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