Friday, 27 April 2012
Tuesday, 24 April 2012
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.
[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
Thursday, 12 April 2012
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]