China must stand for democracy, a free press and civil rights: Xinhua

Yes, Xinhua really did insist on these things – however, there’s one small catch.


Charter 08

This is becoming an increasignly thorny issue for the CCP.

On Dec. 8, the police took Zhang Zuhua into a room in Beijing and sat him in a chair.

For 12 hours, they questioned him. They brought him water, but no food. And they debated the document that had led him here: Charter 08, a call for sweeping political change in China.

It’s gotten to be an old story here: A clutch of activists challenges the government; the government jails one or two to scare others into silence.

But the movement around Charter 08 is different, say human rights groups and Mr. Zhang, who helped draft the document.

A month after its release, Charter 08 is still making waves in China. A wide cross-section of citizens has expressed support online. And the government, nervous about social unrest and the approaching anniversary of Tiananmen Square, has contacted – and in some cases, interrogated and threatened – at least dozens of the manifesto’s original signers.

“This text is having a lot of impact – people are debating and signing it online,” says Nicholas Bequelin, China researcher for Human Rights Watch. “This is a landmark in terms of its appeal, and [the] attention that it has provoked.”

Charter 08 calls for an end to one-party authoritarian rule and lays out a vision for a rights-based society – an electoral democracy, under the rule of law, with equality for peasants and city-dwellers and protected freedoms of speech and expression.

Today, Asia Sentinel dubbed Charter 08 the most serious threat to the party since 1989 and, in a misguided but interesting article, Daniel Drezner goes so far as to prophesy either the complete collapse of the CCP or the iron-fisted crushing of massive demonstrations. (The commenters straighten him out on this.) Also, note the three or four (at this moment) comments to the Asia Sentinel piece. Right out of the party’s talking points, from the obligatory swipe at the Dalai Lama to the argument that democracy is rash and dangerous.

I hope you can read through the CSM article, which leaves the impression that many people in China are taking Charter 08 to heart (some 300,000 website now link to it), and some are even willing to risk jail to support it. When people are that passionate about something, it can spell big trouble for a government that depends of lock-step thinking and sloganeering to keep their citizens’ minds pure.

It will be fascinating to watch this unfold, right at the time when China’s leaders most fear a disruption of the harmony they worked so hard to achieve. I don’t think it will bring them down, but it’s already created a colossal headache. 1989 inevitably comes to mind. Cheers to the people who had the courage to launch Charter 08 and the fortitude to propel it into the global consciousness.


James Fallows interviewed by Terry Gross on China’s economy

Go listen. A great reporter, Fallows explains why China invests and saves the way it does, how the global financial crisis is rocking China more than many had predicted, and why China cannot “save the world” from the crisis. He also discusses our good friend, China’s Net Nanny, and why the CCP bothers blocking and monitoring Web sites, which he calls “subtle repression” that’s worked better than many of us realize. On CCP propaganda, he quips, “It’s like a whole country run by Fox News.” Not that far off. Strongly suggest you listen to it all.


Woman in Beijing dies of bird flu

It kind of feels like deja vu all over again. I was just thinking tonight about SARS and the first time I heard about the mysterious new disease back in 2002. Then a friend of mine called and told me about a confirmed case of bird flu in Beijing, just announced today. The woman was only 19 years old.

A 19-year-old woman has died of the H5N1 bird flu virus in Beijing after coming into contact with poultry, health authorities in Beijing and Hong Kong said on Tuesday.

This human H5N1 case would be China’s first in almost a year. Experts said while the case was not unexpected as the virus is more active during the cooler months between October and March, it points to holes in surveillance of the virus in poultry.

With the world’s biggest poultry population and hundreds of millions of farmers raising birds in their backyards, China is seen as crucial in the global fight against bird flu.

“The woman fell ill on December 24, was hospitalized on December 27 and died on Monday (at) 7.20 am,” the Beijing Municipal Bureau said in a faxed statement….

China’s official Xinhua News Agency earlier reported that the woman from eastern Fujian province had bought nine ducks at a market in Hebei province, which surrounds Beijing, and then gutted the birds. She gave three ducks to her father, uncle and a friend and kept the other six ducks, the agency reported.

I think we had all forgotten that bird flu, long touted as the world’s next and long-overdue pandemic, even existed. This may bring the story back with a vengeance, especially considering that this happened right here in Beijing and not off in the countryside.


China’s Internet censorship – whose business is it?

At the height of the SARS scandal in 2003, I wrote a characteristically florid and dramatic post about Internet censorship and its role in the tragedy. It was sincere, if overwrought, and others have since borrowed its headline (what can you do?). That very day the government conceded it had staged a massive cover-up of a deadly disease, and vowed to open up and let the light stream in. This was my key point, addressed directly to an unresponsive Hu Jintao:

Since you are now encouraging free communications and honest dialogue, I urge you to look at the greatest roadblock to these noble goals — your custom-made Internet censorship mechanism, lovingly referred to as The Great Firewall of China. You cannot have it both ways. Either you are transparent and in favor of dialogue, or you are a frightened deer caught in the headlights, terrified of what your people see and think.

The blocked Internet is a glaring symptom and symbol of your fears. It reinforces the perception of you as paranoid ideologues. It reminds the world that your past eagerness to block communications (which, in the case of SARS, resulted only in more unnecessary deaths and unending streams of rumors) is alive and well, and thus you are still not to be trusted….I am a personal victim of your censorship, unable to read this very site, thanks to your terror of the exchange of information.

All we ever got in return for this simple request was a lot of disappointment and several broken promises. Things soon returned to normal, journalists were discouraged to do their jobs, control over the Internets only tightened (with a brief Potemkin Village-style hiatus around the Games), and nearly all the news on openness under Hu has been decidedly grim.

This week, news about China’s New & Improved firewall lit up the blogs once again, perhaps because the story it’s such a vintage example of dazzling technology being used for the most ruthless and primitive of purposes (repression):

China’s government is stepping up internet scrutiny by equipping its web censors with more advanced software that allows them to spot risks of subversion much earlier and root it out more efficiently, according to the country’s internet security market leader.

The revelation from Beijing TRS Information Technology, China’s leading provider of search technology and text mining solutions, that it is thriving on the government’s desire to better “manage” public opinion, comes as the political leadership is facing growing challenges, mostly voiced through the internet.

Currently, the security forces are cracking down on intellectuals associated with Charter 08, an appeal for democracy and human rights that many see as the most significant such document since 1989 and which has, defying Beijing’s net censorship, been collecting signatories over the web.

Traditionally, so-called internet cops look for subversive content via keyword searches on Google or Baidu, He Zhaohui, marketing manager at TRS, told the FT. But, he claimed that TRS is increasingly selling advanced text mining solutions enabling censors to monitor and forecast public opinion rather than take down dangerous talk after it happened. Mr He argued, for example, that state-of-the-art internet spying could have prevented the Shanxi brick kiln slavery scandal and the damage it did to the country’s image.

I do want everyone to think about that last sentence for a moment. This guy is actually boasting that if only his group’s technology had been around in 2007 China could have keep secret for all time the plight of kidnapped children sold into slavery to labor in a Shaanxi brick factory? The guy actually said that on the record? (Or am I misreading something?) And that we should all be grateful this technology will allow the CCP to hide the truth faster and more easily? This raises the Nanny to a new level of sinisterness, potentially morphing from a site blocker and nuisance to a network of Thought Police ready to swoop down on people before they even do anything.

Okay, so we all know how bad this system of censorship is, and we all know why the CCP invests so much time and money to ensure complete control of the pipes. We all know it’s getting worse, not better. And yet I can’t get out of my head a discussion I had with a group of journalists and Web 2.0 luminaries several weeks ago when this topic arose. One of them, a well-known techie writer who knows China better than most of us, had this to say:

“When Americans see the Chinese Internet, they say, ‘Look at this! Look at how many sites are blocked! Look at all the censorship and how the government is denying its people information.’ And then the Chinese people look at the same Internet and say, ‘This is amazing! We have never had so much information made available to us before. It’s like a dream.'”

And this conversation brought to mind yet another post I can’t forget from 2006, written, ironically, shortly before the blogger himself was arrested for pointing his video camera at the wrong places. In the post he outlined the pros and cons of the censorship argument from the Western and Chinese perspectives in a brilliant set of bullets:

1. Progress or Backwards? the extent of censorship vs information availability
a. Internet is growing rapidly in China. Chinese are having access to exploding amount of information which they couldn’t have fathomed a decade ago.
b. The information is censored, especially in politics, history and news. Chinese are being goaded by the government to think in certain directions.
c. But smart people can get around the Great Firewall via proxy servers. And if one reads English, there’s no much censorship to speak of unless one considers:
that BBC (blocked) offers much superior and often exclusive content compared to CNN and NY Times, or that speeches on Falun Gong, pro-Taiwan-independence and anti-Communist-party (I mean politically anti) are unalienable rights for the average Chinese.

2. Why are the laowais so ga-ga?
a. Why are the foreign media working up so high a frenzy over this? Don’t they know they can’t impose their will on China, if Chinese don’t want to change themselves?
b. Of course the foreigners care, because that’s in the core of their value system. Without them being ga-ga over this, the situation in China would be worse.
c. Worse. Hmm. Really? That’s very conceited. Do they want to repeat Iraq in China?
d. And who says free speech is essential to an acceptable society? Look at Singapore. Look at all the democracies that can’t feed their own people. Press freedom is not the most urgent issue in China.
e. What’s the urgent issue in China then? Without press and political freedom, none of China’s current major problems can be solved satisfactorily.

3. Do Chinese care?
a. The average Chinese I know doesn’t. Of course we can always argue about my sample size, and the predisposition in my observation.
b. But if given the chance (free speech in education and public discourse), would Chinese cherish the freedom then?
c. And why do we care about the “average” Chinese? Every individual deserves the full human rights declared in the UN charter.
d. That’s just a pipe dream! People want to make their lives better first.

And on it goes. My very favorite bullet comes at the very end:

Change has to happen. But the Chinese have to figure it out themselves. The foreign media can continue to go ga-ga over this. Will all the media attention serve much purpose beyond acting as the fad of the day though? I wonder.

Although it’s just one of many bullets, I strongly suspect it reflects the blogger’s opinion (at least before he suddenly found himself the guest of the system’s hospitality). It’s an interesting question: How excited should we (foreigners) get about China’s Internet censorship when the Chinese people, the alleged victims, are nearly unanimously complacent about a problem that to them doesn’t exist?

I don’t have answers. From 2002 to 2006 I was apoplectic outspoken on this issue. And then…. Well, when you live here long enough and you actually talk to the people your defending and fighting for, your perspective can change. Not about censorship: it’s always bad, and in China it has brutal and evil consequences. But you realize that if there’s going to be change, it’s going to have to come from within China. Hyperventilating about the censorship may feel soothing, and sometimes it seems like an entire cottage industry has sprung up, fueled by stories about blocked blogs and the latest censorship tools. God knows, I’ve contributed enough fuel myself, starting six years ago almost to the day. (I believe this was the first blog post about China’s blogspot ban, which was to remain in effect for half a decade.) And we should keep up the complaints and the noise and not let the world forget – and not let the CCP forget that the world is watching.

But. But we can’t distort what the actual situation is in China. 99.9 out of 100 people here will tell you this is not a problem to them, and even to those who see it as such, it does not rank high on their list of urgent needs. And, again, the breast-beating of “gaga foreigners” will not swing the pendulum over to the side of enlightenment. That’s something the Chinese people will need to make happen, though I will keep urging them on from the sidelines. And just as in the good old days, I still decry the foreign companies who got rich making the technology possible. This insidious system is China’s; it’s a shame the fingerprints of companies from the developed world are all over it.


China names naughty Web sites

Thank God they’re looking out for us. Make sure to avoid these sites at all cost.


The End of the Financial World as We Know It

We’ve all seen bloggers link to articles they claim best explain the current global financial mess. I’ve given a few such links myself. But this article opened my eyes and got me thinking like few others, and i strongly recommend you read it now. It’s simply the best single piece I’ve found.

I wrote a huge post with big snips but then realized the article speaks for itself, and I can’t tell it better than its authors. Please, read it.

The most illuminating aspect is its focus at the beginning on the Madoff scandal, illustrating how it is symbolic of why the whole train wreck took place. Sure, Madoff is just a sideshow of the Big Global Crisis going on in the main tent. But the authors show, dramatically, how the way it was handled, or mishandled, or not handled at all, tells us much of what we need to know about why we are where we are today. This is exquisite stuff, and the thesis is kicked off with a look at the efforts of a man who wrote a detailed and damning report seeking to alert the regulators about what was clearly a fraud of monumental proportions. It was ignored because exposing Madoff went contrary to the short-term interest of all involved. The regulators, the investment houses, everybody. And that is why the same regulators and banks failed to clean house even when all the evidence was in front of their eyes that we were heading toward a global calamity. It was bad for their own short-term interest. And the way they are handling the crisis now follows the exact same mold: they are shoring up their own short-term interests yet again. That’s what the bailout was all about.

It reminded me of another gem I saw today over at this site. It uses a rather crude metaphor to make its point:

Forrest Gump Explains Mortgage Backed Securities

Mortgage Backed Securities are like boxes of chocolates.
– Criminals on Wall Street stole a few chocolates from the boxes and replaced them with turds.
– Their criminal buddies at Standard & Poor rated these boxes AAA Investment Grade chocolates.
– These boxes were then sold all over the world to investors.
– Eventually somebody bites into a turd and discovers the crime.
– Suddenly nobody trusts American chocolates anymore worldwide.
– Hank Paulson now wants the American taxpayers to buy up and hold all these boxes of turd-infested chocolates for $700 billion dollars until the market for turds returns to normal.
– Mama always said: “Sniff the chocolates first Forrest”.

Hank Pauson is using his gift from you and me to yet again protect the immediate interests of an elite group of power brokers who, instead of seeking to stem the tide of failing mortgages, want mainly to focus on pushing stock prices back up (again, for their own short-term gain) with no consideration of the long-term consequences of their not actually fixing the heart of the problem. And the cycle continues. The NYT column gives you the entire picture, and makes you wonder why we are asking those who filthied the stables to now clean them up.

Again, read the whole thing, and prepare to shake your head in stunned disbelief.


Sometimes life sucks

An unhappy ending to an upsetting story. If I believed in God, I’d say my prayers were with Addie. My thoughts certainly are, as are my condolences to Ryan. Life goes on, but at the moment I know that’s of little consolation.