EU votes to continue arms embargo against China

Citing China’s record in human rights, threats aginst Taiwan and the mistreatment of AIDS victims, the EU Parliament dismissed the urgings of France and Germany to lift the EU’s 14-year -old arms embargo against China. voting to keep the embargo in place.

The European Union assembly overwhelmingly adopted a resolution that rejected talk of lifting the embargo — in place since the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989 — as promoted by EU leaders and China itself.

“The human rights situation in the People’s Republic of China has improved over the years but remains unsatisfactory,” said the resolution, which was addressed to all 15 present member states and the 10 due to join in May.

“The crackdown on fundamental freedoms continues as well as torture, ill-treatment, mistreatment of HIV-AIDS sufferers, arbitrary detention, the high number of death sentences each year, and the lack of respect and protection of minority rights.”

The parliament — which traditionally takes a strong line on human rights — also said that it believed “it is the wrong time, in view of Chinese threats against Taiwan, to open the way to a lifting of the European arms embargo”.

I don’t really know much about the history or the significance of this embargo, but it sounds as though it may be mainly for show. China has nevertheless been lobbying hard to get the ban lifted, according to the article.

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Bill O’Reilly loses his marbles

And it’s downright wacky. Funny, too, if unintentionally so. Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.

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Gweilo Diaries — Gone from Living in China?

How strange. It’s been removed from the left-hand blogroll. I hope this is nothing permanent.

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Chinese “goons” bully Nicholas Kristof, throw him out of Liaoyang

It’s an amazing story (found thanks to Brainysmurf). New York Times columnist and former foreign correspondent in Beijing Nicholas D. Kristof, is investigating labor unrest when he comes face to face with “the other side of China.” And it’s not pretty. In fact, it’s scary as hell. And I know.

Kristof calls them “goons” — the grim, scary government officials who throw him and his 9-year-old son out of town. He went to Liaoyang to interview labor leaders Yao Fuxin and Xiao Lunyiang (the latter brutally beaten by authorities), who were imprisoned in the wake of labor unrest. The goons, polite in a scary sort of why, prohibit the meeting and repeat the same maddening phrase to Kristof, no matter what he says: “China is a country of laws.”

This is an intense and disturbing article and another one of those “wake-up calls” that remind us that as cheerful as life may appear in the thriving coastal cities, that’s only a small snapshot of China. It’s a reminder that for those who ask questions, a brutal police state apparatus is ready to spring into action.

Labor unrest is at the heart of the column, and Kristoff makes it clear that this is one of China’s vulnerable spots, if not its achilles heel.

China is emerging as one of the world’s great powers, a status that it has earned with shrewd management and increasingly mature diplomacy. But a great power cannot go around crushing peaceful protests and torturing labor leaders. It is disgraceful that “People’s China” goes around locking up people like Xiao and beating his wife unconscious at his sentencing hearing – and holding family members of labor leaders incommunicado.

“This is not the China of the 1970′s or the 1980′s,” I complained to the men who nabbed me. “China has reformed. It should be open enough now to allow foreigners to speak to family members of prisoners.”

The curt answer: “China is a nation of laws.”

Someday soon, I hope, it will be.

You have to read about what he goes through, dealing with these brutes.

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Asia Blog Awards — A fruitless exercise?

As you probably haven’t noticed, I only referred once to the Asia Blog Awards and refrained from urging readers to go vote for me (and I am still refraining).

Two reasons:

1.) I am listed under the Singapore Blog category, and since I’m only a Singapore blog in the strictest geographical sense, I can’t (and probably shouldn’t) win.

2.) With all due respsect to Phil, who has done an amazing job organizing this, I still have no faith in the validity of this sort of exercise.

This skepticism was greatly enhanced when I went to the Singapore Blogs category and visited the blogs of the top 2 players (xiaxue and mrbrown). Not bad, not offensive. But then compare them to Adri’s sensational blog, and I’m sorry, they are night and day. She gets 33 votes, xiaxue gets nearly 200 votes!! (Mrbrown has only put up five posts in the past month.) Something is way, way off.

Which leads me to ask, what’s the point? My personal suggestion for next time would be to have a panel of judges who are prominent within the blogging community — not necessarily in Asia, but from around the world. Let the decision be made by them. We could also hold the vote with everybody, as we’re doing now, just for fun. But take a hard look, and ask yourself if what’s going on now is really a valid way to determine the best blogs in Asia?

Again, I thank Phil for all he’s done. I think there’s a good lesson we’ve all learned — that there’s got to be a better way.

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Chinese university students “swear by Chairman Mao”

A typically upbeat article in Xinhua tells us that Mao, the mass murderer who more than any other force helped initiate the brain death of China during his reign, is still revered by China’s university students, who continue to treasure his teachings:

Chinese university students are caught up in the trappings of modern life – discussing the Hong Kong movie Infernal Affairs, idolizing Taiwan pop band F4 and flaunting their cellphones – but they still “swear by Chairman Mao.”

In fact, the influences of the late Chinese leader, Mao Zedong, who was born on December 26, 1893, on modern youth are not limited to the language of discourse.

Cheng Haowen, a student of astronomy at Nanjing University in eastern Jiangsu Province, said Mao’s realistic approach, characterized by testing and improving theories in the course of practice, distinguished him from many Chinese figureheads, who were satisfied with being sage and detached from social reality to show their superiority.

You have to wonder whether the reporter was actually keeping a straight face as he wrote that. Realistic approach? Testing and improving theories? Like, the Cultural Revolution was a tested improvement over the Great Leap Forward? (If Conrad were around he’d reply with something like, “Jesus H. Christ on a rubber pogo stick!”)

A socialist whose inspirational sources can be traced back to Chinese classics such as the works of Sun Zi, an eminent ancient military strategist, Mao left a spiritual legacy of pragmatism, depending on the masses of people and solving problems without resorting to foreign forces, which have an impact on the attitudes of a new generation of university students, said Cheng.

What can one say? I’ve heard Mao accused of many things, but pragmatism isn’t one of them. And “depending on the masses”? Mao screwed the masses monumentally, and more than a quarter of a century after his death they are still reeling from his certifiably insane policies that devastated the environment and robbed a generation of its critical faculties.

Although Mao erroneously initiated the “cultural revolution” (1966-76) in his later years, fostering cult-like admiration for himself, he and his spiritual legacy still deserve to be studied objectively, said Cheng, who was born in 1985.

“Erroneously initiated.” How is that for bland language? It makes it sound like a frigging accounting error. And even though he left China a basket case, we still love his spiritual legacy and want to study it objectively quack quack quack.

I suppose I should resign myself to the fact that Mao worship isn’t going away anytime soon. But I want to believe that most students today don’t really believe there’s anything worth studying in Mao’s “spiritual legacy.” Nearly all my friends in China told me that Mao is someone they simply ignore, and that all the government’s BS about his greatness is recognized as a pointless show. I sure hope they’re right.

mao statue.jpg
A university student works lovingly on his statue of The Great Helmsman

UPDATE If you think this Xinhua article is nauseating in its swooning over Butcher Mao, try this.

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Was September 11 attack preventable?

Former Republican governor of New Jersey Thomas H. Keane says it was.

For the first time, the chairman of the independent commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks is saying publicly that 9/11 could have and should have been prevented, reports CBS News Correspondent Randall Pinkston

“This is a very, very important part of history and we’ve got to tell it right,” said Thomas Kean.

“As you read the report, you’re going to have a pretty clear idea what wasn’t done and what should have been done,” he said. “This was not something that had to happen.”

Appointed by the Bush administration, Kean, a former Republican governor of New Jersey, is now pointing fingers inside the administration and laying blame.

“There are people that, if I was doing the job, would certainly not be in the position they were in at that time because they failed. They simply failed,” Kean said.

This is just the beginning. Keane promised there will be public testimony next year that will include the nation’s highest officials. It’s not going to be pretty.

[Link via Drudge Report.]

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Bill O’Reilly’s dirty tricks

Matt Drudge, certainly no friend to Hillary, challenges Bill O’Reilly’s claims that his book’s sales compete with the former First Lady’s:

FOXNEWS’s top-rated host Bill O’Reilly recently claimed that he is “running against Hillary for most copies of nonfiction books sold this year!”

But numbers obtained by the DRUDGE REPORT show a dramatically different sales scene for 2003 than O’Reilly’s TODAY show comments.

NIELSEN’s BOOKSCAN placed O’Reilly at #6 for the year on the nonfiction charts, trailing rival Al Franken by nearly 30%!

Hillary Clinton’s Living History is #3. Drudge even puts up an elaborate chart showing just how dubious O’Reilly’s claims are. Anyone surprised?

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Worse than murder

A commenter whom I have long respected alerted me to this absolutely horrifying story of corruption and the total disregard for human suffering that is still common in parts of China. No, not in Beijing or the cities you and I will visit on our vacations. In the more remote areas where the impoverished villagers have no say, and die at the whim of a corrupt official.

I can’t verify that this story is true, but I know the integrity of the young woman who posted it. And, unfortunately, I know it’s completely in keeping with other stories I’ve read about the utterly disenfranchised peasants — some 700 million of them — in China’s remote countryside. So I believe it.

[I] read an article that is a letter written to the central government pleading for an investigation in a village in northern china. The article is posted on 2003-12-8 so I assumed it’s written recently. Let me summarize what the letter is about.

A company in the village had poluted the only source of drinking water. Since 1998, the villagers had complained to the local government to make the company produce standard waste into the river so the water won’t be poluted. The government never responded.

Earlier this year some villagers had been poisoned for drinking the water. The villagers could no longer stand the irresponsibility and protested against the government. Instead of getting something positive, the company’s manager hired someone to drive a truck through the villager’s work unit. four villagers were killed and six wounded. The villagers found out this because they captured the driver and questioned him.

Later the police department sent a team to investigate. despite of the outcries by the villagers, the police department concluded the killing as a simple traffic accident. it’s clear then that the corruption was so deep rooted that there’s very little the villagers could do to protect their lives and to seek justice for those who were killed. so a respresentative sent this letter to the central government hoping they will be some response. since the local government also tightly controlled the media (so no reports of the incident were on TV), the author also posted this article online and wish more can hear about what happened.

I tried to post the link on some mainlanders’ bloggers’ site so they can help deliver the message. But I found the chinese government had completely blocked chinalaborunion.org.

Check out the post and the comments to it. And the photos that she links to. She also has a link to the entire post in Chinese. Great work.

UPDATE: If you made it this far, it’s important you check the related links that Adam offers.

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Interview with a 1989 demonstrator in China

Below is the interview I posted a few day’s ago on Living in China. It tells of the evolution of a former flag-waving protestor in the 1989 demonstrations in Shanghai. If you’ve ever looked back at the Tiananmen Square days and wondered what those students are doing and thinking today, you may find this interesting.

David S., 34, is now a prominent executive with a multinational technology company here in Singapore, and I’ve been lucky enough to work with him on his company’s public relations. When I heard that David played a part in Beijing’s sister demonstrations in Shanghai, I asked if I could interview him about the role he played and how he looks back on those days nearly 15 years later.

What made this so interesting for me was seeing the evolution of a 1989 demonstrator, from flag-waving rebel to a proud supporter of China and its government. It is a remarkable story.

Some of David’s viewpoints are quite different from my own, but that isn’t relevant. At the end, I offer a few of my own thoughts, but I don’t want to editorialize about which point of view is right or wrong.

Q. What brought you to the demonstrations in Shanghai?

It’s hard to understand this if you weren’t there, but it would have been abnormal for me not to go to the demonstrations. We all went, it was just natural. My classmates and I were swept up, we simply had to go, it was the natural thing to do. Suddenly, we were all participating.

You have to be aware of the situation in China at that time. It was as though there were two parallel systems, one being the economic system, the other the political system. These systems were like two wheels that weren’t on level ground, and along the way tension built up over a period of nearly 10 years, ever since Deng came back to power after the Cultural Revolution. That tension was tremendous, and no one could escape from it.

Chinese society consists of multiple layers – peasants, students, soldiers, factory workers. At that time, there was tension at every layer of the society. People were confused and frustrated. Earthquakes happen when different layers rub against each other at a different pace, and finally the earth can no longer contain the energy and it erupts. That’s the type of tension that was behind the protests.

So much about the economy had improved and was changing, but politics – the government – remained status quo. In the 1970s, if you said anything disrespectful of Mao, you’d be executed. In 1989, if you said something negative about Deng in public you could still be in serious trouble.

It was the students who were most sensitive to this. Our parents all worked for the state, and there was still little or no private enterprise. They were not as concerned about ideology and change. They only had to worry about feeding their families. But as students we were more liberal, more free-spirited and more engaged in ideologies. We weren’t concerned about raising a family. We were not necessarily practical; we were very idealistic.

Historically, most great movements in China were started by students. Even today, we celebrate China Youth Day on May 4th. That’s because when the KMT [Kuomintang] were still in power and the Communists were outlawed, the students demonstrated for the Communists on May 4th. General Tuan Qi Rui was the warlord over Beijing at the time and he opened fire on them in the street. So after the Communists took power they dedicated that day as the nation’s youth, which is still a holiday today.

Q. Where were you, and what was your own role?

I was studying medicine at the Shanghai Second Medical University, now a part of Fudan University. I was asked by my classmates to be the flag bearer because I’m quite tall, so my role was to carry the flag and wave it in front of the demonstrators. Every day we would march from the university campus all the way to the People’s Square, and I was in the front holding and waving the flag.

Q. Looking back, are you glad you did it? Do you have any regrets?

No, I don’t have regrets and I don’t think what we did was in vain. It was important for us to make our voice heard. For my generation, the crackdown had huge implications for our lives, probably like the JFK assassination had for Americans.

But I have to admit I am no longer interested in politics, especially now that China is undergoing a natural transition toward democracy, with the economy being the core and the catalyst for that change. And nothing can stop that change, no matter how much the Communists want to preserve their old values.

Q. We all know about the violent crackdown in Beijing. How was it handled in Shanghai?

There was nothing like the martial law that took place in Beijing. The Mayor of Shanghai at the time was extremely competent, and he made an appeal to the city on TV and he calmed everyone down. I’ll never forget, he said something that was ambiguous and politically brilliant: “Down the road, truth will prevail.” That could have meant he was sympathetic to the students or totally with the government. But it was very calming to hear him say it.

The mayor organized factory workers to clear the roads, not the army. These workers were the parents and uncles and aunts of the students. Some members of the student body tried to stir up these factory workers, and I think that was a very dangerous thing to do. Students demonstrating was one thing, but if it was factory workers – that would need to be stopped, and there would have been a riot. That’s why Beijing was much more tense.

Bringing in the factory workers truly showed the leadership and tact and common sense of Shanghai’s mayor – Zhu Rongji. Beijing is the political center, but Shanghai is the financial center, and it could absolutely not fall into chaos, no matter what. That’s why you saw factory workers and not the army.

Q. How did you hear of the massacre, and what effect did the news have?

My father and I heard about it on the radio, on ‘Voice of America’. That was the only source there was. Soon we all knew what had happened. We watched CCTV the next day. The reporters were wearing black and some of them were obviously in a deep state of grief, their eyes visibly red, as they announced that the anti-revolutionaries had been put down. I saw those reporters with my own eyes, and soon afterwards they were replaced.

At the moment the news broke of the crackdown, I was angry. How could it happen? All of the demonstrations were peaceful. How could they justify tanks and machine guns? I gave up all hope in my own government, and I felt ashamed to be Chinese. We were also disappointed in [then] President Bush – he was softer than we wanted. All that Bush did was impose sanctions, and that disappointed us. We were in a dilemma. We wanted the US and others to do something, but we also knew that would have hurt us.

That was part of being 20 years old in China when you haven’t seen the world, no Hollywood movies, you’ve only read Stalin-style textbooks. I matured ten years overnight, and I also became a little cynical.

For so many years China had a stringently controlled educational system. From kindergarten to college, we all read the exact same books and took the exact same exams. We always believed everything that the government told us, and they told us it was an honor for ‘the people without property’ to shed their blood and sacrifice their lives for the cause of communism, fighting against the two great enemies, the Nationalists [KMT] and the Capitalists. We were brainwashed.

After Tiananmen Square, most of us believed that all government was evil. We saw that our government would kill us. I remember how my aunt told me she went to the Tiananmen Square area shortly after the crackdown and there was someone saying through a megaphone that there had never been any shooting even though she could see the bullet holes on the walls, which were soon cleaned up.

But now, that sense of shame is gone. When I look at it all objectively, I believe the government did the right thing. Maybe they didn’t do it the right way. I still have reservations about the tanks and the machine guns. But at that time they couldn’t afford to sit down and negotiate. The students wanted power, and in 1989 the social cohesion wasn’t there to support that. It was only 10 years after the Gang of Four, and it wasn’t like today. In retrospect, Deng at that time couldn’t afford to show further weakness. He had to hold the country together. Yes, we paid the price in blood, but we are still one country, one nation.

You have to realize that Deng changed my life – everybody’s life. He opened new doors for all of us. In 1982, my mother was among the first batch of scholars who were sent abroad to study, and she went to Harvard. She returned to become the director of a major Shanghai hospital. So we are grateful. And soon so many other changes happened.

I feel a great respect for our leaders. There are some, like Li Peng, who I still have no respect for. But Deng – soon we felt as though he had torn down the Berlin Wall. I wondered, if Deng had not handled the demonstrations the way he did would China be the country it is today? The whole nation is changing and people are more affluent, and I feel proud of being Chinese. People once looked down at us, and now they have respect for us.

Q. But what Deng achieved – could he not have done it within a more democratic system? Did there have to be the ruthlessness?

After going to the US for five or six years, I saw that the level of democracy there can only happen in a society with a certain level of education. What the people of China now need is leadership. China is one century behind the US, and you can’t expect us to change that fast.

This is why many Asians resent it when Americans try to insist that the Chinese adopt their style of democracy. Shanghai may be ready, but if you go out to the surrounding areas, you’ll see it just isn’t possible, that it will take more time. I believe that one day, China will have Taiwan-style democracy, but it has to be built on a strong economy.

Q. I agree that Western-style democracy isn’t right for China today. But can’t there be a compromise? Can’t the government be strong, without tolerating abuse of the poor by corrupt officials, without tolerating the marginalization of AIDS victims, without arresting kids who write about government reform on the Internet?

The way we view human rights is so different from the West’s. We have 1.3 billion people and many of them go hungry. Putting food on the table and a roof over its people’s heads is what our government has to worry about. AIDS, corruption, the Internet – that is all secondary to the leadership of 1.3 billion people. If I were running China today, I would not be able to hear all the different parties. I would have to have my own agenda and stick to that agenda. I believe that if a secret vote were held today most people in China would vote for the CCP.

For more than 150 years, starting with the Opium Wars, our national pride has been bullied by the Europeans, the Russians, then the Japanese. Now China is an economic and a military power. And it has no intentions of being aggressive. So I am not giving up my Chinese citizenship. Ten years ago I would have jumped to do that.

Looking back, I firmly believe the government did the right thing, though they could have handled it better. We paid a high price. Our leaders in 1989 could have shown greater human skills and greater negotiating skills. But let’s live with Communism for now and change things one thing at a time. The Chinese now have a much better life than they did 100 years ago. Not so long ago, my house was the first in our hutong to have a television set. The whole neighborhood would come to our backyard and sit on the ground to watch. It was just a 9-inch TV, and we put a large magnifying glass in front of it so everyone could see – that is how inventive we Chinese had to be. And now, so many families have two color TVs. They enjoy a better life, they have pride, they just put a man into space. Over the next couple of decades, China will probably overtake Japan. The world now needs China as much as we need them.

Thank you, David.

This was definitely an eye-opening interview for me. Coming from my own background where the rights of the individual are sacred, I was intrigued to hear such a different point of view. As readers familiar with my writing know, I am not quite so easy on the CCP, and don’t feel all can be forgiven under the mantra, Change must take place slowly. But I have the highest respect for David, and find the story of his transformation and his great personal success to be impressive and inspiring.

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