Wandering China

An East/West pulse of China's fourth rise from down under.

China wields ‘soft power’ with English TV broadcasts in Europe

The empire strikes back would be a suitable succinct way to describe this measure to tilt the balance of global favoritism determined by the flows and owners of global media (very broadly, all the transnational media corporations (like Time Warner, Viacom, Disney, et al. are all Western owned, who in turn run most of the world’s media, save but one, i.e. Sony from Japan which one might figure, not desire to tilt in China’s favour much), once a domain so well played out by the U.S. Like China’s aspirations to build an aircraft carrier to find a stable middle path between east and west, China’s quite had enough of one-sided press reports for some time now, and is more than eager to be heard by the English-speaking world. The global power shift has not just begun. We’re right in the thick of it.

China wields ‘soft power’ with English TV broadcasts in Europe
Source – the Straits Times 30 June 2009

BEIJING: China’s official news agency will begin providing English-language television broadcasts on screens in European supermarkets this week, in Beijing’s latest move to expose Western audiences to its view of world events.

The Xinhua news agency, in partnership with about a dozen European broadcast partners, will show 90 minutes of news daily on TV screens in supermarkets and outside Chinese embassies across Europe starting tomorrow, Mr Chen Yue, a spokesman for Xinhua’s English news department, said yesterday.

‘China has recognised the importance of soft power, and through the medium of television and the Internet, the Chinese government aims to strengthen its influence internationally,’ he added.

He did not give details on which supermarkets would carry the broadcasts, or in which countries. The Financial Times cited an editorial staff member of Xinhua, however, as saying that the broadcasts would be aired in Brussels and other cities.

It is not known what benefit the stores would gain from showing broadcasts from an agency that is seen as the propaganda arm of the Chinese government.

The announcement comes after the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s official newspaper, the People’s Daily, announced plans to expand its coverage. It also comes after state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) said it would revamp its news broadcasts for the first time in a decade to combat a sharp decline in viewership.

The People’s Daily launched an English-language edition of its popular Global Times earlier this year.

The moves are believed to be part of a government plan to fund a major international expansion of CCTV, the People’s Daily and Xinhua.

Academics with an advisory role in the plan have said the government would hand out 30 billion yuan to 45 billion yuan (S$6.4 billion to S$9.6 billion) to the media groups, the Financial Times said, though it added that the Chinese government has denied the numbers.

The Xinhua broadcasts in Europe will consist mostly of 10- to 15-minute news briefs plus a 30-minute feature and lifestyles segment, Mr Chen said. All shows are recorded in Xinhua’s Beijing studio.

The Chinese media drive reflects steps already taken by Russia and Qatar to influence international news coverage through their state-funded Russia Today and Al-Jazeera channels. Those attempts to challenge the BBC and CNN have scored some success.


Filed under: Media, Strategy

‘S’pore fever’ rages on in China

My dad’s been keenly aware of this fact for a while, that Singapore has been an effective model for the Chinese to learn (some say, copy) from. This is on many fronts. One, despite our boasts of multiculturalism (and mighty successful at that), Singapore is really a society based on highly (politically-driven) Chinese ideals (Confucianism and Legalism, for example is embedded and translated as meritocracy, hierarchy, loosely presented as high morality ), and well, the one-party rule governing such a broad spectrum of ethnicities is a fine starting exemplar for dealing with China’s 56 ethnic groups.

What’s really pertinent in this article is the fact that now the Chinese are not just keen to learn from Singapore, but to surpass Singapore.

‘S’pore fever’ rages on in China
By Peh Shing Huei, China Bureau Chief
Source – The Straits Times 24 June 2009

SHENZHEN: A fresh wave of books on Singapore is hitting China, as scholars here add to the growing Chinese literature on the experiences and stories of the island nation.

At least five titles will be published in the later half of this year, with most focused on learning from the experiences of Singapore’s ruling People’s Action Party (PAP).

Journal articles discussing the party’s five decades in power are also lined up, timed to coincide with the PAP’s 50th anniversary in governance this year.
The current interest, said analysts, is driven by Chinese officials who have been flocking to Singapore for training.

‘There is an elite push behind this,’ said Henan Normal University’s Professor Sun Jingfeng, whose book studying the PAP’s longevity in power is being printed now.

‘More and more officials have been to Singapore for training. When they return to China, they want to share what they have learnt. That creates interest in books on Singapore among the party cadres,’ he added.

Since 1996, Singapore has trained more than 16,000 Chinese officials, with the Nanyang Technological University’s two Masters programmes – dubbed shi zhang ban, or ‘mayors’ programme’ – among the most well-known and popular.

Besides Prof Sun’s publication, other new books on Singapore include Sichuan province cadre Li Shaojian’s Enhance International Cooperations With Singapore. Mr Li also wrote a book two years ago on Singapore’s harmonious society.

Professor Li Luqu of Shanghai’s East China University of Political Science and Law will publish a book on East Asian comparative politics, drawing heavily on Singapore’s experiences in maintaining a stable and clean political system.

And Shenzhen University’s Professor Lu Yuanli is planning a revised edition to his two-volume Why Can Singapore Do It?, which has sold nearly 30,000 copies.

The book, which was launched in mid-2007 and carries a foreword by Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, has gone through eight print runs.

It has also topped numerous best-selling lists in various Chinese cities, with the most recent being Guangdong province’s Zhuhai two months back.

There is another unmistakable sign of the interest in the Singapore experience: piracy. Some titles have been scanned and uploaded online, Prof Lu told The Straits Times in an interview at Shenzhen University’s Centre for Singapore Studies.

‘The interest is largely driven by party cadres. They are more practical. They want to see what works. The Singapore experience speaks their language,’ he said, adding that he was invited by the Chinese Communist Party’s school in Pudong, Shanghai, to give a talk about Singapore in April.

This new level of interest can be seen as a continuation of the third stage of the ‘Singapore fever’ in China.

The first came after 1979, when the late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping visited Singapore for the first time.

The second was after 1992, when Deng praised Singapore as an orderly and well-managed country during his famous Southern Tour of China’s prosperous provinces, and said China must not only learn from Singapore but also surpass it.

The current wave is believed to have started in 2007 when southern leaders like Guangdong province party secretary Wang Yang and Kunming city chief Qiu He publicly pushed cadres to learn about and surpass Singapore.

‘After reading my book, Qiu He told all the Kunming officials that they have to read it and he would test their understanding of it,’ said Prof Lu.

‘The Singapore model of development before democracy is something which suits China.’

Filed under: International Relations, Singapore

China’s diplomacy in a multi-polar world

Exerting influence through multi-lateral organizations. Something it seems the US pioneered but has forgotten how to execute with any finesse. That’s the gist of my takeaway from this article that I found on my new favourite read, the Global Times. I like the term multi-polar too, certainly a very succinct descriptor of the current global situation; as opposed to the recent US habit of unilateral and unpopular enforcement/deployment of their own foreign policies (read: Bush, for example). Whilst the US is busy fighting in the middle east, China has been keenly lapping up the attention of the rest of the world (posited in the media to look like a focus on especially third-world countries with abundance of natural resources, for starters), extending olive branches in terms of financial stimulus and resources, and well, treating them like kings – another clear indication China’s, well at least the CCP has grown in tact in public diplomacy. This article tells of how China has yet another chance to influence the world in a ‘good way’, but we shall see.

Would be interesting to know the ownership of the Global Times though – the quest begins now. Attempts to navigate to the About Us section failed. I will have to see if it’s simple browser capability issues, or more than meets the eye!

China’s diplomacy in a multi-polar world
Opinion – Editor’s Choice
Source: Global Times 17 June 2009

In a briefing held a day before the BRIC summit in Yekaterinburg, Russia, the Chinese delegation stated that cooperation among the four countries would be open and transparent, no third party would be targeted, and no confrontation would be sought.

It’s a necessary message to the skeptical West, which for the first time found itself left out of a major summit. It is also a pragmatic line that China has to walk in a multi-polar era taking shape faster than we had foreseen.

Scholars are divided in their views on the direction the world is heading as it becomes increasingly multi-polar. Niall Ferguson, a noted historian, predicts that the alternative to a single superpower is the anarchic nightmare of a new Dark Age. Some view the post- US dominated world in a more promising way. US scholar Richard Haass holds that the US can manage the transition and make the world a safer place in the age of non-polarity.

The multi-polar world in the last century was marred by two wars and numerous smaller conflicts, but as economic co-binding among countries has deepened, negotiation has replaced a military approach in many cases to solve conflicts. Ethics have also started to play a stronger role in shaping the world order.

In this context, its pragmatic, low profile diplomatic approach in the past decades has earned China a favorable position on the international stage, and it has accumulated significant political capital over time.

China should spend that political capital wisely, promoting the world’s shift from a single to a multi-polar structure in an orderly manner, maximizing its interest and coordinating with other players to solve regional hot-button issues.

But China has often found itself sandwiched between the powerful West and emerging countries. It is asked by both to play a role outweighing its real power, while in the meantime facing skepticism, distrust and even opposition from both.

Walking the fine line in between and winning acknowledgement from both sides requires a sophisticated diplomacy of balance and great political wisdom.

Given its current strength, exerting influence through multilateral organizations is the best option China has.

The Chinese people should support the government’s moves to exercise pragmatic, effective diplomacy; sometimes that means not pushing the government to be too aggressive in its foreign policy.

Filed under: International Relations, Russia

Hazy future for pollution tax

Being the world’s factory also means being a major major source of pollution. This I have been worried about since my trip to Shenzhen in 2002 where skyscrapers were being built to fill the entire horizon. If China were to poise itself to be a world leader, I reckon truly leading the way by keeping our skies clean and blue would win her more genuine supporters (albeit green ones, I’m sure that wouldn’t hurt) – also see earlier post on how Beijing dealt with polluting cars, by scrapping about 350,000 of them in Beijing alone. Maybe it was just for the Olympics. Hmm.

No need for further public diplomacy or any charm offensive needed. Just show and pave the way for true nobility as of the great Chinese thinkers of old. The advantage China has is the ability to introduce sweeping reforms with little in the way, let’s hope money-making doesn’t cloud that ideal, as it already has in so many aspects.

Also, do note the last paragraph. the source asserts China’s hit a low of 6.1% growth in the first quarter of 2009. Looks like the Chinese machine is still churning out the goods whilst the rest of the world backslides. The phoenix has indeed re-risen. Let’s hope it learns to set a good example, a la Confucius!

Cyclists passed through thick pollution from a factory in Yutian, 100 kilometers east of Beijing in North China’s Hebei Province. Photo: ImagineChina

Hazy future for pollution tax
By Sun Zhe
Source – the Global Times June 18 2009

A man was caught spitting on the sidewalk and fined 50 yuan ($14.64). The guy took a 100-yuan note out of his pocket, handed it to the cop and said, “Keep the change. I want to do it again.”

The joke mirrors the doubt that the environment taxation issue has triggered. Would it really ease pollution, or it is just a government money maker?

A two-year history

Vice Finance Minister Wang Jun said on June 11 that the Ministry of Finance was considering the environmental taxation issue.

In saying that Wang was echoing his counterpart in the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP), Zhang Lijun, who said on June 5 that eco-taxation has been put on the schedule of “significant issues,” and was being pondered by Ministry of Finance, the State Administration of Taxation (SAT) and the MEP.

It’s not the first time that heads of the state environment bureau has brought up the issue.

It was noted in an emissions reduction schedule released as early as June 2007, when the National Development and Reform Commission stated that China was going to tax polluters. The MEP – then the State Environmental Protection Administration, which was upgraded to ministry level in March 2008 to highlight the government’s eco-consciousness – had declared at the time that an environment tax was being discussed.

However, in June Zhang and Wang, like their predecessors, did not give a timetable for any eco-tax.

Environment destruction has accompanied China’s GDP rush for years. Heavy air pollution chokes in one third of the country’s cities, more than one fourth of its rivers and lakes are contaminated by industrial waste, and 90 percent of its rivers crossing urban areas are heavily polluted, according to a February working session of the MEP in Shanghai.

“The government would always weigh whether the employment and the GDP that one industry created was really worth the harm, or pollution, it causes,” said Fan Yong, dean of the taxation department with the Central University of Finance and Economics in Beijing, “That is one reason pollution tax is being brought forward now.”

But pollution has not been “free” for years since China adopted the pay-as-you-pollute policy in 1982 when the State Council approved the emission fee proposal.

“It is typical in China that before the government launches a new tax, it first makes it a fee,” Wang Surong, a taxation expert with Beijing-based University of International Business and Economics, told the Global Times.

“It’s like a test run,” said Wang, “just to get people warmed up for the payment.”

It’s customary within China’s taxation system to transform fees into taxes, according to Fan.

“A tax is more transparent and compulsory than a fee,” said Fan, “because it has the taxation law to back it up.”

The government has adopted tax policies, such as subsidies or kickbacks on value-added taxes and income taxes, to award environmentally friendly manufacturers, said Fan.

Actually there is already an environment-related tax in China, only it’s called the natural resource tax, launched in 1993. According to the latest figure released by the SAT, the natural resource tax amounted to only 0.5 percent of the country’s annual taxation revenue of 4944.93 billion yuan ($723 billion), while the GDP of 2007 was 24952.99 billion yuan ($3,652 billion).

In 2006 and 2005, the natural resource tax revenue was respectively 0.45 percent and 0.55 percent of the country’s total annual tax revenue.

“It’s not likely that the new tax would be called an ‘environment tax,’” Fan said, “But more likely an emission tax. It’s a transformation of the emission fees (or pollution fees). It applies to solid, liquid and gas wastes like the emission fee does.”

And emissions are likely to be taxed according to their elements, such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and carbon dioxide, as is done in western European countries.

A higher production cost would be added to the product price and the consumers would pay for price hike, according to Wang.

The new tax would not be a silver bullet to slay pollution because those who can’t afford increased costs will likely turn to cheaper, higher polluting alternatives, while the affluent buyers probably won’t care too much about the price.

“It’s like when the golf tax came into effect,” said Wang, “Nobody chose to hang up their clubs, because golfers are rich enough not to worry too much about the price.”

However, Fan said that if consumers abandoned one product because of a costly pollution tax, it would spur the manufacturer to develop a cheaper, environmentally friendly substitute.

Difficulties ahead

Sun Gang, a researcher with the Research Institute for Fiscal Science under Ministry of Finance, told the Shanghai Securities Daily in January 2008 that departmental conflicts would make it difficult to apply the tax.

“It will involve cooperation between the taxation department and the environmental department of the government,” said Sun. “The interest of different departments would make the issue complicated.”

The environmental bureau has always collected the emission fees, and the same bureau would be responsible for compiling standards and measures for any emission tax, said Sun.

Other difficulties lie in the distribution of the tax revenue, said Fan.

“For example, when a factory pollutes a river running through several cities,” said Fan, “the city where the factory is would pocket the tax, but the other cities also suffer from the pollution, so there should be a way to distribute the tax income to all of them.”

The emission should be taxed according to the production output of the manufacturers’, as it is too hard to measure the emission amount through the outlet, which have made emission fee collection hard, suggested Wang.

Now not the time

The timing of the tax also remains a significant question. But all agree that rolling it out during the current financial crisis wouldn’t be wise.

“It would be good to launch the tax when the global financial downturn is over,” said Wang. “When the economy starts to recover, the consumers would not be as sensitive to price hikes as they would be now.”

China’s record-low quarterly growth of 6.1 percent during the first quarter of 2009 also made the birth of pollution tax extremely unlikely, because worry over any new tax could undermine the country’s stimulus recovery schedule.

Filed under: Environment

NSW to buy Aussie-made products to save jobs

I can see where the New South Wales government’s coming from, and I eagerly anticipate Beijing’s reaction on this one. It’s not quite protectionism I reckon, but it’s really in the eye of the beholder isn’t it? It certainly will save jobs, but I also would hazard a guess that it’s gonna blow their budget. Labour costs here are almost exorbitantly high, and factories and industrial capability to generate products would have waned as the world leaned towards China’s world factory.

NSW to buy Aussie-made products to save jobs
By Simon Benson
June 15, 2009 12:00am
Source – News.com.au

from the Daily Telegraph

ALMOST $4 billion worth of government goods and services will have to be sourced from Australian companies first in a ban on “made in China” products which is to be imposed in tomorrow’s State Budget.

The Daily Telegraph can reveal that all NSW Government departments and agencies will be forced to protect Australian jobs by giving preference to locally made products.

This would include stationery, uniforms, cars and even trains and building contracts. And to make local bids more competitive, a 20 per cent discount will be applied to Australian products when comparing the cost with overseas bidders.

The decision is bound to have international ramifications and put NSW Labor at odds with the Rudd Government, which has made no secret of its plan to strengthen ties with China.

With NSW now recording the highest unemployment rate in the country at 6.4 per cent, the protectionist measure will apply to all goods and services not included under existing Free Trade agreements and will be worth almost $4 billion in goods and services supplied to the NSW Government.

But in what may prove an even more controversial move, the Government will also lift the exemptions on goods bound by Free Trade Agreements, by extending current exemptions to companies with 200 or fewer employees to those with 500 employees.

Treasury analysis: Stimulus package is saving jobs

The policy will be the centrepiece of a jobs package being pinned on a $62 billion capital works program over four years which the Government claimed will support 160,000 jobs.

Following The Daily Telegraph’s revelations this year that police and ambulance uniforms were being imported from or made in China, Treasurer Eric Roozendaal will announce a new Government purchasing policy which will give priority to more than 500,000 NSW small and medium-sized businesses.

It will also apply to all future tenders or purchases for Government contracts which will give preference to Australian companies.

“All NSW Government and state-owned corporations (SOCs) are to give preferential treatment to Australian-made goods under the new Local Jobs First plan,” Mr Roozendaal said.

“The NSW Government is putting NSW jobs first. Every year, NSW Government agencies spend billions of dollars buying the things they need to deliver services to the people of NSW.

“This plan tips the balance in favour of local businesses, providing them with greater opportunities to expand and sell to government.”

The Local Jobs First program has been endorsed by Unions NSW.

It will apply to all Government agencies and SOCs which will now be required to give preferential treatment to local manufacturers under a price preference mechanism.

The Local Jobs First plan will also require tenders of $4 million or more to include an industry participation plan for local jobs and training programs for apprentices. All department heads will have to comply with the policy in performance contracts.

Filed under: Australia, International Relations

As China Rises Will Her People Stay Crouching?

It is too easy for an observer from overseas (perhaps much more pertinent to say, outside the great walls) to focus on the big picture and miss the forest for the trees. The article below (warning – it is rather long) is courtesy from my dad. Had always wondered – what cost is this, China’s rise, surely it can’t be a bed of roses, there are just too many people to take care of. So big question is – what cost, this updated capitalism model that China is using as a tool for progress? Equivalent exchange, something’s gotta give. Rising income gaps are never quite a good thing, in my books (and CCP seems to be aware of this). We have one planet to share, and these gaps only make worse the us and them syndrome (in 2005 city dwellers made 3.2 times more than those in rural areas) , leading to notions of ‘self’ being the centre of the universe in many perverse ways. The rich look at the poor with disdain, the poor look at the rich with implosive envy, and vice versa, in multi-faceted ways; it can’t be good. It will be of great interest to see how China remembers to maintain the socialist aspect of their political mantra.

Photo from CommonWealth Magazine

As China Rises Will Her People Stay Crouching?
Yi-Shan Chen and Benjamin Chiang
May 27, 2009
Source – CommonWealth Magazine

The existence of the state and the purpose of economic development are to safeguard the people”s welfare. The greatest challenge for China as it rises on the international stage is how to make its people feel contented. “Over the past several years executive power has continued to expand. China has stood up, but China”s people are still crouching,” writes Chinese columnist Edmund Xu.

Among the 20 indices surveyed in the International Institute for Management Development”s 2008 World Competitiveness Yearbook, it is clear that the bipolar phenomena of “a rising economy but lagging happiness among the people” are extant in China. China”s economic indices are in the vanguard, but the country ranks 40th or lower in such areas as education, health and environment.

The Unhappy Chinese
Song Qiang, one of the authors of New Epoch, Grand Vision & Challenges for China, a book (ed.: the Chinese title is closer to China is Fed Up) that has sold nearly a million copies this year, says in addition to being unhappy with the rest of the world, Chinese people are also unhappy domestically when they look inside China and still see so many poor people.

Song, sporting a military-style buzz cut and appearing a bit bashful on meeting with female reporters, reminisces fondly on the Cultural Revolution, saying that although he was quite young he vividly remembers Deng Xiaoping”s announcement of reform and opening, because it meant to him that from then on he would have meat to eat.

Best of all were the improvements in everyday life and availability of opportunity. Although one had to be in the 99th percentile to gain admission through the university entrance examinations, at least the system was equitable, and this son of an unremarkable family rode on his wits into East China Normal University in Shanghai.

“That was Chinese society”s finest hour,” Song says.

Now the wealth gap is growing and the opportunities are no longer there for everyone. The old institutions have collapsed, the medical, retirement and housing systems they supported falling apart with them. An unwillingness to spend resulting from uncertainty about the future poses the greatest challenge to the domestic consumer stimulus policies of PRC President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao.

There is a common saying out in China”s countryside: “There are two doors you can”t get into in China, the hospital and the university.”

The one-child policy instituted in the 1980s led to a surge in personal savings among city and town dwellers alike. With only one child to count on in their later years, people began to busy themselves preparing for a rainy day. Those wishing to attend university must be prepared to foot the bill, as the average tuition is NT$150,000 a year, higher than in Taiwan, despite a median annual income in China of less than NT$100,000.

China”s Ministry of State this year outlined a plan to spend RMB$850 billion to underwrite basic medical services for workers and residents in cities and towns, with the objective of raising the ratio of coverage to 90 percent.
“The government is now taking the correct path,” opines Jeff Shen, executive director of the Fuping Development Institute, which offers small loans to countryside dwellers.

Building systems can be a slow, drawn-out process, and in the short term one of China”s deepest worries in facing the financial meltdown is excessive and potentially misdirected investment.

Better to Have Running Water than a Washing Machine
Take the Consumer Electronics Subsidy Program for Rural Areas, for example. Seeking to determine the penetration of home electronics into the countryside, we decided to take a trip out to the city of Ulan Qab in Inner Mongolia. We set out from Beijing”s boisterous Deshengmen and headed north on highway number 110. Less than five hours later we were cruising into Ulan Qab on a six-lane thoroughfare nearly devoid of automobile traffic, the bells of donkey carts commanding most of the pedestrian attention.

In Du Family Village on the city”s outskirts, more than 30 aging villagers are crammed into five dilapidated mud houses. They earn less than RMB$2,500 per year in income and their most valuable possession is a 14-inch black and white TV.
For more than 100 years, this village has not even had so much as running water. The entire village has a single ancient well from which it draws its water, after which the sediment must be allowed to settle for three days before it is potable.
When it aggressively began promoting sales of home electronics in the countryside as part of its domestic stimulus program, China”s government was hoping to harness to consumer power of its 800 million-strong rural population. But people in Du Family Village are still worrying about their next meal, potatoes being the only crop the parched soil here can sustain.

“Every day, three meals a day, always potatoes, potatoes, potatoes,” our driver, Wang, gripes candidly.
“What is this home electronics program about? Instead of cheap washing machines, the government should give us rural folk running water,” a toothless old gent puffing on a cigarette rejoined.

Entering Hohhot, the capital of China”s Mongol Autonomous Region, the gleaming, modern offices of the regional people”s government dominate the city center and seem out of place in a nation with a per capita GDP of less than RMB$20,000.
“Don”t be surprised. Thousands of municipal governments across China have built such splendid palaces,” cracked one Taiwanese businessman who travels extensively in China.

Pushing the absurdity level, after sundown the Hohhot municipal government”s urban brightening project keeps the city lit up like daytime, with streetlamps along major avenues festooned with strings of hundreds of bulbs like so many glowing grape vines. Proper illumination is a fine thing; the only things missing are cars and pedestrians.

The unforeseen costs of China”s investments may prove to be irreparably harmful in the long-term.

Build an Olympic Park, Destroy a River
Panning back to Beijing, about a forty-minute drive along the road from central Beijing toward Shunyi District along the banks of the Chaobai River lies the Shunyi Olympic Canoeing-Rowing Park, constructed for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The Chaobai River in fact once earned Shunyi the evocative title of “Beijing”s Venice.”

With the conclusion of the Olympic Games, the Shunyi Olympic Canoeing-Rowing Park was closed down, leaving a strange sight in Henan Village adjacent to the park. The Chaobai River was drying up. It turns out that government engineers had rerouted the river through rubber culverts to feed the park its water supply, draining this entire stretch of the river and lowering the water level along its entire length.

“In China you don”t need to worry about getting things done, what you have to worry about is overdoing it, doing it without accounting for unforeseen consequences,” a leading Taiwanese businessman reminds us.

Aside from the social and investment elements of China”s new economic development model, there are fears that perhaps the greatest challenge lies in the underlying philosophy behind China”s state-sponsored capitalism.

Aside from a disinclination among the people to spend, one economist said a key reason behind China”s underdeveloped domestic demand market is on the supply side – even if you have money, there are no proper services on which to spend it. In the health care field, for example, some time back the Formosa Plastics Group proposed building a hospital in Beijing”s Zhongguancun, but was met with a deafening silence. This can be attributed to government control over licenses for operating in the domestic market.

State Controls 84% of Listed Companies
In his most recent book The Writing on the Wall: China and the West in the 21stt Century, British writer and London School of Economics governor Will Hutton succinctly notes that the party-state apparatus remains at the center of the spider”s web of China”s industry, controlling everything.

The state directly controls entire economic sectors of high strategic significance such as telecommunications, energy, transport, steel, automobiles, financials and media. Those companies appearing to be privately operated entities on the surface actually turn out to be state controlled when the layers of share ownership are peeled away.

Hutton cites a 2001 World Bank report 1,105 listed Chinese companies. At first glance, the government appears to have relinquished control of 90 percent of listed companies, but in reality the state retains actual control of 84 percent of listed companies through an intricate web of holdings. That figure remained as high as 81 percent as of 2005.
With state enterprises the major players in China”s domestic market at this time, “we will definitely encounter some issues with the reform of state enterprises during the structural transition period,” admits Zhou Qiren, dean of Peking University”s National School of Development.

From the perspective of job creation and economic transition, private enterprises must ultimately be permitted to participate in the domestic market.

“Development can be seen as a process of expanding the real freedoms that people enjoy,” the Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen wrote in his self-evidently titled book Development as Freedom. According to Sen, the growth of GNP, the rise in personal incomes, and industrialization are all “narrower views of development” that ultimately serve the grand purpose of achieving human freedoms.

For a China now standing tall, the biggest challenge will be allowing her people to stand up, too.

Translated from the Chinese by Brian Kennedy

Filed under: Culture, International Relations

China internet filter challenged [Straits Times]

We read recently how the media output and input in China was rather strong-handedly approached by the blocking of youtube, myspace, twitter, amongst others. And this is an even more clear show of strength. And wow on two fronts – perhaps immortalizing the perennial Chinese habit of building walls, looks like the great Chinese firewall (officially known as the Golden Shield Project) is about to sink grindingly into history books as the ‘fifth’ major wall to be built in the last two thousand years. Second – wow that the Chinese people are speaking up and out. How far can they take this before the CCP uses an iron fist? Something worth monitoring.

Certainly an interesting contraction (but not unexpected) after many years of steady opening up. Would like to read what the West will (or rather not, and keep quiet due to the new status quo), or will not say this time.

China internet filter challenged
The Straits Times
June 11 2009

BEIJING – A CHINESE lawyer has demanded a public hearing to reconsider a government demand that all new personal computers carry Internet filtering software, adding to uproar over a plan critics say is ineffective and intrusive.

Li Fangping, a Beijing human rights advocate who often embraces controversial causes, has asked the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology to allow hearings on the ‘lawfulness and reasonableness’ of the demand, which takes effect from July 1 and was publicised only this week.

‘This administrative action lacks a legal basis,’ Mr Li wrote in a submission to the ministry that was sent to reporters by email on Thursday. ‘Designating that the same software must be installed in all computers affects citizens’ rights to choose.’
Mr Li’s demand, and denunciations of the plan from Chinese rights groups, have expanded a public battle over the ‘Green Dam’ filtering software, despite a state media effort to promote the software as a welcome way to prevent children being exposed to pornography.

Many citizens worry such software and other measures are being imposed to deter discussion of sensitive political topics, especially in this year of controversial anniversaries, Mr Li told Reuters.

‘Above all, we’re concerned about freedom of speech and the right to know,’ he said. ‘We know that citizens have been prosecuted because of their private emails, and we’re worried about more such cases.’

Chinese human rights and gay advocacy groups have demanded the software plan be immediately quashed. A statement from five groups sent by email said the software threatened to cripple access to many of the gay community websites that have flourished in recent years.

The software works by judging whether website pages may show large amounts of exposed flesh.

Wan Yanhai, a leader of the Beijing-based Aizhixing organisation, which works on AIDS and gay rights, said he was preparing a mass petition to mobilise opposition to the software.

‘We need to demand not just the lifting of this software decree, but also an end to restrictions on gay publications,’ Mr Wan told Reuters. ‘This is about opposing censorship.’

BEIJING – CHINESE state media on Thursday issued an unprecedented defense of newly required Internet filtering software that must be packaged with every computer sold in China starting next month, after a public outcry at home and abroad.

Although the government says the software is aimed at blocking violence and pornography, users who have tried it say it prevents access to a wide range of topics, from discussions of homosexuality to images of comic book characters such as Garfield the cat.


Filed under: Internet, Media, Straits Times

Forget Tiananmen, thus spake Confucius

Selected bits of Confucianism have been embedded in the Singapore educational system for a good part of three decades now, as part of Singapore’s quest in its youth to nation build and define some manner of national identity and mantra. Yes my friends that’s where filial piety and notions of meritocracy and hierarchy come from, at least in the Chinese context.

During this time, China has been having a love/hate affair of the system of thought that has shaped many facets of its identity and thought, much thanks to the cultural revolution where it was ‘accused’ of being feudal in nature and thus backward for the newly minted communist mode back in the mid 20th century. It looks like it’s developing a fashionable comeback, and its been timed really nicely to fill the headspace of the people.

Much talk have surfaced since Tiananmen of how Western-styled democracy was the pipe dream, but ultimately not suitable for the Chinese. Why copy the West when all the Chinese need to do is revisit age-old philosophies that served them well for millennia? All it needed was a contemporary update. A 2.0 of sorts. And here’s a great article from the Asia Times on the celebration of how China seems to have found its own culturally sensitive method to less seemingly hard-handed governance, and give people a purpose that was so Chinese, and so divine, like the old dynastic days.

Essentially, we are looking at an updated Communism that is less ‘authoritarian’ and more ‘traditionally rooted’, and hence ‘easier to accept’ by the masses. It’s also interesting to note that Confucius Institutes have been ‘seeded’ around the world (there are 4 in Australia alone, and 328 in 82 countries as of April 2009) to promote understanding of Chinese culture, a move some see, as the Chinese government extending its influence via academia with the soft power imposition of cultural capital. Now, when the Institutes grow to the projected 1000 mark by 2020, that’ll be a lot of cultural muscle to flex.

Forget Tiananmen, thus spake Confucius
By Antoaneta Bezlova
3 June 2009
Source – Asia Times

BEIJING – Tiananmen Square is history. Or at least that is the belief shared by many on the campus of China’s top university.

Students at the distinguished Beijing University, or Beida – once a hotbed of political activism and now at the forefront of China’s attempts to project soft power around the world – no longer commemorate June 4, 1989, when the Communist Party ordered a military assault on thousands of unarmed students protesting for democracy at Tiananmen Square.

In the early 1990s, clandestine candlelight vigils were held on that date on the banks of Beida’s No Name Lake. Small groups of students holding candles would form circles and talk about the Beijing Spring of 1989 and its quest for democracy. Hidden in the dark, these gatherings would last for an hour or so before they were dispersed by university security.

On summer nights in the lead-up to the anniversary, some students would play a dangerous game of hide-and-seek with the guards, throwing bottles out of their dormitory windows – a symbolic gesture of protest against the late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping’s decision to call out tanks against unarmed civilians in Tiananmen Square. (Xiaoping is a homonym for “bottle” in Chinese.)

After all, Beida is where the trouble for the communist leadership started in 1989 – with a few political posters and student meetings swelling to protest marches to Tiananmen Square, continuing all through the spring with peaceful sit-ins in the square and hunger strikes to bolster demands for political reform.

On a recent day in late May, this writer – a student herself at Beijing University in those years – retraced the sites of stealthy student gatherings and audacious small acts of defiance, but found neither. Beida’s youth still crowded the benches and grass around the serenely beautiful No Name Lake, but the conversations were not about commemorating what happened 20 years ago.

Buoyed by China’s sustained economic boom, which offers opportunities unthinkable to their parents and grandparents, Beida’s current students tend to believe that China is destined to blaze a path different than the one chartered by the 1989 student leaders.

“In 1989 they [students] all believed in Western democracy. That is why they even had the Statue of Liberty on Tiananmen Square,” a philosophy student surnamed Zheng told Inter Press Service (IPS). “But I think China should follow its own path of development in politics as well as economy, and not be a copycat of the West. We have done that long enough.”

Such confidence is partly fueled by the success of China’s authoritarian government in delivering material goods to its people. But there are other layers too: disillusionment with the Western model of liberal capitalism during this time of global financial crisis, and newfound pride in the country’s traditional culture that is feeding a revival of the Confucian political and moral ethos.

While few of the Beida students who talked to IPS openly vindicate the bloodshed that occurred in the early hours of June 4, 1989, nearly all of them said the crackdown was necessary to prevent China from veering dangerously off its chosen path.

“There would have been chaos, and our economic development would have suffered,” said another student, Lan Pingli. “But we need many years of peace, stability and economic prosperity to be able to find our own Chinese way of political governance.”

If Lan sounds uncannily like a communist propaganda apparatchik, it is because she and many others among her peers believe Beijing’s form of authoritarian governance combined with a market economy is the right formula for the world’s most populous country. They subscribe to the idea that political change will come to China not by following the Western model of parliamentarian democracy, but China’s own practices.

The Communist Party, which has long regarded Confucius as a feudal thinker, has made a flip-flop, tacitly approving a state comeback for Confucianism, and even promoting it as a key aspect of an alternative political model for China.

“Confucianism has quietly come back,” said Joseph Cheng, a political scientist at the City University of Hong Kong, “and the communist leadership has been exploiting it to help fill the ideological vacuum and improve morality. It is a low-key revival, but it suits their needs to find a new cohesive force at a time when Marxism is dead but democracy is absent.”

China watchers say President Hu Jintao believes this country’s rampant consumerism has left an ethical vacuum that could be filled with a return to the Confucian values of honor and decency. In a recent lecture titled “The Socialist Concept of Honor and Disgrace”, he extolled Confucius’s “eight virtues”, such as plain living and public service, and warned of his “eight disgraces”, like pursuit of profit.

Some experts say the revival of Confucianism has broadened China’s political spectrum and could in the long-run serve as a basis for a new model of governance.

“What is interesting is that now there are more options on the table than compared with the 1980s, when political evolution was viewed only as a change from an authoritarian to a democratic form of government,” said political theorist Daniel Bell, author of a book on China’s new Confucianism. “In China at the moment, the spirit of experimentation is prevailing.”

Yet many believe that China’s political options have actually narrowed since the late 1980s, when the Communist Party crushed the pro-democracy protests.

“I don’t see any serious initiative on the part of the communist leadership to change the current political model,” said Cheng. “In fact, since the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown, party leaders have shown less and less readiness to compromise on their monopoly on power.”

Others say dressing its power in Confucian robes cannot help the Communist Party avoid accountability for the killings of untold numbers of unarmed civilians.

“Confucianism is against killing,” said writer and social critic Yu Jie. “You cannot justify a crackdown like Tiananmen on the grounds that you were trying to keep the country on its own track.”

The Communist Party has dismissed international condemnation of the violent crackdown and rebuffed all efforts to seek a re-examination of the events of June 1989. Beijing continues to defend the use of lethal force against its own citizens as a measure necessary for the stability and development of the country.

Estimates of the death toll still vary widely, from a few hundred to a few thousand.

(Inter Press Service)

Filed under: Tiananmen 20th anniversary

Tiananmen aims lost in prosperity

A very apt article that in my opinion, is a rather accurate portrayal of the Chinese youths I’ve come across, at least here in Melbourne. Have come to realise that in modern China, you can practically say and do whatever you want, bar one thing – talk about the powers that be, i.e. leave the Communist Party alone. In today’s age of Communism 2.0, what some call Authoritarian Capitalism, this much is clear: there is equivalent exchange in all things we do. I suspect, equally so, in any democracy. Whilst democracies manufacture consent, perhaps at least Communism 2.0 is less sinister, at least its intentions and boundaries are clear. Perhaps.

Tiananmen aims lost in prosperity
Source – The Age 04 June 2009
by Mary-Anne Toy

For most Chinese, affluence is more important than democratic freedoms, which is how the Government likes it.

DO CHINESE people yearn for democracy? Do they dream about being able to vote for a government or a leader? And do they approve of the job President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao are doing? After three years as China correspondent for this paper, I’d say the answers are probably No, No and Yes. But no one really knows because such questions remain off limits in China today. No public pollster would dare broach them.

On the 20th anniversary of the brutal crackdown on democracy demonstrations in Beijing, Westerners might also ask whether ordinary Chinese people care about what happened in Tiananmen Square 20 years ago.

But you cannot care about something you know little about.

On June 4, 1989, China’s leaders ordered the People’s Liberation Army to open fire on unarmed protesters to end months of demonstrations around the country calling for democratic reforms and an end to corruption. Party secretary Zhao Ziyang, a reformist who argued that political reforms were necessary for stability and economic growth, was purged for refusing to endorse the military crackdown ordered by Deng Xiaoping and premier Li Peng. Zhao had gone to the Square and tried to talk the students into leaving because he feared a bloodbath. As a result, he spent 16 years under house arrest until he died, unrepentant, in 2005.

Most Chinese under the age of 30 – including millions of schoolchildren – are ignorant about this part of their country’s history. The 1989 massacre and Zhao Ziyang have been airbrushed from schoolbooks and censored in the media and, when possible, on the internet.

The June 4 “incident”, as is it is referred to on the rare occasions it is acknowledged officially, temporarily made China an international pariah, but it did force change – although not necessarily the kind the student protesters hoped for. Two decades of economic growth and increasing engagement with the rest of the world have made the Chinese people more affluent than at any time in the past 5000 years of Chinese civilisation.

Millions own their own home, are free to travel around the country and overseas, can start their own businesses and live how they please, if they can afford it. They can – if they have passports and travel outside the mainland or know how to evade internet censorship – acquaint themselves with those parts of recent history that the Communist Party prefers to remain hidden.

Current leaders Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao acknowledge the people’s anger over corruption, environmental destruction and the growing gap between rich and poor and talk of reforms, greater democracy and rule of law.

The liberal intellectual journal Yanhuang Chunqiu daringly started mentioning Zhao Ziyang’s name last year and has so far survived attempts by party hardliners to shut it down or sack its feisty editor, Du Daozheng.

But, while 20 years of economic growth has delivered much to the Chinese people, it has not delivered the freedom to speak out loud what they may think privately if those private thoughts question Communist Party rule.

Three Chinese dissidents I met during my time in their country were later jailed. One is still in jail, another is under house arrest and the third is a broken man who has been released after recanting his former heresies (including acting for the banned Falun Gong movement and calling for the abolition of the CCP).

Another man, He Weifang, a brilliant young lawyer who has campaigned for an independent judiciary, has recently been banished to a small university in remote Xinjiang province. He believes this is punishment for signing last year’s Charter 08 petition calling for democratic reforms.

Twenty years after Tiananmen Square, living in China under a one-party state that controls the judiciary, the media and the armed forces, life for most of the people, most of the time, is much like it is in a democracy such as Australia or the US.

People worry about getting or keeping a job or their business surviving. They worry about their family, friends, lovers and their children. They lament the state of Chinese soccer, complain about the price of pork and health care or fret about where to send their children to school. They wonder what the purpose of life is, what the future holds.

They most probably are not lying awake at night wondering about democracy.

Perhaps, the CCP had good reason to order the army to indiscriminately fire on students and others in the streets around Tiananmen during that long night of June 4 and into the morning of June 5.

Perhaps if they had not ended the protests, China would have become ungovernable. Perhaps, if they were aware of the situation, the Chinese people would have accepted that force was necessary and that the Communist Party was the only institution strong enough to steer China into its current prosperity.

But the citizens of the People’s Republic of China don’t know and can’t have that discussion because the inescapable conclusion 20 years after Tiananmen is that China’s leaders do not trust the Chinese people.

The Chinese leadership will not risk open debate about 1989 because they fear it could be the thread that unravels the legitimacy of their rule.

Mary-Anne Toy is an Age senior writer. She was China correspondent from 2005 to 2008.

Filed under: Tiananmen 20th anniversary

Tiananmen Anniversary overshadowed

As shared in an earlier post, it will be intriguing to see how the world responds to China’s growing influence. It looks like I was not far off. This just in today. Looks like China is indeed going to get away with it. I think the ‘China threat to the status quo’ is now officially in attendance, if the US maintains such a relatively sedentary stance. Of course, there will be other interesting political dynamics in play, but at least to the lay person, it would seem a new boss is in the house.

Anniversary overshadowed
Straits Times Online 04 June 2009

WASHINGTON – ACTIVISTS looking to highlight the 20th anniversary of China’s bloody crackdown at Tiananmen Square are finding their efforts overshadowed by the emergence of a China crucial to US economic and diplomatic efforts around the world.

Washington has had daily activities this week related to June 4, 1989, when China sent tanks and troops to crush demonstrations and shoot demonstrators seeking to remake authoritarian Chinese system. There have been congressional hearings, appearances by the ‘Three Heroes of Tiananmen’ and other activists, photo exhibits and candlelight vigils.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in a statement on Wednesday that China, as an emerging global power, ‘should examine openly the darker events of its past and provide a public accounting of those killed, detained or missing, both to learn and to heal.’

But none of the commemorations of Tiananmen has demanded the attention that US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s trip to China this week to secure economic cooperation from the single-biggest holder of US debt.

Beijing’s importance to America was further underscored by a Chinese company’s purchase of the unit of bankrupt General Motors Corp. that makes Hummer sport utility vehicles and by worsening tensions with North Korea, where Chinese leverage is seen as key to getting the North to return to nuclear disarmament talks.

Also Wednesday, the Obama administration’s chief climate negotiator said China is critical to making any international agreement to reduce emissions blamed for global warming work. As the United States works to secure cooperation from a powerful, economically dynamic China, it has become difficult for activists to draw attention to the Tiananmen events and to claims that China abuses its citizens’ rights.

Harry Wu, who spent 19 years in China’s ‘laogai’ labour camp system, said the Obama administration’s position on China is understandable but frustrating. The reason that events on Tiananmen are overshadowed, he said, is clear: ‘Because China is holding so much bonds. Because China became a major producer of the United States.’ China holds an estimated US$1 trillion (S$1.5 trillion) in US government debt.

Mrs Clinton has called the US-China relationship the world’s most important. In February, she angered activists and delighted China by saying during a trip to Beijing that the United States would not let its human rights concerns interfere with cooperation with Beijing on global crises.

On Wednesday, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley, facing questions about Mrs Clinton’s February comments, said human rights are ‘paramount on our list.’ But Mrs Clinton is ‘communicating that we’re not going to take a cookie-cutter approach to human rights,’ Mr Crowley said.

‘She is interested in making sure that we address this in a way that is going to be most effective. In some cases, that will be public. In some cases, that will be private. In some cases, that will be both.’ Beijing has never allowed an independent investigation into the military’s crushing of the 1989 protests, in which possibly thousands of students, activists and ordinary citizens were killed. — AP

Filed under: Tiananmen 20th anniversary

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