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.