Weekend thread

I would say “thank God it’s Friday” but every day is Friday when you’re not working.


China’s upper hand over the US

Take a look at this refreshingly original and too-true opinion piece on how China understands us way better than we understand them. It’s really a breath of fresh air at a time when we’re bombarded daily with alarmist “China threat” warnings. A healthy excerpt:

We’re losing the intelligence war against China.

No, not the one with spy satellites, human operatives and electronic eavesdropping. I’m talking about intelligence : having an intelligent understanding of and intelligent discussions about China — where it’s heading, why it’s bidding to buy major U.S. companies and whether we should worry. Above all, I’m talking about formulating and pursuing intelligent policies for dealing with China.

The Chinese government today understands America much better than our government understands China. Consequently, the Chinese government is much better at pulling our strings than we are at pulling theirs. China’s top leaders, diplomats and bureaucrats have a clear framework from which they view the United States, and they are focused and unified in formulating and implementing their policies toward us.

In contrast, our government’s viewpoint on China is unfocused, fractured and often uninformed. Is China still the Red Menace of the Cold War or a hot new competitor out to eat our economic lunch? Both views as well as a hodgepodge of other interpretations can be found in the halls of the White House, Congress and the Pentagon. Add to that confusion a vicious domestic political culture that brooks no compromise, and the chances of formulating a coherent China policy approach nil.

Playing the barbarians off against each other has been a core tenet of Chinese foreign policy since the imperial dynasty days when China’s maps depicted a huge landmass labeled the “Middle Kingdom” surrounded by tiny islands labeled England, Germany, France, America, Russia and Africa. China was the center of the world and everyone else was a barbarian. That’s why the Chinese are delighted by spectacles such as when rival members of a U.S. congressional delegation screamed at one another in front of their Chinese hosts in the Great Hall of the People. And what should they think of the time top Chinese officials laid out clear policy objectives to an American business audience and a U.S. cabinet member responded by saying “Jesus loves the Chinese people”?

Read the whole thing, as we like to say — I haven’t seen such an intelligent article in the mainstream media on China and how the US perceives it in a longtime. The author, former head of the American Chamber of Commerce in China James McGregor, sees things with an unusual clarity and honesty. While chiding us for our propagandized image of China as bogeyman, he also reocgnizes China for what it is, a rising power struggling to keep its head above water and nothing even close th being the superpower to which it aspires. At least not yet.

Still, China isn’t even a fraction as powerful as it pretends to be. Beneath the bluster, it is a nation beset with internal problems. Pollution chokes its air and water. The growing gap between the haves and have-nots and rampant government corruption are triggering almost daily demonstrations. And China has no ideology other than enriching itself. The relentless commercial drive that has shaken China out of its imperial and socialist stupor has now become an end unto itself, leaving a population that is spiritually adrift.

It’s nice to see some balance. America has to relax. We are not in danger. And China has a lot of growing up to do. The country’s growing and getting better but it’s a mess. And as the writer says, China understands us way better than we do them. They pull our strings every day, and we react like automatons. We don’t need to.


Angry Japanese Bloggers

An interesting look at the rage Japanese bloggers are aiming at Korea and China. It was especially interesting to see how many of the most popular Japanese blogs are devoted to blasting Korea and China.

Apparently blind rage isn’t unique to China.


Good news

And good news is hard to come by nowadays.

A new Gallup Poll finds a decline in George W. Bush’s job approval rating. After standing at 49% approval in the prior two CNN/USA Today/Gallup polls conducted this month, now just 44% of Americans say they approve of Bush, a new low mark for the president. The poll also shows a drop in Bush’s favorable rating to 48%, which is the first time it has dropped below 50% since Gallup began tracking this opinion in 1999. Four in 10 Americans are satisfied with the way things are going in the country, which is essentially unchanged from early July. The poll shows continued positive momentum for the Democratic Party in terms of national party identification and ratings of the two major political parties, both of which were evident before the drop in Bush approval occurred.

The July 25-28 Gallup Poll finds 44% of Americans approving and 51% disapproving of the job Bush is doing as president. Bush’s prior low approval rating was 45%, which occurred once in March and once again in June of this year.

Don’t you see? Bush’s popularity with the masses is a myth. All those controlled rallies and faux-townhalls with rigged questions and hand-picked audiences — those choreographed events helped Bush bask in what appeared to be an aura of popularity, except it was all faked. He’s not popular. The people don’t like him. He sucks. He ran on the single issue of national security, and now that the world is less safe than ever the emperor has nary a shred of clothing. He sucks. Write that down. Memorize it.

Via Atrios.


Feisty farmers seize local CCP chief

Desperate times call for desperate actions apparently, and now is the winter of the villagers’ discontent. I don’t know if holding the local communist official hostage is a wise strategy, but when in the course of human events…

More than 1,000 villagers in inner Mongolia took the local communist party chief hostage yesterday in the latest land dispute to rock the Chinese countryside.

Amid signs of division in the government about how to handle rural unrest, the residents of Qianjin village have driven off hundreds of armed police and blocked construction of a motorway they claim is being built through their crops and homes without adequate compensation.

“About 2,000 protesters have surrounded the local government office,” a resident, who declined to give her name, told the Guardian by telephone. “They are holding the general secretary and another official.”

Another resident, a middle-aged man who gave his surname as Zhang, said this was the first time the village had been in conflict with the police. “We only want our land and fairness,” he added.

The villagers in one of China’s poorest provinces say they had been paid only a fraction of the 9,900 yuan (£650) they were promised for each of the 180 mu (about 667 square metres) of land requisitioned for the motorway.

In protest, they halted the work by occupying the building site and seizing construction equipment. Last week they repelled more than 100 police who had been sent in to empty the site and arrest the ringleaders in a six-hour clash.

“The entire village is in a state of anarchy,” Han Guowu, the district chief, told Reuters. “Please trust the party and the government.”

But such pleas are falling on deaf ears as more and more Chinese peasants take matters into their own hands.

I really like that, “Please trust the party and the government.” A one-word response will suffice: “Why?”


Open thread?

The question mark is because I got impatient with the last two megathreads, in which we drowned in back and forth banter. Should I keep them?

On a personal note, I need a recommendation for a cheap but decent hotel in Taipei. I am floored at the prices! Also for Shenzhen. All suggestions will be appreciated.


Attention Li Peng lovers!

China’s Prince of Darkness has written his third memoir, and here’s some incisive opining about him.


Bulletin boards and blogs keep Chinese informed

Another article on how the Internet is changing the relationship between China’s people and its government. Thanks to the plethora of blogs and online forums, it’s harder for the CCP to hide its dirty laundry, no matter how late into the night its 30,000 censors work.

The article requires registration so here’s the whole thing. It’s via Xiao Qiang’s CDT, and Xiao is quoted in the piece.

After a flood last month in northeast China killed more than 100 children, a Chinese reporter trying to unearth details about the tragedy ran into a familiar skepticism: Locals suspected he would never report that officials had covered up the government incompetence that led to many of the deaths.

The journalist persuaded the locals to talk, and then found that they had been right to be skeptical. Even in carefully worded form, his dispatch for a government-owned newspaper was deemed too controversial.

The reporter decided to get the real story out anyway, on the Internet. He went to three Chinese bulletin boards and posted the banned report, along with his far more candid “field notes and personal observations. Within 10 days, several hundred thousand people had clicked their way to his damning conclusions about local officials.

“Everyone can see that they were trying to hide the truth,” he wrote.

In a society where the mainstream sources of information are rigidly controlled by the state, the Internet is where the limits of speech can be tested – not just by activists and dissidents, but also by people with at least one foot in the system, including academics and journalists.

“The Internet and the traditional media are sometimes two different worlds. Certain information is sometimes barred in the latter,” said the journalist, who asked to be identified by an Internet pen name, Shenxia, in a recent interview explaining his decision to post his story and notes. “I think it’s very simple: If I get it published online, I am practicing freedom of the press, and I believe that the public should be able to enjoy the freedom of the press.”

Shenxia faced no immediate repercussions for his decision, and several other Chinese reporters quickly followed his example last month in posting similarly candid reporting notes on bulletin boards, none of which has been shut down. But the government is surely watching, aware that Internet discussions can foment unrest.

It was on the Internet that anti-Japanese sentiments coalesced into a real-world movement, generating huge street demonstrations in Chinese cities last spring. And it was on the Internet that a routine car accident, in which a BMW struck and killed someone, became a flash point for angry debate about China’s growing divide between rich and poor.

The government often steps in when these debates appear to become broad-based and politically charged. But Chinese cyberspace has grown to such a size that any blog or bulletin board can become a platform faster than the government can shut it down.

“The Internet and emerging civil society in China are energizing each other,” said Xiao Qiang, director of the China Internet Project at the University of California, Berkeley by e-mail. Bulletin boards and blogs have “provided a communication forum for citizen participation in Chinese public life.”

But who is participating? The typical Internet user in China is young, male, with access to a good education and – if he is out of school – well-paid. These are not China’s discontented.

This may help explain why Shenxia has not faced retribution for his posting and why many bulletin boards and bloggers are allowed leeway. A blog’s freedom to report sensitive information that won’t be found on the country’s closely monitored major news portals, like Sina.com.cn, may reflect its inability to pose a threat.

China has about 5 million blogs. But if China’s leading blog hoster is any indication, a blog-led revolution is unlikely anytime soon.

“There is politically sensitive stuff, but it’s so much less than [the bulletin boards], because people will not write a lot of illegal content within their own sphere,” said Fang Xingdong, CEO of Bokee, host to more than 2 million blogs.

It’s not just self-discipline by bloggers, but by Internet companies at the direction of the government. Fang has a staff of about 10 people monitoring tens of thousands of postings daily in search of inappropriate content.

In addition, the government uses sophisticated software and advanced Internet routers from Cisco Systems, an American company, to maintain control over what pages can be accessed in China. Microsoft, Yahoo and Google all have apparently allowed the government to filter searches on their sites; punching in any of a number of sensitive keywords will lead to a dead end and, often, a brief lockdown of the Web browser.

The punishment can be much harsher for users determined to post politically sensitive content on the Web. The government has imprisoned some who have repeatedly posted material on issues like Tiananmen or multiparty democracy.

“The reality of China is that there are few people in China now who would choose to be a martyr, but there are many people who will realistically weigh the pros and cons and try their best to push for the progress of this country,” Shenxia said.

In his posting, Shenxia conveyed some of the tragic elements about the flood that hit the town of Shalan in Heilongjiang Province on June 10. He concluded that local officials had tried to lessen their culpability for the disaster by claiming that the flood waters came unexpectedly in a cascade from the mountains – covering up the fact that they failed to evacuate children from school before the river rose above its banks and drowned more than 100.

“I believe that the core facts about the Shalan town disaster were the negligence and indifference of local lower-level officials, and the core facts afterward were the officials’ collective lies and cover-ups,” he wrote.

What Shenxia found, too, was that residents believed that he and other state media reporters were part of the cover-up.

When he did report what happened, it was for an elite audience, not the people facing the greatest hardships in China today – a gap that troubles him.

“I think it’s very difficult for these two groups to overlap, and this is a big issue for the progress of the country. The workers and the peasants, they have an even stronger antipathy toward bureaucracy and society, but they don’t understand a lot of other things,” he said. “They try hard to tell us certain stories and to try to get them published, but on the other hand they don’t trust us.”

Let’s hope Shenxia treads cautiously. It can be nasty out there in cyberspace.


China courts the lovable Robert Mugabe

Sometimes you get judged by the company you keep, and if China is treally trying to clear up its image problem, Mugabe is the wrong one to be hanging out with.

Riot police turned an urban township into a ghost town yesterday, rounding up the last residents in defiance of a U.N. call to halt a demolition campaign that has left 700,000 without homes or jobs.

After emptying the Porta Farm township — where 30,000 people lived just days ago — earthmovers were seen lumbering into the area to finish clearing debris from destroyed homes, cabins and shacks as part of what the government calls Operation Drive Out Trash. Police armed with batons and riot shields barred aid workers and residents from entering.

The latest demolitions came as President Robert Mugabe paid a state visit to China, which is building a track record of willingness to do business with African leaders others shun.

In a meeting with the country’s No. 2 leader, Wu Bangguo, Mugabe paid tribute to China as a “great friend, historical friend, brotherly friend.”

Mugabe is confident China will use its veto power in the U.N. Security Council to protect Zimbabwe from any censure following the U.N. report denouncing the campaign as a violation of international law, a state-owned Harare newspaper, the Herald, reported yesterday.

China, which has expanded business and diplomatic contacts in African trouble spots such as Congo and Sudan, has not joined Western condemnation of Zimbabwe’s human-rights record.

In fact, China has become a key source of loans and supplies for Zimbabwe. Most recently, Beijing agreed to a loan to expand a power station and supply a third Chinese-made MA60 commercial aircraft to Zimbabwe, state media in Beijing announced yesterday.

It’s almost as bad as freedom-loving Bush courting Uzbekistan and Pakistan. But at least in those cases Bush can hide behind a cloak of respectability, because, after all, we’re only cozying up with them because they’re helping with our so-called war on terror. In the case of China and Russia and Zimbabwe, it’s just about money, plain and simple, the people be damned.

The new PR team had better get a move on with those image ads.

Update: I see that Will has covered this already, very well.


When all else fails, call the PR people

Acutely aware that their good name is being tarnished by a US media wave of negative articles and fiery speeches by hysterical politicians of both parties, China is fighting back with the world’s most potent weapon — public relations.

China has embarked on a more pro-active campaign to counter criticism in the US of its growing economic and military power, using the visit of a senior official to Washington to make the case in public for a strategic relationship and employing a top US lobbying firm to communicate with Congress….

This weekend Robert Zoellick, deputy secretary of state, will travel to Beijing to inaugurate what China is calling a “strategic dialogue”. The US prefers the term “senior dialogue” in deference to the more elevated “strategic” tag it reserves in Asia for Japan and Australia.

Seeking to build political influence in Washington, the Chinese embassy has retained Patton Boggs to lobby on a wide range of issues before Congress, according to a lobbying registration statement filed last week with the US Department of Justice.

The enlistment of Patton Boggs which has also represented such countries as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Pakistan highlights China’s efforts to respond to the rising wave of anti-Chinese sentiment in Congress. Beyond trade, the ill-feeling is also driven by Chinese threats towards Taiwan and China’s rapid military expansion which was highlighted this month by a special Pentagon report mandated by Congress.

Considering the current decibel level of anti-Chinese rhetoric, this is going to be a very uphill battle. It’s similar to what Saudi Arabia did shortly after 911, and trying to quell the flow of anti-Saudi invective was akin to trying to stop the Yangtze river with a thimble. Get ready for lots of warm-and-fuzzy fluff articles about what a fun-loving gang the CCP is.

Via CDT.