Beijing suspends top level visits with Tokyo

Posted by Martyn

One of Japan’s most liberal newspapers, The Asahi Shimbun, today mournfully declares that it’s back to the drawing board for Japan’s troubled relationship with China. Japanese government officials admit that relations are far worse than they expected after Premier Wen Jiabao surprisingly snubbed a long-standing invitation to attend the closing ceremony of the 2005 Aichi Expo (Shanghai will host the next World Expo in 2010) and the Chinese government stated that all reciprocal visits by the leaders of the two countries were suspended indefinitely until Prime Minister Koizumi declares that he will stop visiting the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo:

China wants Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to once and for all settle the controversy over his visits to war-related Yasukuni Shrine. But in this matter, he continues to insist he will make an “appropriate decision” on this issue when the time comes. That clearly is not what Beijing wants to hear.

Li told him that Wen wants Japan to first create the proper “atmosphere for his visit.” Implicit in that remark was China’s hope that Koizumi would heed Beijing’s insistence that he stop worshipping at a shrine that commemorates Class-A war criminals in addition to Japan’s war dead.

From July through September, China held a series of events to mark events in its resistance to Japan in World War II. It is against this background that Beijing insists that reciprocal visits by both countries’ leaders will not take place until Koizumi clearly states that he will not visit Yasukuni any more.

Rather than Beijing making a calculated decision to suspend visits, I rather suspect that the government had little choice in the matter after allowing anti-Japanese sentiment to reach frenzied levels in April and spending the rest of the summer celebrating the 60th anniversary of the end of WWII, which had a distinct anti-Japanese theme. Beijing must surely fear a backlash, or at least firm disapproval from the population if government leaders are seen with PM Koizumi.


Li Ao’s speeches in full

Posted by Martyn

A downloadable video and both Chinese and English language translations are now available of Li Ao’s colourful speech at Peking University earlier this week.

If you understand Chinese, you can download the video here at QQ.

Otherwise, here is the text in Chinese.

Here’s ESWN’s English translation of the Peking University speech.

And here is ESWN’s English translation of the Tsinghua speech.


China needs the rule of law

Posted by Martyn

When talking of the rule of law in China, or more specifically, the lack of it, it’s hard to be optimistic, particularly after recent government backtracking on reform in the face of rising s0cial unrest. However, it’s sometimes worth remembering that during the Mao years and, to some extent, even into the eighties and nineties, China’s population had few legal rights, whatever laws were enshrined in the PRC constitution. Apart from the ancient system of appealing to the centre which, amazingly, remained throughout post-1949 China, even during the Cu1tural Rev0luti0n, expressing dissatisfaction was a good way of getting into serious trouble and therefore was usually avoided at all costs.

Nowadays, however, there is a rising public awareness among Mainland citizens and an unprecedented desire to assert their legal rights in the face of the numerous injustices produced by recent economic growth and the rapid opening of society. Whereas previously, the people would suffer in silence, resigning themselves that nothing could be done in the face of corruption, abuses by local officials, land grabs, forced eviction, illegal taxes, pollution and a host of other excesses, nowadays the victims are far more likely to take their grievances to court:

A new breed of Chinese public-interest lawyer is leading the push to establish real rule of law. The bravest handful have argued cases on illegal land grabs and seizures of private property by local officials, on freedom of the press and on unauthorized taxation. They’ve won a few cases that have become legendary among the growing body of Chinese lawyers. Their efforts, and the rising legal consciousness of the Chinese people, hold hope of change from within.

Where did this “rights consciousness” originate? I asked New York University professor Jerome Cohen, one of America’s foremost experts on Chinese law. “China is alive with a sense of injustice fueled by the huge gap between rich and poor,” says Cohen, who is currently in Beijing. The government’s pro forma endorsement of the rule of law has encouraged ordinary folks to try the courts. A wealth of legal information is now available on the Internet and elsewhere. “Chinese bookstores have shelves stocked with legal how-to books,” Cohen says.

While many of this new generation of young lawyers acting out of the public interest, rather than the interests of the state, are now languishing in prison, usually on trumped up charges such as leaking state secrets, such draconian methods by the government are not enough to stop this rising trend within society.

Some elements within the government are nervous that making everyone equal before the law would limit the CCP’s ability to control the population. However, such voices completely fail to see the bigger picture. Establishing the rule of law in China might well actually prolong CCP rule by acting as a pressure-valve in a society dogged by injustices and social unrest. After all, how many of the 74,000 protests last year (official figures) took place partly because aggrieved people felt that they had no other means of redress other than taking to the streets? In order to keep legal cases in check the CCP will have to prevent corrupt officials from running rampant and ensure something called good governance and good public administration, or is that too much to ask?


A global demand for Internet censorship equipment?

Posted by Martyn

In the 1990s, the widely held theory that the Internet would be an unstoppable force for fre3dom in China and would force the Chinese Communist Party to open up, reform and possibly democratize in the face of its unstoppable onslaught, has been proven totally incorrect. In fact, the opposite is now true because the Internet has become one of the strongest weapons available in China’s arsenal of information control tools. China has developed its own version of the Internet, the direct opposite of almost everything the Internet was supposed to represent. Rather than being the predicted hotbed of dissenting voices yearning for fre3dom and self-expression, the Internet in China is a heavily monitored, filtered and censored virtual world which is almost totally under the iron-fisted control of the Chinese government.

This article asks an important question, which until now, has not been raised anywhere else that I have seen: will China find a lucrative export market in the future for its highly sophisticated and world-beating Internet censoring and monitoring system?

“The biggest danger is that China creates a very large market and testing ground for surveillance and filtering software,” says Danny O’Brien with the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco.

As Chinese Web companies seek to enlarge their markets particularly in developing countries, the question looms about whether they will export their values as well. Chinese tech firms have an eye on emerging markets in Africa, South America, and India. These firms are probably peddling censorship tools, says the free-speech advocacy group Rep0rters Without B0rders.

The Paris-based organization releases a new report Thursday filled with tips for bloggers and others to avoid censorship and monitoring. The report available on the group’s website, which is blocked here, crowns China the “world champion” of Internet censorship.

It’s an open secret that around 30,000 telecom workers are dedicated to policing the net as part of the country’s “Great Firewall.” However, less developed nations that may be attracted to the Chinese model are unlikely to have the same resources as Beijing to put into policing the net.

Read the entire article but don’t expect to come away feeling very cheerful or optimistic. The only optimistic note in the article states that some believe the Internet’s populist roots will win the day eventually and ‘for every centralized attempt to censor and filter, there are hundreds, thousands, of others working to circumvent it’.


Li Ao shocks CCP hosts with “acid speech”

Posted by Martyn

Li Ao, the outspoken Taiwanese legislator, acclaimed writer, social commentator, historian, talk show host, democracy advocate, ex-political dissident and supporter of unification and the One Country-Two Systems policy, delivered a no-holds-barred “acid” speech at Peking University this week in which he, shockingly, berated the Chinese Communist Party. Full of wry humour, he called for the party to accept criticism, serve the people and allow greater freedoms to its citizens, as Reuters reports:

Li Ao riled China on Wednesday by giving millions of Internet surfers and television viewers a taste of the self-ruled island’s freewheeling democracy.

Li championed freedom of speech and took repeated swipes at the Communist Party in a no-holds-barred question-and-answer session at Peking University televised live by Hong Kong’s Phoenix cable network which is seen by millions across China.

The Communist Party’s propaganda mandarins were furious and ordered newspapers and Web sites not to give publicity to Li’s speech, a Chinese media industry source told Reuters.

Some choice excerpts from his speech:

“Currently, all government rulers in the world possess machineguns and tanks. Hence, I say the people must be smart and rely on wisdom when striving for freedom of speech. Today, I talk about freedom of speech. They are afraid. What is there to be afraid of?”

“Statistics in Sweden show that the number of rapists fell by 16 percent and the number of peeping Toms dropped by 80 percent. When everybody watches A rated movies all day, it becomes normal. Freedom of speech is the same.”

Li Ao’s witty oratory, full of explosive comments and delivered in a wildly gesticulating style drew frequent applause and laughter from the Peking University audience who are more used to dull, heavily-scripted speeches filled with gushing praise for the CCP.

While foreign media organisations have reported the speech in full, the official Chinese media, not surprisingly, ignored his controversial comments and only covered the parts in which he offered praise and thanks to the CCP, as in this latest Xinhua report:

Famous Taiwan writer and cultural figure Li Ao, who is visiting the Chinese mainland, said thanks to the Communist Party of China for the country’s prosperity.

He said in that time, many Chinese people had difficulty in getting enough to eat. To keep their children from starving, some of the farmers sold their children to urban families.

China had experienced such poor conditions in the past,” said Li. “But the situation now is truly much better. I thank the Communist Party of China.”

However, the English language edition of Chinese web portal reproduced this AP article which covered the controversial aspects of Li’s speech – including mention of the TSM.

Peking University’s website, despite publishing an article on Monday publicising Li’s visit and speech still remains silent on the issue.

UPDATE: HK blogger Tom Daai Tou Laam follows up with a report about how Li Ao’s speech was censored and the subsequent reaction of Chinese netizens. TPD commenter Derrick also gets a mention.


Zoellick warns China

US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick, in his most strongly worded China speech to date, called for the country to immediately begin a democratic transition, stating that the closed one-party system was simply not sustainable and that China needed to quickly make the government more responsible and accountable to the people. He warned that communist rule could not cope with the rising challenges that beset the country.

He also questioned China’s rapid military build up, warned China not to take access to the U.S. market for granted and accused China of mercantilism. He called piracy in China “rampant theft” and also accused the country of attempting to “lock up” energy supplies around the world.

Zoellick concluded by citing three examples of China’s challenges and contradictions: one umbrella labor union, but waves of strikes; a party that came to power as a movement of peasants but now confronts violent rural protests and a government with massive police powers but one that cannot control spreading crime.

China’s official response came the following day:

Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters he had “taken note” of comments by U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick that China’s one-party system was unsustainable, but insisted the country was stable and that communism had brought substantial benefits to its 1.3 billion people and said the United States had no right to dictate political morality to China.

“The internal affairs should be handled by the government and people of each country. We should respect another country’s right to chose its own development road. We have achieved sustainable and stable economic development and the people’s living standards have increased day by day,” he said. “Our social undertakings such as human rights and legal development have been forging ahead.”


China’s urban elite embrace ‘rave’ drug culture

Posted by Martyn

I often wish that international newspapers and media organizations would simply speak to long term China expats instead of waiting for the government to announce their latest ‘crackdown’ on the latest scourge on society. They would get their stories a lot more quickly.

For example, this disturbing report about the increased use of designer drugs among young Chinese urban professionals. I have personally known about the use of Ecstasy, Ketamine and Ice in China for several years.

A “people’s war” on narcotics in China has turned into a campaign against designer drugs after police found a surge in usage of ecstasy, ketamine and methamphetamine, or ice, among urban professionals.

In a shift that may be down to a booming economy and the growing influence of globalised culture, Chinese authorities said this week the focus of their anti-drugs campaigns has widened from disadvantaged social groups – such as minorities, prostitutes and the unemployed – to affluent white-collar workers.

According to the domestic media, the public security ministry launched a campaign against “new drugs” – synthetic stimulants and hallucinogenic chemicals – which are popular in nightclubs and karaoke bars in the fast-growing cities such as Shanghai and Chongqing.

Previously, the only media reports concerning drug use in China have focussed on heroin, particularly in Yunan Province, opposite Burma’s infamous Golden Triangle and Xinj1ang, opposite Afghanistan. To a lesser extent, also cannabis, mainly entering China via Xinj1ang.

China’s frequent use of the death penalty for drug dealers has not stopped the massive growth of drugs where large and easy profits can be had.

China’s official figure of 790,000 drug users in 2004 is laughable. As this report suggests, a figure in the tens of millions would be more accurate. For instance, more than 80% of prostitutes in Guangzhou are addicted to injecting heroin, 400 yuan per gramme at today’s prices.

Ice, Ketamine and Ecstasy first became available in Mainland China via Hong Kong several years ago. Now, all of these designer drugs are widely available in China’s cities, usually up-market nightclubs. Working together with Hong Kong triad societies, China’s criminal gangs oversee the importation and distribution. However, the prices are high, 600 yuan is not unusual for a single hit of any of the three party drugs. This, however, does not seem to effect popularity.


Decision at the Top of the World

By Other Lisa, cross-posted at the paper tiger

“Aren’t we Chinese great? They said it couldn’t be done. And yet, we’ve not only done it, we’ve done it ahead of plan. No other country in the world could do this. Chinese people are so clever.” We are two hours, several beers and half a roasted duck into a journey on the overnight express from Xining, traveling along the completed half of what will soon be part of the world’s highest railroad — the 1,900-kilometer line from Xining across the Qinghai Plateau to Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. But my patriotic conversation partner, Wang Qiang, is just warming up on his favorite subject: China’s engineering prowess.

“The new track follows the highway built by our soldiers in the 1950s. The terrain is so harsh that three of them died for every kilometer of road. You have to admire their spirit. But now, we’ve built the railway without the loss of a single life. Isn’t China great?”

Jonathan Watts of the UK Guardian files this fascinating report on the building of the Qinghai to Lhasa railway line, an unprecedented feat of engineering that will be completed next month, three years ahead of schedule. The Qinghai/Lhasa railway, Watts writes, is an example of China’s “can-do” spirit proving the experts wrong, the great majority of whom thought building tracks through the Kunlun Pass to be impossible. And this is no ordinary train line:

Luxury trains are being built for the new track. They feature pressurized carriages to minimize the risk of altitude sickness and tinted windows to protect from strong ultraviolet rays. Canada’s Bombardier has won the $280 million contract to build 361 cars, some of which will have deluxe sleeping compartments with individual showers, glass-walled sides to provide panoramic views, entertainment centers and gourmet dining areas, and toilets with sewage and waste-treatment systems. The cars will be pulled by diesel engines capable of maintaining an average speed of 100 kph, even at above 4,000 meters, when the thinness of the air can cut power by almost half.

This is a long piece that is both a fascinating travelogue of an isolated region and a commentary on China’s rise. Watts details the potential positive and negative aspects of the rail line, the fears among some Tibetans that it will increase Han cultural dominance of traditional Tibetan culture, along with the hope of many for much needed economic development. Watts also looks at the environmental impact of the railroad and the consequences of China’s “bigger, faster, higher” philosophy of econonmic development:

The Tibetan dilemma is increasingly shared by other countries as the world tries to come to terms with China’s rise. Everyone wants Beijing’s money and goods; no one wants its ideas.

Economically, China’s expansion is a storming success, with 9 percent growth for each of the past 25 years, lifting hundreds of millions of peasants out of poverty, making a fortune for foreign manufacturers that exploit low-cost labor, pushing down supermarket prices across the globe and boosting trade with other developing nations.

Environmentally and spiritually, however, it is a disaster. China’s rivers are drying up, its cities are choked with pollution, the rural healthcare system has collapsed and the cities are seeing record levels of suicide and stress. China is showing all the symptoms of modernity — only on a bigger scale and at a faster rate than the world has ever seen.

But Watts also points out that, like the railroad, cultural transmission goes both ways:

One of the beneficiaries of the boom is Buddhism. This was evident from the mix of materialism, spiritualism and political cheek at the Ta’er Si, one of the great Tibetan monasteries. Set in rolling green hills just south of Xining and famed as the home of living buddhas since the 16th century, it is attracting an ever-growing number of Han tourists. Their chatter and mobile phones disturb monks as they chant tantric scriptures (“During the peak season, there are almost as many tour guides as monks,” complained one acolyte), but, as with the railway, the linking of materialism and spiritualism is not a one-way track.

Outside the monastery, the streets are filled with Buddhist wholesale shops (often run by Muslims) that offer bulk sales of robes, incense sticks, prayer wheels and beads. The customers are not tourists but monks, stocking up on paraphernalia to establish more monasteries. “This is a boom time for Buddhism in China,” says Glen Mullin, the author of several books on the Dalai Lama. “Many of the monasteries that were shut down and destroyed during the Cultural Revolution are being rebuilt, along with new ones.”

There’s a great deal more to Watt’s piece, including evocative descriptions of life in the Qinghai Plateau, the rapid changes due to development, even the attempts by a member of Tibet’s famed “Wild Yak Brigade” to introduce ecotourism into the area (and if you’ve been following that story, as I have, you’ll be happy to learn that the chiru has rebounded somewhat from the widespread predations of armed poaching gangs). His conclusions are intensely sobering. But at the end, he offers a glimmer of hope:

If railway tracks can spread the tools of modern technology and education to Tibet, the lifestyles of some of the poorest people in the world could be dramatically improved. If ideas are allowed to flow freely in both directions along the track, the meeting of Chinese materialism and Tibetan spiritualism could fill a gap at both ends of the line. And if, as some suggest, the tracks are extended farther south to the border with Nepal and then on through the Himalayas to India, it could transform relations between the world’s two most populous and fastest-growing economies.

Present trends, however, suggest a much bleaker future. Fifty years ago, when Qinghai Plateau was part of Tibet, it was a scantly populated wilderness. Now, under Beijing’s control, it has become a land conquered and settled by Han engineers, miners, soldiers, police and prisoners. There are few grimmer examples of what Chinese-style development can mean for ethnic minorities and the environment.

In the 19th century, Britain and Europe taught the world how to produce. In the 20th, the United States taught us how to consume. If China is to lead the world in the 21st century, it must teach us how to sustain.

If China is the new “can-do” nation, isn’t it possible for all of this energy and spirit to be directed towards this end?


Welcome to Beijing Lives

A new blog that describes itself as follows:

We are a multinational team of people (Chinese, American and Canadian and hopefully more soon…), working together to build the best website available about life in Beijing. We aim to have accurate and (relatively) complete listings of bars/clubs/music/restaurants/art/fashion community/health/real estate and more.
We also hope to be a showcase for the many amazing talents that exist in this city. If you are a musician/artist/model/film maker/web designer/dancer/singer or some other unique talent, we would love to work with you and show your talents to the world. Let us know if you would like to join the team!

One of the site’s founders, Steve, was kind enough to join our blogger dinner in Beijing last month. Be sure to check out this ambitious new site.


Don’t get accused of a crime in China

Today, Joseph Kahn offers a lengthy and harrowing description of China’s badly broken legal system. It’s not always easy reading.

For three days and three nights, the police wrenched Qin Yanhong’s arms high above his back, jammed his knees into a sharp metal frame, and kicked his gut whenever he fell asleep. The pain was so intense that he watched sweat pour off his face and form puddles on the floor.

On the fourth day, he broke down. “What color were her pants?” they demanded. “Black,” he gasped, and felt a whack on the back of his head. “Red,” he cried, and got another punch. “Blue,” he ventured. The beating stopped.

This is how Mr. Qin, a 35-year-old steel mill worker in Henan Province in central China, recalled groping in the darkness of a interrogation room to deduce the “correct” details of a rape and murder, end his torture and give the police the confession they required to close a nettlesome case.

On the strength of his coerced confession alone, prosecutors indicted Mr. Qin. A panel of judges then convicted him and sentenced him to death. He is alive today only because of a rare twist of fate that proved his innocence and forced the authorities to let him go, though not before a final push to have him executed anyway.

Justice in China is swift but not sure. Criminal investigations nearly always end in guilty pleas. Prosecutors almost never lose cases brought to trial. But recent disclosures of wrongful convictions like Mr. Qin’s have exposed deep flaws in a judicial system that often answers more to political leaders than the law.

This is a massive article that should be cut and pasted and stored by anyone curious about the progress of rule of law in China. As Kahn makes clear, the only thing that makes such an aberrant and dysfunctional system possible is China’s one-party dictatorship, which guarantees the odds are stacked against anyone targeted by the government.

There are a few (very few) bright spots in this truly terrifying article — some brave journalists are querstioning certain obviously fixed cases — but most of Kahn’s story is as dark as pitch. Don’t miss it. But don’t expect to walk away feeling cheerful.

Update: Multimedia accompaniment to this article here. It really brings the whole story to life.