Obama’s foreign appeal

[Please note that Richard has not approved this blog entry.]

I’ve decided to re-write an earlier post to make my views clearer. Raj

It is clear from many reports that Obama has a massive amount of appeal the world over. This is partly because of the annoyance with Bush and therefore Republicans and partly because of how Obama comes across – young, handsome and eloquent. His race, as much as he doesn’t want it to be an election issue, stands out and reflects well on him.

However, as much as I enjoy reading election commentary from around the world, a recent piece in the Guardian was a bit too much for me. In 2004 a columnist with the Guardian urged readers to write to Americans and suggest they vote for John Kerry – which probably on average harmed, rather than helped, his chances. Recently an opinion piece on why Obama should win was published on the website.

And, most depressing, many African-Americans will decide that if even Barack Obama – with all his conspicuous gifts – could not win, then no black man can ever be elected president.

Yes, that would be depressing – because it would show that America still hasn’t moved on in terms of race. If African-Americans (what about West Indian-Americans – are they backing McCain?) are voting for Obama purely on race then that’s not hugely better in my view than voters voting for McCain because of Obama’s skin colour. But I’m not sure that they would despair that much. Obama has many talents, but he is also inexperienced – and running against possibly the worst opponent for him that the Republicans could have fielded. Although the age difference had the potential to lose McCain the election, if he could get over that Obama was always going to have a real fight.

It is my hope that if Obama loses, black Americans who were backing him will look with hope to the future rather than assume that was going to be the only chance of seeing a black US president. Freedland should have remained as optimistic, rather than make rather patronising comments that mocked the ability of the black voters to weather an Obama defeat.

But what of the rest of the world? This is the reaction I fear most. For Obama has stirred an excitement around the globe unmatched by any American politician in living memory. Polling in Germany, France, Britain and Russia shows that Obama would win by whopping majorities, with the pattern repeated in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America. If November 4 were a global ballot, Obama would win it handsomely. If the free world could choose its leader, it would be Barack Obama.

Thinking back to the last Democrat president, I seem to remember (perhaps wrongly) that during Clinton’s terms in office, the criticism of America was that it “didn’t do enough” – many countries seem to see-saw between wanting the US to make military interventions and not. Some are better than others, but I wonder whether this “pendulum” will continue to swing. In any case, as much as many people would like to see Obama US president, they have to respect the choice the American people make. As much as I wanted to see Gore and Kerry win in 2000 and 2004 respectively, when I heard that Bush had won I shrugged my shoulders and hoped for the best. It’s also fair to consider the situation reversed – I doubt Freedland would respond positively to calls from the foreign media for David Cameron to be the next British Prime Minister, though it’s probably inevitable.

But what does that say about today’s America, that the world’s esteem is now unwanted? If Americans reject Obama, they will be sending the clearest possible message to the rest of us – and, make no mistake, we shall hear it.

I don’t think at all that America would ignore the world to spite it. But just because the world backs someone doesn’t mean it is the best choice for America – that’s what US voters need to decide on. I remember some years ago that Chinese people desperately wanted to see the back of former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi – despite the fact that he had pushed a reform agenda that Japan desperately needed. Did they care about whether his successors would continue that process or send the country backwards? No. They were focused on one issue – whether the Japanese Prime Minister visited the Yasukuni Shrine or not.

Similarly, even though the world as a whole doesn’t wish a US president who will cause harm to his country, the desires of non-Americans are mostly focused on the next president “not going to war”. If they thought a monkey in a suit would do that better, they’d be “backing Bubbles”. From my POV what people like Freedland see in Obama is a mere shadow of his true qualities, taking a selfish, snobbish, self-righteous view that doesn’t do the man a shred of justice.

I can’t say that I would vote for Obama if I was American, but if he wins, I would give him the benefit of the doubt and hope for a good presidency – if he loses, I would like to see him stand again when the time is right. But for me, unlike people like Freedland, his race, youth and good features are irrelevant. It would be nice if the world could appreciate Obama for his policies rather than his image. Otherwise there will be an even greater disappointment if Obama wins and then does not turn out to be everything they thought he would be.


FT: Nuclear India must end its China-bashing


An interesting article from the Financial Times on the recent agreement by the Nuclear Suppliers Group to approve a waiver for India of a ban on exports of nuclear fuel and technology to India.

But the media celebrations had an ugly side – China-bashing. Perceptions that Beijing had tried to block the deal from behind the scenes sparked outrage among commentators, who suspected China was championing the interests of its ally and India’s nuclear-armed rival, Pakistan.

“It is in times of adversity that one learns who one’s friends are,” the Indian Express wrote in a piece lambasting China. The main business daily, The Economic Times, went further. “Slimy dragon wants deal for mother of proliferators,” it said, referring to perceptions that China might call for an NSG waiver for Pakistan as well….

As for China, Yang Jiechi, the foreign minister, declared his surprise at the accusations in the Indian media, saying Beijing played merely a “constructive” role in negotiations at the NSG.

I came across a number of articles emphasising different points, but what is clear that on Monday an editorial was run in the People’s Daily stating (according to AP) that:

the U.S.-India nuclear agreement posed a “major blow” to international nonproliferation.

“Whatever the future of the U.S.-India nuclear agreement, the multiple standard that the U.S. has on the issue of nonproliferation has caused doubts in the world,” it said.

This was then followed later on by comments from Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu, who said that “China hopes the NSG (the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group) can find a way to strike a balance between nuclear nonproliferation and (the) peaceful use of energy” and that China’s role had merely been “constructive”.

The Financial Times article is certainly persuasive in that the Indian media should not be so reactionary, given that China is further ahead in diversifying its energy resources and thus should not be concerned whether India has better access to civilian nuclear technology. That said another article, albeit from an Indian news website, gave a detailed explanation of what it said happened during the negotiations. That asserts that China was trying to block/delay the deal indirectly, rather than stand out as being totally opposed to the deal in public. As none of the diplomatic sources are named, it’s impossible to verify.

The waiver has been widely criticised as essentially rewarding a country for not signing up to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, though I have a feeling that Congress will approve it. Any thoughts on whether it might actually block it?

But what is unfortunate is that there is so little good-will in India (at least in the media) over China’s involvement in the process. If China really was trying to sabotage it then it should think twice before doing the same thing over another process – changing its mind at the last minute will only annoy India further. It would be better if it was open about its opposition from the start. If Chinese concerns over the process were taken too swiftly as a sign of “meddling” then the Indian media could do well to accept Chinese opposition to India’s position can be rooted in good-sense rather than just a desire to hamstring its rival.

Or am I simply too optimistic to believe that China and India can reconcile in the near future as equal partners?


Report: Chinese troops deployed to Hunan

Protests in two Chinese cities

The Chinese government is reported to have sent thousands of soldiers and police to quell unrest in the central province of Hunan. Up to 10,000 people took to the streets in Jishou to demand money back from an allegedly fraudulent fundraising firm, a Hong Kong-based rights group said. In another protest in the eastern port of Ningbo, 10,000 workers clashed with police, the group added. Social unrest is common in China, but rarely on this scale.

The Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy said that, in both protests, violent clashes erupted between angry crowds and local authorities. In Jishou 50 people were injured in rioting, and police arrested 20 people, the group said. According to Xinhua news agency, the protesters blocked roads and trains to demand that the government take action after a fundraising company “failed to pay them back as promised”. The Jishou government admitted in a statement that armed police were drafted in to disperse the crowds, but did not mention if anyone was hurt.

In the second incident, thousands of migrant workers confronted police in Ningbo to protest about the injury of a man in a local factory. The protests are the latest in a series of confrontations over social issues in China – many of which stem from grievances over alleged corruption and local authorities’ abuse of power. In June, thousands of people rioted in Guizhou province over claims that police had covered up the rape and murder of a girl.

The Chinese government doesn’t deploy soldiers lightly to deal with social unrest. There’s also a Washington Post article that discusses the events in Jishou in more depth.

Tens of thousands of angry protesters, many of whom lost their life savings in illegal investment schemes run by legitimate real estate and mining companies, clashed with police this week in Hunan province, residents and news agencies reported Friday. Crowds in Jishou city blocked traffic and trains Wednesday and Thursday and gathered in front of government offices demanding the return of their money…..

Since 2004, high-return investment schemes have been a popular way for real estate and mining companies and even local associations of private businesses to raise money. Typically, they offer investors returns of 3 to 10 percent a month, as compared with bank account interest rates of about 5 percent a year. The funds collapse when investors panic and demand their money back en masse.

“Over 90 percent of the people in Jishou have participated in these programs,” said a Jishou shopkeeper who gave his surname as Luo and said he invested $11,428 in Sanguan Real Estate Co. for a return of 5 percent, or $571 each month. “Before the Olympic Games, some government officials already told me to get my money out quickly, otherwise I’d be in trouble.” But Luo believed he could afford to risk the money and now can’t get his money back.

Luo said other victims included laid-off workers investing their pensions and farmers who had sold their land to developers and therefore had no other way to earn a living. Some elderly residents even sold their coffins to participate, residents said. The chairman of the board of one real estate company, Fuda, was a well-known local entrepreneur and a member of the local political consultative congress, according to the Sing Tao Web site. Nearly 40 companies raised about $1 billion this way, but beginning in July, when some companies had difficulty repaying, people began to panic.

This week, demonstrators began arriving at Jishou railroad station about 10 p.m. Wednesday, a receptionist at a hotel near the station said. From nearly midnight until 8 p.m. Thursday, “there were no trains coming in or out because of the protest,” the woman said, declining to give her name.

An electrician at another hotel near the train station gave his surname as Mo and said he had invested $7,142 in April, comprising his life savings, his family’s savings and $1,428 borrowed from friends. He was promised an interest rate of 6 percent a month. “I don’t know what to do now,” Mo added. “Although the government mobilized soldiers and stopped the protest, people will not remain silent. They will continue to fight for their rights.”

These events go to show that China remains an economically divided country with the middle and upper classes doing well – those below subject to far more risk in trying to make a living and not having any practical way of seeking redress.

As an aside, I find it somewhat ironic that many Chinese have complained about the foreign media reporting of the Olympics, given that if this had kicked off then it could have seriously damaged the Games’ reputation even more than some of those controversies did. In some respects they should count their blessings that things unfolded as they did.


The gymnast controversy – China’s censors at work


The following article from the Globe and Mail gives an interesting point-of-view on the controversy over the age of some of China’s gold-medal winning women’s gymnastics team.

What is really creepy about what’s emerged from the reporting of the gymnastics controversy is how state-owned agencies have rewritten themselves online to “correct” the record – in other words, rewritten history and attempted to expunge any contrary evidence…

What the researchers also found was that in several instances, the stories which had reported the ‘wrong’ ages – either written before the girls in question made the Olympic team or before anyone realized age mattered so much, the numbers were simply mentions in results-driven stories about various competitions – have been corrected to reflect the ‘right’, or state-approved, ages.

It is unlikely that a smoking gun will be found to prove that one or more of the Chinese girls was under-age, even if there is a lot of circumstantial evidence. The international gymnastics body certainly doesn’t seem to care, given it didn’t even query China’s story, which probably shows the depth of its “commitment” to stop young girls being exploited (one should note that there is no requirement on daily calorie consumption as the G & M observes).

So it makes the reaction of the Chinese authorities idiotic for two reasons – one as it only gives further fuel to those who doubt the official line and two because it demonstrates clearly to the outside world the Chinese State’s ability and willingness to manipulate the media. People only somewhat (or not at all) interested in China may have heard stories about censorship before, but with the attention this incident has caused around the world the subsequent “cover-up” has clearly shattered any possible reputation for media independence China has been trying to create (and will make it even more difficult to build any such status in the future).

The article finishes:

So, in the end, it’s not the Chinese gymnasts or how old they are that counts; it’s the Chinese censors propagandists and professional liars, and what they’re doing, that tells the tale.

One very said thing is that I doubt the Chinese authorities even realise the damage they were causing to how China is seen around the world.


“Crooked teeth” – Chinese bloggers criticise the foreign media


Some interesting comments over the “crooked teeth” incident are available from or through ESWN. Roland himself seems to somewhat annoyed at the foreign media for some of their comments, claiming that they invented the term “crooked teeth” themselves.

But today, the world knows Yang as having “chubby/fat face” and “crooked/uneven/buck teeth” and Lin as having no singing talents. Well, who needs Politburo members when we have western media showering such ‘tender loving care’ on Chinese children?

I think that Roland is being somewhat petulant, given that most people think that Yang was cute enough to be at the opening ceremony and there is no noticeable ill-will towards Lin. Furthermore, he rather misses the point (or chooses to ignore it) over why this has been reported so widely. It isn’t so much because of what may have been said about her, more the fact that Yang was made to dub for a “more” photogenic girl. Whether the director said that she was less attractive or the other girl was more attractive, it is clear that a decision was taking over presentation. And presentation is a key party of the “story” of Beijing 2008. It’s why parts of the city have been demolished to “tidy” it up and domestic and foreign protesters have been blocked from holding demonstrations anywhere, let alone in a place where Chinese people can easily see them.

The “Fool’s Mountain” blog writes:

Lin Miaoke had no idea that the sound was being substituted and went onto the stage to perform in front an audience of billions flawlessly. Her composure under the pressure was something most grown-up could only dream of. She is the real deal!

First of all, if I was supposed to be singing something at an event and I then heard another guy’s voice come on the loud-speakers, I would either stop or look worried, ask the technicians what was happening, etc. Given that Lin didn’t seem to stop or falter it is quite possible that she had been told what would happen. But even if she was unaware or soldiered on, again most people are not angry at her for what happened. The general reaction was more one of surprise, and any ill-will was directed towards the organisers.

A comment from “Si Dai”, linked by Roland, was quite curious:

As for “fake singing” and “lip-synching,” they are better known as “dubbing” and “body doubles” in the terminology of movies…. Without the dubbing, those movie stars with pretty faces but are tone-deaf would have been embarrassed out of their careers.

Dubbing in movies has often been controversial, no less than Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady, where fans who listened to recordings of her singing said it was actually quite good and that it was completely unnecessary to have Julie Andrews Marni Nixon dub her. But more importantly, this was not a movie and there was no need for Lin to be on the stage – no one knew who she was, so it wouldn’t have made a difference whether it was her or Peng in front of the cameras. The film comparisons are irrelevant because no one is objecting to dubbing in principle – it’s that it was used in this case.

As an example, for the 2012 Olympics, I doubt that any of the London organisers would have considered having one child sing and then another to act it out. The attitude would have been, “wow, a young singer – let’s listen to them and see if that’s what we need”. They would not have said “well, you’re a good singer, but so-and-so is more attractive than you so we’ll have them instead”. Maybe they would have been given some smart clothes, a nice haircut, or whatever.

A common complain from Chinese people, whether living in the PRC or outside of it, is that foreigners “do not understand China or Chinese people”. Yet with the sorts of reactions I have read on ESWN and through its links, I do not believe that these Chinese bloggers understand foreigners or their reactions here, because if they did they would understand why many people were so surprised by this. Or, in some cases, they may well be trying to deflect their strong embarrassment over what has happened by blaming foreigners instead.


Olympic round-up


The Olympics have only recently kicked off, but there is already a lot to talk about. For example, Michael Phelps is bidding to win an unprecedented eight gold medals in the swimming, something that he could quite possibly do – one down, seven to go. But regardless of whether he can reach this target or not, all Americans should feel proud of him anyway – even with a “mediocre” haul this year he would still be one of the most impressive athletes ever to contest the Games.

But perhaps some of the more interesting news deals with events surrounding the Olympics. The start was tainted by the sad murder of an American tourist, Todd Bachman, by some psychopathic Chinese man, who then himself committed suicide. But what I found even more horrifying were allegations that the Chinese authorities have been trying to sweep this under the carpet.

Chinese residents who lived and worked close to the scene of the crime appeared to be under orders not to discuss the incident. ‘Why are you paying so much attention to this? Murders happen all the time. You should pay attention to the two gold medals that China won today,’ said a middle-aged woman in a flower-patterned shirt.

Yes, so long as China tops the medal table who cares if visitors to Beijing are murdered?

We can hope that the report is wrong, but what this woman said seems like a typical result of Chinese propaganda enforcement. When people are told to ignore bad news and focus on the good, comments like these slip out. The other explanation, that this was a genuine view, would be even more terrible if it reflected a wider attitude and would indicate that Chinese nationalism being whipped up by the CCP over the Olympics is now leading many Chinese people to abandon common-sense.

Then we had the eruption of conflict in Georgia, with Russian troops responding to an attempt by Tbilisi to bring the rebel region of South Ossetia under its control – thousands may have died already. There have also been reports of gun-fights and attempted bombings in Xinjiang.

In regards to overly optimistic hopes that the Olympics would lead to greater openness/freedom in China, AP reports that human rights activist Zeng Jinyan has “disappeared”.

A Chinese human rights activist whose husband was jailed earlier this year has disappeared and may have been taken by police to prevent her from speaking to journalists during the Beijing Olympics, an overseas-based human rights group said Friday.

The group, Chinese Human Rights Defenders, said Zeng Jinyan disappeared on Thursday and has not been heard from. Zeng is married to activist Hu Jia, who was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison in April.

I’m sure the Chinese authorities will claim that she has wandered off on his own accord and have no idea where he is. That’s CCP regional monitoring at its best – its defence to detention of people who give a damn about something other than their own interests is that it has no idea what the local authorities are doing. If that’s the supposedly “efficient” Communist autocracy that we’re repeatedly told is China’s only future, God forbid that we see chaos and incompetance from the CCP.

Furthermore it appears that anyone asking for a protest permit is being turned down – what a surprise! Indeed, it’s an even better wheeze for the Chinese authorities, as they can use the lure of Olympic protest to flush out protestors and detain/arrest them. Not unlike the way Mao used the Hundred Flowers Campaign to identify and then silence his critics and potential opponents.

A housing activist who applied for permission to hold a demonstration in Beijing’s specially designated Olympic protest zones has been detained by police. The detention of Zhang Wei, whose home was demolished two years ago to make way for an upmarket development in Beijing’s Qianmen district, highlights the Chinese government’s crackdown on dissent ahead of the opening of the games on Friday.

Police detained Ms Zhang on Wednesday for allegedly “disturbing social order”, a member of her family said on Thursday. She was told Ms Zhang would be transferred to a detention centre in south Beijing, family members said.

Yes, “distburbing social order”. Otherwise known as “highlighting the not-so-heroic actions of the Chinese ruling party” and spoiling their attempts to trick the Chinese people into think that they are practically-perfect-in-every-way. This theme is continued by the laughable assertions of Wang Wei, who said that blocking websites is “good” for Chinese people.

“That’s an assessment made by the authorities of which sites are good and which are not good for our youth. It’s like what any other country does.”

Perhaps Wang would like to tell us what websites critical of the ruling Labour Party and its policies are blocked in the UK? Conservatives.com? libdems.org.uk?

The feeble rebuttals of Jacques Rogge, IOC chief puppet, to examples of China violating its Olympic promises continue.

“But there will be a review of what happened when we come to audit the Games when they are over.”

Yes, after the Olympics are over and the CCP has already have extracted maximum propaganda effect from it, the IOC can come down hard for the 2012 Olympics to ensure that us Brits don’t block websites for criticising the UK – which we already doesn’t do…..

Does the IOC have any shame? Guess not – the flood of dollars and yuan make up for that.

Finally we have the damning comments of a former top Party official, Bao Tong, on the way China trains its athletes.

It is very naive to take the number of gold medals won as an indicator of the rise of China. That sort of patriotism…has nothing to do with the Olympic spirit…

China has sponsored a top-down professionalized system, a totally segregated approach to athletic training… It has its roots in the Chinese Communist Party’s experience of the 1927-37 Chinese civil war, when peasants who relied on the land for their existence took up arms as their revolutionary duty to fight for a share of it. In the process, they were torn away from their families, from the rest of society, and from normal economic activities…

China’s athletes are chosen as young children…and taken away from their families, from their schools, and totally cut off from normal social activities. The door is closed, and they give up their entire youth and part of their childhoods for the sole aim of entering and winning competitions, an aim for which they are totally re-molded by the system.

The whole article should be read, but I thought these comments especially good:

China’s array of medals and prizes was produced out of the sweat, tears, and lives of generations of athletes and paralympians…You can’t use the achievements of our young people to cover up or to dilute the mistakes of the country’s leaders.

That the CCP tries to do that shows its real nature. To it, any Chinese person is a “natural resource” that can be exploited in any way, at any time, to prolong its rule.

There is one clear barometer of how good a political system is. It’s no good listening to what people say; mouths are very unreliable. You have to look at what the feet are doing. A good system will attract people. People in China may be living quite happily, and foreigners may make light of traveling a thousand miles to visit. But would they want to emigrate here? When they have seen the Olympics, seen the show, and had a chance to understand Chinese people a bit better, and to compare China to their own country, then what? I am certain that while they will say a lot of nice things about China, they are not going to start flooding in to live here. Whereas Chinese people would be leaving in their tens of thousands if the opportunity was there.

Quite true.


Sichuan Earthquake reports recommend buying parents’ silence


This is the likely conclusion of reports produced by at least local Chinese administrations in regards to the May earthquake – if indeed any of the promised investigations were ever held.

China buys the silence of grieving parents

“We were rounded up and ordered to sign the contract if we wanted to collect the government’s gift of free life insurance,” Liu explained. “They also said we would get £5,000 in cash as compensation for our dead children.” Some parents were already signing their forms.

“How do we even know if it is real life insurance?” he said. “If we accept the cash, my wife and I want to use it to take the local government to court over the death of our daughter, but we’re afraid it is not enough to cover the legal fees.

“If we don’t sign the contract, we are afraid we will be left with no children and no money to look after us when we grow old.

“We’re thinking about having another child to safeguard our future. Eventually that child will also have to go to school and we’re afraid if we don’t cooperate with the government now they will cause problems for the child later on.”

If the central Chinese government wants to say that the parents are taking the money willingly, they are suggesting Chinese people put a cash value on their children that can supercede a fair and open investigation into their death – would this be the “modern China” the CCP is building? Personally I would suggest the authorities are coercing parents into agreeing to take hush-money through lies (such as “everyone else is going to sign, so you can achieve nothing by yourself”) and threats (“take the money or you get nothing, and if you protest you will be arrested and beaten/imprisoned for causing unrest”).

The “official” report that was disclosed in relation to Hanwang stated that the school had collapsed purely because of the earthquake.

On Monday, the parents from Hanwang met for the fourth time with the deputy mayor of Deyang, which administrates Hanwang. The deputy mayor, Zhang Jinming, verbally delivered the conclusion of the government investigation – that the school had collapsed solely because of the earthquake – and declared the case closed, parents said.

Although some areas were very badly hit, in others it was the case that other buildings in the area were left standing when the schools collapsed. Will investigations be held by the central authorities and published in full, giving the honest answer as to why in a number of areas schools (especially those frequented by the children of poor families) were hardest hit? I would say “we can only hope”, but judging by past form it is likely that even if some people are made examples of, the central government will then seek to bury the matter by saying it has been dealt with and not hold a full, open inquiry. After all, the local authorities cannot instigate national censorship of a news item, such as gagging the official media.


The following is an extract of a BBC report in relation to the earthquake.

A Chinese teacher has been detained for posting images on the internet of schools that collapsed in the Sichuan earthquake, a rights group has said. Human Rights in China said Liu Shaokun had been ordered to serve a year of “re-education through labour”. Mr Liu was detained for “disseminating rumours and destroying social order”, the group said.

The 12 May quake killed nearly 70,000 people. Many of those who died were children whose schools collapsed. The poor condition of the school buildings has become a sensitive political issue for the government, and grieving parents have staged numerous protests demanding an inquiry. Many have accused local officials of colluding with builders to allow them to get away with cheap and unsafe practices.

“Instead of investigating and pursuing accountability for shoddy and dangerous school buildings, the authorities are resorting to re-education through labour to silence and lock up concerned citizens like teacher Liu Shaokun and others,” said Human Rights in China Executive Director Sharon Hom.

Who thinks that the central government is going to ride to Mr Liu’s rescue? Because if it doesn’t then it’s another sign that at the very least it approves of the local/regional governments’ actions in suppressing reporting/calls for fair investigations into why so many schools collapsed. Indeed the central government is in many ways responsible for this and other similar human rights violations because it keeps “re-education through labour” legal – an administration that really cared about human rights would abolish it, or at least make it a punishment that can only be handed down by the criminal court.


Qingdao algae cleared – remaining Olympic doubts


The BBC reports that the algae that was causing considerable worry in regards to the Olympic sailing events.

The Chinese government has successfully cleared tonnes of algae that was blocking the Olympic sailing course in the eastern city of Qingdao. A special protection zone was set up using a boom and netting. But in other areas the thick bright green algae is still polluting the beaches.

My fear was that all the algae couldn’t be cleared – which may well still be the case when the sailing event starts next month. But because the sailing area has been successfully cordoned off that won’t be a problem for the athletes and their supporters. So may the best sailors win – if they can deal with the potential for light winds and (so I have been told) fog.

But I still have doubts about the Olympics. Not so much over the events at Qingdao or even the Beijing Olympics as a whole. There are concerns over many matters regarding 2008, such as air pollution and the increasing suppression of human rights in China – as opposed to the promise that they would improve (who actually believed the CCP would willingly co-operate on this?) – in order to promote the public image of a “harmonious society” to the world. No, it’s the IOC.

Whenever there’s a problem with the Olympics in terms of delivery of the Games, it is the host nation that gets the blame. Sure that is usually justified because they have years and years to plan and build facilities. But the IOC’s role in choosing the hosts in the first place is rarely focused on. Why is it that Beijing was selected given its pollution problem even back when selection took place? This was only going to get worse given China’s growing economy even under the most optimistic projections. Similarly selecting Los Angeles in 1984 was questionable. Back to China, an argument advanced was that awarding the Games would encourage China to improve its human rights. Why? The CCP has repeatedly demonstrated that it sees power in China as a right, not a privilege. Indeed it believes it is the organisation making the “sacrifice” because without it the country would fall apart because no one else can rule. Well, sure, if you suppress a free media and other political organisations that would make it difficult to find alternatives to govern a nation.

Really I do not think that there should be any more competitions to award the Games. The idea of it being rotated around the world is essentially a way for the IOC to exploit international competition in getting cities (and essentially nations) to promise to offer more than their rivals. In London the IOC demanded a fleet of limousines and dedicated car lanes, as it wasn’t enough to have special buses and coaches laid on (only the little people use buses, they would say). As a result IOC members get an endless supply of freebies and are treated like royalty wherever they go. There is probably still a certain about of bribery going on as well.

This could all be stopped by having the Olympics happen at fixed locations. If the Olympics used to be held at Olympia, why not have a complex built and maintained there or somewhere else suitable in Greece? Or indeed re-use facilities at the location of a previous Olympics – maybe rotate between a few cities at most. It would save an absolute fortune. But the problem is the IOC only cares about the amount of money that it can generate from the Olympics and little else.

We already have the site of the 2012 Olympics agreed upon, and it is highly likely that 2016 and 2020 will be finalised through open competitions. Will we ever live to see the Olympics become an event focused on sport and mutual respect rather than money-spinning and petty nationalism? Maybe not, but one can only hope.


China’s shame – backing Mugabe


Despite my hope that China might just do something principled for a change on the international stage, it vetoed sanctions against Zimbabwe. If China has a policy of “non-intervention”, it should never use its vote on the United Nations Security Council. If it uses its vote, it is intervening. If that’s the best excuse they can come up with, I honestly wonder whether the Chinese leadership live in the real world or live in delusion, believing their own propaganda.

China’s foreign policy is heavily slanted to improving trade with other countries. This is all very well, but it only lasts while the economy is good. In lean times politicians often default to protectionism, as we see from the Democrats in the US, when foreign trading states become the enemy and not an ally, unless there are deeper ties. Yet China seems to think that money is all that matters. This is short-sighted. Whilst China is a useful trading partner and a help with international affairs, it will be surrounded by eager nations. But when the chips are down, when China needs help from others on a key matter, will all those “friends” make sacrifices to help it out? I doubt it.

China does not seem to understand why countries want sanctions on Zimbabwe. For several years it has had the opportunity to improve relations at the core level, by connecting with other countries, showing that it understands their concerns regarding the world and indicating that it respects and will support those countries in dealing with their problems. But each time it has squandered that opportunity, usually down to prejudice and arrogance. Even over North Korea, years of foot-dragging by Beijing helped Pyongyang obtain its nuclear arsenal, such that there is even the strong suspicion that China did this deliberately to put it in a position where it could be of use to the US and obtain concessions of its own, such as over Taiwan.

More-and-more China is being seen as a threat to the hopes and plans of democracies around the world. Chinese politicians are viewed as attempting to spread the theory of economic success through a strong and autocratic central state, which could convince the leaders of poor states without strong rule of law to reverse fragile democratic laws and cement their rule with the excuse that it would make their economies better. This is probably not true, but whether China likes it or not every time it blocks or waters down sanctions against an aggressive or oppressive state that is exactly the impression it gives.

Sadly, China’s leaders do not realise this (or maybe refuse to accept it) and will probably continue to blunder on until they are faced with a true crisis where they will need international support. By then it will be far too late to undo the damage that they have caused to their image.


Time for China to vote for sanctions on Zimbabwe


Little needs to be said about the horrible situation in Zimbabwe – the stolen election, the attacks on opposition supporters, holding food back from people unless they voted for the Zanu-PF. The question is, will China continue to protect Mugabe?

UN Security Council permanent members Russia and China that are friendly to Mugabe are expected to block sanctions against the Zimbabwean leader

There is an alternative view that Russia doesn’t care that much so will not use its veto – that just leaves China.

Why would China back Mugabe? The country is not energy rich, nor is it a strategic base for Chinese military forces. So might China try to protect him because it sympathises with his suppression of opposition, or because it may want to use him as a way of deflecting international attention away from its own problems? I don’t know, but it would be foolish to help him out.

With all the criticism of China in just the last year, let alone the years before that, this would be a good time to show the world that it does care about atrocities outside its own borders, that China could be a positive world leader rather than a “I’m alright, Jack” country who could never be relied upon when the chips are down.

China would have a lot to gain and nothing to lose, save the belief that one can do whatever one pleases within one’s borders. Sadly that selfish attitude might be what motivates the CCP to oppose sanctions. If China decides to block sanctions, given all that has happened/is stil happening in Zimbabwe, it would cause even more trouble for the Beijing Olympics. I would like to be pleasantly surprised, but that would only be if China votes positively for sanctions – insisting they be watered down (though the proposals are hardly punitive as they are), not voting or not vetoing would be a case of trying to have one’s cake and eat it.

For those who may be unconvinced by recent media reports of “Uncle Bob”‘s betrayal of his own people, take a look at this video.

Shepherd Yuda, 36, fled the country this week with his wife and children. He said that he hoped the film, which was made for the Guardian, would help draw further attention to the violence and corruption in Zimbabwe. Much of the footage was shot inside the country’s notorious jail system. Yuda, who has worked in the prison service for 13 years, was motivated by the intensifying violence directed towards the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and the murder, two months ago, of his uncle, a MDC activist…..

“I had never seen that kind of violence before,” said Yuda, of the run-up to the election. “How can a government that claimed to be democratically elected kill its people, murder its people, torture its people?”

The film, made for Guardian Films, shows how Yuda and his colleagues at Harare central jail had to fill in their ballots in front of Zanu-PF activists. Yuda also obtained footage of Zanu-PF rallies where voters were told they should pretend to be illiterate so that an official could fill in their ballot for them on behalf of Mugabe.