CCP: We do care about human rights!

China has responded defensively to allegations by the US that it is “backsliding” on human rights.

Reacting to his American counterpart, Richard Boucher’s statement on China’s alleged “backsliding” on human rights promises, Kong said the Chinese government rejected the US charge.
Kong claimed that the human rights situation in China has made “great progress” in the past few years, which has also received wide acclaim from the international community.


Last December, China pledged during talks with the US to allow UN investigators to look into allegations that China jails people without due process, tolerates prison torture and restricts religious freedoms.
“Those visits have not yet taken place,” US State department spokesman Richard Boucher said.

I guess Kong missed the recent articles on the kind and gentle treatment of AIDS victims and the recent infamous ten-year prison terms for Internet essayists. Maybe he’s right, maybe there have been great strides. There’s also a ways to go, and it appears, unsurprisingly, that several specific promises were not kept.


Bush really might lose….

I’ve been waiting for this article to appear for some time now, and only wondered why it took so long. With the horrific bombing of the UN building in Iraq last week, I guess it’s time had come.

As far as I can tell from 12,000 miles away, there has been a real shift in just the past few weeks, with the UN bombing accelerating the process dramatically — a shift in the belief that Bush has proven himself invincible in restoring a sense of national security after September 11.

Just compare the mood today to that on the day he made his Top Gun landing and declared the combat in Iraq to be over. It is a shame that the combat isn’t over. But it’s also a shame that Bush chose to glamorize our great victory — as though it were a done deal — with such hubris. And he may pay a heavy price.

Here is how the article begins:

The wave of violent death this week in Iraq, Israel, Gaza and Afghanistan brought to the fore a reality that President Bush has been reluctant to discuss: Peace is not at hand.

A confident Bush stood in the Rose Garden less than a month ago, saying, “Conditions in most of Iraq are growing more peaceful,” boasting of “dismantling the al Qaeda operation” and pronouncing “pretty good progress” toward Middle East peace and a Palestinian state within two years.

Those sunny characterizations may yet prove true, but Bush allies and foes alike are coming to the conclusion that the progress may not be noticeable by the time Bush faces the voters again in 15 months. For a president who has staked his reputation on making “a tough decision to make the world more peaceful,” this could be a big problem.

We’ll probably see more and more of this if gloomy news keeps emanating from Iraq. After all, with the economy in shambles, unemployment at its worse in recent memory, and America’s image tarnished in the eyes of just about everybody overseas, what is Bush going to point to as his great success?


US blasts China’s human rights record

It looks like the progress in human rights in China, so loudly trumpeted a year ago, was just a lot of noise over nothing. The US today accused China of “backsliding” on the issue.

“Despite the progress in 2002 we’ve been disappointed to see the negative developments in 2003,” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.


Mr Boucher said “backsliding” in this context consisted of a number of “troubling incidents” including the execution of a Tibetan activist without due process.

In January, activist Lobsang Dhondup, 28, was put to death following a series of bomb blasts in southwestern China, on what supporters say were politically motivated charges.

Mr Boucher also cited the “arrest of a number of democracy activists, the harsh sentences that were laid down for Internet essayists, labor protestors and a number of other things that constitute backsliding.”

Of all the sins committed by the Chinese government, contempt for human rights is the most unpardonable. I don’t understand how they can allow it to happen at the same time they are striving to be a world economic leader. They have so much going for them, with the 2008 Olympics, ascension to the WTO, a (seemingly) strong economy — why ruin it all by treating your citizens as though you’re still in the Dark Ages?

The answer lies in China’s history, where one finds a disdain for human life that goes back thousands of years and was epitomized by Mao’s indifference to the great famine (and every other atrocity he fomented, each of which was paid for with the blood of the people).

Many societies have episodes of brutality, even genocide, in their history. But today, we expect that only from backward, uneducated societies, not from a country pulling all the stops to be seen as the world’s leading economic engine and a model of improvement in every way. China has to wise up: if it wants international respect, it has to live up to international standards. They clearly haven’t gotten this yet, and in fact are now heading in the exact wrong direction.

Update: Maybe I need to clarify this, as some have misunderstood my point. Brutality is not unique to China, and it is probably safe to say all or certainly most societies have had their ample share of it. My point is that, unlike the countries that grew out of their long periods of brutal, repressive government, much of the old mentality remains in China, as manifested in the huge number of executions, the documented human rights abuses, the total inability of “the little man” to receive justice, the rampant corruption, and the violence that goes with it. The arrests and long prison terms of essay writers. Also the viewpoint that women are mere trinkets, which is still alive in much of the country today, as witnessed by the continuing infanticide of baby girls and the widespread selling of young girls by their own families into slavery and/or forced prostitution. Some of these things were way worse under the Nationalists than they are now (they used to simply shoot suspected Communists on the streets in front of everyone), and China has made strides in the right direction. But Mao’s attitude of the low value of a human life is legendary, and not dissimilar to that of rulers during the warlord days. As other nations in the 20th Century embraced what we call “modern-day civilization” and a greater respect for human life, China got stuck somewhere along the line. My simple point is that this attitude is grounded in a pattern of the way the “common mass of people” has been treated in China throughout much of its history. It isn’t new. Mao didn’t invent it. He just took it to shocking extremes (though less extreme than his contemporaries Hitler and Stalin). So I am not branding China as having a more brutal history than other countries — just as still being under the effect of the spirit and psyche of brutality long after many (most) other civilized nations have come to recognize the value and necessity of justice and equality. South Africa and Russia were able to end long-ingrained behaviours. Now it’s China’s turn, at least if they expect to win the respect they so crave.


Ann Coulter: The wicked witch of the right

Ann Coulter’s not in Kansas anymore. In fact, she is not even on the planet earth, but rather in her own bizarre and depraved universe.

Check out a great new post from Orcinus on how Ann’s religious mission to redeem Joe McCarthy defies sanity and constitutes revisionism at its most dangerous.


It’s a Wonderful Life

The first half of today was so awful, so thoroughly depressing that for a moment I wondered why I should bother living. And I have to be mighty depressed to think that way.

I have been trying to send money to my love in America to pay the mortgage, and the Internet transaction seems to have vaporised in the ether. No one seems to be able to explain where the money went; all I know is it was taken out of my account. A health insurance company owes me more than $2000 for my medical bills in Beijing following my fall, and that, too, seems to be lost in some bureaucratic maze, and I feel like K in Kafka’s The Trial, absolutely unable to get any information or answers. I felt desperate.

A whole wave of headaches like this came crashing down all at once, and I left the office for lunch feeling utterly helpless and overwhelmed. I was shaking, I felt so frustrated.

As I staggered back to the office, I was counting all the reasons why life just wasn’t worth it. What’s the point? It’s so easy just to end it. And then….

I opened my email, and there was one of those moments that belonged in a Hollywood movie. My eyes saw the Subject of the email, and as my brain processed the letters, I suddenly heard Louis Armstrong’s gravelly voice in the background singing, “And I think to myself, what a wonderful world….”

The header simply said something along the lines of, “I may have a job for your friend Ben.” (Ben is my dearest friend from Beijing, someone whom I treasure, the one to whom I “pushed the envelope.”)

It was a very simple email, extraordinarily kind and gracious, from a reader who has an ad agency in China. Maybe nothing will come of it. It was just that it came at that moment when everything seemed totally black, and it filled my world with a beautiful light, and I felt all the fears and sadness of the earlier hours melt away. As I read the content, tears welled in my eyes, and I finally just rested my head in my arms and cried silently.

The writer had read my posts about Ben and his difficulties landing a job in Beijing, and he was simply saying that maybe, possibly, he might have something to offer. Maybe not, but why not see?

I do not want that person to feel that now I expect anything to come of it. Just as when I brought Ben to my own company back in Beijing for an interview, I was determined that Ben would succeed based on his own abilities, and not on my lobbying. I have since helped Ben find a couple of other job leads, but, to be fair, I divorce myself from the process after the introductions.

So it may not amount to anything, but it reminded me that there is still a lot of goodness on the planet. I picked up the phone and called my health insurance company, and for the first time in months, I actually made progress, and got a commitment from a real person. Suddenly, the world was just…different.

The day also drove home to me just how badly I want to go home after my two and-a-half-years away. I owe it to my company to stay for now, and I am giving them everything I’ve got — after all, they got me out of China. But it’s definitely the last stop on the way back to my family and my cats and my home.


Lucky numbers mean BIG money in China

Ages ago I wrote about the near-obsessive care Chinese people take to avoid “bad-luck numbers” like 4 and 14.

Then there are the good-luck numbers, most prominently the number 8, which in Chinese is “ba” which sounds like “fa” which means “to prosper.”

All of this is background to a tiny anecdote, namely that Sichhuan Airline a few days ago bought the telephone number 8888-8888 for $288,000 USD, which is about 2.33 million yuan. It’s going to be their customer service number. It illustrates just how powerful these superstitions can be.

Superstitions and feng shui and luck play an amazingly important role for millions of Chinese, even here in Singapore. One of my clients told me we had to delay the launch of his new company because the third week of August had bad feng shui (something to do with the Hungry Ghost Festival, I think) and the second week of September was the earliest he could do it. This is a computer geek in his 20s, not an old villager. Some traditions just linger on….

Update: In case you skip the comments, a reader referred me to this informative article on the magic of 8. Thanks, commenter.


New Chinese “article” on “Taiwan” makes a “parody” of itself

An unwittingly self-parodying article just came out in People’s Daily in which half the phrases are put in “quotation marks” to indicate the author’s (i.e., the government’s) scoffing at the idea that there is any semblance of legitimacy to Taiwan’s “presidential elections.” Unintentionally funny. Vintage CCP.

UPDATE: Link corrected


Wagner opera to open in….Thailand!

Now this is really surprising:

BANGKOK – Wolfgang Wagner, grandson of the late opera composer Richard Wagner, will lead a delegation to Thailand in November to attend the opening ceremony of the Thai branch of the International Wagner Society, the first such group in Southeast Asia, a new report said Friday.

They’ll actually be performing Das Rheingold in Bangkok in 2005, with the rest of the Ring to follow.

I was involved in an effort to start a Wagner Society in Beijing back in April, but unfortunately I had to depart before it really got going. Does Singapore have a Wagner Society? Hmmm.


Rejoice. Micahel Savage is back on radio in NYC

Far-right talk radio psychopath Michael Savage can again be heard on NYC’s airwaves (he was fired from WABC radio earlier for his foul-mouthed racism). Mayor Bloomberg is recommending that New Yorkers clean their ears thoroughly with antibacterial soap after listening to the new program.


The Job Season in China: Permanent Winter

Sad article on the difficulties today’s college grads are having finding jobs in China.

This is a subject close to my heart. My best friend in China, Ben, is having a terrible time finding a job, and I keep telling him that the competition is more intense now than it’s ever been in his lifetime, and he should not blame himself for rejections. It’s just the way it is for nearly every Chinese job hunter at the moment.

I wonder if there is any place in Asia where jobs are easy to come by. HK and Singapore have been steeped in unemployment for a couple of years now. The difference with China is that at least in HK and Spore the students have known for a long time just how hard-to-impossible finding their dream job would be. In China, it is apparently coming as a shock, and a lot of young people are realizing sadly that they must rearrange their plans and dreams. At the moment, there’s no end in sight.