Posts tagged ‘communication’

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Jeremy Corbyn: and now for Something Better?

Once Upon a time, in the UK

Arguably, no interview with Margaret Thatcher has been quoted as much in the past three decades as the one, published by Woman’s Own in 1987:

But [the welfare state] went too far. If children have a problem, it is society that is at fault. There is no such thing as society.

This is also the interview people quote from most frequently, and preferably without much context, because “there isn’t society” wasn’t the end of Thatcher’s point. In fact, “tapestry” was just her word for society

But words are one thing; deeds are another.

Much of what Thatcher did during the earlier years as prime minister looks pretty much what we like to refer to as the will of the people. That is a somewhat abstract concept for a number of reasons, but she had a point at the time. Things – Labour policies – had gone too far, for too many people.

But Thatcher herself, and her successors, including “New Labour”, went too far as well. Deregulation of the financial services was one example. An economy with banks “too big to fail” is a corporate-welfare economy. Unfathomable amounts of of public funding has been used by now to save the financial system, but it appears that the causes of the 2008 calamities haven’t been addressed with the thoroughness they should.

At the same time, there is real poverty in Britain and in Europe, among common people. Those people are apparently too small to count. A society that reacts to their problems with a shrug has a problem itself, and will get yet more problems. A political class too ignorant to understand how modern manufacturing works adds to the problems. Callousness and ignorance are a nasty mixture.

Fast Forward to 2015

In that light, even if Jeremy Corbyn were a full-blown idiot (or villain), that would look like a manageable problem. At worst, a five-year premiership, if attained, would be another waste of time, but at least, it would be one more closely scrutinized by the mainstream media that previous wastes of time.

Then there’s the character issue. I’m far from saying that character doesn’t matter. But I do say with confidence that there is no way to know the true character of a politician before he assumes real powers. It isn’t even easy to predict a man’s behavior after assuming power when you know him personally. And it to predict his decisions is impossible if you “know” a man merely from the media.

One of the last last hurrahs from Corbyn’s opponents appears to have been this, from the Telegraph:

Jeremy Corbyn led a campaign for the release of two convicted terrorists who were jailed for their part in the car bombing of the Israeli embassy in London and a Jewish charity building.

Jawad Botmeh and Samar Alami were convicted of conspiracy to cause explosions in the UK in 1996, which injured 20 people. They were jailed for 20 years.

That sounds pretty ugly, as reported from the Telegraph’s angle. But it sounds reasonable as reported by the Guardian.

A common citizen is in a difficult situation when having to make choices between different politicians and platforms or manifestos. The media aren’t making his choices easier. One step to develop a clearer political eyesight might be to admit that we actually know very little, and to admit that propaganda isn’t necessarily something very Chinese, or much about agitation, let alone about confronting us with representations that run counter to our  long-established concepts, but rather something to soothe or to tranquilize us.

But for too many people, the established policies of their countries have gone too far. They have gone wrong. That’s true for my country, too. That’s a moment when things begin to shift, and I believe it’s a good thing if they shift in a rather benign way. That’s democracy at its best.

A Universal Ideal

When asked what he thought his greatest weakness as a potential leader, Corbyn said that “I tend to see the best in people all the time. Is that a weakness? I don’t know.”

His answer would most likely be that it isn’t a weakness at all – that’s the message of those three sentences. At the same time, it reads a bit like a disclaimer. And he’ll need one. For all the experience he has, from decades of serving his constituency, his main job has been to ask critical questions. Now, he will have to provide serious answers just as well, and answers of that kind are never uncompromising. Maybe Corbyn should have an appointment with Barack Obama and Alexis Tsipras. They know both sides of the finishing line which in Corbyn’s case, for the time being, is the door mat of No. 10 Downing Street.

But what came to my mind when reading what he saw as his greatest weakness (or strength), and in the context of the accusations that he was too close to terrorism (or whatever the accusations were meant to amount to), was an old Chinese philosopher, Wang Yangming.

Obviously, what you get to see and hear from a professional politician is the artwork, or the package – see above, re “knowing” your country’s leaders. But even the choice of the artwork says something about the leanings of a campaign. Wang Yangming believed in the unity of knowledge and action, in terms of content and time. Man has an innate knowing of what is right, say Wang’s teachings, and there doesn’t need to be a barrier between knowledge and action, neither in terms of content, nor in terms of time. In fact, according to Wang, there can be no such barrier or difference between knowledge and action, if it is the kind of knowledge he referred to.

Politics of that kind are a fairly universal desire – but you might need to be a neo-Confucian to fully believe in the chance.

Either way, it’s too early to know if Corbyn is that kind of man. And we’ll only find out about that if the movement that has made him Labour leader will be successful, at least to some extent, so that time and circumstances can put Corbyn to the test.

But the ideal is one of the things that made Corbyn’s campaign work. I’m curious about how things develop from there, and a bit more hopeful about politics in general. I’m also hopeful that in the not too distant future, my country, too, will experience what Britain is apparently going to have now: genuine, democratic choices.

Friday, August 28, 2015

“People’s Daily” on Russian-Western Propaganda Competition (April 2015)

The following is “old news”, a People’s Daily online article from April this year, but I think it will continue to matter. Hence the following translation. Links within blockquotes added during translation.

I have some thoughts of my onw about what is being said in the article – and I can’t confirm the accuracy of what its authors wrote. It’s a mere translation, for reference, and maybe for later use — JR

Main Link: International Viewpoint: Europe, America and Russia measuring their Strengths in the International Public Opinion Arena

Source: April 10, 2015, People’s Daily / People’s Daily online. European correspondent Ren Yan, U.S. correspondent Chen Lidan, Russia correspondent Lin Xuedan, People’s Daily / People’s Daily online, April 10, 2015

Picture: “Russia Today” international news agency organizing a video link concerning the Ukraine crisis – photo by our correspondent Lin Xudan

“今日俄罗斯”国际新闻通讯社日前就乌克兰危机问题进行视频连线。 本报记者 林雪丹摄

The European Union has decided to formulate a plan for the dissemination of information on their Riga summit in May, including mainly the preparation of a Russian-language television station or radio station and similar Russian-language media, to counter the growing Russian influence in international public opinion. Not long ago, American foreign secretary John Kerry acknowledged in a sub-committee session of the Senate that Russia had been successful in international communications. There are Russian scholars who believe that Russian media are in advantage in their response to the Ukraine crisis, making European countries feel uneasy, with the pattern of international public opinion undergoing new changes.


The EU – Launching a “counterpropaganda war'” against Russia


A European External Action Service official recently confirmed to this reporter that the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, is heading a team which is wildly beating gongs and drums to devise an action plan specifically targeted at Russia. The plan is scheduled to be finished before the end of June. The plan includes preparations for a Russian-language television station or radio station, transmitting to citizens of former Soviet republics, people of Soviet-republic ancestry, and to Russia.


At the beginning of this year, several European countries, including Britain, Denmark, Latvia, and Estonia, called for the establishment of a Russian-language television or radio station to launch a “counterpropaganda war” at Russia. Danish foreign minister Martin Lidegaard said that Russia was actively conducting propaganda and [successfully] managed public opinion, but the EU had sufficiently reacted to this threat. He believed in a need for a long-term response mechanism [may be, but doesn’t have to be the term actually used or meant by the former foreign minister or the reporting journalist, but my take of 应对机制 during translation – JR], i. e. the establishment of a Russian-language television station and other mass media, and broadcasting news in Russian very frequently. Russian deputy foreign minister Aleksey Meshkov  believes that this activity by a number of European countries and their advocacy of the concept of free speech are counterproductive. He says that Russia has respected the principle of freedom of speech all the way, however, Europe is doing the exact opposite.


An article published by a mainstream website, “European Developments” [“欧洲动态”], believes that thirty years ago, Russia had been on the defensive in the propaganda war with the EU. At the time, the EU had strong propaganda organs, such as Radio Free Europe, Deutsche Welle, and other media, incessantly broadcasting to Russian listeners in their language. Afterwards, the EU gradually cut down its spending on the propaganda war, and by now, Russia has won the advantage. Two EU diplomats who gave interviews [or an interview] to that website [i. e. 欧洲动态] dispiritedly said that the EU was losing in the propaganda war with Russia and that now, the unfavorable situation needed to be turned around as quickly as possible.


America – Doubts in the U.S. International Broadcasting Reform Bill


The US Broadcasting Board of Governors members include the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe / Free Asia and other broadcasters. The media under its flag are broadcasting to 125 countries and regions in 65 languages. A questionnaire survery of thirty senior US diplomacy officials and experts showed that America is currently losing out to Russia’s propaganda war. They believed that the key problem was insufficient government funding, with the amount spent being only one tenth of what Russia was spending. The way the Voice of America developed was indicative of the overall trend among America’s foreign broadcasting media. In 2008, the Voice of America’s Russian broadcasts, with a history of sixty years, were terminated and transferred to the internet, but the Voice of America was apparently unable to get into step with the rhythm of the internet, and a lot of old news has been found on their [Russian-language] website. On social media, no matter if the number of fans or sharing is the issue, the numbers are far behind the U.S. Department of State, a non-news organization. Many former journalists and employees of the Voice of America believe that the Broadcasting Board of Governors as the mainly responsible body [for running VoA] must assume considerable responsibility for its bad work.


During the past ten years, the Broadcasting Board of Governors’ mission has been doubted. In 2014, US House of Representatives foreign relations  committee chairman Ed Royce submitted the United States International Communications Reform Act, which was adopted. The bill positioned the Voice of America as an important tool for American public diplomacy, demanding that the focus of coverage be on propagandizing [or promoting] American foreign policies, and planning for the replacement of the Broadcasting Board of Governors by a United States International Communications Agency.


Currently, the bill remains at the stage of discussion within the US Congress, but the road of propaganda designed by the bill has already drawn criticism within America. The “Washington Post” worried in an editorial that this kind of reform could weaken the credibility of the Voice of America’s coverage. And the renowned “Foreign Affairs” magazine said that if this bill was passed and implemented, America’s foreign broadcasting organ would completely lose its independent character and become a White House mouthpiece.


Russia – in the process of building a strong “media aircraft carrier”


In the Ukraine crisis, Russian media, represented by “Russia Today”, have caught a lot of attention. “Russia Today’s” first editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan says that the goal of “Russia Today” is “to present an unbiased image of Russia” and to provide coverage of world news from a Russian point of view. According to some analysts, it isn’t only “Russia Today”, but all of Russia’s media circles who are participating in the efforts of building a strong “media aircraft carrier”.


“Russia Today”, established in 2005, currently operates channels in English, Russian, Spanish and Arabic, and has opened French and German websites. Among these, the English broadcasts have established two separate channels, including “Russia Today International” and “Russia Today America”. More than 100 English-speaking reporters provide reports on a global scale. High-quality, ingenious reports have led to 700 million viewers in more than 100 countries, not only earning “Russia Today” gains in viewing rates, but also recognition from peers in the international [broadcasting] industry. In 2012, “Russia Today’s” “Occupy Wall Street” program won the 美国国际电视包装设计大奖 [this apparently refers to a a bronze Promax/BDA Global Excellence award], in 2013, “Russia Today” defeated CNN News network, Sky News, and Al Jazeera, winning the Monte Carlo Television Festival award.

成立于2005年的“今日俄罗斯”现有英语、俄语、西班牙语和阿拉伯语频道,并开设了法语和德语网站。其中,英语播报单独分设了两个频道,包括“今日俄罗 斯”国际和“今日俄罗斯”美国。有超过100名英语记者在全球范围提供报道。高质量兼具独创性的报道令“今日俄罗斯”在全球100多个国家拥有7亿观众, 不仅为“今日俄罗斯”赢得了收视率,还获得了国际同行的高度认可。2012年,“今日俄罗斯”的“占领华尔街”节目获得美国国际电视包装设计大 奖;2013年,“今日俄罗斯”击败美国有线电视新闻网、天空新闻和半岛电视台,获得“蒙特卡洛电视节大奖”。

To capitalize on “Russia Today’s” experiences of success, the Russian government decided to integrate the state media, to increase the effectiveness of foreign broadcasting. At the end of 2013, the Russian government invested huge amounts to reorganize RIA Novosti newsagency and the “Voice of Russia” into the “Russia Today” international news agency [aka Rossiya Segodnya -this means “Russia Today”, but the “Russia Today” television station described in the translated article so far is a separate organization. I’ll translate the news agency’s name as Rossiya Segodnya from here, to avoid confusion]. Rossiya Segodnya news agency’s deputy editor-in-chief, Pavel Andreyev, explained to this reporter that the agency combined the two state-owned media’s correspondent offices abroad, and is using streamlined resources to gradually increase the number of reporting bureaus, and embarked on creating twelve news gathering centers all over the world.

借鉴“今日俄罗斯”成功的经验,俄政府决定整合国有媒体,提升对外传播的有效性。2013年底,俄政府斥巨资将俄新社、“俄罗斯之声”广播电台两大媒体重 组为“今日俄罗斯”国际新闻通讯社。该通讯社副总编辑安德烈耶夫向本报记者介绍,在布局上,新通讯社合并了两家媒体原有的国外记者站,并利用精简的资源进 一步扩充了记者站数量,还着手在全球组建12个新闻采编中心。在内容上,通讯社开通了15条新闻专线,网站新闻供应量显著增加,实现了对全球新闻的无时差 报道。同时,在原有基础上增设近20个语种的广播。

Gusev, a researcher from the Russian Institute of Sciences’ Institute of Europe, said in an interview with this reporter that in the media information war concerning the Ukraine crisis, Russia had significant advantages, making European countries feel uneasy, with the pattern of international public opinion undergoing new changes.


(People’s Daily online Brussels, Washington DC, Moscow reports)


“People’s Daily” (April 10, 2015, page 21)

《 人民日报 》( 2015年04月10日 21 版)



» EU launches operation, EurActiv, Mar 20, 2015
» Mythbusters, Newsweek, Mar 20, 2015
» EU set to fight back, BBC, Mar 18, 2015
» Not attractive enough, ECFR, Jan 20, 2015
» Mindless competition, Jan 6, 2015
» The Russians do propaganda, Nov 25, 2014


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Former leading Tianjin Cadre: Beijing won’t cover up Causes of Disaster, because there isn’t much to Lose

Asked by the BBC‘s Mandarin service if he believes that a former member of the politburo standing committee had been a patron for Ruihai Logistics, the company on whose premises the Tianjin explosions occurred last week, Dr. Zhang Wei (张炜), an economics lecturer at Cambridge University, said that this couldn’t be ruled out, but that the lawlessness that had led to the disaster could just as well be the fault of low-ranking local “snakes” (地头蛇). Both explanations were equally likely, he suggested.

Nextmedia, a magazine published in Hong Kong and Taiwan, had allegged in an online article on Saturday that a major shareholder of Ruihai Logistics were a nephew of former permanent politburo member Li Ruihuan (李瑞環) – this name, however, wasn’t repeated or quoted in the coverage mentioned in this post. Links to any former politburo heavyweights could be touchy information, given that citizens in Tianjin are demanding answers from the authorities as to why cargo of this accident level had been stored less than one kilometer from residential areas, and in apparently illegal quantities. Laying out a possible lawless structure that would be in line with the “local” theories, Time (online) quotes Chinese magazine Caijing as suggesting that one of the Ruihai stakeholders, Dong Mengmeng (董蒙蒙) had been the son of Dong Peijun (董培军) former public security director, an allegation also addressed by Zhang Wei, as quoted by the BBC.

But even if investigations should find traces to a former member of the politburo’s standing committee, Zhang thinks it unlikely that the current central leadership in Beijing would try to cover up the truth. A former member, rather than an incumbent, wouldn’t be of great use to the current government any more, and there would be no reason to halt the investigations.

According to the BBC, Zhang once served as secretary of Tianjin’s municipal Communist Youth League committee (共青团天津市委书记), as director of Tianjin Economic-Technological Development Area, as director for external economic matters at Tianjin municipal government, and in other functions. Zhang’s view of Chinese economic reform in the 1980s – and the slowdown or even reversal in reform during the 1990s – also influenced Huang Yasheng as he wrote Capitalism with Chinese Characteristics.

The explosions and the authorities’ difficulties in handling communication with the public didn’t reflect a public relations crisis (公关危机), the BBC quotes Zhang, but rather a problem rooted in the CCP’s belief in propaganda. Local officials and media in Tianjin had no powers to disclose information to the local public, but had to wait until Xinhua issued an integrated story. This seriously impaired or blocked flows of information.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Guessing Games: “Don’t wait for Beidaihe”

— Note: the following is old news: it’s about articles that appeared during the past two weeks and a half. —

Big sensation? Or was the Xinhua article, published on August 5, making fun of the international press in general, or the South China Morning Post (SCMP) in particular? The headline read Liao Wang Think Tank: Don’t wait for it, Beidaihe won’t happen, and it seemed to refer to an article in Hong Kong’s English-language paper, published on July 30.  The headline, of course, doesn’t necessarily mean that the near-tradtitional gathering of China’s top leaders has been cancelled. But it does suggest that Beidaihe is no longer the place where the big decisions are made: after all, Chinese politics had gradually become more transparent and “regular”, especially after the 18th National Congress of the CCP (i. e. the election of the current leadership) and the Eight Provisions (or Eight Rules). Hadn’t the politburo met on July 20 and 30? One could well expect that issues like the 13th 5-year plan, economic policies, striking the tigers (打老虎, put into quotation marks in the article, and referring to the ostensible fight against corruption among leading cadres) had been discussed there time and again – so what would be the use to go to Beidaihe? “Is it necessary? Is it likely [to happen]?”

Obviously, Beidaihe doesn’t need to be the place where big decisions are made. But it may still be the place. While the CCP is indeed fairly transparent when it comes to the publication of its final decisions, the decision-making process remains as murky as ever.

Maybe that’s why the Xinhua/Liaowang author found speculation about the time and agenda of the Beidaihe meetings so funny. The Economist also got a mention for suggesting that [n]ormally the meetings start in the second week of August and run for seven days or so. This year they started a week early […]. However, the Xinhua article didn’t mention that the Economist referred to reports in overseas Chinese media.

And, as usual, the sources weren’t specifically mentioned, either, let alone linked to, its sources, even though both the SCMP and the Economist article were available online. Maybe they were running counter to the Liaowang author’s message to his readers that Chinese politics had become “more transparent”.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Ma Ying-jeou: “A Considerable Threat Continues to Exist in the Taiwan Strait”

Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou spoke about cross-strait relations in an interview with the BBC‘s Carrie Gracie this month. There is a three-minutes’ video on youtube, and Radio Taiwan International‘s (RTI) Chinese service has a transcript of the interview.

I have based my following translation – not necessarily accurate – on the RTI transcript. Links with in the following Q & A were inserted during translation.


[Asked what his feelings are about China being both an important trading partner and a cause of security threats]

A: We are only some 100 nautical miles away from mainland China, and to us, China is a big risk risk, and also a big opportunity. Any leader of the Republic of China should learn to reduce risks and to expand opportunities, and what I have done during the past seven years is exactly that.


Our economic relations with mainland China, (language and culture), coincide in fairly many ways, while the developmental stages of both sides aren’t identical. Over the past decades, our trade volume with mainland China has continuously risen, and our trade surplus has been huge. The goods we sell to mainland China can be processed further there, be sold to Europe and North America, and this stage has been of mutual benefit in the past.


Of course, mainland Chinese threats stem from the military and the political field, and some people believe that deepening trade and investment relations with mainland China leads to excessive dependence on mainland China. To consider and weigh political and military threats, the mode our government adopted has been to find some consensus that is acceptable to both sides, and to shelve differences. In terms of the economy and trade, obviously, Taiwan can’t avoid some dependence on mainland China, but since I took office, dependence on mainland China has actually decreased, because the government has started the work of market diversification, leading to Taiwan’s trade dependence on mainland China not increasing further, but rather slightly decreasing.


[Asked if he believes that China is moving towards democratization, in a long-term trend]


A: During the past few years, I have constantly reminded the mainland Chinese authorities that if you want to narrow the psychological gap between the Taiwanese and the mainland Chinese people, freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law, these core values of Taiwan, are important factors.  If mainland China were more active concerning these issues, the distance could be narrowed, but also, if there wouldn’t be more positive activity, the distance could also widen. In the past few years, the trends and changes in the psychological gap have also clearly reflected the actual attitude of mainland Chinese authorities in recent years.


On these issues, mainland China has seen good and bad times, sometimes somewhat better, sometimes worsening somewhat, thus remaining in a state of uncertainty.

When I was running for re-election four years ago, mainland Chinese people were able to watch our elections on the internet, which was unprecedented. But recently, we have also seen many arrests of human rights activists, making everyone feel worried about mainland China’s human rights situation. Therefore, the feelings their situation causes us are sometimes good, sometimes bad.


[Asked if he feels angry about not having had an opportunity to met Xi Jinping after his efforts to improve relations]

A: Since I assumed office, one can say that cross-strait relations have improved, no matter if we look at economic aspects, cultural aspects, etc.. Therefore, a meeting between the leaders of the two sides would be a natural thing.  During the last two years, we have thought about the APEC summits as an opportunity to meet, but always without success, and of course, that’s a pity. Our current position is to neither rule a meeting out, nor to insist.


[Asked if he thinks that not to meet is Xi Jinping’s personal decision, taken from a too arbitrary  (過於獨斷) position]

A: We don’t know their decision-making process, of course, but certainly, the final decision lies with Mr. Xi. Maybe some of our views just differ, because we feel that in the process of developing cross-strait relations, some encounters on international occasions are unavoidable, but mainland Chinese leaders may try their best not to appear with us on international occasions, as they worry this could be against the so-called “One-China policy”. But what I would like to emphasize is that we have said clearly on many occasions that when we reached the “1992 consensus”, it just meant that the two parties both maintain the “One-China principle”, but the meaning we give to it is not identical. Only with this flexibility, the two parties can establish better relations. However, once it comes to international occasions, mainland China remains very unflexible in this regard.


[Asked if Xi Jinping’s statement that the cross-strait issue couldn’t be dragged from generation to generation constitutes a threat to Taiwan]

A: I believe that this way of putting it, makes things look as if they had been delayed for a long time. In fact, the two sides having relatively close and friendly relations has only been going on for these seven years. I often say that seven years can’t count as a generation. Patient handling is required. The two sides have been apart for more than sixty years. The atmosphere can’t be changed over night. We believe that cross-strait relations should be promoted patiently and diligently, to let the fruits gradually emerge.


In fact, the fruits brought about by the cross-strait relations’ development during the past seven years have already surpassed those of the previous fifty years which is very fast, but in the view of the Taiwanese people, they do not wish to move too quickly but to gradually achieve the goal of improved relations.


[Asked if recent mainland Chinese military exercises and their use of the Republic of China’s presidential palace as an imaginary target made him feel uneasy]

A: According to intelligence we’ve collected in the past, they have used mock objects for simulated attacks for a long time. When we conduct military exercises, we also put out defense against such designs. [Mainland Chinese] action of this kind just reminds us that in the Taiwan Strait, in the military field, a considerable threat continues to exist, against which we must prepare.


[Asked if the threat against Taiwan doesn’t rise with mainland Chinese military and economic strength]

A: In fact, the balance across the Taiwan Strait, in military terms, has tilted in favor of mainland China, beginning in 2005. Because very year, at a pace of double-digit numbers, and even at a pace of twenty per cent, they increase their national defense budget. It would be difficult for us to engage in an arms race with the mainland in this regard. Therefore, our principle in defense combat is to create a bilateral situation in which any party that wants to use one-sided, non-peaceful means to change the status quo must pay a price it doesn’t want to pay. That’s the only feasible major principle to prevent a cross-strait military conflict. Peace and prosperity have always been the goals of our efforts.


What I mean is that cross-strait relations exist into all kinds of directions. As for military threats, we must think about ways to reduce them, but in non-military fields, we also want to think about ways to increase them. Therefore, in our dealings with mainland China, we will always see these different directions.


What we prepare for our annual Han Kuang military exercises is just that kind of defense operations, and we have exactly these points in the Han Kuang military exercises. I’m sorry that we can’t disclose these to you. I can’t disclose related details, but we do prepare for conflict scenarios.


[Asked if he feels unsatisfied with this.]

A: Of course.


[Asked if given mainland Chinese military budget increases, and American strategic ambiguity concerning Taiwan, America shouldn’t be more clear about its attitude towards Taiwan, or guarantee support for Taiwan under certain circumstances – and if Obama would be in a position to do this]

A: As for America, the “Taiwan Relations Act” regulations are plain. Of course, we cannot rely on American law and regulations, but on our own preparedness. And our preparations aren’t just about adopting defense measures, but we should, by means of politics and cross-strait relations, eliminate chances for this situation [of military conflict] to occur. Therefore, as for the Taiwanese defense lines against mainland China that I’ve just mentioned, the first line is not about aircraft and artillery, but about reconciliation [or amicable settlement], and thus reducing the risk of conflict erupting, and only this is one of the highest strategies. This is also exactly what Sunzi’s “Art of War” means when saying that  the highest form of generalship is to balk [or counter-attack] the enemy’s plans”.


[Pressed on whether he would hope for a clear American presidential defense statement in favor of Taiwan if attacked by mainland China]

A: In fact, this problem has always existed during the past sixty years. But during the past seven years, America didn’t need to issue these statements, but could also make the Taiwan Strait maintain peace. The most important key is that this risk is reduced after improving relations with mainland China. The official in charge of cross-strait relations in the U.S. State Department has repeatedly reiterated that stable development of cross-strait relations is an important factor of maintaining constructive relations with Taiwan. In other words, simply relying on America to come to our help to fight this battle. Rather, by lowering this risk to the lowest possible level, by reducing the risk of conflict to a minimum, that’s the highest strategy, and also exactly about “balking the enemy’s plans”.


Saturday, July 18, 2015

International Radio Serbia gets axed in “Privatization Program”

A Radio Jugoslavija QSL card from the 1980s

A Radio Jugoslavija QSL card from the 1980s

The Serbian government intends to close International Radio Serbia (aka Radio Yugoslavia) on July 31. The broadcaster’s statement:

Dear listeners, by the decision of Serbian government, International Radio Serbia – Radio Yugoslavia – ceases to exist on 31 July 2015. Thus our fruitful cooperation with you and our tradition of continously informing the diaspora and the public worldwide of the current events, business and cultural capacities, beautiful landmarks, culture and tradition of Serbia and former Yugoslavia in 12 languages, via short waves, the Internet and the satellite will be terminated. Thank you for having listened to us and for having trusted us for more than 79 years.

It’s strange to think that a country with official – and public – views that frequently differ from the European mainstream would shut its own voice down, but that’s what Belgrade appears to be doing.

One might argue that Tanjug newsagency (also a news organization with quite some history, founded in 1943), would provide an alternative once Radio Serbia is off the air (and offline), but there are at least two drawbacks. One is that Tanjug is only available in Serbian and in English, while Radio Serbia speaks to the world in twelve languages. And the other is that Tanjug isn’t a broadcaster – you don’t get them on the radio.

It’s nice to know that Serbia-China relations are very good, isn’t it? And yes, Tanjug, quoting Serbian president Tomislav Nikolic, will let us know – they’ll even let us know more than Radio Serbia – but only in English. And sure, CCTV will let the Chinese people know – in the evening news, because, after all, the guy from Belgrade met with Zhang Gaoli. But look what you’ll get with this searchword combination: 托米斯拉夫·尼科利奇 “张高丽”. Or with another one: “尼科利奇” “张高丽”.

Sorry to lay this on you, government of Serbia, but there’s no Tanjug among these results. If you think most Chinese people – old and young, high-ranking officials or even students (chances might be somewhat better there) feel easy with English, you may still want to go ahead, though. Good luck with that – God knows what your management consultants may beputting into your heads.

Another point in Radio Serbia’s favor is the coverage of culture and daily life. Most people will be at least as interested in that, as in the world of politics and diplomacy. Or, as Johann Gottfried Herder put it more than two centuries ago, when explaining his goals with the “Letters for the Advancement of Humanity”: in this gallery of different ways of thinking, aspirations and desires,

we certainly get to know periods and nations more deeply than on the deceptive, dreary route of their political and war history. In the latter, we seldom see more of  a people than how it let itself be governed and killed; in the former we learn how it thought, what it hoped and wished for, how it enjoyed itself, and how it was led by its teachers or its inclinations.

This isn’t to say that International Radio Serbia would be a beacon of lofty enlightenment concerning the country – but you do get to listen to Serbian music and cultural descriptions, for example.

A statement by Radio Serbia’s German service, published on June 30, mentions media privatization in Serbia. According to a news article published by Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN), 47 state-owned media outlets were put on sale on July 1, and should be completed by October. And, not surprisingly if you know the European Union (or the role it frequently plays as a scapegoat, blamed for unpopular policies by national politicians, when they are out of more reasonable points), the Serbian government, according to BIRN, says media privatization is an important part of the pre-accession process with the European Union that will enable Belgrade to open Chapters 23 and 24 of the negotiations on the judiciary.

According to Radio Serbia on June 18, the original deadline for privatization, i. e. June 30, wasn’t met, and Minister of Culture and Information Ivan Tasovac has stated that […] if the process of privatization of the state-owned media is not completed by June 30, it will certainly be commenced by that deadline, and then completed over the next four months at the latest.

The German service’s June 30 post mentioned a debate in parliament where members demanded the inclusion of Radio Serbia into the new timeframe, with a deadline of October 31. However, a total of 35 amendments was rejected by the government majority (three of them referring to Radio Serbia). The most eloquent advocacy reportedly came from the leader of the Socialist Party group Dijana Vukomanović, who emphasized both the multi-lingual program range and the costs – several times lower than those of Tanjug (“dessen Ausgaben mehrfach niedriger sind als die Agentur Tanjug”).

The article, tinged with bitterness, comes to the conclusion that

in this way, the incumbent Serbian government, just like its predecessors since the year 2000, has demonstrated that it is only interested in domestic politics, while the country’s promotion abroad is of no priority.

It appears to be true that the government was in no mood to have a genuine public debate. But the question remains why. If privatization and EU standards were the reason, Radio Serbia could still continue as a media corporation under public law. Many EU countries run broadcasting houses under this formula – to my knowledge, no EU objections have ever been reported.

But then, different standards may be applied after all – and a Reuters report of June 30 mentions not only Brussels, but another big player, too. According to Reuters, Belgrade plans to trim the public sector under a 1.2 billion euro ($1.3 billion) three-year precautionary loan-deal with the International Monetary Fund.

Would that be domestic or foreign politics?



Radio Serbia runs a Chinese service. However, chances to listen to the station on shortwave appear to be small in China, as the target area for the only broadcast in Chinese appears to be Europe, at 16:30 UTC on 9635 kHz.

Programs for Europe, in Italian, Russian, English, Spanish, Serbian, German, and French, start at 17:30 UTC on 6100 kHz, and end at 23:30 or 24:00 UTC. Unfortunately, China Radio International (CRI) broadcasts on the same frequency from 20:00 to 23:00 UTC, but usually stays in the background, with a fairly readable signal from Radio Serbia.

There’s an online petition calling for the continuation of Radio Serbia, and a tradition of nearly eighty years.


Friday, June 12, 2015

The BoZhu Interviews: If you want to Believe the Best or the Worst about China, it’s easy enough –

Ji Xiang about getting started with China, stereotypes, and finding a balance between Chinese and Western ways of life.

Ji Xiang is a blogger from Europe who lives in China. In his first blog post, in 2008, he explained how he got his Chinese name. And he is probably one of very few foreign China bloggers who started blogging almost right on arrival in the country, and have kept to the habit ever since.

Q: Ji Xiang, you are Chinese by name, but you are actually from Europe, right?

That’s right. My mom’s British, and my dad’s Italian. I grew up in Italy, although I have also lived in Britain. It’s not too obvious unless you look at my blog very carefully though. Interestingly, some of my readers have assumed I was American in the past.

Q: Could that be because your stance comes across as more “pro-Western” than that of most sinologists or Westerners who speak Chinese? It seems to me that both Foarp and you stand out as rather critical of what might be called “cultural relativism”, or a preparedness to find human rights violations tolerable because of a country’s culture, a “situation on the ground”, etc.

Well, I’m not sure if that makes you seem more like an American or not. Foarp is after all British. But to be honest, I think a lot of Westerners who speak Chinese have the same sort of opinions as I do. I don’t think of myself as “pro-Western” really, I am quite aware of all the bad things Western countries have done around the world, and the shortcomings of the “West” (if there really is such a thing as the West. But that’s another debate). But that doesn’t necessarily mean being pro-Chinese.

When it comes to human rights violations, I don’t really buy cultural justifications. I mean, East Asian countries like Japan and South Korea have created systems where basic human rights are respected, so it obviously isn’t only Western countries which can reach that point. The argument that human rights have to be put aside when a country is still poor and developing is more complicated. I think certain basic rights, like the right not to disappear, be tortured or speak your mind without going to jail, should be respected, and I don’t think the right to have a full belly clashes with these other rights.

There might however be a good argument for not holding elections in countries where most of the people are illiterate, or divided along ethnic or tribal lines. Say in Yemen or Burkina Faso. Even in Arab countries, it is clear that elections often bring religious fundamentalists to power.

Q: You went to China as a teacher in 2005, and came back to the country as a student. How did you get interested in China? You’ve spent a number of years there now, haven’t you?

I actually taught in China in 2004, and that was just for a summer. I then went back to China because I got a scholarship to get a master’s degree there. I have spent over six years in China by now.

Q: Was 2008 a good time to start a blog? You might have started one in 2005, the heydays of the (English-language) “Chinese blogosphere”. Was there a key moment where you felt that you should share your experiences, which got your blog started?

Well in 2005 I didn’t live in China, and had only spent a few months there. I had no basis for writing a blog about it. I only discovered recently that that was supposed to be the heyday of the “Chinese blogosphere”. Pity I missed it. I started my blog when I started living in China full-time. In the beginning, it was mainly to share my experiences with my family and friends back home. Now it’s turned more into a blog of commentary about China.

Q: Do the statistics or feedback give you an idea about who your readers are?

A bit. Most of my hits are from the United States, but I think that might be to do with the fact that most of the VPNs people use in China redirect there. Curiously, I also seem to have a lot of readers from Germany, Ukraine and Russia (well, you are one of the ones from Germany). Other than that, my most read posts are the ones with titles which people can come across randomly on Google.

Q: Apart from the blogs your blogroll, are there others – about China or other countries and topics – that you read regularly?

To be honest, not really. I mostly look at those few blogs on China which are on my blogroll (which includes your one). And there is my uncle’s blog, he lives in Israel and blogs about his life there and Israeli topics.

Q: Did family history contribute to your interest in China?

Not really. I don’t have any relatives who have lived or live in China. Having said that, the first time I came to China was with my parents. They are active in the international Esperanto movement, and in 2004 the World Esperanto Congress was in Beijing, so they were going to China to attend it and I went with them. That’s when I first got interested in China. Being able to speak Esperanto helped plug me in to the community of Chinese Esperanto speakers, which has been a nice way to get to know some cool, unusual Chinese people.

Q: Most bloggers will sometimes be surprised by the responses a post of them triggers. Have there been reactions and comments that surprised you during the past seven years?

After visiting Vietnam, I wrote a post on why the Vietnamese dislike China. It got quite a few reactions from Vietnamese readers, most of them proving my original point. One of them actually claimed that Daoism, the I Ching and the idea of Ying/Yang originally came from Vietnam and not from China. Total nonsense as far as I know. Unfortunately unreasonable nationalism is widespread throughout Asia. At its basis lies a wall of mental rigidity and misinformation which is very hard to break through.  Then again, Europe was probably similar up until the Second World War. And Westerners have their own unreasonable prejudices, just look at the persistence of antisemitic tropes among some people, or how so many Europeans will complain that immigrants get more benefits from the state than locals even when it just isn’t true.

Q: It seems that you’ve got most of your Chinese education in the North. Is that so, and do you think it differs from learning Chinese language, ways of interaction, etc., in the South?

You are correct. Although I’ve traveled all over China, I live in Beijing. It’s a stereotype to say that the North is best for learning to speak Mandarin, but actually I think you can learn just as well in most big Southern cities, because nowadays most people speak it there too. I think the Southern Chinese do tend to be a bit more like we imagine the Chinese to be (quiet, indirect, reserved), but in the main I don’t think the cultural difference between Northern and Southern China is that huge. It might not even be as big as the one between Northern and Southern Italy! Whether you live in a small or a big city, and a rich or a poor part of China, probably makes more difference to your experience. But I’ve never lived in Southern China, so I stand to be corrected.

Q: How would you describe your daily life? Is it becoming still more “Chinese”, concerning your choice of food, newspapers, internet sources, or television?

In some ways I am, and in some ways I’m not. I would say that my lifestyle has stopped becoming more Chinese for a while. In fact, after an initial enthusiasm for “going native”, which many foreigners have at first, I think I have found a balance. In a city like Beijing you can find loads of foreign amenities, and it would be silly not to make use of them. On the other hand I wouldn’t want to live in a bubble like some expats do. It really comes down to who you hang out with, and I still hang out with lots of Chinese.

When it comes to food I am pretty Chinese: I like eating Chinese food when it’s properly made, and I even do my best to cook it at home. I have long stopped eating street food or patronizing cheap, hole-in-the-wall type places though, because of concerns about the hygiene and the quality. Many Chinese seem to have come to the same conclusion. Foreigners who pride themselves on being able to eat in such places without minding the consequences are either young foreign-exchange students, or they are pretty dimwitted.

When it comes to media, I still look at Chinese newspapers every now and again to see what they say, but for real news I mostly turn to foreign sources. Of course the language is one issue (it is obviously still much quicker for me to read in English or Italian), but also I think the European media is just superior in terms of giving you a decent picture of what goes on in the world, and, when it comes to sensitive issues, even in China! Same for entertainment: although I sometimes watch Chinese shows and films, in the main I still watch far more foreign ones. I make full use of Chinese internet sites like Baidu or Weibo though.

Q: Do you see changes on Weibo, in terms of real-name requirement, censorship, etc.?

When I got an account in 2011, it still wasn’t necessary to give your ID/passport number. As far as I know now it is, although I have heard you can still get away with giving a false one. In any case, I am sure that if they really want to they can find out who you are.

Q: Generally, when reading your blog, I got an impression overtime that you might think of China as a project, as a country or civilization headed into a rather benign future, compared with Western societies. And on the other hand, your criicism of China, or its political system, sounds pretty much like the general global criticism of it. Is this an accurate impression?

I’m not entirely sure where you got that impression from. I have unquestionably been getting more pessimistic about China, its system and its prospects over the last few years. I think to an extent the current system is geared in such a way that China always gives the impression to outsiders that it’s almost on the cusp of becoming a decent, progressive, modern and confident society, but then it never quite does. I think the political system is good at producing GDP growth, but pretty hopeless at solving the country’s huge social problems. Yes, China has more and more subways and high speed railways, and that’s useful and good for the people, but surely a country like China could do so much better than just that?

I hope China gets better with time, but I don’t think it’s a given that, if you wait 20 or 30 years, it’s all going to be much better. That’s how a lot of Chinese seem to think: just wait a few decades, and everything will solve itself. Unfortunately it’s not that simple.

I think my criticism is also a bit different from that of someone who’s never lived in China, because I am far more aware of aspects like the rise of Chinese nationalism, which many foreign commentators seem blissfully unaware of.

Q: That unawareness seems to be quite a phenomenon. This is what Bruce Anderson (himself not necessarily a human-rights champion) said about Edward Heath, in a BBC radio documentary. Former German chancellor Helmut Schmidt might be another case in point.

Is there something Russia (for example) could learn from China, in terms of soothing external propaganda, or winning influential people over abroad?

Well, Chinese officials certainly are very good at flattering foreign visitors, saying the right things to them, and appearing reasonable and friendly. I don’t have much experience with the Russians, but I doubt they are as good at it. It’s probably not something you can learn either, it’s deep-rooted in the culture.

You have to remember that most Westerners know little about China, and obviously want to be open-minded. The unawareness of the rise of Chinese nationalism probably also lies in the fact that China does tend to leave other countries alone, as long they don’t have any territorial disputes with China of course, and as long as they don’t express any views on what China defines as its “internal affairs”. Of course China’s neighbours are very aware of its nationalistic side, especially the ones which have territorial disputes with it. But people in other parts of the world don’t get to see this side of things. And its not obvious to the casual visitor either.

The European media also focuses too much on the Middle East and almost never talks about Asia’s potentially explosive problems, like the dispute in the South China Sea and the anti-Japanese feeling in China or Korea. The only thing they ever talk about is the issue of Tibet, which has certainly damaged China’s image.

Then again, the real issue is one of projection. Many left-wing Westerners are predisposed to think well of any power which challenges the United States anywhere, regardless of what it really is or does. If you want to believe the best about China (or the worst for that matter), and you don’t live there, it’s easy enough. Right wingers on the other hand may see China’s rise as a vindication of free market economics, or god knows what. Everyone sees what they want to see in China, and no one knows much about it. This has always been the case.

Q: Do you have arguments with Chinese nationalists?

Well, in a sense I do, because I have political arguments with people in China, and most Chinese are nationalists at some level, although the level varies. The level of open-mindedness towards opinions which clash with modern Chinese nationalism, as the schools and media have constructed it, also varies. I know many Mainlanders who are perfectly open minded even about issues like Taiwan, and don’t just toe the line. I think they are a minority however. And by the way, they aren’t necessarily the people with most international exposure. On the other hand if you are talking about dyed-in-the-wool fenqing, rational debate is all but impossible.

Q: You have blogged in English for nearly seven years, and quite recently, you have also started a blog in Italian. What’s next? A blog in Chinese?

My written Chinese is really not good enough to blog in it. I would actually be more likely to start a blog in Esperanto, a language I also speak.

Q: Ji Xiang, thanks a lot for this interview.

The interview was conducted by an exchange of e-mails.



All BoZhu Interviews


Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Twenty Years ago: Island Democracy seeks Recognition

1. A Democracy introduces itself

It had been a long and challenging journey, the president said. But there he was, at the lectern at Cornell University, his alma mater, delivering his Olin lecture.

He represented a country with a per-capita income of USD 12,000, its international trade totalling US$180 billion in 1994, and foreign exchange reserves of over US$99 billion, more than those of any other nation in the world except Japan.

His country had developed from a developing country to an industrialized country, and, in a peaceful transition, into a democracy.

Almost every president of the world may tell this kind of story. But this one, told on June 9, 1995, at Cornell University, was a true story. And the president who told it wasn’t welcomed by his colleague Bill Clinton, but shunned instead.

There were no official diplomatic relations between the visiting president’s country, Taiwan, and the United States. Washington recognized the Chinese government in Beijing, which claimed to represent both China and Taiwan.

That the Taiwanese president in 1995, Lee Teng-hui, had been allowed to visit the US didn’t go without saying. He wasn’t a state guest, but the university’s guest.

But his concern wasn’t that of agricultural economist or an academic – it was a politician’s concern:

I deem this invitation to attend the reunion at Cornell not only a personal honor, but, more significantly, an honor for the 21 million people of the Republic of China on Taiwan. In fact, this invitation constitutes recognition of their remarkable achievements in developing their nation over the past several decades. And it is the people of my nation that I most want to talk about on this occasion.

He only fulfilled this promise by half, if at all. Much of his talk was about himself: how he had listened in America and in Taiwan, and how he had learned. That he spoke on behalf of his people. That he heard the yearning of his people to contribute to the international community, with the Taiwan experience, development and democracy.

2. Lee Teng-hui

Even back then, twenty years ago, Lee was seen as the “father” of Taiwanese democracy, even if the ultimate goal or final success of democratization hadn’t yet been reached.

Like all Taiwanese of his generation (and the generation before), Lee grew up as a subject of the Japanese Emperor. From 1895 to 1945, Taiwan had been a Japanese colony. As a colony, Taiwan’s experience with Japan was less bad than China’s in the Japanese war from 1937 to 1945. And parts of Taiwanese population – especially the elites, and not only those of the upper classes – were co-opted by the Japanese elites. Lee Teng-hui’s family was probably co-opted, too. Lee’s brother, Lee Teng-chin, was killed in the Second World War, as a member of the Japanese military. His name is registered in the internationally controversial Yasukuni Shrine, which also contains the name of 14 A-class war criminals.

Reportedly, Lee also tried Communism, out of hatred against the KMT, Chiang Kai-shek‘s Nationalist Party, that had fled to Taiwan to “recover the Chinese mainland” from there.

After Communism, Lee tried the Christian religion, apparently with lasting success. And finally, he had himself co-opted by the (more or less) hated KMT: in 1971, he joined the one-party dictatorship, became minister of agriculture shortly afterwards, then Taipei mayor in 1978, and vice-president in 1984. Chiang Ching-kuo, son of Chiang Kai-shek and his father’s successor as a Republic-of-China president on Taiwan, supported the careers of “indigenous” Taiwanese like Lee, at the cost of the faction of traditional KMT officials who had fled Taiwan along with the Chiangs.

Chiang Ching-kuo died in 1988. The KMT’s central committee elected Lee Teng-hui as party chairman and made him president of the Republic of China on Taiwan.

Lee had tried a lot of things, and he had achieved a lot. And he had no small plans for his country.

3. The Will of the People, the Chicken, and the Egg

What a people wants, and if it “can want” anything, is up for arguments.

When a man follows the leader, he actually follows the mass, the majority group that the leader so perfectly represents,

Jacques Ellul wrote in the 1960s, and added:

The leader loses all power when he is separated from his group; no propaganda can emanate from a solitary leader.

Basically, it seems that political leaders in democratic mass societies opportunites to shape their countries are limited. But Lee had become president in extraordinary times. Opposition groups, and “illegally” founded political parties among them, had demanded the lifting of the decades-old martial law for a long time. And when Lee began his second term as president in 1990, after the two remaining years of what had originally been Chiang Ching-kuo’s term, students occupied what is now Taipei’s Liberty Square. Once Lee had been sworn in again, he received a fifty-students delegation and promised Taiwan’s democratization, less than a year after the Tian An Men massacre in China.

Democratization was hardly only on the minds of the opposition, or on Lee’s mind. Chiang Ching-kuo might have had similar plans, even if less ambitious, and American influence probably continued to matter, too, even after Washington had switched diplomatic recognition to Beijing, in 1979. But with Chiang Kai-shek in office, a bloodbath in reaction to the 1990 events would have been much more likely than democratic reform.

4. Full Speed, 1995

Lee Teng-hui’s Cornell speech was part of the first presidential election campaign ever since the KMT had seized power in Taiwan. The mass media, still quite under KMT control, made sure that Lee’s visit to the US wouldn’t go unnoticed at home. On June 6, 1995, Taiwan’s domestic media had started coverage, and that culminated on June 10 (local time in Taiwan), with the Olin lecture.

Back then, when Lee approached a convincing election victory in March 1996, there were misgivings within the KMT about Lee’s loyalty to the KMT goal of “unification” of China and Taiwan. In summer 1999, toward the end of his first democratically legitimized presidential term (and his last term), Lee defined Taiwan’s relations with China as state-to-state relations, or at least special state-to-state relations. Not for the first time, Beijing reacted angrily to the “splittist” in Taipei’s presidential palace.

5. The “New Central Plains”

A lot seems to suggest that in 2000, when his presidency ended, Lee helped to bring about a victory of the oppositional Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and their presidential candidate Chen Shui-bian. That spelled completion of the Taiwanese democratization project, but at the cost of Lee’s KMT.

After that, Lee continued his search for ways and visions for Taiwan. In “Taiwan’s Position”, a book published in 1999, Lee focused on his country’s Chinese heritage, but without making clear if he referred to China or Taiwan.

My active advocacy for  the “reform of heart and soul” in recent years is based on my hope to make society leave the old framework, applying new thought, face a new era, stir new vigor, from a transformation of peoples’ hearts. This goes deeper than political reform, and it is a more difficult transformation project, but we are confident that we will, based on the existing foundations of freedom and openness, achieve the building of a new Central Plain.

近年来,我积极倡导“心灵改革”,就是希望从人心的改造做起,让我们的社会走出旧有的框架,用新的思维,面对新的时代,并激发出新的活力。这是一个比政治 改革更加深入、也更为艰巨的改造工程,但是我们有信心,可以在社会自由开放的既有基础上,完成建立“文化新中原”的目标。

Lee had first used the term of “new central plains” in 1996. Scholars kept arguing about what he actually meant with the term. But these were hardly Chiang Kai-shek’s central plains, and, no less likely, Beijing’s.

But obviously, without the KMT, who had expulsed him for his “Taiwanization” business in 2001, and without public office, Lee wasn’t nearly as influential as before. Or, as propaganda expert Jacques Ellul put it in the 1960s, Moses (isolated from the masses) is dead on the propaganda level.

Incumbent Ma Ying-jeou, again a KMT president with rather “Chinese” manners, led a technocratically efficient government, but has been lacking success in terms of propaganda – and in terms of policies that would benefit all classes of society. Now, another “Taiwanese” politician is trying her luck. Tsai Ing-wen concludes her visit to the US today. In March 2016, Taiwan will elect another president. It could be her.


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