Sunday, 26 October 2008

Talks about talks about the possibility of talks

It appears the Dalai Lama's envoys have just realised something approachin' the bleedin' obvious when the twenty millionth round of talks about talks about meeting for talks between the Dalai Lama's envoys and the CCP looked like they were about to possibly arrange a meeting between the Prez and the Mr Gyatso.

ONE of the Dalai Lama's top envoys says Tibetan negotiators will present Chinese negotiators with a detailed autonomy plan at their next meeting in October. "During the eighth round (of negotiations held since 2002), it is almost about all or nothing,'' Kelsang Gyaltsen told German news magazine Der Spiegel today.
"We will present a detailed plan of how we foresee autonomy in Tibet. If the Chinese side reacts positively, one could propose specific preliminary steps, for example a pilgrimage of the Dalai Lama to China.
"Such a development could lead to a meeting between His Holiness and the Chinese
president and provide decisive momentum.'' Mr Gyaltsen said he had reason to believe Beijing was ready to resolve the dispute over Tibet in negotiations.

But just a couple of days ago:
DHARAMSHALA, India (AFP) — The Dalai Lama is considering a major policy shift towards China following a complete lack of progress in talks on Tibetan autonomy with Beijing, a senior aide said Monday. The Tibetan leader's spokesman Tenzin Taklha said all options would be on the table at a meeting scheduled next month of exiled Tibetan leaders involved in the campaign for greater autonomy for their Himalayan homeland."The only non-negotiable aspect is that the movement will still be non-violent. Everyone is agreed on that," Taklha said.

As I noted several months ago:
Now, I don’t want to sound cynical or nuffin’, but how on God’s green earth is
the CCP going to get away with making a pact with the man they have portrayed as
the devil’s spawn for almost six decades? The hate for the Dalai Lama held by
vast sections of Han Chinese is so palpable you can almost smell it. After
spending decades of whipping up a cult of Lama loathing among their citizens, an
agreement which sees the CCP invite the malodorous monk to the motherland is
going to be a miracle on a par with the second coming.I wish the DL's envoys the
best of luck. But I think the CCP have invested too much effort in creating an
imagined enemy in the form of exiled Tibetans to allow them the space to do a
U-turn now. And even if in some divine act they can come to an accommodation,
how are the fen qing (nationalist youth) and other Han Chinese going to take it?
It might just start a revolution....
But wait! Just when such definitive statements are made, according to the latest info from the ever reliable oracle of Chinese officialdom that is Xinhua, (via the BBC) comes this:
Chinese authorities are to arrange fresh talks with envoys of the Dalai Lama "in
the near future", the Chinese state news agency Xinhua has said.
The agency quoted an unnamed government official as saying the exiled spiritual leader of Tibet should "treasure this opportunity" and respond positively.

So I will leave the reader, all both of them, with this philosophical question. Is this a political saga, or Days of Our Lives?

The big chill

Winter is coming my friends. The chill air is undulating over the Mongolian steppe and wrapping its frosty serpentine scales over the northern capital. The time for God's Monkeys to head indoors is nigh. Sake season is upon us. Static and stale cigarette smoke will be our constant companions for the next three months. The urban desert of a Beijing winter is about to intrude itself on our existence. SIGH.

I hate being cold.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Spin, intrigue, openness and a (lack of) protests

Just when we thought that the right to protest, a flickering flame tenuously linked to the hope of the Olympic dream and the dodgy old deal-making bastards at the IOC was over, a new wave of hope has poured petrol on the flame of Freedom Of Speech.
SANUR - The Chinese organizers of the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou said Monday protests would be allowed "in certain areas" during the event, but were
reluctant to provide details. They also indicated they would follow the policy China adopted for the Beijing Olympics in allowing foreign reporters greater freedoms to do their jobs, although the same rights do not extend to domestic journalists. "Yes, we will allow protests to take place in certain areas. We have planned for this," said Guangzhou government vice-secretary general Gu Shiyang. But Gu, speaking on behalf of the city's vice mayor Xu Ruisheng who had poor English, refused to elaborate when pressed by AFP, becoming increasingly irritated. "We are not so interested in this question, we are very busy with organizing the Games, not about protests," he said on the sidelines of the inaugural Asian Beach Games in Bali. "We are interested in hosting one of the best Games ever. We are not holding the Games for protesters, we are holding the Games for Asia."

And after the raging success of the Olympic protest model, in which the Chinese people displayed their incredibly rabid thirst for harmony by not staging a single protest, what better way for China to again prove to their ever decreasing band of doubters that China is a tolerant, peaceful nation, where peaceful protests are tolerated if they do not exist?

In a curious Orwellian twist, when I googled "China" news just before writing this post, the next entry that came up was:
China extends Olympic freedoms for foreign reporters
CHINA HAS extended rules introduced for the Olympic Games allowing foreign reporters to move and interview people freely throughout the country. The move, which came at the 11th hour, means that foreign journalists will still be able to interview people without seeking official permission and will be permitted to travel in areas outside of the cities in which they are accredited.
However, there are two important caveats:
1) The decision to extend the freedoms for foreign journalists is a sign of growing openness in China, but there were no breakthroughs on freedoms for domestic media.
2) Reporters will still have to get permission from local authorities to gain access to the sensitive Himalayan region of Tibet.
And possibly even more fascinating was this article, discussing the possible imminent political demise of Wen Jiabao:

CHINA'S most popular politician, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, has become a target for Communist Party hardliners and could be forced from office, according to an
influential magazine in Hong Kong.
Its report is a rare insight into the struggle over the future of China between political reformers and guardians of the police state. The Prime Minister's popularity rose this year as he comforted the victims of the earthquake in Sichuan province, visited people caught up in disastrous snowstorms and defended China's unyielding policy on Tibet. A 66-year-old known as "Grandpa", he has his own page on Facebook, the social networking website seen by millions. Rivalries inside the party have broken out behind the facade of unity erected for the Olympic Games, said Kaifang (Open), the monthly magazine known for its political sources inside China and its publication of information banned in the media.
It said hardliners in the party's propaganda department and at the People's Daily
newspaper had orchestrated a campaign of abuse directed at Mr Wen's supposed
support for universal values such as democracy and human rights. "China's ship of reform is on the rocks and risks sinking," Kaifang said in its analysis. "The party needs to find a scapegoat."
Last week, important land reforms were put on hold. Mr Wen had also been passed over for the job of heading a prestigious committee, the magazine said. It listed several press attacks, which, as is often the case in Chinese politics, did not identify their victim but left no doubt among those in the know as to who it was.
The most prominent critic was Chen Kuiyuan, vice-chairman of the Chinese People's
Political Consultative Conference, a rubber-stamp body whose title sums up everything it is not. "Some in China want to dance to the West's tune," Mr Chen wrote. The People's Daily of September 10 printed a column headlined "How to see through the theory of so-called universal values".
Today, the Prime Minister is seen by many ordinary Chinese as a friendly face at the apex of power. He has been compared to the veteran revolutionary Zhou Enlai, who is claimed to have moderated the worst crimes of Maoism.

I am quite interested to see the reaction from the people if he steps down, though I guess it will be accepted with little complaint.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Chinese Democracy

No, this is not about politics. Fools.

My first Guns 'n' Roses album was Appetite For Destruction. I didn't buy it - I swapped it for Michael Jackson's Thriller. It must have been sometime in the early nineties. Nevermind was all the rage, Kurt Cobain was still alive, and I was just becoming musically aware. Nirvana was the background music of my early teenage years, but GNR was souffle to my ears.

The deep affection I felt for this band hasn't waned over time, but it has morphed. When I was not yet a teenager I found the unbridled energy of the driving guitar solos thrilling. Each song was a wild ride of testosterone-fuelled excess. As my musical tastes developed, I began to notice the almost comically ridiculous nature of the band's antics. And lyrics. And hair. And everything else about them. But the shine has never worn off.

In 2007, I had the good fortune to go and see the band live in my hometown of Perth, Western Australia. Actually, it was not GNR, but Axl Rose was the swaggering frontman, and all the classics were played. Middle-aged, carrying a few extra kilos and some ridiculously plaited long dyed blonde hair, he wouldn't be out of place in certain seedy areas of Bangkok. But he belted out the music with the force of a sonic tsunami - even if he did pant a bit in between songs. Jumping and swaying in between bearded bogans* - and their equally bearded bogan mothers, I fell in love with Gunners all over again. This time as something that was almost as a parody of itself. Music, and an image that is sublime in its ridiculousness, and proud of it.

And so it is with considerable bogan relish I would like to announce that the final musical fruit of the band is about to be released to a record store near you.

Unless you are in China. I just can't see the album name getting past the censors.
Guns N' Roses' long-awaited, endlessly delayed new album, Chinese Democracy, finally has a release date. According to the music industry site Hits Daily, the CD will drop at all Best Buy stores, where it is an exclusive, on the Sunday prior to Thanksgiving, November 23. This will give the album a full seven days on sale before entering the chart on December 2. Best Buy's sales week runs from Sunday through Saturday night.
What were they thinking when they came up with this album name 12 years ago??

*A bogan is southern Australian slang for white trash. More or less.

AXL: On a crusade for democracy.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

The October blues

As the days get shorter and a chill wind seeps in over the Mongolian steppe, the leaves turn a fiery amber of warning - a warning to the good citizens of Beijing that they better get some winter clothes quick smart before they freeze their royal Rastafarian nay-nays off. And so it was with a heavy heart and a wallet full of plastic I trudged yesterday to Xidan, in order to subject myself to the doof-doof music and blinding lights of Beijing department stores.

For me, shopping is an unreasonably stressful experience. The indecision, the resentment that I have to part with hard-earned cash, the complete lack of an ability to discern the quality and style of an item of clothing, and the pesky sales people, all conspire to make the experience something to dread.

In addition, I have an intense dislike of bargaining. I would often prefer to pay double the price for something if I don't have to listen to a Silk Street shop assistant shrilly claiming the quality of a pair of trousers is the same as the big name brand it purports to be. As a result I generally end up spending far more money than I have to just to escape the pain of tao jia huan jia.

Six hours later, I had been from Xidan, to Yashow, to the Village in Sanlitun. I had searched, haggled, calculated, rejected, and walked away in digust.

And for all my blood, sweat and tears, I had a pair shoes and a pair of trousers. Lest I want to freeze this winter, the pain of shopping is not yet over! Sigh...

Friday, 10 October 2008

Sino-US triangulation

Even in theses strange days, it is a strange situation indeed when the sale of $6.5 billion of arms is seen as a welcoming sign of return to balance. But this is the crux of the argument in this article from the Associated Press:
TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Taiwan's once-strained relations with the United States are back on track after the Bush administration approved a long-delayed $6.5 billion package of weapons to help the island defend itself against China.
Though China reacted angrily, the deal is also a sign that the sometimes shaky three way relationship between China, Taiwan and the U.S. is moving back into balance.
So we are back to normal. Taiwan is a province with its own government, foreign relations, armed forces, diplomatic service, currency, Olympic team, and flag. The US adheres strictly to the policy of One China, and makes millions off selling weapons to one of its provinces. China continues to refer to Taiwan as an inalienable part of its teritory, and in the same breath talks about improving cross-straits relations and point up to a thousand missiles at its own supposedly inalienable citizens. And all the recent promise of Sino-US defence ties have gone up in smoke.
Beijing has told the Pentagon and the US Defence department that it will not allow a series of senior military visits to go ahead. The trips included one visit to the US by a senior Chinese general.
US naval ships will also be banned from docking in Chinese ports and meetings to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction will be postponed "indefinitely".
At the end of the day, although Ma is supposedly more of a realist and than the Chen Shui Bian, I can't see any improvement or way forward in the relationship. On the one hand, you have direct flights between the two places. On the other hand, there are bigger and better weapons pointed at each other. Sum total of improvements in relations since Ma became pres? None.

What a dishearteningly predictable world it is.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Capitalism takes a backward step

An interesting article in the Economist talks a man who claims that China is becoming less capitalistic:
But what about the growing cohort of Chinese companies starting to strut the world stage? Surely that is evidence of a healthy and expanding private economy. Mr Huang’s evidence shows that, on closer inspection, these firms are either not really Chinese or not really private. Lenovo, a computer group, has succeeded because it was controlled, financed and run not from mainland China but from Hong Kong (a happy legacy of the founder’s family connections there—not
something enjoyed by most Chinese businessmen). The subsidiaries of Haier, a white-goods maker, were also put out of reach of mainland bureaucrats early on. Wahaha, a food producer, Galanz, a maker of microwave ovens, and many others all depended on foreign protection and capital to grow and escape state strictures. Indeed one of the main, and underappreciated, functions of foreign investment in China has been to play venture capitalist to domestic entrepreneurs. As for Huawei, a telecoms group and one of China’s much vaunted“global” companies, its structure and links to the state are so convoluted that
the most diligent China-watchers have little idea if it is a private or state firm. They do, however, agree that Huawei’s opacity is a microcosm of China’s distorted economy.

Skype censorship

According to this article:
China is monitoring the chat messages of Skype users and censoring them if they contain sensitive keywords such as Tibet or Communist
Party, according to a group of Canadian researchers.The massive surveillance operation of TOM-Skype, a joint venture between Chinese mobile firm TOM Online and Skype, owned by US online auction house eBay, was alleged by Citizen Lab, a University of Toronto research group.
This may or may not be true. I use Skype quite a bit though, and I can't say I have ever noticed interference (supposedly words like Tibet attract attention). Then again, I don't chat in Chinese all that much, so possibly it is only the Chinese that is being monitored.

It also sounds like a hell of a lot of effort to go to to stop a few conversations. I'm not calling bullshit yet, but I would like to know more.

A scary future

It's October 2009........

President McCain has been dead for two months. President Palin has declared war on Russia. And abortion. And moose. And green activists.

She has personally said she wants to "kill herself some non-believers." Under the umbrella of job creation and healthcare, that is.

Oil is at $300 a barrel. Although they can't afford to fly, Americans are leaving en masse. The Canadian army (ha) is desperately trying to stem the flow of refugees across the border. Boatloads of Americans are attempting to cross the Atlantic in huddled masses, desperate for a new life in the New World of the European Union. Others are turning up in Vietnam, China and Australia (where they are sent to prison camps in the desert.)

Thankfully it looks less and less like this is actually going to happen. According to this article:
A GROWING proportion of US voters question Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin's readiness for the job, according to a national opinion poll reported by The Washington Post.The poll results came as the Alaska governor prepared to face Democrat Joe Biden in the only vice presidential debate before the November 4 election.
About half of all voters surveyed said they were uncomfortable with the idea of Republican presidential nominee John McCain taking office at age 72, and 85 per cent of those voters said Governor Palin does not have the experience needed to be president, according to The Washington Post/ABC News poll.

Praise the lord!

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Gymnasts not underage after all?

One of the bigger controversies of the Beijing Olympics concerned the question of whether some or all of the Chinese women's team were underage due to their tiny frames and incriminating information appearing on the internet. This questioning provoked an extremely defensive response by the Chinese side, including the old chestnut of "hurting the feelings" of the gymnasts' families. However, according to an investigation, this year's team is in the clear, but China's bronze-medal winning team in Sydney is still under suspicion.

China's gold medal gymnasts are in the clear. Its team that won the bronze medal eight years ago, however, still faces questions. International gymnastics officials on Wednesday closed their 5
1/2-week investigation into the ages of the Chinese gymnasts at the Beijing Olympics, saying the documentation provided confirms they were old enough to compete. But two members of the 2000 squad — Dong Fangxiao and Yang Yun — remain under scrutiny.

This is despite an American computer expert finding documents that he claimed prove that she was in fact only 14 at the time of the competition. From The Times:
Mike Walker, a computer security expert, told The Times how he tracked down two documents that he says had been removed from a Chinese
government website. The documents, he said, stated that He’s birth date was January 1 1994 - making her 14 - and not January 1 1992, which is printed in her passport.

He turned to a Chinese search engine, Baidu. In its cache he found both documents. "The listing in there, quite clearly, is He Kexin’s birth date, January 1, 1994," Mr Walker said. That makes her 14 years and 220 days old and too young to compete. The lists were compiled by the
General Administration of Sport of China. How aggressive and sustained the IOC-ordered investigation will be remains to be seen. If it did ultimately result in the stripping of gold medals from one of China’s favourite athletes, it would be an Olympic scandal with reverberations far beyond the sport itself. In July the New York Times published references to articles in the Beijing press in which He was referred to as only 14 years old.

Presumably, He Kexin and her teammates had competed at international level before the Olympics. I wonder if there were many questions about her age then. And if there were, were requests made for corroborating proof?

He Kexin: 16 years old, fake ID

Saturday, 27 September 2008


The following article was written by a chief executive in a Chinese publishing company and published in the New York Times:

I always used to hate it when foreigners focused on censorship of the media in China. I think foreigners have this image of a Fu Manchu-like Chinaman, sitting in a dark corner trying to censor everything. I often wanted to say: “It is not like that. We don’t really feel that much censorship.”

Take my job as a lifestyle magazine editor and publisher. We have not been censored for the last four years, and we have had pretty aggressive (i.e., very sexy) fashion shoots, etc. I mean, FHM is the
most popular men’s magazine here.

Clearly we have liberalized.

However, during the current milk powder crisis, I realized censorship is actually pretty strong. Yes, Fu Manchu as Big Brother is among us. There is a lot of open debate about the milk powder crisis on the Internet. People are questioning the news, and everyone suspects a massive government cover-up job. However, all this debate is banned on state-owned media, particularly television.

Another prime example of censorship during the Olympics happened when the Chinese hurdler Liu Xiang dropped out of the race. There was a lot of speculation as to how long his coach, the government, his sponsors and even Liu himself had known that he could not compete. The public felt that they were given a song and dance at the last minute. Again, state-owned traditional media were not allowed to talk about it.

I must say I find it very difficult in some ways to understand the comment “It is not like that. We don't really feel that much censorship.” Really? Is that a willfull myopia?

As part of my general reading after this article, I googled "China press freedom." To get to the first few documents listed I had to use a proxy server. (Incidentally, according to Freedom House in 2008 China ranks equal 181st out of 195 countries in terms of freedom of the press - North Korea is last.)

However, although it is easy to be sarcastic about and critical of comments like the ones made in the article above, it is neither constructive nor useful. The fact is, many Chinese people (though by no means all) feel the same way. It could be argued, for example, that this is a cultural difference, and how Chinese respect for authority and supposedly raging hunger for harmony are simply at odds with western liberal ideas of freedom of speech.

But there is another take on this article. The writer is a chief executive at a Chinese publishing company. She KNOWS how much censorship affects what can be published, and she KNOWS that is she is too harsh in her comments written in a neo-imperialistic capitalist mouthpiece like the New York Times it is going to seriously disrupt her guanxi with the powers that be. That's why, of all the corrupt and non-harmonious events that happen in China on a daily basis, she chooses Liu Xiang's freakin' achilles heel (gossip, not harmful) the melamine scandal (already out of the bag) and nudity and sex (as if any China watcher really considers that as important) as examples of censorship. One comment on the original article calls this "complicit ignorance" and I have to say I agree.

Friday, 26 September 2008

The funniest news this week

China posts fake rocket launch story

CHINA'S leading Xinhua news agency reported the successful flight of the Shenzhou VII - complete with detailed dialogue between the
astronauts - hours before the nation's third-ever manned space mission had even lifted off. On Thursday morning, Xinhua posted a story on its website saying the Shenzhou capsule had been successfully tracked flying over the Pacific Ocean even though the rocket and its three astronauts had not yet been launched. The article, dated September 27, described the rocket in flight, complete with a sharply detailed dialogue between the three astronauts. Excerpts are below: "After this order, signal lights all were switched on, various data show up on rows of screens, hundreds of technicians staring at the screens, without
missing any slightest changes ... "One minute to go!' 'Changjiang No.1 found the target! ... "The firm voice of the controller broke the silence of the whole ship. Now, the target is captured 12 seconds ahead of the predicted time ... "The air pressure in the cabin is normal!"Ten minutes later, the ship disappears below the horizon. Warm clapping and excited cheering breaks the night sky, echoing across the silent Pacific Ocean." An editor at Xinhau told AFP that the story had been posted due to a technical problem. "We dealt with it after we had found it," the editor said.
I love those last two lines. No explanations as to why they were writing stories in advance of them happening, but an assurance that it was dealt with, whatever that means. In other news, Shenzhou did succesfully take off. However whether the mission will be succesful is another question. This from the Guardian:
The state media said investigations showed that most of those taken ill had consumed milk labelled with the Sanlu brand. The company is China's biggest milk powder producer, with almost a fifth of the market, and is the dairy supplier to the country's space programme.
Will this mission end in melamine-inspired failure? Only time will tell. Stay tuned, my fellow taikonauts.

Saturday, 20 September 2008

One reason why Kevin Rudd is a better PM than John Howard

In his eleven years of being Australian prime minister, I don't think I once heard John Howard articulate any vision of how he wanted to make Australia a better place. As a prime minister, the man was a manager rather than a leader. A product of the World War II generation, it seemed he was unable to move on from the post-war view that because America joined the war just before Australia was invaded, Australia holds an eternal and unquestioning allegiance to support the US in any and all conflicts it places itself in. (Previous to that war many Australians felt that way about Britain.) As such, his attitude to the rest of the world lacked nuance, substance and vision. Rudd, on the other hand, is a product of the diplomatic service, speaks a good standard of Chinese, and has a clearly articulated, if highly ambitious, vision for Australia and Asia in the coming century. This is what he said at today's OzAsia symposium, according to WA Today:
"Our challenge in the future is not to retreat to any view of Australia which is a small Australia, but instead to ensure a vision for Australia which is wide and open to the world and region," he told an OzAsia symposium in Adelaide today.

Mr Rudd said his government's mission was "for Australia to be the most Asian literate nation in the western world".

He said the future of Australia was "tied to the most dynamic region in the world".

"The 21st century will be the Asia Pacific century ... so we need to make sure that in decades ahead we are fully engaged with the region," he said.
After more than a decade of dreary conservative attitudes to Australia's place in the world, this is like watching an episode of South Park after 10 episodes of the Brady Bunch. It's like listening to the party mix after 10 hours of country music. It's like drinking a mocha double frappuchino whip with a shot of vodka after 10 soy lattes. Next stop.... an Australian republic.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

The whacko from Wasilla

With the gathering storm clouds portending a giant shit-storm of fiscal misfortune the world over, I am now cautiously predicting an Obama win in the US election. Of the two candidates, I think he is better positioned to claim authentically strong financial credentials. However, the sick and twisted voyeur in me is still somewhat curious to see what a McCain, and potentially Palin, presidency would bring, particularly in light of this story from the Alaska Daily News:
In June, long before she was selected as the Republican nominee for vice president, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin attended a religious gathering at the Wasilla Assembly of God, her former church.

Standing there on stage and speaking to the college-aged graduates of the church's Master's Commission ministry, the governor reminisced about growing up in the fellowship -- "getting saved here, getting baptized by Pastor Riley in Little Beaver Lake Camp" -- while urging the new disciples to help fulfill the church's mission, as well as certain destinies for America and Alaska.

Pray for the construction of the $30 billion natural gas pipeline, Palin told them. Pray for the military men and women overseas, "that our leaders, our national leaders, are sending (U.S. soldiers) out on a task that is from God. That's what we have to make sure that we're praying for -- that there is a plan and it's God's plan." Later, senior pastor Ed Kalnins -- with Palin standing at his side -- spoke about tapping into Alaska's natural resource wealth in order to fulfill the state's destiny of serving as a shelter for Christians at the end of the world.

"I believe that Alaska is one of the 'refuge states' -- come on you guys -- in the Last Days," Kalnins said, raising his arm to underscore his point. "And hundreds of thousands of people are going to come to this state to seek refuge. And the church has to be ready to minister to them."

Now that she's been selected as Republican presidential candidate John McCain's running mate, such comments raise questions: What are Sarah Palin's religious beliefs? What churches does she attend and who are her pastors? How have her beliefs played out in her public life in Alaska? What do they portend for a possible vice president?
This is the million dollar question: What does this portend for a possible vice-president? Hopefully, not a lot.

But for a President, which is definitely on the cards if McCain doesn't make it through the next four years, I think we know. A gun totin', god fearin', bible thumpin', abortion hatin', abstinence teachin', military promotin', oil guzzlin', environment trashin' George Bush Jr II, except with big hair and from Alaska. YEEEHAAW, let's go shoot ourselves some non-believers!

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Green China

Ask any expat or traveller to this country about what they first notice when they arrive, and if it's a major city, they will most likely answer pollution. As far as I'm concerned, pollution may be what ultimately drives me home to the fresh clean air in southwest Aus. The pollution in Chinese cities regularly gets discussed in overseas press, but less often does the investment in green technology. This is from the Telegraph.

China is on the verge of becoming the world's largest investor in green energy as it struggles to reverse the catastrophic effect its industry has wreaked on the environment. Last year, China spent £6 billion on renewable energy projects, just slightly short of Germany, the world leader. This year, the Communist Party has vowed to redouble its efforts.Li Junfeng, an energy expert at the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), said that in terms of the "overall scale of renewable energy development", China already leads the way.

Greenpeace believes China can shortly produce half of its energy from renewable sources.
That last sentence is particularly startling. Greenpeace is not the kind of organisation to overstate how well nations do in taking care of their environments.
Tens of thousands of pollution-inspired riots every year have helped drill home the message. The Ministry of Public Security has listed pollution among the top five threats to China's peace and stability. Two years ago, the government publicly admitted that the Chinese landscape was "chu mu jing xin" or "whatever meets the eye is shocking".
When you also factor in the one-child policy, which had already resulted in hundreds of millions less consumers being born, one would suggest that China does in fact punch above its weight in terms of developing long-term sustainable energy consumption practices. That's not to say it's above robust criticism at times, but it's definitely a poignant implied critique of developed democratic energy hogs like the good ole US of A.

Taikonauts about to taik off

This from the AFP:
BEIJING (AFP) — A 42-year-old fighter pilot has been chosen to become the first Chinese person to walk in space, with the historic mission set for September 25, the government said Tuesday.

The blast-off will occur after the staging of a successful Olympics and Paralympics -- events that helped boost national pride and thus the popularity of the leadership -- and ahead of China's National Day on October 1. China has even greater space ambitions, with an eventual plan to put a man on the moon by about 2020, according to some sections of China's state-run press.
This reminds me of a curious incident that happened several years ago when I was discussing travel plans with an Australian and a Chinese friend in Sichuan. The Chinese girl was heading north into Xinjiang (or maybe Gansu), where we had just come from, so we were giving her tips on what we thought were the best places to visit. However there was one town she mentioned wanting to go to that we had never heard of, so I got out the good ole' Lonely Planet and tried to find it. It was nowhere to be seen. After I showed her the empty space, she realised why it had not appeared. It was because it was a centre for China's space program and foreigners were not permitted into the area. I can't remember what is was called. However this flight is being launched from Jiuquan in Gansu, so I presume it's the same place.

Doubt there will be many foreign tourists there to gawp at the event, though.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Is the end of anonymous internet nigh?

This article from Cnet:

A United Nations agency is quietly drafting technical standards, proposed by the Chinese government, to define methods of tracing the original source of Internet communications and potentially curbing the ability of users to remain anonymous.

The U.S. National Security Agency is also participating in the "IP Traceback" drafting group, named Q6/17, which is meeting next week in Geneva to work on the traceback proposal. Members of Q6/17 have declined to release key documents, and meetings are closed to the public.

The potential for eroding Internet users' right to remain anonymous, which is protected by law in the United States and recognized in international law by groups such as the Council of Europe, has alarmed some technologists and privacy advocates. Also affected may be services such as the Tor anonymizing network.

At Slashdot, where I first found the link to this story, there was also this insightful comment from a poster:
"When anonymous internet is a crime, only criminals will have anonymous internet. As usual, this would be a law that will almost exclusively affect the law abiding."
Although I am no tech whiz (just look at the layout of my blog) or activist, my initial impression of this kind of thing is that it will end up something like the war on drugs - costly, time-consuming, and ultimately unwinnable. At this point I could go on a rant about the meddling Chinese government, the hypocrisy of the American government,or general outrage against the powers that be, but I also think this kind of plan may have some positives. After all, the internet offers an effective medium through which criminals can interact with one another. I'm sure the best of these will be able to continue to do so no matter what, but this may help in cutting out the less sophisticated stuff.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Is this the end for Kim Jong-Il?

In the marvellous documentary "Team America," investigative journalists Matt Stone and Trey Parker go undercover into North Korea and gain unprecedented access to one of the most fascinating political figures of our time. Long derided in the biased western media as a "despot" "tyrant" and "jackass," the real Kim Jong-Il reveals himself as a deeply complex, and touchingly flawed figure. In one scene, he sings revealingly to the camera of the tortured poignance of his existence. Here's a flashback:
I'm so Ronery / So ronery / So ronery and sadry arone / There's no one / Just me onry / Sitting on my rittle throne / I work very hard to be number one guy / but, stiwr there's no one to right up my rife / Seems rike no one takes me serirousry / And so, I'm ronery / A rittle ronery / Poor rittle me / There's no one I can rerate to / Feewr rike a biwd in a cage / It's kinda siwry / but, not reawry / because, it's fiwring my body with rage / I'm the smartest, most crever, most physicawry fit / but, none of the women seem to give a shit / Maybe someday, they'wr awr notice me / And untiwr then, I'wr be ronery / Yeah, a rittle ronery / Poor rittle me...
I think we'll all agree this kind of stuff can really tug at the heart strings. But rather than eliciting sympathy from the axis of countries bent on the destruction of North Korea, the western press continues to spread falsehoods and falsity about the dear leader, using such awful puns as "Is Kim Jong Ill?" This from the Australian newspaper The Australian (newspaper).
NORTH Korea's No.2 has denied reports that leader Kim Jong-il is ill, which a Pyongyang diplomat called a Western "conspiracy"."There are no problems," Kim yong-Nam, the regime's de facto head of state, told Kyodo news agency in Pyongyang. He confirmed that Kim Jong-il, 66, did not show up at a major parade yesterday marking North Korea's 60th anniversary. "While we wanted to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the country with General Secretary Kim Jong-il, we celebrated on our own," Kim yong-Nam was quoted as saying. A US intelligence official said yesterday that Kim had apparently suffered a "health setback", possibly a stroke. "We see such reports as not only worthless, but rather as a conspiracy plot," Song il-Ho, North Korea's ambassador handling relations with Japan, told Kyodo separately. "I believe the aim is to form a public opinion on something that is not true," Mr Song was quoted as saying. "Western media have reported falsehood before."
Not content with just spreading rumours about Kim Jong's ill-health, some propaganda outlets, I mean western newspapers, have gone so far as to claim the Dear Leader is dead.
IS Kim Jong-il for real?
The question has baffled foreign intelligence agencies for years but now a veteran Japanese expert on North Korea says the "dear leader" is actually dead - and his role is played by a double.The expert says Kim died of diabetes in 2003 and world leaders, including Vladimir Putin of Russia and Hu Jintao of China, have been negotiating with an impostor.
Well I have one question for these punks. Answer me this. If Kim Jong-Il died in 2003, then how on earth could he have appeared in Team America in 2004?! Fuck yeah!

Is this man for real?

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Chinese Government soft on smack

If you are a recovering junkie looking to kick a jumbo-sized habit, and feel like a free rehabilitation program on sunny Hainan island, I suggest you get on a plane to China now. This from the NY Times:
An elephant that became addicted to heroin at the hands of illegal traders will return home after three years of rehabilitation, the Chinese state media said Thursday. The elephant, Xiguang, a 4-year-old male, became addicted after the traders captured him on the China-Myanmar border in March 2005. They fed him bananas laced with heroin as bait and to pacify him, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. When he was found two months later in southwest China, he was suffering from withdrawal. He received methadone at a center on Hainan Island and recovered, Xinhua said
I find this article especially fascinating for several reasons. 1) Traders fed an elephant bananas laced with heroin. Besides the fact I thought tranquilisers were all the rage these days, where did these traders get their hands on heroin? Is there a corruption angle there? 2) Since when did the NY Times uncritically reprint a story about somebody "undergoing treatment" with the blessing of the CCP? 3) Where is the political angle? Was the elephant "re-educated" for his political views? Did he "write a letter of self-criticism," in the manner of the Chinese soccer players who went to have a bath in a hotel room with several prostitutes, girlfriends, and groupies because the water in their team hotel was cold? Was the elephant under house arrest? Were his rights violated? Did he have suspected links to the Dalai Lama?

As Alice in Wonderland observed after her own mind-altering experiences, this just gets curiouser and curiouser. There is a big, juicy story under all that Xinhua spin. Slopppy journalism, NYT, sloppy journalism....

Friday, 5 September 2008

The buzz about Beijing

Earlier this year, the Olympics looked in trouble. The protests in France, the US and other places following the riots in Tibet sparked off a wave of nationalistic fury inside the Middle Kingdom that showed the world the ugly side of a country coming to grips with being the centre of the world's attention. For a while, it looked as though nothing would be able to change this perception of China. It seemed this Olympics was destined to go down as one of the more controversial and bitter in history.

Then in a curious twist of fate, the Sichuan earthquake struck with such a blind ferocity that the criticisms, questions, and rage vanished overnight. Questions over the Chinese Government's attitudes to their citizens were quelled by its super-fast reaction to assist the stricken area. The sight of Wen Jiabao on the frontlines of the aid effort earned him the respect of a nation, and the Government a much improved perception in other parts of the world.

Then came the Games themselves. Despite mutterings over the 'protest zones' in which protests were not allowed, the foreign media army seemed to spend more time eating M&Ms than looking for cutting-edge stories. The media were swept up in the ride, and after the initial loud complaints about internet restrictions fell largely in line with the image the Chinese Government was trying to project.

After the Games, the prospect of putting on a show as efficient and impressive as Beijing has seen the British media shaking in their little space boots.

Now the WSJ has just published an article saying that recent survery have found people who watched the Games have this impression:
According to an online survey conducted by the Nielsen Co. of viewers in 16 countries after the closing ceremony, seven in ten said Beijing appeared more modern and high-tech than they had expected. About half of those surveyed by Nielsen also came away with a very good or somewhat good impression of Beijing’s physical environment.
Remembering where we in terms of international perception of China, Beijing, and the Chinese Government in March of this year - six short months ago - and its scarcely believable how much people around the world have changed their views. Of course, part of that changing of perception came at the cost of an enormous human tragedy, but it is nonetheless impressive, and, I think, something that few pundits would have predicted. The Games have unexpectedly and down a very twisted path, achieved an international PR boost for China that would make the Government very satisfied. Overall, (and remembering that ALL host nations get criticised) I would give BOCOG and the Government a B+ for the change in international perceptions they have achieved.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

I want to go to North Korea

One of the downsides of a world where internet makes information and communication instant and aeroplanes make worldwide travel a matter of hours is the fact that there are few places left on the planet that are really, truly foreign. In fact, the only three I can think of off the top of my head are North Korea, Bhutan, and Hollywood. North Korea is accessible for westerners, but expensive, and visits are tightly controlled. So I'm hanging out for the day when the gates inevitably swing open a little wider. And this article gives me reason for hope:
China Confirms N. Korea as Tourist Destination
The Chinese government has designated North Korea a tourist destination, said the Xinhua News agency Wednesday. According to Xinhua, in a recent meeting in Pyongyang, China National Tourism Administration notified North Korean authorities of its decision.

Who knows when North Korea will be properly accessible for westerners. But I look forward to that day.

Sunday, 31 August 2008

Tibetan resistance, the CIA and the murky swamp of history

This story of the CIA's support of Tibetan resistance against the PRC is not often told in English-speaking media, but one you will often hear CCP supporters bring up, often in conjunction with allegations of the old chestnut WMB (western media bias). WMB is the Chinese version of WMD.

It's a cracking tale and an interesting look at how the US viewed mainland China in the couple of decades after the establishment of the People's Republic. It's also drives home the point of how utterly self-interested and lacking in prinicpal international geo-politics is and always has been.

I watched a documentary on this topic last year and remember one Tibetan fighter recalling how betrayed he felt when the US stopped aiding their cause. It was at that point, he said, that he and his comrades realised that the US had never intended to really help the Tibetans still pushing for independence - but just give them enough weapons and training to be a nuisance to the PRC as part of their wider strategic interests.

I must say I'm quite impressed by how well researched this WSJ article seems to be.
Revolt of the Monks
How a Secret CIA Campaign Against China 50 Years Ago Continues to Fester; A Role for Dalai Lama's Brother
By PETER WONACOTTAugust30, 2008
Chodak, an 83-year-old former monk, fled Tibet in the wake of a bloody Chinese invasion more than 50 years ago. Today, he spends his days trimming wool carpets at a refugee center perched above the tranquil tea plantations of this Indian hill town. The plight of Tibetan exiles like Chodak, and their Buddhist message of nonviolence, has drawn world-wide sympathy to their cause.

Tibet's history of resistance
But Chodak's story has a twist.
He's one of the last surviving guerrilla fighters who took up arms against the Chinese during a little-known chapter in Tibet's history. His life has been one of war, not peace. Starting in the late 1950s, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency trained scores of Tibetans, many of them monks, and then air dropped them back to their country with weapons and wireless radios. The linchpin of the operation was an older brother of the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of 2.7 million Tibetans and today a Nobel Prize-winning symbol of peaceful resistance. "We were fighting to protect Buddhism from those who wanted to harm it," said Chodak in an interview, his eyes now clouded with cataracts. These days, armed
with little more than his message of peace and the occasional chortle at Beijing's expense, the 73-year-old Dalai Lama enjoys the upper hand in an international public-relations war. He inspires protests that embarrass the Chinese government around the world, including during the recently concluded Beijing Olympics. He also provokes over-the-top denunciations from Chinese officials. During the unrest in March, Tibet's Communist Party Secretary, Zhang Qingli, accused the Dalai Lama of sabotaging the region's stability and described the Buddhist leader as a "a wolf in monk's clothes, a devil with a human face."

The article goes on the describe how intimately involved in the resistance the Dalai Lama's immediate family was, and how the US support for the resistance waned due becoming bogged down in Vietnam, and then stopped altogether with Nixon's recognition of China.

I would like to take this opportunity to say something deep and profound, something well thought-out and insightful, something maybe even intelligent. But the best I can come up with is this:

Politics is a dirty business.

Saturday, 30 August 2008

Lives well-lived

Some people truly live amazing lives. The National has this story on two American men with the same first name who lived most of their lives in in China and developed an intense dislike for each other. These opening sentences give an enticing taste of the article's content.
Around the time of the Chinese Revolution in 1949, a small crowd of foreign sympathisers came to help build the Maoist dream. Sixty years later, one of them is still there.
Thanks to Danwei for finding all this fascinating stuff.

Justice for the grandmas

In a classic face saving maneuver, the Chinese government has relented on the issue of punishing grandmas for trying to protest in the protest areas set up for the Olympic Games. This is from the Oz:

TWO Chinese grandmothers sentenced to re-education through labour for applying to protest during the Olympics will escape punishment.

The Beijing municipal committee which sentenced them less than two weeks ago revoked its order yesterday, said Human Rights in China.

Neighbours Wu Dianyuan, 79, and Wang Xiuying, 77, were handed the one-year punishment after they asked several times for permission to protest in one of the three areas where authorities said they would allow such activities during the Olympic Games.

The elderly women said they wanted to protest as they had not received compensation after their homes were demolished by the Beijing city government seven years ago.

The two said they had applied five times to stage protests at official Olympic protest zones.

But instead of getting approval for their protest, they were both slapped with the one-year sentences of re-education through labour for disturbing public order.

Under the police order, the pair were spared immediate detention but would have been sent off to camp if they caused more trouble.
Thank God the all-powerful benevolent grandma central committee has let the Chinese Government off the hook...

Friday, 29 August 2008

A Freudian slip

Now this is possibly the most amazing article I have ever seen in an official Chinese news publication. Found by Zhongnanhai, it was published on China Radio International's website.

The Dalai Lama's Demons
Friday 08 August 2008
The Dalai Lama is respected worldwide for his peaceful philosophy. Today, some exiled Tibetans, shunned by their peers, no longer believe in his leadership. A controversial buddhist deity lies at the heart of the dispute. (Report: C. Henry, N. Haque)
Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, is revered as a hero by his people and respected world-wide for his peaceful philosophy. Today, however, there are cracks at the heart of his community. A minority of Tibetans exiled in India, including monks, no longer believe in his leadership, and are shunned by their peers. France 24 correspondents Capucine Henry and Nicolas Haque take a closer look into the widening rift that threatens to tear apart the Tibetan people.
In a hitherto peaceful village of Tibetan refugees in southern India, certain monks can no longer enter their monastery, and are banned from stores and public places, including hospitals. Their crime? Revering a god considered a demon by the Dalai Lama.
The controversial Buddhist deity of Dorje Shugden lies at the heart of the conflict. Considered by some as an enlightened tutelary deity and by others as a malevolent force, it was labeled a demon by the Dalai Lama himelf. He made this clear last January, in a speech imbued with rare violence at a Tibetan university in Southern India.
A historic speech “I have meditated and considered (my decision to put aside the Shugden) at length in my soul and spirit before coming to the right decision”, he said. People have killed, lied, fought each other and set things alight in the name of this deity. These monks must be expelled from all monasteries. If they are not happy, you can tell them that the Dalai Lama himself asked that this be done, and it is very urgent.”
The speech was a historic moment in the history of Tibetan Buddhism, and the beginning of a schism which could exclude the four million Tibetans followers of Shugden. A few weeks after the Dalai Lama's speech, Shugden monks could no longer enter monasteries. They regroup themselves outside village walls and meditate on why the Dalai Lama has excluded him.
“Can the Dalai Lama really ban an entire religion?” asks one. “We are in the right, he’s the one who is being incoherent. On one hand, he’s always preaching freedom of religion and compassion, but on the other he’s forbidding us to worship the god we choose”, says another.
Apartheid in Buddhist land Photos of Shugden leaders are posted on city walls, branding them as traitors. Signs at the entrance of stores and hospitals forbid Shugden followers from entry. It’s apartheid, in Buddhist land.
Our reporters followed an ostracized Buddhist monk as he tried to affront the fellow villagers who have banned him. “We’re not violating Buddha’s teachings, and we’re excluded from everywhere just because of our religion” he complains.
“Aren’t you ashamed of betraying the Dalai Lama? You’re a monk! He is our only pillar, the only person we can count on,” he is asked.
In India, Shugden followers are forced to go into hiding. “I fled my house three days ago” says an old woman taken in by a family 300 kilometers away from her home. “I was the only Shugden in my village. Every day I grew more afraid of attacks.I had to block my door with stones for people not to break into my house”.
Pro-Chinese ‘traitors’ Behind this Shugden witch-hunt lies the fear of Chinese infiltration in the ranks of the Tibetan refugees. In the northern Indian city of Dharamsala, home of the Dalai Lama and the exiled Tibetan government, Shugden followers, with their open Chinese sympathies are considered a political threat.
“The Shugden and the Chinese are obviously allies,” says the Tibetan Prime Minister, professor Samdhong Rinpoche. “Their cults all over the world are financed by the Chinese”. He adds that “people are afraid of Shugden violence. They are like terrorists, they will stop at nothing, everyone knows this.” To prove his point, he shows our reporters the photo of the murder of a leading Buddhist monk and two of his disciples in 1997. Tibetans are certain the Shugden are behind the murder.
A leading Shugden figure, Mahalama Losbang Yechi, defends his links with the Chinese community: “I approve the Chinese presence in Tibet. What we are living with the Dalai Lama today shows how authoritarian his theocratic regime must have been in the past. It was much more violent than what Tibetans are living today under Chinese rule.”
Yechi has filed a lawsuit against the Dalai Lama in an Indian high court for religious persecution. He denies acting on the orders of Chinese authorities.
Shugden followers, willingly or not, have become the symbol of a schism that threatens the struggle for Tibetan autonomy. For that, thousands of refugees have begun to pay a price.
Wow. That was a trip. I would be interested in knowing would run through the head of Joe 爱国 when he reads sentences like "The Dalai Lama is respected worldwide for his peaceful philosophy." This is the most "anti-Chinese" article I have ever seen in a Chinese publication. Zhongnanhai speculates that this was put up by accident, and I have to say I tend to agree with that sentiment.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Me, victim, you, aggressor

The arm of patriotic education is long and sinewy. From Diana Fu, writing in the NY Times:

Training a massive army of volunteers is not just about showcasing China’s might; it is also a great medium for extending patriotic education. Through volunteering, students are learning a political lesson about China’s place in the world. Olympic student training manuals include sections titled “China’s Olympics journey is the classic text of patriotic education” and “Patriotism is the core spirit of Zhonghua sports.” Every volunteer can track China’s journey from humiliation to triumph. Here’s an extract from the training manual which every student volunteer is required to memorize:
Before 1949, Chinese athletes formally participated in three Olympic Games (10th, 11th and 14th), and came back with no medals each time. A foreign newspaper published a cartoon of a group of sickly-looking Chinese attired in long gowns and sporting the queue. They were carrying a gigantic “0″ on their shoulders. This cartoon was titled, “the sick man of East Asia”… The July 13, 2001, victory marks the
climax of the Chinese nation’s rise from “sick man of Asia” to strong nation status… Beijing, China, finally won the right to host the 29th Games in 2008. Beijing is ebullient! China is ebullient! The Chinese diaspora is ebullient!

So will the Olympic-sized dose of gold medals cure China of its western cartoon-inspired "sick man of East Asia" self-diagnosis? For the dream of not reading such ebullient jingoism, I sure hope not. Then what would I write about?

But seriously, if public discussion ever does get freed up in this country one thing that will (hopefully) be fascinating to watch is the battle to tell the dominant historical narrative. My cynical side tells me that what will emerge is something not very different from what is in this article, a teleological retrospective account of China being a hapless victim of foreign machinations, followed by the CCP saving the country, followed by a long and necessary period of authoritarian capitalism, etc etc. However, it will be interesting to see, in particular, how much more the events of the Cultural Revolution are brought into mass consciousness, and what light they are viewed in. Equally fascinating will be whether more nuanced views regarding Xinjiang, Tibet, and Taiwan become publicly accepted.

Monday, 25 August 2008

Journo says it as it is

Qu: What has the power to turn a bunch of rabid China-bashers into frolicking panda huggers?
A: The soothing capitalist sweetness of M&Ms.

I don't think I'm the only one who has noted with a little surprise the changing of the tune in the western press over the last couple of weeks when it comes to reporting on China. It was as if all the armchair critics who had been firing journalistic missiles at everything Middle Kingdom-related for the last eight months had suddenly become complimentary, if not downright fawning, at the way the event was handled - and by extension the dastardly commie government that ran the show wasn't so bad after all. It was only two weeks ago that the sinister foreign media were making totally unreasonable claims about internet access, yet today it's all about how extraordinarily efficient the whole shebang was. I was delighted to find a refreshingly candid article in the Irish Times explaining this weird phenomenon.

More than at any other Olympic celebration , we were aware of being tranquillised - we lived in a theme park, not China, writes Tom Humphries

THE MAIN transportation area at the Olympic press centre is a grid several football pitches in area with buses going hither and thither from designated stops. To get to the shuttle that whisks us nightly to our plush seven-star hotel suite, we must go past the stop that whisks other people to the Beijing Foreign Experts Institute. We can't help but feel a pang of envy.

All of us here, after all, are foreign experts, unblushing about painting an overall picture of China after a couple of weeks spent within the Disney on steroids environment that the Olympics provides.

In truth we are the least-qualified people on earth to comment on China and the games. We can only compare and contrast these Beijing games as seen from within the bubble with the experience of being within other bubbles.

First the bubble. You know it is there but the Chinese, in a masterstroke of overstaffing, have solved the security problems that can occasionally make the Olympic experience (or lately just working in Croke Park) so oppressive, intimidating and so involving of queue.

Exposure to the Salt Lake City winter games and to the Athens Olympics left a trace impression of a security world gone mad. Nightclub bouncers and men with machine guns had inherited the earth. Long, long queues formed to get into any arena or press centre. There were no words better guaranteed to sink the hearts of hacks at the back of an epic security queue than the demand that all cameras and laptops be removed from bags for inspection.

The Chinese have solved it all. We come down to the hotel lobby, scan our danglers in (sounds more exciting than it is: our danglers are our accreditation cards, which dangle from our necks like cowbells). Once that is done (10 seconds max), including wild cheery hellos and good days and thank yous and you're welcomes, we step on to a bus and drive down a special Olympic highway and become part of the Olympic family in the pristine Olympic green.

And we can go from venue to venue on our dedicated Olympic highways without ever leaving the Olympic bubble or needing to be searched again. Our meals, our banking, our technology, our haircuts, our massage requirements, our visits to McDonalds - all these things are provided within the bubble. Sometimes we come out and it has been raining. Other times we come out and the government has been oppressing. Of the two conditions, rain makes more impact on us. We berate the athletes for not making an articulate expression of political concern like Smith and Carlos in 1968, but in the bubble we are just as soothed and self-absorbed.

In terms of being hermetically sealed off from the host community, these games feel qualitatively different from their recent counterparts. The Olympic venues don't groan under the weight of merchants' tables flogging mountain ranges of licensed souvenir gear. In parts of Beijing, the Olympics are practically invisible.

Perhaps because the Chinese people are so overwhelmingly decent and friendly without ever being cloying about it, we find ourselves within our Truman Show compound trying to re-educate ourselves and to help things along for China by maintaining a sunny Olympic spirit.

You give little things a pass. You can't get Amnesty sites or the Huffington Post on the web within the press centres, but we are busy anyway. That little girl miming because she was cuter than the girl who was actually singing well - The Irish Times often uses other people's photo-bylines on my pieces for the same reason.

Even the charmingly Kafkaesque idea that there would be three special areas reserved in Beijing for people who wanted to protest about things, but that those people would have to apply to the local authorities for permission to protest (no permissions were granted among the 77 applications), almost became darkly humorous with the news that several applicants for the right to protest had been arrested, among them two old ladies.

If we are to be frank, the human rights violation we fret about the most is that the shop in the main press centre stocks no other type of chocolate except Snickers bars and M&Ms - and they disappear quickly once word gets around that a new consignment has arrived.

We live in a big theme park, not in China. Those of us who came to this country to work at the games don't even have visas. Our danglers identify us as special at the airport - Olympic family. More than at any other Olympic celebration we are aware of being tranquillised and we are gulled by the experience, soothed and made passive.

China has planned and constructed these games to soothe us. It exposes us to the friendliest, most helpful security people in the world, the warmest citizens and their touching innocent pride. They smile hugely when they throw Snickers bars at us! And our reservations and protest plans feel like bad manners.

We roam the huge Olympic green like contented buffalo. Past the wonderful red glow of the Bird's Nest and the gloopy blue Water Cube, and the quiet thrilling efficiency of everything, and we are not in China but China is selling a version of itself to us.

We remember all the promises made in Moscow seven years ago and realise that China has delivered over and over again in terms of the infrastructure of these games and, rather cynically, hasn't blinked on much else. But we can see nothing and hear nothing, so while we are here, we do nothing and hope those who hope for more understand. We were queuing for M&Ms. Okay?

And thus the bias of the western press has been proved. If you feed them enough M&Ms, they will definitely turn a blind eye to assaults on a few of their colleagues.

Actually, this should come as no surprise. The psychoactive powers of chocolate have been well-documented scientifically. Chocolate contains around 380 chemicals, some of which act as cannaboid mimics and latch onto receptors in the brain, triggering a reaction not unlike that of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The relevant lipid, Anandamide, is perhaps the cause of this unprecedented wave of panda-hugging engulfing the western media.

Your blogger would suggest that in admitting his and his colleague's journalistic laziness, Tom Humphries has in fact stumbled upon a great TRUTH - that the Chinese Government deliberately packed the international media centre full of opiate-inducing snack machines IN ORDER TO STOP ANY JOURNALISTIC INVESTIGATION OUTSIDE OF THE INTERNATIONAL MEDIA CENTER.

And in terms of their objectives - you can't but help admire the vile cunning of the Chinese Communist Party. Of all the choices of brain-affecting substances available, they chose the most inane, yet effective. They could have packed their vending machines with cocaine, ecstasy, or heroin, but these drugs are just so democratic. Nobody would believe you can get better dope in Beijing than the great cities of Berlin, London or New York. Opium was a possibility - but it's just so god-damn imperialistic. And caffeine - well that's been known to give journalists energy instead of put them to sleep. Energy that could be spent on chasing down a story.

Now that Guerrilla Snorefare has uncovered this slimy sweet-toothed scandal, the question must be posed: Just where will the Chinese Government stop?

It must be said though, that there may be more than one factor at play. Perhaps part of the reason the English press, at least, is so complimentary is because they are packing their dacks* at the prospect of being humiliated by the efficiency of the Beijing organisers. As was noted by The Independent following the closing ceremony:

It was hard not to feel a shiver of sympathy for Boris Johnson as he was handed maybe the heaviest baton ever passed on in the history of organised sport. Implicit in the eight-minute handover sequence was that if London was to succeed it would do so on its own terms – and its vastly inferior budget.

Roll on 2012.

*This Australian slang refers to defecating in your pants out of a heightened sense of fear.

Saturday, 23 August 2008

Guerrilla's astute predictions come to pass

The Games are over, the verdict is in, and the critics (by this I mean me) are unanimous. The gold medal of the Games (and by this I mean the most astute predictions of how the final medal count would unfold) have been won by none other than myself. It is now my distinct pleasure to quote from my post on the first Sunday of the Games - that's two freakin' weeks ago - about which country would rack up the most medals.

So in the interests of insightful commentary and cutting-edge analysis that you've come to expect from GS, allow myself to quote.....myself. Following a brilliant expose on China's ancient plans for Olympic domination I said:
The rest, as they say, is history. Except in China, of course, where it's 5000 years of history. And if you had any doubts, I feel I need to hardly point out to you the incredible effectiveness of this wily scheming. Just check out the medal table. Here is my prediction, at the end of Day Three. The US may win most medals, but China will top the gold medal count.

1. China (map) 49 20 28 97
2. United States (map) 34 37 36

Sometimes I feel my talent is being wasted in the stuffy confines of the advertising world.

Friday, 22 August 2008

Using biased western media as supporting proof

One thing I find consistently odd in Chinese news publications is the bipolar attitude they have toward foreign, specifically western media. On the one hand they are extremely quick to claim unfair and biased (that's a word I've heard way too much this year) points of view regarding China, on the other they seem to crave positive feedback. It makes for a very interesting mix, especially when the China Daily starts quoting a French publication giving a positive review of the air quality.
Measures taken by Beijing to tackle air pollution before the Olympic Games have proved to be effective, setting at rest previous concerns over the issue, an article in the French sports daily L' Equipe said Thursday.
It was only a few short months ago that French people in Beijing were afraid to identify themselves as such because of the brouhaha over Parisiens expressing their democratic right to make public protests over the torch relay. In addition French media were given a lashing in Chinese press about their heinous misrepresentations of the glorious motherland. Nicholas Sarkozy even briefly became No 1 most hated foreign leader when he suggested Olympic boycotts may be a sensible response to China's handling of the riots in Tibet. Now a French newspaper's positive response is given as definitive proof of the general good quality of Beijing's Olympic air. I would like to take this opportunity to say: WTF?

iTuning out: The CCP has had enough of listening

This article from The Oz:

APPLE'S online music store, iTunes, has been blocked in China after more than 40 Olympic athletes downloaded a pro-Tibet album from the site.Consumers in China began inundating Apple help forums on Monday, saying that they could not access iTunes. Earlier on the same day the US-based International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) announced that 46 athletes from America, Europe and even Beijing had used the site to download Songs for Tibet, which had been offered to them free.
The disappearance of iTunes behind the “Great Firewall” of China comes in the midst of the Beijing Olympics when the Government promised free and unfettered internet access for journalists. While it has lifted blocks on some sites, many are still inaccessible. IT analysts said there was no doubt that the store had been blocked and that it was not merely experiencing a technical fault. Apple acknowledged that there was a problem but refused to comment. Yuna Huang, the company’s Beijing publicist, said: “We’ve seen the situation but can’t offer any more information.” The censorship could backfire.
Mr Wohl said that since the iTunes site had gone down many people in Beijing, including athletes, had asked for the album. “Obviously there are a million different ways of getting an album to somebody,” he said.

What a great example of shooting oneself in the foot. Joe 爱国 is never going to be interested in a load of western imperialist claptrap such as an album with the title of "Songs for Tibet." You may as well give a southern redneck the best of Enya. The only people who will be listening to this kind of thing will be idealistic members of the international community. As such, the Net Nanny is therefore displaying an extraordinary amount of pettiness trying to control what information foreigners have access to. And like so many things that have happened during these Games, they have created two stories worthy of international attention out of one. Originally, there was just a story about an album. Now there is a story about an album and how it was blocked - much more interesting and newsworthy.

But probably the most disturbing thing is the fact that "boycotting Apple" over this ridiculously trivial matter has already rasied its murky one-eyed head. If this nitpicking pettiness is going to be a recurring theme every time a multinational stops calling black white because Chinese netizens and the Government say so, then I can't see too many companies taking a moral stand in the face of the market. But having said that, considering how quickly the Carrefour "boycott" died down earlier this year, it seems apart from making a loud noise about it the average Chinese person doesn't care enough to let these kinds of things stand in the way of their purchasing decisions. Which is a good thing. Chinese consumers, I have some faith in you.

Monday, 18 August 2008

Protesters perplexed

Sometimes, one comes across an article so cautiously written it makes satire redundant.

77 protest applications received after August 1
BEIJING - Beijing authorities have received 77 applications for demonstrations since August 1, a spokesperson with the municipal public security bureau said on Monday.These applications involved
149 people, including three persons from overseas. Most
of the applicants applied to protest in public for issues like labor disputes, medical disputes or inadequate welfares, the spokesperson said.
Seventy-four applications have been withdrawn so far, because the problems those applicants contended for were properly addressed by relevant authorities or departments through consultations, added the spokesperson.Two other applications have been suspended because
their procedures were incomplete, the spokesperson said. In one of such cases, for example, the applicant applied to take children to the demonstration, which is against China's law.According to China's law on demonstrations and protests, children are not eligible to take part in any demonstrations because they do not have independent will, nor can they be liable for their behaviors."The applicants (whose applications have been suspended) have been told to provide information of the eligible participants, and provide the adequate papers as required," the spokesperson said. "It doesn't mean their applications have been rejected." The Chinese law requires demonstrators submit their requests at least five days in advance and detail the intention and topic of the protest, as well as the basic information of the participants.
The one remaining application has been vetoed by the public security authorities, as it is in violation of China's law on demonstrations and protests, the spokesperson said without elaboration.

Cops crush my Olympic dreams

Flushed with success from our clandestine Friday felony at the women's beach volleyball (see below) a motley crew of assorted ne'er do wells and myself assembled at the Rickshaw yesterday afternoon to plan further hijinks.

The target was the men's hockey between Aus and the Netherlands, and the plan was simple: find some Brazilians, slit their throats, and steal their tickets and passports. Failing that, we also hoped just to purchase them in the normal way from any scalper we could find.

The first problem proved to be of a geographical nature. Our cabbie happened to be one of those ubiquitous cranially-challenged clowns who didn't have a clue of our destination and so dropped us off near the Bird's Nest. Several phone calls and conversations beginning with 那个,and 这个 later, and we found another taxi who could take us to the actual location.

The temporary setback overcome, we hovered near the entrance to the stadium trying to attract the attention of those shady deviants who ply the scalping trade. And attract attention we did - only not from scalpers. Merely moderately obese middle-aged men who wished to have their pics taken with the females of our party.

Our plan thwarted, we sulked awhile in sullen rage before hitting up some dim sum and karaoke. Not too bad an alternative, but it didn't really stack up against a night at the Olympics. And a very puzzling turn of events considering the ease at which we picked up tickets on Friday night. It was a mystery wrapped in a fortune cookie, that is, until this morning when I saw this article at Xinhua.

Beijing police has seized in a single day 110 scalpers who illegally sold Olympics tickets at competition venues, according to media reports.
About 340 Olympics tickets were found to be sold through illegal trading by scalpers on Friday, including 17 foreigner nationals, the Legal Daily reports.


And so unnecessary. The scalpers are like the vultures of the Olympic savanna. Without them hundreds and thousands (more) tickets will not be used, and hundreds and thousands more pics showing row upon row of empty seats to audiences around the world are going to reinforce the belief that this is the No Fun Games.

And so I look at you, the noble protectors of law and order in this fair city, with big, sad eyes, and ask one pitiful question: Why?

Post script: To make matters worse, the Xinhua article also had a typo. You wood never see me do such things.

Saturday, 16 August 2008

Western media continues to bash China

In a desperate attempt to keep the criticism of China up at all costs, the western media has gone to the extraordinary lengths of researching the internet to see what Chinese people are saying about the Games.

The mystery of the half-filled stands at many events at the 2008 Olympic Games has been solved, according to Chinese internet users, who say it is the result of a policy to prevent the gathering of large and possibly uncontrollable crowds.

They claim ticket sales to the public were secretly restricted. Blocks of tickets went to government departments, Communist party officials or state-owned companies, which have quietly obeyed orders not to hand them out. “People are so angry because they slept all night outside ticket booths and got nothing and now they see this,” said one blogger, Jian Yu.

Can you believe it? When will the western media accept that the glorious Chinese nation and its 5000 years of history have put on the most incredible Games ever?

BOCOG and international media to communicate by telepathy

Communication is now at an all time high between the international press and the Olympic organisers.
Beijing Olympic organisers have abandoned their regular daily press conferences following a series of heated exchanges between officials and journalists in the past four days.

Beijing spokesman Sun Weide said there would be no press conference on Saturday because the Olympics were running very smoothly.