Here Be The Middle

Keeping an eye on china

Posts tagged politics

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China Sea Island Conflict: Round…Inifinity

After some Japanese activists apparently slipped past Japanese border officials and made it to the Diaoyu (or Senkaku, depending who you ask) Islands recently, waving around Japanese flags as a statement to the world, mobs of Chinese took to the streets to express their decided disapproval by smashing Japanese cars and restaurants.

I’ve covered related incidents on the South China Sea in the past. This is not new. And the issue has clearly not progressed at all. Which probably means that it has deteriorated as both (or should I say “all”?) countries involved stew over the problem.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: No one seems to have any legitimate claim in this land dispute. Take Japan for instance, since they’re the ones pissing in the sea this time: “China claims the islands have been a part of its territory since ancient times, but Japan says it took control of the archipelago in the late 1890s after making sure they were uninhabited.”

I assume the BBC is only touching the surface here, but, first of all, the 1890s weren’t that long ago, relatively speaking. And they took control of the islands after making sure they were uninhabited? What the hell is that? “No one’s here. I guess we’ll just take the lot of it, then,” as they thrust the Japanese flag into the earth. What about people who fish? What about traders? Other seasonal inhabitants? Even if there truly wasn’t anyone there, what about geography? Take a look at a map. The islands are much closer to China than Japan. Is “Finders Keepers” a justifiable defense here?

I don’t exactly mean to take sides. I’m American, after all. I live on land overtly taken from people. And we own Hawaii. How did that happen? Ethnically, I’m Belgian and German, and I’m sure you’re all aware of those roads of historical horror. But, hey, guys, come on. It’s the 21st century. No one lives on these islands. The Japanese claims are clearly tenuous. The islands are much closer to China. Let’s wrap this up with a bit of adult rationale, especially considering Japan’s atrocities against China during the war. The least they could do is turn around and say, “Hey, here you go guys! We’re sorry we raped, pillaged, and attempted to colonize your country. We get that you’re angry and we want to start over.” Can you imagine that? It’s not going to happen any time soon, but wow. That would be a wonderful thing for contemporary global politics.

Unfortunately, natural resources and military use come into the picture, not to mention the politics of the whole thing, which is the real crux of the issue. He (or she) who backs down loses his public legitimacy, right? But there are ways. Can’t the islands be sold, for instance? We all love money, right? And that would take care of the legitimacy problem, or at least greatly soften it.

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons.

Filed under diaoyu senkaku islands japan politics international relations china south china sea

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+1 for human rights in China

China often leaves me pleasantly surprised in its general treatment of and outlook on the LGBT community. Human rights certainly need improvement in China, to say the least, but women’s rights and LGBT rights are quite good, everything considered.

I was in the outskirts of Beijing a couple of months ago and saw an outdoor show in which a man performed an incredible vocal set dressed as a beautiful woman, hitting notes most of the crowd could only dream of. In the middle of the show, the man went into the crowd giving hugs to men in the audience as he sang. These gestures were received with smiles and exhilaration from the crowd. And let me note again that this was in the outskirts of Beijing, with a high proportion (if not majority) of rural hukou holders in attendance. Try putting a dress and makeup on a man in the rural midwest in the United States and asking him to sing like a woman and hug random men in the crowd. See what happens.

This is one of many examples of the increasing level of LGBT rights in China. Just about every time I go to a nightclub, I see men dancing with each other in ways they would probably hesitate to in a straight club in the United States. In Chinese society, there seems to be little of the LGBT shaming we see in the West (outside of the family proper anyway), and none of the fear of openly associating yourself with the LGBT community (again, with the exception of within the family and perhaps the workplace).

Do some research on the national obsession with 李玉刚 (Li Yugang) for another excellent example of LGBT positivity. I have yet to meet a single Chinese person who doesn’t like this performer. And I’ve asked dozens of people — men and women, young and old.

And take a look at this article about the recent coming out of China’s ‘oldest transsexual’ and the positive reception of her decision.

Hats off to China for some outstanding progress in human rights. 加油!

Filed under china gay gay rights human rights lgbt politics li yugang transsexual transgender queer lesbian bi sociology

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Bigger than the censors?

We know Big Brother is always watching in China, particularly when you’re spouting off on the internet about key sensitive issues and trigger words. But in a recent plot twist, researchers in academia are now apparently watching the watchers. Armed with new software, teams at Harvard and University of Hong Kong are keeping tabs on what the censors are censoring. This will doubtlessly provide very interesting databases of censored information to speculate about. Can’t wait to see what patterns come out of it all.

Filed under censorship china politics economist internet censorship harvard university of hong kong

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Where in the World is Chen?

escape

In an escape worthy of a Hollywood movie, the famous blind Chinese political activist Chen Guangcheng gave his house arrest guards the slip recently. A very interesting international political incident might arise out of this, with reports that Chen may be holed up in an American embassy in Beijing.

Given Chen’s background as a legitimately persecuted activist, I doubt this will end the same way Wang Lijun’s asylum-seeking visit did earlier this year.

Don’t miss Chen’s video appeal (in Chinese) to Premier Wen Jiabao.

More as this unfolds.

Image courtesy of Creative Commons.

UPDATE: Decent English transcript of Chen’s video on the Shanghaiist.

UPDATE: As predicted, Chen is America-bound. Insightful coverage from the New York Times here.

Filed under politics china activism chen guangcheng

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Bo Xi Lied

blood money

With reports of his son driving a Ferrari, it should be no surprise that Bo Xilai’s career may be sprinkled with a bit of dishonesty (or maybe a lot of it). When the proverbial shit hit the proverbial fan back in March, I toyed with the idea that maybe Bo’s former police chief, Wang Lijun, was the dirty one and Bo was sacked as a result of political rivalry. But as details and rumors continue to emerge, it’s starting to look more and more like Bo is a man of questionable integrity, with evidence that he and his family moved massive amounts of dirty money abroad. I suppose it’s possible that Bo’s wife and the now murdered Neil Heywood conspired together without Bo’s knowledge, but this is unlikely.

For an excellent update to this movie-style political murder mystery, check out this article from the New York Times.

Image courtesy of Creative Commons.

Filed under bo xilai china politics murder mystery new york times

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Home Sweet Home

Interesting video from The Economist about the Chinese government’s mass-relocation plans for Shaanxi. I just spent the weekend in similar impoverished mountain villages on the Guangxi-Guizhou border. If the people are properly compensated and respected, I feel that a forced move might actually be environmentally and socially positive (though the government’s motivation here is obviously economic).

Filed under resettlement relocation china shaanxi politics environment guangxi guizhou

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Woe Xilai

Bo Xilai

The Chongqing political fiasco that has been unfolding for the past couple months has left me thoroughly confused. It’s interesting that there has been so much breaking news about the event, yet no one seems to know anything.

Here’s my simplified understanding of what happened:

    1. Chongqing party head Bo Xilai made a name for himself taking down corruption rings in his administrative region. With his slick talking, his smart suits, and his apparent dispersal of local mafias, he became popular with the media. But his loud calls for a return to what many consider extreme leftist ideology have left a bad taste in the mouths of many would-be supporters in both the public and political spheres. (This is the guy who started the new “red culture movement”, including the singing of “red songs" all over the country, which I wrote about back in July.)
    2. A mysterious and bizarre series of events recently culminated in Bo’s then-police chief Wang Lijun fleeing to a US consulate and spending an entire day there. Rumors speculated that he may have been seeking asylum.
    3. Wang left the embassy (of his own volition) and turned himself in to police. Why? No one seems to know. Needless to say, he lost his job.
    4. The latest piece in the puzzle: Bo has been sacked from his position in Chongqing.

The media — both Chinese and international — seem as foggy on this strange series of events as the general public. The million RMB question is: If Bo made a name for himself as an anti-corruption advocate, cleaning up the mean streets of Chongqing, why all of a sudden is his right-hand man running to the nearest US consulate with fear in his eyes?

The rumor mill is already at peak production on the issue: Some suggest that maybe the famous anti-corruption duo were actually corrupt themselves. A good reason to seek asylum in a US consulate is if your life is in danger. For the police chief’s life to be in danger, he must have been in bed with some shady company (metaphorically speaking). And for Bo to be unaware of any relationships of questionable integrity Wang may have had is unlikely given how closely they worked together. Reminds me of the Elliot Spitzer downfall…

Whether China’s conspiracy theorists have reality pinned down may never be known, but the less hysterical possibility is that Bo may genuinely not know what drove Wang’s mysterious behavior. Perhaps no one but the US consulate knows. That Bo was ultimately sacked may simply be the result of a zero-tolerance policy from the top for leaders who don’t have their house in order — particularly when the story goes international.

Or maybe they were just looking for an excuse to get rid of Bo and his nostalgia for old-time Leftism…

Updates to come if I find any reports giving a reliable explanation of what went on in Chongqing. Relevant replies and links welcome.

UPDATE: The New York Times reported last week that Bo may have been trying to protect his family from a corruption probe. But was he really guilty of corruption, or was this a set-up by political rivals? Still unclear.

UPDATE: New blog entry on this.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Filed under china politics bo xilai wang lijun chongqing

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Jigs and Jingles for Communism

When I heard about the "red song" movement apparently gaining a surprising amount of traction in various parts of China, I initially thought, Great, we have a cult of personality revival on our hands…

In an effort to pay homage to their political party, Chinese officials recently launched the “red song” campaign, which urges citizens to dance and sing along to patriotic music. As the Los Angeles Times is reporting, “red songs” (or songs written in praise of the Communist Party) are now experiencing a nationwide fad, with elaborate public performances, singing contests and even karaoke playlists now including the pro-revolutionary ballads. Among the most popular musical offerings are titles like “Without the Communist Party, There Would Be No China” and “Follow the Party.”

With eager, smiling swathes of the population doing a jig for Communism, I can’t help feeling a bit perplexed. I thought we were moving forward.

I’ll admit the US got a bit bizarre in terms of political worship during the Obama election. There was enough singing, dancing, and praising with outstretched hands across the country to send a Texan mega-church running for its money. Remember stuff like this?

But the Obama-worship has died down quite a bit. We’re back to reality. After 90 years, I would think the CCP would have lost it’s luster as well. Apparently not.

Filed under red song campaign red song movement communism china obama cult of personality politics

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Stormy Seas

And the South China Sea land claim fiasco continues, unabated. Can I open by pointing out that (and not that this is really relevant, but I’m just saying) it’s called the South China Sea, folks. When questioning the rightful sphere of influence here, I’m sold on the name. Islands in the South China Sea belong to China? Sounds convincing enough to me. But what do I know.

Jokes aside, though, China has the upper hand here, in more ways than one. First, we all know that the one with the gold makes the rules. Second, the Chinese government is handling this quite well in terms of PR. And quite well otherwise (ostensibly speaking). They’re not making a big scene and they’re advertizing a peaceful approach to land, they say, historically belongs to them. And, honestly, who’s to say it doesn’t? From what I’ve been able to gather, ownership of the Spratly and Paracel islands is quite vague from any angle. So when Vietnam starts foaming at the mouth, making barely veiled threats of war, my sympathy meter stays pretty neutral. Not really the best way to justify your tenuous land claims — particularly when five other countries are grabbing for the same thing.

More on this as it unravels.

Filed under china land claims paracel politics south china sea spratly vietnam international relations