Saturday, 31 December 2011

Gordon Chang: The pundit who cried wolf


I first read of Gordon G. Chang back in my Taiwan days when various editorialists in the Taipei Times used to trumpet his claim that the government of the People's Republic of China was facing inevitable collapse due to an imminent financial crisis which would be caused by non-performing loans lent out by state-owned banks. After arriving in Nanjing in 2003, I very quickly decided that Chang and others were exaggerating the degree of opposition to the government in mainland China, and that the financial crisis predicted by Chang was unlikely due not least to the financial strength of the government.

However, Chang is now back with fresh predictions of impending doom within the next year:

"Since late September, economic indicators -- electricity consumption, industrial orders, export growth, car sales, property prices, you name it -- are pointing toward either a flatlining or contracting economy. Money started to leave the country in October, and Beijing's foreign reserves have been shrinking since September.

As a result, we will witness either a crash or, more probably, a Japanese-style multi-decade decline."


I agree that all the indicators look bad at the moment, but the fundamentals that have kept the Chinese economy chugging forward - most notably a cheap, well-educated workforce - are still there. Even the relatively pessimistic forecasts show an average per capita GDP growth rate of 5% year-on-year by 2016 - something that is far from a disaster.

More to the point though, Chang's prediction of collapse of the Chinese government within the next year has several conceptual problems that need examining:

  • Firstly, if China is due for a "a Japanese-style multi-decade decline", then this does not at all mean that a massive crash of the kind that would shake the government will occur next year.
  • Secondly, countries with communist political systems such as mainland China's have weathered very harsh economic crises without the government falling. Cuba and North Korea in the wake of the collapse of the USSR are stark examples of this, but we also see examples in Central Europe - Poland during the 1970's being one.
  • Thirdly, even if serious unrest does occur, the Chinese state has overcome such movements in the past and would stand every chance of doing so again. In 1989 there was essentially no limit to the willingness of the Chinese leadership to use force to suppress opposition, even if great bloodshed resulted, and there is every reason to believe that the leaders due to take power next year are of the same temperament.

Put simply, whilst I do think pessimists like Chang may have a point and that at some point their predictions may come true (hence the title) I don't think it will be any time soon, at least not in the next year.

Anyway, now for a G&T and a mince pie to ring in the new year!

[Picture: A photo of only the second public statue of Mao Ze Dong I have seen in seven years on-and-off of travelling in China. Taken during my trip to Chengdu in June, about which more later]

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Shaun Rein: "Shame on CNN . . I have no idea if Chen’s being wronged or not"



This latest piece by ultra-apologist Shaun Rein on Christian Bale getting roughed up on-camera really does take the cake:


"CNN’s China team, in a complete failure of journalistic integrity, decided last week to become the news rather than just report it. The actor Christian Bale called CNN to follow him as he drove for eight hours to confront police to try to see Chen Guangcheng, a blind legal activist being held in his home in the eastern Chinese village of Linyi. Bale was in China to promote his movie about the Rape of Nanking by Japanese troops in 1937.

CNN did Bale one better. It became complicit in Bale’s activism by actually planning the trip and driving him to Linyi. CNN reporter Steven Jiang then translated for Bale as he argued with Chinese police officers and refused to comply with their directives to leave.

. . . .

Bale and CNN’s publicity stunt indicts an entire political system without delving deeper into the reality of Chen’s detention and the interplay between the central and local governments. I have no idea about Chen’s detention, and if he is being wronged or not, but if there are issues with his case, I am not convinced that calling the entire political class “disgusting,” as Bale does, can help."


Let's leave aside Rein's plugging elsewhere in the article of his yet-to-be-published book which (at least judging by the title) has nothing to do with the issues discussed in the piece. Let's also leave aside the fact that the "police men" in the video never identified themselves as such, and delivered their "directives to leave" with their fists.

Instead, let's simply focus on what Rein's saying here. Basically, Rein feels quite qualified to pass judgement on what exactly the journalistic standards are that CNN should obey. He also feels perfectly qualified to say whether a camera team that follows an activist is "complicit in [their] activism". However, on the question of whether it is correct to keep an innocent man and his family under house arrest without charge or acknowledgement of arrest, and to beat up those attempting to see him, he suddenly does not feel qualified to pass judgement.

That's right, a man who feels free to comment on everything from the levels of 'real' poverty in China, to who should win the Nobel Peace Prize (answer: Deng Xiaoping, no, really), to whether or not Chelsea Clinton's wedding affected her mothers diplomatic activities, suddenly finds himself unable to say whether an innocent blind man should be imprisoned without charge.

Is this informed commentary? Is this even the attitude of a responsible adult? Or is it instead transparent, self-interested, and cynical shilling for the PRC government - the government that Rein has elsewhere boasted of his connections with, and which is keeping a blind man and his family under house arrest without justification?

I'm not saying that Rein should necessarily have to write about Chen Guangcheng. I'm also not saying that CNN's tactics did not have a certain element of theatre in them - although in my opinion this was justified given the circumstances, since the best way of showing that everyone who tries to see Chen Guangcheng is attacked is to do it yourself.

What I am criticising here is the thinly disguised attempt by Rein to use his Forbes column as a platform to attack Bale and CNN whilst claiming total ignorance of the circumstances surrounding their actions - circumstances which even casual observers of China are already quite aware of. Both the piece itself and Rein's apparent motives for writing it are utterly discreditable, and he should disown them.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Beijing


Since I'm now on holiday back in (not very) sunny old Blighty, I thought I'd take the time to describe some of my travels from earlier this year. First off is the visit I made to Beijing as part of a business trip in June.

I'd last visited the city when my parents came to visit China in 2005 when, to say the least, my impressions of the city had been somewhat mixed. Whilst I had enjoyed my visit to the museums and the Forbidden City - which was then still in a slight state of disrepair but also a wonderful oasis of quiet in the city - I had found the pollution and politicised atmosphere of the city a bit oppressive compared to, say, Shanghai.

Fast-forwarding six years to the post-Olympics age the city had changed in some ways but not in others. The politicised atmosphere of the capital is still there, the pollution is seemingly worse (at least to my totally untrained eyes), but the new construction in the city has led to obvious benefits in terms of improved transportation, if not always in terms of aesthetics.

However, once business was concluded, my experience of the city this time was rather more laid back. Without the rush to take in all the sights, I was first able to spend an enjoyable lunch with a fellow former Nanjingtonian, and then an evening enjoying the peaceful vibe down at edge of lake Houhai - very touristy for sure, but as a tourist I could hardly complain.

After that, as well as after several misadventures with taxi drivers who did not seem to know the first thing about their city's layout, I met up with some friends at Nearby The Tree, a Beijing expat bar, and whiled away the hours until quite late shooting pool and drinking Belgian beers with the owner. I got on to my flight back to Poland over a stunningly beautiful Siberia the next day hung-over but contented.

So has my experience sold me on Beijing? I'm afraid I'm still something of a sceptic - the pollution is still a bit of a problem for me, but I can see myself being converted.

[Picture: The Beijing skyline as seen from my hotel window]

Vaclav Havel on the tears in Pyongyang


Right on the money:

“The manager of a fruit and vegetable shop places in his window, among the onions and carrots, the slogan: ‘Workers of the world, unite!’ Why does he do it? What is he trying to communicate to the world? Is he genuinely enthusiastic about the idea of unity among the workers of the world? Is his enthusiasm so great that he feels an irrepressible impulse to acquaint the public with his ideals? Has he really given more than a moment’s thought to how such a unification might occur and what it would mean?

……

That poster was delivered to our greengrocer from the enterprise headquarters along with the onions and carrots. He put them all into the window simply because it has been done that way for years, because everyone does it, and because that is the way it has to be. If he were to refuse, there could be trouble. He could be reproached for not having the proper ‘decoration’ in his window; someone might even accuse him of disloyalty. He does it because these things must be done if one is to get along in life. It is one of the thousands of details that guarantee him a relatively tranquil life ‘in harmony with society’, as they say.

……

Let us take note: if the greengrocer had been instructed to display the slogan, ‘I am afraid and therefore unquestioningly obedient’, he would not be nearly as indifferent to its semantics, even though the statement would reflect the truth.”


Watching the pictures of North Koreans crying over the death of Kim Il-Sung on the BBC here in the UK where I'm back for my Christmas holiday, I, and everyone in the room with me, could not prevent ourselves from laughing at the obvious fakeness of it all. It is impossible to believe that any of those crying are doing so genuinely, instead the tears communicate a distinct message: ‘I am afraid and therefore unquestioningly obedient’.

[Picture: Vaclav Havel (5th October 1936 - 18th December 2011), photo by Henryk Prykiel, via Wikicommons]

Friday, 25 November 2011

Interview

See here.

Monday, 21 November 2011

The 21st of November, 2001.

[This is one of those personal posts, so if that's not your bag, just watch the video below, it's got balloons and stuff in it]



Ten years ago today I took the first long-distance flight of my life. Having never left the UK except on brief holidays, I was setting out to spend a year (or more, but not much more) in Taiwan. My goal was to learn Chinese, I wasn't really sure what I was going to do with it, but I thought that knowing another language, and spending time in a totally different place, would make me a wholly more rounded person and be great fun to boot.

The plane was almost empty, perhaps the effect of the events of two months before, or more likely because it was the overnight flight, but I didn't get much sleep on the way. Peering out of the window high over Sichuan, I caught my very first glimpse of the red soil of China through a gap in the clouds.

Catching my connection in Hong Kong the next day, I then saw the green terraced hills of Taiwan appear all of a sudden beneath the right (starboard?) wing of the plane, and before I knew it I was stepping off the plane into what was then still called Chiang Kai Shek International Airport.

Since it was mostly spent in places thousands of miles away, with friends and acquaintances it is hard to imagine ever being reunited again - some of whom are now unfortunately beyond all reach, in towns and cities which fast-paced development has rendered quite different, many of the events of the intervening ten years now seem like they happened to someone else.

It is now a little hard to believe that I really once went to an aboriginal wedding with my good friend The Writing Baron and others, got merrily sloshed, and then all bundled off for a swim in a mountain lake. The night we staggered back from Kenny's after celebrating new year's eve there just in time to hear Big Ben ring in the new year eight time zones away now seems equally improbable. The deserted Nanjing city-centre during the SARS crisis, and the sudden rush of striking workers onto the street in Longhua, Shenzhen, both seem like things I might have once seen in a film rather than with my own eyes. Did I really cram myself into subway cars in Tokyo and Osaka in which it was literally impossible to move every morning for months on end? Was that really me at that Sakura party in the park next to Osaka castle? Or at that beach party on the Inland Sea? And what exactly am I now doing in Poland?

Ten years ago today I became an expat, and even though I spent roughly three years of the intervening time in the UK, I never really stopped being one. Despite the occasional periodic cycle of funk, I've enjoyed my years on (and off) the road. At some point I know I'm going to have to stop, but for the moment, the decision I made ten years ago still looks like a good one.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Another mind-bendingly bad policy on immigration

I don't have much to say about this proposed policy that would prevent British citizens bringing foreign-born spouses or children into the UK on family visas unless they are making over the median wage. Just that, for anyone familiar with people who have become married whilst overseas, and who then move home to find work, you're basically telling them that they cannot live with their spouses and children permanently in their own home country until they earn more than 50% of the British population.

These policies are usually suggested on the Goldilocks principle - a horribly excessive policy is suggested in order to get people to accept a less strict policy. Therefore it seems likely that if any such policy is implemented, it will set the bar somewhat lower.

However, even such a "just right" version of this policy would be a failure because the British government can no longer restrict immigration from mainland Europe. Such a policy would, anyway, only prevent people entering the country legally, without having any effect on illegal immigration.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Hidden Harmonies' Raventhorn: Let's have a Cultural Revolution

Here's Raventhorn on why the Cultural Revolution really wasn't all that bad:

[T]otally agree that CR created a “can do” mentality. Chiefly, CR was a literal “reset” on the Chinese socio-economic paradigm, and any good “reset” requires almost a complete shut down of the system, to get everyone back to the starting line, to get rid of all the negative baggages [sic] (and some of the good), so that people can rediscover and decide what are good and bad.

Hard “resets” (from revolutions) I think are necessary.

. . . .

If you are [r]ich and you deserve to be because you are smart and you work hard, then you can start all over again and get to the same place. (But I don’t think the [r]ich today are willing to do that).

A CR every now and then, answers that type of questions [sic]. (If some of the CR’s excessive abuses can be avoided, I would recommend it every 50 years or 2 generations)."


Since China's last Cultural Revolution started roughly 45 years ago, I guess Raventhorn thinks it's just about due one today.

Really, people criticise me for giving publicity to what goes on at Hidden Harmonies, but I believe the true insanity of many US-based Chinese nationalists deserves to be exposed. The idea that some people have that there is some equality in an argument between people who criticise corruption and advocate democracy, and those who blithely talk about burning whole cities, is a totally false one.

China Property Prices Fall

I don't have much commentary to add to this, except that it's big news.



If all the caveats added in the video about the lower level of leveraging are correct, then the doom-and-gloom predictions as to what might happen if house prices stop rising are unlikely to become true. My experience is that some borrowers at least have been able to get around rules requiring higher deposits through connections, and that rules may have been bent or broken. If this is so in a significant number of cases then we may be in for a rough ride - but it may not be so. It would certainly be good news for a lot of first-time-buyers if house prices were to fall.

Why Beijing may be the best friend Hong Kong democrats have right now

Amid the gloom-and-doom of yesterday's rout of Hong Kong's pan-democrats in the district council elections, and their grey prospects for next year's LegCo (Legislative Council) elections, Big Lychee sees a (thin) silver lining for the pan-dems:

"Back in the mid-90s, pro-democrats swept the board in elections for directly elected Legco seats, thanks to the first-past-the-post voting system. In order to give the less popular pro-Beijing DAB a better chance, the post-handover regime established a complex proportional representation system, which gives seats to losers as well as winners. The whole idea was to benefit parties too unpopular to get 50% of the vote. Ironic or what?"


Big Lychee thinks the pan-dems were let down by their obsession with full suffrage - an issue on which Beijing is not likely to ever bend for very obvious reasons - and their ceaseless in-fighting. He would like them to concentrate on Hong Kong's growing economic inequality.

Me, I'm not so sure. It's hard to see what unites well-off, compromise oriented ex-lawyers like Albert Ho with Trotskyites like Leung Kwok-hung other than demands for full suffrage. It is also hard to believe that the more establishment (or ex-establishment) members of the pan-dem camp would be very convincing as crusaders for equality.

That said, just as in Taiwan with the independence/unification issue, the very fact that suffrage is unacheivable makes it essentially a non-issue. Concentrating on suffrage at the expense of other matters leaves Hong Kong's pan-dems open to accusations of either ignoring or working against the interests of the average Hong-Konger - this has especially been the case in the right-of-abode dispute.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Note to Jimmy Wales: there has already been a Chinese Spring

From a talk recently given by the Wikipedia founder:

"There will be a Chinese spring exactly like like the Arab spring. It isn't a question of if, it is a question of when. I don't know if the Chinese people are going to overthrow this oppression this year or next year or ten years from now I only know that they will...... I hope the government there will realise what they have been doing is no longer sustainable and they will proceed now rather than later to open up access to information and will allow genuine democracy."

"There's a whole generation of bloggers, wikipedians and people on twitter people using social networks in China. They are there and they are becoming stronger, they will provide leadership when it's needed, there's no stopping them.The moment is right for them to demand their human rights"


Sure, no situation should be described as permanent, "this too will pass" and all that, but really, doesn't Jimmy Wales follow the news? First and most obviously, a media-savy revolution with youthful leaders and history on its side already happened in 1989. The results weren't pretty.

The overwhelming response to the almost non-existent "Jasmine Revolution" from earlier this year shows exactly what any such movement would face in the future, as does the crack-down on dissidents which has been ongoing since Charter 08 was launched. The Chinese Communist Party has shown no sign of weakening its resolve in dealing with disent, on the internet or elsewhere. This is still the party which would do what even Erich Honneker didn't dare do - smash demonstrations using military force.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

From the US Embassy, Damascus

On their Facebook page:

A Note from Facebook moderator Leslie Ordeman

We recently put up an article about the Occupy Wall Street protests in the USA -- there is lots of news about it on Syrian television stations.

For sure there is a lot of unhappiness in America about the economic situation. Unemployment is relatively high - nine percent. Housing prices keep falling, hurting more families. There is much debate between the two main American political parties about how to fix the U.S. economy.

We don't know exactly what will happen next. What we do know is:

* the US will have national elections in November 2012 that are not under the control of the American intelligence establishment but rather an independent election authority not controlled by the President or Congress;

* the Occupy Wall Street organizers will be entirely free to run as election candidates or to organize to support candidates;

* Occupy Wall Street groups will not be allowed to destroy public or private property, but they can organize more protests in other cities and they can say whatever they want about the U.S. government without being arrested or shot;

* the police will not shoot thousands of protesters;

* some Occupy Wall Street organizers have been arrested for disturbing public order (blocking traffic) but they won't be tortured, and no family will receive the body of a protester bearing torture marks.

* the international media and NGOs are watching and reporting on the Occupy Wall Street protests without interference from the government;

* the Occupy Wall Street organizers will be free to talk to any American or foreigner who wants to talk to them without fear of arrest;

* the U.S. government may complain that some countries' currency policies are hurting the U.S. economy, but the US government will not tell the world that there is a vague foreign conspiracy for which it lacks any specifics or evidence but that it says is encouraging the Occupy Wall Street or other protest movements.

Something to think about…


Speaking as someone of a relatively conservative political out-look, I am rarely sympathetic to public protests, especially when they appear to be directed to changing policies already decided on through a democratic process. This said, I find myself sympathetic to the Occupy Wall Street movement. So far, rather than be directed against specific government policy, they appear to directed against issues that policy has failed to address. The parallel is, to my way of thinking, to the UK Uncut protests against corporations failing to pay their UK taxes (something the majority of us might not have heard of otherwise), rather than to last year's tuition fee demonstrations in London.

The grown up way in which these demonstrations have been handled so far, the lack of violence and the spreading of vague lies about a foreign plot - these are things countries other than Syria could also learn from.

Friday, 30 September 2011

Crossing The Nine-Dotted Line


The logic of editorials in the Global Times is often easily attacked. Take this latest excrescence - an article entitled "Time to teach those around South China Sea a lesson" from an anonymous author writing under the pen-name "Long Tao":

No South China Sea issue existed before the 1970s. The problems only occurred after North and South Vietnam were reunified in 1976 and China’s Nansha and Xisha Islands then became the new country’s target.

Unfortunately, though hammered by China in the 1974 Xisha Island Battle and later the Sino-Vietnamese War in 1979, Vietnam’s insults in the South China Sea remained unpunished today. It encouraged nearby countries to try their hands in the “disputed” area and attracted the attention of the US so that a regional conflict gradually turned international.

Right. Apparently there was no problem until Vietnamese reunification in 1976 (or 1975?), even though a battle was fought other the Paracel Islands between South Vietnamese defenders and an attacking Chinese force in 1974.

What exactly Vietnam's activities were that caused other countries to "try their hands" in the area is something of a mystery. Whilst Vietnam was behind the call for co-operation with the Philippines and Malaysia in asserting their claims in the late 80's, the claims were in play long before that.

Philippine claims in the area stem from 1956, although they were not asserted until 1978 in response to the growing tensions. Similarly, Malaysian claims over its continental shelf, which extends into the South China seas and encompasses several islands there were defined in 1966 , although it was not until 1979 that a map specifically claiming the islands was produced.

However, the illogic of this article takes second place to the sheer irresponsibility of what it suggests:

"We shouldn’t waste the opportunity to launch some tiny-scale battles that could deter provocateurs from going further.

By the way, I think it’s necessary to figure out who is really afraid of being involved in military activities. There are more than 1,000 oil and gas wells plus four airports and numerous other facilities in the area but none of them is built by China.

Everything will be burned to the ground should a military conflict break out. Who’ll suffer most when Western oil giants withdraw?"



And this from someone who is, according to the Global Times, "a strategic analyst of China Energy Fund Committee". Just what exactly he think the positive consequences of launching battles with the Vietnamese, Filipinos, and Malaysians, whose "provocation" appears to be attempts to exploit the resources of the areas they claim, is quite unclear. Judging by the preceding paragraphs he thinks it will unwind a tense military situation, although this is such a moronic viewpoint as to beggar belief.

Suppose the PLA does engage in "tiny-scale battles" in the area, or even goes all-out and enforces PRC sovereignty over the entire area defined by the "Nine-Dotted Line" - what happens then? The answer is that the countries in the China's littoral area would inevitably grow closer and strengthen their co-operation with Japan and India to defend themselves against the PRC's growing might.

Japan at least, and probably India also, would be willing to lend such support out of fear that their own disputed borders with China would be next to receive the "tiny-scale battle" treatment. That would be good news for the Taiwanese, but definitely bad news for Beijing.

Cynical minds will be inclined to think that, as with past tiffs with Japan, France, and the United States, this is an engineered attempt to rally people to the flag following what has not been a great year for the Chinese government in terms of public relations. Bearing in mind that General Galtieri's disastrous attack on the Falkland Islands was similarly motivated, let's hope that nothing more comes of it than a few bellicose editorials.

[Picture: China's "Nine-Dotted Line" claim in the South China sea]

Friday, 2 September 2011

Check out my post over at CLB

Under my real name this time, you can see it here.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Gaddafi: Who loves ya babe?



Just read this silly article over on CNN and had to throw in my tuppence worth. This section in particular got my goat:

"A spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry now says the country “respects the choice of the Libyan people” and wants “to play a positive role in rebuilding Libya”.

The translation? Beijing thinks Moammar Gadhafi is about to be booted out and it’s switching allegiance to the folks that may eventually run the country.

Looking at this move through the prism of an oil-sprinkled lens, Beijing’s motivation comes into focus a bit more. China is the world’s second largest consumer of oil after the U.S. And Libya, at peak production, was pumping out a total of 1.5 million barrels a day. And 11% of that went where? You guessed it - China.

Since the conflict in Libya started in mid-February, that oil production has all but dried up. With the potential dawn of a new peace, it stands to reason that China wants to be best positioned with Libya’s leaders, whoever they turn out to be. Ah China, you fair-weathered - albeit very logical - friend."


Yes, 11% of Libya's oil went to China, but the vast majority of the rest of the remaining 89% went to Europe and the US. Before the 17th of February uprising it was EU states and the US who were seeking a closer relationship with the Gaddafi government, and oil firms like Total and Shell that were winning contracts in Libya whilst Chinese oil deals were being blocked. As Juan Cole points out:

"Libya was already integrated into the international oil markets, and had done billions of deals with BP, ENI, etc., etc. None of those companies would have wanted to endanger their contracts by getting rid of the ruler who had signed them. They had often already had the trauma of having to compete for post-war Iraqi contracts, a process in which many did less well than they would have liked. ENI’s profits were hurt by the Libyan revolution, as were those of Total SA. and Repsol."


Basically, whilst the big oil firms had nothing to gain from Gaddafi's downfall, China's leaders had no interest in his continued rule. As I've pointed out elsewhere, the Chinese were no friends of Gaddafi's, whilst it was the leaders of Britain, France, Italy, and the US who enjoyed an unseemly relationship with such a brutal dictator, one which thankfully ended as soon as he opened fire on his own people with heavy weapons.

To say that the PRC was a 'fair-weather friend' of Gaddafi's government is nonsense. In truth Gaddafi had no friends, only various leaders in the US and Europe who were willing to overlook the nature of his government and mouth platitudes so long as it was convenient to do so.

No country's leaders had any great reason to love Gaddafi, but if anyone was close to him, it was the leaders of the countries of North America and Europe, not China.

[Video: Gratuitous Savalas]

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Global Times: Gaddafi lost because he lost the support of the people

As has been discussed elsewhere, Gaddafi never had very close relations with the Chinese government. China's leaders have not been long in repaying Gaddafi's uncooperative attitude. As soon as was reasonably practical, Chinese representatives met with those of the Rebel government. As soon as it was obvious that the Gaddafi government was finished, the flag was changed at the Libyan embassy in Beijing - something the Beijing government cannot directly control, but could certainly allow Gaddafi's remaining supporters to prevent if they so wished. All-in-all, the Chinese government's policies during this period have been very reasonable.

The same can also be said of this editorial in today's Global Times:

"Gaddafi's fate has told the world two things. First, never underestimate the power of the people. The Libyan civil war resulted from Gaddafi losing the support of his people, particularly those in the east. The spread of the Arab Spring and the help of Western governments were unlikely to have a deep impact without the support of the people.

The second lesson to learn from Gaddafi's demise is that a weak country cannot easily control its own fate. It cannot escape the will of the major powers.

If Gaddafi had woken up to public demands earlier and pushed reforms through before the West decided to remove him, he might have avoided a civil war and taken Libya down a different path. Now, Libya's future lies in the hands of the West."


Yes, the idea that Libya's future "lies in the hands of the West" does ignore the potential for democratic government in Libya taking it in quite a different direction to which the 'west' (by which what is presumably meant is the US, France, and Britain) wants to go. However, the US and the EU are the only real place where Libya's new government can expect help, and as such it is not too wrong to put it this way.

More to the point, GT is quite correct that, had Gaddafi had greater military might at his command, he might still have crushed the rebels even in the teeth of protest from the Arab, African, and NATO countries. This lesson is not and will not be lost on the present leaders of Syria and Iran. Whilst, barring mutiny, the PLA is always likely to have the strength to deter intervention in any CCP crack-down against internal opposition, the leadership is likely to be confirmed in their efforts to keep the military happy through higher spending in the wake of the Arab spring.

They are also correct to say that where Gaddafi really lost was when he lost the support of the population - something which might have happened as long ago as the mid 1970's. The CCP presently, by-and-large, has the support of the majority of the Chinese people. However, in view of the looming economic and financial crises in the world at the moment, keeping that support seems likely only to become a greater problem in the future.

Outed

As someone who blogged anonymously so that I could work to expose dirty secrets of certain individuals, only to then have one of those individuals, years later, engage in a campaign of threats of violence after finally putting two and two together, I have great sympathy with Paul Campos, outed author of the "Inside The Law School Scam".

By all accounts, US law schools essentially ask for hundreds of thousands of US dollars in fees without giving their graduates a fair shot at getting a job capable of supporting those fees after graduation. The result is many US law graduates saddled with debt they cannot repay. Whether this is a scam or not is up for debate, but it would appear that Campos's detractors are pulling no punches:

"ScamProf is the failed academic who has done almost no scholarly work in the last decade, teaches the same courses and seminars year in and year out, and spends his time trying to attract public attention, sometimes under his own name, this time anonymously. These are important facts about ScamProf, since he is indeed scamming his students and his state, and his initial posts were tantamount to a confession that he's not doing his job. His colleagues, in any case, now know who he is, and are quite understandably angry, since the reckless genearlizations [sic] are naturally read as commentary on them."


It is not hard to see some of the over-reaction coming from Campos's (overwhelmingly
law-school based) critics as being the result of guilty consciences. Campos seems much more popular amongst law students and practising lawyers. Here's a sample:

"Campos is a hero. If the ABA wasn’t so corrupt and would make common sense determinations like NOT accrediting new law schools, there would be no scam. Most law professors are out of touch and have never had any practical legal experience. The ABA is such a disgrace and is responsible for this debacle of the oversupply of lawyers."


Another:

"Over my 44 year career I have counseled many students . . . Until recently I was able to tell them that if they did well in law school they stood a reasonable chance of being able to accomplish their goals one way or another. But at least in this century, and for a bit of the last, I have been increasingly hard put to be enthusiastic about their admirable goals. In the last five years I have become downright pessimistic about them. I know many other lawyers, and a few law professors, who are similarly pessimistic."


Not having studied law in the US, I feel that except for the element of being outed, this isn't my argument. All I would say is that Campos would probably have been better off staying anonymous- half of the interest in his blogging was based on the feeling of getting the inside scoop - but now he is bound to be painted as unrepresentative. Moreover, because he outed himself rather than waiting to be outed, he is open to accusations of self-aggrandisement.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Gaddafi-dämmerung


Not much commentary to add to this except that, in Syria and Libya, we are being shown side-by-side examples of both the costs of intervention and of non-intervention.

Yes, the crowds celebrating the entrance of the rebels into Tripoli do not tell the whole story. This seeming victory has been bought at the cost of thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of lives, as well as much in the way of money and diplomatic capital, nor will it be secure until a democratic government is installed in Tripoli. However, the cost of non-intervention would have been to stand by watching as, month after month, thousands were killed and disappeared into jail cells for torture.

[Picture: Former dictator of Libya, Muammar Gaddafi, at the African Union summit in 2009, via Wikicommons]

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

One Europe


There really isn't any other interpretation. Having, along with many other British Euro-sceptics, predicted this for years, it is somewhat gratifying to see this confirmed, although this is surely much sooner than any but the most die-hard of Euro-sceptics predicted. From the Guardian:

"France and Germany have set out plans to create the first "true European economic government" headed by a single appointed leader, as part of major moves to synchronise tax and spending to save the failing eurozone.

The French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, and German chancellor, Angela Merkel, announced the dramatic proposals after a two-hour mini-summit. They also called for the imposition of tighter restrictions on member country's deficits and announced a synchronising of the tax policies of their own two countries. Sarkozy has also secured the support of Merkel for a Tobin tax – a financial tax on all international transactions – to raise funds to ease the crisis engulfing the European economy.

. . . .

The European Council president, Herman van Rompuy, will be asked to head the new economic government, and will set and enforce a deadline for all 17 eurozone members to reduce their deficits, putting pressure on countries such as Greece and Portugal to shore up public spending."


Let's be clear on this though - this isn't the victorious take-over that many Euro-sceptics (and some Euro-enthusiasts) predicted.

Instead it is a final stab at rescuing the project of a single European currency - a project which Euro-sceptics couldn't be accomplished without some kind of unified economic management beyond committees and well-meaning agreements. The mistake of Euro-sceptics back in the nineties was to think that the proponents of a single European currency were being disingenuous when they said that the independence of member states would be maintained. Instead, the advocates of the Euro were being honest - with disastrous consequences when the unworkable formula of a single currency without unified economic governance started to unravel.

It is, however, a sign of the all encompassing crisis in world affairs at the moment that this news is not being more widely carried. Whilst the BBC are carrying on the front page, the Guardian and the Times aren't.

[Picture: Frau Merkel chats with Monsieur Sarkozy, Munich, 2009. By Sebastian Zwez, via Wikipedia]

Monday, 15 August 2011

Chris Gelken Tips His Hand

I'm very late in seeing this article, but I guess it's no great surprise to see former CCTV 9 and (Iranian state-owned) Press TV anchor, and present CEO and "Ridealist" Chris Gelken carrying on like a member of the anti-immigration far-right on returning to the UK after 23 years away. Take it away Chris:

"The England I visited wasn't the England I left 23-years before. I was hearing and seeing things I never thought I would see.

What began, I am sure with the best of intentions, has gone badly wrong. Reverse discrimination, unparalleled and unrestricted immigration, a real fear among some officials of offending certain "minorities" (I hate that word) that has reached the point where some people are being excluded or discriminated against simply on the basis of being Anglo-Saxon.. or some other "ethnic" variety.

I met with British Asians and have recently communicated with Asian groups who are terrified of Afro-Caribbean organized crime and gangs in Britain's inner cities, I have spoken with British Afro-Caribbean's who are seeing their future stolen by mass immigration from new members of the European Union.

I personally lost my temper with a barman who responded to my question, "Excuse me mate, what is the pie of the day?" with a barely comprehensible "Pie.. er, er, er, is like a, how you say, hard bread with a, er, er, er, filling inside."

Something has broken in Britain, and I am trying to understand it."


It seems that the mere presence of people of foreign descent in the country is enough to render it, in Chris Gelken's eye, 'broken'. This is the face of the kind of "progressive" "journalist" who would work for the propaganda machines of multiple dictatorships.

[UPDATE] - Chris Gelken denies that he wrote the above-quoted section. However, the editor of The Latest insists that this is not the case. Read the comments below and make up your own mind.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Dalian Protests Scrubbed From (Digital) Existence


Fresh from David Bandurski's excellent China Media Project, a striking example of exactly why even talking about "whether it would be right" to stop people communicating via social messaging is playing with fire:

"Posts began appearing earlier today on Chinese social media sites, most notably Sina Microblog (Weibo), saying that a mass demonstration was happening in the northern city of Dalian to oppose a chemical plant that has been placed near residential areas. Posts were quickly controlled, however, and now all related material is being scrubbed from the internet. . ."


So what was this demonstration about? Here's the BBC:

"Authorities in the north-eastern Chinese city of Dalian have ordered the closure of a chemical plant after a mass protest over pollution.

Scuffles had broken out on Sunday between police and thousands of protesters calling for it to be moved.

Officials ordered the plant's closure "immediately" and pledged to relocate it, state news agency Xinhua said.

Last week a storm broke the dyke around the plant, sparking fears the paraxylene (PX) it makes could spill.

PX is used in fabric manufacture and can be highly toxic.

About 12,000 residents took part in the protest, some of them moving across the city chanting slogans and waving banners."


The scale of these protests can be assessed from the pictures coming out via Weibo like the one above - and at the very least involved several thousand people.

Of course, it should be remembered that these marches pose no direct threat to the government, and are instead aimed pretty squarely at Fujia PX. However, at least some in power will be concerned by the ease with which many thousands of people were able to mobilise using social media to take part in what was a peaceful, but unauthorised demonstration.

I am still not convinced, though, that this is the kind of came changer that some, Custer at China Geeks for example, make it out to be. When it comes right down to it, if communication over Weibo does start to cause problems, the government can and will simply pull the plug on it.

[Picture: Thousands march to demand the closing down of the Fujia PX chemical plant in the city of Dalian in Eastern China. By Weibo user Zhaodongling, via CMP]

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Seven Of The Best

JB, my old China from my Taiwan days, author of The Writing Baron, has nominated me to do seven links for Tripbase's My Seven Links project.

Before I begin, though, I guess I should say a few words about why exactly (other than sheer inertia) it is that I've kept this blog going. When I started it back in 2007 my main purpose was to use it as a way of keeping in both Chinese affairs whilst keeping up with Chinese. Since then, however, I have also found it a great way in which to crystallise my own thoughts by writing them down, whilst subjecting them to the criticism of those outside my immediate family and social group. It serves, I think, as record of my very much unfinished journey away from easy answers (toppling the CCP etc.) towards better solutions.

Anyway, enough with my pomposity, on with the links -

1. My Most Beautiful Post

Since the main themes of this blog have been totalitarianism, propaganda, strife, and political unrest, I don't think there has been much in the way of beauty in any of the things I have written. That said, I'd go for "The Taiwanese Green Union" - that poem described perfectly everything that's great about Taiwan in simple, moving details.

I guess I'll have to try harder not to be so gloomy in future.

2. My Most Popular Post

Believe me, I wish it wasn't, but whilst there are other posts that have been up much less time and have got almost as many hits, my original post exposing Chris Devonshire-Ellis's less than entirely truthful description of his qualifications and experience ("Chris Devonshire-Ellis is NOT a lawyer") is my most popular post both in terms of comments and visitors. Even now this post still gets a good number of hits per day, and the reasons why are obvious. Pretty much everyone else who had tried to discuss this topic up to that point had been scared off by CDE's bogus threats against the jobs and livelihood of the poster, so there are few other sources where people can get this information.

I still occasionally get threatening emails from this most unsavoury man asking me to take this post down - sorry Chris, it's staying.

3. My Most Controversial Post

Definitely in terms of disagreement against the post, and disagreement amongst the posters, my post comparing certain features of Japanese and Chinese culture ("Japan and China - a culture clash waiting to happen") was the most controversial. The thing is, though, it wasn't meant to be. Indeed, in terms of actual criticism of the situation in Japan I have written other posts which went much further, but the fact that Japan's popular Searchina website, as well as other websites, guaranteed that some people would see who were not in total agreement with it.

4. My Most Helpful Post

It's not often you get to explain to people how things are in what is a highly secretive and not well understood organisation, but I'm glad I was able to do so in my post describing my experiences during my time at Foxconn ("Trouble In Foxconn's Forbidden City"). Even now I get asked a lot of questions about my time there, many of them along the lines of how I could have worked for such a company - this post is about as good an answer as I can muster.

5. The Post Whose Success Most Surprised Me

I could say my post on cat-fighting Thai air-hostesses, but thinking about it, that's not all that surprising. Instead, I'll go with this post on China's somewhat uneasy relations with Gaddafi's Libya, which got a lot of traffic from people wanting to find out more about this complex issue at a time when there were less posts on this than there are now.

6. The Post Which I felt Didn't Get The Attention It Deserved

This post on Cuba following China's path - essentially I was trying to do the same thing I had done with China and Libya, but the reading public just didn't want to know. A pity, since, once I had had a look at the stats it seemed that the general meme of Cuba as a failing economy compared to China was not the entire picture - for starters, Cuba is richer in per-capita terms than China by about 50%. Ah well, can't win 'em all.

7. The Post That I am Most Proud Of

That would have to be this 2009 post on the situation in Xinjiang which I wrote whilst I was covering for Matt Steinglass on his old blog whilst he was on holiday. It's not that I think there's anything particularly fantastic about this post, but it, and a few of the other pieces I wrote back then, were quoted on Andrew Sullivan's blog. Since Sully was and is something of a role-model to myself and many other bloggers, this was a bit of a proud moment for me.

And now my five nominees:

1. Just Recently, big supporter of this blog, and a fellow ex-expat China-watcher.

2. Qing-era historian Jeremiah Jenne of Jottings From The Granite Studio. At least when he gets back from his summer holidays (bloody academics!).

3. Former Nanjinger and nowadays poetry/arts writer David Horton, of Union Herald.

4. Wukailong and Steve of Pacific Rim Shots. I know it's a bit early, but since there's two of you I'm sure you can come up with something. If I have any complaint about your blog, it's that you're both far, far too nice and reasonable!

5. And, in a vain effort to prevent this list turning into a total sausage-fest, I'd like to nominate travel-writer and Hong-Konger Joyce Lau of Joyceyland.

Obviously no pressure on any of you, it's all voluntary, but I look forward to seeing what you guys come up with.

Friday, 12 August 2011

David Cameron isn't going to censor Twitter



. . . not least because there is a whole grab-bag of national and European human rights legislation which would prevent such an incredibly counter-productive move, not to mention the centuries of British tradition of respect for free speech which would be set at nought by it. However, this statement is simply propaganda gold-dust for every corrupt, repressive, and dictatorial regime in the world:

" . . we are working with the police, the intelligence services and industry to look at whether it would be right to stop people communicating via these websites and services when we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality."


Here's Xinhua crowing:

"We may wonder why western leaders, on the one hand, tend to indiscriminately accuse other nations of monitoring, but on the other take for granted their steps to monitor and control the Internet.

They are not interested in learning what content those nations are monitoring, let alone their varied national conditions or their different development stages.

Laying undue emphasis on Internet freedom, the western leaders become prejudiced against those "other than us," stand ready to put them in the dock and attempt to stir up their internal conflicts."


Meanwhile, the police, who the majority of British people rightly credit for developing - somewhat tardily - the tactics necessary to quell the riots, are showing us exactly why it would be both wrong and counter-productive to block social networking sites in such circumstances. From the Greater Manchester Police's Twitter feed:



And this man is far from the only looter caught via social media. The police have been posting tweet after tweet throughout the day about arrests carried out based on information obtained by the public through photos on Flickr, through bragging on Twitter feeds and Facebook, and through other web-available sources such as Craigslist and eBay. Unlike mobile phone calls, communication by text, even through encrypted networks, leaves an electronic paper trail which police can later use as evidence. No snooping or espionage is needed to do this - all of this information was either posted openly on the internet, or was provided by members of the public with access to it.

It is hard to believe that the majority of this information would have been entrusted with the police if it had firstly not been possible to upload it, and secondly, the police were seen as being in the position of censoring the media. I no more credit David Cameron's suggestion that censorship or restriction of access might be considered, than I do his various other tough-man poses regarding the use of water cannon (dismissed by the police as unsuitable) and plastic bullets (always issued in riot conditions, but only for use in the most extreme conditions).

[Picture: Social networking of a different kind - notes posted on the smashed windows of a shop in Clapham Junction as 300 volunteer "Riot Wombles" worked to clear up the mess left behind by the looters. Picture taken by Tom Goold, a former colleague of mine in Japan, on his way back from work on Wednesday evening.]

Thursday, 11 August 2011

"I don't believe in society"



. . . why is "Because I can" a sufficient motivation?

I guess you could restate "Not believing in society" in such numerous ways with enough leeway in the interpretation that it could be seen as in some way fundamental to the answer. I don't believe in society, I don't believe in consequences, I don't believe I can succeed, I don't believe in authority, I don't believe I will ever afford these trainers, I don't believe you will ever help me, I don't believe I can be stopped - all of these are a part of saying "I don't believe in society". Without that belief, society does not function effectively.

Lacking the belief in these things, simply being able to riot becomes motivation enough . . .


My brother, over Facebook today.

PS - I'd appreciate if y'all would leave a comment or three over at my bro's place when he finally posts the piece he's doing on the riots. The above is his sentiment, and I think it's a good one.

[Picture: A burnt-out car on Clarence road, Hackney, London, uploaded by Flickr user StolenGolem, via Wikipedia]

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

The Rioters


From a Sydenham youth worker:

"When we saw my boyfriend’s bike being stolen by two hooded monsters, we ran out to get in back. I saw the youth in their faces, and shouted ‘stop I’m a youth worker!’ After some reasoning he gave the bike back. My boyfriend walked back to re-chain to our friend’s bike, but I remained. I couldn’t just let them go without asking why? He told me ‘what man, I gave the bike back?’. I replied, ‘I don’t care about the bike. It’s just a bike. I care about you. What about you? What are you good at?’ He looked at me, his smaller friend silent the whole time. ‘What are you good at!’ I yelled. ‘Nothing’. Tears pricked my eyes. Familiar tears. The ones I leave the classroom sometimes to have in the toilet. ‘Don’t say that. Don’t say nothing.’ He had no words for me. ‘You’re better than this. You’re better than being a thief.’ He was silent. What he didn’t do was run away or get angry. He didn’t pull out whatever it was he cut the bike lock with and he didn’t jab it in me. He simply looked at me, without any answers."


In the short term, the present strategy of flooding the streets of London with 16,000 police officers, enforcing the law throughout the city, and avoiding the use of any of the heavy-handed methods moronically being suggested by certain people within the media seems the best way forward. In the long term, policing in London needs to change to better avoid the antagonism that is well known to anyone living in London's poorer areas, and whilst I don't believe that more spending can be the answer, some solution must be found for the violent and crime-ridden lives of Britain's urban youth.

[Picture: Riot police in Walworth Road, Elephant and Castle, London, taken by Flickr user hozinja, via Wikipedia]

Monday, 8 August 2011

London's Burning



There are times when the expat may be given to feel that he or she no longer understands his or her country of birth. This is certainly how I've felt watching the news of the riots in London (and, now, other cities) over the past few days, although none of the people I know in London seem to understand them either.

My confusion on this is not for lack of knowledge of potential causes. The police reports about the shooting that sparked these riots seem very dubious and certainly worth investigating. Anyone who has seen the way in which certain members of the Metropolitan Police are given to harassing young men walking through certain areas in the city of London in the hope of getting an easy arrest will understand the extreme anger towards the police among youth in the city. Whilst I think it's rather early to be blaming the policies of the present government for this, the closure of youth clubs in many areas of the city cannot have helped.

However, the violence, which now seems to be growing to a scale larger than those of the riots of the early 80's, if not the same intensity, appears not,now at least, to be aimed either at the police or the government. Instead, it appears to consist merely of opportunistic arson and looting. The victims appear to be those living in the same neighbourhoods as the rioters. Whilst the initial riot was sparked by anger in the black community over a police shooting, the rioters now appear not to be of any particular background other than poor and disaffected.

[Video: A woman remonstrates with local youths in Hackney, via my good friend The Writing Baron]

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Global Times readers respond to the bombing and shootings in Norway

"唯恐中国不乱的国家!这人牛!应该颁发诺贝尔奖!"
"A country which is afraid of China's chaos [i.e., accuses China of being chaotic]! This person [the gunman] is excellent! Must give him a Nobel Prize!"

"滥发和平奖的恶果!"
"the result of spamming people with peace prizes!"

"相关部门应该好好反省一下"
"The relevant government departments should reflect deeply [apparently a reference to the Norwegian government's responsibility]"

“诺奖”颁错人,受天谴!"
"Awarded the Nobel Prize to the wrong person and received heaven's punishment!"

"强烈谴责一切形式的恐怖主义!
同时也强烈呼吁挪威人民和当局不要判安德斯死刑!!
否则就是侵犯人权!!!"
"I strongly condemn all terrorism! At the same time, I call on the Norwegian government and people not to execute Anders [the man accused of being the gunman]!! Otherwise they will violate human rights!!!"

"北约是制造这场恐怖袭击事件的真正元凶!"
"NATO is the real culprit of this terrorist attack!"

"以美国为首的西方世界应该深刻反省啦!"
"The US-led western world should reflect deeply on this!"

"哈哈 烤鸽子肉 哈哈"
"Ha Ha!, Roast dove meat! Ha Ha!"

"有本事就把奥巴马处理掉,哪才是疯狗!"
"They were able to give it [i.e., the Nobel Prize] to Obama. They really are mad dogs!"

"西方国家应该反省自己。自高自大的人不会注意自己的鼻涕流下来了"
"Western countries should reflect on their actions. Arrogant people cannot see their own snot hanging out."


And that was just the first ten comments I saw on the Huanqiu website when I opened it that weren't smilies.

Yes, it's the easiest trick in the book. When something terrible happens in a democratic country, just translate the comments about it on the Global Times (a government-owned newspaper famous for its ultra-nationalism), and hey-presto you have an instant post on government-encouraged cyber-nationalism in China, because the comments there will always be overwhelmingly devoted to gloating. Is it fair to do this? I don't know, but the comments by themselves are bad enough and worth translating for that reason.

True, the comments on Huanqiu are not representative of the entire Chinese internet (although if you look at Sina Weibo at the moment you will see more than a few similar comments) and, as certain People's Daily columnists have reminded us, the Chinese internet is not representative of the nation as a whole. However, what matters is that, whilst controls on discussing sensitive subjects like Tibet, Tiananmen, or Taiwan are very strict, discussion which goes in a direction which the government approves of (i.e., hatred of the country where the panel which awards the Nobel prize is hosted) is given free rein.

[UPDATE: as an example of what kind of discussion IS censored, see this excellent post on the high-speed railway accident at China Geeks]

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Jiang Zemin Is Dead

And if the News of the World phone-hacking story weren't enough, Hong Kong news is reporting that Jiang Zemin has died of illness, something unreported up to now. Here's a screen grab:



Here's a link to the above picture.

Although there have been false announcments that Jiang Zemin has died before, this one has the look of truth. Jiang has cut a rather pathetic figure in recent years, with his Shanghai-based coterie losing out in the contest with the Hu/Wen and their supporters, and his previously lauded leadership becoming the object of veiled criticism from many angles, but this still does come as a little bit of a shock.

As for the effect this will have on the upcoming change in leadership, my answer is: none. Jiang was already fairly marginalised and had little influence on the outcome.

I'll post more thoughts latter if and when this is properly confirmed.

[EDIT: Question - Assuming that this news is confirmed, has release of this news been delayed so as not to cast a pall over the CCP's 90th anniversary celebrations, at which Jiang was a notable no-show?]

[UPDATE: Xinhua has released an official denial. Whilst I was originally inclined to believe the initial ATV report, I now don't know what to believe. Jiang is most likely gravely ill at the very least, but besides that, nothing is known.

For anyone wondering when the last time Jiang was seen in public was, the Guardian has the answer: October 2009 at the PRC's 60th anniversary parade, and then again last year in Sichuan closely followed by medical professionals.
]

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

A Flock Of Vampires

The tabloid newspapers in my home country are infamous for their daring, and often morally dubious reportage. Each time scandals about journalistic malpractice among the tabloids has occurred, this has brought calls for tighter controls. My instinct is always to dismiss these calls, not least because such controls will not only prevent the reporting of tittle-tattle, but also of important matters the reporting of which is in the public interest.

When the News of The World phone-hacking scandal first broke, I don't think too many people were too surprised. People are used to hearing of tabloid journalists bending the rules and even breaking the law in order to get a scoop. Even when it became known that people working for the News of the World (a News International publication) had at one point or another had been tapping the phones of most of the British cultural and political establishment, including the Prime Minister, this did not really register with the majority of readers.

However, the latest revelation that people working for the News of the World not only hacked into the voice mail account of Milly Dowler, a school girl who had gone missing, so they could record the distressed messages left by the girl's friends and family, but also deleted the messages of distress from the girl's friends and family which had filled the voice mail in-box so that more could be recorded to be used in their reporting. The girl's family were thus falsely given hope that she might still be alive, hope that was cruelly dashed when she was discovered to have been raped and murdered by a serial killer.

It is hard, after reading this, to view the staff of the News of the World involved in this affair as anything more than a criminal gang at best, and at worst as a ghoulish flock of vampires feasting on the woes of the vulnerable. Perhaps equally shocking is the failure of the authorities to have secured, other than the conviction of the private investigator who carried out the phone-taps, more than the conviction of the Royal correspondent whose too-accurate stories on Prince William helped unravel this conspiracy in the first place. This despite police reportedly being aware of being bugged at the time of the investigation into Milly Dowler's disappearance in 2002. This also despite News of the World journalists including details of Milly Dowler's voice-mail that could only have been obtained through hacking in their reporting on the case.

Equally as hard to credit is the denials of any knowledge of the phone-tapping coming from the News of the World's editorial team at the time, which in 2002 was headed by Rebekah Brooks, who went on to head up The Sun. At the very least, a chief editor who not only doesn't know that her staff are engaged in a phone-hacking campaign that must - judging by the sheer volume of taps required - have cost at least a six-figure sum to set up, or that hacked information is being included in the reporting carried in their paper, has shown very poor leadership indeed.

Back in 2002 I was living in Taiwan and marvelling over the Chu Mei-feng sex VCD scandal, where Scoop, a weekly magazine, published a illicitly filmed video showing Chu Meifeng, a minor official, having sex with a married man in a VCD carried, on their front cover. One thing I was sure of then - that kind of thing could only happen in Taiwan. Little did I know that at the same time a newspaper in the UK was doing something at least as bad, if not far worse.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

"There are no independent candidates"



Since 1978 the CCP has been toying with so-called "village elections", an experiment in a highly limited form of grassroots democracy in the people's republic. During this time, small numbers of independent candidates have been elected to various positions, like Wang Liang, who was elected to the grassroots legislature in Shenzhen.

Earlier this year it was announced that this was also going to be rolled out to include direct elections to the local People's Congress's across the country, and as a result many candidates put themselves forward for election. The most prominent story was that of Liu Ping, whose candidature was touted as an alternative to direct petitioning of the government.

I personally speculated that this might be the emergence of movement on the mainland similar to the Dangwai movement of independent candidates during the martial law period in Taiwan, whose members included Shi Mingde and Annette Lu (pictured above second and third from the right). This movement played an important part in the transition to democracy on the island.

However, it seems that the CCP have also read their history books. From today's Taipei Times:

"China told citizens yesterday not to run for local legislatures as independents, tightening reins on activists who have sought to challenge the Chinese Communist Party’s grip on grassroots government.

The warning, which came from an unnamed official of the party-controlled National People’s Congress (NPC), was in response to a small but spreading online campaign by dozens who hope to fight for seats on local legislatures with no endorsement from the party.

It was another sign that party leaders want tight political controls as they ready for a succession next year from President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) to his presumed heir, Vice President Xi Jinping (習近平).

“There are no so-called ‘independent candidates,’ and there is no legal basis for ‘independent candidates,’” said the NPC official as quoted in the People’s Daily, the party’s main newspaper."


So all those years in which independent candidates were being elected, this was in fact illegal? This would at least be the natural conclusion to be drawn from the statements of the unidentified member of the NPC, China's highest state body and legislature, quoted in the People's Daily, a newspaper which refers to itself as "the party's mouthpiece".

I am given to agreeing that this is a sign of the influence of the new generation of leadership. It does not bode well for the future.

[Picture: The Kaohsiung Eight under arrest. Picture via Wikipedia]

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Whilst Britain temporarily abandon's fixed wing carriers, the PRC finally acknowledges that it is building one



It is hard to remember the days when doubts surrounded what the eventual fate of the ex-Soviet aircraft Varyag would be. Back in early 2005, the extent of what any of the nerds who love to speculate on such things (in which I include myself) knew was that it had been bought, moved to Dalian, and that the promised casino/tourist attraction had not yet materialised. Over the intervening years it has steadily become more and more apparent that it was being made ready for service with the PLAN, although this was never officially confirmed.

Now, the Chinese government has finally admitted what we were all 99.99% sure of anyway - that it is being made ready as an aircraft carrier, and will enter service some time in the near future. Whilst those who previously characterised aircraft carriers as exclusively the tool of 'imperialist' and 'hegemonic' nations (trans: America and anyone else we don't like) may be mollified by the announcement that it would "definitely not sail to other countries' territorial waters", others may be concerned at the growing might that this carrier represents.

However, the simple fact is that if people are worried about this, they shouldn't be, at least not in the short term. Even if, as is expected, this ship is launched either late this year or next year, it will be a few years until it will be ready for active service, and probably more until the battle group required to escort it and sustain it is ready. Even then, its combat power is likely to be less than that of the major aircraft carriers to be found elsewhere in the world, such as France's Charles De Gaulle.

Beyond even this, even if the potential of this carrier were equal to that of the much bigger carriers owned by the US Navy, the US Navy has far more of them in the Pacific region than the PLAN is likely to have any time in the next ten years. As US Defence Secretary Robert Gates has said:

"The U.S. operates 11 large carriers, all nuclear powered. In terms of size and striking power, no other country has even one comparable ship. The U.S. Navy has 10 large-deck amphibious ships that can operate as sea bases for helicopters and vertical-takeoff jets. No other navy has more than three, and all of those navies belong to pur allies or friends. Our Navy can carry twice as many aircraft at sea as all the rest of the world combined."


All the same, as a Brit, it is hard not to draw the contrast between the state of the PLAN and that of the Royal Navy. This announcement comes just as the Royal Navy enters an interlude between the old Invincible class going out of service and the new, substantially more powerful Queen Elizabeth-class coming into service.

[Picture: The ex-Soviet aircraft carrier Varyag is towed into Dalian harbour in 2005. Via Wikicommons]

China drops Gaddafi

The CCP government never had much reason to be fond of him, they did not oppose Resolution 1973 authorising the use of force against the Gaddafi regime, and they voted for Resolution 1970 referring his government to the International Criminal Court. All the same, it is a little surprising that the PRC should agree to meet with the representatives of Libya's "rebellious provinces" before they have properly taken control of the entire country.

This is especially true in view of the PRC's intransigence elsewhere. China refused to recognise India's peaceful and consensual 1975 absorption of Sikkim until 2003, even insisting that Chinese maps should portray the country as still being independent years after it was voted out of existence by its own people.

Here's how Xinhua described the meeting:

""Chinese ambassador to Qatar Zhang Zhiliang has recently met with Chairman of the Libya's National Transitional Council (NTC) Jalil and the two sides exchanged views on the Libyan situation," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said when responding to a question from the press.

"China's position on the Libyan situation is clear, that is, we expect the Libyan crisis can be solved through political means and believe that Libya's future should be decided by its own people," Hong said."


Could this future now include the National Transitional Council taking power in some form? The answer, at least in the view of the Chinese government, would appear to be yes, and it is taking steps in this direction. It would also appear that meeting with the leader of an internal rebellion is not quite the crime PRC leaders make it out to be, at least when other countries are concerned.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

China, Pakistan, and reverse engineering the stealth helicopter


An interesting fact that has emerged from last week's mission to kill Osama Bin Laden is that the US reportedly used a 'stealthed' version of its Blackhawk helicopter to avoid detection whilst carrying out the operation. This, of course, became known only as a result of one of the helicopters being destroyed during the raid, and fragments of it and the special coating used to baffle radar detection are now in Pakistani hands.

Of course, it may well be that Pakistan simply hands these fragments back to the US, but given past Chinese efforts to reverse engineer US stealth technology, of which I heard evidence first hand, it also seems very possible that some of this material will end up going to China. However, logically speaking, for reverse engineering to have been taking place in 2003, samples of earlier examples of this technology must already be in Chinese hands - perhaps as a result of the shooting down of an F-117 during the Kosovo campaign. It therefore seems that at worst this will give access to newer versions of the same technology.

[Picture: The canopy, ejector seat, helmet, and survival gear recovered from the crash-site of F-117A AF ser. no. 82-0806 "Something Wicked", shot down over Yugoslavia on the 27th of March 1999, on display in the Museum of Aviation, Belgrade. Via Wikicommons]

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Osama Bin Laden - consumerism junkie


This post over at my brother's place is all kinds of awesome. Money quote:

"A martyr must live a life consistent with at least his own beliefs. OBL wasn't consistent at all.

With one side of his mouth he damned the imperialist, capitalist devil infidels of the west; with the other he chugged Pepsi and Coke and chowed down on Chunky Kit-Kats ("truly a confection fit for Allah himself" he might have mumbled to himself, wiping the biscuit crumbs from his lap and washing it down with some Diet Coke: "Nothing like the real thing". He smiles to himself and leans back, before returning to his Playstation 2). "


I had even thought about it until this had been pointed out, but in its own way, this seems to reveal be the same kind of blazing hypocrisy as was seen in the 9/11 hijackers after it became known that they spent their few days on this Earth getting drunk and partying with strippers. Again and again, zealots turn out to be the very thing they attack.

[Picture: A can of Stars and Stripes Cola. Via Wikicommons]

Monday, 2 May 2011

No tears for Bin Laden . . . . .

. . . . but you have to ask, beyond the obvious meting out of rough but deserved justice to a man responsible for the death of thousands of innocent people, does this matter as much as it might have in '02, when we were still afraid of another attack like that carried out on the World Trade Centre? Given that little has been seen of him in recent years, is he really still a prominent figure in Al-Qaeda, or has he been little more than a figurehead for some years now?

Captured alive he might have given some evidence to debunk some of the conspiracy theories which have been widely disseminated since almost immediately after the 11th of September, 2001. However, since every one of these theories that I am aware of has already been thoroughly debunked, this matters less than it might. Indeed, it seems inevitable now that conspiracy theorists will fix on the details of this operation as yet more 'proof' that the 2001 attacks were an inside job.

It also might have been nice to put him on trial. However, since it is now the policy of the US government to try terrorist suspects captured in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and elsewhere before secret military tribunals, much of the impact that might have come from a Nuremburg-like trial would have been dissipated. In fact it would have probably served only to highlight the violations of the human rights at the hands of the US government of those held in Guantanamo and elsewhere.

According to the information that has come out about the taking of hostages by Bin Laden's men during the operation, it does appear that the operation was supposed to capture him alive. However, it is unlikely that any of the people involved in planning the operation will be too sorry that he died as a result of it.