With President Obama scheduled to visit Beijing on Monday, city authorities have banned souvenir vendors from selling a popular t-shirt depicting the president as a Mao-era red guard:
Since he was elected the US president last year, the T-shirt has
had a ready market. According to some business owners, they got calls
last week from Beijing Municipal Government demanding them to stop the
sale of this kind of T-shirt immediately. And inspection officers even
came to stores to make sure the T-shirts are off the shelf.
Business owners have been notified that after Obama ends his visit to China, they can resume the sale.
Posters and shirts depicting the president as a communist aren't uncommon at anti-Obama rallies in the U.S., but I'm confused about what exactly this shirt means when a Chinese person wears it. Are they pro-Obama, anti-Obama, or just all about the LOLz?
Also, while I understand that the authorities are anxious not to offend Obama on his high-profile visit, I have a feeling that the president's seen waymoreridiculousimages of himself if he's ever looked out the window of his limo on Pennsylvania Avenue.
A guest post from Foreign Policy contributor and human-rights activist Rebecca Hamilton.
Last week, the State Department partnered with two
U.S.-based advocacy organizations (Save Darfur and STAND) to launch AskUS
-- a web 2.0 initiative to connect the Obama administration with citizen
More than 500 citizens emailed and used the Twitter hashtag
#AskUS to submit questions on Sudan policy that they wanted Save Darfur to ask;
students around the country voted online for the questions they wanted
answered. The exercise culminated yesterday with a meeting, web-streamed live
and cross-posted on the State Department's Facebook page.
Leaders from Save Darfur and STAND asked a selection of the citizens' questions
to U.S. Special Envoy for Sudan Scott Gration and Director of Multilateral
Affairs at the National Security Council Samantha Power.
The event was not quite as "live" as its billing implied.
Advocates had to give the administration their questions in advance. One former
State Department official I interviewed referred to Darfur activists as "noise
we had to manage" -- and I feared that AskUS would be nothing more than a web
2.0 opportunity for the administration to "manage" a vocal and
often critical advocacy movement.
As it turned out, the shoe was on the other foot. Activists
were given the opportunity to ask follow-up questions, and they pursued that
avenue with such vigor that any fear of them being co-opted by their
well-publicized access to the White House ceased to be a concern. What was a
concern was the administration's inability to provide concrete answers to the
During the session, Gration
explained that there are some aspects of policy that cannot be shared publicly,
and presumably no one would disagree that the need to keep some material
confidential is inherent in any nation's diplomatic activities. But Gration's backtracking caused confusion among advocates who had eagerly tuned in: Despite the AskUS
initiative being promoted as a forum for open dialogue, the administration was
cagey on some fairly rudimentary points about its new Sudan policy.
Indeed, the Obama administration's Sudan
strategy, rolled out on October 19, focuses on calibrating pressures and
incentives on the basis of "verifiable changes in conditions on the ground." Yet during yesterday's meeting, advocates were told that the benchmarks for
measuring progress were "a process we're working through."
The best summation of the State Department's first foray
into citizen engagement 2.0 is, appropriately enough, encapsulated in a tweet by TechPresident
blogger Micah Sifry. Responding to the frustration advocates were expressing in
real-time to the vagueness of the administration's answers, he wrote, "Whatever
you may think about substance of Gration/Power's answers, State Dept just
raised the bar on admin transparency efforts." Indeed.
It's not by chance that AskUS was launched around an issue
that has such a strong U.S.-based constituency. Let's hope the next meeting
sees activists on Congo, Burma, Sri Lanka, or any of the other many
neglected crises, get an invite to the White House.
Rebecca Hamilton is the author of The Promise of
Engagement, a forthcoming book on citizen advocacy in Sudan. She is an Open
Society Institute fellow and a visiting fellow at the National Security Archives at George Washington University.