Friday, December 12, 2008

How to pass the Lisbon referendum in Ireland

Now this might seem like a risky strategy but...
It's time to go for broke if the Irish political class really wants to pass the Lisbon Treaty.
There is understandable discomfort with being asked to vote on the same thing twice (even though we did it for Nice and divorce and abortion).
So let's put two separate questions on the ballot next October.

Question 1: Ireland should ratify the Lisbon Treaty [Yes] [No]
Question 2: Ireland should withdraw from the European Union [Yes] [No]

This will focus minds on whether we really want to be in the EU and steer the debate towards the value of Europe to Ireland.
Even the anti-Lisbon groups who say they are pro-Europe (Sinn Fein, Libertas and some Green-tinged independents) will have to acknowledge that Europe has been great for Ireland. They will spend the debate trying to explain the apparent inconsistency in asking for a No vote on Q1 and a Yes vote on Q2.
The Yes side will have an easier ride because they'll be able to spend time pointing out what happened to Iceland over the past 12 months (it could have been us) and note that Sweden and Denmark are considering Euro membership in the interest of stabilizing their currency.

The number of genuinely anti-Europe people in Ireland is small. Farmers, trade unions, and probably the Church, will rally around Ireland committing to the EU and Q1 would pass by 70% while Q2 gets around 90%.

There are risks, of course. The first being that people will say the Government is trying to be too cute and that it's insulting to try to marry rejecting Lisbon to all-out withdrawal. But given how disingenuous some of the No campaigners were last time ("It'll legalize cocaine, prostitution and abortion") it's clear you can't expect every citizen to read and digest the whole document.

Oh and the other risk...well, we could find ourselves having to ask Brussels to leave the European Union at the end of October 2009.

But fear not - there is currently no legal provision for member states exiting the EU! The Reform Treaty (or 'Lisbon Treaty' to give it its common name) does contain such a clause. So if the only way we could actually have to walk away would be if we passed Lisbon but voted to withdraw...

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Protests bubbling over in Chinese countryside

As China gears up for the greatest show on earth in Beijing next month, tensions are boiling over in rural areas and 'small' cities.
Far from the Chinese capital, scores of major protests have erupted over local political and social issues and the government is now openly expressing its concern through official media.

Chinese newspapers are reporting that local officials will be held responsible for failure to deal with public grievances in their counties.
The latest in the series of incidents was recorded in the affluent coastal province of Zhejiang. Hundreds of migrant workers attacked and injured three policemen after an argument over registration of a migrant as a temporary resident turned violent.

Separately, in Guizhou, 30,000 people took to the streets to protest at what they claimed was a cover-up by officials after the death of a 17 year-old-girl. Her family believe she had been raped by the son of a Communist Party official but the pathology report recorded no evidence of sexual assault.
The truth is impossible to guess at but a senior official dispatched by the central government to investigate pointed the finger at local government for failing to address a series of other grievances. It was suggested that the family's outrage gathered such momentum because the public was already angry over mining disputes and cases of communities being forced to move from their town to make way for new developments.

A Professor at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, quoted in China Daily, said: "Infringement of legal rights of the public is still common ... at the grassroots level. That's why the county Party chiefs are the protagonists of this campaign."
Illegal land seizures, non-payment of salary and village officials' corruption are all cited in Chinese media as having contributed to pockets of protesters taking to the streets.
Even this admission is a sign of some progress from central government.
Of course, as Huang Qingping, a resident of Huaining county in Anhui province, is quoted as saying, the move should not be "another temporary image-projecting act".

A friend of a friend (I realize that's a rather loose secondary source!) employed by the U.S. State Department says around 10,000 'incidents' of public unrest were recorded across China last year.
The definition of 'incident' is likely to be rather broad but it surely indicates that President Hu Jintao's harmonious society is facing serious challenges as China attempts to balance rapid economic progress with growing pressure to respect human rights.

It should be stressed that these do not seem to be pro-democracy protests - at least not in any philosophical sense. People are not demanding regime change or free elections. They just want local officials to stop shitting on them.

A lid will surely be kept on such problems throughout the Olympics but there is clear evidence that Beijing will need to get a grip on problems which have erupted across its territories while central government was focussed on macrcoeconomics and China's image abroad.
If they can't continue rapid progress without trampling on their people, the harmonious society will begin to look a little precarious.

[The pic is of the Goddess of Democracy, a statue made by students during the 1989 protests in Tiananmen Square. Those demonstrations were fueled not just by a demand from some for democracy, but also by rising inflation and frustration at the pace of social and economic reforms.]

€50,000 for terror whistle-blowers

Here's a handy way to make 50k - devise a plot to attack the Olympics, pay €1,000 to the family of a poverty-stricken farmer in China's Muslim province of Xinjiang to take the fall, and pocket the juicy reward on offer from the Beijing government.
Anyone providing Chinese police with evidence of a major security threat to the Beijing Olympics could stand to receive up to 500,000 (€46,179.35 to be exact).
A 'threat' can be anything from a bomb, kidnapping or murder of foreigners, or 'sabotage by illegal organization such as the Falun Gong'.
The news came as police in Xingjiang claimed they had cracked five terrorism groups this year to date and ocked up 82 'suspected terrorists'.
The offer is for a limited time only so get your terror threats in by October 31.
Naturally, my plan above has its flaws - particularly the fact that it's morally abhorrent - but what will be the impact of the freakonomic incentive promised by the government?
At the very least, it will stoke up fear among the public. It may also encourage a barrage of paranoia-fueled false alarms.
I had lunch with a bunch of students this week who said they were keen to get out of Beijing and were no longer comfortable with taking the subway for fear of terrorist attacks.
Falun Gong was mentioned as a particular threat and 'could bomb or set people on fire'. I was trying to stress that that bunch of loons have no record of suicide bombings or setting others alight (as was being alleged) but there seemed little point. (FG have set themselves on fire in protest at alleged mistreatment.)
I hope I'm right in predicting that there will be no terrorist attacks in Beijing this August.
The benefits in stoking this up are:
- When nothing happens (touch wood) the government can claim great success in keeping everyone safe. Pats on back all round.
- If there are protests by pro-Tibet supporters, campaigners for rights for Muslim people in Xingjiang, or bloody foreigners harping on about China's support for Sudan's leadership, police can lock 'em up and call them a threat to Olympic security.
€50k well spent.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Beijing unleashes entire album of Olympic songs

China has released not one, not two, but 30 official Olympic songs!
Apparently unwilling to opt for a single anthem, organisers have chosen a double-album worth of tunes for Olympic enthusiasts to enjoy - and the rest of us to endure.
Choosing a song is serious business. The selection process started five years ago and judges had to wade through 'tens of thousands' of entries, according to Chinese media.
I had thought 'We Are Ready' was the official Beijing Olympic theme tune but that was just a warmer-upper.
Among the other favourites are "Light the Passion, Share the Dream", "I Am a Superstar", "Forever Friends", "Beijing Welcomes You", "China See", and "China Story" and many, many more.
Anyone who wants me to pick up a copy of the album should send me $1,000 dollars and their entire record collection now...

Mao, megaphones and the mausoleum

We took a trip to 'Chairman' Mao Zedong's mausoleum today in Beijing.
The deceased founder of the People's Republic of China lies in a glass box in a grandiose building in the centre of Tiananmen Square.
Literally thousands of Chinese citizens - and a handful of bemused foreigners - join long, winding queues to see Mao's body every morning (they for the day at noon).
The fact that it's free means every Chinese who visits the capital takes in the mausoleum. Many buy fake flowers from vendors inside the compound to lay near the Chairman's body.
Security is tight (you can't bring in bags or cameras) but the line moves along remarkably swiftly thanks to the seemingly endless number of officials and policemen with megaphones and an inflated sense of self-importance.
Some are uniformed, some are not. All use their megaphones even when standing two feet away from the person they are addressing.
In our case, of course, it didn't matter how loud they barked orders, we still hadn't a clue what was being said - so we just followed the crowd.
In the awe-hushed room where Mao's body lies, the queue moves faster than ever. For some reason they're not keen to allow you dawdle through or to get in any way close to the somewhat misty glass case housing the great man's body.
To my eye it was a waxwork so shoddy that Madame Toussaud's would reject it as below par and unrealistic. But nobody else seemed to care a damn...

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Is China ready to say Ciao to Mao?

China has issued a new 10 Yuan note to commemorate this summer's Olympic Games in Beijing.
This may prove to be a masterstroke by progressive elements within the Communist Party of China who would like to begin to move 'Chairman' Mao Zedong off stage.
Despite ascending to Dictator Heaven over 30 years ago, Mao's legacy and his position as the Father of Modern China has seemed unshakable.
However, forward-thinking Chinese are acutely aware that outside China Mao is viewed as a villain rather than a hero.
Dismantling a personality cult is a tricky business though so it may be a while before Mao's portrait is removed from its perch overlooking Tiananmen Square.
Perhaps the launch of a new note is the first step to toning down the euphoric worship of Mao and revising the conventional wisdom on his impact on the People's Republic of China.
His image can be found on every other Yuan note. Issuing a new note with, say, Deng Xiaoping on the front would incite outrage among traditionalists in China. But nobody can argue with a new note marking what Beijing hopes will be the People's Republic's finest hour.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Beijing steps up security on subway system

Having rolled out its shiny new automatic ticket- checking system last month, the Beijing subway underwent a face-lift.
Signs were replaced, staff got new uniformed and chair lifts were installed to help improve accessibility to underground stations.
Next on the list: tighter security.
Since last week, passengers have been met by uniformed young guards with hand-held metal detectors and several central stations now have x-ray machines for scanning luggage.
Anyone dashing for the subway must now factor in airport-like levels of security as travellers are asked to open - and sometimes empty - the contents of their bags.
The new measures have been met with mixed reactions with some welcoming the heightened pre-Olympic security.
Others, including some local newspapers, have expressed concern that the checks slow down the transport system and that dissidents bent on making a scene at the Beijing Olympic Games will just find another way to attack the system.
The authorities say the new system is to combat terrorism and the government has already claimed that a plan by Muslim extremists from the Xinjiang Province has been thwarted.
However, given China's tendency to create jobs out of nothing for its bulging, young workforce, my guess is that this is just another way for the government to keep unemployment down and to look like they are in total control.

Welcome to paradise - beware 'lots of thieves'

We arrived in Hainan full of holiday spirit and ready to explore the area.
It was after dark but we ventured outside the confines of our hotel resort in the direction of the beach, only to be met by aggressive 'drivers' keen to ferry us God-knows-where in exchange for 1 Yuan (about 10c).
A woman driving a motorbike-with-sidecar contraption screeched to a halt in front of us shouting 'yi kuai, yi kuai' (1 Yuan). As she pulled in, her two accomplices jumped out of the sidecar, ostensibly to make room for us but serving to make us a little uneasy.
Failing to shake them off our tail, and reluctant to venture into the dark isolation of the secluded seafront, we retreated to the safety of our hotel.
Back in the room, after dining in the hotel restaurant, we notice a sign on the door which reads:
"The Public Safety Bureau [police] has warned that there are lots of of bag-snatch, robbery, muggings in Sanya Bay. Please be careful."
'Lots of' them? I love when the police think warning people about these things is helpful. Could they not just police a bit better?
As it turned out, we had no further trouble but we didn't venture very far beyond the resort and never ate outside the hotel (primarily due to the lack of dining options).
The island is very much under construction and will probably be entirely different in five years' time.
However, Hainan is an island of 6 million people experiencing a rapid property boom - apparently that doesn't always go well in the long term...(ask Ireland)
'Sleigh bells ring, are ye listenin'
In the lane, snow is glistenin'
A beautiful sight,
We're happy tonight.
Walkin' in a winter wonderland.'

It was 30 degrees Celsius in Hainan - known as 'China's Hawaii', so it was a little odd to be subjected to a tape of All Time Christmas Hits playing on loop in our hotel.
The resort - which was generally empty of shops, restaurants, life - has a handful of top-notch hotels catering to international travelers.
We checked into the Holiday Inn at Sanya Bay which is spotless and situated just one minute from a quiet, clean beach.
It felt like a summer holiday, until the Christmas songs started.
The very many staff at the hotel are falling over themselves to figure out what 'foreign' guests might like, but they don't always get it quite right.
On this occasion, they presumably reckoned that foreigners like Christmas, therefore they'll appreciate a bit of Santa Claus is Coming to Town - even in July!

Fish food

It has been quite a year.
Over the weekend we were pondering whether we'd changed much in the year since we came to China but it's always tricky to notice gradual changes.
Then yesterday we found ourselves picking up the tread while sitting in a pool of fish which were nibbling dead skin from our bodies.
This time last year, I for one would probably not have voluntarily offered myself up as food for a hundred little fishies.
But in Hainan this weekend, that's exactly what we did. It's supposed to be a specialist spa treatment but could just be a hilariously cheap way of feeding fish by serving up mumbo jumbo to foreign guests.
Hainan is famed for these 'doctor fish' so we had to give it a try.
While I was game enough to have the 'treatment', I can't say I enjoyed it at all.
It's like having pins and needles on your whole body, but when you look down and see fish nibbling your entire body it's a little worse.
We'd paid for half an hour but I only lasted 10 minutes.

The Ultimate Warriors

"The warriors were found in 1974 by a farmer digging a well. Nobody knew they were there and we now know the first Emperor of China had 8,000 terracotta soldiers buried with him so that he would have an army in the after life..."
The tour guide rattled off her spiel like a school kid reciting poetry which has been so well learned that their off-by-heart delivery betrays their lack of interest and understanding of what is being said.
Like an irritating child, I quizzed the guide with persist 'Why' questions:
"If nobody knew they ever existed, how can we be so sure about who built them and why?"
"We know from research."
"But how? Were there documents or diaries found with them?"
"Researchers tell us. Okay, let's move on..."
"Instead of being an army for the afterlife could they have been used to trick an enemy into thinking the Emperor had more troops than he really had?"
I initially had no doubt as to the authenticity of the warriors, but somehow the official guide managed to sow seeds of suspicion in my mind.
Regardless of who made them or why, the Terracotta Warriors are stunning. The most remarkable thing is that they are all different: different heights, weights, clothes, rank - each solider is a one off.
Also noteworthy is that the Emperor didn't just want an army in the afterlife, he also had scores of acrobats and musicians made from clay.
Odd that he didn't have a few fair maidens constructed to amuse the troops...

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Facebook the latest victim of Chinese censor

When this blog began last year it kicked off with a string of stories on censorship.
I was, back then, shocked to find so many websites blocked by the Great Firewall of China. Naive, I know.
Equally naive was my expectation that net censors would take a more liberal attitude as the Olympics approached, probably followed by a return to form once the global media moves on at the end of August.
Alas, the censors are still meddling with my quality off life.
Last week they blacklisted the Huffingtonpost. Today, I find Facebook is the latest victim of the faceless censors.
As usual, there's no explanation from the government as to why this has happened or how long it will last.
This is a particularly unusual case given that Chinese Preimer Wen Jiabao last month launched his own Facebook page which now has tens of thousands of 'supporters'.
Maybe he'll order its unblocking when he gets pissed about not being able to read his 'Funwall'.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Huffington Post blocked in China

Internet news superblog the Huffington Post has been blacklisted in mainland China.
The self-styled 'internet newspaper' is no longer available and there's no telling when, if ever, it will be back.
The site was one of the few western blogs to lead with the Chinese earthquake recovery efforts, long after cable news had moved on to newer news.
However, it may have fallen foul of censors for its recent coverage of claims by U.S. politicians that their computers had been accessed by hackers in China.
Huffpost gave the issue significant coverage, also highlighting claims that U.S. officials' were concerned that the contents of a laptop may have been copied during a trip to Beijing.
As far as China is concerned, apparently the best way to respond to claims of cyberespionage is cybercensorship.

Last-minute dash to prepare for paralympics

A couple of months ago I posted a piece mocking Beijing's lack of preparations for this autumn's paralympic games.
It's rare, I said, to see people in wheelchairs in Beijing and even rarer to see them catered for by wheelchair accessible ramps etc.
Since that post (but obviously not because of it), I've witnessed nothing short of a Herculean effort to make Beijing wheelchair friendly.
At the Summer Palace a few weeks back they were installing ramps and lifts to help mobility impaired patrons navigate the tourist-thronged step-fest.
Better still, this week I notice they have installed a motorized chairlift at the subway stop and built a small ramp at the entrance. The new automated ticket-checking system also features an extra-wide lane for wheelchairs.
All over the city they are getting their act together to be ready. The only wonder is what took them so long.

Friday, June 13, 2008

China's disingenuous response to hacking claim

Claims that China has tried to hack into U.S. computers have met with a frighten -ingly smart-ass reply from the Beijing govern -ment.
A member of the U.S. Congress says several politicians had their laptops hacked, and a computer used by the Foreign Affairs Committee was also targeted.
On top of that, it has been alleged that Chinese officials copied the contents of a laptop brought to China by U.S. government officials.
The story goes that the Chinese are seeking details of political dissidents which are held by the Americans.
And what have the Chinese said in reply? Sigh. Here goes:
"China is still a developing country. Do you believe that our science and technology are so sophisticated that it even scares the US? Personally, I don't believe that."
That, from an official spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry in Beijing, is surely the most disingenuous piece of bullshit imaginable.
Letting on that they are but a little developing country who don't have the technology to hack into computers.
The technology? All you need are a loads of computers and a squad of techie-nerds. China has all of that in abundance.
I would be willing to believe the U.S. was being paranoid if it weren't for the shocking response from Beijing.
Be afraid.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Chinese media reverting to type

One month after a massive earthquake struck China's Sichuan Province, it seems the brief period of openness from the government has passed.
China was praised for its swift relief effort and for its transparency in releasing information to the press.
Journalists and photographers covered the disaster and the relief effort around the clock. Every time the army rescued somebody from the rubble, there was a camera crew on hand to record the heroism.
They had access to officials and the public, and everyone seemed happy.
Until now.
Reports from western media say new rules now require journalists to have special permits to report from Sichuan, with some suggesting that the focus on negative stories - like why shoddily-built schools collapsed when other government buildings did not - have led the government to renew its mistrust of the media.
Today's China Daily carries a lengthy story about ethical reporting. It claims that a small magazine in Chongqing carried insensitive reports from the earthquake zone, featuring scantily clad models wearing bikinis and bloodied bandages.
They allegedly draped themselves over rubble for a feature headed 'Reborn from the Ruins'. Whether that's even true is impossible to say, but the magazine's license was revoked and its two senior editors were sacked.
Claiming that newspapers are being tacky or insensitive must be the new excuse for clamping down on the media.
With the Olympics just around the corner, the Government must be terrified that foreign journalists will expect the level of access and freedom enjoyed by media since the earthquake.
Anyone excited by the apparent change witnessed during the quake may be sorely disappointed.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Tiananmen Square - 19 Years On

It was on this day in 1989 that tanks rolled into Tiananmen Square to crush protests by students and workers which had been escalating for several weeks.
Since then, China has changed. The economy has soared, the standard and reach of education has improved dramatically and, as the government's response to the Sichuan earthquake showed, the Chinese Communist Party has learned some lessons from the past.
But progress is slow.
Most Chinese people still know little of the events of June 4. The date doesn't resonate the way 9/11 does in the U.S. - most people look at you blankly if you dare to rare the issue.
My attempts to read a Guardian report online about how some of those arrested in 1989 are allegedly still in prison were thwarted. The internet connection dropped because I clicked on an article with 'China' and 'human rights' in the text.
Likewise, the screen went blank when I Googled 'Tiananmen Square'; the Wikipedia page for Tiananmen remains permanently off limits; and this blog - like millions of others - is also blacklisted.
Many nations have done far worse things to their own than the atrocities committed by China in 1989. The Germans gassed German Jews, Americans suppressed black citizens, and Australia trampled on indigenous peoples.
The pain of those events lives on but the first step in salving the wound is acknowledging the it.
Australia's apology to Aboriginal people this year was a fine example of a mature democracy that deeply regrets its own past actions. Aussie's chose to face up to their mistakes instead of attempting to erase them.
How then can China ever make progress if it denies its own past?

Monday, June 2, 2008

Great news for Big Tobacco

Congratulations Big Tobacco, you absolute bastards.
There are at least 15 million Chinese children addicted to nicotine and another 25 million who say they have tried it.
This, to the evildoers in multinational Tobacco firms, just means success in an emerging market.

As we know, cigarette companies need to find young 'customers' in developing countries for a number of reasons:

1) Customer loyalty is excellent because their product is addictive so getting kids hooked early is a smart move. You might get 50 years custom from a 13 year old.
2) The problem for tobacco companies is that their customers tend to die prematurely. This means they need to look at the 13-18 year old market to replace the fall-off in the 70-75 year demographic.
3) In the so-called developed world, smoking is going out of fashion. Americans are smoking less and less, and Europeans are banning cigarettes in public places. These have to be replaced with Asians and Africans.
4) Tobacco companies are bastards.

According to the China Daily, nearly one third of Chinese children have tried a cigarette, with two thirds of those having smoked their first full cigarette by the age of 13.
Ahead of the Olympics, China has banned smoking in hotels, taxis and restaurants but don't count on the government to enforce this too rigidly.
Most teenagers have ready access to cheap cigarettes despite a supposed ban on selling to minors. The reasons were spelled out with stunning frankness by Zhang Baozhen, deputy director of the State Tobacco Monopoly Administration:
"Smoking harms health but a curb on smoking would upset social stability."
And in China, social stability is king.
Curbs will be phased in over the next three decades, which is "long enough for tobacco firms to shift to new ventures and help sustain the country's tax earnings".
So Big Tobacco has 30 years to diversify its business. Maybe they could get into making cluster bombs or land mines.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Temperature rising in new cold war

This is all a bit 1980s, is it not?
A Chinese woman has pleaded guilty in a U.S. court to being a spy.
Yu Sin Kang admits slipping classified U.S. military information to the Chinese, detailing arms sales from American to Taiwan.
The 33-year-old could find herself in jail for 10 years if convicted in August.
This is the fourth in a series of cases involving the leaking of sensitive information on weapons moving from the U.S. to Taiwan.
Any sign of growing military strength in Taiwan - or support for same from the U.S. - would be of significant concern to China which claims Taiwan as its territory. Taiwan, of course, considers itself to be independent.
CNN is using words like 'conspiracy', 'aggressive' and 'espionage' to describe the pattern of security breaches.
This is the worst case of communist spying since the Soviet Union, they say.
Of course, there's no mention of any of this in the Chinese media. And if there were, it would probably just be to claim CNN is an anti-China propaganda machine.
Last year there were several high profile instances of cyber-espionage involving Chinese hackers who were accused of remotely burrowing their way into government computer systems in the U.S., Britain and Germany. [I suppose they couldn't crack the Irish system.]
So the new Cold War is well and truly underway...

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Sharon's Stone's Bad Instincts

I bet Sharon Stone's paymasters are just delighted with her.
The 50-year Basic Instinct star has, with one outrageous comment, had her films blacklisted by Chinese cinemas.
Stone's suggestion that the 80,000 people killed by this month's earthquake in Sichuan (and the four million plus who are now homeless) somehow deserved it hasn't gone down terribly well here in China.
Referring to the alleged mistreatment of Tibetans by the Chinese government during riots in March, Stone said: "I'm not happy about the way the Chinese are treating the Tibetans because I don't think anyone should be unkind to anyone else...And then this earthquake and all this stuff happened, and then I thought, is that karma? When you're not nice that the bad things happen to you?"
Karma: Multi-storey schools collapsing on the heads of tens of thousands of children because their unelected government were apparently heavy-handed in suppressing dissidents. Charming.
Talking about human rights or media freedom in China is one thing, but describing an earthquake as 'karma' is a bit much.
Imagine suggesting the innocent people in the twin towers somehow deserved 9/11 because their government had armed Bin Laden. You'd be a pariah in the U.S.
Stone has four films in the pipeline between now and 2010 but the owners of movie theatres in China's biggest cities - Beijing, Shanghai, Chongqing, Hangzhou and Guangzhou - won't be showing them.
If you were a movie studio who had just paid Sharon Stone $15-$20 million dollars per movie, approximately how pissed off would you be by her carelessness/insensitivity/stupidity?
Ah the Chinese probably would have just downloaded the films illegally anyway...

Edit: Stone has humbly apologized via PR officers in Dior's Shanghai office. She will no longer appear in Dior's Chinese advertising campaigns (which is probably their decision rather than hers).
She also added: "I am willing to take part in the relief work of China's earthquake, and wholly devote myself to helping affected Chinese people". Get her down there to do some heavy lifting!
Jet Li says he won't make another film this year because he will spend the year rebuilding schools in Sichuan. Will Sharon Stone's definition of wholly devoting herself to relief work be along the same lines?

Friday, May 23, 2008

Earthquake changes China storyline

For the millions left homeless and the tens of thousands who perished, last week's earthquake in Sichuan changed everything.
But so too has it altered the international media narrative on China.
This year, the story of 2008 in China began with a snowstorm which paralyzed the country's infrastructure and exposed the fragility of China's developing economy.
The country ground to a halt, millions of Euro were lost as production ceased, and food inflation spiked due to falling crop yields. It was a mess.
Then we had the Tibet riots, followed by the Olympic Torch Relay fiasco. Bad news seemed to be following China around the globe.
The earthquake, of course, is by far the worst news China has had to face so far. But it has shifted attitudes to China in the world media.
Take CNN for example. It drew the ire of Chinese people by its tough coverage of the Tibet issue and the torch riots. CNN has been almost completely 'positive' in reporting the earthquake, and other media are following suit.
The pictures of suffering people are enough to draw sympathy but the media are queuing up to lavish praise on China for its professional handling of the crisis and, perhaps most importantly, the openness with which it has relayed information on events in Sichuan.
The Chinese government has been helped in this regard by the stark contrast that can be drawn between their transparency and the stance of the Burmese government who have blocked international aid followed a devastating cyclone earlier this month.
So what does this mean for the Olympics?
Well, the storyline had been that China had a poor human rights record, loved censorship and suppressed its people.
Now there is universal sympathy for the plight of the Chinese people and a growing realisation that the government is not quite 'the same goons and thugs as 50 years ago' (to borrow from CNN's Jack Cafferty).
There were many who would have been hoping for chaos at the Olympics; hoping that things won't go as swimmingly as the Communist Party wanted.
Perhaps the more common wish now is that the Olympics will offer a bright spot for the Chinese who have faced a year of heartache and suffering.
It all depends on how the government handles the next chapter - the leg of the torch relay which passes through Tibet.

Monday, May 19, 2008

And, the latest craze to sweep China

'50 Yuan - I gave 50 Yuan yesterday!'
'Oh right. Eh...well done.'
'And I might give more. I might give more tomorrow. I'll just put in the box when I have time!' said my excited coworker, hiding behind her hand in a vain attempt to hide her giggle. 'Have you donated yet?'

I have, as it happens. I threw a few quid into a box manned by enthusiastic students who shouting 'Bless China!' with an odd air of delight. In return for my good will, I was given a t-shirt and told I could sign my name and the amount I donated.

Is this what charity was meant to be about?

Donation boxes have popped up across Beijing since last week's devastating earthquake in Sichuan Province. And people have responded.
In fact, they really get a kick out of pushing Mao-covered pieces of paper into but red boxes.
The thrill of signing your name and thus getting recognition for your charity - a return on your investment - has people lining up to hand over their spare cash.
Charity is a big deal this week, but that may be partly because it's a relatively new phenomenon.
In the radio station where I'm currently moonlighting, we run hourly stories about people who have raised funds or handed over their life savings to help rebuild schools.
The last time an earthquake of this magnitude hit, it was 1976. This was in the years before 'opening up'; when China was still genuinely communist and nobody had a pair of red cents to rub together. Donating 'spare change' to others was not an option.
Now that middle-class Beijingers are feeling flush, they are indulging in spa treatments, posh restaurants, fancy cars and, now, philanthropy.
I plan to donate 100 Yuan this week but I think I'll do it in several trips so I get the most mileage out of it. And maybe another few t-shirts.

[p.s. The pic is of Chinese soldiers serving in the Congo. That's why they are stuffing the donation box with dollars rather than Yuan. Or perhaps it's because dollars aren't worth much these days anyway...]

Friday, May 16, 2008

CNN's sneaky apology buried by earthquake

Oh that was sly.
CNN has finally apologized to China over remarks by Jack Cafferty which sparked protests in China and the U.S.
But they pulled a fast one by making a sudden u-turn on their initial refusal to offer an outright apology. The network has chosen to say sorry amid the chaos of China's earthquake relief effort.
In a move reminiscent of the British government spin doctor who declared September 11 'a good day to bury bad news', CNN President Jim Walton wrote to the Chinese Ambassador to the U.S. this week saying the network actually has great respect for China after all. And they 'apologize to the people of China' yadda yadda.
All that stuff their outspoken anchor Jack Caffery said about Beijing's government being 'goons and thugs' was just a big misunderstanding.
CNN had previously stood firm in the face of China's overreaction to Cafferty's off-the-cuff slur - despite its executives being summoned to the Foreign Ministry to explain why it was being mean to little old China.
The news channel earlier expressed 'regret' but that was dismissed as half-arsed by the Chinese who wanted to see groveling and/or Cafferty's head on a big stick in Tiananmen Square.
Cafferty's remarks were pretty stupid and ill-informed. His assertion that China is run by 'the same thugs' as 50 years ago says more about his ignorance of modern China than anything else. His regular rants-of-the-day often provoke debate or a roll of the eyes - but viewers usually get mildly provoked/entertained/angered and then they move on.
Not this time. The Chinese people took it personally and granted Cafferty the publicity he craves. There was a song ('Don't be too CNN') a website ('') and many front page headlines demanding an apology.
I didn't agree with Cafferty but respected CNN's stance that this was not a slight against 1.3 billion people and, anyway, it's a question of free speech. Tough.
Even if they really felt the need to apologize, they could have done it immediately rather than allow the fiasco to drag on.
But instead, they took the low road and said sorry when nobody was listening - because tens of thousands of people were buried under the rubble of their own homes.
The apology barely made it into China Daily, there's no mention on CNN itself, and a couple of Indian websites picked it up, as did a Singapore paper. The New York Times is the only heavyweight western media outlet to even notice the apology and they gave it one paragraph.
And, of course, a few bloggers will give it a mention...

Full apology available here:

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

China grappling with quake, virus and Olympic preparations

There's no good time to face a colossal earthquake but the timing of this week's disaster in the Sichuan province could hardly be worse.

China now finds itself facing three major challenges over the coming months: They must grapple with the aftermath of a deadly earthquake, continue the battle against the EV71 virus ('hand, foot and mouth disease'), while racing against the clock to complete preparations for the Olympic Games.

As the quake death toll nears 20,000 and threatens to continue soaring, rescue work continues to be undone by harsh weather which is causing mudslides and hampering the delivery of aid.
The face a monumental task.
Consider the devastation caused in New York in 2001 when the Twin Towers fell killing 3,000 people. Now think of several inaccessible cities where, in some cases, 80% of buildings are said to have been razed to the ground.
The death toll is likely to be ten times greater than 911 by the weekend and the carnage that must be picked through and then eventually cleaned up covers eight, huge Chinese provinces. It's a nightmare.

Meanwhile, there are other battles to fight.
Up until Tuesday, China was gripped by a national campaign against hand, foot and mouth disease which has spread across the country.
The virus has already killed over 40 children and, today, the first death in Beijing was recorded. A total of 27,500 children are currently infected but it could get a lot worse.
The peak season for the virus is expected to be June when warmer weather facilitates the spread of the disease.
Naturally, the deadly outbreak has taken a backseat while the central government attempts to lead rescue work in Sichuan.

One of the problems for the Beijing government is its need to control of everything that happens in its vast territory.
They want to appear to be directly handling the outbreak of the virus; they have dispatched the Premier, Wen Jiabao to direct operations at the site of the earthquake; and the Olympic preparations are being handled at the highest level.

For a nation of 1.3 billion people spread across a truly sprawling land mass, it might be time to delegate some tasks to local leaders and people on the ground.
The top-down control freakery which has ruled China for 60 years might not be best suited to fight a battle on three fronts.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Conquering Mount Qomolangma - what's in a name?

How impressed would you be if somebody told you they'd climbed Mount Qomo- langma?
It might not sounds familiar to the Western ear, but Qomolangma is, in fact, the world's highest mountain.
Qomolangma is Mount Everest.
Perhaps you are wiser than I and would not have been perplexed by today's headlines proclaiming the Olympic torch is bound for Mt Qomolangma. But to me, it was all a bit confusing. It didn't get all that much clearer after I looked into it a bit more deeply.
The Tibetan name for Mount Everest is Chomolungma or Qomolangma which means 'Saint Mother'.
English explorers in the 1800s recorded the local name of the massive mountain (which spans the Nepal/Tibet border) as Deodungha, or 'Holy Mountain'. It was in 1865 that the Royal Geographical Society gave it the name Mount Everest.
Then, in the 1960s, the Government of Nepal gave the mountain a brand new official Nepali name: Sagarmatha which means 'Goddess of the Sky'. (Thank you Wikipedia)
The continued name changes are rooted in all sorts of complicated stuff like China's claim over Tibet, Nepal's desire for reunification, Britain's colonial exploits in India, and the variety of local dialects spoken by people in the villages near the foot of the big hill.
The latest twist came in 2002 that the Chinese People's Daily newspaper published an article making a case against the continued use of the English name for the mountain in the Western world, insisting that it should be referred to by its Tibetan name: Qomolangma.
This name, they said, preceded the English name and was marked on a Chinese map more than 280 years ago.
And there was I thinking it had always been called Everest.
So, that's it. We're going back to the oldest recorded names we can think of.
That's why I'm changing the name of my book to: Peking for Beginners: a Hibernian in the Middle Kingdom.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Rebranding protest marches as 'group walks'

When is a protest march not a protest march? When it's in China, of course.
It appears 200 people joined a march to protest against the construction of two industrial plans in Chengdu this week.
Locals fear the proposed new ethylene plant and oil refinery will bring further environmental pollution, adding toxins to the air and water of Chengdu - home of the giant panda.
Or at lest that's how it might have been written up in a Western newspaper.
Here, the state media say local residents held a 'group walk' on Sunday afternoon to 'express concerns over the environmental impact' the two plants may have on their city.
It was, say the papers, 'a two-hour leisurely walk from Nine-Hole Bridge to Wangjiang Pavilion in the eastern part of the city'.
China Daily quotes a local driver as saying that the walkers did not carry posters, nor did they shout slogans. So it definitely wasn't a protest, right?
Officials at the information office of the Chengdu municipal government declined to comment on the walk, and officials at the city police department said they had not heard of it.
So there are protests taking place in China over issues that affect people's lives - it's just that they can't call them protests.
It might seem like weak coverage by the national press, but at least they covered it. That, odd though it may seem, is a sign of progress.

Monday, May 5, 2008

New virus a big test for China

The new virus spreading around China's Anhui province is a huge challenge to the Beijing government on two fronts.
First, it's a test of its ability to handle a serious threat to public health.
Second, the way it is handled will tell a lot about progress and openness in China.
The virus has already killed 24 young children and infected around 5,000 more. Enterovirus 71, which is often referred to as hand, foot and mouth disease is expected to peak in the summer as weather hots up.
The government has closed nurseries in Fuyang and is spraying disinfectant around houses in rural areas.
With experience from SARS and bird flu, as well as the additional determination to be seen to act decisively ahead of the Beijing Olympics, it's reasonable to expect the practical side of containing the virus to be handed well.
But the memory of attempted cover-ups and denials when SARS hit are still fresh.
The Chinese authorities say the WHO was informed of the problem with E71 within 24 hours of diagnosis.
Continued transparency and open communication with local people at risk of infection will reveal how far China has come since 2003.

Friday, May 2, 2008

An early contender for headline of the month

Every day brings a fresh batch of jarring headlines from the Chinese press and today was no different.
A story from the state-run Xinhua news agency, carried by China Daily is headlined:

"Rioters in Lhasa unrest receive fair trial"

Why is that so remarkable? Isn't that what's supposed to happen? With Xinhua, there's always a sense that they are trying to get their retaliation in first; that they are desperate to deny something before anyone has thought to level an accusation.

On this occasion, I presume they foresee complaints about the trial, not to mention the severity of the sentences handed down for taking part in the riots in which 18 civilians were reportedly killed. There is no mention from Xinhua of how many monks died during the unrest.

While nobody was charged with murder, 30 people were convicted of arson, robbery, creating a disturbance and "assembling to assault state organs" (just consider the breadth of that phrase for half a second). Three were sentenced to life.

Just in case you were wondering whether anyone was tortured or had confessions beaten out of them, you can stop thinking that right now.

We know everything was done by the book because a court-appointed lawyer casually ignored confidentiality norms by telling reporters:
"The defendant Yexe told me that the police did not extort or torture him for a confession. His jail term was shorter than I expected."
His client got 12 years for disturbing the peace.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Anti-France protests erupt across China

Seven people have been arrested in China following protests at French super- market chain Carrefour.
Demonstrators targeted Carrefour outlets in Beijing, Changsha Fuzhou, Chongqing and Shenyang but no violence was reported.
The Associated Press says one man ran around with a sign that read "Protest Carrefour, Protest CNN" as about 200 bystanders cheered.
Browse posting from April if this all seems utterly bizarre. In summary, CNN and France are being targeted for alleged anti-Chinese bias following the unrest in Tibet.
The funny thing is that I was roaming through a packed Carrefour in Beijing's Zhongguancun area on Saturday afternoon. It was packed.
I was passing through with some Chinese friends on the way to a shopping mall and we were all surprised by the frenzy of customers snapping up bargains.
The shop had launched a major sale in an effort to attract customers in the face of ongoing negative publicity. They also issued staff with a new uniform which reads 'Beijing 2008'.
Whatever about the patriotic pandering, the fact is that Chinese people are a pragmatic bunch and nationalism takes a back seat when there's cooking oil on sale at half price.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Olympic Countdown: 100 Days To Go

Just 100 days remain before the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics.
On the 8th of the 8th, 2008 (at eight past eight, of course), the Games will begin and we'll know a lot more about the future of world affairs than we do today.
These three months are arguably the most important in the history of modern China's relationship with the world.
I visited the stadium this weekend and, although you can't get into it, the facilities and the areas surrounding it look amazing. But that's not what matters most.
China's handling of the inevitable protests from Tibetan separatists, agitation from Taiwan, and criticism from external human rights groups will be telling.
Is the Beijing government capable of allowing a controlled, non-violent protest in Tiananmen Square?
Will the authorities be comfortable with lifting media censorship (permanently)?
Can the Taiwan issue be solved diplomatically rather than with the threat of military intervention?
Will China be mature enough to ignore ill-informed insults and accept fair criticism?
Stay tuned - it's going to be interesting...

Beijing needs PR advice to compete with media savvy Dalai Lama

Headlines like 'Dalai Lama is spewing lies' do little to aid China's efforts to communicate with the world.
Today's China Daily has a lash at the Dalai Lama who Beijing accuses of presenting unquestioning the Western audiences with unsubstantiated claims about events in Tibet.
The article is spot on in highlighting the Dalai Lama's skill in delivering his message to the media. He is, it says, adept at rallying support behind his cause.
But the author fails to conclude that China should take a leaf out of the Dalai Lama's book when it come to public relations.
Like it or not, if you want to communicate through media channels, you have to play by their rules. If you are concerned with influencing Western minds, you need to understand their media.
Outsiders see a smiling old monk complaining of suppression by an angry authoritarian communist (a loaded term in the West) regime with a dubious history.
Intemperate rants about this nice old geezer 'spewing lies' or being 'a wolf' just strengthen the image of China as a bully and allows the violent rioters to be painted as heroes.
Beijing's anger needs to be focused on communicating effectively. They need an affable figurehead who speaks in terms that the target audience understands.
This will have to be matched with actions such as allowing freer access to foreign media covering Tibet. [The province reopens tomorrow, having been a no-go area for over a month.]

The full article is worth a look:

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

On the general decency of ordinary Chinese people

Amid all the negativity doing the rounds online about Tibet, the Olympics and western media bias (some of which has found its way onto these pages), it seems fair to remind those who have never been here that Chinese people are fundamentally decent.
Maybe it's a pity that I feel it necessary to say so, but at every turn in China, there's somebody looking to make a good impression on foreigners. This concern for what outsiders think may partly explain the sensitive reaction to external criticism, but the upside is Chinese people desperately want to do you favours!
Today, I remarked that I'd had a bit of a headache when I woke up this morning. Within half an hour, I was presented with (a) a recipe for a simple herbal treatment (b) an invitation to go to a student's dorm to collect a special tea used for curing common ailments and (c) a bag of freshly bought ginger and an unopened bag of brown sugar - another headache remedy.
And it's not just in Beijing. In Qingdao, a local woman escorted us to our hotel - even though it was a mile out of her way - and then gave us her spare umbrella as a welcoming gesture. In Jinan, a young school student helped us navigate the chaotic transport depot, ensuring that we got on the right bus to Tai'an. He later emailed me to ask if everything worked out alright.
As I've said before, I don't believe the Olympics are truly apolitical, but when all the chatter subsides and the Games begin, the Chinese will be excellent hosts.

Last of the fake designer bags (and toothpaste)

Roll up, roll up for the last of the knock-off Louis Vuitton suitcases, D&G shades, Calvin Klein boxers. The glory days of fake Chinese goods is coming to an end. Or so they say...
China is stepping up efforts to curb intellectual copyright infringement, under pressure from big business to protect their brand names.
Last year, Chinese customs officials seized more than 333 million pirated items with a total value of $63 million.
The goods were found in the US, Uk, Japan, France, Greece, Germany, Holland and, of course, China. No mention of Ireland but officials from An Post have recently highlighted the large volume of fakes being sent through the post.
Slightly bizarrely, the item singled out for special mention in media reports is the 300,000 units of counterfeit toothpaste confiscated by customs in 2007. The paste was branded with Unilever logos but was churned out in a factory in central China.
Other items listed by officials include: clothing, footwear, headgear, toys, bags, electronics and auto parts.
No mention of DVDs - thank God.

Friday, April 25, 2008

China agrees to talks with "wolf in monk's robes"

The Beijing government is to meet with represent- atives of the Dalai Lama, CNN reports - although you can't believe anything those bastards say (see below).
China used the harshest language available to slag the smiling holy man following violence in Tibet. Amongst many, many other things, they referred to him as "a wolf in monk's robes" and accused him of masterminding the protests.
In a carefully worded statement, Beijing said they would accept repeated requests for talks, making it clear that it was the Dalai side who came to them.
And, just in case Tibetan separatists get the wrong impression, a Chinese official is quoted as saying it is hoped the Dalai Lama will make "credible moves to stop activities aimed at splitting China, stop plotting and inciting violence and stop disrupting and sabotaging the Beijing Olympic Games so as to create conditions for talks."
Note the last clause: is the implication that talks are conditional on the Dalai Lama admitting to plotting and sabotage?
I see three possible scenarios here:
a) China wants to appear open to talks but will set preconditions which force the Tibetan side to turn down the offer of dialogue.
b) China will bring the Dalai Lama to the table on his knees, making him denounce separatism and support the Olympics (both of which he has more or less done in the past). This would send militant young Tibetan rebels over the edge leading them to look for a new political figurehead and/or launch a new wave of violence which the Dalai Lama has said would be enough to make him quit. Either way, the Tibetans would be divided and conquered.
c) China and Tibet will reach a compromise which respects the will of all people in Tibet and addresses inequality between China's eastern and western provinces.

I'm hoping for (c) but betting on a bit of (a) followed by plenty of (b).

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Just 2% of Chinese believe foreign media - 86% reckon state media tells truth

A new opinion poll reveals just a tiny fraction of Chinese people trust non-Chinese media, while almost 60% registered a deep disliking for France.
The survey was taken in the wake of a month of bad international press for China, notably following unrest in Tibet and the chaotic Olympic Torch Relay.
Of the 905 people surveyed (an infinitesimal proportion of China's 1.3 billion), 2% said they had faith in foreign media, while 86% believe Chinese news sources.
The questions asked of respondents - and the timing of the survey - suggest some in China are as happy as anyone to stoke nationalist sentiment and wedge open a divide between east and west.
50% said what the words and deeds of the Dalai Lama "deepened their repugnance toward him". Not exactly neutral language.
Respondents said they are reacting to perceived negative sentiment towards China by starting petitions, holding protests, blogging and boycotting French goods.
France came in for further pummeling in the questionnaire.
Having been the second most popular country ("second to the Motherland") in 2003, France has fallen out of favour with 60% registering "a growing dislike for France". I don't suppose it's growing the longer this stuff stays in the news, is it?
State media speaks of 'simmering resentment' towards France following what it calls hostile gestures, including disruptions to the Olympic Torch Relay in Paris.
All the French really did was fail to control Tibetan protesters, and then fail to condemn them. And then failed to get really excited about the Olympics.
Protesting is a way of life in France. They can't stop people taking to the streets, regardless of whether they agree with their cause.
However, France isn't the only nation falling in popularity. Canada, Britain and Germany also dropped in the rating - no mention of Ireland though. We're still insignificant enough not to feature at all, despite the best efforts of Minister Gormley.
The survey is statistically meaningless but still made the top of the news in China. It's also full of contradictions which pass without mention in the press here.
For example, 90% oppose boycotts and protests held overseas. But 39% are boycotting French goods and 21% are taking part in spontaneous protests in public places.

In summary:
Chinese media - good
Foreign media - bad
Chinese boycotts - good
Foreign boycotts - bad
Chinese protests - good
Foreign protests - bad

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Paris back in Beijing's bad books...

Just when France appeared to be weaseling its way out diplomatic trouble with China, they've gone and landed themselves in the merde again. Yesterday, Nicolas Sarkozy invited Chinese athlete Jin Jing back to Paris to make amends for how she was treated during protests at the Olympic Torch Relay.
Today, the mayor of Paris decided to offer honorary citizenship to the Dalai Lama. Sacre blue!
For a brief spell yesterday evening, plans to boycott French companies and hold protests outside Carrefour on May 1 were quite likely being reconsidered.
Now the Paris city council, led by Mayor Bertrand Delanoe's Socialists and the Green Party, have given China the two fingers - much to the despair of Sarkozy's chums in the conservative UMP which voted against the motion.
Beijing called this 'another grave provocation'.
However, the boycott of Carrefour is likely to hurt China as much as France, given that 99% of its employees here are Chinese and 95% of its products are made locally.
China has been harping on for weeks about how boycotts don't work. Perhaps that only applies to the Olympics...

Beijing lawyers sue CNN for a whopping Y100 (€9.02)

It's getting ugly out there, as Jack Cafferty would say.
Cafferty and CNN's innate ability to annoy China has already led to criticism, protests and executives from the US network being summoned to a meeting by the Beijing government.
Now, the fight is moving to the courts.
Lawyers upset by Cafferty's reference to 'the Chinese' as 'goons and thugs' say CNN has harmed the their reputation. 14 aggrieved legal eagles have now filed a lawsuit with the Chaoyang Court in Beijing.
Beijing Huanzhong & Partners, a Beijing-based law firm, demand that CNN and Cafferty cease what they termed 'harmful acts', issue a public apology and pay each of them 100 yuan (€9.02) in compensation for mental distress.
Presumably the level of distress wasn't too severe or they'd be asking for a full €10. Of course, they will claim that the low level of the compensation demanded proves this is a point of principle rather than cash.
A cynic might suggest the law firm will make a few quid from the court case just by getting their name spread across the newspapers for free.
Not to mention all the publicity generated online. (Damn it! I've fallen into their trap).
Of course, CNN are probably doing alright out of it on the publicity front too. Maybe they've set the whole thing up as a PR stunt...

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Nicolas Sarkozy, PR genius!

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is proving himself a master of the grand public relations gesture.
Sarkozy has apologised to Chinese athlete Jin Jing who was manhandled by pro-Tibet protesters during the Paris leg of the Olympic Torch Relay.
Jin Jing, who is wheelchair-bound, has become a national hero in China for the way in which she protected the flame.
The incident sparked outrage across China, not least because it received minimal coverage in western media.
France has been singled out for special mention by Chinese protesters following the incident. There was also considerable annoyance that Sarkozy - who had been feted in Beijing last November and went home with €30 billion worth of contracts for French companies - had failed to commit to attending the Olympic opening ceremony.
This led to burnings of Le Tricolore and plans to boycott French goods. A boycott and rally are currently planned outside branches of Carrefour on May 1.
Sarkozy invited Jin Jing back to Paris "to make up for the pain you have suffered"."I would like to express to you my shock at the way you were attacked in Paris on April 7 when you were holding the Olympic flame. You showed outstanding courage, which honors you, and your country," Sarkozy was quoted as saying in the letter.
"To make up for the pain you have suffered, I sincerely invite you to France in the near future as my friend and a friend of the French people."
"What happened in Paris has engendered a feeling of bitterness in your country. I want to assure you that the incidents that were brought about by a few people on that sad day don't reflect the feelings of my fellow countrymen for the Chinese people," the letter says.
"Bitter"? Isn't that the word that got Barack Obama into a world of trouble when he used it to describe the people of Pennsylvania?
Hopefully it'll work better for Nicolas.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Protesters to Cafferty: 'Do you eat with that mouth?'

The latest installment in the battle between CNN and 1.3 billion people took place on Sunset Boulevard this weekend.
Shouting 'liar' and 'sack Cafferty', the Chinese community in Los Angeles demonstrated outside the offices of CNN as the furore continues over remarks by outspoken contributor Jack Cafferty last week.
Cafferty referred to the Chinese as 'goons' and 'thugs', leading Beijing to summon CNN executives to a meeting at the Foreign Ministry.
The LA Times reports that CNN has continued to stress that Cafferty's comments were aimed at elements of the Beijing government rather than at the Chinese people, but that didn't seem to wash with those calling for his head.
Interestingly, the Times quotes a 39-year-old engineer as saying China is vastly different to the image being spun by CNN (who in my view were guilty of ignorance rather than bias).
The Chinese engineer said the last protest he attended was 19 years ago in Beijing - the Tiananmen Square crackdown of 1989!

Maoists surge to power promising to help the poor

It's April 2008 and Maoist rebels have just swept into govern- ment, backed by a jaded and desperate- ly poor population.
But today, for once, I'm not talking about China for it is Nepal where Maoists now find themselves with political power.
This is a little ironic coming, as it does, at a time when Mao's ideology fades into history in China. Mao's communist China is still run by his party, but its global outlook would be unrecognisable to the late Chairman.
He might turn in his grave (or mausoleum, as the case may be) if he saw the consumer culture that has gripped the 'peasants' who helped him to power.
But at lest he can look to Nepal as a nation where his name is associated with the future instead of the past.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The People's Republic of.....Clondalkin

Is there something going on in Dublin that nobody's telling me?
According to Google Analytics - which reports how many people viewed the blog and where these bored individuals live - Dublin appears to be disintegrating.
The map shows a large blob for Dublin but there are two smaller dots within the city which are singled out for special mention.
The first one appeared last week, telling me there had been five visits from Clondalkin. Has there been an uprising? Have the people of Clondalkin formed their own state within a state - like Monaco or The Vatican?
A second independent dot appeared yesterday: Dun Laoghaire. I always knew they had notions about themselves out that direction. I bet talk of autonomy from Dublin has been dominating the yacht clubs for years.
Of course, I know people in plenty of other large Dublin suburbs have logged on, but they are lumped in together under the 'Dublin' category.
Chinese readers (which are the second largest group, by the way) will be familiar with this type of separatist uprising given their experience of Tibet. Any advice?
Is it only a matter of time before there are people marching down O'Connell Street with giant placards:
"Free Clondalkin! Free Clondalkin!"

Friday, April 18, 2008

CNN executives summoned to Beijing after failure to aplogise

A worrying develop- ment: Beijing- based executives from CNN were called to a meeting at the Chinese Foreign Ministry on Wednesday in the wake of the ongoing debacle that has followed remarks by opinionated contributor Jack Cafferty.
Cafferty last week referred to the Chinese government as 'goons and thugs', which hasn't gone down terribly well here. See previous posts for more on how the Chinese media has reacted.
At this point I'd be quite concerned if I worked for CNN, especially if I were Chinese.
Whatever about forum members and bloggers (who are just people with nothing better than do but spout on about the topic du jour) it is a little concerning that the political establishment would summon a foreign news organisation to answer for its content.
Perhaps it's just as worrying that such a powerful news organisation felt they had to attend.
According to the government news agency, Xinhua, CNN were told to apologise for 'slander', although if they had indeed groveled that probably would have been mentioned in the official statement from Xinhua.
Journalists don't have the privilege to "rail against anybody or any government", the government said.
Really? I thought railing against governments - especially your own - was a basic function of journalism. My mistake.
This explains the absence of criticism on CCTV.
CNN had previously moved to clarify the issue with the usual line about the views of their contributors not representing the organisation yadda yadda. They also apologised to anyone who interpreted the comments as a slight on Chinese people.
Of course, CNN's statement didn't cut it in Beijing, with some continuing to accuse the network of racism.
A commentator at People's Daily said Cafferty's words reminded him of the US Chinese Exclusion Act which discriminated against labourers from China.
He must be very, very old. That Act was passed in 1882 (and was abolished in 1943).

Is Beijing ready for the Paralympic Games?

An exhausted-
looking labourer with a faint moustache stood leaning against a wall admiring his own handiwork.
He had just finished pouring cement into a cast built around steps up to a subway station on Beijing's west side. Now there is a handy ramp up what used to be a two-step climb to the station entrance.
He was, I presumed, beginning the process of making Beijing's subway system wheelchair accessible.
That was ten days ago. Since then, nothing has happened.
There are 66 steps from ground level to the door of the train - yes, I counted them.
It caused me to pause a moment and rack my brain in an effort to remember the last time I saw somebody in a wheelchair in China. I still can't think when it was and I've been here almost a year.
There are plenty of 'developed' cities with hopeless accessibility standards on the public transport system but Beijing deserves special attention because it will host the Paralympic Games after the Olympics this year.
Perhaps the paralympic athletes will be well looked after and might be spared the overcrowded buses and inaccessible subway.
But what about other people in wheelchairs? How do they get around Beijing and, more importantly - where on earth are they?!
[NB The pic to the right was not taken in Beijing]

China's new chart-topper: 'Don't be too CNN'

A new song and music video is spreading across the net like wildfire in China.
The title reflects growing outrage at what Chinese people see as a propaganda war waged by Western media.
This might seem a little rich given how tightly the media is controlled in China but we'll leave that for another day.
Today, let's just enjoy the patriotic new hit which (although it's in Chinese) apparently includes the lines:
"Why do you rack your brains in trying to turn black into white? Don't be too CNN. CNN solemnly swears that everything on it is the truth, but I've gradually discovered this is actually a deception."
The video features of riots in Lhasa and references to the disrupted Olympic Torch relay in Paris.
You can view it here or visit and search for it by name.

China fears West is waging 'cold war'

There's growing tension in China amid fears that the West is launching a new 'cold war' on Beijing.
Some bloggers are even speculating about intervention to 'free' Tibet.
It's all a little hysterical but there's no doubt that China feels like the world is against it.
The China Daily quotes a German newspapers column in which the author (a former German politician) claims the West has a history of lurching from cold war to hot war to cold war, as if there is an insatiable need for an enemy.
The latest target, it is suggested, is China.
My old favourite has a video showing some truly horrific scenes from the conflict in Iraq, while making the point that the invasion did nothing for democracy or freedom. Where next, they ask - Tibet?
It may sound paranoid to outsiders but the sense of being victims - the siege mentality - cannot be underestimated.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

China freaked with CNN - again

The Chinese are up in arms again over an alleged smear by CNN.
Not for the first time, Beijing feels the western media is being harsh and agressive with China.
You might recall reading here about the popular Chinese website '' which slates the American news network (and several other media outlets) for what China sees as anti-Beijing bias. I had been aware of the site for a while but a student showed it to me over the weekend, confirming that it had won a large and dedicated following.
This time, the cause of their ire is CNN presenter Jack Cafferty (pictured) who said: "The Chinese are basically the same bunch of goons and thugs they have been in the past 50 years."
He went on to slag off Chinese goods (or "junk", to use Cafferty's woyds), leading the China Daily newspaper to run an editorial blasting him as an amateur and claiming he is sickened by China's growing power.
The paper implied Cafferty - who is known for his opinionated and provocative style - was racist and that CNN is out of step with US ideals of respect for diversity.
The backlash in the Chinese blogosphere is well and truly on.
Although Cafferty himself has been a critic of the war, some Chinese are hitting back by suggesting that if it's "goons and thugs" you're looking for, the current White House is as good a place to start as any.
That's a tricky point to argue against!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

China snapping up chunks of oil giants

China's sovereign wealth fund has spent about £1 billion sterling on shares in oil giant GP, The Guardian reports.
Last month China - thanks to being overburdened with spare cash - splashed another £1 billion sterling on a stake in French oil firm Total.
Given that China was quick to point to the economic consequences of rubbing them up the wrong way during the minor diplomatic spat with Ireland this week, and the much bigger falling out with France, it'll be interesting to see how they use their newfound economic might.
The British government has already expressed mild unease over the idea of foreign countries controlling energy companies. As noted previously, China and the oil-rich middle eastern nations will soon own us all.
On a related note, I thought I'd include the graph above which shows who has oil - and who doesn't. It's skewed to represent the amount of oil each country has.
As you can see, Europe is bunched. China is relatively small given its actual size, which is probably why they are upping their control of oil in Africa and buying into international energy giants.

China is greatest nation on earth...

...when it comes to pollution the planet.
New estimates to be published next month say China is now the world's biggest polluter.
Using data from the Chinese Environmental Protection Agency, researchers in California reckon China has already overtaken the US in pumping more greenhouses gases into the atmosphere.
China's enormous Inner Mongolian province tops the league table for the region producing the most carbon dioxide, followed by Shanghai.
Tibet is bottom of the league which you can read as meaning it is the least well developed part of China or that its beautiful unspoilt plains are being preserved.
Interestingly, Beijing is the only area to record a significant decrease in air pollution.
The news comes as it was announced that construction work in Beijing, Shandong, Tianjin and other surrounding cities will grind to a halt in June, two months ahead of the Olympic Games.
Then it'll be full speed ahead again come September...

Monday, April 14, 2008

Chinese community protest in Dublin

The Chinese community in Dublin took to the streets on Saturday in support of the Beijing Olympics.
Carrying Chinese and Irish flags, they gathered around the GPO in an effort to counterbalance what they see as an anti-Chinese bias in the West.
However, they are frustrated that the Irish media did not cover the event. You'd think the papers would enjoy a bit of conflict (of opinion), especially given that it looked like quite a large group. Perhaps they'll cover it in Monday's papers in light of John Gormley's remarks on Saturday night.
Full discussion on

[Thanks to the user 'Thirdfox' who posted the pic.]

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Panic-stricken Ahern is wrong - Gormley's Tibet remark was no 'slip of the tongue'

Oh dear. Claims by Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Dermot Ahern that his government colleague John Gormley's reference to Tibet as a country was 'a slip of the tongue' appear to be...what's the word...bullshit.
Environment Minister John Gormley told the Green Party conference on Saturday that Tibet was a country which had been suppressed and exploited, leading the Chinese Ambassador to Ireland to storm out. Now Ahern is scrambling to defuse the diplomatic row.
Whatever about sitting through a (very necessary) lecture on human rights, the Chinese flip the lid at suggestions that Tibet is anything other than one of its Provinces.
Dermot Ahern, pictured right, slapping Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on the arse, said he had discussed Gormley's speech with him on Friday - presumably with a view to avoiding precisely this kind of embarrassment - and it had been agreed that the Green leader could urge the Reds to enter talks with the Dalai Lama.
However, the Greens kindly posted Gormley's speech on their website, revealing that the line which suggests that Tibet is a country was, in fact, part of the original text, rather than an off-the-cuff remark:
"Respect for human rights must extend to all cultures and countries. One country which has been exploited and suppressed and suffered for far too long is Tibet. We condemn unequivocally the flagrant human rights abuses by the Chinese government and call on the Chinese government to enter dialogue with the Dalai Lama."
Ahern bent over backwards not to upset the Chinese during an interview on Prime Time during the week and will be desperate to kiss and make up with the sensitive Chinese, lest Gormley's remarks damage diplomatic (read trade) relations.
Liu Biwei, the Chinese Ambassador stormed out of the Green Party meeting, pointedly saying he hoped the economic relationship between China and Ireland could go on.
Be afraid, be very afraid.