or is the man's (or woman's, of course) character invariably linked to the message they put out?

A chat with 'Kevin'

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With posting light of late, I figured I'd pass along this video. It features CCTV 9 rabblerouser Rui Chenggang, who earned his 15 minutes of fame by calling for Starbucks to be removed from the Forbidden City, interviewing then-Australian opposition leader Kevin Rudd.

Rudd shows off his Chinese ability, which is clearly impressive. The question is, why does Rui Chenggang look completely disinterested in the interview? He wears a pained expression that seems to indicate somebody interrupted him from something much more important and ordered him behind the anchor desk against his will. Worse, he refers to the opposition leader as "Kevin". If he had a chance to interview Senator McCain about Sino-US relations, would he simply call him "John"?

Perhaps I'm picking on CCTV 9 a little bit, but that's what happens when it's a slow news day. And, this video isn't particularly worse than any other random video which could've been lifted from the station. And I'll stress again, the quality issues at CCTV 9 aren't usually the fault of the employees (although there are lots of examples of this, too), but rather upper management.

As an aside, if anybody gets a copy of a certain report that CCTV 9 ran introducing Beijing's new airport, I'd love to have a personal copy. As funny as CCTV 9 can be, this was the only time that three friends and I (also current and former CCTV 9 employees) were literally in tears amid gales of laughter.

(Full Disclosure: I was an employee of CCTV 9 from June 2005 to March 2006.)

This week has seen a new first for me here in China, and one that I'm actually hesitant to admit: I was actively captivated by something on Chinese television. I know, I know... it's hard to imagine, but it's true. But before you start calling me a sellout, a turncoat, mindless or downright insane, allow me to explain. I was about to pop in a DVD on Wednesday evening when something on the tube caught my attention. No, it wasn't CCTV's rousing coverage of 两会 (the CPPCC and NPC sessions) or some scantily-clad woman belting out Mando-pop. It was actually a documentary on CCTV 6, the movie channel. Wednesday, March 5th, happens to be the late Premier Zhou Enlai's birthday. zhou older.jpg (Rather than going into the details of his life, if you're interested in learning his past, I'll direct you to the Granite Studio for Zhou's past particulars) As such, CCTV 6 aired a retrospective of his life. And while watching, a couple of things really stood out in my mind. Firstly, it's amazing how little the propaganda has changed on CCTV from the 60's, through the Cultural Revolution to today! Though it was all in Chinese, and despite my somewhat limited comprehension skills, I was able to glean enough of what was being said to realize that this was an unabashed, glowing review of the late Premier's life, which included film of him meeting the masses, who all wore broad smiles and clamored to shake his hand and be next to him, along with soulful discussions about how he adored his wife, Deng Yingchao, and how, though he and the missus had no children of their own, the late Premier was like a father to the children of China. deng yingchao.jpg While trying not to wretch and throw my shoe through the TV because of the language being spouted, I did find it really interesting to watch the old footage of China during the Great Leap Forward, much of which I had never seen before. And watching it, all I could think was 'Damn that must have been a crappy existence for the average person back then!' The other thing about the documentary that really jumped out at me was there was - during the hour I watched at least - no film of him with Chairman Mao. The only time you saw Mao at all was if there was footage of Zhou Enlai standing in front of Tian'anmen, in the Great Hall of the People or in some peasant's house where a picture of the Helmsman was mandatory art work. Now I don't know if the people who put this documentary together did this intentionally or not, but it got me thinking about both the perceptions and the realities of Zhou Enlai as the Premier of China.

Talk to the average Chinese person today and they'll tell you that while they respect Mao Zedong for one thing or another, most will freely admit that he wasn't the greatest guy and that he made a number of mistakes along the way. But ask them what they think of Zhou Enlai, and virtually every one of them will have nothing but glowing praise for the man. As has been put to me on more than one occasion, 'Chinese people are often quick to question the top leader (obviously, not publicly very often) but almost always adore the Premier.' But when I ask these same people about why they revere Zhou Enlai so much, I'm generally never given anything more than 'he was a good man.' The question I have is: Who says? What do we actually know about Zhou Enlai? Sure, we know his official biography. And yes, the propaganda newsreels in the aforementioned documentary show a gleeful peasantry hanging off his every word and looking upon him like a 6 year old daughter does her father. And sure, international leaders of the day were quick to call him one of the best statesmen they have ever met. zhou and nixon.jpg
But what don't we know about him? This is the same Premier who - along with the rest of the CPC - blindly followed down Mao's destructive paths of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. This is the same Premier who stood by while massive government and non-government purges were taking place across this country. This is the same Premier who, while moving to save dozens, perhaps hundreds, of cultural relics during the height of the Cultural Revolution, also allowed thousands more to be forever lost to history. So were his hands really tied during these times by a repressive Mao Zedong? Or was he complicit in helping Mao screw up 30% of the time? (Official CPC figure) Is this the reason the makers of Wednesday's documentary kept Mao out of the film? Does the CPC not want to paint Zhou Enlai with Mao's somewhat tarnished brush?

I freely admit I'm somewhat arm-chairing this particular post, mainly because I don't think I've done nearly enough reading about Zhou Enlai. As such, I implore all out there to give me your thoughts on this man, good or bad.

This will be quick, I promise.

After reviewing our statistics today, I noticed a number of hits sent to us from CNN. Surprised, I checked out the link, and sure enough, Paul's post on China's military buildup is linked there. This was a pleasant surprise.

This might be a good time to mention that this blog has grown by leaps and bounds since it began last summer. Considering that the three principal contributors - Chris, Paul, and myself - have otherwise busy lives, I'm amazed we've been able to post as much as we have. Aside from that, I'm shocked at how many people seem interested (or probably more accurately, bored enough) to engage us in our sometimes frivilous meanderings.

Since we began keeping records of this site's unique visitors, pageviews, and overall hits last August, we have seen an increase in all of these categories in each month of operation. In other words, every month has been better than the one before it. I'm not sure how long we can keep this up, but we'll certainly try.

Thanks again to everyone for stopping by (especially you, CNN!).

There was a day, in the not-too-distant past, when Shanghai was viewed by those in the capital as a glitzy but ultimately shallow city. Nothing but fashion, high-priced drinks, and pretension.

Here in Beijing, we had art galleries, culture, and history. Also some cheap bars and restaurants with real character. This is, in my opinion, what lead many people to call Beijing home despite frigid winters and steamy summers.

But oh, how things have changed.

For those who haven't been paying attention, Beijing's Olympic preparations have included far more than just the construction of venues. The capital is going upscale, is getting expensive, and is becoming increasingly like its southern counterpart.

As a fan and former resident of Shanghai, I don't mind a more glamorous city. I enjoyed Shanghai and everything that came with it; it's a beautiful place, it's livable, and comfortable. But what's sad is seeing Beijing transform in such a way that it's becoming no longer recognizable - a Shanghai knock-off, if you will.

In May of this year, the new Sanlitun Mall will open. A high-end facility featuring food and beverage options will replace what used to sit on that land: a bunch of run-down apartments. Photos I've seen of the project slightly resemble Xintiandi in Shanghai, which is a drastic change from the current Sanlitun.

Beijing Boyce has been doing a good job covering the food and beverage venues that are opening this year. The Legation Quarter is set to open in Qianmen beginning in May, with other restaurants to open in June. The Quarter will include the following high-end eating and drinking options:

  • Maison Boulud, "a French concept restaurant by award-winning chef Daniel Boulud from New York," according to the brochure. The ground floor includes a bar, lounge and main dining room; the second floor, accessible by two staircases, holds smaller dining rooms.
  • Mission, the 1400-square-meter nightclub portion of Legation Quarter, which will include a lounge, VIP rooms and deck space. Lee says that a New York-London outfit is handling the project. The brochure says Mission "is sure to blaze a trail across the sky of Beijing's nightlife".
  • Teatro, an Italian restaurant; this building will include a wine cellar and a shop that sells bread, cheese, olive oil, and other goods.
  • Shiro Matsu, a Japanese restaurant.
  • Tian Di Yi Jian, a Chinese restaurant "embedded" in a furniture showroom.

The Legation Quarter will also have a theatre and other cultural faciltities. Count me as one who's looking forward to checking it out once it opens.

If you've got money burning a hole in your pocket, there are other options, such as Face bar, Lan, and of course, Block 8. All of these bars would be at home in Shanghai, or even London or Paris.

It is with bated breath, however, that I await some arrivals from Shanghai, places I have missed since I left. Beijing has amazing options for Chinese cuisine from all over the country, but when it came to authentic western food, Shanghai is tops in China (in my humble opinion). This blog was born while sitting on a bar stool inside Malone's, which makes fantastic burgers. Another place I regularly went to for lunch was Element Fresh, which offers healthy and tasty sandwiches, salads, smoothies, and more. It will open in May in the new Sanlitun Mall.

Boyce also reports that KABB (also great sandwiches) and Blue Frog will migrate from Shanghai to Beijing this year. I never made it to Blue Frog for a meal, but the reviews are it's decent western food in a western environment. I did pop into the first Blue Frog to open outside of Shanghai, down at the Venetian in Macao, and was suitably impressed. Now if only New York City Deli would migrate here, too. They made some of the tastiest sandwiches I've ever eaten - anywhere (or perhaps I've just been in China too long).

So what does all of this mean for Beijing? Well, these newcomers to the restaurant scene aren't exactly cheap, and it wasn't until I spent last week in Dalian that I fully realized how expensive the capital has become. Rents are stratospheric (I'm quickly trying to convince my landlord to extend my lease at the current rate, even though it doesn't expire until July, lest he realize how much they've increased) and bars and restaurants are going upscale. Personally, I don't think this is a bad thing (well, expensive rents are a bad thing). Beijing was ready for a change, and as a capital and major international city, it only makes sense that it offers high-end services to meet the needs of increasingly discerning residents and visitors.

But it also means, in my humble opinion, that slamming Shanghai for being pretentious is like the pot calling the kettle, well, you know....

I'm going to begin this diatribe by pointing out straight off the top that I find China's military spending ridiculous. Any country which still claims the title of "developing" should in no way be spending some 417.8 billion Yuan (57.2 billion USD) in 2008 (official figures) on a military that does virtually nothing. And there is absolutely no reason why China should be maintaining a military with over 2 million soldiers, particularly given that China engages in minimal peace keeping exercises for the United Nations and - aside from shoveling snow and playing soldier games with countries like India and Russia - spends most of its time marching down the sidewalks and 'protecting' government buildings. If the CPC really wanted to prove that it was engaging in a 'peaceful rise,' it would actually be cutting spending on it's military rather than increasing it 17.6 percent in 2008. That said, I find the latest report out from the Pentagon regarding China's military spending equally hypocritical on a number of fronts.

The United States Military budget request for this year was 481.4 billion USD. This doesn't even include war requests. Even if you add up China's hidden military costs (China's official budget for military spending does not include moneys for nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles and fighter jets which falls under the space/science development and training which falls under the education budget) China would still be spending about 4 to 7 times less than the US does (depending on how the numbers come out in the wash, and depending on which source you look at). This is the obvious stat that the Chinese government leans on whenever it is criticized by the United States. And I say fair enough. Why should the United States maintain the monopoly on military spending? I don't think it should be China trying to close the gap for the reasons stated in the first paragraph, but why does the US government feel that it can complain when another country wants to spend more on its military? I find this particularly frustrating and hypocritical.

The other point I would like to argue is that the Pentagon, in my mind, has lost a lot of credibility over the last few years in a number of different areas when it comes to global assessments. The first, and most obvious miscalculation, is the war in Iraq. Who can forget US President Bush in 2003 landing on that aircraft carrier and telling the world that it was 'mission accomplished' in Iraq. bush banner.jpg Don't think he would have done that if his top brass hadn't told him that they had things in control. The Pentagon also reallocated troops in Afghanistan to Iraq, which eventually led to a resurgence in the Taliban movement. Thanks to this, it's now up to the Canadian military to try to clean up the mess in that country. And the Pentagon, when it comes to China's military spending, could well be playing to its own interests. In 2004-2005, the US Department of Defense estimated that China was spending some 90 billion US dollars that year on its military. However, the RAND Corporation came out with a report which stated that China's military spending was likely half that figure (though still above official Chinese statistics). It is statistics like this that make me believe that the Pentagon is extracting the highest-possible figures for the 'hidden' Chinese military costs, and passing them off to lawmakers as a reason to get its own budget increased.

China's military spending makes for good press. Let's face it. China's international reputation has a pretty muddy and checkered past and present. But what I find just as frustrating is that the hawkish elements in the Pentagon appear to be capitalizing on US lawmakers' naivety and cold-war mentality about China to support their own interests, and that very little critical analysis is done by the media into these official government reports. Though, I suppose in the final analysis, if China wants to curtail the hawks in Washington, it should look first at getting its own PR house in order.

If there was ever a region in China that was underserved, it is Guangdong. Sure, those western provinces and territories don't seem to warrant much attention from the stodgy communist cadres in Beijing either, but those provinces aren't exactly the economic engine of the country now, are they?

For all of Guangdong's importance to China's ascendancy, it garners scant attention in the news and is home to very few foreign correspondents.

Adam Minter, who writes the blog Shanghai Scrap, lamented this fact during the recent snow-job in China, which left over a million people stranded at Guangzhou Station, in his post "Massive Story, No Reporters: It's Just the News from Southern China:

... foreign news organizations continue to run their south China coverage out of Hong Kong, and not out of Guangdong properly. Though the distance between them can be covered in under two hours, the cultural distances are so much greater. No reporter - foreign or otherwise - can expect to cover the subtleties of the Pearl River Delta without actually living in it (I've toyed with the idea), or spending extended period of time there. It's amazing, actually, that more reporters and news organizations don't base in Guangdong. After all, it is, as we are so often reminded, the Workshop of the World, headquarters to much of China's export capacity (and thus, the world's), and home to some 30 million + migrants (in addition to 80+ million locals).

Let's break this down a little bit more. The Pearl River Delta region is comprised, generally, of Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Dongguan, Zhuhai, Zhaoqing, and Foshan (along with a few other smaller centres). Hong Kong and Macao are included sometimes, and sometimes not, mainly because they lie on the other side of an international boundary.

Regardless, the region is undoubtedly China's top economic zone (the following statistics are for the PRD region, and do not include the entire province of Guangdong):

  • The PRD accounted for 29.7% of China's total export.
  • The PRD accounted for 8.7% of China's total retail sales of consumer goods.
  • Some categories of the toy industry in the PRD have a world production share in excess of 60%. In 2006, mobiles produced in Shenzhen alone accounted for more than 1/8 of the global market. Other leading products include footwear, lighting fixtures, furniture etc, to name but a few.
  • In 2006, the region's utilized FDI reached US$11.3 billion, 19.2% of the national total.
  • Guangzhou is becoming one of the three auto manufacturing bases in China. In 2005, its annual capacity of cars ranked 2nd in China, only after Shanghai.
  • In 2006, PRD enjoys a per capita GDP of RMB47,094, three times of the national average of RMB 15,973. With 3.3% of China's total population, the region accounted for 8.7% of the nation's total retail sales of consumer goods.

It's amazing, to this correspondent, that amid all of this robust economic development that more people, both Chinese and foreign, aren't paying more attention.

This isn't just a matter of the northern provinces, and more specifically, Beijing, ignoring Guangdong's importance. As a former resident of Guangzhou, the entire Cantonese-speaking world is virtually immune from Beijing and its backward communist propaganda.

This could not be illustrated better than last month's spring festival gala on CCTV, which many Chinese believe is a tradition that takes its place alongside eating dumplings and vinegar on lunar new year's eve. Not so, in the south, according to viewership ratings:

Going inside the stats reveals some interesting details, the majority of viewers were in northern China. The top 5 provinces with the most viewers were (in order of ranking): Liaoning, Jilin, Heilongjiang, Beijing, and Hebei. You have to go down to 15th before you find a "southern" province, in this case Anhui. The bottom 5? Zhejiang, Fujian, Guangdong, Guangxi, and Hainan. Disappointingly for CCTV, less than 5% of Guangdong viewers tuned in this year.
So why is the show so popular in northern China and not watched in the south? Is it an issue of dialect? Is it just habit? In the north, Spring Festival is ALWAYS about preparing dumplings while watching CCTV and complaining about how horrible this year's show is while reminiscing about previous years. Do those in the south fail to tune in because they don't feel connected or is it just their New Year's habits are different?

Well, the only real difference I noticed in the south's new years habits are they spend time shopping at the flower market, which isn't possible in the frigid north. But the parts of Guangdong that are near Hong Kong don't pay much attention to CCTV, because they get TVB, Phoenix, and several other stations that originate in Hong Kong. The audience in Guangdong is far more sophisticated, in my humble opinion, than their northern neighbors, and they have little desire for whatever slop CCTV can serve up as an excuse for nationalist propaganda.

The much-villified Da Shan made a comment to me last year that he rarely goes to Guangdong, because people there aren't as familiar with him. First, he figured because they are largely Cantonese speaking, and second, because people in Guangdong tend to watch Hong Kong television. The only exceptions, he told me, were Shenzhen and Zhuhai, two cities which are populated with migrants and largely speak Mandarin Chinese.

When one steps back and considers these facts, one can see a recipe for potential future discord with the cadres in Beijing. If China were a democracy, I could foresee a scenario where splinter parties from the south would advocate independence or a more autonomous role. And even more-so, when Beijing tries to force-feed its own culture down the throats of others.

China is a big and diverse country. As the writers of this blog, as well as our commenters, have mentioned, those that confine themselves to the comfortable western cocoons of Beijing and Shanghai are missing out on what's happening on the ground. It's no different than a person sitting in an Upper West Side loft in New York city commenting on what's going on in America. Yes, that is still a valid perspective -- but not a well-informed one.

I'm amazed at the passivity of the people in Guangdong. China needs Guangdong far more than Guangdong needs China. Guangdong has very little in common with the rest of the country; they speak a different language, have a different history, and a different (Lingnan) culture.

They contribute far more to the country than what they get out of it.

NAFTA debate laughable

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I'm always amazed at what a politician will say to try to garner a vote. And in this respect, I'm reminded of the famous quote by former US President George H.W. Bush as he accepted the 1988 Republican nomination at the convention in New Orleans: 'Read my lips: No new taxes!' georgehbush1988rnc.jpg Of course, the irony of that statement is that two years later, Mr. Bush - mainly thanks to pressure from a Democratically controlled Senate and House - was forced to raise taxes to help ease the US deficit. Now 20 years later, it's the Democratic candidates that are flapping their gums and saying things which just aren't going to happen. I'm referring to both Obama and Clinton's stance when it comes to the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA. Both candidates have gone on record as saying that they would try to opt out of the trade pact with Canada and Mexico unless it can be renegotiated to better favor US interests. This is just a load of pure crap! Most economists agree that all three countries have benefited from the agreement, particularly the US consumer, who has seen a marked increase in the amount of cheaper goods imported from both Mexico and Canada. And for the Democratic candidates to simply make sweeping statements about either renegotiating or even scrapping NAFTA is merely political. Most political watchers realize that both Obama and Clinton are pandering to people in Ohio, a state that has seen significant unemployment, and has blamed a lot of it on NAFTA and job losses to cheaper Canadian companies. Now, there may have been a bit of validity to this argument five or ten years ago in Ohio. But if you look at the strength of the Canadian dollar today, you realize very quickly that it doesn't make much sense for US companies to try to ship the work north, particularly given that Canada's corporate tax structure is quite a bit more unfavorable that the current tax scheme in the United States. So if Democratic voters in Ohio think for one minute that if either Clinton or Obama become President that they will dump NAFTA, they really have another thing coming! And as for both Democratic candidates, perhaps they should be taking a lesson from the 1998 Bush speech. Lip service then equaled a loss of the White House 4 years later.

This is a post in a series focusing on the US Presidential race. As the 2008 campaign has global implications, the writers at Zhongnanhai will be occasionally posting on this topic. You can read more of our coverage by clicking here

DALIAN, China - It's often discussed by expats here how difficult it is to get people in our home countries to understand the magnitude of change occurring in China. Despite the coming Olympics and growing news coverage of Chinese affairs, old stereotypes persist.

"We've had people show up here expecting to see dusty streets and Chinese farmers in pointy hats," said Victor Jansson, who works in the business development division of the Dalian Software Park. It's his job to promote China's biggest software park, and wining and dining first-time visitors from around the world is part of his job.

Dalian is off the radar for most people, a city that most have either never heard of or have no idea of its whereabouts. For the record, it's on a peninsula about an hour flight northeast of Beijing, and this scenic waterfront city is continually rated as China's most livable.

Dalian is making a name for itself as China's outsourcing headquarters. According to the vice-president of the China Sourcing website, which works to link Chinese providers with overseas buyers, China drew just over $2 billion US last year in revenue from the outsourcing industry, compared to India's $40 billion.

But the industry in China is on a strong upward trajectory thanks to a high number of low-cost talent with strong university educations and good English skills. The average salary of an IT professional is under $500 US a month.

British Telecommunications opened in the park last September, and it's gone so well they have since put a claim on another building for planned expansion. BT has joined HP, GE, IBM, Sony, Dell, Toshiba, and others who are already in the park, bringing the total to nearly 400 companies.

The first and second phases of the park are complete, and cover more than three square kilometres. When everything is finished -- including two new huge developments and a resort and leisure area for employees -- it will spread out over 30 square kilometres, taking up roughly half of Dalian.

"Clients are shocked when they arrive to see state-of-the-art technologies, beautiful offices, and well-dressed staff speaking perfect English," Jansson notes, which makes his job of selling the zone a whole lot easier.

Although once one sees Dalian, most of the sales job is already complete.

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