China signaled its intention to expand ties with Africa today at the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation by promising $20 billion in loans to African countries over the next three years. The pledge, which is double what China offered at the Forum's 2009 meeting in Egypt, includes outlays for training, scholarships, and medical care in Africa, the Los Angeles Times reports.
In recent years, China has left Western competitors behind in its drive to curry favor with African leaders, providing loans and building roads, railways and infrastructure with a no-questions-asked approach.
China's seeming indifference to abuses of human rights has attracted criticism from Western competitors and some rights activists. Many African leaders, however, don't express such concerns.
But China's focus on infrastructure -- designed to facilitate the extraction of oil and other natural resources -- has begun to rally a growing chorus of detractors, and not just in the West. At the Forum today, South African President Jacob Zuma called Africa's trade relationship with China "unsustainable," arguing that "Africa's past economic experience with Europe dictates a need to be cautious when entering into partnerships with other economies."
Africa's approach to Chinese investment in recent decades can hardly be described as cautious, however. Chinese-African trade has tripled in the last three years, totaling $166 billion in 2011. China is now Africa's biggest trading partner, having surpassed the United States in 2009, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. (Interestingly, other emerging market countries have also deepened their economic ties with Africa, with India, Korea, Brazil, and Turkey together accounting for nearly 35 percent of the continent's trade.)
Part of China's appeal seems to stem from its ability to marry authoritarian governance with high levels of economic growth. As the Wall Street Journal put it, "leaders from South Africa to Ethiopia have been touting [China's] model for development -- one that stresses state-led growth, validates tight-fisted political control and offers a powerful counterpoint to the free-market democracy mantra promoted by the U.S."
It's no surprise, then, that China has found willing partners in some of Africa's least democratic states. Zimbabwe and Ethiopia have both attracted substantial Chinese aid and equity investments, for example, as have Angola, Congo, and Sudan, all of which have oil or minerals on offer.
But today's announcement was intended to show another side of China -- and to deflect criticisms about its imperial designs. In addition to increased credit, training, and scholarships, China has taken measures to rebalance trade ties with Africa, including the elimination of tariffs on certain African products. Could this be an indication the China is becoming a more responsible player in the international community?
As today's other major news item on China -- its third consecutive veto of sanctions against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad at the United Nations -- indicates, there doesn't seem to be much danger of that. But China does seem to act responsibly so long as it makes financial sense. And so it was when China voted for UN Security Council Resolution 2046, which threatened sanctions against Sudan, long a client state of Beijing, unless it deescalated its conflict with the South. Oddly enough, with its oil supplies hanging in the balance, China might actually be the best hope for peace in this region.
Chinese officials were caught Friday with their pants down when the Defense Ministry was forced to admit in a brief statement that a naval frigate has run aground on the south eastern edge of the Spratly Islands-- waters the Philippine government claims exclusive sovereignty over. Though Chinese officials described the vessels as a part of a "routine patrol," the incident comes barely two weeks after the Philippine navy openly accused China of ignoring a June agreement to withdraw all ships from the Scarborough Shoal.
The "thoroughly stuck" grounded ships are an awkward reminder of growing aggression in the South China Seas. The Chinese Defense Department's terse statement Friday was released just as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) failed to reach agreement in Phnom Penh and were forced to conclude without a customary joint statement for the first time in the organization's 45 year history.
ASEAN officials are pointing fingers at China, who they accuse of blindly denying the organization the right to mediate maritime disputes and refusing to participate in negotiations at large. In open defiance of the five-day conference, 20 Chinese shipping vessels returned to disputed waters Wednesday as state papers reminded readers that "China is considering setting up a legislative body in the newly established city." Accordingly, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's seemingly innocuous proposal that "the nations of the region should work collaboratively and diplomatically to resolve disputes without coercion, without intimidation, without threat, and without use of force" was decried by the state-run China Daily as "inappropriate and ill-intentioned."
Despite the harsh words, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi concluded the conference by reminding reporters of his desire to establish "win-win" U.S.-Sino cooperation. Considering their actions this week, it might be at another state's loss.
Panda diplomacy has become a pillar of China's soft power strategy, but the death of a week-old baby panda in Japan -- the first born to Tokyo's Ueno zoo in 24 years -- stands to disappoint those who hoped that its birth would motivate "people-to-people sentiment" and help overcome the strained China-Japan relationship. The unnamed cub, who died of pneumonia, had already become a national sensation. As AFP reported, "Newscasts had dedicated a nightly segment to the male cub's daily activities since his birth on July 5, with retailers unveiling a host of panda-themed products in celebration." A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said Wednesday that the country laments Tokyo's loss.
This may be a major blow, but the legacy of the 5-ounce panda is not without controversy. On June 29, Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara drew the ire of China's foreign ministry for suggesting that the zoo name the unborn baby cub after the Senkaku Islands, a group of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea controlled by Japan, but whose sovereignty is disputed by China. The Chinese foreign ministry responded with a statement calling Ishihara's "scheme to undermine China-Japan relations" a "clumsy performance" that "will only tarnish the image of Japan and Tokyo."
Hopefully, China's panda diplomacy gesture toward Malaysia will chart a smoother path.
YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images
The Chinese government has decided to ban shark fin soup at official receptions, the New York Times reports. For decades, environmentalists have lobbied to end the practice of eating shark fin soup, popular in China and other parts of Southeast Asia, because of the toll it takes on endangered shark species.
However, the decision, lauded by shark protection groups, was not driven by conservation concerns but by concern about the appearance of state-sponsored opulence, according to Chinese state media. The Chinese GSA announced on Tuesday the decision to ban the delicacy in order to avoid the appearance of government waste.
Of course, the move is more gesture than substance: party officials continue to enjoy the spoils of office in the form of privatization deals for family members and closed bids for government contracts. This latest announcement follows a series of moves in a broader campaign to reduce perceptions of inequality, including a 2011 ban on the use of the word "luxury" in advertising.
The impact the ban will have on government balance sheet remains unclear; Although China is known to be the largest consumer of shark fin soup, no figures were released on government-specific soup expenditure.
TEH ENG KOON/AFP/Getty Images)
Forget Occupy Wall Street. In Shanghai, the stock market itself seems to be fighting the system. The Shanghai Stock Exchange opened at 2346.98 on Monday, and the Shanghai stock market fell 64.89 points that same day. Take a closer look at that those numbers. They mark - the first one written backwards -- the 23rd anniversary of the June 4, 1989 bloody suppression of the protests in Tiananmen Square. Because of this uncanny and very likely manipulated numerology, searches for "Shanghai Composite" were blocked by Sina Weibo, China's twitter-like micro-blogging service.
Like a seasonal cold it just can't kick, every year on and around the anniversary of June 4, something happens in China. In preparation for the date, the Chinese government marshals its censors to prevent online discussion of the event. The square itself, usually lively, falls quieter, hemmed by security officers and plainclothes policemen. Prominent dissidents are guarded, and urged to stay off the streets.
In 1995 a dissident launched a hunger strike; in 2004 AIDS activist laid out a plan for a candlelight vigil before he was arrested. Other years saw other forms of protest. Bloggers try to find new and innovative ways to discuss the event; the term May 35th was popular for awhile, less so when it became too obvious.
The Dui-Hua foundation, a San Francisco-based humanitarian organization, estimates that less than a dozen protestors from June 4th remain in prison; the oldest is likely 73-year old Jiang Yaqun, convicted of the now defunct crime "counter-revolutionary sabotage." Almost all of those imprisoned in the aftermath of Tiananmen were released long ago, and still the event rankles. This year in late May the father of a Tiananmen Square victim hung himself after failing to find justice. Protests occurred in three provinces across China, according to the South China Morning Post. "We went there to vent our anger against the autocratic regime," the Post quotes a 52-year old woman named Fan Yanqiong as saying. "I'm neither a relative of those killed, nor do I have any direct connection with the June 4 crackdown...But I simply can't help bursting into tears whenever I see pictures or read articles about the suppression of the movement over the years." The protest apparently lasted for two hours, disbanded peacefully, and featured the mobilization of what the Post optimistically refers to as "more than a dozen activists."
The bizarre numbers from the Shanghai stock market is an ideal form of protest (if that is what they were; no one has claimed responsibility yet). Subtle, but eerie, and consequential: a clear signal to investors that China's stock market can fall prey to non-market forces. And to a government that's often seen as an oppressive force watching over China, it's a sign that people with other opinions are there, watching back.
Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng left the U.S. Embassy in Beijing on Wednesday after a deal was negotiated by his American hosts, despite concern over his ultimate fate in the hands of the Chinese government and uncertainty about the circumstances of his release. However, the U.S. Embassy in Beijing seems confident enough that they can ultimately file this episode in their "wins" folder that they have released photos of Chen's stay through the embassy's official Flickr stream.
In the carefully choreographed photo above, Chen clasps hands with Kurt Campbell, assistant secretary of state for Asian and Pacific Asian affairs, while U.S. ambassador to China Gary Locke beams in the background.
Here, Campbell gives the Chinese dissident a crushing bear hug. Campbell led negotiations for Chen's release with Harold Koh, legal advisor to the Department of State, after being dispatched by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, currently in Beijing for high-level negotiations.
While driving to the hospital where he was to reunite with his family, Chen reportedly called Clinton to thank her for her role in facilitating the release. While one senior administration official reported that Chen told Clinton he wanted to "kiss her," others have said he was saying "see her" in broken English.
In an interview with the AP, Chen claimed that he left the embassy only after he was told by U.S. officials that Chinese authorities had threatened his wife's life. However, Campbell insists that Chen left willingly.
Whether or not Chen will now be free from house arrest remains unclear. In an interview with Britain's Channel 4 from his hospital room, Chen expressed fear. "Nobody from the [U.S.] Embassy is here. I don't understand why. They promised to be here," he said.
U.S. officials say that Chen will be allowed to study at a university of his choosing as part of the release. Hopefully, the intense media interest generated by the case may help to keep him and his family safe.
The blind, self-taught legal activist Chen Guangcheng has escaped from his village in Shandong province where he was kept a prisoner in his own home and fled to Beijing. The New York Times quoted an official at the Chinese Ministry of State Security as saying Chen had made it to the U.S. embassy, though the State Department hasn't confirmed or denied if Chen is inside.
Chen become famous for filing a class action lawsuit in 2005 on behalf of woman who underwent forced sterilizations; he was later imprisoned for three years for "damaging property and organising a mob to disturb traffic" and then kept under de facto house arrest. Chen's house became a spot of pilgrimage for human rights activists, a sort of adventure tourism for Chinese who wanted to experience for themselves the thuggishness their country has to offer. Batman actor Christian Bale tried to visit as well but was forcibly turned away; "What I really wanted to do was to meet the man, shake his hand and say what an inspiration he is" Bale said at the time.
It's a sensitive time for the United States to consider offering Chen asylum, as China is still reeling from the downfall of high ranking leader Bo Xilai, a scandal precipitated by an associate of his seeking refuge in the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu.
This is at least the second time that Chen has escaped from house arrest. "The night gives me an advantage," he told Time Magazine, after fleeing from an early house arrest in August 2005 to Beijing. "I can navigate better than people with sight can."
LIU JIN/AFP/Getty Images
Last week, U.S. web hosting company Name.com received an email ordering them to stop unregister the domain of Boxun, a Chinese news portal run out of North Carolina. Boxun, which has the same retro, link-heavy feel as Craigslist or Drudge Report, serves as a clearinghouse of the rumor and intrigue circulating the web about Chinese elite politics. "We have our sources," says Watson Meng, a Duke University graduate from China who founded the website in 2000 and still runs it, supervising the editing and posting of an average of more than ten articles daily.
Since former police chief Wang Lijun fled to a U.S. Consulate in Chengdu in February, precipitating the downfall of Politburo rising star Bo Xilai and China's biggest political scandal in decades, Meng's site has published and reposted stories about Bo's wife's links to the Tiananmen square massacre, a text message Bo's brother apparently sent last week that said Bo Xilai's case had been "settled," and reports that the Bo case has finally given President Hu Jintao control over the military. "We got the eavesdropping story weeks ago," he said, referring to recent reports that Bo had spied on other leaders. Many of Boxun's stories appear to be true; others feature what could best be called speculation supported by anonymous sources. Still, it's been an exceptional three months for the website, which has seen its traffic increase by 160 percent.
A source familiar with the matter forwarded me the original English-language email Name.com received: "Hello, due to a domain name of your platform: "boxun.com", serious damage to the interests of my company, now we hope you stop any services for this domain immediately...Please pay attention, we would began to attack in a few hours except satisfying our conditions. Please treasure your own commercial interests, if for any loss caused to you, please forgive!!!" [ellipsis mine, spelling and grammar same as in the original.]
After the email, Meng says Name.com was hit by a ferocious denial-of-service attack of "ten gigabytes" a second and Boxun found a new server. Name.com did not respond to a request for comment, and Meng didn't say where the email was sent from.
By his counting, Meng's website has been attacked dozens of times. Last January, with the Arab Spring gaining steam in the Middle East, Meng posted calls for a "Jasmine Revolution" in China from an anonymous group. Pro-Communist Party groups "were pretty hardcore about this," he said. "They put my family's names online. That was the first time that happened." Meng grew up in a small county in rural Hebei province in the 1960s and 1970s, where his parents still live. During the Cultural Revolution, many urban youth were sent to villages across China. I asked if that was the case with him and he replied, "nope, we were always peasants." His father was a local functionary on the county's science committee; his mother was a farmer. His family on the whole is supportive of his actions and he's not worried about them. "The Cultural Revolution has already passed," he said. "There are not too many illegal things people can do to my family."
Meng thinks this web attack was specifically ordered by Zhou Yongkang, the ninth ranking member of the Politburo Standing Committee and ideological ally of Bo. Meng describes him as a "very strong person who runs the PSB, state security, or, well, don't know if he runs anything anymore," though he thinks Zhou will keep his position until the next Party Congress this fall. In earlier Boxun posts, Meng has speculated that Bo and Zhou had been working together to overthrow Xi Jinping. "We believe Wang Lijun already told the U.S. Consulate that Bo Xilai had a plot to stop Xi Jinping's rise" he said, citing "reliable sources."
Since Chinese official news outlets usually function as mouthpieces
of the Communist Party, rather than trustworthy providers of fact or clearly
sourced opinion, Chinese readers are comparatively more trusting of Weibo
(microblogs), rumors, and sites like Boxun. Wang is currently looking into a
2002 crash of a flight from Beijing to Dalian, in which more
than 100 people died.
thinks Bo orchestrated the crash to kill the wife of a political rival, who was
carrying evidence that could have been harmful for the former powerbroker.
"He's done so many things to cover up this or cover up that," Wang said. He
declined to elaborate on what proof he has for his latest claim and the
scenario seems somewhat farfetched, but, like all of Boxun's stories, it falls within the realm of possibility.
MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images
Last week, controversial politician Bo Xilai, whose relatively open campaigning for a seat on China's top ruling council shocked China watchers (and possibly his elite peers, as well), was removed from his post as Chongqing's party secretary. He hasn't been seen since. Rumors of a coup, possibly coordinated by Bo's apparent ally Zhou Yongkang, are in the air.
Western media has extensively covered the political turmoil: Bloomberg reported on how coup rumors helped spark a jump in credit-default swaps for Chinese government bonds; the Wall Street Journal opinion page called Chinese leadership transitions an "invitation, sooner or later, for tanks in the streets." The Financial Times saw the removal of Bo, combined with Premier Wen Jiabao's strident remarks at a press conference hours before Bo's removal as a sign the party was moving to liberalize its stance on the Tiananmen square protests of 1989. That Bo staged a coup is extremely unlikely, but until more information comes to light, we can only speculate on what happened.
Reading official Chinese media response about Bo makes it easy to forget how much Chinese care about politics. The one sentence mention in Xinhua, China's official news agency, merely says that Bo is gone and another official, Zhang Dejiang, is replacing him. But the Chinese-language Internet is aflame with debate over what happened to Bo and what it means for Chinese political stability.
Mainland media sites have begun to strongly censor discussion of Bo Xilai and entirely unsubstantiated rumors of gunfire in downtown Beijing (an extremely rare occurance in Beijing). Chinese websites hosted overseas, free from censorship, offer a host of unsupported, un-provable commentary on what might have happened in the halls of power. Bannedbook.org, which provides free downloads of "illegal" Chinese books, posted a long explanation of tremors in the palace of Zhongnanhai, sourced to a "person with access to high level information in Beijing," of a power struggle between President Hu Jintao, who controls the military, and Zhou, who controls China's formidable domestic security apparatus. The Epoch Times, a news site affiliated with the Falun Gong spiritual movement (which banned in China), has published extensively in English and Chinese about the coup.
Speculation is rife: A Canadian Chinese news portal quoted Deutsche Welle quoting the Hong Kong newspaper Apple Daily quoting a netizen that a group of citizens unfurled a banner in a main square in Chongqing that said "Party Secretary Bo, We Love and Esteem You," and were subsequently taken away by plain-clothes security forces. A controversial Peking University professor Kong Qingdong, a 73rd generation descendant of Confucius, said on his television show that removing Bo Xilai is similar to "a counter-revolutionary coup;" one news site reported his show has since been suspended.
The Wall Street Journal reports that searching for Bo Xilai's name on Baidu, China's most popular search engine, lacks the standard censorship boilerplate ("according to relevant rules and regulations, a portion of the search results cannot be revealed") that accompanies searching for top leaders like Wen Jiabao and Hu Jintao. A recent search for other Politburo members like Bo rival Wang Yang and People's Liberation Army top general Xu Caihou were similarly uncensored. Conversely, searching for Bo's name on Sina's popular Weibo micro-blogging service now doesn't return any relevant results. A censored fatal Ferrari crash on Sunday night has raised suspicions of elite foul play, possibly realted to Bo. The bannedbook.org reports that Hu and Zhou "are currently fighting for control of China Central Television, Xinhua News (the official Communist Party wire service), and other ‘mouthpieces,'" which have been eerily but unsurprisingly taciturn about Bo Xilai.
What we do know, as one message that bounced around Sina Weibo said, is that "something big happened in Beijing."
In its last print issue, Foreign Policy published an article by Thomas Rid, a reader in war studies at King's college London, arguing that virtual conflict is still more hype than reality. Someone at China's state news agency Xinhua must have agreed, because they published practically the entire article (In Chinese here and here). Well, not all of it: the seventh section, which argues that the biggest worry in places like China "is not collapsing power plants, but collapsing political power," for some unexplainable reason didn't get translated...
(h/t to Rid)
As pundits debate whether or not Xi Jinping will follow in the footsteps of current President Hu Jintao, we at FP would like to point out something he does share with his predecessor: a dangerously enticing name for Anglophone headline writers to abuse.
Xi, visiting the United States this week, will likely be appointed this fall as China's next President. Journalists, let us be the first to sound the warning: avoid the temptation (that we have already succumbed to several times) of a Xi headline pun!
From the FP editorial staff, here's a list of ten Xi headlines NOT to use:
1. Territorial disputes in the South China Sea: "Xi's Gotta Have It."
2. A profile of his teenage years: "Xi was only 16."
3. His second visit to Iowa: "There Xi Goes Again."
4. His portrayal in Chinese state media: "Isn't Xi Lovely?" (Or "Xi Will Be Loved.")
5. A Chinese Gorbachev: "Xi Change."
6. Bizarre policy choices: "Xi Moves in Mysterious Ways."
7. A definitive chronicle of his speeches: "That's What Xi Said."
8. His meeting with Henry Kissinger: "The Old Man and the Xi."
9. On a conflict with the current head of the disciplinary committee: "He Said Xi Said."
10. His stylish sartorial choices: "Ain't Nothing But a Xi Thing."
This is by no means a comprehensive list. Please let us know any suggestions you have for other Xi headlines that should be banned- either write them in the comments section or send them to me via twitter: @isaacstonefish. Whoever comes up with the worst Xi headline pun will win a free copy of the book "Becoming China's Bitch."
Update: After careful consideration, we at FP have decided that the worst headline pun imaginable is China announces new high speed train line: "Xi's Got a Ticket to Ride." Thanks to twitter user @james_s_evans for his submission! Honorable mention to @christophercherry for his China Daily all-purpose headline: "Every Little Thing Xi Does is Magic." We look forward to future contests if Shanghai Party Secretary Yu, Standing Committee Member He, or Director of the United Front Work Department Du become trending topics.
PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images
A GOP senatorial candidate in Michigan, Pete Hoekstra, ran a Super Bowl advertisement featuring an Asian woman speaking broken English and thanking Hoekstra's opponent, Debbie Stabenow, for her free-spending ways. The ad hit a nerve in America, angering many for its portrayal of an Asian-American woman speaking broken English. The Michigan chapter of the Asian & Pacific Islander American Vote group said it was "deeply disappointed" by the ad, and political commentators criticized it across the board. The 'blame China' ad is becoming a fixture in American political campaigns; see for example the 'xiexie Mr. Gibbs', or the 'Chinese professor.'
While the woman in the Super Bowl ad wears a hat more often associated with Vietnam, the ad's website, www.debbiespenditnow.com, makes it clear that it is targeting China: Chinese coins, fans, an airplane, and the phrase "The Great Wall of Debt" decorate the site.
This ad, however, received almost no attention in China. There is scant chatter of it on Sina Weibo or Tencent Weibo, the two most popular Twitter-like microblogging services. The NFL, lacking the popularity that Yao Ming brought to the NBA, is rarely watched in China anyway, and the ads this year that drew any attention were mostly car commercials.
Only a handful of Twitter users wrote about it in simplified Mandarin (the way Chinese is written in Mainland China, unlike the traditional characters which the Debbiespenditnow website inexplicably employs). One who did so is a software engineer working in the Netherlands who tweets under the name lihlii. "I don't think it's racist," he said in a phone interview. "It's about America losing jobs."
Broadly speaking, there is a whole different idea of political correctness in China. Asking how much someone makes a month within the first minute of meeting them doesn't raise eyebrows in China, and neither, generally speaking, do blanket racial statements, like commenting on the perceived cleverness of the Jews. On the other hand, questioning Hu Jintao's ability to govern makes for awkward cocktail party chatter.
Those who did object to the ad generally did so in an American context. Michael Anti, a popular blogger who has lived in the U.S. as a Nieman Fellow, wrote on Twitter:
"I think the problem with the ad is that it's racist, not anti-Chinese. As a Chinese I should be amused by this ad, because it seems more like Southeast Asia. But Chinese in America are easily enraged by that sort of prejudicial defamation of the image of a Chinese woman. Also, her English is not the Chinglish of a Mainland Chinese."
So what Super Bowl ads are controversial in China? Last year Groupon ran one featuring actor Timothy Hutton saying: "The people of Tibet are in trouble, their very culture in jeopardy. But they still whip up an amazing fish curry." This ruffled feathers for contravening state policy and conventional wisdom that Han Chinese are helping Tibet (and for its inaccuracy: fish curry is probably eaten more in Vermont than Tibet). Groupon employees at the time said that the advertisement complicated the company's expansion plans into China, and they eventually pulled the advertisement.
The year 2012 will see a stream of new books in the patented Thomas Friedman "Oh My God the Chinese Are Eating Our Lunch with Environmentally Friendly Chopsticks" mold. Some will be more worthwhile than others. One book in particular, however, is sure to stand out, if only for the title: "Becoming China's Bitch: And Nine More Catastrophes We Must Avoid Right Now."
The author, Peter D. Kiernan, a former partner at Goldman Sachs, explains in the introduction that "it's not a book about China exactly. It's about how America got diverted and lost momentum, and a dragon leapt into the breach. It's also about getting our mojo back."
I spoke with him over the phone:
FP: When did you first realize we were in danger of becoming China's bitch?
PK: When it first occurred to me was in 2008, as a card-carrying member of a discredited class, everyone in Wall Street had to re-think everything. We had gone through a 30 plus year bull market. We now had to wrestle with the idea of who was going to fund the 42 percent of our government that has to be borrowed. Whenever you depend on one major source of finance, if it's too heavy in one area, it deserves a re-thinking.
We haven't really thought clearly about this as a nation. It was a part of this re-thinking everything. We have a much greater co-dependency on China than we'd like to acknowledge. The book is not solely about China, but Becoming China's Bitch is about the cost to our dithering.
FP: How is the 1 percent different from the 99 percent in their fear of becoming China's bitch?
PK: I don't spend a whole lot of time worrying about the one percent in the book or in my life. What I do spend the vast majority of my time focusing on is the 99 percent. We have developed a dependency, and that dependency allows us to be poor savers, roughly 5 percent saving rate in America, compared to 30 percent in China.
I literally believe that we have been opiated as a nation. I believe we've been diverted about issues. The debt ceiling has been raised 100 times since you started working here-it's no big deal. These are not problem solving conversations. These are skin rashes that have nothing to do with the problems. Occupy Wall Street is not the problem, but the symptom. Among them, we have worked ourselves into a co-dependency.
FP: What can we do to prevent becoming China's bitch? How do we make China our bitch?
PK: The title is deliberately provocative, I understand. It's meant to push people outside their comfort zone. We're inert. How do we snap people out of it? We helped create an export monster. We helped them because we developed an appetite for their goods. So we've kind of gotten in this dynamic of exports for finance-we will buy your cheap goods so we can stock our Wal-Mart shelves. They're moving up the value chain. And in exchange for that, we'll look for you to be our number one lender, and that, in pop psychology, you call a co-dependency-exports for finance. They're stuck with us, we're stuck with them. Stalemates, or co-dependencies like this, don't last forever.
Money for clean energy is creating political messes all over. Of course, there are the Obama administration's ongoing troubles over loans to now-bankrupt solar manufacturer Solyndra. Now comes a report from Reuters saying that green energy loans to bolster China's businesses may be in danger of defaulting, due to falling demand from Europeans, their biggest customers.
From the report:
State banks provide easy loans to the sector amid the Chinese government's push to develop clean energy. Provincial governments that have helped build solar companies are also pressuring banks to continue lending, which may add to the woes of the struggling industry.
The glut of production and swelling inventories of the panels that turn sunlight into electricity have already driven down prices by about 40 percent so far this year. Analysts expect prices to slide by another 10 percent by early next year.
"Over the next six months, there won't be profits to be made," said CLSA's solar analyst Charles Yonts. He expects some companies to start defaulting on loans and put themselves up for sale.
"Balance sheets across the solar sector are already stretched to breaking."
This comes on top of other setbacks for China's green energy aspirations this year. In September, the Chinese had to shut down a solar panel plant following protests against the its pollution. Other economic concerns including the rising number of "ghost cities" amidst the Chinese property bubble, are rattling the markets and prospects for growth.
The Guardian reported in September that in 2010, the China Development Bank gave out nearly $30 billion in loans to the top 5 manufacturers of solar panels. Several weeks ago, industry groups representing the U.S solar industry raised concerns to the U.S Commerce Department about possible dumping by Chinese manufacturers.
Despite the concerns, Chinese Vice-Premier Wang Qishan announced a $1.7 trillion "strategic investment" today, which included money to be directed towards the alternative energy fields. Questions on how the banks will manage more green energy loans on their balance sheets still remain unanswered.
After all, as the in the U.S. case, a certain number of failures are inevitable in an alternative energy investment this big. And it's not as if Wang has to go in front of Congress to explain himself every time one of these deals doesn't work out.
Feng Li/Getty Images
Chinese ambitions in Africa have been no secret to Western policymakers. In the past 7 years, Beijing has devoted over $14 billion dollars to Africa, through a mixture of aid for resources packages and direct investment. However, the outcome of this weekend's Zambian presidential election could be an indication that the policy is beginning to backfire. Four-time candidate, and former train station sweeper Michael "King Cobra" Sata, was confirmed as the winner last Friday.
The Global Post reports:
Sata referred to Chinese investors as "infesters." He called for Chinese migrant workers to be expelled from Zambia. And he described Taiwan as a country, breaching Beijing's obsessive "one China" policy, which considers Taiwan a rogue province rather than an independent nation. China threatened to cut ties with Zambia if Sata won.
China responded to Banda's defeat with the same pragmatism as it had toward the loss of friendly regimes in South Sudan and Libya: It tried to befriend the new boss.
"As a friendly country of Zambia, China respects the Zambian people's choice and would like to work with Zambia to promote friendship and expand mutually beneficial cooperation across the board," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in Beijing.
But privately, the Chinese government must be worried. Sata has said he may implement capital controls aimed at keeping foreign-exchange earnings in Zambia, Africa's biggest copper producer and a country that has seen strong economic growth averaging 6 percent over the last three years. Foreign-exchange controls would prevent Chinese companies from sending their profits home to China.
China relies extensively on its investment and foreign aid apparatus to bolster its soft power on the continent. A white paper released this past April by the Chinese government went into more detail about the different components and extent of their operations. A significant portion of the monies are channeled through various Chinese state owned corporations and banks to the countries that they have ties with, including resources hubs Angola, D.R Congo, Sudan, and Zambia.
It will also trouble China Inc., as the election served as a vote of no confidence against their existing projects within the country. As the Economist covered in April, the reputation of Chinese companies has been slowly crumbling with the regular reports of poor working conditions, routine bribery and environmental damage. In Zambia, a Chinese built road was washed away by rainfall.
While Sata's election will not deter the Chinese from further investing in Zambia, it could signal the beginning of a trend in African politics for candidates to run on anti-Chinese platforms. Much in the way that prominent Latin American leaders such as Hugo Chavez ran on U.S-bashing platforms, African countries could see the beginnings of a similar type of movement to protest the wider abuses stemming from Chinese involvement. How it affects further economic relations will be seen in the coming months.
THOMAS NSAMA/AFP/Getty Images
The recent Solyndra debacle involving U.S government subsidies towards a now bankrupt solar energy startup has dominated headlines in the U.S. But China is facing a more serious solar crisis.
After four days of protests at the Jinko Solar Holding, an NYSE listed company based out of Haining, Chinese officials have shut down the plant and apologized to citizens over alleged dumping of toxic waste into the local river. The protests come after a large number of fish deaths from what are perceived to be high levels of fluoride in the water. The Los Angeles Times' Jonathan Kaiman reports:
The decision is an indication of the growing power of environmental protesters to sway government policy in China. As many as 500 villagers participated in the protests near Haining, an industrial city of 640,000 in coastal Zhejiang province.
The plant's operator, JinkoSolar, a New York Stock Exchange-listed company, issued a public apology Monday.
"We cannot shirk responsibility for the legal consequences which have come from management slips," Jing Zhaohui, a company representative, said at a news conference.
Company officials are claiming that recent rainfall, and poor containment of solid waste at the factory contributed to runoff which fed into the river system. While there have been no human casualties as of yet, much of the toxins that killed the animals, including lead, are linked to human neurological conditions as well. Jinko's shares also took a hit today from the news, declining by nearly 10 percent in today's trading.
As the Guardian's Jonathan Watts reported, the clash is also indicative of the types of challenges that China faces as it struggles to move away from a primarily coal-based energy portfolio toward one including cleaner tech. Furthermore, the protest will bring further questions about the extent to which China's support of solar manufacturers can last.
As the AFP noted, China's extensive use of "cheap labor and state support" has bolstered the industry into producing nearly 70 percent of the world's supply. FP's Clyde Prestowitz recentlyfurther into detail on how China's aggressive policies are eating into production from countries including the United States.
Of course, the burgeoning sector isn't going to go very far if clean tech proves prone to toxic accidents.
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Last week, China's culture ministry added 100 songs to an internet blacklist, including hits by Lady Gaga, Beyonce, and the Backstreet Boys. Chinese music websites have until Sept. 15 to remove the offending songs, unless record labels submit the songs for official approval. The ministry hopes to regulate the "order" of the Internet music scene, noting that songs that "harm the security of state culture must be cleaned up and regulated under the law."
Two years ago, in an attempt to crackdown on China's widespread illegal downloading, the culture ministry also declared its intentions to keep "poor taste and vulgur content" off Chinese internet airwaves.
Most of the newly-banned songs are from Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Japan. Lady Gaga leads the American pack with six banned songs off her new album, Born This Way (although curiously, the LGBT-friendly title track was not included on the list).
Of course, one can hardly blame the Chinese government for looking to keep these subversive songs far away from Chinese ears. Let's take a look at what's so particularly offensive about these newest banned tunes.
Katy Perry's "Last Friday Night (TGIF)"
While ostensibly, the culture ministry might have wanted to keep Chinese youth away from Perry's flippant attitude regarding "ménage a trois" and "blacked out blur[s]", the truly offensive lyric is a celebration of American fiscal irresponsibility:
Last Friday night/ Yeah we maxed our credit cards
China, the single largest holder of American public debt, has some qualms about the voracious American appetite for debt. It makes sense that the government would want to discourage such behavior at home. China's strategy of intensive exports, with minimal domestic consumption, has been a boon to its burgeoning economy and it's not about to let an American pop singer threaten 30 years of Socialism with Chinese characteristics. Deng Xiaoping trumps Smurfette.
Lady Gaga's "Hair"
Whenever I'm dressed cool my parents put up a fight / And if I'm hot shot, mom will cut my hair at night / And in the morning I'm short of my identity / I scream, "Mom and dad, why can't I be who I wanna be, to be?
Gaga doesn't do much here to show respect for her elders. Famed Chinese philosopher Confucius once described old age as a "good and pleasant thing" which caused one to be "gently shouldered off the stage, but given a comfortable front stall as spectator." With the advent of the one-child policy, Chinese parents, who could traditionally expect that their children would take care of them through old age, now find themselves at the whim of their little emperors. For all the good Gaga does for one's self-esteem, this song clearly refutes centuries of ancestor worship.
Beyonce's "Run the World (Girls)"
My persuasion can build a nation/Endless power, with our love we can devour/ You'll do anything for me ...Who are we?/What we run? The world (who run this motha, yeah)
At the start of the 21st century, China's leaders articulated a policy known as the peaceful rise, an attempt to alleviate global fears about China's growing economic and political power. In 2004, Chinese premier Wen Jiabao said China's rise "will not come at the cost of any other country, will not stand in the way of any other country, nor pose a threat to any other country." Beyonce's aggressive attitude toward world domination is not what Wen had in mind.
Backstreet Boys "I Want it That Way"
I want it that way
Maybe "That way" = democracy? Who cares if the song is 12 years old?
SAM YEH/AFP/Getty Images
Chinese media agency Xinhua reports that Foxconn, China's largest private-sector employer, is angling to replace more than 80 percent of its workforce over the next three years with robots.
The announcement comes a year after a string of employee suicides drew attention to poor working conditions at the company, which produces gadgets for Apple, Nokia, and Motorola, among others. At the time, management responded with a hodgepodge of measures, some to actually appease its workers (granting them pay raises and access to counselors), and some to just get them to, you know, stop killing themselves (forcing them to sign a pledge not to commit suicide and installing suicide nets on buildings to catch those who jump). But a report released this May by a Hong Kong-based labor watchdog suggests that working conditions remain worrisome.
Employee discontent aside, Foxconn's announcement appears more a response to the changing environment for Chinese manufacturers who look to produce cheap goods for export. Rising wages have made this model increasingly less sustainable. Foxconn reported a net loss of $218.3 million last year and has seen revenues decline 8 percent since 2009.
The company's location exacerbates its financial predicament. Half of its workforce operates out of its factories in the affluent region surrounding the southeastern Chinese city of Shenzhen, whose liberal business environment made it a major hub for Chinese manufacturing during the 1980s and 1990s. But the same success that first brought companies like Foxconn to Shenzhen has driven up wages and forced many manufacturers to relocate inland, closer to the homes of the migrant workers who make up the bulk of China's low-wage workforce.
Even moves inland can only work for so long. Chinese finance magazine Caixin says that, in the wake of the Foxconn suicides, almost every provincial government has legislated minimum wage increases over the last year. In the first quarter of 2011 alone, says Caixin, hikes in 13 provinces averaged more than 20 percent. Meanwhile, a May 5 report from Boston Consulting Group predicts that net labor costs in China and the United States will converge sometime around 2015.
If this is the end of the line for one million humans at Foxconn, the company probably could have done a better job breaking the news to its employees. The Xinhua report says that company chairman Terry Gou announced the measure last night at a workers' dance party. I'll bet the party petered out pretty soon after that.
Guenter Nooke told the daily Frankfurter Rundschau it was clear that "this catastrophe is also man-made".
"In the case of Ethiopia there is a suspicion that the large-scale land purchases by foreign companies, or states such as China which want to carry out industrial agriculture there, are very attractive for a small (African) elite," he said.
"It would be of more use to the broader population if the government focused its efforts on building up its own farming system."
He said that the Chinese investments were focused on farming for export which he said can lead to "major social conflicts in Africa when small farmers have their land und thus their livelihoods taken away."
Today, a written statement from the Chinese Foreign Ministry vehemently denied the allegations. "China has never had plans to buy land overseas, and China has never purchased land in Africa," the statement said, adding that Nooke's claims stemmed from "ulterior motives." The Foreign Ministry also announced today that it would provide $14 million in emergency food assistance to the Horn of Africa.
Beijing's protestations aside, Chinese investment in African farmland has ratcheted up significantly in recent years, as the government seeks to quell concerns about long-term food security. One estimate puts the number of Chinese farm workers in Africa at 1 million. Meanwhile, the Atlantic quotes a June 2009 report in the Chinese weekly Economic Observer that describes how Beijing "was planning to rent and buy land abroad" to deal with "increasing pressure on food security."
That said, it's worth noting that China is far from the only foreign investor with major land holdings in Africa today. Private and public investors from India, the United States, and the petrostates of the Middle East, to name a few, have taken their piece of the African land grab, which brought 15 to 20 million hectares of the continent under foreign investment between 2006 and mid-2009. By way of comparison, that's equal to the size of all the farmland in France. If Nooke is right about the connection between foreign investment and famine, seems like there's plenty of blame to go around.
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The furor over the Saturday night train crash last weekend in eastern China that killed at least 39 people and injured at least 192 has left the Chinese government scrambling to control public reaction. But its efforts may be doing the ruling Communist party more harm than good. Here's a roundup of some of the most interesting bits coming out about the crash:
Official reports from earlier this week said the crash was caused by a lightning strike. Today, however, the state-affiliated Xinhua News Agency is reporting testimony from the head of the Shanghai Railway Bureau at a meeting of the central government's State Council saying that the blame lies with design flaws in the railway's signaling system. The revelation confirms questions aired publicly by a number of Chinese railway experts wondering why safety mechanisms didn't kick in after the lightning strike to avert disaster (Caixin, Wall Street Journal).
Meanwhile, five days after the crash, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao finally made a public appearance today in Wenzhou to address the disaster. He blamed his earlier absence on an illness, which knocked him out of action for the last eleven days. His explanation didn't sit well with a number of users of the popular Chinese microblogging site, Weibo, who circulated official press photos showing Wen up and about with visiting state leaders between July 18 and July 24. But the confusion may boil down to a simple reporting error; the original Xinhua report appears to have misquoted Wen in saying that he had been in the hospital, while the premier said only that he was sick and in bed.
Whatever the reason for Wen's absence, his appearance means that the central government is taking seriously the crash -- and not a moment too soon. The Ministry of Railways (MOR) has come under fire from citizens, journalists, and even fellow government officials for its handling of the crisis. At a press conference on Monday, MOR spokesman Wang Yongping elicited howls from journalists with his efforts to explain why initial state reports about the cleanup were proven false (see item #13). Meanwhile, stories from the Wenzhou City News and the Beijing News describe how Wenzhou officials clashed with MOR officials over cleanup at the crash site. One local security official told the City News how he disobeyed orders on Sunday afternoon to bury the trains (translation by China-watching blog Shanghaiist):
Beachgoers in China looking to kick back at the shores of the country's beer capital might want to think twice. An algae bloom off the eastern coast of Qingdao, in Shandong Province, has covered 7,400 square miles and counting, according to Xinhua News Agency, and researchers expect to see part of it wash ashore in the next few days.
Whatever does make it ashore from the bloom will add to a 75,000 square foot patch already coating Qingdao's beachside waters. But the residents of Qingdao are used to these algae invasions. Blooms have become something of a summer tradition in Qingdao's Yellow Sea since they first emerged in 2007. The 2008 bloom forced the government to deploy thousands of soldiers and locals to clear the waters in time for the sailing competitions being held at Qingdao as part of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
What's behind the outbreaks over the past few years? Bao Xianwen of the Ocean University of China, located in Qingdao, told Taiwan's China Post earlier this month, "We don't know where [the algae] originated and why it's suddenly growing so rapidly. It must have something to do with the change in the environment, but we are not scientifically sure of the reasons." But Western outlets like the New York Times and the BBC who covered the blooms in 2008 blamed that year's algae explosion on agricultural and industrial run-off.
Though the bloom hasn't sat well with many of Qingdao's beachgoers, some intrepid swimmers are taking a different tack. ""We have not been disturbed by the green algae. I swim here as usual," 32-year-old local swimmer Zhao Xiaowei told the China Post. Li Li, a preschooler from inland Hebei Province, told China Daily he didn't mind it either: "I like the green 'grass.' It feels so soft."
STR/AFP/Getty Images; STR/AFP/Getty Images; ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images
The Saturday night train crash in eastern China that killed around 40 and injured around 200 (different reports give different figures) has provoked a firestorm reaction on the Chinese internet. A number of locals have accused the Chinese government of burying the trains to cover up evidence. The accusations were picked up and circulated on the Chinese microblogging site and rumor hub Sina Weibo, and even official state outlet Global Times has quoted family members of the accident victims questioning the official death toll.
Official reports have said that the crash was caused by a lightning strike. If so, it's at least the second time in the last three weeks that thunderstorms have caused malfunctions on high-speed rail trains. The first of these incidents occurred on July 10 on a train traveling the newly opened Beijing-Shanghai rail line, though a subsequent investigation from the Shanghai Oriental Post (translated here by the University of Hong Kong's China Media Project) cast doubt on this explanation.
Chinese state media outlet Xinhua says that the government has recovered the "black box" from the latest crash, so an updated report on the cause of the accident should be forthcoming. But a report from Chinese muckraking magazine Caixin argues that the accident would have been "entirely preventable" had the train's automated data collecting system been functioning properly.
The fallout from this weekend's Chinese bullet train crash -- in which 39 people died when a train was immobilized after being struck by lightning on a bridge, then rammed by another train from behind, derailing several cars -- continued today. The government fired three senior railway officials and is reviewing safety on the country's four-year-old high-speed rail system. While there was justifiable anger at Chinese officials for trying to keep details of the accident out of the public, China's rail safety is far better than that of its fellow emerging economy -- India.
Journalist Lloyd Lofthouse, compared the numbers going back to 2007 for India, China, and the United States. He found that out of the 177 rail accidents during that period, 20 percent of them actually occurred in the United States, 15 percent occurred in India, and only 4 percent occurred in China. But the death toll in India was far greater.
In the period Lofthouse reviewed, 66 people were killed in U.S. train accidents, about 141 in Chinese accidents, and "hundreds" in Indian rail accidents.
Last year alone, there were at least 17 crashes in India. And, in the past month, three incidents killed more than 100 people. According to Bloomberg News:
In the early hours of July 7, 38 people were killed and at least as many injured when a train collided with a bus carrying members of a wedding party at an unmanned level crossing in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. Then, on July 10, at least 68 people were killed and more than 250 injured when 15 bogies of the Howrah-Kalka Mail careered off the tracks, again in Uttar Pradesh, while the train was travelling at more than 60 miles per hour. That evening, six coaches of the Guwahati-Puri Express derailed in Assam after a bomb was set off on the tracks, injuring more than 100 people.
India has one of the largest railway system in the world, carrying about 19 million passengers every day on about 7,000 trains. It's called the "lifeline to the nation." Unfortunately, that often means trains are jam packed.
Given the spate of recent crashes, anger has mounted against the government-run system. Newspapers have editorialized about the system's persistent safety failures and "systemic decay."
The Deccan Chronicle, an Indian paper, said the increasingly accident-prone system could be blamed on the addition of "more trains on nearly every route, mainly to suit the whims or political compulsions of railway ministers, and raising their speed without commensurate upgrading of tracks and other equipment needed to bear the extra load." The Times of India wrote that the railway authority "failed to meet targets it had set for itself in the corporate safety plan ... indicating the low priority it gave to passenger safety." According to the Indian Express, "There is a real danger that the frequency of train accidents in India might soon desensitize people as ‘yet another' instance of what has become thoughtlessly, mind-numbingly commonplace."
Part of the problem is politicians have tried to keep fares as low as possible to keep voters happy, which has turned the system into a "financial disaster," according to the Indian Express, meaning trains are old and not properly cared for -- a deadly combination.
AFP/ Getty Images
Last week, when confronted by reporters, a manager of a knock-off Apple store in Kunming, China said, "There is no Chinese law that says I can't decorate my shop the way I want to decorate it."
Technically, he wasn't correct -- Chinese law does prohibit businesses from copying the "look and feel" of other companies, but China is often accused of failing to enforce the law. And, after Chinese officials investigated the store -- and several others in the city -- it is still open. A blogger first wrote about the carbon copy business last week, leading to a flood of terrible publicity. Chinese officials said over the weekend they would investigate "all the city's electronic stores." Today, they announced they were closing two fake Apple Stores (out of at least five in the city). However, the reason had nothing to do with their brazen flouting of copyright laws. The businesses didn't have the proper permits.
"Media should not misunderstand the situation and jump to conclusions. Some overseas media has made it appear the stores sold fake Apple products," Chang Puyun, spokesman of Kunming government's business bureau, told Reuters. "China has taken great steps to enforce intellectual property rights and the stores weren't selling fake products."
According to CNET News, China and Apple have a complicated relationship.
Apple's business is intertwined with China, creating a love-hate relationship. Nearly all of the company's products are born in huge factory complexes in the country's interior, some as large as midsized cities, and Apple has started to move into China's retail market, with four official Apple stores in the sprawling country. But China has also been the source of numerous leaks, cheap knock-offs, piracy and other headaches for Apple. The fake Apple stores have been one of the most impressive such violations to date in their attention to detail.
The U.S. Trade Representative's office
says counterfeiting and intellectual property theft in China cost
U.S. businesses an estimated $48 billion in 2009.
In a challenge to China's controversial one-child policy, a regional leader has asked for permission from the central government to relax the policy in his area. Earlier this month, Zhang Feng, the head of Guangdong's population commission, requested that some families be allowed to have a second child (specifically families in which one of the parents is an only child). Surprisingly, a similar baby-step implemented two years ago in Shanghai -- under which parents who were both single children were allowed, and even encouraged, to have two children -- did not lead to a surge in additional kids. Many parents cited financial and time concerns as their rationale for limiting themselves to one child. Even Zhang Feng admitted in an interview with the Southern Metropolis News, a state-run paper in Guangdong, that "to allow the new policy will have little overall impact on population growth."
With a population of more than 104 million, Guangdong is currently China's most populous province. Officials proposed this change in order to combat problems associated with a population that is rapidly aging. Zhang Feng explained that "the increase in population is still a big problem affecting our social and economic development...But in the long-term, aging will also be a problem."
Guangdong also has an important role in a very different method of circumventing the one-child policy. A growing number of mainland mothers use intermediaries -- many of whom are based in Guangdong -- to arrange for them to travel to, and give birth in, nearby Hong Kong, where the one-child policy does not apply. According to government statistics, in 2010 47% of the babies born in Hong Kong were the children of mainland mothers.
In addition to avoiding fines imposed for disobeying the one-child policy, mothers who give birth in the territory reap a variety of other benefits. For example, their children are automatically considered residents of Hong Kong (although most children return to the mainland with their parents anyway), and as such, can travel abroad more freely. All of this doesn't come cheap however, with prices at public hospitals (where approximately a quarter of the mainland babies are born) between HK$39,000 and HK$48,000 (approximately US$5,000 and US$6,150). Prices at private hospitals are even higher.
Officials in both Hong Kong and mainland China have expressed concern over this trend. In April, worried that the record influx of mainland mothers would overload their healthcare system, Hong Kong announced that for the rest of the year mainland mothers will be prohibited from signing-up to give birth in public hospitals. The Hong Kong government has also recently restricted the number of spots available to non-locals at public hospitals, from 10,000 in 2011 to only 3,400 for 2012. The government has also considered raising the rates charged at public hospitals. And in Guangdong, members of the family planning committee recently ruled that second children, even those born outside the mainland, must be registered as "additional."
If Guangdong, however, is given permission to enact the proposed reforms to its one-child policy, Hong Kong's moves to say "bye, bye, baby" may not be quite so necessary any more.
PETER PARKS/AFP/Getty Images
What would you do if you bought a shiny new Apple computer (from what looked to be a shiny Apple store) only to find out that the store that sold it to you was a total fraud? We're guessing there would probably be some screaming involved. For customers in the Chinese city of Kunming, the revelation that their city's Apple hub was a counterfeit (albeit, a damn impressive counterfeit), has led to angry customers demanding refunds.
‘When I heard the news I rushed here immediately to get the receipt, I am so upset,' a customer surnamed Wang told Reuters, near tears. ‘With a store this big, it looks so believable who would have thought it was fake?'
Wang, a petite, 23-year-old office worker who would not give her first name, spent 14,000 yuan ($2,170) last month buying a Macbook Pro 13-inch and a 3G iPhone from the Kunming store. She wasn't issued a receipt at the time, with staff telling her to come back later.
‘Where's my receipt, you promised me my receipt last month!' Wang shouted at employees, before being whisked away to an upstairs room.
On Wednesday, an American blogger living in Kunming first wrote about the store, which popped up in her neighborhood:
They looked like Apple products. It looked like an Apple store. It had the classic Apple store winding staircase and weird upstairs sitting area. The employees were even wearing those blue t-shirts with the chunky Apple name tags around their necks ... We struck up some conversation with these salespeople who, hand to God, all genuinely think they work for Apple.
The store said its products were genuine Apple computers and were being sold at the same price as you would find on Apple's website. And staff said they were angry by all the media attention the blog has caused.
"The media is painting us to be a fake store but we don't sell fakes, all our products are real, you can check it yourself," one employee told Reuters. "There is no Chinese law that says I can't decorate my shop the way I want to decorate it."
Yesterday brought good and bad news in the spat over sovereignty in the South China Sea. At a meeting of the annual ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in Bali, Indonesia, representatives from the ASEAN countries and China agreed upon a set of guidelines for resolving territorial disputes in the sea, where six countries - China, Vietnam, the Phillippines, Brunei, Malaysia, and Taiwan - have overlapping sovereignty claims. The new deal, as outlined by the Jakarta Post, builds off the body's Declaration of Conduct (DOC), a nonbinding agreement signed in 2002 aimed at facilitating a legal agreement to resolve sovereignty disputes and prevent conflict in the region
Official reactions to theARF deal have varied. Chinese assistant foreign minister and meeting co-chair Liu Zhenmin has called the agreement a "milestone document," and his fellow co-chair, Vietnamese assistant foreign minister Pham Quang Vinh, said it was "significant and a good start." Nonetheless, it's important to note that the adopted guidelines are not legally binding; they merely reiterate the need to conform with the DOC, and they also lack a deadline for the implementation of a legal accord to resolve the conflict. Filipino Foreign Secretary Alberto del Rosario highlighted this concern when he said that more steps were needed to "add teeth" to the new deal.
Events later on Wednesday confirmed the Philippines's dissatisfaction with the ARF agreement. Four Filipino lawmakers and a Filipino military general ignored strong warnings from China and visited the island of Pagasa, the only island in the Spratlys populated by Filipinos, in a "peace and sovereignty mission." They joined residents to sing the national anthem and called for improvements in facilities on the island, which has no schools or hospitals for its 60 inhabitants. A spokesman from the Chinese Foreign Ministry expressed outrage about the visit.
Wednesday's events came as Hillary Clinton wrapped up her tour of India and prepared to join ASEAN representatives at the security forum in Bali. At the same meeting last year, she surprised Chinese officials when she called resolution of the sovereignty disputes a "leading diplomatic priority" for the U.S. She looks set to reiterate the position this year. We'll see whether China agrees.
ADEK BERRY/AFP/Getty Images
Clearly, the best part of yesterday's tense parliamentary session with Rupert and James Murdoch was when Wendi Murdoch leapt up to defend her husband after a spectator splattered a foam pie in his face. She literarily jumped over people to slap the man.
Here's the account of an eyewitness in the room:
What you might not have seen is the full instinctive and furious reaction of Mr Murdoch's wife, Wendi. Having sat through the evidence unsmiling, she moved faster than anyone else. First, she swung a slap at her husband's attacker. She followed up by picking up the plate and trying to strike him with it. And then she moved back to her husband. Sitting on the table before him, she started to clear the foam from his face, sometimes embracing him, holding his bald head in her arms.
If you feel like watching her moves repeated in an endless loop, check this out.
Before today, when most people wrote about Mrs. Murdoch, descriptions like "much younger," "third wife," and "social climber" were pretty much de rigueur. And, along with those phrases came negative connotations, of course. Wendi Murdoch, 43, was born Deng Wen Ge in an isolated eastern Chinese city. Her father was a manager at a nearby factory. She left for the United States in 1987 after meeting an older American couple in China who agreed to sponsor her. She moved in with them in California and attended college (she also eventually married the husband and became an American citizen).
That marriage fizzled, as did a subsequent one, before she met Murdoch when she was 30 and he was 68. Though she's remained busy -- even producing a movie in China -- her public persona has mainly been the woman standing by Murdoch's side at various events.
So, it was interesting to see some of the reaction in China, where her slap quickly became the number one trending topic on a popular micro-blogging service.
The Nanfang website posted a few translated tweets.
Wow, that was fast. Just days after South Sudan achieved independence, the Chinese government has already established a vocational training program for welders in Juba. From Chinese state media outlet Xinhua:
JUBA - China has started a welder training course to help South Sudanese master knowledge and techniques relevant to the petroleum industry in which the newly-born nation has a large potential.
A total of 30 trainees selected from about 800 applicants are under the vocational training, the first of its kind in South Sudan, and are expected to be backbone workers in the petroleum industry in the future.
In the wake of South Sudan's vote this February to break away from Sudan, China has been working aggressively with both countries to maintain access to their oil reserves, most notably through Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir's visit to Beijing in late June. Before the split, Sudan exported more than half of its daily oil output to China and was China's third-largest trading partner in Africa. Now, though South Sudan contains 75 percent of the two countries' combined oil reserves, it continues to rely on Sudan for the bulk of the processing and transportation infrastructure, including a crucial port on the Red Sea.
The establishment of a program to train welders suggests that China would like to reduce South Sudan's dependency on Sudanese infrastructure. It's a sensible goal. Tensions over oil revenues figure to be a major sticking point in Sudan-South Sudan relations; the countries have yet to establish a plan to divide revenues in an industry that generates 90 percent of the north's hard currency and 98 percent of the south's revenues. Meanwhile, the invasion of the border region of Abyei by forces loyal to Bashir has highlighted the threat of a major conflict between the two countries. There are certainly more stable countries from which to import your oil, but, with domestic demand at near-record levels, China may not have much choice.
ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images
As defense analysts focus on escalating tensions in the South China Sea, recent events in Nepal confirm that China's geopolitical influence is growing in South Asia as well. From a report yesterday by the AP:
Nepalese authorities prevented exiled Tibetans from celebrating their spiritual leader the Dalai Lama's birthday on Wednesday over concerns that gatherings would turn anti-Chinese.…
Nepal says it cannot allow protests on its soil against any friendly nations, including China.
Police guarded the Chinese Embassy and its visa office in Katmandu against any protests, and areas populated by Tibetans were put under heavy security.
Authorities earlier said they would allow celebrations inside monasteries provided there are no banners or slogans against China.
PRAKASH MATHEMA/AFP/Getty Images
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