A fair amount, apparently. Just not for very long. Andreas Fuchs and Nils-Hendrik Klann of Germany University of Geottingen looked at 159 countries' trade patterns with China between 1991 and 2008 to see what effect a high-level meeting with the Dalai Lama had on bilateral trade. Here's what they found:
Empirical evidence confirms the existence of a trade-deteriorating effect of Dalai Lama
receptions for the Hu Jintao era (2002-2008). However, we find at best weak evidence to support the existence of such an effect in earlier years. While our results suggest that systematic trade reductions are only caused by meetings with heads of state or government, no additional impact is found for meetings between the Dalai Lama and lower-ranking officials. As a consequence of a political leader's reception of the Dalai Lama in the current or previous period, exports to China are found to decrease by 8.1 percent or 16.9 percent, depending on the estimation technique used. Furthermore, we find that this effect will have disappeared two years after a meeting took place. Analyzing disaggregated export data, 'Machinery and transport equipment' is found to be the only product group with a consistent negative effect of Dalai Lama meetings on exports across samples and estimation techniques.
"Meet with him and we will temporarily reduce our machinery and transport equipment imports!" doesn't sound like the scariest of threats.
The pattern seems similar to what happens with defense ties. China halted its military exchanges with the United States in January in response to U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, but there are strong signs now that these ties will soon resume.
One way to read this is that President Barack Obama was right last year to postpone his meeting with the Dalai Lama until after a summit with Chinese leader Hu Jintao. If you know diplomatic relations are going to take a temporary hit, why not postpone it until a more convenient time. On the other hand, the fact that the punishments China inflicts on its trading partners don't seem to last that long lends credence to Vaclav Havel's argument that "When someone soils his pants prematurely, then [the Chinese] do not respect you more for it."
Hat tip: Marginal Revolution
TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images
Those wacky Taiwanese animators are back, this time with a biting parody of the infamous "Chinese professor" ad issued by the advocacy group Citizens Against Government Waste. Only this time, instead of a triumphant Communist Party lecturer, it's a computer-generated panda telling the assembled students what's what.
Here's the transcript:
What makes nations grow?
Is it smart people?
Is it freedom? Ha! this is China!
No! It's selling cheap crap to gullible customers... like in America. Our little round-eyed friends will buy anything.
But how do we maintain our power?
Well, you can manipulate the RMB, pay slave wages, offer few chances for upward mobility. Cut corners on product safety.
Melamine? A little toxin only hurts a little.
No wonder wimpy Americans need universal health care.
Finally, steal technology. Look what we copied from Steve Jobs! [shows futuristic iPad]
Of course, what really makes China great... [laughs] is we have motherf*cking talking pandas.
I don't advise anyone to willingly dive into the fever swamps of the opinion pages of the Chinese state-run press, but sometimes it's good fun.
Take, for instance, this recent offering by People's Daily columnist Li Hongmei, who writes like a computer-generated parody of a Chinese hard-liner:
You do not need to toil at work, and bend on dizzily complicated formula or spend months in the Lab, but Nobel Prize is still like the beautiful passing clouds, just hard to touch. It takes no more efforts but a fatal bite to one's own Mother, he will be awarded the top honor, and catapulted to "the international stardom" overnight. People with human conscience must despise the idea, but Liu Xiaobo and the like will pounce on the chance to win a quick success.
Ms. Li was last seen ripping "Uncle Sam" as "too senile to lead Asia" and, my personal favorite, dissing Norway as "a Kart-like country with a tiny population of 4 million." Please weigh in below if you can figure out that last one.
(Hat tip: @TomLasseter)
China's latest film exports will not be on display at the 23rd annual Tokyo film festival thanks to a spat over Taiwan sovereignty:
The head of the Chinese delegation, Jiang Ping, told festival organizers that the Taiwanese delegation must not attend the festival under the name Taiwan, but as "Chinese Taipei," which Taiwan used while participating in the Olympic Games, shortly before celebrities began to walk down a green carpet to mark the start of the festival.
Jiang, also deputy director-general of the Film Bureau of the State Administration of Radio, Film and TV (SARFT), told reporters, "We protested against the organizers introducing the two delegations as 'China and Taiwan.' And our request to introduce Taiwan as "Chinese Taipei or China's Taiwan" was rejected by the organizers."
Of course, this will be seen as part of a larger issue than what Ang Lee's homeland gets to call itself. Anti-Japanese protests broke out in half a dozen Chinese cities over the weekend and the Japanese government has formally protested the presence of Chinese military patrol boats near disputed islands in the East China Sea.
As anti-Japanese protests flare across China, the Japanese media is reporting that the government may have unwittingly violated a secret pact with China over the disputed Senkaku islands, leading to the current round of tension:
Aera magazine reported that under Japan's conservative Liberal Democratic Party, which ruled for half a century until last year, Tokyo and Beijing had made "secret promises" to each other over the territorial issue.
"Under the secret promises, Japan was in principle to prevent landings (of Chinese nationals) on the islets and not to detain them unless it develops into a case of grave concerns," the magazine said, citing unnamed government sources.
"The Chinese side promised to block (anti-Japanese) protesters' boats from sailing off to reach the islands," the weekly added.
In an illustrative case, Japan in 2004 immediately deported seven Chinese activists who had landed on one of the rocky islands, Aera said.
When power changed in Japan last summer, the earlier promises may not have been mentioned to the new centre-left Democratic Party of Japan government, an unnamed government source was quoted as saying by Aera.
If true, this would be the second revelation this year about a secret foreign policy pact made by the LDP government. In March, it came out that under an undisclosed passage of a 1960 treaty with the United States, Japan had been allowing nuclear-armed U.S. vessels to use its ports in violation of longstanding anti-nuclear principles.
Obviously, secret agreements between countries are hardly unheard of. But it's certainly starting to seem like the LDP had been trying to avoid public outcry on some of Japan's most contentious foreign-policy issues and that after decades of unquestioned rule, didn't anticipate having to let the opposition in on the secret.
JASON LEE/AFP/Getty Images
Before he became Barack Obama's running mate, Joe Biden famously ripped his then opponent's lack of experience. "The presidency is not something that lends itself to on-the-job training," he said.
Nowhere is this more true than in China, where would-be leaders spend years toiling in the Communist Party's lower ranks, clawing their way to the top in a dog-eat-dog political culture that rewards loyalty, economic performance, and savvy backroom maneuvering.
Today, China announced that Xi Jinping has been named the vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission, an important sign that he's successfully navigated this gauntlet and is destined to take over in Beijing once Hu Jintao retires in 2012. He'll have two years to learn the ropes as a civilian overseer of the world's second most powerful military, essential training for any Chinese leader.
Xi's ascent is probably a good thing as far as the West is concerned. Here's how China analyst Cheng Li described him few years back:
Xi has leadership experience in economic administration and favors pro-market reforms. In the provinces that he ran, Xi was particularly noted for his promotion of the private sector. His likely policy priorities lie in enhancing economic efficiency and promoting market liberalization, continuing China's high rates of GDP growth, and expanding China's integration into the world economy.
The rap on Xi is that he's a "princeling" -- a Chinese politician who owes his career to family connections (guanxi ) rather than hard work (his father was a top party official). Many in China are critical of this youngish group of party leaders, but Xi seems to have acquited himself well thus far. In 2008, he oversaw the successful Olympic Games, and last year he headed China's 60-year celebrations. He has a law degree and a master's in chemical engineering, and has styled himself as tough on corruption. His wife is a famous folk singer.
At a meeting last week with Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus, Xi pledged to work toward closer bilateral ties with the United States, though he's made undiplomatic remarks in the past. On a tour of Latin America in 2009, Xi seemed to catch a bit of the region's anti-yanqui fervor, telling a gathering of Chinese expats, "There are some foreigners who have eaten their fill and have nothing better to do than point their fingers at our affairs. China does not, first, export revolution; second, export poverty and hunger; or third, cause unnecessary trouble for them. What else is there to say?"
Though most analysts think Xi will succeed Hu, the appointment probably won't end the speculation over his putative rival Li Keqiang, a close protégé of Hu's with deep ties to the powerful Communist Youth League. Li's faction doesn't think much of the princelings, though there doesn't appear to be any rift between Xi and Li -- at least not one that has spilled into public view. Li is widely thought to be in line to succeed Wen Jiabao as premier, the No. 2 job in China's political system.
Fourteen Chinese dissidents and the Chinese Communist Party have finally agreed on something: Liu Xiaobo should not get the Nobel Peace Prize. While Chinese authorities have found his pro-democracy work worthy of 11 years of prison time and have made it clear to Norway that his victory would not be in its best interests, a group of overseas Chinese dissidents found Liu to be "unsuitable" for the award because they believed he has not adopted a strong enough line against the ruling Communist Party:
In a letter, the signatories accused Mr. Liu...of maligning fellow activists, abandoning persecuted members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement and going soft on China's leaders.
"His open praise in the last 20 years for the Chinese Communist Party, which has never stopped trampling on human rights, has been extremely misleading and influential," they wrote.
Chinese dissidents against Chinese dissidents? The New York Times accurately notes that the letter is symptomatic of the Chinese dissident community throughout the world, a "fractured group beset by squabbling and competing claims of anti-authoritarian righteousness." Well, it wouldn't be the first time exiled dissidents haven't gotten along.
ANTONY DICKSON/AFP/Getty Images
We all know that China's energy needs are expanding rapidly, as the country builds the equivalent of two Chicagos from scratch every year and many utilities companies are seeing their business expand 30 percent or more annuallly.
But it's not only China that's going to be building a lot more new power plants. Speaking Wednesday at the Woodrow Wilson Center, Jim Rogers, the CEO of Duke Energy, one of America's largest power companies, made this prediction: Through a combination of (expected) tightening in carbon controls and normal wear-and-tear, he expects that 100 percent of the power plants operating in the U.S. today will be shut down by 2050.
In other words, America, too, will be building a whole new power infrastructure over the next 40 years.
That's surprising enough, but Rogers went on to make the case for the U.S. and China cooperating -- or at least, the private sectors in both countries cooperating -- in power sector solutions. Consider: Both countries are reliant today on coal (the U.S. derives 50 percent of its energy from coal, whereas China derives 80 percent). Together the U.S and China consume 42 percent of total energy consumed in the world, and are responsible for about 40 percent of global carbon emissions. China is building new power infrastructure, and America will have to replace or retrofit the majority of its existing power infrastructure. Since we share some similar challenges, and operate at similar scales, couldn't we learn something from each other in the process?
For instance, ENN, a large Chinese power company, is piloting a smart (eco) city in Langfang, 30 miles south of Beijing. The project will be built over the next year, and Rogers is watching closely to see what lessons his company might learn from the experiment. In other ways, Duke Energy and ENN are already collaborating directly, especially in research. While it's true that intellectual property concerns will scare off many other potential collaborations, it's also worth pointing out one thing American companies can gain from partnering with Chinese companies: know-how about scaling-up and bringing down costs for deploying new technology. Such lessons, born of trial and error overseas, may be worth bringing home to Wichita.
Another thing that unites the U.S. and China: No one knows what's next.
This moment is "one of the most uncertain times in the history of our industry, and I've been a CEO for 22 years," Rogers said. He was referring in large part to the looming question of whether the U.S. Congress will regulate carbon in the future (see Ryan Lizza's piece, "As the World Burns" in this week's New Yorker for an enlightening, if depressing, inside look). Happily, in my opinion, he's now assuming the question is not if, but when. Surely, at some point in the next, oh, 50 years -- the anticipated lifespan of a power plant -- Congress will tighten the carbon belt. Or at least that's the calculation he's making.
Writing in FP earlier this summer, former U.S. ambassador on global HIV/AIDS, Jack Chow, offered a glimpse into China's policy on the epidemic: When it comes to aid money, give a bit, recieve lots and lots. At the time of writing the piece, China's contribution to the global pool of donor money to fight HIV/AIDS, the Global Fund, was $2 million over eight years. Meanwhile, the country won an $1 billion in grants. For a country with $2.5 trillion in foreign currency reserves, this seemed a bit out of whack.
Perhaps they got the message. Because at the replenishment conference that took place earlier this week -- a gathering in which countries, foundations, and other donors pledge their committments for the coming three years -- China upped the ante. From $2 million annually, China's contribution rose to approximately $4.6 million, or $14 million over the next three years. That's still not terribly impressive (especially considering that Nigeria offered a not-dissimilar $10 million for the fund.)
Still, the pressure was clearly on. Prior to the conference, six U.S. senators urged China to give its fair share. The Global Fund itself has also been pushing in this regard, urging the rising powers to slowly transition from recipient to donor. "China, Brazil and India should remain net beneficiaries the Global Fund," Kazatchkine told AFP. "[A]t the same time, they have to be contributors." That was one of President Barack Obama's administration's big goals in the replenishment as well: to get other donors to take up a fair share of the burden, particularly amid difficult financial times.
There were a few other interesting funding committments that stand out from the conference as well. The United States offered $4 billion over three years -- an increase from past funding but still not enough to please activists. Perhaps more interesting, however was the massive $300 million committment from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. That number dwarfs almost all country donors -- including countries known for giving a relatively high proportion of their GDPs to aid, Norway, Denmark and Australia. What a new world it is where the richest foundation in the United States can outspend the world's most generous national donors.
Nearly across the board, the president's initiatives are going down in flames. Nowhere is this more true than in Pakistan where, Jane Perlez reported Wednesday, the civilian government in which the U.S. has invested billions is perilously close to collapse -- if not facing a military coup.
Now comes word that Pakistan is cutting off NATO's supply lines into Afghanistan in retaliation for U.S. helicopter strikes in Pakistani territory -- strikes made necessary because the Pakistani military can't, or won't, crack down on militants unless they threaten the Pakistani state directly.
As for the war in Afghanistan, it's going very badly.
Further east, the United States seems headed for a disastrous currency war with China, although Beijing's recent diplomatic blunders have sent Asian countries running into Uncle Sam's loving arms.
To the west, Iraq still has yet to form a government after seven months of post-election deadlock, and attacks on the Green Zone are metastasizing in a frightening way.
One rare bright spot is Russia where, despite the complaints of Cold Warriors and human rights campaigners, relations are at their highest point since the Yeltsin era. But much of the good work Obama's team has done could easily unravel, especially if the Senate deep-sixes the new nuke treaty.
As for Iran, it's a mixed bag. Obama has kept Europe on board with tough sanctions, and brought along a few other players. But China is likely to undercut those efforts and relieve the economic pressure, leaving the United States and Israel with few options for stopping Iran's nuclear drive. Meanwhile, the drums of war are beginning to beat in Congress.
Of course, if Obama really wants to make a hash of the world, I can think of no better way than to start launch airstrikes on Iran. But I doubt he's going to do that.
Dennis Brack-Pool/Getty Images
It's a not-very-well-known fact that China, the world's second largest economy which holds $2.5 trillion in foreign reserves, still gets about $2.5 billion in foreign government aid every year. (Jack Chow recently explored how this plays out that the Global Fund for AIDS in an FP piece.)
What's even more surprising, given this month's events, is who the biggest source of that aid -- accounting for nearly half -- is:
Today's aid adds up to $1.2 billion a year from Japan, followed by Germany at about half that amount, then France and Britain. ...
Japan's generosity has historically been driven at least in part by a desire to make amends for its invasion of China in the 1930s. But in recent years Japanese lawmakers and officials have repeatedly questioned whether the money flow should continue, pointing to China's emergence as a donor to African countries.
It's pretty hard to see how this will continue to be tenable in the current Japanese political climate, particularly with China arresting Japanese workers sent to clean up World War II sites.
I'm not sure if this series of ads are a signal of growing Chinese influence in the Middle East, the culture of violence and impunity in Mubarak's Egypt, or the passions aroused by competition among dairy products in our globalized marketplace. But whatever their hidden meaning, they're brilliant. (And many thanks to Issandr Amrani and Steve Clemons for pointing them out).
At one point in Diamonds Are Forever, the 1971 James Bond thriller, Agent 007 asks the villain, who has covertly amassed a stockpile of valuable gems: "What do you intend to do with those diamonds?"
"An excellent question," the evil criminal mastermind, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, replies with a diabolical grin. "And one which will be hanging on the lips of the world quite soon." Bond gets his answer quickly enough: a satellite-rigged laser powerful enough to hold the world hostage.
Hu Jintao is no Blofeld, but if Chinese leaders are trying to provide a readymade plot for the next Bond film, they may have succeeded with today's news that China has quietly begun blocking Japan's supply of rare earth elements, used in everything from Priuses and iPads to wind turbines, oil refineries, and smart bombs.
Such a move, which Chinese officials have denied, would represent a sharp, sudden escalation in the ongoing diplomatic dispute between China and Japan over an island chain in the East China Sea. Real or imagined, the threat is credible, and it's been a long time coming.
Law enforcement agencies are buzzing over the news of the largest food smuggling case in U.S. history:
US authorities have indicted 11 German and Chinese executives for conspiring to illegally import $40m (£52m) worth of honey from China.
The executives were accused of being part of an operation which mislabelled honey and tainted it with antibiotics in an attempt to avoid import duties.
The smugglers were attempting to avoid U.S. anti-dumping laws by mixing it with Indian honey, which begs the question: how can you tell where honey is originated from?
The prosecutor for the case, federal attorney Patrick Fitzgerald -- yes, that one -- explained the situation:
The charges allege that these defendants aggressively sought and obtained an illegal competitive advantage in the US honey market by avoiding payment of more than $78 million (60.9 million euros) in anti-dumping duties, and while doing so deliberately violated US laws designed to protect the integrity of our food supply.
For the record I am not the first offender of making bad puns related to this story. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), in a statement, wrote that he was happy authorities were taking this "honey laundering" seriously, and also hoped for the creation of a national honey standard so that this "crackdown on Chinese imports sticks."
I'm just personally worried that this may be a part of a Dr. Who plot come to life.
Miguel Villagran/Getty Images
In an inspired bit of YouTube surfing, Gawker has assembled a compilation of military recruitment commercials from around the world. There are a few clunkers -- three minutes is an awful long time to watch a Russian paratrooper sort of rapping in front of an obstacle course -- and I have my doubts that this Japanese ad is not an elaborate sophomoric hoax, but on the whole they make for pretty fascinating viewing.
Watching these as an American, the most immediately noticeable thing is how little time most of the ads spend overtly appealing to patriotism. There's Estonia, which does it cheekily, and Lebanon, which does it with a slow-motion sentimentality that would be cloying under other circumstances but is actually quite poignant in the context of a country that is eternally trying to keep things together. France and India, meanwhile, both hearken back to the U.S. military ads of the pre-9/11 era, in which we mostly see the life-advancing stuff that enlistment is supposed to get you, with a minimum of actual warfighting. (A career in the Indian army evidently prepares you for a lifetime of golfing and competitive diving.)
The Ukrainian army opts for an admirably straightforward "you'll get girls" approach. Singapore features a naval vessel transforming into a giant robot, presumably developed to contain the same giant lava monsters that have long plagued the U.S. Marines. Britain's jarring entry -- which a student of post-colonialism would have a field day with -- looks like it was directed by Fernando Meirelles. (This kind of "I dare you" approach to recruiting must work in the U.K. -- back in the '90s, when the U.S. Army was mostly promoting itself as a way to pay for college, the Brits ran magazine ads showing a Royal Marine eating worms as part of a survival training course.)
But the real winner here, I think, is Sweden, which is promoting military service to young women as a means of avoiding working as an au pair for awful Americans:
PATRICK LIN/AFP/Getty Images
In its latest effort to keep employees from leaping from their dorm room balconies, Taiwanese tech manufacturer Foxconn held a pep rally yesterday at its industrial campus in Shenzhen, China. Employees received free T-shirts that read "I <3 Foxconn" and colorful pom-poms to wave in the air. Others got to dress up as superheroes and historical characters:
Twenty thousand workers dressed in costumes ranging from cheerleader outfits to Victorian dresses filled the stadium at the factory complex, which was decorated with colorful flags bearing messages such as "Treasure your life, love your family." The workers chanted similar slogans and speakers described their career development at Foxconn.
Foxconn has been dogged by a wave of suicides this year in the face of low wages and hard working conditions. Already, the company's installed anti-suicide safety nets to catch would-be jumpers and raised wages 30 percent, but judging by its employees' lackluster response to its rah-rah efforts, Foxconn may need to find another way to inspire the troops. Watch.
The more time one spends in China, and the more one travels within the country, the harder it is to describe "China" as a single entity. The country is far more geographically, culturally, linguistically and economically diverse -- and confusing -- than is evident from the photos we now often see of gleaming new shopping malls in its wealthier eastern cities. There is not one China story, but countless.
From the windblown deserts of Gansu province to the fertile rice paddies of Hunan, from impoverished Tibetan shepherds to shopaholic Shanghaiese, from the glitzy coordination of mass events, like the 2008 Olympic Opening Ceremony, to the chaotic hodgepodge of daily life (orderly queues are entirely unknown), there is no single narrative or argument that encapsulates the nation. (The Atlantic's James Fallows and others return often to this point.)
What all these aspects of China do have in common, however, is that they're changing. Rapidly. Over the next 20 years, some 400 million people -- more than the entire population of the United States -- will move from the countryside to China's fast growing cities. Imagine the many stages of American history over the last century and a half condensed into a single generation. Then you have a glimpse of the transformation underway in China.
In Britain, the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, there are only two cities with a population of more than 1 million; in the United States, there are just 10 such cities. But already in China, there are 43 cities of more than 1 million, and by 2030 there will be 221, the McKinsey Global Institute predicts.
What is life like in China's booming megacities? To begin to answer that question, this spring I visited the sprawling metropolis of Chongqing -- once a relative backwater in mountainous western China, and today place where land is converted from countryside to apartment blocks and parking lots faster than anywhere else on the planet. A dynamic inland port city, and gateway to what Beijing considers China's still Wild West, think of it as "Chicago on the Yangtze" (check out the article here -- and Matthew Niederhauser's superb photo essay here.)
During World War II, the city was known to westerners as Chungking, when it was briefly the Nationalist capital of China. Many turns of history later, it is today a place where it is possible to drive through the northern New District for more than a half hour, past block upon block of new apartment highrises, where five years ago there were only fields. Its celebrity Party boss, Bo Xiali, is already making international headlines for his storied crackdown on Chinese mobsters and wrenching political ambitions.
For all the international attention paid to decisions made in Beijing, I have come to believe that the role that China, now the world's second largest economy, will come to play in the 21st century will depend not firstly on the wiles of its diplomats, the size of its navy, or even the next appointments to the Politburo, but on how well China manages the largest mass urbanization in history. The municipality of Chongqing, absorbing roughly 1 million new urban dwellers each year, is at the spear tip of this experiment.
UPDATE: Chicago fires back! Writing for the Chicago Reader, Lauri Apple takes issue with the comparison, and explains why Chicago is not the Chongqing of the United States:
Chongqing's skyline has jillions of tall buildings; we've got our fair share of skyscrapers, but nothing approaching Chongqing’s concrete horizon. Chongqing continues to build communist-style housing developments; Chicago is tearing them down.
Chongqing is mountainous, and its main body of water, the Yangtze, looks like a river of Yoo Hoo. Chicago has no mountains, and its water is blue (and green, on Saint Patrick's Day). In Chongqing, people play badminton in the public areas; Chicagoans play public cornhole.
Fair enough, there's no analogy that truly explains a Chinese megacity. But hopefully the article and photos will help a bit to demystify the abstraction.
While advocates of net neutrality in the U.S. are wringing their hands this week over whether Google and Verizon are too closely aligned, the Chinese government -- which owns the world's largest wireless carrier, China Mobile -- just announced plans to enter the country's fast-growing search market.
As The New York Times' David Barboza reports:
State-owned China Mobile — the world’s biggest cellphone carrier — and Xinhua, China’s official state-run news agency, signed an agreement Thursday to create a joint venture called the Search Engine New Media International Communications Co.
China already has the world’s largest number of Internet users, more than 420 million, and also the largest number of mobile phone subscribers, more than 800 million ...
Analysts say Beijing is pushing state-run companies to take a more active role online. China Central Television, the nation’s dominant broadcaster, is trying to develop its own online video site. Xinhua News Agency is trying to build a global platform of news providers using television and the Internet.
Search is one of a handful of sectors in China wholly dominated by private companies. Most of today's state-steered behemoths, like PetroChina and the Agricultural Bank of China, got their start in a bygone era, well before the Internet. China Mobile, launched in 1997, is one of Beijing's few recent blockbuster government start-ups.
At present, Baidu, the decade-old search giant headquartered in Beijing and registered in the Cayman Islands, commands a hefty majority of the Chinese search-advertising market, about 70 percent. Baidu CEO Robin Li has been increasingly in the international limelight -- including a round of high-profile interviews with western media outlets last week. Baidu launched in 2000 and rivals, including Google, which entered the Chinese search market later have had trouble catching up. (Even before recent political troubles ensued, Google trailed Baidu significantly in China.) Today there's no guarantee that a state-run enterprise will be any luckier in dethroning Baidu, without under-the-radar help.
The question of why the Chinese government wants to enter the search market now -- whether primarily for control or profit, or both -- is left to speculation. Does Beijing worry about its future ability to impose effective censorship mandates on private companies like Baidu, which so far has been pretty compliant? Do they see an opportunity to make big bucks? Baidu's Li, like Google's founding duo of Page and Brin, is now a multi-billionaire -- and the Chinese search market has plenty of room to grow, with just a third of the country now online, by Li's estimate.
Beijing never makes it a point to fully explain its intentions. Xinhua's Vice President Zhou Xisheng told the New York Times simply that the government's search engine plans were: “part of the country’s broader efforts to safeguard its information security and push forward the robust, healthy and orderly development of China’s new media industry.” An inscrutably all-purpose answer.
China may be surpassing the United States in energy use and is catching up in the race for the world's biggest economy, but there's one superlative Beijing is trying to avoid: world's fattest country.
Starting this week, the city of Beijing has resumed mandatory daily workplace calisthenics, after a three-year break. Radio broadcast exercise regimens first began in 1951, but were suspended in 2007 so broadcasters could spend more time reporting on the 2008 Summer Olympics, held in Beijing. According to the media blog Danwei, Radio Exercise Set #8 will be broadcast on FM 102.5 every day at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Four million workers in the city are participating.
The Guardian interviewed several Beijing residents who supported the move, claiming it will benefit the city's younger workers:
"They are not lazy, they are just too busy. They have a lot of pressure at work and don't have time to exercise otherwise," said retired engineer Yang Jinrong, 55, as she took a break from playing badminton with her husband in a city centre park.
"Of course, the radio exercises will do young people good. Like they say on TV, 'Life lies in movement'," said Li Zhigang, 50, dropping to the ground to demonstrate the lotus yoga position.
Mr Sun, a 30-year-old who works in marketing, said he hoped private sector firms would adopt the drills. "I think this [resumption] is really necessary, because people's living habits are very bad now. They sit in the office the whole day," he said.
"I have my own exercise plan, but I never put it into practice because I am too busy."
Each exercise session is only 8 minutes long, meaning Chinese citizens might still need to hit the gym in order to offset the calories consumed at the country's 3,000 Kentucky Fried Chicken branches (apparently, Yum Brands opens one new KFC in mainland China nearly every day). How do you say Double Down in Mandarin?
In a move that counter-proliferation experts have called a step backward, the Wall Street Journal reports that the Obama administration is in "advanced negotiations" with Hanoi to share nuclear fuel and technology. Furthermore, in going against the model that the Obama administration used for other nuclear deals -- requiring the country to not enrich uranium -- the new agreement also reportedly allows Hanoi todo just that. Although signatories of the UN's Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty have the right to enrich uranium, the United States has previously required countries interested in civilian nuclear cooperation to renounce that right.
The WSJ found that many aren't too excited for the State Department-led negotiations that are expected to continue in the fall:
Congressional staff and nonproliferation experts briefed on the negotiations have been quick to criticize the State Department's position as a rollback of a key Obama administration nonproliferation platform. They also say Washington's position exposes it to criticism from Arab and developing countries that the U.S. is employing a double standard in pursuing its nuclear policies. […]
"It's ironic...as nonproliferation is one of the president's top goals that the U.A.E. model is not being endorsed here," said a senior Arab official whose government is pursuing nuclear power. "People will start to see a double standard, and it will be a difficult policy to defend in the future.
To make this even more interesting, China was completely uninvolved in the negotiations about the potential for uranium enrichment on its southern border. This comes after China criticized Secretary Clinton for supporting Hanoi's position on territorial disputes in the South China Sea…territorial disputes that seem to be ongoing.
Several news outlets are currently reporting that Google web search has been fully blocked in mainland China. And indeed the company's website is reporting that search is blocked. However, actually Chinese web users don't seem to be having a problem. Blogger Rebecca MacKinnon is currently following the story on Twitter and retweeting reports from throughout China. So far, no one seems to be reporting any problems.
According to Reuters, "Shares of Google were down 1.4 percent in after-hours trading to $478.00, while shares of Baidu Inc, the biggest search provider in China, rose 3.5 percent," so it would be unfortunate if this were just a screw-up. Stay tuned.
The Chinese government has instituted a new anti-crime measure dubbed "sealed management." In less euphemistic terms, it's a handy new policy of effectively putting migrants on nighttime lockdown in their already decrepit villages. Though the targets of the policy are themselves Chinese, it's enforcement is reminiscent of some of the world's harshest immigration laws.
How has it worked in practice? Beijing officials have installed gates around migrant communities and forcibly locked the residents in from 11pm to 6am, all with the goal of reducing the city's hike in crime rates -- which the officials conveniently attribute to low-income civilians. Lest the padlocks and security cameras provide insufficient protection from the artificial enemy, the government has taken an additional cue from Jan Brewer: police patrol the gated neighborhoods at all hours to check the migrants' identification papers. Now there's xenophobia at its finest.
Only sixteen neighborhoods have been enclosed and locked down so far, but local officials are campaigning ardently to expand the system throughout the city. The ruling Communist Party has disseminated propaganda to portray the neighborhood compounds as a mutually beneficial social program (rather than, say, a thinly veiled quarantine of the poor):
"Closing up the village benefits everyone," read one banner which was put up when the first, permanent gated village was introduced in April.
"Eighty percent of the permanent residents applauded the practice," said Guo Ruifeng, deputy director of Laosanyu's village committee. He didn't say how many migrants approved, though they outnumber the locals by 7,000 to 700.
"Anyway, they should understand that it is all for their safety," he said. Guards only check papers if they see anything suspicious, he said.
"If they see anything suspicious?" But the assumption underlying the creation of the gated communities is that the migrants themselves are inherently suspicious -- and the police aren't likely to deviate from that deeply flawed rationale when choosing who to hassle. We've watched the descent down this slippery slope before, and it isn't pretty.
FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images
China's Xinjiang province is known mostly for being a hotbed of separatist violence and government crackdowns on free speech. But not all the news coming from Western China is bad: just days after Beijing ended a controversial 10-month Internet blackout there, President Hu Jintao announced an ambitious aid package to bring the region's per-capita GDP up to the national average. The goal is to complete the project in as little as 10 years, and to help meet the deadline, provincial governments are getting involved:
More specifically, 19 relatively affluent regions including coastal and
central provinces and big cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen,
will pipe support into different areas of Xinjiang during the next 10
years. In addition to financial aid, efforts will also be made to
improve employment, education and housing conditions for the poor in the
If your knowledge of Chinese geography is as rusty as mine, check out this neat color-coded map that highlights the participating provinces and breaks down their expected contributions.
Porfiriy / http://www.thenewdominion.net/1740/color-coded-guide-to-eastern-provinces-to-xinjiang-economic-aid-pairing/
One of the world's less noticed ongoing ecological catastrophes, the underground coal fires that have been roaring in Northern China since the early 1960s. burn somewhere between 20 million and 200 million tons of coal per year. Spread out over nearly 10 miles, the fires, initially caused by poor mining practices but not helped by the area's arid climate, are also a major source of toxins and greenhouse gasses. The Inner Mongolia region where these fires are located are launching a new effort to get them under control:
The regional government has earmarked an annual financing of 200 million yuan ($29.3 million) from 2009 to 2012 for fighting the fires, Ya said.
According to a harnessing plan, coal threatened by fire hazards is to be dug away to stop fires from spreading, while the fires are to be covered by sand. Other materials such as slurry are also pumped to help extinguish fires underground.
If it works, maybe they can tackle Turkmenistan's pit of flame next.
Joking aside, China's rapidly explanded coal industry is not only an ecological disaster but a human one as well. China accounts for just 35 percent of the world's coal output, but 80 percent of coal-mining fatalities. Even with recent countrywide safety improvements, around seven Chinese coal miners are killed every day.
Hat tip: Treehugger
China Photos/Getty Images
In 1990, to commemorate the Tiananmen Square massacre that had taken place on June 4 one year prior, only one lone Chinese man stood in the plaza where the blood was shed, seizing a momentary opportunity to hold up a white wreath inscribed "Heroes who died for democracy and freedom" before being arrested. On the five-year anniversary in 1994, political dissidents and their families were detained and harassed, and concerts, interviews, and visas were cancelled across Beijing. And last year, for the twentieth anniversary landmark, police officers blanketed the square and threatened any reporters who approached the area.
Could today's 21st anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown be any different?
In most ways, no. The Chinese government continues to deny the Tiananmen Square massacre, framing the thousands of student protesters beaten and killed in the crackdown as "counterrevolutionary" propagandists. In Beijing and the rest of the nation (save Hong Kong), the media is still banned from mentioning the event, and left-wing activists have been monitored and put on house arrest. The government blocked Twitter yet again, preventing opponents from communicating and organizing.
Perhaps the only publicly visible, successful instance of commemorating the anniversary in mainland China was the cartoon invoking famous Tiananmen imagery, published in the Southern Metropolis Daily -- one of the nation's most provocative newspapers -- earlier this week. Though authorities promptly removed it from the website, the inflammatory cartoon is reportedly still available in a PDF version of the article, and has already united a massive online community in discussing and honoring the events of June 4, 1989.
In Hong Kong, where demonstrations and limited democracy are tolerated and the press is far less censored, the anniversary was more openly observed. Today, 150,000 Chinese residents attended candlelight vigils, where they sang, protested, and brandished signs espousing a democratic China. Student activists at the Chinese University of Hong Kong defied administrators in a thwarted attempt to erect a "Goddess of Democracy" statue near their campus.
MN Chan/Getty Images
Michael Posner, the Obama administration's top human rights official, has become the latest target of right-wing ire. At issue is Posner's recent remark about Arizona's controversial new immigration law, which he made during a press briefing Friday about the U.S. human rights dialogue with China:
QUESTION: Did the recently passed Arizona immigration law come up? And, if so, did they bring it up or did you bring it up?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: We brought it up early and often. It was mentioned in the first session, and as a troubling trend in our society and an indication that we have to deal with issues of discrimination or potential discrimination, and that these are issues very much being debated in our own society.
Posner, a heretofore obscure State Department official, is getting ripped by the likes of Rush Limbaugh ("How the hell do all these wackos end up in the administration?"), John Hinderaker ("What an idiot!"), and the New York Post ("Posner shames America"), and it's not hard to see why. Setting aside the immigration issue, conservatives don't like it whenever Americans criticize their own country's human right record, let alone in a way that could be construed as granting "moral equivalence" to a repressive place like China.
Posner clearly wasn't doing that, but I have to wonder what U.S. officials really think about this human rights dialogue. And how does the conversation actually go? U.S. official: "We think China should improve its human rights record." Chinese official: "Thanks for your input. I'll tell Hu Jintao right away! How come we didn't think of this sooner?"
But let's have a grownup discussion about this.
JOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images
Independent analysis of government policy is rare and generally unwelcome in China; it's even rarer for such advice to be followed. But an exception that proves the rule is when the advice-giver has a direct line to decision-makers, and when there's serious state money to be saved.
While in southwest China recently, I caught up with Yong Yang, a rabble-rousing independent geologist who has previously faced death threats from businessmen and local officials for raising concerns about the feasibility of lucrative proposed projects.
One story he shared seems particularly poignant now, on the second anniversary of the May 12 Wenchuan earthquake.
At the time the earthquake struck on May 12, 2008, Yong was in the field conducting research when he received a mobile text message (voice-networks were down) from his son, a college student in the provincial capital of Chengdu: a big earthquake has struck Sichuan province -- go find a TV.
Yong hunkered down at a local restaurant to watch broadcast of the devastation. He had previously warned government officials about the vulnerability of certain buildings in the quake-vulnerable zone, but to no avail.
Now he knew that dams along the region's Minjiang River were in danger of collapsing, and if they did, several large hydropower stations along the river could be flooded and destroyed. He was already making arrangements to leave the next morning to conduct an investigation of the damage, but before he did he sent a text message to an influential friend who happens to be a former Vice General Secretary of the National People's Congress: turn off the hydro-power stations; watch for damage.
Usually following the advice of environmental watchdogs would cost the government money, putting the kabosh on various money-making projects. But in this case, Yong's advice concerned how to save 30 billion RMB in state investments.
And this time, his advice was followed. The next day, the government gave orders to release water from dams along the Minjiang River.
Yong meanwhile continued on to the quake-stricken region, where he and a small band of fellow scientists tried to make sense of what to do next. Predictably, not all of their subsequent suggestions about rebuilding and conservation have been followed. But when Yong has information useful to the government that Beijing doesn’t have, at least he has an in. His next project is a study of glacier melt on the Tibetan-Qinghai plateau.
At any time, an estimated 10 million people are traveling across China by train. Some are seated; some rest on overnight bunks; some stand in hot, crowded cars. Some are leaving home, some are homeward bound, and some have no real home anymore, but are simply traveling to the next place they hope to find work.
Train stations everywhere are places of expectation and waiting. In China, stations are not monumental testaments to state ambition or the glory of empire or influence (as they were once in Victorian England or early-20th-century America), but rather unremarkable and often run-down edifices. The newer ones are cleaner, but hardly grand.
Near the old railway station in the city of Chongqing, I spoke with a group of a dozen people, seated on large plastic bags in which they carried clothes, bedsheets, and food. Their destination was the city of Kunming, in another province, where they had contacts with a construction company that would hopefully find them work. Their train left at 2 p.m. and would arrive early the next morning. Once in Kunming, the company had promised to help them find housing, most likely rundown apartments in the suburbs where five to eight people strangers would share a room.
The older members of the group were reluctant to talk, but a young couple, who seemed not yet beaten down by life, offered a glimpse into their lives. Yang Jia, 22, and Wang Wei, 24, were not married, but they had vague notions that if they ever stayed in one place, they would like to have a wedding. Since they'd met, the slender and attractive Yang had been following her construction-worker boyfriend on the road. In each new city, she looks for odd jobs, like hawking beer outside a supermarket. The most they ever stayed in one place was a year.
China's economic growth, largely driven by massive state-funded infrastructure projects, is churning money and creating more work, but often in a way that leads to fractured lives. "When this job is done," said Wang, one of tens of millions of migrant workers today in China, "we will look for another." He took a long drag on his cigarette and looked up at the station clock.
Last week, a series of three horrifying attacks on children and teachers carried out by unemployed middle-age men rocked China. At least four children died last week, after eight children had died in an earlier school attack in March. Violent crime is not common in China, and in each of these cases, the circumstances were especially unusual and wrenching. The New Yorker's Evan Osnos has a good summation.
There's ongoing debate about the causes of the attacks, and I wanted to weigh in. Anyone -- in any country -- who attacks children is mentally disturbed. Other factors specific to modern China -- vastly changing economic circumstances, anxiety about the future, the one-child policy -- may be important as context for understanding what has made certain individuals so deeply unsettled. But the root issue here is mental health.
Mental illness is still a largely taboo topic in China. It is, firstly, poorly understood. The remnants of China's vast state-run health-care system, which is now in the process of overhaul, made few provisions for mental health. Mental health was in essence treated as catchall category for activities considered socially deviant in China (until 2001, homosexuality was included on the government's official list of mental illnesses). Mentally disturbed individuals are still considered an embarrassment to their families, and secrecy is preferred over therapy. This is a terrible and looming problem for a country experiencing such profound changes, which strain interpersonal bonds and individual psyches.
There's no question that the attacks last week were a tragedy. A lot of factors were at work, and the commentary will continue. But there's no question that China would do well to open up about mental health, for the sake of the greater good.
The World Expo in Shanghai, which involved massive mind-boggling construction projects and kicked off over the weekend with a grand fireworks display, might remind some of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. But that's about where the comparison ends.
The Olympics was an event that genuinely captured the public imagination in China. In Beijing, locals complained about the traffic hassles and construction dust up until the day the Games started, but when the fireworks started, that changed. I was in China that summer, and frankly surprised by the extent to which people from different walks of life cared about an event that did not concretely impact their own lives. McDonalds in Beijing were packed with ping-pong fans, all heads turned to wall-mounted TV sets to watch doubles matches with baited breath. Street venders brought portable, flickering TV sets outside to watch the opening ceremonies. College students from nearly every corner of China can tell you stories about the mood in their dorms when friends gathered to watch the Games. Sure there was hype, but also genuine enthusiasm.
Not so the Shanghai Expo. Few non-Shanghaiese seem to care. In the city of Chongqing, a business hub in southwestern China, I've been taking an informal poll; reactions here range from uninterested to slightly resentful.
At root, the Beijing Olympics was an opportunity for the government of China to put on a grand show for its own people, and secondarily the world. Before the Games even started, the Olympic torch relay followed an extraordinarily long and winding path through much of the Chinese hinterlands, with official pronouncements and media coverage every step of the way; the message was that glory should be shared. Certain glitches that offended international audiences - such as a young starlet who was outed for lip-synching in the Opening Ceremonies to a less attractive peer's vocal track -- hardly fazed the domestic audience, which was the primary target.
In contrast, the Shanghai Expo is about the government of the city of Shanghai putting on a show for the world, and secondarily other cities in China. It's about attracting business opportunities and stoking rivalries - between Shanghai and other large cities in China, and between the various countries that have poured money into building the biggest and boldest exhibition pavilions. It's a show, in other words, mainly of interest to its participants.
Maybe Shanghai will get substantial bang for its buck, in terms of future business or international clout. But most of China is tuned out.
PETER PARKS/AFP/Getty Image
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