Friday, March 16, 2018

OPCW: the Place to Investigate a Nerve Agent sample

One can only wish Sergei Skripal and his daughter a good and complete recovery. Skripal once helped a good cause, and suffered for it in the past. He deserves gratitude, and all former agents living under similar circumstances as he does (or did, until March 4), deserve protection. One thing is for sure: Russia’s political culture encourages lawlessness in the name of “patriotism” – suspicions as aired by Britain’s foreign minister Boris Johnson*) aren’t made up out of thin air. But a plausible narrative is still just a narrative, and even thick air is still only air.

In situations like these, anger and “highly likely” accusations are useless at best, and highly likely, they are damaging for all parties involved.

If Jan von Aken‘s comments in a Deutschlandfunk interview on Thursday are something to go by, there would be no need for the escalation that is under way – at least not yet. The established procedure would be to turn to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), to get their assistance in clarifying any situation which may be considered ambiguous or which gives rise to a concern about the possible non-compliance of another State Party with the chemical weapons convention. In the Skripal case, Russia would have to answer to the OPCW’s executive committee “as soon as possible, but in any case not later than 10 days after the receipt of the request” to clarify.

What Theresa May said on Wednesday is anything but evidence:

Mr Speaker, on Monday I set out that Mr Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with a Novichok: a military grade nerve agent developed by Russia. Based on this capability, combined with their record of conducting state sponsored assassinations – including against former intelligence officers whom they regard as legitimate targets – the UK Government concluded it was highly likely that Russia was responsible for this reckless and despicable act. And there were only two plausible explanations. Either this was a direct act by the Russian State against our country. Or conceivably, the Russian government could have lost control of a military-grade nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others.

In a conflict, the two immediate parties are rarely the best candidates to sort things out – not, when there is a history of conflict, or when, as the Economist has put it, Britain’s relationship with Russia is poisoned already.

Britain’s ultimatum for an explanation from Moscow had been contemptuously ignored,

writes the Economist. That may be so. Many Russian citizens have their rights ignored, too. But on a day-to-day basis, few people in the West would care. And if I were a Russian, I would probably find the British ultimatum just as comtemptuous – no matter if pro-Putin, anti-Putin or either.

After a first round of escalations, London now seems to be doing the right thing: they have sent (or will send) a sample of the Novichok nerve agent to the OPCW. That looks like a promising first step. The OPCW should also take care of further procedures, if there should be a chance to come to real conclusions.

Van Aken believes that both the British prime minister and the Russian president may have an interest in the current escalation. But May’s chances to rise to the “challenge” don’t look great, and Putin is going to “win the elections” anyway.

Rather, both of them appear to have concluded that they must serve their constituencies with instant certainties.



*) “The message is clear: We will find you, we will catch you, we will kill you – and though we will deny it with lip-curling scorn, the world will know beyond doubt that Russia did it.”

Thursday, March 15, 2018

“Black-Hearted Intentions”: Tillerson’s Replacement may send Signal to Pyongyang

The press keeps raging: the White House is referred to as a “Tollhaus” by Sächsische Zeitung, which criticizes both the way the incumbent secretary of state was fired, and Trumps choice of a successor:

.. a man like Pompeo, who defends Guantanamo and the exercise of torture, doesn’t stand for a moderate style in foreign policy, not to mention diplomacy with reason and a sense of proportions.

“US diplomacy in turmoil”, judges the Independent.

And Süddeutsche Zeitung quotes Rex Tillerson himself: “US leadership starts with diplomacy.”

KBS Seoul‘s German service’s news bulletin of Wednesday mentioned that Tillerson had always called for unconditional talks with North Korea, thus positioning himself against Trump. Tillerson’s successor, Mike Pompeo, was considered a hardliner, the news bulletin said.

The offer from North Korea to have talks with a simultaneous freeze on North Korean nuclear and missile tests, and with no demand for a freeze on US-South Korean military exercises, will have boosted Donald Trump’s ego.

Radio Austria’s (Radio Österreich International / ORF) Washington correspondent, interviewed in the station’s morning magazine on Wednesday, thought it possible that there would be less contradictions between the White House and the State Department in future, and added that according to Trump himself, firing Tillerson and imposing punitive tariffs on steel and aluminium imports had surprised even his closest advisors:

After a bit over a year in office, Trump apparently feels more and more secure, and he seems to manage the White House quite the same way he used to manage his real estate companies in the past.

Nach etwas mehr als einem Jahr im Amt fühlt sich Trump offenbar immer sicherer, und er scheint das Weiße Haus so ähnlich zu führen wie früher seine Immobilienunternehmen.

Success is usually a good thing. It can be the medicine that encourages a public to support good policies. But it can also encourage leaders with a tendency to overestimating themselves.

While President Trump is giving the public the appearance of a man who looks forward to “making a deal” with the North Korean regime, the regime in question still seems to be wondering what the coming months will hold. Or maybe they are wondering which mistake they have made, given that Trump accepted their offer right away.

North Korean KCNA‘s websites – in Korean and English – haven’t updated the “Supreme Leader’s Activities” since March 6 (when Kim Jong-un hosted a dinner for the special South Korean delegation that subsequently relayed his offer to the US), and the “top news” contain no reference to an impending bilateral summit either.

Rather, the US is “Blasted for Ratcheting Up Sanctions and Pressure on DPRK”. When Washington is mentioned at all, it is business as usual in Pyongyang’s propaganda. KCNA quoting Minju Joson:

Pyongyang, March 14 (KCNA) — The U.S. recently announced that it would impose sanctions on 56 designations in total – 27 shipping and trading companies, 28 vessels and 1 individual – of the DPRK and other countries under the pretext of preventing its “attempt to evade the sanctions” and intercepting the illegal means to help the transactions in the open sea.

Commenting on the fact, Minju Joson Wednesday says that it shows how desperately the U.S. is working to ratchet up the sanctions and pressure on the DPRK and suffocate it.

The U.S. recent announcement is not merely a continuation of such anti-DPRK sanction and pressure racket, the paper notes, and goes on:

The U.S. seeks to realize a cynical ploy to bring back the situation to a phase of tension by escalating the sanctions and pressure on the DPRK.

It has so far justified the hegemonic policy towards the Asia-Pacific region under the pretext of mounting tensions on the Korean Peninsula. So, it is seeking to stem the détente on the peninsula, getting the jitters about it.

The U.S. recent announcement of additional sanctions is nothing but a red herring aimed at tarnishing the international image of the DPRK and diverting the attention of the international community welcoming the détente on the peninsula.

It is the U.S. black-hearted intention to create a phase of confrontation on the peninsula by rattling the nerves of the DPRK and plugging more countries into the sanctions racket.

Such sanctions can never be justified as they are illegal and unethical. -0-

With acclaim and great expectations or not, the press appears to expect the Trump-Kim meeting to happen.

But the negotiations have been on and off for decades. Firing Tillerson and appointing Pompeo has sent a signal to Pyongyang, too. Maybe the North Korean leaders have already gotten the jitters.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Huanqiu Shibao: Chinese Interests won’t be sidelined on Korean Peninsula

Huanqiu Shibao carried an unsigned editorial on Friday, reacting to an apparent rapprochement between Washington and Pyongyang. It’s reasoning reflects what Duowei News portrayed as Huanqiu’s editor-in-chief’s notion of Sino-North Korean relations, in December last year.

The author of the article translated underneath doesn’t seem to doubt that Pyongyang genuinely pursues a policy of denuclearization.

Main Link: How China should act in the light of dramatic changes on [Korean] peninsula

Links within blockquotes added during translation.

The situation on the Korean peninsula has seen another dramatic change. Having been to North Korea and in Washington right after that to report, the head of the Blue House national security office, Chung Eui-Yong, announced in Washington that North Korea’s top leader Kim Jong-un had invited invited Donald Trump to a meeting, and the American side immediately said that President Trump had accepted the invitation.


The American side said that time and location of the meeting were yet to be determined. However, South Korea said that the meeting should be conducted before the end of May this year. Trump especially emphasized that South Korea had told him that not only had Kim Jong-un mentioned a freeze on nuclear activities, but also denuclearization. A sitting US president has never met a North Korean leader before. No matter what, a breakthrough like this deserves to be welcomed, and China should be happy for it.


In the face of the continuous dramatic changes on the peninsula, both Chinese people and foreigners are watching China’s actions with interest.


First of all, the Chinese should maintain a calm attitude and remain focused. There should be no sense of “being sidelined”, and it is not the right perspective from where to look at the issue.


We should keep in mind what China’s main goal on the peninsula is, i. e. denuclearization and peace and stability. These two major points matter more than China and the gains and losses in its bilateral relations between the North and the South respectively, or the effect of such gains and losses in the contest of big powers. This is because China’s Northeast is close to North Korea, and North Korea’s nuclear activities and the stirring acrtivities on the peninsula are posing a potential threat to China.


China can’t compare match America. Firstly, America is far from the Korean peninsula, with corresponding room to maneuver. Secondly, US-South Korean relations are those of alies, and its ability to control South Korea is a legacy of its role of an experienced superpower.


China’s influence on North Korea didn’t continue after resisting the US and helping North Korea. We haven’d stationed troops in North Korea. The Chinese People’s Volunteers delegates also left Panmunjom in the mid-1990s. Chinese-North Korean relations soon became normal bilateral relations,with only certain remaining ideological bonds. The relations between the two countries also mainly amount to mutually beneficial cooperation, and it is many peoples’ misunderstanding that there were great amounts of Chinese gratuitous help to North Korea.


The influence that China does exercise on the peninsula is based on our country’s increasing strength, and its geopolitical position. The appearance of being able to decide international sanctions is also a key element in its ability to influence the situation on the peninsula. But China is no leader in finding a solution to the situation on the peninsula, and nor do we have the leverage to change the attitude of any of the parties on our own.


All the same, China’s exercise of power has played a role. The direction the situation on the peninsula is taking now is precisely what China has promoted. Firstly, the “double-moratorium” proposed by China has at last appeared. The “two-track merger” is also beginning to take shape. During these two years, China both participated in the sanctions policy against the DPRK, led by the United Nations, and China also prevented extreme measures such as sea blockades, that could have led to military conflict, and has made preparation for the aftermath of a possible hot conflict.


As a big country, China has no reason to worry that North Korea could turn to a so-called “reliance on American help”. There can’t be any country on China’s boundaries that could completely “rely on American help”. China has actively advocated direct US-North Korean dialog on the nuclear issue, and seeing the two sides breaking the deadlock and talking directly, we should support this improvement all the more. If Kim and Trump can help to denuclearize the peninsula and make it peaceful and stable, this achieves China’s two big goals, and why should we not be happy about that?

作为大国,中国完全不必担心朝鲜会所谓的“投靠美国”,中国周边不可能有任何一个国家是完 全“投靠美国”的。中国从朝核问题一开始就积极推动美朝直接对话,在事实证明美朝直接对话是打破僵局绕不开的途径时,我们就更应该支持局势的这一进展了。 如果金特会有助于通向半岛无核化及和平稳定这两大中国最期待的目标,我们有什么理由为此而不高兴呢?

Chinese-North Korean relations are currently at a low ebb, but the real reason for that is the nuclear issue, not some historical or cultural reasons, a s some people like to exaggerate, or because of the North Korean leader’s personality. Once the North Korean nuclear issue can be alleviated, Chinese-North Korean may rather easily be improved.


xBecause of modern technological development and because of changes in the international situation, North Korea’s significance as China’s geopolitical protective screen may decrease. Future good Chinese-North Korean relations will be more important for North Korea, than for China. China should calmly support US-North Korean contacts, and look favorably at the Kim-Trump meeting. At the same time, we should also actively react to sudden changes in the situation, improve relations with North Korea, and support the stabilization of a good development.


We should respect North Korea. We should both continue to protect the UN security council’s decision-making authority, and help protect North Korea’s legitimate rights and interests*), as talks on conditions for denuclearization between Pyongyang and Washington get underway. North Korea, once starting the process of denuclearization, China must be a advocate and defender of international guarantee systems which make sure that [North Korea] won’t be cheated by America, and that it won’t continue to be pressured by America.


As the situation on the peninsula is about to ease, many uncertainties are still lying ahead. China must maintain its focus and stick to principles. It must not allow dazzling situations  to disturb our train of thought. We can’t see short-term gains, and even less should we worry about gains and losses. We should welcome US-North Korean talks to solve the nuclear issue, and in the denuclearization process, we should be [North Korea’s] strong supporter in their defense of their interests. If this is how China consistently continues, our interests will certainly not be sidelined.




*) When first published online on Friday, the article used the term 合法权益 (which seems to amount to “legitimate”, too, though maybe somewhat less expressively).

Monday, February 26, 2018

Chairman Unlimited

Xi Jinping‘s speech at the 19th central committee’s fourth collective study session on Sunday, rendered there by Xinhua newsagency, contained the usual buzzwords from building a modern socialist country, making the great regjuvenation of the Chinese nation real, a country ruled according to the law (依法治国), and the moderately prosperous society (小康社会). Apart from that, Xi reportedly also pointed out that “the constitution is the superstructure and must therefore suit the changes at the economic base (宪法作为上层建筑,一定要适应经济基础的变化而变化).

Xi also seems to have gone to some length to emphasize the legitimacy derived from the constitution, and from constitutional behavior. No wonder: the CCP’s politburo has sent a draft of constitutional changes to the “National People’s Congress'”  standing committee, according to the second Xinwen Lianbo newsitem last night.

The amendment that has caught most of the international attention on Sunday is actually a reduction:

14. Article 79, para 3, “The People’s Republic of China chairperson’s and vice chairperson’s terms in office are identical with the terms of each National People’s Congress, and must not exceed the duration of two terms.” The amendment reads: “The People’s Republic of China chairperson’s and vice chairperson’s terms in office are identical with the terms of each National People’s Congress.”


With me in charge, you are at ease, are you not? – click photo above for Xinwen Lianbo video

At the central committee’s collective study session, Xi, the beneficiary (and arguably author) of this amendment, was keen on pointing out how important a constitution is, provided that it contains the correct amendments:

Xi Jinping emphasized that the constitution has the highest legal status, legal authority, and legal force. Above all, our party must set an example in venerating and implementing the constitution, and by leading the people in drawing up and implementing constitutional law, and [by leading the people in] persisting in unified action with the party within the scope of constitutional law. No organization or individual must have prerogatives beyond the law. All acts that violate constitutional laws must be investigated. […]

习近平强调,宪法具有最高的法律地位、法律权威、法律效力。我们党首先要带头尊崇和执行宪法,把领导人民制定和实施宪法法律同党坚持在宪法法律范围内活动统一起来。任何组织或者个人都不得有超越宪法法律的特权。一切违反宪法法律的行为,都必须予以追究。 […..]

The constitution is a matter for the “National People’s Congress”, China’s ersatz parliament. As for Xi’s function as CCP secretary general and head of the central military commission (officially, there is one CMC by the state, and one by the party, but they are in fact identical), there appear to be no term limits anyway.

Foarp has started a discussion on his blog.



How safe will he be in 2023, Dec 13, 2014
Xi Jinping’s first time, Nov 29, 2012
你办事,我放心, People’s Daily, July 4, 2012


Monday, February 19, 2018

Promising Profits: Syria’s Nation (Re)building Propaganda

Links within the blockquotes were added during translation.

Following America and Russia, China has announced its interest in playing a greater role in Syria, TRT Ankara‘s Chinese service reported on February 12. China’s ambassador in Damascus, Qi Qianjin (齐前进),

said that China wanted to play a greater role in solving the Syria crisis. The diplomat told Xinhua that “the time has come to focus on the development and reconstruction of Syria. I believe that in this course, China can provide more help to the Syrian people and government, and play a bigger role.”


Ambassador Qi Qianjin visited al-Mouwasat University Hospital in Damascus, and the hospital director thanked him.


The Syrian communications minister had previously said that Syria’s transportation network, once restored, could become a railroad extending to China.


According to a report by China’s “Global Times”, at least 30 Chinese business people have been to Syria since April, to explore investment opportunities.


China is acting together with Russia in the Syrian conflict, but has worked hard to avoid American resentment.


In the United Nations security council’s seven important resolutions concerning Syria, China abstained and chose not to get involved in the US-Russian quibble.


Reportedly, from the three countries of Russia, China and America, China is the only country that hasn’t sent troops to Syria.


Radio Damascus QSL 1980s

Radio Damascus shortwave QSL, 1980s *)

The war in Syria is by no means over, and Turkey itself plays no small role in keeping it alive. According to Syrian foreign radio ORTAS‘ German service on Friday, that day marked the 27th day of “the Turkish regime’s barbarian aggression against the Syrian town of Afrin”. According to the same news broadcast, the Syrian government and the Kurdish “people’s defence units (or protection units, YPG, Volksverteidigungseinheiten)” had agreed to have the Syrian army stationed in Afrin. Both ORTAS and Xinhua quoted Rezan Heddo, a media advisor of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), as saying that “Afrin is a Syrian city”.

German news magazine Der Spiegel reported on Sunday night that “of all things”, “dictator Assad’s army is coming to the aid of Afrin region.”

At the same time, Syrian media accuse the US of trying to prolong the war. In its “News and Views” program of February 4, Syrian foreign radio’s English service noted that [27′ 40”]

It is pretty clear that the regional and international powers … do not have a desire to reach a political solution, but, in accordance with their interests in Syria, and for achieving them, those foreign sides try to prolong their war against Syria to give them a chance to extend their presence in the Syrian land under the pretext of combatting terrorism or preserving the alledged national security, as Turkey is claiming to justify its aggression on the Syrian territory.

That said, the Syrian media depict the situation as one where powers hostile to Damascus will prolong, but never win the war. This has been Damascus’ propaganda approach for some time. On October 4 last year, an ORTAS commentary in German claimed that the end of the war was approaching [6’52”]:

Nobody but some hateful or uneducated people can deny this truth. All conditions on the ground and their political consequences are emphasizing that the end of the struggle against terror and terrorist gangs is a matter of time. Aggravations here or there, the committing of crimes by the terrorist gangs is only this terror’s death struggle, carried to Syria from the outside.

It was time to rebuild the country, the same commentary said [08’58”]:

It is clear that the world has begun to think of the post-war situation in Syria, especially concerning a political settlement by dialog among the Syrians themselves. According to that, the Syrians think and talk about reconstruction of the facilities destroyed during the war. The talk in some concerned states, regarding reconstruction and a preparedness to contribute to this mission, is currently “hip”, even in some states that enormously contributed to the destruction of Syria.

Nation-building propaganda is nothing new in Syria. Before the war, too, posters portraying President Bashar al-Assad adorned not only public buildings, but many shops and retail stores, too, some combined with the depiction of a fingerprint in the colors of the Syrian flag, apparently suggesting that there was a genetic link between the people and the regime, in accordance with Syria’s nature. However, at least in Aleppo, you would usually find those posters at the doors of better-off neigborhoods.

But if an era of reconstruction should be upon Syria – depending on which areas are considered sustainably safe by domestic and foreign investors -, the narrative that is shaped by Damascus is beginning to show, as described there by a retired US Army officer:

Nation building can involve the use of propaganda or major infrastructure development to foster social harmony and economic growth.

Reconstruction and “dialog” aren’t only aiming at positive dynamics within Syria, but abroad, too. Syria’s officials and media have sent clear signals to friends and enemies abroad. Newsagency SANA reported on September 30 last year that

China’s Special Envoy for Syria Xie Xiaoyan affirmed that his country would support efforts for reconstruction and rebuilding infrastructure in Syria.

Xiaoyan’s remarks came in a seminar held in Beijing University titled “Rebuild Syria,” during which he called on the Chinese companies to participate in the reconstruction.

For his part, Ambassador of Syria in Beijing Imad Mustafa said that Syria seeks to form a joint strategic vision with China and will not wait for the end of the war to begin reconstruction, noting that the priority in that field will be given for companies from friendly countries.

Early in October, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad told a delegation led by Russian deputy minister for energy Kirill Molodtsov that [00’41”]

it was obvious that those states that had stood with the Syrian people during its war against terror would be entrusted with the task of reconstruction.

Beijing must have been glad to hear that, too. But TRT Ankara’s report – see beginning of this post – is correct in that China is trying to avoid “American resentment”. For sure, Beijing isn’t asking for it.

Also in September last year, Chinese foreign-policy newspaper Huanqiu Shibao quoted Beijing’s Middle-East envoy Xie Xiaoyan (解晓岩) as saying that he had heard suggestions about reconstructions during his visits both to Russia and Syria:

The situation has improved, but first, the country needs to be stabilized, and comprehensive cease-fire agreements are necessary. It is hard to imagine that war should be conducted on the one hand, and roads should be repaired on the other. What is repaired on one day, may be destroyed one day later. But the fact that war still continues doesn’t mean that the parties couldn’t think about rebuilding and reconstruction. China has sufficient industrial capabilities and is preparing for active involvement in this process.


However, Xie also said that

China is the world’s second-largest economy, but it can’t do the rebuilding alone. Reports say that reconstruction is going to cost two to three hundred billion Dollars. Therefore, not only China, but countries of the region and of the international community, too, should make joint efforts to achieve Syria’s reconstruction.

中国是世界第二大经济体,但中国独自无法完成重建工作。据有关报道,重建需要大约2000至3000亿美元资金。 因此,不仅是中国,本地区国家和整个国际社会都应共同努力,实现叙利亚的重建。

In a number of ways, China is well-positioned to draw the lion’s share from post-war profits – once the war is really over, or limited to a few marginal conflict zones. While Russia certainly spearheaded military support for Damascus, and while Beijing rather tried to hedge its bets, Russia may not have those industrial capabilities that Xie Xiaoyan ascribes to his own country.

Western economic powers may prove to be essential in one or another aspect of reconstruction, but Damascus is likely to maintain its position that countries that propped it up during the crisis, and during foreign aggression, should profit most.

That doesn’t mean that China would be extremely popular in Syria – although the war may have helped its soft power there. When former Chinese chief state councillor Wen Jiabao referred to the Arab people as good friends, good partners and good brothers, regional elites, rather than entire populations, came to mind. Wen made his statement about Sino-Arab friendship while Hosni Mubarak was still Egypt’s president, and Wen himself may have cherished a memory of Chinese relations with a – then nationalist rather than islamist – Arabia of the 1950s.

Syria’s regime may be the last (and maybe the only lasting) representative of that cherished past.



*) Until some time into the war, ORTAS – named “Radio Damascus” until recently – broadcasted on shortwave. Two frequencies were usually announced, but only one of them actually appeared to be in operation (9330 kHz). Reportedly, the facilities have been demolished – apparently in a regular way, and not because of the war.



Russia is very clever, Sept 11, 2013
A Just Mideast Position, Febr 16, 2012
Understanding and Support, Oct 25, 2011


Saturday, February 10, 2018

Blog and Press Review: Frugal New Year

Warning: the following translation from a classic is just my guesswork – if you copy that for your homework, the mistakes will be your fault, not mine. Links within blockquotes added during translation.

Frugal New Year: the Xi Style

The year of the dog is upon us, and it must be a dog’s life if you are a cadre in the Xi Jinping era. That’s what you might believe, anyway, if you read secretary general Xi Jinping’s spiritual nourishment for comrades. After all, in a totalitarian society, administration, legislation, crackdowns and Something Understood all need to come from the same source.

People’s Daily has published three instalments of Xi Jinping thought. The first: go and visit the poor, and ask about their suffering, find solutions to the problems and dump the worries. The second: have an affectionate reunion with your family, as a good family style promotes virtue.

For the third instalment, the sermon turns to the New Book of Tang:
奢靡之始,危亡之渐 (which means something like “what begins lavishly will move towards danger”, I suppose).

I can only find the Chinese original [no English edition] of the  New Book of Tang online, and there, in chapter 105, Chu Suiliang, an advisor with morals, tells his surprised sovereign the meaning of things that only appear to be innocent at first glance:


The emperor said: “Shun made the lacquer, Yu gave us the embroideries, but the remonstrances never seem to end. How can small things be evil?”
Suiliang said: “ornate artwork harms the peasantry, and embroidery hurts the working women. What begins lavishly, will indeed move towards danger. It doesn’t end at lacquerware, it takes gold, too. It doesn’t end there, but jade will be required, too. Those who remonstrate do not want to see things pass the point of no return.”

If my impression of the Chinese texts is basically correct, Xi seems to present himself as someone who speaks truth to power – which is corny at best, and quite probably populist. The latter, anyway, is a tool lavishly handed around among the Davos jetset more recently, and it probably works fine, especially at the grass-roots level, with people who routinely delude themselves.

Roar back, if you still dare, fly or tiger.

Xi Jinping probably found a lot to copy from Ronald Reagan. His May 4 speech in 2013 resembled Reagan’s endless-opportunities speech in 1984. While frequently considered risk averse when it comes to reform, optimism, a “determination … to educate his audience” and “unobtrusive and imperceptible moral influence” (OK – it depends on how much corniness you’ve grown up with) are features Xi’s propaganda style seems to share with the late US president’s.

Footnote: when it comes to education on the ground, education of the public appears to be anything but imperceptible, as The Capital in the North reported in January.

Central Europe (1): After the “Czech Reversal”

The China Digital Times has an article by a Czech academic, describing Chinese influence in Eastern Europe (although the Czech Republic is hardly “eastern” European), and more particularly about a “China Energy Fund Committee” (CEFC). Czech president Miloš Zeman, who is quoted there with some of his characteristically tasteless remarks (about Chinese eyes, before he changed his mind), has explicit opinions about journalism, too.

Central Europe (2): German Mittelstand’s Main Thing

If the German Mittelstand can’t be found in China, it’s probably because they are investing and selling in the Visegrád countries, and beyond. the Handelsblatt‘s English-language edition has a critical assessment of Mittelstand companies role in Central Europe, quoting an apolitical German trade functionary to prove its point:

Ultimately, politics is not that important for businesspeople. Order books are full: That’s the main thing.

Obviously, German politicians (and journalists, for that matter) aren’t nearly as sanguine, and following US President Trump’s attendence at a Three Seas Initiative summit in July 2017, the Economist even recorded Teutonic tremors:

Germany is already concerned about China’s “16+1” initiative with central and eastern European states, a series of investment projects that the Chinese expect will build influence in the region. The Germans are also putting pressure on the Polish government over its illiberal attacks on independent newspapers, judges and NGOs. And they are fending off Polish criticisms that their proposed “Nord Stream 2” gas pipeline from Russia to Germany will make Europe more dependent on Russia.

But the Mittelstand shows no such unease. In fact, smaller and medium-sized companies often feel easier about countries that are closer to Germany, both regionally and culturally – it takes less time to travel, less time spent abroad, less worries about intercultural competence (or its absence), and less worries about market barriers or technology theft.

Hualien, Taiwan

Most people will have heard and read about the earthquake that caused deaths and injuries, especially in Hualien, on Tuesday.

But the place should be known for its beauty, too. There’s a travel blog about the Taroko Gorge, apparently written by a Singaporean, with some practical advice which  should be quite up to date (based on a visit in November 2016). That, plus some history.

The Spy Radio that anyone can hear

No, that’s not the BBC. They’ve only produced a video about numbers stations.

But what’s the fun in them if anyone can listen? I want some numbers of my own.



Budapest Guidelines, in Chinese and in English, Nov 2017


Thursday, January 25, 2018

Shortwave Logs: Radio Romania International (RRI)

If you are looking for a European broadcaster on shortwave, the BBC World Service may come to your mind – or Radio Romania International (RRI). The latter’s range of program languages is quite diverse: English, Chinese, French, Romanian, Ukrainian, Russian, Arabic, Spanish, Italian, and German. One a week, on Sundays, there’s a broadcast in Hebrew, too, with a review of the week1).

— Some history

According to the station’s website, first experimental radio programmes for target areas beyond Romania’s borders were aired in 1927. Broadcasting became official on November 1, 1928, on 747 kHz (401.6 meters) – apparently targeted at a domestic audience, in Romanian only. French and English programs followed in 1932, “to inform the diplomatic corps in the Romanian capital city”, and weekly programs in French and German were targeted at central and western Europe. Before the second world war, all foreign broadcasts depended on medium wave transmitters. When the first shortwave transmissions began, the focus appears to have been on the Balkans, and the Middle East. According to RRI, [i] t seems that the first letter received from abroad came from Egypt.

It’s a detailed account of RRI’s history (and that of its preceding organizations, all headquartered in Bucharest’s General Berthelot Street), and will most likely contain some information that is new to the reader.

Olt County's coat of arms, 1985 and post-1989

Olt County’s coat of arms, as depicted on a QSL card of December 1985, and as of these days (click picture for Wiki entry)

— Languages, Programs, Contraditions

RRI provides news, background reports and some cultural coverage. Much of the content is the same in English, German, and Chinese, but focus may differ somewhat. While there is news, some background information and cultural programming in all these languages, listeners’ preferred topics seem to count, too. German listeners frequently enquire about European and social issues – something that appears to be of less interest to Chinese listeners. The scope of Chinese programs may also be somewhat limited by air time: thirty minutes per broadcast in Chinese, rather than sixty, as is the case with some of the broadcasts in English, French, and German.

When it comes to international exchange or openness, RRI certainly can’t be accused of discrimination. The Institut Francais is shown among their partners on the French service’s web pages, and a link to the “Confucius Institute” in Bucharest adorns the Chinese-language main page, side by side with one to the Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (with no specified status).

According to RRI’s English service’s website, RRI’s Chinese service, which first went on air on October 1, 1999, benefited from […] Chinese language experts […] as well as our colleagues from Radio China International, the Romanian language department […].2)

Given the kind of “news” being broadcast by China Radio International (CRI), this kind of cooperation doesn’t look appropriate.

Some caveats: undue Beijing’s influence isn’t limited to RRI in particular, or to southeastern Europe in general3) (as suspected by some German quarters). A number of German universities have opted for cooperation with the agency from Beijing, for example, and areas of cooperation are hardly less sensitive.

Also, RRI’s news broadcasts in Chinese don’t appear to differ from those of the English or German departments. When Chinese listeners hear about Romanian citizens who take to the street, opposing changes to the country’s legal system, or Japan’s prime minister emphasizing liberty, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law as Japan’s and Romania’s shared values and principles, it may be met with more open minds, than if broadcast by a source that is deemed hostile by its audience.

All the same, turning October 1, 1949 into common ground between the audience and the station’s first broadcast in Chinese (October 1, 1994) spells a major contradiction, when suggesting at the same time, on a different history page, that RRI services turned towards the future, towards once again building a bridge between Romania and the democratic world and re-establishing the link between Romanians living abroad and those back home, a link that had been weakened on purpose by the totalitarian regime.

— Audience

RRI doesn’t offer detailed statistics – few international broadcasters do. It seems likely, however, that a presence on shortwave makes a difference for the better. I wouldn’t hear or read much about the country, if its signals didn’t come in handy. I’m suspecting that within Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, you can listen to RRI with a pressing iron (any appliance with spiral coils should do).

What has kept this blogger from giving feedback to the station is their online policy. It seems that everything that is mentioned in their listener’s-feedback programs goes right online, as a transcript. Facebookers probably won’t mind, but more traditional listeners may be a different story.

Either way, RRI certainly has its fans, and its multipliers.

— Shortwave

Shortwave plays an important role, at least when it comes to middle-aged and old listeners. For one, there’s the technical aspect. Nobody is encouraged to disassemble and reassemble his smartphone, or to boost its transmission power or its sensitivity. Use of shortwave, however, involves technical aspects, and people interested in some DIY. And while an app user may brush any source of information away after a few seconds, shortwave listeners’ attention span is likely to be sturdier.

It would seem to me that among a number of other aspects (sound not least – I find digital sound ugly), shortwave broadcasting signals respect for the listeners. It is more costly than web-based communication, it doesn’t provide broadcasters with as much information about how “efficient”, in terms of listener numbers, their productions actually are (which means that even the invisible listener matters), and it doesn’t ask if a listener lives under circumstances that allow for internet access – be it for economic or censorship reasons.

Shortwave is therefore a unique RRI feature. Bulgaria abandoned its shortwave transmissions years ago, so did Radio Poland, Radio Ukraine International, and Radio Prague (except for some airtime on German or American shortwave stations respectively). Radio Budapest, once one of the most popular Eastern European external broadcasters, is history.

— Recent RRI logs

Broadcasts in Chinese, German, and Hebrew
Time UTC Lang. Date Freq. S I N P O
07:00 German Jan21 7345 5 5 5 4 4
13:30 Chinese Jan21 9610 4 5 5 3 4
17:05 Hebrew Jan21 9790 4 5 5 3 4



1) RRI’s website states 19:05 hours as the beginning of the transmission, which is standard time in Romania, and in Israel (17:05 GMT/UTC).
2) The Romanian department at CRI still exists, with an online presence, and medium/shortwave transmissions.
3) The “Spiegel” interview in German.


Monday, January 1, 2018

Happy New Year!

Taipei 101 light and fireworks show, published by the Liberty Times online.

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