Posts tagged ‘accountability’

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Deutsche Welle’s “Emotionally Appealing Content”

Emotionally appealing …

The German federal government plans to increase its funding of Deutsche Welle (DW) by 11.2 mn Euros in 2018,  Medienkorrespondenz (MK), a media news magazine from Bonn, reports. That would be a total of 325.6 mn Euros. In addition, DW has earnings from sponsors, according to Deutsche Welle law (article 11). Originally a foreign broadcaster, DW wants to develop into a “digital media corporation”, with a priority on “mobile utilization situations” and “social media”. Apparently, the linear television programs are doomed to become a platform for feature stories and clips that would also be useful for DW’s “Facebook” account, and vice versa.

Some of the quotes from the press release read like a jargon outside the command of their adopters themselves. According to MK, DW wants to increase its audience from currently 135 mn users to a target of 150. On its digital media, DW wants to “put a stronger focus on emotionally appealing content and on DW profile themes” (“einen stärkeren Fokus auf emotional ansprechenden Content und auf DW-Profilthemen setzen”).

MK appears to have had a question, and got a reply:

By “emotionally appealing content”, the broadcaster means topics that can be experienced on an emotional level”, it explained on inquiry. This was about “empathy with protagonists, or a narrative level at eye level.” Deutsche Welle denotes, for example, reports about human rights, freedom of expression, equal rights and democratic values as “profile themes”.

Unter „emotional ansprechendem Content“ versteht der Sender, wie er auf Nachfrage erläuterte, wenn in Beiträgen Themen „auf einer emotionalen Ebene erlebbar“ seien. Es gehe um „Empathie mit Protagonisten oder eine Erzählebene auf Augenhöhe“. Als ihre „Profilthemen“ bezeichnet die Deutsche Welle beispielsweise Berichte über Menschenrechte, freie Meinungsäußerung, Gleichberechtigung und demokratische Werte.

The trend has emerged for some time. And when you are sufficiently emotive, concerning Deutsche Welle “profile themes”, you don’t even have to know who Liu Xiaobo is, as shown in a “news story” named “Beauty Queen and Activist fight for human rights in China” (“Beauty-Queen und Aktivist kämpfen für Menschenrechte in China”). The story initially contained a Liao Yiwu photo, while the caption was referring to Liu Xiaobo. Sounds all alike anyway.

Liao Yiwu, mistaken for Liu Xiaobo

DW caption, February 2016: he’s here, not there

… and better off

After so much emotion, it’s time to meditate on some numbers. DW’s budget was reportedly at about 321 mn Euros in 1998, it decreased considerably in the years after that, and began to rise to new heights after Peter Limbourg, a former news anchor on German commercial television, had become the broadcaster’s new director.

The following numbers are sort of my guesswork, even if based on sources – they may, at times, include special budgets (funding programs targeted at refugees living in Germany, for example, or the Deutsche Welle Akademie), and sometimes they may not. (The drop from 321 mn to 302 mn from 2015 – 2016, for example, doesn’t look logical to me.) The 2016 – 2018 numbers are from the same source – Medienkorrespondenz -, these two reports, covering three fiscal years, follow the same formula and make it easy to compare the three years.

All numbers shown below (rounded) are millions.

Year
Operational
Investment
Total
Source
1998 321  Die Welt
2010 261  BMF
2011
2012  271  Bundestag
2013  296  BT WiWi
2014  311  DW
 2015  321  DW
 2016  285  17  302  MK 16
 2017  299  27  325  MK 16
 2018  305  32  336  MK 17
 2019

DW is a publicly owned broadcaster – it could actually afford to be a showcase for solid, trustworthy journalism. But a goal of this kind doesn’t appear to define the mission. In an interview in November 2014, Limbourg told German television that we obviously have to see to it that the German perspective and German values for which we stand, i. e. democracy, freedom of the press, freedom of opinion, that these are heard in the world.

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Related

Negotiations with Politics, Dec 26, 2011

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Monday, March 27, 2017

Populism in China (1): The Downfall of Bo Xilai

There is no Weltinnenpolitik yet, but there are cross-civilizational trends.

The City of Red Songs

There would be no second chance. Gerhard Schröder, former chancellor of Germany, was in a hurry in June 2011, on the sidelines of a forum in southwestern China’s metropolis of Chongqing. He was therefore lacking the time to attend one of the red-song nights that were customary there. But he still pleased his interlocutors with a German proverb: Where people sing, you can settle down – wicked people sing no songs.

In full, the red-songs custom advocated by Chongqing’s party chief Bo Xilai was Singing revolutionary songs, Reading classic books, telling stories and spreading mottos. There would be nine more months of that before Bo Xilai was toppled by his CCP comrades.

A Hudong article explained the activity at the time. It was a mass concept, started in Chongqing in 2008, which was greeted with enthusiasm there, and elsewhere in China. The concept wasn’t outdated, because

if a country and a nation have no correct thought and advanced culture, it will lose its backbone. The current deep changes of the economic system, the structure of society, and the profound adjustment of interest patterns must be reflected in the ideological field. There is diversity in peoples’ minds, and although the mainstream is positive and healthy, while some peoples’ material life conditions have improved, spiritual life is somewhat empty. To change that condition, and to ensure a safe passing of the torch in the cause of the party and the country, the red flag must be righteously upheld, the ideology of Marxism must be consolidated in its guiding position within the ideological field, and the attractiveness and the cohesive power of socialist ideology must be strengthened.

一个国家和民族没有正确的思想、先进的文化,就会失掉主心骨。当前,经济体制深刻变革、社会结构深刻变动、利益格局深刻调整,必然反映到意识形态领域。人们的思想日趋多元多变多样,虽然主流积极健康向上,但一些人物质生活改善了,精神生活却有些空虚。为了彻底改变这种状况,保证党和国家的事业薪火相传,必须理直气壮地举红旗,不断巩固马克思主义在意识形态领域的指导地位,增强社会主义意识形态的吸引力和凝聚力。[Links within these lines omitted.]

According to the HuDong article, CCP politbureau member and Chongqing party secretary Bo Xilai (薄熙来) had deplored the phenomenon of young people who sang decadent songs (唱 .. 靡靡之音, chàng mímí zhī yīn), who were reading “fast-food” kinds of literature (读 .. 快餐文化, dú kuàicān wénhuà), told “low and vulgar stories” (讲 .. 低俗故事, jiǎng dīsú gùshì), and “spread pornographic or dull scripts/pieces” (传 .. 黄段子、灰段子, chuán huáng duànzi, huī duànzi).

So, apparently, there were dirty songs, too. Maybe things weren’t as simple as Schröder had believed. At least one  reader and forum commenter of China’s Huanqiu Shibao didn’t trust Schröder’s expertise and wrote:

OK, listen [to the red songs], you won’t comprehend them anyway. It will be as if you were listening to folk songs.

听吧,反正听不懂,就当听民歌了

The “Chongqing Model” was controversial, at least in the perceivable medial public of China. The party elite wasn’t entirely in love with Bo’s pretentious neo-Maoism. A vice president of Law School at China University of Political Science and Law was quoted by the English-language party mouthpiece “Global Times”:

There have been 104,000 “Red Song Concerts” in Chongqing, with 80 million participants. It cost 1,500 yuan ($231) per person for onsite renting and costume expenses, 210 million yuan in total. Adding in the offwork compensation and transportation the final cost is 270 billion [sic – probably means million – JR] yuan. Why don’t they use the money for health insurance?

Bo Xilai’s “Populism”, 2007 – 2012

At the grassroots, however, Bo’s leadership style appears to have worked (maybe it still does). The Chongqing Model wasn’t just about folklore, red or otherwise.

Chongqing (Sichuan province) residents set off firecrackers today, celebrating the execution of the provincial-level city’s former chief justice Wen Qiang (文强), cqnews.net reported in July 2010. The Wall Street Journal explained:

Wen Qiang was put to death following the rejection in May by China’s Supreme Court of an appeal of his conviction on charges including bribery, shielding criminal gangs, rape and inability to account for millions of dollars in cash and assets, according to Xinhua news agency. Xinhua didn’t say how Mr. Wen was executed.

Punching black crime and uprooting vice (拳打黑除恶) was the name of the campaign that cost Wen his life – according to the historical records as Bo would have it, he and his police chief Wang Lijun not only battled against gangs, but infiltrated cadres, too.

The now defunct website Chinageeks published an English translation of Zhang Wen, a former chief editor of the Xinhua magazine Globe:

Bo Xilai and the “northeast tiger” Wang Lijun entered Chongqing and started a war and began a “battling corruption and evil” movement that has gradually begun to spread nationwide and worldwide. This action is in line with the people’s wishes, and at the same time, also in line with what central authorities wish.

At first, the public opinion was very one-sided; no one could find any fault with Bo. The controversy and difference of opinions came with the case of Li Zhuang. Proponents of the democratic rule of law questioned and criticized the legality of Chongqing [court] proceedings, but Bo Xilai’s supporters hold that punishing lawyers who defend “bad people” is appropriate.

Bo Xilai’s wife Gu Kailai is a high-level lawyer who has been working for many years. The two have been together for many years and Bo himself was once the head of the Ministry of Commerce, and thus often negotiated international legal issues with foreign opponents. Because of this, Bo Xilai should have a solid conception and knowledge of the law.

But in the end, in the Li Zhuang case, the organs of justice in Chongqing left a bad impression that they might violate legal procedures. Precisely because of this, some people’s opinions on Bo Xilai changed dramatically. I myself once wrote an essay expressing pity that Bo Xilai hadn’t turned out to be the sort of high-quality modern politician [we had hoped].

Chongqing was a small pond for a big fish – Bo Xilai appeared to have hoped for a permanent seat in the CCP’s central politburo, but landed the job as party secretary of Chongqing instead. Chongqing wasn’t an insignificant city, but it was far from where central Chinese power was. Only an alernate politburo membership linked him to Beijing. From 2008, his Maoist song events raised nationwide attention, and even beyond China – Henry Kissinger apparently leapt at the chance Schröder had missed.

In 2011, Bo Xilai started his second campaign for a permanent seat at the CCP’s top table. While the Economist found Bo’s style refreshing, it noted nervously that

The region’s party chief, Bo Xilai, is campaigning for a place on the Politburo Standing Committee in next year’s leadership shuffle. He looks likely to succeed. Like every other Chinese politician since 1949, he avoids stating his ambitions openly, but his courting of the media and his attempts to woo the public leave no one in any doubt. Mr Bo’s upfront style is a radical departure from the backroom politicking that has long been the hallmark of Communist rule and would seem like a refreshing change, were it not that some  of his supporters see him as the Vladimir Putin of China. Mr Bo is a populist with an iron fist. He has waged the biggest crackdown on mafia-style gangs in his country in recent years. He has also been trying to foster a mini-cult of Mao, perhaps in an effort to appeal to those who are disillusioned with China’s cut-throat capitalism.

Bo didn’t appear to aim for the top job as secretary general, the Economist noted, as that position appeared to have been reserved for Xi Jinping. Indeed, Xi succeeded Hu Jintao as party secretary general in autumn 2012, and as state chairman in March 2013.

Bo Xilai’s plans didn’t work that smoothly. In November 2011, a British citizen, Neil Heywood, died in a hotel in Chongqing. Given that Chinese courts don’t work independently from the party, the circumstances of his death can’t be considered resolved. A Chinese court found Gu Kailai, Bo Xilai’s wife, guilty of killing Heywood, and after only one day in court, she got a suspended death sentence.

The BBC‘s China editor Carrie Gracie tried to shed light on the circumstances of Bo Xilai’s rise and fall, and the role Heywood’s death played in the latter, but didn’t find too many interlocutors. Instead, she presented a Rocky Horror Picture Show of elite power struggles with Chinese characteristics. Bo Xilai as the avenger of the common man, a crashing, media-savvy scourge of organized crime, who addressed the public directly, without party media filtering. That hadn’t happened since Mao’s days – “think Donald Trump”.

With support from local police chief Wang Lijun, who fancied leading roles in martial-arts television, too, Bo had exercised a regime that labeled opponents as mafiosi and not only jailed them, but expropriated them too, in favor of Chongqing’s budgets.

It isn’t contested that Bo Xilai and Wang Lijun prosecuted the real or supposed gangsters’ advocates, too, with questionable means. Gracie quotes one of these advocates, Li Zhuang (see above, Zhang Wen’s criticism of Bo Xilai), as Li describes how he was arrested by Wang Lijun personally:

The scene was so over-the-top, loads of police cars surrounding the plane, riot police in helmets and camouflage, armed with submachine guns. I asked, “Why the big show? Is it Obama’s state visit or are you capturing Osama Bin Laden?”

We were surrounded by a huge scrum of reporters. He wanted to show his authority on camera. He was in a trench coat, hands in his pockets. He said: “Li Zhuang, we meet again.”

There were admirers of Bo and Wang, there were critics and enemies, and there were people who detested the two. But at the grassroots, the fans appeared to be numerous. According to Gracie, there are still many.

Making inconvenient lawyers disappear was no unique feature of Bo Xilai, however. The party leadership with Xi Jinping at the core has been proving for years that to them, the rule of law is a theroretical nicety they may or may not care about.

Gracie reduces the causes of conflict between the noisy polit-soloist Bo Xilai and the basically “collectivist” leadership in Beijing on a personal rivalry between princeling Bo and princeling Xi.

Certainly, top politicians’ egos can hardly be overestimated, and when they are Chinese, ostentatious modesty shouldn’t fool anyone.

But Xi alone wouldn’t have gotten Bo under control. Neither with the sudden Neil-Heywood scandal – that became known as the Wang-Lijun incident in China after the police chief fled into the next US consulate and being passed on to the central authorities from there (but only after having spilled the beans). Nor otherwise.

The question suggests itself if Bo Xilai’s career wasn’t finished in summer 2011 anyway, given wide-spread disapproval among the party elite, of his egotistic leadership style in Chongqing.

“Unity is strength” was one of the “red songs” Bo Xilai had them sing in Chongqing (above: October 8, 2009). But it wasn’t only the Xi faction that saw a lack of just that on Bo’s part. Bo was putting himself forward, and that had been a taboo during all the post-Mao years.

He didn’t denigrate his leading comrades – appearances like that of Donald Trump as a campaigner, cursing fellow members of his political class, would have been inconceivable. But putting himself into the limelight (and casting it away from others) amounted to the same thing, by Chinese standards. Besides, given his anti-corruption renown, sanctimonious as it may have been, could have threatened his “comrades”. A tribun within their ranks – that couldn’t work.

Xi Jinping and his predecessor Hu Jintao are said to be rivals. But within the Hu camp, Bo’s populism didn’t seem to resonate either. On the contrary: Wen Jiabao, chief state councillor (aka “prime minister”) during the Hu Jintao era, had been a tireless, even if unsuccessful, advocate of political reform, way beyond economics or technology.

At a press conference in March 2012, after the closing ceremony of the annual “parliament” plenary sessions, Wen warned that China wasn’t immune against another cultural revolution. That John Garnaut, an Australian correspondent in Beijing, got the opportunity to talk with Hu Dehua, one of Hu Yaobang’s sons, may also count as an indication that the comparatively liberal factions in the party leadership were at least as sick of Bo Xilai’s revolutionary operas, as were the Xi supporters.

Garnaut, two weeks after Wen’s press conference, in an indirect account of his conversation with Hu Dehua*):

Hu Dehua told his father how pessimistic he felt about his country’s future. Hu Yaobang agreed that the methods and ideologies of the 1987 anti-liberalization movement came straight from the Cultural Revolution. But he told his son to gain some historical perspective, and reminded him that Chinese people were not joining in the elite power games as they had 20 years before. He called the anti-liberalization campaign a “medium-sized cultural revolution” and warned that a small cultural revolution would no doubt follow, Hu Dehua told me. As society developed, Hu Yaobang told his son, the middle and little cultural revolutions would gradually fade from history’s stage.

From there, everything went fast. Still in March, Bo was dismissed as Chongqing’s party chief. He also lost his alternate membership in the politburo. In summer 2012, his wife Gu Kailai got her commuted death sentence, and in September 2013, Bo was sentenced to life in prison – based on the usual charges for unrigged politicians: corruption.

Is there a Chongqing Heritage?

At first glance, Bo Xilai’s “populism” or “Maoism” is finished. But Bo counted as a champion of many Chinese from the political left. A comment in German weekly Die Zeit, in September 2013, saw the verdict against Bo as a signal from the top that resistance against economic reform was futile.

To assess Bo Xilai’s political heritage objectively. The CCP may be beyond the era when beaten opponents were airbrushed from all photos and records. But the question about how publicly or privately-owned China’s economy should be might impose itself with any questions about Bo Xilai, and the now seven-member standing committee of the politburo can’t use such questions.

A political scientist of Beijing University, He Weifang (贺卫方), hinted at problems in assessing the Chongqing Model’s performance, from 2007 to 2012:

It is generally believed that the so-called “Chongqing Model” is mainly shaped by three aspects: “red culture” on the political level, “targeted actions against dark and evil forces in Chongqing“, and the reduction of the income gaps between the poor and the rich. The most criticized aspects are the former two, although there is support for the two of them in Chongqing and elsewhere. The third aspect isn’t that controversial. However, all data published concerning the efficiency of the measures taken to narrow the income gap are actually issued by the Chongqing authorities, and therefore lacking neutral assessment. Also, we can see that the whole process is strongly government-led, whose focus isn’t on creating a market logic of equal opportunities. If this approach will or will not lead to mistakes in financial policies, including the rural land policies‘ impartiality, is also questionable. And then there are concerns about life today being lead on future earnings, short-term inputs being made to curry favor with the public, which may come at high future costs.

答:一般认为,所谓的重庆模式主要由三方面内容构成:政治层面上的红色文化,执法层面上的“打黑除恶”以及民生方面的缩小贫富差距。最受诟病的是前两者,虽然在重庆和其他地方,似乎也有一些人人对于“唱红”和“打黑”表达支持。第三方面内容相对较少争议。不过,那些举措究竟对于缩小贫富差距产生了怎样的效果,目前得到的信息都是由重庆当局发布的,缺少中立的评估。另外,我们可以看到整个过程是在政府强势主导下进行的,其重点并非创造机会均等的市场逻辑。这种做法是否会带来财政决策中的失误,包括重庆所推行的农村土地政策的公正性,都是大可怀疑的。还有寅吃卯粮的隐忧,短期内的高投入讨好了民众,但是却需要未来付出巨大的代价。

If Bo Xilai was a populist, one of Donald Trump’s kind, or Putin’s, or Neil Farage’s, or whoever, one has to ask oneself how much influence he has maintained over Chinese politics to this day. After all, populists like Geert Wilders aren’t ineffective, merely because they can’t lay their hands on the imperial regalia.

When looking at European populism – that’s only a snapshot, of course -, one can get the impression that populists may not be elected, but they do leave marks on politics, from Merkel’s Willkommenskultur back to the traditional Christian Democrats’ policies, and Britain’s Brexit, implemented not by its original proponents, but by Theresa May, who had used to be a lukewarm supporter of Britain’s EU membership.

Populism is hardly ever the common peoples’ business, but that of the elites. The battles are fought within the political class, as observed by Hu Yaobang in the late 1980s. That is about as true in Europe. However, these battles within the superstructure may create or intensify certain trends in the public mood – and once policies have moved sufficiently into the “populist” direction, the support for these parties wanes, and the electorate turns back to the long-established parties. After all, Joe Blow doesn’t want to look like an extremist.

When Xi Jinping announced China’s new role as a guardian of free trade at the Davos forum in January, German Handelsblatt China correspondent Stephan Scheuer hailed the party and state leader’s “dressing-down for populists”. In Davos, Xi had become “a pioneer of fair-minded globalization”.

What could be beginning to show in China is a comparatively strong Maoist component in propaganda, as long as this doesn’t come at the cost of China’s privileged, and as long as this doesn’t require substantial reallocation of means or wealth to poor classes of population, or laggard regions. But whenever the name “Bo Xilai” should appear in any token event, the exorcists will be just around the corner.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Sun Zhengcai: “Eliminate Bo Xilai’s Poisonous Ideological Legacy”

Main Link: Chongqing Party Chief demands Elimination of Bo Xilai’s and Wang Lijun’s ideological legacy

Links within blockquotes added during translation – JR

Lianhe Zaobao news – Chongqing’s Communist Party municipal committee secretary Sun Zhengcai pointed out publicly yesterday (March 21) that the municipal committee must strictly follow political discipline and political standards. They also needed to strengthen political keenness and political discriminability, “comprehensively and thoroughly eliminate the ideological poison left behind by Bo and Wang (Bo Xilai, Wang Lijun).

(联合早报网讯)中共重庆市委书记孙政才昨天(21日) ,重庆市委必须严格遵守政治纪律和政治规矩,而且要增强政治敏锐性和政治鉴别力,“全面彻底清除薄、王(薄熙来、王立军)思想遗毒”。

According to a report by the “Chongqing Daily”, Sun Zhengcai also said that in recent years, work in Chongqing had “achieved some success”, and the most important, the key point was “to maintain, at all times, a high degree of unanimity with the party central committee and (Communist Party secretary general) Xi Jinping at its core”.

据《重庆日报》报道,孙政才也说,近年来重庆工作“取得的一些成绩”,最重要、最关键的一点,就在于“始终同以(中共总书记)习近平同志为核心的党中央保持高度一致”。

Reportedly, the CCP municipal committee’s standing committee held a “special Democratic Life Meeting” to discuss feedback concerning the rectification and implementation of central committee inspections. Sun Zhengcai made the above remarks on that meeting.

据报道,中共重庆市委常委会21日召开“专题民主生活会”,就整改落实中共中央巡视“回头看”的回馈意见进行讨论。孙政才在会中作上述表示。

Sun Zhengcai said that the municipal committee must “take a clear-cut position in explaining politics”, firmly build “political ideology, awareness of the general situation, core awareness and a preparedness to follow [correct] examples”, and to maintain a high degree of unanimity with the party’s central committee and Xi Jinping at its core”, concerning ideology, politics, and action.

孙政才也说,重庆市委必须“旗帜鲜明讲政治”,牢固树立“政治意识、大局意识、核心意识、看齐意识”,在思想上、政治上、行动上,与“以习近平同志为核心的党中央”保持高度一致。

He said that Chongqing municipal committee must strictly follow political discipline and political standards, resolutely defend the CCP’s central authority and its focused, united leadership, and resolutely and thoroughly implement the party central committee’s dispositions. Awareness needed to be truly increased, political keenness and political discriminability be strengthened, and “the ideological poison left behind by Bo and Wang comprehensively and thoroughly be eliminated”. (Lianhe Zaobao online editor Wang Weiwen)

他说,中共重庆市委须严格遵守政治纪律和政治规矩,坚决维护中共中央权威和集中统一领导,坚决贯彻落实党中央决策部署。要确实提高认识,增强政治敏锐性和政治舰别力,“全面彻底清除薄、王思想遗毒”。(联合早报网编辑:王纬温)

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Related

Der Sturz des Bo Xilai, dFC, March 24, 2017
Murder at the Lucky Holiday Hotel, BBC, March 17, 2017

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Saturday, February 4, 2017

Li Keqiang’s Consolation Tour: addressing Unpaid-Wage issues

The State Council’s (or Chinese government) website carried an article about a visit by Chief State Councillor Li Keqiang to Yunnan Province, some five days ahead of Spring Festival. The article contains a photo, apparently showing Li comforting a migrant worker’s family in their home.

Homestory

Homestory

As usual during the season of hope and goodwill, Li has to take care of the darker sides of China’s economic development.

Links within blockquotes added during translation.

On January 23, Li Keqiang came to the newly constructed home of Gan Yonrong’s family, in Ganjiazhai, Ludian County, Yunnan Province. On learning that the young man, who secured a six-person family’s livelihood by working out of town, had seen his wage payments being delayed by more than a year, the chief state councillor became “angry” right away [and said]: He is the family’s main support, and to hurt him means hurting his entire family. This violates market rules, and it violates virtue and conscience even more. There is no way that migrant workers who have to leave their hometown to do hard work should have to add tears to their sweat.

1月23日,李克强来到震后重建的云南鲁甸甘家寨村民甘永荣家。得知小伙子在外打工养活一家6口,却被拖欠一年多工资,总理当即“怒”了:他是家中顶梁柱,伤害他就是伤害他全家。这既违背市场规则,更违背道德良心。决不能让农民工背井离乡流汗再流泪。

On February 3, the first working day after Spring Festival, the State Council’s standing committee was convened, and one of the topics was exactly how to solve migrant workers’ delayed payment with the establishment of an effective system. The meeting decided to launch dedicated regulation and supervision, to focus on exposing typical cases, to seriously investigate illegal behavior of wages arrears, including already recorded cases, and to resolutely strike at the illegal and criminal behavior of evil-intentioned wages arrears. In particular, cases where government project funding delays led to delays in wage payments.

2月3日,春节后的首个工作日,国务院召开常务会议,其中议题之一便是部署建立解决农民工工资拖欠的长效机制。会议决定开展专项整治和督查,集中曝光一批典型案件,严肃查处欠薪违法行为包括欠薪陈案,坚决打击恶意欠薪违法犯罪。尤其要坚决解决涉及政府项目拖欠工程款导致欠薪问题。

[…]

The standing committee’s meeting had been determined by the Chief State Councillor prior to the Spring Festival. On January 23, as Li Keqiang was inspecting post-earthquake reconstruction work in Zhaotong, Yunnan Province, several locals from the disaster area working masses had made their problems with delayed wages known to the Chief State Councillor. On the spot, Li Keqiang instructed the accompanying local and departmental officials in charge that they should help [the workers] with their legal wage demands as quickly as possible, and to investigate the problem. After the Chief State Councillor had spoken, the departments and local officials in charge helped the migrant workers within 48 hours to “discuss” an answer to the delayed wage payments.

事实上,此次常务会议的这一议题安排,本身就是总理春节前确定的。1月23日,李克强在云南昭通考察鲁甸地震灾后重建工作时,当地几位外出打工的灾区群众向总理反映他们遭遇欠薪的问题。李克强当场责令随行的地方和部门负责人,要尽快帮他们依法讨薪,并就此问题进行排查。总理发话后,有关部门和地方48小时后帮助农民工“讨”回欠薪。

“We can’t solve only a small number of cases, but we must build a long-term effective system to solve this chronic evil from the roots.” On the three-day meeting, Li Keqiang said, “governments on all levels must catch up with this over and over again, and grasp it completely!”

“我们不能光是解决几个个案就了事了,而要借此建立起一个长效机制,从根本上解决农民工欠薪这个顽症。”李克强在3日的常务会议上说,“这个问题各级政府一定要反复抓、抓到底!”

The second chapter of the article quotes Li as using the words “anger” (愤怒), “pain” (痛心), and “embarrassment (尴尬)” to describe his feelings in his encounter with the petitioners.

In Ludian, I ran into that migrant worker whose wife had been killed in the earthquake, and his family’s farmland had been lost, too. Now, there’s still the old mother, three sons, and one younger brother who attends upper-mediate school. The entire family depends on the money he earns with his work away from home. He is his family’s backbone!” Li Keqiang said: “Where is the conscience of companies who have the nerves to delay the wages of working masses from disaster areas who have to work away from their hometown?”

“我在鲁甸遇到的那位农民工,妻子在地震中遇难,家里的耕地也。现在家里还有老母亲、三个儿子,和一个正在上高中的弟弟。全家生活就靠他一个人外出打工的收入,他是一家人的顶梁柱啊!”李克强说,“这样的地震灾区的群众外出打工,企业也忍心欠薪,良心何在?”

As he was leaving the home of this migrant worker, Li Keqiang asked people at the public square of the village who had encountered problems with “delayed wages” in reconstruction work. On repeated questions from the Chief State Councillor, several migrant workers hesitantly raised their hands. One of them couldn’t hold back his tears after having spoken two sentences.

他询问大家有多少人外出打工,有多少人遇到了欠薪问题。总理反复询问下,有几位农民工犹犹豫豫地举起了手。一位农民工没说两句,忍不住抹起了眼泪。

Their work’s pay is extremely important for migrant workers. If they don’t get their money, that’s a devastating blow to them!”, Li Keqiang said passionately. “Migrant workers are an important supporting force in the several decades of our country’s rapid development. They have made an enormous contribution to the economic and social development. If their efforts don’t get their appropriate remuneration, it will not only do great damage to their families, but will also bring a vile influence on society.”

“打工的钱对于农民工来讲太重要了。拿不到钱,对他们可以说是毁灭性的打击!”李克强动情地说,“农民工是我们国家几十年快速发展的重要支撑力量,为经济社会发展做出了巨大的贡献。如果他们的辛勤付出得不到应有的回报,不仅会给他们的家庭造成巨大的伤害,也会给社会带来恶劣的影响。”

With added emphasis, he said that this issue was about fairness and justice in society. This is a bottomline which must not be crossed!

他加重语气说,这一问题事关社会公平正义。这是社会底线,决不能突破!

The article’s third and fourth chapters are basically more of the same message, but contain an interesting (to me) bit of vocabulary. Li Keqiang’s inspection tour in Yunnan is referred to as a grassroots-level consolation and inspection tour (基层慰问考察), and the issue of “delayed payment” is linked to emloyment and development policies in general (更加积极的就业政策).

Finally, the article quotes Li as advocating (or prescribing) “not only an implementation of the responsibility of governments of all levels, but to build a coordinating network without barriers between local governments”, given that many cases of wage delays among migrant workers occur “at construction projects” outside the workers’ home provinces.

“People’s Daily” republished the government website’s article, although they left out the photo.

While the government website article, designed for a domestic audience, comes across as somewhat wage (as for the actual effects migrant workers may expect from Li Keqiang’s endeavors), foreign broadcaster China Radio International (CRI) presents the State Council standing committee’s decisions in a much more positive way, at least at first glance.

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Related

You name the Problem, Febr 15, 2011
So together with the People, Dec 31, 2010

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Saturday, January 28, 2017

China’s rising Aggression against Taiwan – is there anything we can do to counter it?

Nigeria told Taiwan earlier this month to move its de-facto embassy from the capital Abuja to Lagos, the country’s biggest city and its capital until 1976, and seat of the federal government until 1991. According to the Chinese foreign ministry,

Nigeria’s Foreign Affairs Minister Geoffrey Onyeama told journalists after reaffirming the One-China Policy at a joint press conference with visiting Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, that Taiwan will now have to function in Lagos with a skeletal staff.

One could condemn the decision of the Nigerian government, who have reportedly been promised $40 bn Chinese investment in the country’s infrastructure, and the Taiwanese foreign ministry did just that.

But there will always be governments who are too weak to be principled – and most governments worldwide, and especially those of “developed” and powerful countries, have long played along with Beijing’s “one-China policy”. Big or small countries’ decisions are based on “national interest” (whichever way national interest may be defined).

Still, what Nigeria is doing to Taiwan shows a new quality in harming the island nation. A Reuters report on January 12 didn’t try to “prove” Beijing’s driving force behind the Nigerian decision, but quotes a Taiwanese perception that would suggest this, writing that Taiwan sees the “request” to move its representative office from the capital as more pressure by China to isolate it.

Reuters also wrote that

[w]hile economic ties between the mainland and Taiwan have grown considerably in recent years, their relations have worsened since Tsai Ing-wen, who heads a pro-independence party, was elected president of the island last year.
Beijing has been stepping up pressure on her to concede to its “one China” principle.

In fact, this isn’t just a move to make Taiwan “lose face”, or to re-emphasize the – in Beijing’s view – inofficial nature of Taiwanese statehood and sovereignty. This is an attempt on Taiwan’s lifelines, even if only a small one – for now. If Taiwan has to reduce staff at one of its embassies, simply because Beijing wants the host country to bully Taiwan, this affects Taiwanese trade. And this means that Beijing is making fun of a World Trade Organization member’s legitimate interests.

Looking at it under less formal aspects, this move via Nigeria is also an aggression against Taiwan’s democracy.

The Tsai administration’s position during the past eight months hadn’t even been “provocative”. All they can be blamed for is that they didn’t bow before Beijing’s hatpole, an alleged “1992 consensus” between the Chinese Communist Party and the Taiwanese National Party (KMT). In her inaugural speech in May, President Tsai Ing-wen still acknowledged the fact that there had been KMT-CCP talks that year, and the role the talks had had in building better cross-strait relations. But  she pointed out that among the foundations of interactions and negotiations across the Strait, there was the democratic principle and prevalent will of the people of Taiwan.

It seems that this position – legitimate and reasonable – was too much for Beijing. This should be food for thought for everyone in the world who wants the will of the people to prevail.

J. Michael Cole, a blogger from Taiwan, wrote in September last year that China’s leadership

behaves very much like a 12-year-old: pouting and bullying when it doesn’t get what it wants. To be perfectly honest, it’s rather embarrassing and hardly warrants the space and scare quotes it gets in the world’s media. […]

Why the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has kept at it for so long is because we, the international community, have allowed it to do so. From the hallowed halls of academia to the media, government agencies to the public sphere, we have allowed fear to regulate how we interact with China, with ourselves, and with the rest of the world.

His conclusion: we – and I assume that by “we”, he refers to all freedom-loving people who cherish democracy – need collectively stiffer spines, ; the times when we let the authoritarian-child determine what’s in our best interest should come to an end, not just in the political sphere but in other areas, including the embattled field of free expression, where the 12-year-old has been making a mockery of our proud traditions in journalism and academia.

I wasn’t sure if I agreed when I read this, months ago. Yes, it is true that China’s dollars are corrupting. But aren’t all dollars corrupting, if you are corrupt? Who forces us to take them? I’m wondering if South Africa in the 1980s would have faced sanctions if their white government and elites had had to offer then what Beijing has to offer now. And in that regard, I believe we should see clearly that Western countries frequently put their positions on sale easily, when they are offered the right price.

That was  a main factor in America’s motivation, in the 1970s, to acknowledge Beijing’s “one-China policy”. That’s why the EU is nearly spineless when it comes to interaction with Beijing. And that’s why Taiwan’s own elites are frequently eager to do business with China, even if this limits the island republic’s political scope further.

All the same, China’s measures against democracy are uniquely aggressive in some ways. Above all, they are completely shameless. If they serve their country, Chinese people may advocate them without the least disguise – because it serves China. When an American politician – Donald Trump – does a similar thing by ostensibly “putting America first”, he faces a bewildered global public who can’t believe their own ears. And yes, censorship and records where only the victor writes the history books and declares the defeated parties villains is part of hallowed Chinese tradition. There were Chinese people who were openly critical of that tradition during the 1980s or the 1990s. As far as I can see, there aren’t too many of them any more. (I’m not sure there are any left.)

Chinese “public opinion” may debate measures to optimize business, or CCP rule. But there are no competing visions in China. There is no public opinion. There is only guidance toward totalitarianism.

Can governments play a role in controlling China’s aggression against democracy? Not in the short or medium term, anyway. Any such movement has to start from the grassroots. And it won’t be a terribly big one, let alone a “collective” one, as Cole appears to hope.

But every right move is a new beginning, and a contribution to a better world. We can’t boycott China, and if we could, it might amount to a tragedy.

But we can make new, small, decisions every day: is this really the right time to arrange a students exchange with China? Why not with Taiwan? Is an impending deal with China really in one’s best interest? Could an alternative partner make better sense in the long run, even if the opportunity cost looks somewhat higher right now?

The CCP’s propaganda, during the past ten or twenty years, has been that you have no choice but to do business with China under its rule, no matter if you like the dictatorship and its increasing global reach, or not. The purpose of this propaganda has been to demobilize any sense of resistance, of decency, or of hope.

We need to take a fresh look at China.

As things stand, this doesn’t only mean a fresh look at the CCP, but at China as a country, too. During the past ten years, the CCP has managed to rally many Chinese people behind itself, and to discourage dissenters, apparently a minority anyway, from voicing dissent.

A new personal and – if it comes to that – collective fresh look at China requires a sense of proportion, not big statements or claims. It doesn’t require feelings of hatred or antagonism against China, either. We should remain interested in China, and continue to appreciate what is right with it.

What is called for is not a answer that would always be true, but a question, that we should ask ourselves at any moment when a choice appears to be coming up.

As an ordinary individual, don’t ask how you can “profit” from China’s “rise” (which has, in fact, been a long and steady collapse into possibly stable, but certainly immoral hopelessness).

Ask yourself what you can do for Taiwan.

Happy new year!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Fond Memories and Grinding Teeth: AM Closures in Australia and France

——–

Radio Australia leaves Shortwave by End of January

Radio Australia is signing off with the end of January, if things keep going in accordance with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation‘s (ABC) schedule. A press release on December 6 quoted the head of ABC’s radio section as saying that

“While shortwave technology has served audiences well for many decades, it is now nearly a century old and serves a very limited audience. The ABC is seeking efficiencies and will instead service this audience through modern technology.”

20161209_radio_australia_message_received

There are people in Australia who disagree. There are others who support the decision. In an interview with Richard Ewart, co-host of Radio Australia’s Pacific Beat, former Australian High Commissioner to Fiji and the Solomon Islands, James Batley, defended the closure of shortwave transmissions to the Pacific, but came across as somewhat unprepared for that role:

Batley: The shortwave transmissions have had a very long and distinguished history. But I suppose I can’t help thinking now that … I guess this is a thing of technology really overtaking that form of broadcasting. And it’s a very different world these days, than sort of the heyday of shortwave broadcasting in past decades. But it’s a pity, because I guess we’ve all got fond memories of tuning in to Radio Australia by shortwave radio in the past.

Ewart: Isn’t one of the key elements of this decision, though, that the risk that it may pose, particularly during times of emergency? We’ve seen two huge cyclones strike in the Pacific over the last couple of years, and during an emergency like that, a shortwave broadcast could be a life-saver.

Batley: Yeah, look, I think the whole media and communication scene has really changed pretty dramatically, over several decades, in the Pacific, and there are now … I think there are more options available for public broadcasters, for governments’ communities, to access information. So I certainly … you know … there will be some people who still listen on shortwave, but I think it is a diminishing audience. I think you’d have to say that. And certainly, people of my acquaintance, fewer and fewer people would use shortwave radios.

Ewart: But what about those who continue to rely on shortwave, particularly, for example, in rural areas of Papua New Guinea, the numbers, we understand, are pretty high for those who can’t access digital technology. They would rely, still, on shortwave to get any sort of broadcast coming out of Radio Australia.

Batley: Yes, look, I don’t actually know the numbers. I’m not sure what the figures are. […] But like I said, I think there are a lot more options available these days, for governments, for broadcasters. And I think there is a sense in which shortwave may be a technology that’s been, perhaps, superseded.

Ewart: Our understanding is that accurate figures are in fact being gathered by the ABC right now, which makes me wonder why would they make this decision if they don’t already have that information. Could it be a little bit precipitate?

Batley: Well, look, it’s not for me to question the management’s decision on this. I’m not sure what considerations they may have taken. I don’t know all those numbers.

[…]

Wavescan, Adventist World Radio‘s (AWR) media magazine, compiled a number of voices and programs from Australia, New Zealand, and the Asia-Pacific region in December, including the a/m interview with James Batley. It starts in the ninth minute of the podcast dated 18/12/2016 (currently available for download).

In an interview with ABC, Batley said that the money saved by abandoning shortwave broadcasts should be re-invested in a more robust FM transmitter network and increased regional content. The issue was also touched upon in the a/m Radio Australia interview. The shutdown is said to save some 2.8 million Australian Dollars a year.

——–

France Inter no longer on 162 kHz

This January 1rst must be a happy day for controllers at Radio France: the demise of longwave broadcasts on 162 kHz is said to save the broadcaster six million Euros per year, Sud-Ouest, a French regional newspaper, wrote on Friday. The longwave broadcasts ended last night, around midnight. During 2016, Radio France had already saved seven million Euros, also according to Sud-Ouest, thanks to switching off the medium wave transmitters carrying France Bleu and France Info programs.

Some five to seven percent of the audience, or some 500,000 people, had still been listeners to the longwave broadcasts, writes Sud-Ouest, suggesting that teeth were grinding among the more nostalgic listeners.

The end of the longwave broadcasts also marks the end of the meteorological service being carried to adjacent and more distant waters, writes the paper. They had been part of the daily programs, every evening after the 20-h journal, and had been dropped on FM much earlier, in 2009.

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Related

France Inter / RFI history, May 31, 2014

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Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The U.S. Democrats’ Red Herring: Blaming the Russians

Mattathias Schwartz of The Intercept suggests a statement different from the one US President Obama actually made at his last press conference. That statement, as scripted by Schwartz, would have deviated from the actual statement indeed. But it wouldn’t have provided America with moral and political leadership, as the teaser suggested.

The Intercept's presidential statement

The Intercept’s presidential statement

There’s no question to my mind that Donald Trump and his supporters (professionals and “ordinary people”) have made substantial contributions to brutalize the campaign, and political culture. But there is no question either that the Democratic Party’s establishment has shown its contempt for democratic principle, by pushing Hillary Clinton‘s nomination campaign, at the expense of Bernie Sanders‘. Clinton and her supporters showed quite the “sense of entitlement” once ascribed to China’s leader Xi Jinping.

That – not the Russian exposure of it – is the problem.

Were there American media that exposed the Democratic National Committee’s conduct? I haven’t heard of any. There was no Bob Woodward of our times who would have dug up that pit. The American media didn’t perform. They didn’t pick up their essential role. Moscow simply filled the vacuum.

Maybe that’s what Obama should have said (if he could have). He could have tried to talk some sense into those democrat functionaries (and press people) who are now trying to make the public forget their own role in their candiate’s undoing.

Obviously, there’s no reason to thank the Russian leadership for what they did. But there is no reason to flame them, either. America wasn’t treated like a banana republic this year, it acted like one.

If you want more of the same, shoot the messenger. But if you want democracy that works, do your homework.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Is the Truth losing in Today’s World? (And if Yes: How so?)

That’s what Richard Stengel, currently undersecretary for public diplomacy at the State Department, believes, according to a Washington Post article:

“We like to think that truth has to battle itself out in the marketplace of ideas. Well, it may be losing in that marketplace today,” Stengel warned in an interview. “Simply having fact-based messaging is not sufficient to win the information war.”

And, adds the author of the WaPo article, David Ignatius:

How do we protect the essential resource of democracy — the truth — from the toxin of lies that surrounds it? It’s like a virus or food poisoning. It needs to be controlled. But how?

Fascinating stuff – fascinating, because it feels like a déjà vu to me (and I’m wondering for how many others who have a memory of some decades).

The Genius leads the spectators: engineering of consent in its early stages in applauding his works.

The Genius leads the spectators: engineering of consent in its early stages.

When I studied and worked in a fairly rural place in China, I had a number of encounters with – probably mainstream – Chinese worldviews. That was around the turn of the century, and these were probably the most antagonistic, and exciting, debates I ever had, as the only foreigner among some Chinese friends. Discussions sometimes ended with the two, three or four of us angrily staring at each other, switching to a less controversial topic, and bidding each other a frosty good-bye.

But there was a mutual interest in other peoples’ weird ideas. That’s why our discussions continued for a number of weekends. At at least one point, I felt that I had argued with overwhelming logic, but my Chinese interlocutor was unimpressed. I blamed Chinese propaganda for his insusceptibility, but apparently, propaganda was exactly his point: “If propaganda helps to keep my country safe, I have nothing against propaganda,” he replied.

I found that gross. The idea that propaganda should just be another tool, something you might volunteer to use and to believe in, so as to keep your country and society stable, was more alien to me than any Chinese custom I had gotten to know.

The idea that truth is, or that facts are, the essential resource of a (working, successful) democracy looks correct to me. Democracy can’t work without an informed public. But when it comes to German mainstream media, I have come to the conclusion that they aren’t trustworthy.

I agree with the WaPo article / Richard Stengel that the US government can’t be a verifier of last resort. No government can play this kind of role. The Chinese party and state have usurped that role, but China is known to be a low-trust society – that doesn’t suggest that they have played a successful role as official verifiers. While many Chinese people do apparently think of their government as the ultimate guardian of national sovereignty and individual safety from imperialist encroachment, they don’t seem to trust these domestic public security powers as their immediate neighbors.

And the ability of any Western government to be a verifier ends as soon as an issue involves state interests, government interests, or governing parties’ interests.

The US government as a verifier of last resort concerning the Syria war? That idea isn’t even funny.

The German government as a verifier of last resort when it comes to foreign-trade issues (within the European Union, or beyond)? Bullshit.

But what about the American media? I don’t have a very clear picture of how they work, but it would seem to me that US television stations usually address the issues that earn them most of the public’s attention. If that is so, it should be no wonder that Donald Trump profited more from media attention, than Hillary Clinton.

But if tweets, rather than platforms, become the really big issues, the media must have abandoned the role that has traditionally been ascribed to them.

German (frequently public-law) media are strongly influenced by political parties, and apparently by business-driven foundations, too.

I don’t know if something similar can be said about American media, but even if only for their attention-seeking coverage, they can’t count as well-performing media either.

What about “social” media? According to Stengel, as quoted by the Washington Post, they give everyone the opportunity to construct their own narrative of reality.

Stengel mentions Islamic State (in 2014) and Russian propaganda campaigns as examples. In the latter’s case, he points to the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and other political organizations during the elections in particular.

I believe that Stengel / Ignatius may have half a point. Russia – provided that they were indeed behind the leaks – only targeted Clinton’s campaign, not Donald Trump’s.

But then, wouldn’t it have been the task of the US media to unearth either campaign’s dirty secrets? Russian propaganda performed, even if only selectively, where US media had failed. It exposed practice in the Democratic Party leadership that was hostile to democracy, but acting under the guise of defending it.

How should citizens who want a fact-based world combat this assault on truth, Ignatius finally asks, and quotes Stengel once again, and addressing the role of “social media”:

The best hope may be the global companies that have created the social-media platforms. “They see this information war as an existential threat,” says Stengel. The tech companies have made a start: He says Twitter has removed more than 400,000 accounts, and YouTube daily deletes extremist videos.

Now, I’m no advocate of free broadcasts for ISIS videos. But if the best hope is the removal of accounts and videos by the commercial providers, it would seem that there isn’t much hope in human power of judgment, after all – and in that case, there wouldn’t be much hope for democracy as a model of government.

Ignatius:

The real challenge for global tech giants is to restore the currency of truth. Perhaps “machine learning” can identify falsehoods and expose every argument that uses them. Perhaps someday, a human-machine process will create what Stengel describes as a “global ombudsman for information.”

Wtf? Human-machine processes? Has the “Global Times” hacked the WaPo?

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Related

Why Wikileaks can’t work, Dec 1, 2010

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