No to “Predatory Development”?

From the always invaluable Three Gorges Probe comes some relatively good news about plans to dam Asia’s last free-flowing major river:

China’s minister of water resources has poured cold water on the plan to build 13 dams on the Nu River in the southwest of the country, calling the proposal a form of “predatory development.”

In a speech Tuesday [Oct. 24] at the University of Hong Kong, Wang Shucheng indicated high-level disapproval of the plan to build a string of large dams on the Nu as it flows through the Three Parallel Rivers National Park in Yunnan province.

Mr. Wang said concerns related to the park — parts of which were designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2003 — as well as “downstream national interests,” made it impossible to continue with the original plan.

China shares the Nu River with Burma and Thailand, where it is known as the Thanlwin (in Burmese) or the Salween (in English).

I said this was “relatively” good news, because though it appears the plan will be drastically scaled back, there will still be dams on the Nu River:

However, in his speech — covered by several Hong Kong newspapers, including Ming Pao and Hong Kong Commercial Daily — Mr. Wang also said that maintaining the status quo on Southeast Asia’s last major free-flowing river is not an option.

Local governments are keen to exploit the Nu River’s hydropower potential as soon as possible, Mr. Wang said, and he suggested that “one or two uncontroversial dams” will be built in the first instance.

There was some other good news in for China’s downstream neighbors, India and Bangladesh, when Wang dismissed plans to divert water from a Tibetan river that affects their watersheds, calling the proposal “unnecessary, not feasible and unscientific.”

If you’re at all interested in environmental issues in China and the conflicts between central government policy and local governments’ drive for development, Three Gorges Probe is a great site to bookmark. Three Gorges Probe also reports on the efforts of Chinese activists to protect the environment and the rights of local people whose lives are all too often disrupted by massive infrastructure projects and environmental degradation.

As I’ve said in the past, environmental issues are an area around which Chinese citizens have been able to organize and express themselves politically – if not often successfully, this sort of activism still offers a model for greater participation in civic life for ordinary Chinese people. I’ll always remember that one of the first semi-independent acts of the National People’s Congress was a vote on the proposed Three Gorges Dam in which a majority (or close to it) of delegates abstained. At the time, this was an act of near-rebellion.

The way that such issues are settled in the future is a harbinger of what kind of country China will become.


Banging the Grievance Drum

This is a guest post by Jeremiah from the Chinese history website, Jottings from the Granite Studio.
In today’s Christian Science Monitor comes a story of peasants so desperate in their search for justice, that they bypass their local courts and bring their plaints and pleas to the gates of Zhongnanhai.

Rapid economic growth has transformed the lives of China’s poor, lifting hundreds of millions of people out of wretched conditions. But the dismantling of the welfare system, together with rampant corruption and illegal land seizures, has seeded social tensions that often erupt into confrontation with local authorities. And in a political order stacked against them, China’s dispossessed face an uphill battle to voice their grievances over the injustices that scar their lives.

“For these people, petitioning is the only channel. They can’t turn to their local congress or the courts,” says He Junzhi, a political scientist at Fudan University in Shanghai.

Today’s petitioners are traveling a road to Beijing well-known to their forefathers.

China’s modern petitioning system – called xinfang, or “letters and visits” – has its roots in dynastic times when commoners could seek the intervention of the emperor and his mandarins in their local affairs. One method was to travel to the capital and bang a grievance drum outside an imperial institution to summon help. Visitors to modern xinfang offices still speak of “petitioning the emperor.”



“We hate you! Get out of here! Get out of Taiwan, American!”

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Protesters this morning in front of the American Institute in Taiwan (the equivalent of the US embassy)

I just had one of those memorable experiences that blogs were created for. It started as I arrived at work, which is right up the street from the AIT, the State Department’s office in Taipei. Usually there’s a long, snaking line in front of the AIT building as Taiwanese hoping to visit America wait to apply for a visa. Today, however, I saw angry demonstrators wielding signs, scores of riot police in full protection gear, hordes of television reporters, their satellite trucks parked nearby, and a general sense of chaos. Loud music blared from vans (it sounded like someone singing a patriotic song), the roar punctuated by police whistles and angry shouts.

I ran up to my office, grabbed a digital camera and went back down to take some pictures and see what all the fuss was about. I began snapping pictures left and right, and I noticed some of the TV cameras were turning their cameras on me taking pictures, as though I had anything to do with the riot. Strange, I thought.

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Taiwan’s police, ready for action.

The demonstration was in regard to an issue I admit I know nothing about. Apparently it’s an ongoing source of rage against America that we force Taiwan to buy weapons systems that are obsolete and that we need to get rid of. Whether thisoutrage is grounded in any kind of reality I just don’t know. But it was clear at once that there was one enemy to these demonstrators, i.e., America. And Americans. This rally was all about Yankee Go Home!

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An angry speaker chants anti-American slogans.

So the cameras are going out of their way to keep taping me as I take my pictures. And suddenly, a geezer in a straw hat wielding a large sign starts screaming at me in Taiwanese. I thought he was asking me to take a picture of him and his sign, so I raised my camera to do so. To my shock, he lunged toward me, still screaming, as if he was going to hit me with the sign. He then shouted, in broken English, “We hate you! Get out of here! Get out of Taiwan, American!” The TV cameras were taping the whole thing (all 5 seconds of it). With that, a group of police officers walked up, got between the angry demonstrator and me and led me away, insisting that I leave “for my own protection.” I was the only Westerner there, and apparently this wasn’t a good place for Westerners to be. For the record, the police were exceptionally courteous and I don’t blame them for asking me to leave.

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This is the guy who screeched at me as though I were his mortal enemy.

This was an interesting way to start my Friday morning. It was another reminder that we Americans aren’t beloved everywhere we go, and also of how Taiwanese (at least some) seem to thrive on angry demonstrations. There always seems to be at least one angry political demonstration going on somewhere in town. I’m all for the right to demonstrate, but I have to say it’s upsetting to see demonstrators lose control and become irrational.

About the charge that we force the ROC to buy obsolete weapons – can anyone offer some insight?


The next Cold War will NOT be in Europe

Ivan disagrees with that effete wanker, Thomas Friedman, who ought to shut the f— up about Russia for a while, considering how Friedman has lost so much credibility after cheerleading for the disastrous Iraq War.

Right. Now, our Tsar Richard sent me this Friedman article in entirety, and God only knows why the New York Times asks anyone to pay money for this kind of tripe.

I finally figured out how to cut and paste and post it. Some of my friends will know that it’s a watershed accomplishment for me, IT-Moron that I am. But I figured out how to do it, and so, Friedman’s 60 percent myopic article is appended below. 60 percent myopic is the best the Friedman ever does on his best days.

Hie thee hence and read Friedman’s article about how Russia is rising once again, largely due to Russia’s oil, upon which (as Friedman DOES accurately recognise) Europe will become more and more dependent in the near and medium future. Read it for that, because THAT much DOES make sense.

And it’s worth reading also as an example of how so many American journalists and pundits still….just….don’t…get it. They still don’t understand Russia, they don’t understand Russia’s long term aims vis a vis Europe, and they don’t understand how the entire geopolitical world has changed so much in the past 15 years. And they (including Friedman) still don’t understand that the world did NOT change in any radical way on September 11 2001. The epochal change in the World, and in Geopolitics, was when the Berlin Wall fell in November 1989.

And Friedman and his kind still don’t understand, that 1989 was the year when America’s role as a putative “Superpower” began to fade. Not to mention America’s even more dubious putative role as the “leader of the free world.” All of that began to end when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. And Friedman and his kind (whose collective name is Legion) still just don’t get it.

Well, at this time, I want to reserve most of my comments on Friedman’s article until I see some of our other readers’ comments on it. But for now, just for starters, I will say:

1. In the medium-long term, the condition of Russia being a main supplier of oil and gas to Europe, will be to the mutual advantage of Russia and Europe. And that leads to another qualification:

2. I am almost 100 percent certain that Russia will join the EU within the next 20 years. Probably in more like ten years.

3. I laugh hysterically at every moronic pundit/journalist fantasy about Russia making any kind of REAL alliance with China – EVER – or the notion that Russia might ever oppose the mutual strategic (and civilisational) interests of Russia and Europe, ever. Ever. It…will…not…happen. Ever.,

4. Russia (its leaders – even those who oppose each other in domestic disputes – and the vast majority of the Russian people) consider themeselves to be European. Peculiar kinds of Europeans, perhaps, but they will always, always, always, defend Europe against any and all real or imagined threats from the Far East or (more immediately) from the South, especially the resurgent Islamic peoples who are the most despised, most distrusted, ancient enemies of Russia.

5. Most of you (even those of you who disagree with me on most things) will agree with me that Russian Naitonalism is growing. Very simply, Russian nationalism is growing. It’s a mix of good and bad; Russian patrioitism, and the Russian sense of belonging to “Europe” (or to “Christendom”) is growing rapidly, in fact it’s the main ideology which is holding the vast country of Russia together today.

It’s very mixed, this new sense of Russian nationalism/patriotism. Some of them are vulgar thugs who actually admire Hitler (but their numbers are declining even now, as Russia’s government is on a campaign to re-educate Russians about their great struggle against the Nazis.) And a far greater number of them are sincere patriots, who are resurrecting their ancient (and noble) heritage of being one of the greatest nations of Europe, and one of the greatest defenders of European civilisation.

But what ALL of them have in common – what almost ALL Russians have in common – is an ancient (at least 800 years old) conception of Russia’s identity as being “the Defender of Europe, the Defender of Christendom.”

And unless you really know Russia, you can barely imagine how deep this idea of “Russia the Defender of Western Civilisation (or the Defender of Christendom) runs in them.

The ESSENCE of Russia’s identity, for a thousand years – ever since there was any “Russia” at all – has been this concept of Russia as the Great Warrior Nation Who Defends Christian Civilisation Against The Southern And Eastern Barbarians

That is Russia. If “Russia” exists as any kind of ideal at all, that’s what it is. The heroic (and often tragically unacknowledged) Defender of Christendom, the Saviour of Europe and of the White Race.

(And that was actually one of the main symbols which the Red Army believed in when they liberated half of Europe from the Nazis. They saw themselves as defenders and liberators of European civilisation – and at that time, when they fought against Hitler, they had some good reasons to see themselves that way.)

6. Friedman doesn’t know jack shit about Russia. Go and read his article, for an illustration of how so many Americans just….don’t…get it.

7. If there will ever be any new Cold War between Russia and other Western countries, it will not be Europe, but America which is left out in the cold. In the next 10 or 20 years, Russia will draw closer to Europe, while both Russia and Europe distance themselves from the American Empire which gradually collapsed after 1991.

The Really Cold War
Published: October 25, 2006

The Berlin Wall fell almost 17 years ago. At the time, the future seemed clear: The fall of the wall would unleash an unstoppable tide of free markets and free people — and for about 15 years it did just that. Today, though, when you stand where the Berlin Wall once stood and look east, you see a countertide coming your way. It is a black tide of petro-authoritarianism emanating from Russia, and it is blunting the Berlin Wall tide of free markets and free people.



“I made some decissions [sic] Ill be sorry for the rest of my life.”

Soeth wrote Randy “Duke” Cunningham from prison to the reporter who busted him. But the sentiment as well as the penmanship might as well stand as the epithet of the Worst Congress Ever. That or this quote:

“The 109th Congress is so bad that it makes you wonder if democracy is a failed experiment,” says Jonathan Turley, a noted constitutional scholar and the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington Law School.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Matt Taibbi has become a Rolling Stone regular, and I couldn’t be happier.



Limbaugh’s evil, part 2

Watch this, and then defend Rush Limbaugh. Then go ahead and try to bash Michael J. Fox – I dare you. I dare you.


Looking back at America from Taiwan….

This is a guest post from William Stimson, and it deals with a topic I (and I suspect many of you) can relate to, i.e., feeling increasingly estranged from the US as we live out our lives here in Asia.

A ceramic pig in front of an American-style restaurant in Taiwan. (Photo by William R. Stimson.)

America’s Weakness
by William R. Stimson

I couldn’t say why the happy little ceramic figure of a pig sequestered amongst the plantings in front of an American-style restaurant here in Taiwan caught my attention the other day as I walked down the street; or why I snapped a photo of it. Only when I got home and transferred the image to the computer did I notice all the dollars in the pig’s lap. Strange I had missed this. I looked closer now at the face and discerned a vulgar stupidity in the happy features. A bunch of money was all it took to satisfy the beady eyes and fat jowls. The figurine depicted greed. How appropriate it suddenly seemed that the hand was a hoof, the nose a snout, and the attire – spotted tie and all – that of an American executive. Since coming to Taiwan I’ve felt increasingly estranged from the United States and the role it has assumed in the world. Many Taiwanese, who historically feel grateful to America and have a real love for its ideals, have privately expressed to me misgivings similar to my own.

Like the images that populate dreams at night, so many spontaneous gestures during waking hours reveal startling unconscious insight. That the owner of this American-style restaurant would choose this particular figure to display out front in the flower bed and that an American expatriate walking by with a camera would out of the blue snap a photo of it – could there be a meaning in such coincidences? Could some truth be slipping out here from the depths of the unconscious mind? Might some hint possibly surface from such insignificant happenstances as to what’s gone wrong with America, that great nation that gave the world Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau? Now it produces corporate and government executives whose selfish and short-sighted actions offend simple hard-working people everywhere and incur the wrath of fanatic Islamic extremists. America sees itself as being on a mission to sanitize the world of evil. But it seems to many people that in so many instances by imposing its simplistic and self-serving notions on other countries and cultures America itself creates the conditions for evil to arise. Why would the world’s only superpower, so privileged already, feel compelled to twist every little thing to its own narrow advantage? How can it continue to elect leaders that even its closest allies find offensive and stupid? What’s gone wrong with its mainstream electorate, the touted American middle class? One look at the photo I snapped of this restaurant figurine answers so many of these questions. Itss a shame that the great United States of America, once the hope of the free world, and of broken, impoverished peoples everywhere, should come to such a pass. What use is there in being the richest and most powerful country in the world if it’s only a nation of pigs?

* * *

William R. Stimson is an American writer living in Taiwan. More of his writing can be found at


Project management in China

Another classic from the best laowai complaint site in the China blogosphere. This one’s on a topic close to my heart. I remember my first day on the job in Beijing, when my new boss told me how I must never expect requests to be fulfilled by my staff the way I would in other countries. Anything that I assumed would be included that I didn’t specifically spell out would simply not be there. If I didn’t keep pushing, they might just quietly ignore the whole thing and hope it might go away. Etcetera.

I had some sensational employees who I’m good friends with even now. But sadly, there were enough who fit my boss’ description, as well as Talk Talk China’s. I don’t attribute this to laziness or stupidity, but to the way they are educated, to follow the teacher’s every word, read what’s written on the board and avoid at all costs any attempts at critical thinking or independent problem solving. Like just about every past trend in China, this one’s geting better, too. But reading the post in question, I see the same challenges I faced in 2002 are alive and well, to the letter.


More on the Chinese media’s outreach to foreigners

Another must-read from Will.

Update: I noticed this in the comments:

Obviously, some people (Peking Duck readers and government accountants) would probably just shut the whole thing down.

I would say this is a bit extreme. I might raze them to the ground and start over, but I wouldn’t close them down. After gutting out the rot, I would simply insist they be real media, or at least pretend to be. Right now, the propagandizing is so shameless, so blatant and in-your-face there’s no way CCTV can be taken seriously as a watchdog of the government and a conduit of information. If they absolutely must be an impotent and servile mouthpiece of the party, they could at least do so in an entertaining and sophisticated way, without appearing hopeless ham-handed and artificial. I mean, look at Fox News. They are a pure propaganda tool of the Republican Party, but they emit their sinister messages in a manner that is lively, entertaining, slick and even fun (in a depraved sort of way). But credit where due: if you have to do propaganda, do it with style and finesse. Go, Fox!

Anyway, see the excellent comments to Will’s post, and if you have any ideas for making the Chinese media more appealing to us foreigners, let us know, either here or over at Will’s post.


Chinese Corruption Kills! (In a fun kind of way)

If you have to die, why not do so while you’re having a blast?

Even by the standards of a country obsessed by banquets and plagued by corruption, the corporate hospitality that killed Zhang Hongtao was on the excessive side.

After a month-long wining-and-dining marathon – interrupted by massages, card games, sightseeing and the occasional morning of work – the county auditor from Yanshan in northern Hebei province succumbed to alcohol poisoning, according to local media reports.

The story might have died with him in April were it not for subsequent revelations that the fatally lavish binges were paid for by the company he was supposed to be inspecting, Yanshan Power Supply.

This is via one of the very greatest blogs on China that should be a part of your daily China surfing. In the same post, up at the top, the blogger shows how Hu, for all his bluster, definitely sees corruption and the environment as taking second fiddle to the all-important goal of maintaining “harmony and social stability” – code for keeping the CCP firmly in control so they can keep enjoying their obscene perks.