Archive for August, 2011

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Sarkozy can’t Explain the British Riots, but his Presidency might provide some Clues

The lasting dangers to a free society don’t stem from hoodies or looters – not even from no-go areas. The Economist‘s  Lexington column, not directly related or not necessarily intending to relate to this issue, as it was published some three months before the Birmingham, London, and Manchester riots erupted, pointed to America and had this to say, under a headline which read

Save the fourth amendment

It is only a mile or so from the colonnade of the Supreme Court to some of Washington, DC’s most dangerous neighbourhoods. But these two parts of the nation’s capital could be in different countries. On any given night, armed police prowl north-east Washington in search of guns or drugs. So routine are these patrols that black men sitting on stoops or standing on corners will reflexively lift their T-shirts when the police approach, to show that they have no pistol tucked into their waistbands. Often the police will frisk them anyway, and search their cars as well. You might almost forget, in light of these encounters, that the fourth amendment to the constitution establishes the right of the American people to be “secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.”

Large-scale riots in the Parisian suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois erupted six years ago,  when three boys who rightly or wrongly believed that they were being chased by the police reportedly tried to hide in a power substation, where two of them were fatally electrocuted.

There are no easy answers when it comes to the challenges of social tensions on the one hand, and civil liberties and human rights on the other. But one of the immediate answers given to the Clichy riots should have disqualified the man who uttered. His answer should have disqualified him, in the eyes of the voters, from any further career in national politics:

“Dès demain, on va nettoyer au Karcher la cité. On y mettra les effectifs nécessaires et le temps qu’il faudra, mais ça sera nettoyé” (From toorrow, we will clean the city up with a Kärcher. We will make the deployments as needed, and spend the time it will take, but this will be cleaned up),

Nicolas Sarkozy, then France’s interior minister, said on June 19, 2005, referring to the rioters as racaille (probably best translated as rabble). He assumed the office of president of the French Republic on May 16, 2007, barely two years later.

Kärcher is a German manufacturer of cleaning systems and equipment, known for its high-pressure cleaners.

That the French people voted Sarkozy in doesn’t in itself provide an answer to the question of social tensions, and a public desire for law and order on the one hand, and human rights and civil liberties on the other. But I do see the French presidential vote of 2007 as a vote against the latter, and only seemingly for law and order.

Quite erroneously, Americans, French, Germans, and many Britons, too, seem to believe that abuse of state power will “only” be directed against black or colored people (see the Economist quote at the beginning of this post), against Maghrebians (see Sarkozy), or against justifiable targets in a “war on gangs” (Britain this month).

Not so fast. The Writing Baron, a Briton living in Taiwan, and most probably no particularly “anti-social” contemporary, describes some earlier unpleasant encounters with the British police (see ii. Police and some personal experience).

Encounters with German police can be pretty unpleasant, too – and there isn’t much reason to expect these to become nicer in the future.

Courage is the price that Life exacts for granting peace, Amelia Earhart, an American pilot, wrote early last century. It won’t be the courage of our political leaders alone – if at all – which will lead to both peace and freedom in our societies. Liberty and peace will depend on each of us, personally.

But in certain cases, just a minimal sense of fairness and decency, or mere judgment,  could prove helpful, too. Nicolas Sarkozy shouldn’t be the president of the French Republic. That much is for sure.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Chinese Press Review: India, Philippines, Vietnam

In a tough confrontation (硬碰硬), the Philippines can’t win against China, Huanqiu Shibao, the Global Times‘ Chinese edition, quotes Philippine president Benigno Aquino, via Bloomberg. Or, as quoted by Bloomberg itself, Aquino said that if we engage them in a boxing match there’s 1.3 billion of them and 95 million of us, there’s no way we will win. Aquino will be on a four-day state visit from August 30, writes the Inquirer (Philippines):

Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario told the Inquirer the trip “demonstrates that the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) dispute is not the sum total of our relations with China.”

Restraint suits common interests (保持克制符合大家的共同利益), People’s Daily (quoted by Huanqiu) notes approvingly. After all, the territorial issues had always been absolutely complex (领土问题历来十分复杂), involved common peoples’ feelings (牵扯老百姓感情), and were sometimes intertwined with some countries’ domestic problems (有时还和一些国内问题纠缠在一起). Lack of restraint could lead to unexpected consequences, warns the People’s Daily article which also includes references to Vietnam (from where no gestures of restraint similar to Aquino’s have been reported yet).

Peace and harmony firmly on their minds, both the Global Times and Huanqiu Shibao recently published rather benevolent impressions from a tour to India, by a Chinese newspeople delegation. Li Hongwei (李宏伟), Global Times / Huanqiu deputy managing editor, was apparently a delegation member and wrote the article, published by the English-language Global Times on August 11, and by the Chinese-language Huanqiu Shibao on August 18.

When it comes to Chinese and Indian views on development, both the English  and the Chinese- language version use trains as symbols:

The Wenzhou accident, which cost 40 lives, shocked China as it exposed apparent flaws in the country’s high-speed railway that may have been developed too rapidly.

The Hindustan Times reported the West Bengal crash also exposed apparent flaws in that country’s railways which turned out to be an unintended silver lining: The trains were only traveling at 30 kilometers per hour, sparing a higher death toll,

GT wrote on August 11. The English version, just as the one on its Huanqiu sister publication, also quotes a “man in the street”, an Indian cook, with a remark very much in tune with a CCP propaganda narrative: Indian public officials simply don’t get things done. The cook is also confronted with information from the Chinese newspeople delegation that disclosure of government wrongdoing is quite broad in the Chinese media.

Both versions emphasize Indian admiration for China’s speedy development, and they both point out that China’s GINI coefficient is higher than India’s – while China’s poor population accounted for only 2.8 per cent in 2007, while India’s was at 25 per cent. The Chinese version, published online a week after the English one, seems to aim at improved relations between its readership and India: India’s Pursuit of China becomes More and More Patient (印度追中国越来越有耐心), reads the Chinese version’s  headline.

India’s democracy is also mentioned – both as an explanation for India’s more favorable GINI coefficient, and possibly for what, the author muses, amounts to a higher Indian tolerance of poverty: what’s different between the two (India and China) is that Indian society seems to be more tolerant of inequality. This could be the case because India never went through an egalitarian revolution (这可能是因为印度从未经历过平均主义革命的缘故).

Anna Hazare‘s current anti-corruption campaign can’t have gone unnoticed by the Chinese delegation during its India tour. But although much of the article’s focus is on corruption as an impediment to more efficient development, Hazare gets no mention. This may suggest that when the Global Times published Li Hongwei’s Indian impressions, a Chinese version of it was already being considered. The English- and Chinese-language publications have become more similar to each other during the past year, but certain topics that would be fine with English news articles (which are mainly written for foreigners) are off-limit for articles written in Chinese.

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Related

» Be More Xinhua, October 10, 2009

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Friday, August 19, 2011

Tibet and the Xinhai Revolution

Late last year, and early this year, I expected the Xinhai Revolution – or Hsinhai Revolution – to feature much more prominently on China-related blogs, and on both Chinese and foreign media, than is currently the case. But then, I wasn’t aware that this year is also the 90th anniversary of the establishment of the Chinese Communist Party. Crime sells better than more comprehensive coverage on  human evolution, so maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that the 100th anniversary of Chinese republicanism isn’t featuring too prominently.

That said, October 10th will be the actual day in history, and we may see some more reviews of it during the coming weeks.

High Peaks, Pure Earth posted an English translation of a blogpost by Woeser the other day, on Tibet during the Xinhai Revolution – neither the CCP nor the KMT are viewed too friendly in this context.

This blog, too, contains a few Xinhai-revolution related posts, both from a Chinese and a Taiwanese perspective.  A few more are likely to follow during the rest of this year.

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Related

“Serf-Emancipation Day”, March 28, 2009

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Law and Order: De-Hugging the Hoodies

Neither British prime minister David Cameron (Conservative Party) nor Taiwan’s president Ma Ying-jeou should be considered worldly innocent. But there is something they seem to have in common – being directly or indirectly elected officials, they seem to be unusually disconnected from the people of their countries. Ma’s confucianist platitudes and his lack of information when it came to farming this summer (and previous disasters), could cost him his re-election. Cameron is still at the beginning of his term, unless his coalition splits, or if he wants to turn to the country for other reasons.

But anyway – let’s talk about Cameron.

Cameron’s switch from “hugging a hoodie” to “all-out war” can’t be explained with the state of British society. The state of British society now isn’t really that much different from what it was prior to the days of rioting and looting earlier this month.

Talk that suggests restrictions on access to social media, and the existence of an “all-out war on gangs” suggests that there was a civil war going on, rather than the search for restoring law and order. More than that, it suggests that Cameron feels humiliated by the pictures of burning buildings and vehicles in English cities. For a while, many British citizens may share that feeling.

But then, they may remember the parliamentary expenses scandal. Those past failures within all political parties in parliament don’t bar top politicians from the right – and duty – to lead, to help rebuilding a “broken society”. But the British government needs to demobilize in terms of big – and hypocritical – words and token gestures, and back up announcements of “righting the wrongs” with substantial steps.

Leadership and authority don’t need to suffer from a more thoughtful approach. Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg – leader of the Liberal Democrats, asked a question which may not be smart, but much more useful than all of Cameron’s “answers”:

Nobody can credibly claim to know for sure, at this early stage, the precise reasons for the various acts of disorder, to have perfectly discerned the motives of the criminals on our streets.

We need to know who did what, and why they did it. We need to understand. I don’t mean ‘understand’ in the sense of being understanding, or offering even the hint of an excuse. I mean understand what happened, to get as much evidence as we can. Then we can respond, ruthlessly but thoughtfully.

That is why we are commissioning independent research into the riots. Of course we don’t need research to tell us that much of this was pure criminality, but the more we can learn the better.

Why did some areas and people explode and others not? What can we learn from those neighbourhoods and young people who remained peaceful? After all, it is worth remembering that the rioters were the exception, not the rule.

We need to know what kind of people the rioters were, and why they did it. That is also why we are looking into gang culture, so that we can combat it more effectively. In policy-making as in war, it is important to know your enemy.
Our policy response will be guided by our values of freedom, fairness and responsibility. It will also be based soundly on evidence, not anecdote or prejudice. Kneejerk reactions are not always wrong – but they usually are.
Just a good speech doesn’t make a prime minister. But too much stupid talk may do away with an incumbent. Before Cameron can control the hoodies, he will need to control  himself.
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Related
Cameron Softens Crime Image, Observer, July 9, 2006
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Updated / Related
» There’ll be a tsunami of political idiocy, Writing Baron, Aug 19, 2011
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Monday, August 15, 2011

Expect Slowing Output…

… during the coming days. I’m talking about this blog, not about the economy.

[Update – December 7, 2011: Chris Gelken contests authorship of  the article in question. Details can be found here.]

Homework, Bremen-Hemelingen, August 2011

Homework, Bremen-Hemelingen, August 2011 (click above for bigger photo)

I sometimes wonder if I’m blogging for a hope to contribute to an “online newspaper” which doesn’t exist in print, and one I’d like to read in the real world. The other pages of that imaginary online paper would be sources like the ones you can find under my Blogroll/Resources collection to the right, further down.

I’m not sure if papers were better in the past, or if my ideas of what a good paper should be like have changed, or if I’m feeling that the papers haven’t been in step with the changing times. What Foarp has dug up from an, umm, anchorman (for the sake of civility, I’m not going to use the noun I deem truly apposite re Chris Gelken) would suggest that the changing times are playing a role, too. Many news people apparently can’t, or don’t want to, catch up with them – or they are a bit too good at catching up with them.

Anyway – once I have posted, I know the blogpost myself. No use to read my own blog as if I was reading a post for the first time, even if it almost felt as if I was reading someone else’s stuff when looking deep into the archives of this blog, choosing my “seven links” in the middle of the night, on Sunday.

I’ll slow down a bit from tonight until Friday. Online, that is. The real world is a different story. Discussions on these commenter threads are welcome, and civility will be an essential – see commenting rules. After all, I’ve controlled myself, too, when I wrote this post’s first paragraph, haven’t I?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Foreign Affairs: “If you shut up now, it will still be in Time”

The Daily Inquirer (Philippines) – as quoted by Huanqiu Shibao – itself quoted Philippine military officials as saying that compared with China’s aircraft carrier which is currently tested for research purposes (针对用于科研试验和训练的中国首艘航母), a warship the Philippines recently bought from the U.S. “just looked like a boat”. After having bought the vessel, a Hamiltion class warship, it had been renamed BRP Gregorio del Pilar*).  The vessel would reportedly be based in the Palawan waters, southwestern Philippines, where the Philippine navy had previously hoisted the country’s national flag, “to emphasize its ‘sovereignty'”, writes Huanqiu.

The Philippine Inquirer itself refers to the vessel in question as a World War II-vintage Coast Guard cutter. It is, however, scheduled to become the Philippine navy’s flagship. The Chinese aircraft carrier’s first tour was taking place just as the Aquino government was facing a number of domestic challenges, writes the paper.

But when it comes to the Philippines’ foreign relations, there is no lack of advice on the internet.

The Philippines can sell their country and buy a big ship in its stead (菲律宾可以把国家卖了去换大船呀),

suggests a commenter on the Huanqiu article’s thread. Or, somewhat less encouraging:

When you compare the Philippines and China, the Philippines just look like a Chinese county (菲律宾和中国比,菲律宾就好像是中国的一个县).

In short:

If you shut up now, it will still be in time (现在闭嘴还来得及).

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Note

*) BRP: Barko ng Republika ng Pilipinas

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Related

» “Imperious Attitude”, Daily Inqiurer, June 26, 2011
» Lee Kuan Yew: America must Strike a Balance, Nov 7, 2009
» BRP Rajah Humabon, Wikipedia

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Sunday, August 14, 2011

Blogging: My Seven Links

Foarp has kindly nominated this blog for Tripbase‘s blogosphere snowball scheme, umm, My Seven Links project. If you don’t know what that means, please look it up here.

It looks like a nice opportunity for me to revisit some of my older blogposts, and to nominate five more blogs myself.

Tripbase Rule #1: Blogger is nominated to take part. OK, I’m nominated.

Tripbase Rule #2: Blogger points to seven of his old blogposts, re seven different categories. Here we go…

  • My most Beautiful Post: that would be Tsai Ing-wen – the Turning Point. It’s a translation, and it’s really the original – DPP chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen’s concession speech after losing her Xinbei mayoral campaign. The speech acknowledged the setback, and pointed to the future. Tsai is now the DPP’s candidate for the January 2012 presidential elections.
  • My most Popular Post: China: Authoritarian or Totalitarian? It has been among the top-five almost every day since I wrote it, in March 2010.
  • My most Controversial Post: To Sum Things Up. There have been threads with more comments, reacting to other posts, but this was a rare one in that an angry Chinese nationalist showed up. It was a challenging debate, and I think it is also one where I explain myself in more detail than anywhere else on this blog.
  • My Most Helpful Post:The Costs of Running a Trade Surplus. I think it’s the only one where I was told that it was helpful, so this is easy to decide.
  • A Post whose Success surprised me: The BBC Globescan Opinion Poll. A German paper’s online edition linked to it, and statistics exploded.
  • A Post I Feel didn’t get the Attention it Deserved: Two Deadlocked Affairs, One Constructive Approach. My peace initiative was ignored by the global public, and in the end, I had to keep the sculptures I originally planned to send to Beijing.
  • The Post I’m Most Proud of: Renault “Spying Scandal”: not so Chinese, not so Spy. It is irrefutable proof that this blogger (usually) thinks before he opens his big mouth, that he is a China expert, that he is a France expert, too, and it carries one of his nicest pictures.

OK, these are my seven links. Done.

Tripbase Rule #3: Blogger nominates up to 5 more bloggers to take part:

  1. Echo Taiwan – I feel that he should post much more frequently, but when he does post, it catches my attention. Both his own blog posts and his blog roll (which updates itself automatically to the right) help me to stay informed about Taiwanese politics.
  2. High Peaks, Pure Earth – it offers views which are quite different from Beijing’s narrative. I could have nominated Woeser’s Invisible Tibet, too, but HPPE is all in English, and translates many of Woeser’s Chinese-language posts.
  3. Huo Long’s Blog – our views of the world are very different, but I’m learning a lot  from his writing style, and I owe his blog many useful expressions and proverbs.
  4. Jun Jie’s China Blog – about the frustrations and joys of learning Chinese as a foreign language, plus advice for learners.
  5. Taihan’s Tales – News from the Pacific Rim, not least Taiwan, as Taihan sees it. Not only his blog posts, but his comments too, are often insightful.

Done, too. Now it’s your turn. If you like, that is. Let me steal this line from Foarp’s nomination: it’s all voluntary, but I look forward to seeing what you guys come up with. And if you share my feel that the blogosphere could use a buzz, just kick this snowball and keep it rolling.

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Saturday, August 13, 2011

Taihan: Nothing to Say about Lee Teng-hui’s Corruption Case?

Taihan, a new blog on the block, offers an incomplete, but still comparatively comprehensive, review of Taiwanese press coverage of former president Lee Teng-hui‘s indictment for embezzlement, comparing it with previous coverage of another former president’s – Chen Shui-bian‘s – indictment.

Taihan welcomes speculation from commenters.

Maybe we can add some surveys, or methodic recommendations of our own, too. Somewhat systematic approaches may not be as easy to do as mere expressions of condemnation, doubt, or support – but they could be a promising approach to actually gaining insights of our own into Taiwanese politics.

Please comment there »

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Related Tag: Lee Teng-hui.

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