Archive for ‘Germany’

Saturday, May 19, 2018

East-West Relations: “Not the Partner” (1)

The Economist‘s title story on March 3 this year was about “how the West got China wrong”. In some more detail, the same edition explored as to how China is “not the partner you were looking for”.

As a public, we seem to have a tendency to categorically idealize and devalue relationships – even between nations and civilizations. This is how Max Frisch, a late Swiss author and playwright, put cooling love affairs into an exemplary gloomy dialog:

“You are not,” says the disappointed he or she, “who I thought you were.” (“Du bist nicht”, sagt der Enttäuschte oder die Enttäuschte, „wofür ich Dich gehalten habe.”)

Now, I’m not thinking of West-East relations as a love affair, and Max Frisch was describing the feelings of individuals. But the quote applies all the same (even if Frisch would certainly disapprove of putting it into this East-West context). Propaganda shapes “collective identities”, and according to Jacques Ellul, it offers man “a remedy for a basically intolerable situation” – the impossibility of grasping “the world’s economic and political problems”.

Both Western and Chinese narratives about a disappointing relationship are beginning to take shape. Both are top-down propaganda – people at the grassroots, this blogger included, can only draw information from mainstream and alternative media, blogs (which frequently turn newspaper steaks into hamburger meat without changing the substance), and individual contacts. That’s no great competition for propaganda – rather, it’s part of it. I don’t claim to be able to escape from it, either. I’m experimenting. I’m still blogging because it’s fun.

During this summer, I might try to depict “how the West got China wrong”, and “how China” (or uncertain shares of  Chinese public opinion, anyway) “got the West wrong”. It may also be interesting to speculate about how we will continue to get each other wrong, or which of the mainstream narratives, if either of them, will prevail – or how they may have to take realities into account in order to prevail.

____________

Related

The Primacy of Politics, June 13, 2010

____________

Advertisements
Saturday, May 5, 2018

Trier: the Statue stands and divides, but Marx isn’t the Problem

This is a sad day in Trier, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany. The city where Karl Marx was born in 1818 has accepted a Marx statue as a gift from the Chinese state. As news magazine Der Spiegel wrote in March 2017, 42 members of the city parliament supported the idea of taking the statue, seven opposed it, and four abstained. The statue is scheduled to be unveiled this morning.

The BBC quotes Trier’s mayor Wolfram Leibe as saying that “[w]e have accepted it as a gesture of friendship and this statue should encourage people to deal with Karl Marx,” and that “[m]aybe some judgements and prejudices will be revised.”

Katrin Werner, representing the Left Party, argued in 2017 that “Trier should rise to the occasion and “stand by one of its best-known children.”

But this is missing the point. A “present from the PRC” is a present from the regime. A Green deputy put it best, a year ago: “by accepting a gift, you honor the one who makes the present,” he reportedly said. By refusing to take it, Trier could make a case for human rights.

In an interview unrelated to the Trier statue, but about Marx, Gregor Gysi, former head of Germany’s Left Party from 1989 to 1993, and currently president of the Party of the European Left, when asked why Marx’ ideas deserve attention, given that regimes around the world had justified dictatorship and human rights violation with his ideology, suggested that state socialism had abused Marx. What should be striven for was a freedom-based socialism “that picks up the things capitalism does well, that leaves out what capitalism can’t do well, but only with the support of a popular majority”, plus separation of powers.

But while acknowledging that state socialism was a failure, he also pointed out that all (three) attempts to date to establish genuine democratic socialism – the Paris Commune, the Prague Spring, and in Chile – had been struck down by the military.

When it comes to the Greek Chinese gift, even mainstream German media can see some good in Marx: according to Friedrich Engels, he once said that “all I know is that I’m not a Marxist”. After Marx’ death, Engels ascribed this to Marx, in a critical letter to Paul Lafarge, an opponent to reformism.

Leftists may tend to idealizing democratic socialism – as far as I can see, Salvador Allende, one of the democratic socialists cited by Gysi, did not really have a mandate of a majority for “radical” policies.

But many who take gifts from China – even professorships and statues – aren’t terribly interested in Marx anyway – they are interested in Marxists (provided that those are wealthy and generous). In Lower Saxony, the same cabinet that oversaw the delayed award of citizenship to a British-Italian applicant in 2009 (it became a protracted affair, because she was a member of the left party), sounded happy tunes about China’s financing of one-and-a-half professorships at Göttingen University, in 2010.

Marx? God forbid. But money doesn’t stink. And avoiding offense to the CCP spells business for Trier. The feelings of Chinese tourists must not be hurt.

Marx isn’t the problem. But there are still a few problems in his country – his native land, which once forced him into exile.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Hundert Jahre Wladimir Dudinzew

Confused my two WordPress blogs: the post on Dudintsev is there.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Win-Win Flattery: Guanchazhe welcomes an Austrian “Supernova”

1. A Historical First (“Guanchazhe” review of Austrian papers)

Main Link: Historical First! Austrian President and Chancellor visiting China same Time in April (奥地利总统总理4月将同时访华)
Links within blockquotes added during translation.

Guanchazhe is a Chinese economic magazine from Shanghai, and Austrian president Alexander Van der Bellen‘s visit to China isn’t its main issue, of course. That would be how Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin and Adam Smith would look upon China’s economic reform if they were still alive.

But Van der Bellen – or more specifically: chancellor Sebastian Kurz – is among the top stories on Saturday, as a correspondent from Germany asks what Austria is looking for in China.

And on March 21, the Austrian double-visit earned itself an exclamation mark:

A historical first! Austrian president and chancellor going to visit China at the same time in April.

史上首次!奥地利总统总理4月将同时访华

Well then – that should tell us how Van der Bellen and Kurz look upon China’s economic reform.

In an article based on several sources (综合报道, i. e. several Austrian newspapers), the article reads as follows (links within blockquotes added during translation):

In what is “the biggest Austrian state visit in history”, according to Wiener Zeitung, Austrian president Van der Bellen and chancellor Kurz are visiting China in April. Several Austrian media report this unparalleled same-time visit to another country under the headline of “historical visit”.

“奥地利历史上最大的国事访问”,据奥地利《维也纳日报》报道,奥地利总统范德贝伦 (Alexander Van der Bellen) 和总理库尔茨(Sebastian Kurz)4月将一同访问中国。总统和总理同时出访同一个国家,在奥地利历史上尚属首次,多家媒体都以“历史性访问”为题进行报道。

The reports said that the Austrian president and chancellor announced on Monday [March 19] that they were to conduct Austria’s largest-scale state visit in Austria’s history, from April 7 to 12.

报道称,奥地利总统和总理周一宣布, 将进行奥地利史上最大规模的国事访问,与总理库尔茨在4月7日至12日访华。

It is reported that no less than four ministers, including foreign minister Karin Kneissl, environment minister Elisabeth Köstinger, infrastructure minister Norbert Hofer and economic and digitalization minister Margarete Schramböck.

据报道,随同两人访华的不少于4名部长,包括外交部长Karin Kneissl、农林环境与水利部长Elisabeth Köstinger、基础设施部长Norbert Hofer和经济及数字化部长Margarete Schramböck等。

The delegation will also include the chairman of the Austrian Chamber of Commerce, about 170 Austrian entrepreneurs, and dozens of Austrian scientists, cultural workers, and others, some 250 members combined.

此外,代表团还包括奥地利商会主席、约170名奥地利企业家和数十名科学家与文化工作者等,共约250人。

Austrian vice-chancellor Strache will temporarily take care of the government. Austria’s chancellor Kurz said that the vice-chancellor would stand in for him at the weekly cabinet meeting.

由于总统和总理同时访华, 奥地利副总理斯特拉赫(Heinz-Christian Strache)将临时管理政府。奥地利总理库尔茨表示,副总理将代替自己主持每周的部长理事会例会。

According to Austria’s “Kronen-Zeitung”, Van der Bellen said that “we can sign various agreements between Chinese and Austrian companies”, and “the state visit will help to move further in the development of bilateral relations, especially in the areas of economics, science, culture and the environment.”

奥地利《皇冠报》报道称,“我们希望能够签署中奥企业之间的各种协议,”奥地利总统范德贝伦表示,“国事访问将有助于进一步发展双边关系,特别是在经济、科学、文化和环境领域。”

Van der Bellen pointed out that in the fields of environmental protection technology and city planning, Austria had exclusive technologies that could be beneficial for China. “China, too, wants to have clean lakes and rivers.” For example, when hosting the 2022 Winter Olympics, Austrian companies could be of help.

范德贝伦指出,奥地利在环境保护和城市规划方面的专有技术可以使中国受益,“中国也希望拥有干净和湖泊和河流”,比如中国承办2022年冬奥会,奥地利企业可以提供许多帮助。

According to China’s embassy in Austria, a Chinese ministry of commerce delegation visited Austria in April last year, took part in the Chinese-Austrian Economic Comittee’s 26th conference, attended the 22nd international alpine ski equipment exhibition, and discussed Sino-Austrian winter sports cooperation activities.

据中国驻澳大使馆介绍,去年4月,中国商务部代表团曾访问奥地利,参加中奥经贸联委会第26次会议,出席第22届国际阿尔卑斯滑雪用品展开幕式、中奥冬季运动合作研讨会等活动。

Also, “Kronen-Zeitung” reported that Austria hopes to participate in China’s very active research and development, and to have negotiations about economic exchange agreements.

此外,《皇冠报》还称,奥地利希望参与中国非常活跃的发展研究领域,还有关于文化交流的协议也希望能够进行商谈。

Chancellor Kurz, who is only 32 years old, is Europe’s youngest head of government, and considered to be a “supernova” in the European world of politcs. As for this visit to China, Kurz said that “China is a country with a huge potential”, and several hundred Austrian companies were already operating in China.

年仅32岁的奥地利总理库尔茨,是欧洲最年轻的政府首脑,也被认为是欧洲政坛的“超新星”。对于此次访华,库尔茨表示, “中国是一个潜力巨大的国家”,已有九百多家奥地利企业在中国经营。

Kurz said that to put it simply, China had a veto right at the UN, it was a major participant in reacting to climate change and in the North Korean issue, with a GDP growh target of 6.5 percent this year, and also one of the fastest-growing economies. China’s middle class was growing rapidly, and in economic terms, China was “a newly rising superpower.”

库尔茨称,简单地说,中国在联合国拥有否决权,在应对气候变化和朝鲜问题上是主要的国际参与者,中国今年GDP增速目标是6.5%,也是增速最快的经济体之一,中产阶层迅速成长,在经济上是“新兴的超级大国”。

Kurz conceded that apart from mutual win-win, there were also “sensitive issues” between China and Austria. The key was that “the European and Austrian economies must be protected, by defending them against unfair competition and excessive production.”

此外,库尔茨也坦陈,除了互利共赢外,中奥之间也存在“敏感问题”。关键在于,“欧洲和奥地利经济必须受到保护,以防止不公平竞争或过度产能”。

Kurz said that during his visit to China, Austrian participation in China’s “one belt, one road” project would also be discussed. Austria acknowledges China’s “one belt one road” plan, and its government hopes to reach better coordination. In the preparatory process for this visit to China, all departments were actively involved.

库尔茨也表示,访华期间将讨论奥地利参与中国“一带一路”相关项目问题。奥地利认可中国“一带一路”计划,政府希望能做到更好地协调,在此次访华准备过程中,各部门都积极参与。

According to “Wiener Zeitung”, apart from taking part in Beijing events, the Austrian president and chancellor would also take part in the Boao Forum held on Hainan, and visit Chengdu, western China’s metropolis.

2. Counterweight Hopeful (Guanchazhe short bio of Kurz)

MainLink: Austria turns East (奥地利正在向东转)
Links within blockquotes added during translation.

The supernova (i. e. the Austrian chancellor) is explained in more detail in today’s Guanchazhe article by the correspondent in Germany:

This youngest chancellor in Austria’s history, 31-year-old Kurz, is certainly known to everyone, for his [young] age and appearance. But many people may not know his nature: aged 29, during his tenure as foreign minister, Kurz showed outstanding boldness, standing up to pressure from all sides. Braving the risk of an early end to his career by shutting the Balkan Route, lived up to the mission, averted Europe’s crisis, which was exactly what made him the victor in the October 2017 parliamentary elections.

奥地利这位欧洲史上最年轻的31岁总理库尔茨,想必借着他的年龄与外貌,已被大家所了解。但很多人可能还不知道,他的内在甚至还要远超其出众的外在:时年29岁的库尔茨在外交部长任上时,曾在难民危机中表现出非凡的气魄,顶住各方压力,冒着职业生涯终结的危险关闭西巴尔干路线,最终不辱使命,使欧洲转危为安,正是这点使得他能够在2017年10月的国会大选中胜出。

The correspondent also expresses esteem for Kurz’ successor in Austria’s foreign ministry, Karin Kneissl: an extremely noteworthy personality (一个极其值得注意的人物), speaking English, Arabic, Hebrew, French, Spanish, Italian and Hungarian, and author of a book about China.

In her book, “The Change in the World Order” [literally: “On the Way into a Chinese World Order”], Kneissl writes that the process of Austria’s turn to the East actually opened the curtain on [the scene of] the world order entering a “Chinese order”. As for Europe not expressing hopes to take part in the one belt one road plan, this had mainly been the case  because Beijing had not answered to their persistent ideological demands (such as government transparency, human rights and minimum social security issues).

克莱瑟在他的《世界秩序的改变和换岗》一书中写到,奥地利向东转的进程事实上在几年前就已拉开帷幕——世界秩序将要进入一种新的“中国秩序”。而欧盟并未对中国的一带一路的规划表示希望参与,主要是因为北京方面没有回应他们一贯的意识形态要求(如政府透明,人权以及最低社会保障等问题)。

The correspondent then takes aim right at the regional hegemon – Germany. It was Germany that was largely to blame for the loss of contractual reliability among European states, she writes. The country had acted unilaterally in the European debt crisis of 2009 (欧债危机), in the 2015 refugee crisis, thus harming other European partners and third countries, China’s interests among them:

Kneissl writes in her book that “not wanting to acknowledge the methodology of China’s rise will be regarded by future history scholars as ‘a dangerous and silly refusal to adopt realistic action'” – which is exactly the approach of the authorities in Brussels (EU).

克莱瑟在书中说: “不愿承认中国的崛起的做法,恐怕会被将来的历史学家归为‘危险而愚蠢的拒绝接受现实的行为’”——而这却正是布鲁塞尔(欧盟)当局现今的做法。

An important factor in Kurz’ election victory of last year, the correspondent notes, was his opposition against German chancellor Angela Merkel’s refugee policy.

It’s a long article, and if someone is interested in how Germany’s image has recently been shaped by Chinese media, he might want to translate all of it. German-Chinese relations are souring, reflected not least by some remarks by Sigmar Gabriel (Germany’s foreign minister until a few weeks ago) in an interview with newsmagazine Der Spiegel in January:

For years, we’ve been constantly hearing about a multi-speed Europe. It would be great if that were the case, because that would at least mean that we were all moving in the same direction, just at different speeds. The truth is that we have long had a multi-track Europe with very different objectives. The traditional differences between the north and the south in fiscal and economic policy are far less problematic than those that exist between Eastern and Western Europe. In the south and east, China is steadily gaining more influence, such that a few EU member states no longer dare to make decisions that run counter to Chinese interests. You see it everywhere: China is the only country in the world that has a real geopolitical strategy.

See also this blog and press review, subheadlines “Central Europe (1)” and “Central Europe (2)“. A global and a regional hegemon – China and Germany – are competing for influence in the region.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Taiwan cuts Shortwave Broadcasts in French and Spanish – here is why it shouldn’t

Cutting Shortwave broadcasts in French and Spanish

The French and the Spanish programs of Radio Taiwan International (RTI) are no longer broadcast on shortwave. On March 5, Radio Berlin-Brandenburg‘s (RBB) Radio Eins media magazine reported that RTI would terminate its broadcasts in German on March 25, i. e. the day when the current international shortwave frequency plan (A-18) came into effect1).

A notice was added by the Radio Eins editors a few days later, saying that RTI’s German service kept denying this information. However, Radio Eins did not name the source or sources of their information, citing rather general “trade circles” (Branchenkreise).

On March 9, in a regular mailbag program, RTI’s German service reacted to listeners’ questions concerning the shortwave issue, and stated that while the Spanish and French departments were indeed to exit shortwave with effect from March 26, the German service’s shortwave broadcasts would continue.

Seventeen days later, the German service’s denial proved correct – its broadcasts have been continued, now on their traditional summer frequency of 6185 kHz, as predicted on March 9.

In its report, Radio Eins also pointed out that Radio France Internationale (RFI) had terminated its shortwave broadcasts for Asia years ago, and that this had also put an end to Radio Taiwan International’s once lower-cost access to transmissions from France (with transmitters located at Issoudun, central France). The two international broadcasters appear to have exchanged airtime in the past.

On its website, RTI hardly (if at all) communicates the decision to terminate the shortwave broadcasts in Spanish and French. However, a month before Radio Eins wrote about RTI’s shortwave closures, shortwave-watching website swling.com had quoted from an RTI email saying that the station’s French and Spanish services would “unfortunately stop broadcasting on shortwave”. There appears to have been no mention of the German programs at the time.

Following a Trend …

RTI is following a trend among foreign radio services from industrialized countries2). As noted by Radio Eins, Radio France Internationale ended its shortwave broadcasts to Asia years ago. German foreign Radio, Deutsche Welle (DW), terminated its shortwave broadcasts in Chinese with effect from January 1, 2012. Three months earlier, DW had ended its shortwave broadcasts in German.

Earlier in 2011, the BBC and the Voice of America (VoA) had announced their Chinese programs’ withdrawals from shortwave (the VoA later reversed the decision, but BBC Mandarin kept to their exit).

One of the more contested decisions to abandon shortwave was Radio Australia‘s. It took effect by the end of January, 2017. The station made a – not terribly successful, it seems – effort to communicate the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s (ABC) decision.

Radio Australia’s (now abandoned) role in informing Pacific islanders about emergency situations via shortwave was deemed essential by some critics, and Radio New Zealand (RNZ), Radio Australia’s only existing competitor on shortwave in the Pacific region, leapt at the gap left by the Australians.

But funding public diplomacy is hardly popular in most free societies. Slashed budgets may irritate or infuriate the trade or the immediate users of an abandoned service, but they will hardly become known to a wider public. After all, the (noticeable) remonstrators are usually just some listeners abroad, and apart from that, they are no voters.
In RTI’s case, the question – from the audience perspective – seems to be how prepared the target areas are for the termination of shortwave broadcasts. As for France and Spain, the answer seems to be easy: industrialized, reasonably good internet connections, and with only a few people (probably) who would still listen on shortwave anyway.
But there are drawbacks. In general – this goes for countries with a highly developed internet infrastructure and Latin America or North Africa alike – it is much harder to gain new listeners, than to retain existing ones.
RTI’s management (or the lords of their budgets) may have drawn inspiration from reports like ECLAC’s 3), discussing sharply increasing internet use and access in Latin American countries, and the Caribbean.

But the ECLAC, while optimistic about the development and prospects of the internet in Latin America, also notes that no country in the region has at least 5% of its connections with speeds of more than 15Mbps, compared to 50% in advanced countries, and there is a difference of 41 percentage points in Internet penetration between urban and rural areas in the country that has the greatest gap in the region.And a report (apparently published online in December 2016) by Statista, a Hamburg-based market research company, saw the region’s average monthly internet usage at 18.6 hours in 2016. When you leave Brazil – the leading country in terms of monthly internet usage – out of the calculation, the rate will be even lower.

If the trends indicated by the two papers continue, there may be a time when switching off shortwave makes sense (at least when considering the costs, and the pressures from the broadcasters’ funders). But the data suggests that RTI’s decision to do so came too early.

… but neglecting the Facts

One of the reasons that international broadcasters stop using shortwave frequencies is that radio is a medium used by the poor, rather than by the affluent and influential. That’s not how they communicate their decision (if there is communication at all), but the trade’s high-flown jargon suggests just that.

In a press release of May 18, 2011, less than a year before abandoning shortwave broadcasts in Chinese, German (its native language) and Hindi, Deutsche Welle wrote that by focusing on the internet in many regions of the world, “info seekers” would be reached more effectively,

… especially those who are or will be influential in their countries’ public opinion, and people who actively campaign for democracy, civil liberties and progress in authoritarian states, thus strengthening civil society.

… insbesondere insbesondere jene, die Einfluss auf die öffentliche Meinung eines Landes haben oder zukünftig haben werden, sowie Menschen, die sich in autoritären Staaten aktiv für Demokratie, Freiheitsrechte und Fortschritt einsetzen und so die Zivilgesellschaft stärken.

But nobody knows who will call the shots in a target area, ten or twenty years from now. In Venezuela, it’s an ex bus driver now. Brazil’s president from 2003 to 2011, Lula da Silva, reportedly only learned to read at the age of ten, and worked as a peanut seller and shoe shine boy as a child. Bolivia’s president, Evo Morales, was born to a subsistence farming family and started his political career as a rural labor unionist.

If they had been born ten or fifteen years ago, none of them would be a likely regular internet user.

Shortwave radio may not matter as a medium, when it comes to commercial viability, as the owner of a North American shortwave radio station admitted in 1991. In that light, Facebook could be a more or less “real” alternative to shortwave radio.

But on “social media”, a foreign radio station is just one “friend” among many. There may be no studies available, but if there were some, they would probably show that shortwave listeners are a much more dedicated audience than internet users.

In short: shortwave radio remains a crucial medium, especially for Taiwan. The country will almost inevitably lose all or most of its remaining “diplomatic allies” in Latin America, as it has lost official diplomatic ties with nearly every country worldwide already. If shortwave remains crucial in Taiwan’s communications with European countries may be debatable, but to maintain Taiwan’s visibility in Latin America, there can be no doubt that shortwave would be worth the (quite manageable) costs.
____________

Note

1) While KBS World’s German service via Woofferton, England, is announced under the broadcasting station’s name (Korean Broadcasting Station), Radio Taiwan International’s name is ommitted. Instead, the HFCC states the operator’s company name (Babcock Communications) there. The KBS frequency is also operated by Babcock, and also from Woofferton.
2) Japan may be the only exception.
3) The UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean. The report linked to is dated September 12, 2016.

____________

Related

Inclusive Internet Index, Economist Group, 2018
Abandoning Shortwave & Opportunities, Oct 3, 2014
A bottomless pit of waste, PCJ, around 2014

____________

 

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.

____________

Note

*) “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.”

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:

帝尝怪:“舜造漆器,禹雕其俎,谏者十馀不止,小物何必尔邪?”遂良曰:“雕琢害力农,纂绣伤女工,奢靡之始,危亡之渐也。漆器不止,必金为之,金又不止,必玉为之,故谏者救其源,不使得开。及夫横流,则无复事矣。”帝咨美之。

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.

____________

Related

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

____________

Footnotes

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.

____________

%d bloggers like this: