Archive for November 14th, 2008

Friday, November 14, 2008

Unharmonious Days at the Voice of Germany’s Chinese Service

Chinese dissidents living in Germany wrote an open letter to Germany’s federal parliament, the Bundestag, on September 13. They complained about Germany’s international radio station Deutsche Welle (Voice of Germany) and its China coverage.

From Germany with Love

Net Nanny: From Germany with Love

Their criticism targeted the station’s Chinese service and its then deputy department manager Zhang Danhong. Signed by a number of people from organizations that I haven’t heard of before, plus Zheng Donghong of the Epoch Times (a paper I obviously have heard of before), the letter said that the Chinese editorial staff was to a large extent isolated from German society and was functioning like an island. The open letter refers to the overall concept of the station that wants to promote democracy and human rights.

A substantial share of the German press and at least one leading member of parliament were supportive of the open letter, and the management apparently took the allegations against Zhang Danhong serious enough to suspend her from work initially. She was confirmed as a member of the editorial department within the same month but lost her position as its deputy department manager.

From what I have heard and read from Zhang, she is what the Chinese Communist Party might call a friend of the Chinese people. That said, I can see nothing that would violate our constitution – and if or how she supported democracy and human rights with her work isn’t easy to decide. I see nothing that would really speak against her for that matter.

But I’m no great fan of my country’s international radio station anyway. I feel that there is too much emphasis on praising Germany’s industry, it’s R&D, and its universities. I’m a regular listener to the BBC, to All India Radio, and to several East Asian stations. As far as I can think back, the last time I heard something on the Welle that involved China and that I found really interesting was an interview with Lee Teng-hui, then Taiwan’s president. In that interview, he defined Taiwan’s relations with China as state-to-state relations. With programs as boring as many of the station are now, changes in its programs – not necessarily its staff – would seem to make sense to me. I would also prefer a much more aggressive way in promoting democracy and human rights by the station – but that is part of my personal wish list, and not a question of how much the station is in line with its public mandate.

The CCP isn’t necessarily in love with the Chinese programs. Frank Sieren, Die Zeit correspondent in China, pointed out that the Deutsche Welle’s website is or was regularly blocked in China. But then, there is a lot of stuff that is blocked by the paranoid Great Firewall. Zhou Derong, formerly the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung‘s cultural correspondent living in Shanghai, even suggested that if criticism of the Chinese service was justified, the CCP had no reason to censor the Deutsche Welle’s webpages. Zhou apparently believes that the paranoid Great Firewall makes rational choices.

There is another factor in this discussion, and that is the Chinese leadership itself. This is how Xinhuanet reacted to Zhang Danhong’s suspension:

Before this incident1), multiple pro-China articles were dismissed, proving that Germany’s freedom of expression was merely a joke. What is more worrying is that anti-China sentiment may be hiding in the shadow of Nazi racism.

Nothing that Xinhua writes can be considered a slip of the tongue. Huanqiu Net offered even more scientific insights:

Recent years have seen a resurgence of Nazi Skinheads in some places in Germany. Attacks on foreigners occur from time to time. The unhealthy trend of racism is also the background to a series of anti-China moves of some German media.

The logical problem within this argumentation: the brawl about Zhang Danhong wasn’t about race. Many of those who complained about her work were actually Chinese people.

The way they criticized Zhang Danhong may be questionable, and the way the radio station reacted was quite probably wrong. Still, Zhang Danhong can take her case to the courts. And the way Xinhua criticises Germany tells more about China’s leadership than about my country. On the one hand, Xinhua’s and Huanqiu’s criticism shows a remarkable disdain for the victims of the Nazis. And on the other hand, it equates rejections of China’s political system with racism. That kind of logic may apply under the CCP’s jurisdiction. But Beijing can’t realistically expect people outside China to adopt the same view.

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Updates:

December 20, 2010
1) the link used to be http://en.chinaelections.org/NewsInfo.asp?NewsID=19207 but is no longer valid.

February 6, 2012
2) Now here: http://chinaelectionsblog.net/?p=13092
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Friday, November 14, 2008

Foreign Ministry declassifies 1961 – 1965 Records

70% of the foreign ministry’s records dating from 1961 to 1965 have been unclassified and made accessible to the public. That is the biggest share of any set of files having been declassified to date. Chinese nationals and foreigners can access the files at the foreign ministry once they provide a letter of introduction from their working organization and their ID card.

Ynet.com quotes the foreign ministry’s archive director Guo Chongli (郭崇立) saying that the border wars with India and the ideological debates in Sino-Soviet relations are some of the major items. Another is the continuing series of American-Chinese meetings on embassy level. There were 26 of them during those five years. The meetings recorded and objected to American U-2 planes violating Chinese airspace.  Also at the time, China and France established official diplomatic relations, from where the breakthrough was reached in relations with leading Western powers. China and Japan established liasion offices and exchanged permanent correspondents.

Guo said that another item was the Vietnam War, and that despite the twists and turns in Sino-Soviet relations, some support for Vietnam from the Soviet Union was still provided via Chinese territory at the time.

since the first files were declassified in 2004, they had been accessed more than 3400 times to date, thereof more than 700 times by users from outside China, according to Ynet.com.

Source: Ynet.com, Nov. 13

Friday, November 14, 2008

Juchen Inmate 2630

Taiwan is a divided society. That’s its core problem when dealing with China. Neither did president Chen Shui-bian find common ground for his more independent-minded approach, nor will president Ma Ying-jeou with his conciliatory approach towards Beijing.

If former chancellor Helmut Kohl had been arrested in 1999 because of the financial scandal of his party and his refusal to name the donors in question to the CDU, I would have thought of such an arrest – rightly or wrongly – as a great step towards more transparency and less corruption. But what should I make of Chen Shui-bian’s arrest?

He is only under investigation, but pictures this week showed him in handcuffs. One problem when trying to assess the situation is that Taiwan’s political scene is extremely combative. There are few shades of grey, and there is a lot of black and white. Ask Shih Ming-deh (who probably hates Chen more than most KMT ganbu’s, and Chen is black. Ask DPP supporters, and Chen will appear either white, or grey.

American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) director Stephen Young voiced the expectation be transparent, fair and impartial.  It’s good to know that what happens in Taiwan now is watched from abroad. Personally, I’m not really optimistic that the process against Chen will “strengthen the confidence both here [in Taiwan] and around the world”, as Young puts it. How can it be that prosecutors under the KMT, which is itself a party of cronyism, moves that quickly to the indictment of the so far only non-KMT president?

Chen is detained at Juchen Prison, as inmate 2630. Juchen is the same facility where he was held 21 years ago. The prosecutor’s office said Chen could be held indefinitely before charges are filed, but there was no intention to delay.

Now he is going on hungerstrike. That looks too melodramatic to me – his record isn’t as clean as it was when he was arrested 21 years earlier. But it is probably an efficient move to mobilize many of those who don’t like Chen, but are skeptikal of the ruling KMT’s ability to resist the temptations of authoritarianism. Even if one considers Chen’s two presidential terms as complete failures, maybe he will become a test case for Taiwan’s judiciary.

Public service never ends.

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