Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Whatever happened to "internal democracy"?

I was just reading through the comments on the Guardian website under their article covering the latest speech of Ed Milliband, Labour party leader, when a comment caught my eye. The speech itself was described in the article as 'audacious' - a word which in the Grauniad's thesaurus appears to sit next to 'intellectually bankrupt' and 'inane' - but the comment was a quote from Ed Milliband's father, Ralph, the ever-wrong and ever-intelligent Marxist intellectual:

It is however one form of expression of a much more general aspiration, which has held generation after generation of socialists in its thrall, and which consists in the hope of ‘capturing’ the Labour Party for the adoption and the carrying out of socialist policies. The point is not here that this is an illusion but rather that it is the obverse phenomenon which has very commonly occurred, namely the ‘capturing’ of the militants by the Labour Party. This is not only true at the parliamentary level, though it is there that it has been most obviously true. But it has also occurred at the grassroots: people on the left who have set out with the intention of transforming the Labour Party have more often than not ended up being transformed by it, in the sense that they have been caught up in its rituals and rhythms, in ineffectual resolution-mongering exercises, in the resigned habituation to the unacceptable, even in the cynical acceptance and even expectation of betrayal.
As a description of how not only the Labour party but any party (including the Chinese Communist Party) can divert the intentions of those joining to serve the ends of its leadership this is hard to better. This quote from the same article is also worth reading from the point of view of an observer of Chinese affairs, even if it is about a different party in another country:

The reason for this lack of serious debate [within the British Communist Party] is very simple. It has to do with the fact that the Communist Party is an exceedingly managed party, in which the leadership is well able to reduce the scope and extent of debate; and to do so in the name of a ‘democratic centralism’ which is in fact a device for the oligarchic control of the leadership over its members. ..... The fact is that the democratic claims which the Communist Party regularly makes for its own internal organisation are a sham, save perhaps at the lower levels of the party. It has not yet begun to learn the meaning of the ‘inner-party democracy’ of which it boasts, and cannot do so as long as it continues to worship the sacred cows of ‘democratic centralism’ and the ‘ban on factions’.
This encapsulates the nature not only of decision-making within the British Communist Party (a group of crack-pot would-be revolutionaries now happily disbanded), but within any party which, like the Chinese Communist Party, makes decisions at the top without members lower down having any real say in matters. This lack of any real transparency in decision-making and meaningful involvement of party members makes a mockery of those who try to maintain that the CCP is 'not a monolith' (by which one assumes they meant that it is a party that accommodates divergent views, since all parties contain differing views if only unexpressed ones) and practices a kind of 'internal democracy'.

This is not to say that divergent views within the CCP, but when the leading proponent of one of two models ends up being expelled from the party and placed under arrest for crimes which it would be fair to suspect every senior politician in the People's Republic of committing, it is very unclear in what way the CCP is actually tolerant of differing opinions. The decision between whether Bo Xilai's Chongqing model and Wang Yang's Guangdong model was not made by democratic means, internal or external, but through the arrest and public shaming of Bo Xilai - 'internal democracy' had no part in this. 

Edit: Imagine for a moment if Barrack Obama's father had written the following . . .

"The Englishman is a rabid nationalist. They are perhaps the most nationalist people in the world...When you hear the English talk of this war [i.e., WW2] you sometimes almost want them to lose it to show them how things are."
 . . . and you will see the difference between British and US politics plainly.

Friday, 28 September 2012

The Hong Kong Backlash

Much has been written elsewhere about the whole kerfuffle surrounding the ham-fisted attempt to insititute a once-a-week moral and national education (MNE - AKA civics) classes in Hong Kong's schools that some suspected of being aimed at brainwashing Hong Kong's youth into accepting a CCP-friendly world-view. On paper, at least, the proposals actually left the schools free to decide on content, and the nature of this kind of education is such that it's hard to believe that that many people would have been won over by it even if it was just as bad as its critics made it out to be. It is, however, correct to say that MNE grew to represent something more than a mere once-a-week time-waste, as the excellent Big Lychee blog points out:

"Hong Kong is experiencing a backlash against attempts to turn it into something it isn’t. The government can’t admit that a secret but ham-fisted policy of Mainlandization was launched, let alone promise that it will now be suspended as counterproductive. It can’t (apparently) drastically reduce the number of Mainland visitors or bar them meaningfully from buying second homes here. It can’t even officially admit that National Education is completely over and done with and has ceased to exist. It can’t do much else because its own citizens won’t let it."
Exactly. This is the reason why you see people too young to remember the 1997 hand-over marching through the streets of the territory carrying the old colonial-era Hong Kong flag. Not because they seriously want to be returned to the UK, or even because the majority of them would like outright independence, but because they see the Hong Kong that exists right now, the one that came about under the old flag, as one under attack from the authorities whose flag now flies at government buildings in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong is unique in being a quasi-city-state that is Chinese but not altogether part of China. The Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984 is explicit in this status having an end-date in 2047, when full unification with the mainland is due to occur. The current government of Hong Kong is tasked with acheiving this union, a union which, since the Chinese mainland has not reformed in any meaningful way politically since the 90's, and is governed by a party apparently committed to avoiding reform, requires that Hong Kong become like the mainland. This the people of Hong Kong do not appear willing to accept.

There is, of course, another deadline in play in Hong Kong affairs - the 2017 deadline for the introduction of universal suffrage. What chance is there now of this commitment coming about if the Hong Kong electorate continues to vote as it did in this year's LegCo elections? It is very hard not to think that the Chinese government will never accept a Hong Kong Chief Executive who is not their creature. 2017 therefore appears to be a date at which problems are already very much forseeable.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

A note on what may be considered 'subversion'

A long time ago I had a long-running discussion with some of the people who run the Hidden Harmonies website on whether Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo's conviction for subversion showed that the mere writing and publishing of articles on the internet alone was considered subversion in China. The discussion ended, as always on that den of crazed nationalists, with them maintaining the position most favourable to the Chinese government (that Liu Xiaobo's real crime was spying even though he was never charged with that, nor any proof of spying other than innuendo offered at the trial) in defiance of the evidence of their own eyes.

It is therefore with no satisfaction or surprise that, following a link from JR's blog, I read the indictment of Chen Pingfu, a man whose crime was described thus:

"The Gaolan County Public Security Bureau has concluded its investigation of this case. The Gaolan County People’s Procuratorate submitted his case to the Lanzhou Municipal People’s Procuratorate for examination and review for indictment. The examination conducted according to law has found that:
Between July 2007 and March 2012, the defendant Chen Pingfu registered blogs or microblogs under the name “Chen Pingfu” on NetEase, Baidu, Sohu, Mtime.com, Sina, Tianya, and other websites where he published or reposted 34 articles including [list of blog post titles]. In these articles he expressed such inflammatory views as that Marxism, Leninism, Mao Zedong Thoughts, Deng Xiaoping Theory, Three Represents, and Scientific Development have no benefit for the society and the people; that the Communist Party rule knows only to push ordinary people around and not let them make a living; that the current system is not democratic enough, and that democracy and constitutionalism should be implemented.
The aforementioned facts of crime are proven by documentary evidence, material evidence, and the defendant’s statements."

Whilst Chen Pingfu's sentence is still yet to be announced, it is clear that, at least according to the Gaolan County People’s Procuratorate, the mere writing of articles critical of the Chinese government is subversion. Chen's 'crimes' consist of writing and publishing articles saying no more than what 95%+ of the Chinese people think in private: that communism is nonsense and the current system of governance is essentially dictatorial. No other offence is mentioned.

I do not expect the people at Hidden Harmonies to acknowledge that Liu Xiaobo went to prison merely for criticising the government publicly, nor do I expect that they would admit that this is what Chen went to prison for when, as will certainly be the case, he is eventually convicted for the same 'crime'. Experience has shown that  there is literally no distortion that hard-line nationalists are incapable of swallowing, nor any incontrovertible truth that they are incapable of denying. However, thinking people should bear in mind that China still is a country where mere criticism of those in power is a crime.

The very simple reason why the EU arms embargo on China is going nowhere

As an example of the political differences between the countries that make up the EU and the government of the People's Republic of  China, you couldn't do much better than the cancellation of the press conference due to be held today at the end of the latest round of EU-PRC trade talks. At least according to the BBC, it seems that the Chinese side refused to attend unless they could hand-pick the journalists allowed to attend. This, if true, indicates the degree to which China's government would like to avoid answering questions now or ever about the present political problems besetting the People's Republic, or about the economic statistics announced today which have even me believing that we are now seeing a significant slow-down in the PRC's economic growth (along with the rest of the world).

Another reason, of course, why the PRC's representatives at the talk would have wished to avoid having to answer (or not answer) questions from journalists that they did not pre-approve is that the talks were a wash for them. On the two big issues that the PRC government had wanted to see concessions on - the EU arms embargo and recognition by the EU as a fully-fledged market economy - the EU's representatives have remained adamant.

Naturally Wen Jiabao will not recognise the root cause of this intransigence. Despite what officials in Beijing might say, it is neither due to a 'cold war mentality' nor is it based on 'prejudice'. It's root cause is very simple: the People's Republic of China is not a democracy. It is a totalitarian state which, in as much as it has allies, has aligned itself with countries antagonistic to the interests of Europe's democracies, such as the Assad regime and North Korea. It is an autocracy that directly threatens democratic neighbours in Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, and elsewhere with military force.

Not only is China undemocratic, but it is an undemocratic state where selective application of a range of laws that can make doing business in China twice as expensive for foreign companies as it is for local ones. This may be either by accident or by design, but in neither case does it deserve recognition as a full market economy.

In the late 1970's the governments of both the states of Europe and the United States were willing to make a deal with the devil. They judged, perhaps correctly, that they had more to gain in supporting the PRC's development as a military power on the southern flank of the country which most directly threatened them - the USSR - than they did in supporting a totalitarian state emerging from the turmoil of the Cultural Revolution.

By 1989, however, this had changed. It was not the cold war which was nearing its end that prompted the sanctions in 1989, nor was it prejudice against the Chinese people to whom Europe and America had previously sold weapons. Instead the USSR's hold on Central and Eastern Europe had crumbled, and, much more pressingly, the true nature of the Chinese Communist Party's rule had been made clear in the blood-bath of Tiananmen Square.

The situation has not changed. Selling arms to the PRC whilst it remains in the hands of people willing to turn heavy weapons on their own citizens, who target the free society across the Taiwan strait with more than a thousand surface-to-surface missiles, who censor opinions and arbitrarily arrest, detain, and torture their critics and their families, would be selling them the rope with which to hang ourselves and our friends.

[Picture: A monument to the innocent dead of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, Wroclaw, Poland. Via Wiki]

Monday, 17 September 2012

The Third Sino-Japanese War (and why it's not going to happen)

So by now you've probably seen the pictures of nationalist demonstrators in mainland China looting Japan-linked businesses and burning Japanese-branded cars. Whilst the anger of the demonstrators is obvious and extreme, for anyone who's observed China for any significant length of time, the suggestions seen in various places that this might drive China's leadership into a war with Japan seems very wide of the mark for the following reasons:

    This does in fact fit a long running pattern for such demonstrations, running through the 2005 anti-Japan demonstrations, then the 2001 anti-US demonstrations, right back to the demonstrations sparked by the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999. Just as is described in this eyewitness account, the demos in Beijing in all cases consisted of demonstrators being marched past the offending embassy in groups of a few hundred, venting their rage, and then being hustled onward by the Chinese police. Elsewhere, depending on the attitude taken by the local authorities, the demonstrators have been allowed to burn and smash properties, but nowhere will they be permitted to threaten the government.
  • There is nothing to fight for. The islands themselves are of little or no value and are incapable of sustaining significant numbers of inhabitants. Depending on who you believe they either have very little fresh water, or a very small stream, or just enough to sustain up to two hundred people, but no more. A garrison left on the islands in their current state would be totally dependent on supplies coming in by sea or by helicopter (there is insufficient room for an airstrip), would be exposed to the elements, and would be sitting ducks for any ships or aircraft in the area. Any attempt to develop or fortify the islands to the point where a garrison might stay there for a prolonged period of time would be seen months ahead of time by the other side.  
    Of course, the real prize in holding the islands is the gas and oil under the seabed surrounding the islands, but this would be impossible for one side to develop safely without the agreement of the other side. As Iran found out in the eighties, an oil platform is just a big floating target if someone wishes to attack it. Occupying the islands would do exactly nothing to change this, nor could either side genuinely hope to exclude the other from the air and sea around the islands on a permanent basis given the area that would have to be covered. Whichever country used force to permanently exclude the other from the area and develop the oil and gas resources themselves would be vulnerable to attacks on infrastructure similar to those launched by both sides in the 1967-70 Israeli-Egyptian war of attrition
China's leaders neither have a realistic reason to believe that their country would gain economically from war with Japan, nor are they in a position where they might have to declare war because of pressure from a nationalistic public. Instead, as Jeremiah Jenne points out, this sudden out burst of government-directed anger against Japan is most likely an attempt at distraction from the CCP's current problems surrounding this year's transition of leadership in Beijing. Put simply, in observing Chinese political affairs you should never forget which hand holds the whip.

[Picture: An Iranian oil platform blazes in the aftermath of Operation Nimble Archer, 1987. via Wiki]

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Nehru on the Sino-Japanese dispute

Actually, the following quote (taken from India's China War by Neville Maxwell) is the then-Indian prime minister talking in early September 1959 about the Sino-Indian border dispute, but it adds up to much the same thing:

"Now, it is a question of fact of whether this village or that village or this little strip of territory is on their side or our side. Normally, wherever these are relatively petty disputes, well, it does seem rather absurd for two great countries . . . immediately to rush at each other's  throats to decide whether two miles of territory are on this side or on that side, and especially two miles of territory in the high mountains, where no-one lives.
But where national prestige and dignity is involved, it is not two miles of territory, it is the nation's dignity and self-respect that is involved. And therefore this happens."

 "This" was a violent border clash, one of many leading up to the 1962 war.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Doesn't everyone know who Neil Armstong is?

One of the biggest surprises I had during my time in China came during my first year there when I taught English in Nanjing. I was giving a class of first year accountancy students a quiz as their final lesson of the term, and one of the questions was "Who was the first man on the moon?".

Collecting the results at the end I was surprised to find that no-one had even tried to answer it. The students weren't the best English-speakers in the school, but they certainly understood the question. I did wonder if they just didn't know the Roman-script version of his name, but none even attempted to write it in Chinese characters. In the end it appeared that no-one actually knew the answer to the question, a question that most British school children knew the answer to. My guess was just that Armstrong wasn't much of a hero in China - or was it something else?

Thursday, 16 August 2012

What Sun Yat-Sen has to tell us about the Assange case

Anyone following the case of Julian Assange, currently in hiding in the Ecuadorian embassy, will have found out that he has today been offered asylum by Ecuador.

Just like many people who have followed this case, I've gone from being sympathetic to Assange to being rather dubious of his version of events. Particularly the argument that he should not be extradited to Sweden because he may be extradited from there to the United States is deeply unconvincing, for the very simple reason that it would be much easier to just extradite him directly from the UK.

All the same, the idea that, in order to arrest him and execute his extradition to Ecuador, the UK government might revoke the diplomatic status of the Ecuadorian embassy is, frankly, about as misguided as it is possible to be. The effect of doing so would be to render any aid the UK's diplomatic missions abroad might lend to people in genuine need of shelter utterly ineffective. All the authorities in Beijing, Pyongyang, Tehran, Damascus, Havana, Minsk, or Caracas need do is point to the actions of the UK government in this case, close our embassy, and drag whoever it was that was misguided enough to place their trust in the UK off to a dismal fate.

Moreover, the name of Britain would be mud across the continent of South America and in much of the rest of the world. Political capital is already being made out of this case by the authorities in Quito.

The reasons why the law under which this revocation would be carried out was enacted go back to the killing of WPC Yvonne Fletcher (pictured above) by a gunman firing at demonstrators from the window of the Libyan embassy in London in 1984. In that incident, the siege of the embassy (and a counter-siege of the British embassy in Tripoli, as well as the taking hostage of British citizens in Libya) was eventually resolved by the government allowing the people responsible for WPC Fletcher's murder to leave the country, and then breaking off relations with Libya.

This suggests a clear course of action which appears the most advisable given the circumstances. Let Assange go to Ecuador. Let the tax-payers keep his bail-money. Let Ecuador then deal with the problems of sheltering this man just as France and Switzerland have dealt with the problems of sheltering Roman Polanski. Let the Swedish government, who have historically acknowledged either few or no obligations to the UK, priding themselves in their even-handed neutrality in all matters, make shift for themselves.

This option, though, seems to have been fore-closed by the British government's statement that they are prevented from doing so by a 'binding obligation' to Sweden. This, if it is genuinely the case, is very unfortunate.

If, due to European legislation, this approach is no longer open to the government, then a long, hard reassessment of the legislation that binds the hands of the UK government in this fashion is necessary. Most will be confused as to why exactly in 1984 it was possible, given the awful circumstances, to allow people wanted for the cold-blooded murder of a British police officer to leave the country whilst, today, it is impossible for someone wanted for questioning in another country to be allowed to go to a third one to avoid what has already become a diplomatic disaster.

It is, of course, possible that significant diplomatic pressure may be brought to bear on Ecuador to make the Ecuadorian authorities hand Assange over. This was, after all, what happened when, in very different circumstances, Sun Yat-Sen (pictured above, source here), future father of the Chinese revolution, but then just a doctor living in exile, was kidnapped and held at the Chinese embassy in London. Yet, the negative consequences of doing so are suggested by Sun's story. Here's how Marie-Claire Bergere described what happened:

"On 16 October 1896, Sun Yat-sen arose from praying in his guarded room at the Legation. He later wrote that he felt a calmness and hope that made him realise that his prayer was answered. He renewed his attempts to persuade an English porter, Cole, who brought his food, to take a message to his friend Dr Cantlie, and this time the porter agreed to do so. On receiving the news Dr Cantlie informed Scotland Yard and the Foreign Office, which took no relevant action. He then alerted The Times which waited to see what the Foreign Office would do. Aware of this, the Foreign Office began to pressure Macartney, warning that The Times was holding the story. Cantlie finally applied to an Old Bailey judge for a writ of habeas corpus against the Legation. The newspaper The Globe heard of this and broke the news of Sun's kidnapping on 22 October 1896. The next day all the London newspapers published the story. Soon angry Londoners and journalists surrounded the Chinese Legation clamouring for Sun's release. In the afternoon of 23 October Sun was freed. The following day he wrote a letter to The Times thanking its readers for their support, public spiritedness and love of justice. . . Sun's kidnapping made him famous and later facilitated his fund-raising activities around the world..."
Whilst some commentators may be surprised to learn that the "evil foreign media" once intervened to rescue the father of the Chinese revolution, the point to be learned for today's case is that there really doesn't seem to be any 'up' in this for the British government. A diplomatic battle between the UK and Ecuador ending in Assange being lead away in hand cuffs from the Ecuadorian embassy (if this may be acheived), will only result in even greater notoriety for Assange and even more diplomatic back-lash against Britain. 

Monday, 13 August 2012

Isn't China a superpower already?

So the London Olympics have finally closed down after 17 days of what I hope you will forgive me for saying, has been a rare, fantastic time to be British. Whilst the closing ceremony was exactly the trashy Eurovision-esque event that Danny Boyle's marvellous opening ceremony so delightfully turned out not to be, this was not even a smudge on the general feel-good of the performance of all the atheletes and volunteers which I enjoyed in the past two weeks, if only at a distance from my couch here in Poland.

It's also worth recognising how different the two positive aspects of these Olympics which depended least on the performance of the athletes would have been had it not been for the ground broken by the 2008 Beijing Olympics.  Volunteers have always been part of the Olympics, and the Olympic games has featured an expansive opening ceremony since the Moscow games in 1980, yet it was Beijing that set the bar to be met in both the enthusiasm and number of the volunteers supporting the games, and in the size and nature of the opening ceremony as a way of attempting to present a certain idea of the culture of the host city and country.

Pace Cohen, China may have problems developing "soft power", and a good part of this may be due to the government, but this does not mean that it does not have any. Sporting power is a form of soft power, and the Chinese athletes have shown in these Olympics, again, and this time without the home advantage, that, despite all the disadvantages facing athletes coming up in a huge and still largely poor country, they can be world-beating.

All of which makes me think that it is time to re-visit the ways in which China is often described: "the future superpower", "the rising superpower". It strikes me that these descriptions may have already had their day. China may still be rising, but it is very easy to argue that superpower status has been acheived.

Comparing the PRC to the US to decide whether it is a superpower is setting the standard too high. Whilst the US has been, or as we probably should start saying, was the sole superpower for quite some time, the USSR was also undoubtedly a superpower, yet the PRC has surpassed it in most metrics of 'power'.

In the field of soft power, government-friendly artists like Zhang Yimou and Lang Lang have a greater appeal world-wide than any Soviet government-sponsored artists that managed to stay in favour (Eisenstein? Shostakovich? Both paid the price for minor works of dissent). We need not compare Chinese films to those produced by Hollywood to see that it has already outstripped a super power in this field.

Economically speaking, the PRC surpassed even the most generous inflation-adjusted estimate for the USSR's final nominal GDP in approximately 2008. The maximum estimate of the USSR's per capita income in the final full year of its existence, roughly 15 thousand US dollars at 2010 prices - an estimate that may well be as much as double the real figure, will, at current growth rates, be exceeded by the PRC within the next 10-15 years. The PRC already has a larger economy than the country which, at least in the past, was often referred to as an economic super-power: Japan.

Militarily, the People's Republic does not yet approach the strength of the Soviet Union, with even its current, rapidly growing military spending still lagging behind the final official military budget of the USSR (222 billion US dollars at 2010 prices). Against this we must also place the fact that the USSR's military strength was paradoxically a weakness in that it was paid for through crippling high levels of spending, and the fact that China could afford these levels of expenditure now if she wanted. Just as importantly, China will almost certainly reach this level of spending within the next five years or so. China can already sustain a super-power military, and possesses nuclear weapons and aircraft carriers only to the extent that they are sources of power and not beyond that.

It is in the field of political power that China lags behind the furthest in the power stakes. Whilst we might expect the PRC's growing military might to attract allies, especially amongst former (present?) co-ideologists in Vietnam, the exact opposite has by-and-large been true. Little has been heard of recently about the formerly much-touted Shanghai Cooperation Organisation grouping of central Asian states of which both China and Russia are members. The history of the region is littered with international bodies which became little more than talking shops (SEATO, ASEAN, etc.) and it is tempting to think that the same has happened to the SCO. None of the myriad insurgencies being fought world-wide right now are trying to re-create the present Chinese system in their own country.

As I wrote a while back, China's socio-political model is not likely to ever be attractive to  people outside of China because it was essentially arrived through a series of disasters which no country would or could replicate. If China does have influence in the outside world it is usually as one of the few powerful countries willing to lend support to certain unpopular states (North Korea, Zimbabwe, Iran etc.) or as a country whose government is willing to exert influence to cancel orders if it is displeased by developments in a certain country. It is therefore in the political field that China is weakest, the only one in which it is still yet to achieve super-power status and, given the limitations of its present government, may never surpass even the USSR (whose system at least some in the outside world took seriously) whilst the CCP remains in power.

But whilst the political model of China does not threaten those of democratic countries, the opposite is not true. Democracy is still very attractive to the average Chinese person, not least for the very clear advantages it gives citizens who want to vote corrupt politicians out of power. It is this that explains the need the authorities to try to inoculate the population against the idea of democratic reform by spreading the twin myths that democracy is somehow un-Chinese or unsuited to China, and that those who do advocate democracy are traitors working against their country's interests.

It was with this dynamic in mind, the dynamic of a reasonably friendly competition between two superpowers, one of which is rather less endowed with confidence than the other, that I've been following the race for the top spot in the medal rankings between the US and China. Whilst the real answer for why the Americans in the end pulled ahead after days of see-sawing between themselves and the Chinese is the relative weakness of the Chinese team in the track-and-field events, the narrative grasped on by commentators in some corners is one of essentially racist bias against China.  In reality, of course, there is no evidence that Chinese athletes were the target of particularly bad decisions - in every incident listed except the gymnastics (where the decision, which appears to have been a bit unfair, meant Brazil receiving one of only three gold medals won during the tournament), other athletes went out in the same competitions for the same infractions. That this kind of complaining is actually likely to be interpreted by neutral observers as betraying a very un-super-power-like lack of confidence does not seem to occur to these commentators.

[Video: The beating of drums heralds the opening of the Beijing Olympic games, 2008]

Saturday, 28 July 2012

A Tale Of Two Torches

Last week, whilst on a visit back to the UK, I saw the Olympic torch relay go through my home town. My feelings were, to say the least, mixed.

The last time I had seen the Olympic torch, it was being hustled through the streets of London by members of the People's Armed Police under the eyes of angry demonstrators in the chilly April of 2008. This time round, however, things were quite different. The crowd that had gathered on Lancing village green despite the rain was there for the strict purposes of cheering the torch on its way to London.

Whilst I have never been entirely comfortable with flag-waving patriotism - there's something deeply un-British about it - I can't say I wasn't swayed by the enthusiasm. My young niece, clutching her Mandeville mascot, seemed to think the whole thing was totally marvellous. The story of Charlie White, the young lad who carried the torch for our stretch of the route, made it seem uncharitable to dwell on negative thoughts about the Olympics.

However, there are definitely things about the London Olympics which set people against them. Whilst these Olympics are, unlike the last games, not partly a PR exercise for a dictatorship, they have made some excessive impositions on the lives of British people.

The ridiculous VIP-only "Olympic Lanes" have sparked a lot of criticism for stopping Londoners from using the roads of their own city, even drawing comparisons to the the "ZiL Lanes" of the old Soviet Union. The over-zealous attitude of the Olympic authorities to protecting their brand has also caused concern. Above all the staggering cost of hosting the Olympics during a recession, and when it is far from certain how much of this money will end up in the pockets of the British tax-payer or create jobs in Britain, is highly controversial - although I should say that two members of my extended family are now working for LOCOG in different capacities. All these things give the impression that the IOC has become rather over-used to having its way whatever the cost or the inconvenience to the host nation.

However, people seem, at the very last minute, to have rallied around to support the Olympics. Much of this was thanks to Mitt Romney's rather ill-timed criticism and his tone-deaf behaviour during his visit to London. Danny Boyle's bizarre-but-magnificent open ceremony no doubt left foreign observers confused (the fireworks-display-to-Pink-Floyd section of it certain confused me - even if I enjoyed it as well), but for the average Brit it did manage to encapsulate the eccentricity that more than anything typifies the British character. The fact that dissenting voices have not been washed way, with people like Shami Chakrabarti and Doreen Lawrence featured prominently in the opening ceremony (their Chinese equivalents would be Xu Zhiyong and Ding Zilin), also underlines the difference between what London and the previous host city have to offer.

I myself have followed the same journey to a grudging acceptance and intention to enjoy the games. No doubt there will be cock-ups and bad weather, but then how else would we know that the games were being held in Britain?

[Video: BBC footage of Charlie White's torch run through Lancing]

Friday, 8 June 2012

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

The Expat

" . . .The majority were men who, like himself, thrown there by some accident, had remained as officers of country ships. They had now a horror of the home service, with its harder conditions, severer view of duty, and the hazard of stormy oceans. They were attuned to the eternal peace of Eastern sky and sea. They loved short passages, good deck-chairs, large native crews, and the distinction of being white. They shuddered at the thought of hard work, and led precariously easy lives, always on the verge of dismissal, always on the verge of engagement . . . They talked everlastingly of turns of luck: how So-and-so got charge of a boat on the coast of China — a soft thing; how this one had an easy billet in Japan somewhere, and that one was doing well in the Siamese navy; and in all they said — in their actions, in their looks, in their persons — could be detected the soft spot, the place of decay, the determination to lounge safely through existence. To Jim that gossiping crowd, viewed as seamen, seemed at first more unsubstantial than so many shadows. But at length he found a fascination in the sight of those men, in their appearance of doing so well on such a small allowance of danger and toil. In time, beside the original disdain there grew up slowly another sentiment . . . " - Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim
I had read Heart Of Darkness whilst still in university and found it to be terribly over-hyped and somewhat unreadable, but when I read Lord Jim in 2004 whilst in Nanjing I felt immediately that here was a book written by someone who, whilst he was a creature of his time, understood what it was both to be a young man and to be an expat. Lord Jim is still one of my favourite books, even if I have not yet warmed to Conrad's other works.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

America: From the mountains to Manhattan

One of the great things about the field I work in - patents - is its international nature, which means I regularly have the opportunity to travel to other countries as part of my work. Earlier this month I went to a conference on patent information in Denver - something that was fascinating for me but I doubt too many of you will be all that interested in. It was, however, my first time in the US, and whilst I believe initial impressions of any country, especially one so large as the US, can be misleading, I thought I would share a few of them here.

I didn't get to see that much of Denver since I spent most of my time there in the conference centre. My one spare evening there I met up with a friend who used to work for Foxconn who now works on renewable energy for GE (technology wghich was much in evidence in and around Denver) and he took me on a drive up into the Rockies. Amazingly, it only takes a 30-40 minutes drive from the centre of Denver for you to find yourself in the Rockies just below the tree-line at 10,000 feet above sea-level, standing next to a lake among a hear of buffalo or elk, a lake which feeds the Clearwater river, which flows down to the Coors brewery. Say what you like about American beer, Coors at least has the best of origins.

Since I was (sort-of) in the neighbourhood, I decided to spend an extended weekend catching up with some friends in New York. My flight from Denver International to La Guardia took two hours, but the sky was clear and during which time I never lost sight of built up areas. It is only from the air that you get a real sense of just how immense America is - an experience I have only ever had twice before, once flying over the emptiness of Siberia, and once flying over the seemingly endless narrow valleys and villages between Beijing and Chengdu.

There was another hint of China when I landed in La Guardia - the signs which endlessly alternately flashed "Welcome to La Guardia"/"God Bless Our Troops" or "Baggage Claim Ahead"/"Welcome Our Military Heroes" certainly felt very familiar from my time in the People's Republic even if communist propaganda avoids mention of any deity. The people lugging their baggage through the concourse and wolfing down their Jumbo Pretzel Dogs paid the signs about as much attention of the signs as the average Laobaixing does the red-and-gold banners that one finds on the average Chinese street.

What then ensued was some of the hardest partying I've indulged in in quite some time. At one point I was taken on a tour of roof-top parties - we got to three before heading to a late-night jazz club in the West Village to listen to some of the best jazz and blues I've heard in a long time. The next day I met up with some friends for drinks at the roof-top garden of a gentlemen's club (of the British variety). Appropriately enough,  we enjoyed a round of Manhattans as we watched the sun set over Central Park, just a few blocks from where Alistair Cooke used to write his weekly Letter From America . I had another great night in the city that never sleeps, and then it was time for my flight home.

And what of the people? Firstly it would be uncharitable in the extreme not to concede that Americans are, as a whole, some of the friendliest people you can meet, and not at all behind the British in politeness. This was so even in New York - although I guess I should say I did not meet a single person in New York who was born there, in fact struggling would-be actresses were somewhat over-represented amongst the people I spoke to in there, although I will cop to a bit of selection bias here.

Political opinion in the United States was something of a surprise - coming from a country which until 30 years ago described itself as a 'mixed economy' it was slightly bizarre to hear the fears expressed by some that the United States was becoming a socialist country. This was especially so given the apparent evidence everywhere that America was as close to being socialist as North Korea is to being a free-market state.

All-in-all I was impressed by the US in a way I had not expected to be. I look forward to my next visit there, and who knows?

Thursday, 24 May 2012

The Sun Also Rises

"You're an expatriate. You've lost touch with the soil. You get precious. Fake European standards have ruined you. You drink yourself to death. You become obsessed by sex. You spend all your time talking, not working. You are an expatriate, see. You hang around cafés."
- Ernest Hemingway

Friday, 27 April 2012

The Definition Of Guts

A blind man, freshly escaped from illegal imprisonment, sending a message from hiding to the leadership of the world's newest Suprepower. Watch it now.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

The Numbers Game

Imagine if a mysterious radio station broadcast an automated voice reading a seemingly meaningless strings of numbers interspersed with a few bars of an English folk song to the world at large for more than three decades.

Imagine that this radio station was then tracked to an RAF base in Cyprus.

Now imagine that this radio station stopped broadcasting as suddenly as it started.

Actually, you don't need to imagine any of this. The British radio station, which was known as "the Lincolnshire Poacher" after the tune played between code groups, was part of the obscure and mysterious phenomenon known to the world of short-wave radio geeks* as a "numbers station".

These stations, which are almost certainly used to transmit secret messages to spies which are then de-coded using a one-time pad, are also something of a dying breed. "The Lincolnshire Poacher" went off-line in 2008, with its sister transmitter broadcasting from Australia to the Asian continent similarly closing down in 2009. It would seem likely that these transmitters are being replaced by internet drop-boxes and other means of covert communication, in which case they are undergoing the same sad decline that their non-clandestine cousins in the world of short-wave international broadcasting are.

Many of them, however, remain on-air. Cuba's "¡Atención!" which was used to transmit to the "Wasp" spy network is still broadcasting it's messages of international socialist solidarity, the US's "Yosemite Sam" is still transmitting snippets of code and Looney Tunes from somewhere near Albuquerque, New Mexico, and various Russian, Korean, and Chinese stations identified only by a three-letter classification code continue to transmit their mysterious messages into the ether from points around the globe.

In some ways it's kind of comforting to think that our hum-drum world still contains such things, that somewhere there is a secret agent bent over their short-wave receiver transcribing these numbers into something meaningful, which I guess is the main attraction of number stations to their enthusiasts. For me they have something of a nostalgic air to them. If you grew up in the UK in the 80's you would have watched any number of dramas and comedies about the resistance in occupied Europe during the second world war - most famous of which was probably "'Allo 'Allo". These cryptic messages are a more up to date version of London calling "Nighthawk" about the "fallen Madonna wiz ze big boobies", even if in reality they make for rather dry listening.
*Sorry, JR

[Video: A recording of Chinese-language numbers station V13 AKA "Xin Xing", message beginning at 1.02, recorded by Youtube user "First Token" on the 6th of July, 2010. A translation is provided in the comments but I won't vouch for it - it does sound more like danwei ("单位") than san wei ("三位"), and as for the message being a "fishing report" ("鱼政电报"), it sounds more like something to do with a "forecast" ("预报") to me, although I can't tell what the word in the middle is. Can anyone do a better job?]

Friday, 13 April 2012

A Quick Thought

Why is it that when Chinese dissident sources or government sources separately states that something is true, we treat their statements with suspicion and may even automatically dismiss them based on the source alone, but when they agree that something is true, we are apt to treat their statements almost as confirmed fact?

Thursday, 12 April 2012

A Death In Chongqing

From my seat in a delightfully pretentious health-food restaurant (think Shanghai's Element Fresh, but Polish) thousands of miles from Chongqing I do not have much to add to analysis of the various goings on in the PRC Politburo, but I would like to draw attention to a few articles which, to me, strike the right cord, as well as adding a little barely-informed speculation of my own.

I think Sinostand's points - that the only remarkable things about the Bo case are that they involve the death of a laowai and that they have been acknowledged by the government - are very much correct. Had Bo Xilai been less obviously ambitious and more easily believable as a politburo bit-player, then it is impossible to believe that these accusations of corruption would have been directed against him.

The involvement of a foreigner in this case comes a long way second in this. It is very hard to believe that the investigation into Neil Heywood's death would have been "reinvestigated" (was it investigated the first time?) if Bo was not in disfavour. The fact that the investigation only followed what we must now call the "Chengdu incident" (Wang Lijun's apparent attempted defection), which itself came at a convenient time to ensure that Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang's main rival for the top spot was out of the way ahead of their coronation at the "Two Meetings", strongly suggests that it is part of an attempt to make Bo's name mud.

Incidentally, it also leaves a strong suspicion (in my mind at least) that Neil Heywood may not have been murdered. Indeed, I would not at all be surprised if, like the investigation into Ai Weiwei for tax evasion, the investigation was wound up without actually resulting in criminal charges. Since the China has the death penalty for murder (and many other crimes - including corruption), it would not at all be surprising if China's ruling class wished to avoid a trial ending in the execution of a former politburo member or his wife. It is also hard to believe that the British government will wish to press an issue which, for them, there is no up-side to.

The second article I would like to draw attention to is Jeremiah Jenne's latest post on Rectified.name. Jeremiah is definitely correct to say that the impact of this case will be that, in future, people will be far more willing to believe rumours about the various goings on of those in power now that so many of the initial rumours surrounding the "Chengdu Incident" have been confirmed by the PRC state media. A lot of people, myself included, had been inclined to pooh-pooh the Weibo rumour machine - particularly after the fiasco surrounding last year's supposed death of Jiang Zemin, which I was also initially taken in by. Reporting on rumours in China, so long as they are clearly marked as such, seems A-OK to me.

There's also a couple of lessons in this for China expats and China watchers:

  • Stay away from the CCP and its affairs. I always get a sinking feeling when I hear of an expat going to work for the Chinese government, be it in a state media organ like China Radio International, or in some other capacity. A foreign passport is no protection against CCP shenanigans and you cannot expect your own government to press too hard when there are no immediate national interests in doing so. The line I was told in Nanjjing in 2003 about it being much worse to be falsely accused of spying than to be accurately accused of spying, since no government will be willing to arrange an exchange for a non-spy, remains very true.
  • The essential political system of the People's Republic of China is still Leninist - that is to say, power is still reserved to a 'revolutionary vanguard party' exercising 'democratic centralism', or in plain language, a one-party dictatorship. Since 1989 it has been common for governing teams to serve a ten-year term, but this is in no way set in stone. If at any point it suits the top leadership of the CCP to give someone the shove this will be done regardless of public opinion or position - popular or not, seemly or not, and any weapon that can be used against them will be used.

Finally, Boxun (a Chinese emigre rumour-mill) is now carrying rumours (there's that word again) that Zhou Yongkang, the PRC Politburo's main enforcer, is next in line for attitude-correction, and that, as I had suspected since I first knew that the post-2012 politburo would include Bo in a non-top-two position, Bo may have been thinking of a coup:

"Insiders say Zhou had met Bo several times in Beijing, Chongqing and Chengdu, planning to prepare him for promotion to secretary of the Political and Legislative Affairs Committee later this year. If the plan succeeded, they would potentially be able to take power from Xi Jinping, who is expected to take over as the party's general secretary, within two years. Zhou reportedly told Bo and Wang that Xi was too timid and thus not suitable to lead the country. He suggested Bo take advantage of his media power and public support to seize power by 2014."
If this report is true (something which is obviously unknowable at the moment), it appears that Bo and Zhou may well have gravely misjudged the Xi/Li team - or the people who picked them for power, the Hu/Wen partnership.

[Picture: Bo Xilai, disgraced former politburo member, Via Wiki]

Friday, 23 March 2012

Cry "Havoc!", and let slip the comments of war . . .

I'm going to take the leash off for a while and see what happens. Some ground rules:

1) I know it says 'blogspot' in the URL, but this blog is mine and I reserve the right to delete any comment I like without prior warning. That said, with the exception of two individuals (see below) I have almost never deleted a comment on this blog without it being spam advertising.

2) Chris Devonshire-Ellis remains banned. Anyone else who sends me unsolicited and groundless emails filled with threats of physical violence will get the same treatment.

3) Wayne Lo/Mark Lau/'Mongol Warrior'/'Yihetuan' is banned. His rage-filled racist comments may be allowed by Hidden Harmonies, but they are not welcome here.

Any complaints - hit me up via email.

[See here for Marlon Brando's awesomely over-the-top performance of Scene 1, Act III of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar]

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Foxconn: Cut the BS

Let me tell you about a company I'm familiar with:

- In this company it's typical for an employee to have to work 12-15 hours a day, 6 or 7 days in a row without being paid overtime.

- In this company managers have been known to physically abuse employees with slaps about the face as a form of punishment. This is in addition to regular dressings-down of staff in front of their peers using insulting language.

- In this company employees must attend daily 'meetings' which actually take the form of being harangued by management with meaningless slogans.

- In this company even smiling in the work-place is discouraged as it may lead others to think you are 'unserious' about your work.

- In this company employees are regularly fired for little or no warning on a whim. One moment they're at their workplace, the next their out on their ears with no compensation due to the laxity of local laws.

- This company's customers include several household-name brands.

Foxconn, right? Wrong - actually it's a law firm outside of China (and no, I'm not saying which one). Despite the impression that some people now seem to have, working for Foxconn is not nearly so bad as working in a firm like the one described above.

The matter of Mike Daisey, a US journalist who essentially fabricated most of the details in a report he made about the Foxconn plant, has been dealt with well enough elsewhere - and I personally never listened to the report in the first place and therefore have little to add to the debate except to say that he should have been caught out earlier.

What I have seen is people commenting about the terrible conditions at Foxconn as though it were some modern-day GULAG. At least according to my experience of working at their plant in Longhua, Shenzhen from early 2006 to late 2007, this is groundless. In fact, whilst I there's certainly elements of the corporate culture there I would criticise (particularly the militaristic nature of the induction training) the basic working conditions I saw at Foxconn were not much worse than those on the average factory estate I worked on during my student days in the UK.

This is not to say that there is nothing to criticise about Foxconn. The incident in which they tried to silence a report by two journalists working for China Business News by having their assets frozen and suing them for more than 3 million US dollars in damages, only to then drop the case, was shameful. Particularly telling was Foxconn's omiting to sue the UK's Daily Mail, which came out with a similar report at the same time. The case of the employee who reportedly committed suicide after loosing a valuable prototype was, to say the least, suspicious. The explosion at their Chengdu facility, apparently due to powdered aluminium being loose in the air, is of course a cause of concern even if overall safety standards are good by local standards.

It's just that when I see people (usually internet commentators) complaining about workers voluntarily working a 10 or 12-hour days, I have to wonder whether they have ever stepped foot inside the average factory in their own country - or even the average law firm. If they had, they would have seen plenty of people in conditions almost as 'terrible'.

Calls for a boycott are particularly vacuous, as I said back in '09:

"You do not help 300,000 people by putting them out of work, you do not encourage better working conditions and practices by taking business away from what is probably among the most generous employers in Shenzhen and giving it to another China-based firm which may actually be worse. The people who work for Foxconn do so voluntarily, the workers are almost entirely fresh high-school and university graduates from provinces in the Chinese interior who send whatever money they can save to their families in an effort to improve their lot. They mainly look on the chance to work there as a great opportunity to gain experience - and many of them do gain valuable experience which they then take to other potentially better paying companies like Huawei."

Again - this isn't to say "don't criticise Foxconn", but just that when doing so, don't do so on grounds which are essentially BS.

[Picture: A visualisation of safety conditions and renumeration of workers at Foxconn's Longhua facility, adapted from this twitpic]

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Reform Or Risk Another Cultural Revolution

Wen Jiabao's message couldn't be clearer:

"We must press ahead with both economic reform and political structural reform, especially reform in the leadership system of our party and country," Wen said at his annual press briefing at the end of the yearly session of China's largely rubber-stamp parliament.

"Reform has reached a critical stage. Without successful political structural reform, it is impossible for us to fully institute economic structural reform and the gains we have made in this area may be lost.

"The new problems that have cropped up in China's society will not be fundamentally resolved, and such historical tragedies as the Cultural Revolution may happen again."

I have in the past been critical of Wen. When all's said and done, he's still a chief functionary within a dictatorial apparatus. However, this appears to be a very clear call for political reform, and the most forceful pro-reform speech I can remember coming from any CCP official since Deng Xiaoping. Given Bo Xilai's love of Cultural Revolution-like events (although lacking the violence and anti-elite message of the original) it is also a clear dig at the direction in which Bo would like to take the country. This speech can only be welcomed.

Friday, 27 January 2012

"The Persian Paradox"

Currently in Helsinki on business, about which more anon, but in the meantime I cannot recommend enough this interview with Wang Fengbo, a former editor at Deutsche Welle, over at JR's Place. Money Quote:

Q - Let’s suppose the Welle takes this approach: advocating human rights, becoming very explicit about human rights violations in China at times, and maybe this, too, would offend many Chinese listeners. This would – if my guesswork is correct – still spell rather reduced traffic on the Welle’s Chinese website. But you can’t make traffic the only criterion, can you? Isn’t there a risk of losing your own way as a broadcaster, if you keep toning down your message until the audience is satisfied?

A - I really love this question! For this is the question we, the former online colleagues, have discussed a thousand times! We are usually already one step closer to an answer if we have raised the question. The problem of the Chinese department since the later months of 2008 has been that you risk your “political correctness” if you dare to ask which appoach serves the goal of DW better.

Furthermore I think we shall distinguish advocacy journalism from advocacy of human rights. To say that I am not a fan of advocacy journalism is not to say I am against advocating human rights. That is a big difference. This is rather a question of the path to goal, not the goal itself.

I don’t doubt that DW has a mission to advocate human rights, comparable to the so-called value-oriented foreign policy of the federal government of Germany. But does it necessarily mean that you must do this by not caring about your website traffic anymore? If you have zero traffic, how could you then promote your great values?

. . . . .

This is something I call the “Persian-paradox”, in some joking way. I was told by a colleague about how the Persian language department of DW has responded to such kinds of questions. [...] During the protest wave around 2009 in Iran, they firstly achieved a relatively high record of visits, but this should have made them feel uneasy. And days later the Persian website of DW was blocked in Iran and they should have felt a great release by telling around in House of DW the good news: “we are also blocked!”

I cannot tell if the story is true. But I do believe, be it just a fiction, it can best illustrate the dilemma or paradox of DW. I guess the logic behind this should be: If you are not blocked yet, you are not sufficiently politically correct. The compulsory logical conclusion out of this state of mind is a clear one: The DW [outlets] can [only be proved] morally good enough by zero traffic from their target-countries. Isn’t this a new form of cold-war mindset? Shall DW be satisfied with the role as a monologue-talker?"
(emphasis added)

Of course when even people like Shaun Rein find that their works are refused distribution in China you can ask if it is all that easy to judge what will get you blocked or not, but it is worth asking what the point of broadcasting things that will be blocked is when you are trying to reach the Chinese public.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Tomorrow's Taiwan Weather Forecast: Rainy with chance of attempted assasination

Who's going to win tomorrow's Taiwanese election? I genuinely don't know - the latest polls had Ma either a few percentage points ahead or one behind depending on who you ask.

Who should win it? I'm definitely not anti-Ma, in fact, in as much as a non-citizen, non-resident should have an opinion on this, I supported Ma Yingjiu against Hsieh in the last election - whatever his failings, he remains a smart guy, and a moderate leader. All the same, Tsai Yingwen also has some very good qualities - she's also a moderate, and also smart.

Who would I pick, then? For me it would be Tsai - it would mark a return to the mainstream for the DPP that would prevent a lurch towards extremism (or being unrealistically idealistic, if you want to put it that way). Also very important is that should she win, she would be the first woman in the Chinese-speaking world to become a legitimate, de jure leader of her country since Wu Zetian.

The one thing we don't want to see is another repeat of the failed assassination shenanigans that marred the 2004 and 2008 elections - but even if they don't recur, it seems almost inevitable that the losers will accuse the winners of rigging the results.

[Picture: Wu Zetian, the last de jure female leader in the Chinese-speaking world. Via Wiki.]

Monday, 2 January 2012

What the Taiwanderful poll tells you about the state of the Taiwanese blogosphere

In short: bad. The top two blogs (Free Taiwan and Letters from Taiwan) represent the polarised extreme of either side of Taiwan's political debate.

On the pro-pan blue side, Free Taiwan seems to specialise in accusing the DPP's Tsai Yingwen of being a traitor. Here's a sample:

"Tsai Ing-wen has proven many times that she is a traitor to the Republic of China – turns out she also betrays those of her supporters, who one day want to establish a so called “republic of taiwan” . What Tsai Ing-wen and her extremist clique of supporters have in mind is selling Taiwan to the United States of America."

And what was the catalyst for this rant? It was the appearance of a US flag amongst the crowd at a DPP rally.

On the pro-pan-green side we have the marginally more sane Letters From Taiwan, who carries on the time-honoured tradition of interpreting boiler-plate statements by KMT officials as signalling a program of surrender to the mainland authorities:

"Ma is sending a coded message that 100 years from now, ROC citizens will thank ‘you’ (read: ‘mainlanders’ and ROC loyalists) for having the wisdom and courage to push for a unified China once again under ROC, read KMT, patronage. Taiwan and Taiwanese will thank their lucky stars that they chose a President who had the courage to push for the only solution to facing an aggressive authoritarian neighbour - surrender."

What exactly was it that Ma said? Here's the offending paragraph:

“We are confident that when the next generation speaks of the marvel of Asia’s and mainland China’s rise, it will certainly also feel pride in the rise of Taiwan and the rise of the ROC. A century from now when ROC citizens think back on us, it will be wonderful if they can say: ‘How lucky that Taiwan had you.”

I guess the high degree of polarisation in the Taiwanese blogosphere can be excused by the highly polarised nature of Taiwanese politics itself, however, one does expect foreign observers to have a degree of detachment from local politics which is not actually apparent in Taiwan at the moment. Perhaps this explodes the myth that expat observers are likely to be more neutral or objective than their local counterparts. Whatever the cause, I think I can be forgiven for longing for more adult behaviour than what passes for political debate in the Taiwanese blogosphere at the moment.