Category Archives: China

China Hotline Hiatus

It’s been more than a few weeks since I updated here, and it’s probably about time to put in an official word. Right now my day job is starting to entail more and more writing about China, which is using a lot of the energy for which I had previously been using this site as an outlet. When events warrant longer blog posts or opinions which I can’t put forth at work, I may still put them here- but for the moment, probably no more news aggregating. I’ll keep the site up, and we’ll see if/when regular updates start to make sense again.

-The Management

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“China to NY Times: Plagiarise this!”

FT has a piece on the continuing fallout from NYT’s expose on Wen Jiabao’s family wealth:

The People’s Daily made a crude attempt at a hatchet job on the New York Times in a lengthy opinion piece on its website on Monday. The immediate prompt was clearly the New York Times account published last Friday of how Premier Wen Jiabao’s family has accumulated “hidden riches” of about $2.7bn, though the People’s Daily refrained from mentioning that specific article.

Instead, it chose to rehash the New York Times’ two biggest reporting debacles of the past decade and various laments about how it has lost its way under the headline, “New York Times: Scandals multiply and reputation deteriorates”.

Apart from the obvious irony in the fact that the People’s Daily is trying to pass judgment about reporting standards, there is another, even more basic problem with its criticism of the Times: its words appear to have been almost entirely plagiarised.

What the People’s Daily failed to mention was that virtually every last sentence in its opinion piece had previously been published. A quick search revealed the following:

1. The opening criticism of the Times’ fallen standards and the description of the Kouwe case? From a 2010 report by China News Agency.

2. The description of the Blair case? Lifted straight from two People’s Daily articles in 2003 (at least it is copying itself).

3. The account of “Journalistic Fraud”, the book? From a 2003 article by China News Agency.

4. And that final quote from the once-loyal reader? A translation by Dongxi (a now-defunct translation website) of a 2011 article that appeared on Splicetoday.com.

Even by the standards of plagiarism-prone Chinese media, it takes a certain brazenness to perpetrate such an extensive copy-and-paste job when preaching about journalistic integrity.

Par for the course, perhaps, but still pretty embarrassing.

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“Me and My Censor”

Eveline Chao, one of my favorite Twitterers, has a great piece in FP about the realities of censorship in China. You should really read the whole thing.

My first day of work in Beijing, my boss asked if I knew the “Three Ts.”

I did not. It was February 2007, and I was a wide-eyed 26 year-old fresh off the plane from New York, struggling to absorb the deluge of strange information that had hit me since arriving.

The Three Ts, he informed me, were the three most taboo topics to avoid in Chinese media — Taiwan, Tibet, and Tiananmen. My boss was Taiwanese himself, and delivered this information with a wry tone of bemusement. He had been doing business here for nearly 30 years, he had said, since China first began opening its economy to the outside world, and had witnessed a lot.

“You’ll hear more about it from our censor,” he said, and then, having inserted that tantalizing fragment into my head, sent me off to begin my new job.

Like any editor in the United States, I tweaked articles, butted heads with the sales department, and tried to extract interesting quotes out of boring people. Unlike my American counterparts, however, I was offered red envelopes stuffed with cash at press junkets, sometimes discovered footprints on the toilet seats at work, and had to explain to the Chinese assistants more than once that they could not turn in articles copied word for word from existing pieces they found online. I also liaised with our government censor.

Our censor, an employee of MOFCOMM, was a nervous, flighty woman in her forties with long, frizzy hair and a high, childlike voice, whose name was Snow. (Snow requested I only use her English name for this article.) In late September of this year, I learned that Snow left the magazine, enabling me to finally write this story without fear that it would affect her job.

Snow’s name made for much late-night comedy in my office, along the lines of: “God, that article totally got snowplowed,” or “Uh-oh, I predict heavy snowfall for this one.” I met Snow for the first time during our inaugural editorial meeting at the office: the top two floors of a six-story, spottily heated building with a pool hall in the basement and what appeared to be fourteen-year-old security guards at the door, in central Beijing. Here, just as my boss had promised, Snow elaborated on the Three Ts, relaying an anecdote about a journalist friend of hers. A photo enthusiast, he once ran a picture he’d taken in Taiwan alongside an article, but had failed to notice a small Taiwanese flag in the background. As a result, the entire staff of his newspaper had been immediately fired and the office shut down.

In the beginning, most of Snow’s edits were minor enough that we didn’t feel compromised. We couldn’t say that a businessperson came back to China from the United States after “Tiananmen,” but we could say “June 1989,” knowing that our readers knew the significance of the month. We couldn’t say “the Cultural Revolution” but could write “the late 1960s and early 1970s,” to allude to then Communist Party chairman Mao Zedong launching his disastrous campaign that sent millions of intellectuals to the countryside. Writing that a company planned to expand into “foreign markets like Taiwan and Korea” was forbidden because it suggested that Taiwan was a separate country from China, but we could say “overseas markets,” since, according to Snow, Taiwan literally is over a body of water from the mainland.

Go read it!

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“China ‘steals wife’s freedom’ to pressurise Liu Xiaobo”

It’s hard to find new things to write about Liu Xiaobo, who is still imprisoned and essentially cut off from the world- but the BBC has put one together with the latest:

A source close to the family has told us that Liu Xiaobo will not agree to leave China as that would lead to his voice being marginalised.

But the source said that Liu Xiaobo’s wife Liu Xia is “suffering mentally” because she has now spent two years under illegal house arrest and continues to be detained.

China’s authorities allow only three people to visit Liu Xiaobo in Jinzhou prison where he’s being held: his two brothers who can see him about once every six months, and his wife who sees the Nobel Peace Prize winner every two to three months, the source said.

They have to ask for permission in advance and wait for notification.

“They are not allowed to go and visit him together. Only one person is allowed each time. And the police watch them during the entire meeting,” our source told us.

His wife, Liu Xia, meanwhile, has not committed any crime in China but is being held in her home.

“There are two policewomen living with her in her apartment. And lots of plain-clothes police watching the compound constantly,” our source told us.

“Liu Xia’s health is not very well. Mentally she suffers a lot because of the loss of personal freedom and the worries about her jailed husband.”

“She is allowed to go out and visit her mother and meet one of her best friends roughly once a month, escorted by policewomen the entire time. Other than visits to her husband, that’s it.

“She is not allowed to go anywhere else, not even to the park or shop. And no-one is allowed to even approach her compound, let alone visit her.”

The individual added: “What the government is doing to Liu Xia is illegal. They do this routinely to dissidents in order to prevent them speaking to the press and tainting the government’s image.

“Her husband is currently the most famous dissident in China, so she suffers tighter control than other dissidents.”

“To the extent that this reflects an official strategy to counter Liu Xiaobo’s influence, it would have to be deemed successful. There’s only so much interest that can be sustained by a person’s continued absence.

“That’s why you don’t see too many headlines proclaiming ‘no news of Nobel laureate again this month’.”

And the friend of the family who spoke to the BBC says that, by being so harsh on his wife, China is trying to pressure Liu Xiaobo into cutting a deal to go into exile.

“The government is trying to force Liu Xiaobo to leave China by taking his wife’s personal freedom away. At the same time, the government threatens both their families, saying if they try to speak to the media or leak any information their right to visit Liu Xiaobo will be taken away.

“This is very cruel. It has forced the family to keep quiet.”

But, the family friend added, Liu Xiaobo will not agree to leave China, despite the fact that his prison term lasts until 2020.

“The government has always wanted Liu Xiaobo to leave China because the fact that a Nobel Peace Prize winner is in jail, is a constant reminder of China’s poor human rights situation.”

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“The Bo Xilai Case: China’s Pandora’s Box”

Evan Osnos on the verdict we’ve all been waiting for- Bo, guilty:

The Chinese Communist Party has just done something it hates to do: hang its dirty laundry out in public. With a level of force and lurid color that surprised just about everyone who pays attention to these things, on Friday the Party ended the greatest guessing game in Chinese politics by unveiling the charges against the once-golden politician Bo Xilai.

According to the announcement of the charges, Bo “abused his power, made severe mistakes, and bore major responsibility” for the attempted defection of a powerful police chief and the murder of a British businessman (a crime for which his wife was convicted). In other words, the state is saying that he had a hand in killing or covering up the killing of a foreigner, and that he failed to prevent a bearer of secrets from attempting to flee.

There’s more: “He took advantage of his office to seek profits for others and received huge bribes personally and through his family. His position was also abused by his wife, Bogu Kailai, to seek profits for others, and his family thereby accepted a huge amount of money and property from others.” In today’s China, what is a “huge amount”? Well, Bloomberg figured that Bo’s in-laws had more than a hundred million dollars in assets. And those are the ones we know about. “Bo had affairs and maintained improper sexual relationships with a number of women.” Plural? The émigré journalist Jiang Weiping has estimated that Bo had somewhere around a hundred mistresses.

One of the biggest surprises in these charges is that the Party didn’t confine its attention to the dramatic events of this spring and declare victory. On the contrary, they harkened back to virtually his full political career, accusing of him impropriety as early as his posts in Manchuria, where he was first stationed in 1984. That’s a quarter century of opportunities, and for years, Bo was said to have been involved in corruption. But nobody ever thought he would be prosecuted for it, not any more than they think that the other members of the Politburo who are routinely subject to rumors about corruption will ever see a day in court.

And therein lies the powder keg at the center of the Bo Xilai case. In seeking to purge him with a finality that can restore short-term political balance, the Party may have raised a more dangerous spectre: the full-scale accounting of a life in government. The results could reveal a culture of self-dealing and personal enrichment that exceeds even the Chinese public’s considerable tolerance of official abuse. It may start a conversation that will be hard to end.

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Filed under China, Chongqing Model/Bo Xilai, Communist Party

“As China Talks of Change, Fear Rises on the Risks”

Michael Wines has a solid look at the voices for change coming from inside the Party in the run-up to the Party Congress:

A heavyweight crowd gathered last October for a banquet in Beijing’s tallest skyscraper. The son of Mao Zedong’s immediate successor was there, as was the daughter of the country’s No. 2 military official for nearly three decades, along with the half sister of China’s president-in-waiting, and many more.

Most surprising, though, was the reason for the meeting. A small coterie of children of China’s founding elites who favor deeper political and economic change had come to debate the need for a new direction under the next generation of Communist Party leaders, who are set to take power in a once-a-decade changeover set to begin this year. Many had met the previous August, and would meet again in February.

“Compare now to 1989; in ’89, the reformers had the upper hand,” said Mr. Zhang, a historian formerly associated with the government’s Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, referring to the pro-democracy student protests that enjoyed the support of a number of important party leaders but were crushed in Tiananmen Square. “Twenty years later, the reformers have grown weaker. Now there are so many vested interests that they’ll be taken out if they touch anyone else’s interests.”

To Mr. Zhang and others, this is the conundrum of China’s rise: the autocracy that back-flipped on Marxist ideology to forge the world’s second-largest economy seems incapable of embracing political changes that actually could prolong its own survival.

Many who identify with the reform camp see change as inevitable anyway, but only, they say, because social upheaval will force it. In that view, discontent with growing inequality, corruption, pollution and other societal ills will inevitably lead to a more democratic society — or a sharp turn toward totalitarianism.

If peaceful change is to occur, Mr. Zhou and many others say, it must begin inside the Communist Party; the lesson of Tiananmen Square is that the leadership will not tolerate threats to its control. Many speak of a transformation along the lines of that in Taiwan, where authoritarian rulers peacefully gave way to direct elections in 1996, and helped spawn today’s robust democracy.

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Filed under 2012 power transfer, China, Communist Party, political reform

“Examining the PSB’s 2011 Kidnapping Report”

Custer at Chinageeks examines the report and contrasts it with what he observed while filming a documentary on child kidnappings in China (spoiler alert: the report is somewhat less than truthful):

The report is, unsurprisingly, triumphant and self-congratulatory, and there are some things to celebrate. Chief among them is the claim that the PSB rescued 8,660 kidnapped children and 15,458 trafficked women over 2011. That’s great, although with media reporting on this subject controlled we more or less have to take them at their word as there’s no way to independently confirm those numbers. Still, even one child rescued is good news.

That said, as someone who has spent the last year talking to the parents of kidnapped children, it is difficult to read the report without getting angry. It states, for example, that the disappearances of children are uniformly treated as criminal cases, and that these cases are to be “swiftly developed and investigated” with the same urgency the PSB might use in pursuing a murder case. But in actuality, everything we’ve heard from parents indicates that this is not how things work in practice. In every case we’ve looked into, police initially tell parents to look for their children themselves, assuming the child has run away or is visiting friends, and telling parents they won’t take the case until the child has been missing 24 hours. When they do take the case, investigations are slow and remarkably lazy. In the 2011 disappearance of Lei Xiaoxia (one of the subjects of our film), it took police months to request surveillance footage from the school where Lei went missing — by which time it was already deleted — and nearly a year after her disappearance, the police still haven’t interviewed any potential witnesses.

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“”Tiananmen Square” and “Zhao Ziyang” No Longer Censored on China’s Internet?”

NDT on something that people have been noticing over the last few days- it looks like a number of formerly blocked topics and websites are (at least temporarily) unblocked in China:

On Tuesday morning, many Chinese netizens discovered that the search term “Zhao Ziyang” appears in Baidu Encyclopedia, a web-based Chinese encyclopedia.

Baidu Encyclopedia, together with the Baidu search engine, is heavily self-censored. But now, when the politically sensitive search terms “Zhao Ziyang” or “June Fourth” are entered into Baidu search engine, more than one million results show up.

Zhao Ziyang served as the Premier of People’s Republic of China from 1980 to 1987, and the General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee from 1987 to 1989. He is most known in the West for his supportive stance towards the student democracy movement. In 1989, he spoke to students at Tiananmen Square just before the massacre. That would be his last public appearance, as he spent the rest of his life under house arrest.

In China, the Tiananmen Square massacre is known as the “June Fourth” incident, and mention of it is taboo.

On Tuesday night, Sina Weibo netizens started buzzing on this issue, and the discussion post was shared over two thousand times in just a couple of hours. Over 500 people commented on it.

Pu Fei from Tianwang Human Rights Center said that the appearance of politically sensitive words on the Internet doesn’t mean that Internet censorship is likely to decrease or come to an end.

I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s already been changed back, but based on a ChinaSmack post from today it looks like a few more social networking sites have also been unblocked. Odd.

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“Tibetan discontent smoulders”

Our congratulations to Philip Wen of the Sydney Morning Herald, who has become the third foreign journalist to run the Chinese blockade of Ngaba and report from the area itself. He has a video and article over here, both of which confirm earlier reports from The Guardian and McClatchy:

STEPPING foot on the main street in the small town of Aba, you cannot shake the ominous feeling that your every move is being watched.

Heavily armed police are set up at every intersection. Security personnel holding spiked clubs stand guard beside army trucks full of soldiers in riot gear. Roadblocks cut off the town at both ends, with every vehicle entering and leaving the town closely monitored and identity cards routinely checked.

The town’s symbolic Kirti monastery now resembles a military camp. Army trucks loaded with soldiers are stationed outside. Soldiers are permanently based in the monastery itself. The number of monks at the monastery has fallen from more than 2000 four years ago to about 600, after most were forced from the monastery by authorities.

Those who remain at Kirti are monitored constantly. Each monk is watched around the clock, usually by junior-level public servants who even sleep in the monks’ quarters.

One public servant said she would likely have been assigned the unenviable task if she was not female, and said her male colleague desperately disliked the amount of intrusion and disrespect it showed the monks. ”He doesn’t want to have to do it. He’s Tibetan himself,” she said. ”He wanted to quit but wasn’t allowed.”

”For them to sacrifice their lives, we are on the one hand very sad,” Jigme said. ”But on the other hand, we completely agree with their thoughts. We don’t have any religious freedom. Life has no meaning without freedom; it’s a principle of life.”

Despite the violence, the Aba prefecture party secretary Shi Jun has been rewarded for his draconian stance. He was promoted to assistant governor of the Sichuan People’s Provincial Government last week.

Is there any reason CNN or MNSBC couldn’t do this, other than their pro-authority bias? Watching the meaningless junk cable news networks spend their time on when this is happening is almost as depressing as accounts from the area themselves.

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Filed under China, ethnic conflict, Self-Immolation Crisis, Tibet

“One Tibetan shot dead in Drango Protest in Kandze”

TCHRD is reporting that there’s been another protest in Kandze (Ch: Ganzi), with one or perhaps two Tibetans killed by Chinese forces:

One Tibetan layman, identified as Yonten, has died of gunshot after security officials clamped down on a protest in Drango County (Ch: Luhuo County) in Kandze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, according to information received by TCHRD today.

At least three monks from Drango Monastery are seriously injured, although it is not clear whether these injuries were caused by gunshots.

The protest occurred on the morning of 23 January 2012 when the Public Security Bureau (PSB) officials arrested many Tibetans in and around Drango on the suspicion that they pasted leaflets and posters that warned of more Tibetan self-immolations if the Chinese government did not listen to Tibetan concerns.

Another source reports that at least two Tibetans died in the shooting. However, TCHRD is still trying to confirm the accuracy of this information.

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Filed under China, ethnic conflict, Self-Immolation Crisis, Tibet

“Liu Xiaobo – analytic calm, activist diligence”

Mr. Liu is still being held incommunicado by the government somewhere in northeastern China, but a book of his translated essays and poems coming out next year prompted this post by Perry Link on Democracy Digest:

We might expect such steadiness in a recluse—a hermit poet, a cloistered scholar—but in Liu Xiaobo it comes in an activist. Time and again he has gone where he thinks he should go, and has done what he thinks he should do, as if havoc and the possibility of prison were simply not part of the picture.

Fortunately for his readers, he writes utterly free from fear. Most Chinese writers today, including the best ones, write with political caution in the backs of their minds and under a shadow that looms as they pass their fingers over keyboards. What topics should I not touch? What indirection should I use? Liu Xiaobo does none of this. What he thinks, you get.

Liu sees the roots of China’s problems today in its political system, not in its people. He insists that there is no individual person, including any who prosecuted or imprisoned him, is his personal enemy. His ultimate goal is regime change—done peacefully. On this point China’s rulers, who charge him with subverting their power, actually see him correctly. They are also correct in seeing that his ideas would be broadly popular inside China if they were allowed to circulate freely, and that, of course, is why they are so eager to block them. Liu writes that change in China will be slow, but he is optimistic that unrelenting pressure from below—from farmers, petitioners, rights advocates, and, perhaps most important, hundreds of millions of Internet users—eventually will carry the day.

Chinese people have always shown special reverence for Nobel Prizes, in any field, and this fact has made Liu Xiaobo’s Peace Prize especially hard for the regime to swallow. When China’s rulers put on a mask of imperturbability as they denounce Liu’s prize, they are not only trying to deceive the world but, at a deeper level, are lying to themselves. When they seek to counter Liu’s Nobel Prize by inventing a Confucius Peace Prize, and then give it to Vladimir Putin citing his “iron fist” in Chechnya, there is a sense in which we should not blame them for their clownish appearances, because these spring from an inner panic that they themselves cannot control

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Filed under China, Liu Xiaobo

“Love … Exciting and New”

Chovanec has taken a break from writing great pieces about the economy to instead write one about something a bit funnier- the Chinese love of Ikea:

For years, one of my favorite outings in Beijing has been shopping at the giant IKEA store on the northeastern outskirts of the city. Why? Because of the way Chinese consumers hang out and make themselves at home there, a phenomenon first described — hilariously — by David Pierson in the Los Angeles Times. It’s not at all unusual to see folks taking family photos in the mock living rooms, or every single display bed occupied by napping people — on my last trip, I remember seeing three little old ladies tucked comfortably into the same bed, placidly watching the other shoppers go by, with their six stockinged feet sticking out from under the covers. It’s absolutely a hoot, and should be on every tourist itinerary.

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“Ai Weiwei’s Paper Planes”

Evan Osnos has a blog post up about Ai Weiwei and the latest phase of his battle with Beijing. Served with a trumped-up tax bill by a government seeking to retroactively justify disappearing him, Ai’s fans are now the ones escalating the fight:

The long-running tussle between China’s most famous artist and his state entered a curious new stage recently, when the government served him a $2.4-million bill for tax evasion, to be paid in full within fifteen days. Every day that he is late adds $31,640.

Supporters began to send donations by PayPal; they wrapped cash around fruit and delivered it to his doorstep; they folded hundred-yuan notes into paper planes and sent them sailing over the wall into his Beijing compound. On Tuesday, the reporter Melissa Chan tweeted, “Man, wife, and baby just showed up in Mercedes outside Ai Weiwei’s studio/home looking to contribute.” The list of donors is a manifesto of its own; it includes people like Zhao Lianhai, who became a food-safety activist after his baby fell ill in 2008 from infant formula that had been tainted with melamine to appear to have more protein.

By Tuesday’s end, according to his assistant’s public accounting, his supporters had donated 6,082,451 yuan—more than 958,229 dollars, putting him nearly halfway to covering his bill. (The prospect of him being charged with illegal fundraising is especially intriguing, as one commentator to the Global Times article points out: “How is asking someone to lend you money ‘illegal fundraising’? This happens every second of every day in China.”)

It should be pointed out that he hasn’t actually asked anyone to lend him money- the donations began spontaneously. He probably doesn’t even need the money, given his reach and history of having sold art pieces abroad. What’s interesting is that this affair is giving ordinary Chinese a chance to make a statement, and many seem to be doing so. The Communist Party would have been far better off if it had just ignored him all those months ago.

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Filed under activism, art, censorship, China, Jasmine Revolution

“Premier Wen calls for political reform, again”

The headline is the good news. The bad news is that Wen is looking like ‘the boy who cried reform!‘ I don’t think anyone is buying it anymore- he’s wasted too much time, and is getting too close to the end of his term for anyone to believe his heart is really in it. Via CMP:

That’s right, he’s at it again. Using the opportunity afforded by a speech in a prominent international forum, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (温家宝) is once again visiting his favorite theme — the urgent need for political reform in China. And once again, his remarks are fodder alike for sanguine optimists, grumbling pessimists and cautious skeptics. Is he serious? Is his making a cynical bid the cement his legacy as a moderate? Is he simply too beleaguered and too powerless to effect his ideas? Or does this prefigure some sort of real change?

It is a debate that has been repeated on each occasion over the past 18 months where Wen has stepped out to toll the bells of political change in the midst of what seems by all other measures a period of great internal political sensitivity for China.

Hey Wen- you aren’t protecting your legacy by occasionally mentioning to foreigners that China needs political reform. Your legacy is going to be defined by your inaction on this issue, at a time when political reform could decide China’s future.

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Filed under China, political reform

“Asia’s New Great Game”

Thant Myint-U has an article in FP about Burma, traditionally China’s second worst ally. It’s now being viewed as a possible bridge between India and China, which may completely change the country:

Beginning in the mid-1990s, China began unveiling plans to join its interior to the shores of the Indian Ocean. By the mid-2000s, these plans were being turned into reality. New highways are starting to slice through the highlands of Burma, linking the Chinese hinterland directly to both India and the warm waters of the Bay of Bengal. One highway will lead to a brand-new, multi-billion-dollar port, facilitating the export of manufactured goods from China’s western provinces while bringing in Persian Gulf and African oil, oil that will be transported along a new 1,000-mile-long pipeline to refineries in China’s hitherto landlocked Yunnan province. Another, parallel pipeline will carry Burma’s newfound offshore natural gas to light up the fast-growing cities of Kunming and Chongqing. And more than $20 billion will be invested in a high-speed rail line. Soon, journeys that once took months to make may soon be completed in less than a day. By 2016, Chinese planners have declared, it will be possible to travel by train all the way from Rangoon to Beijing, part of a grand route they say will one day extend to Delhi and from there to Europe.

Burma could become China’s California. Chinese authorities have long been vexed by the soaring gap in income between its prosperous eastern cities and provinces and the many poor and backward areas to the west. What China is lacking is another coast to provide its remote interior with an outlet to the sea and to its growing markets around the world. Chinese academics have written about a “Two Oceans” policy. The first is the Pacific. The second would be the Indian Ocean. In this vision, Burma becomes a new bridge to the Bay of Bengal and the seas beyond.

China’s leadership has also written about its “Malacca dilemma.” China is heavily dependent on foreign oil, and approximately 80 percent of these oil imports currently pass through the Strait of Malacca, near Singapore, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes and just 1.7 miles across at its narrowest point. For Chinese strategists, the strait is a natural choke point where future enemies could cut off foreign energy supplies. An alternative route needed to be found. Again, access across Burma would be advantageous, lessening dependence on the strait and at the same time dramatically reducing the distance from China’s factories to markets in Europe and around the Indian Ocean. That Burma itself is rich in the raw materials needed to power industrial development in China’s southwest is an added plus.

Meanwhile, India has its own ambitions. With the “Look East” policy, successive Indian governments since the 1990s have sought to revive and strengthen age-old ties to the Far East, across the sea and overland across Burma, creating new connections over once impassable mountains and jungle barriers. Just north of where China is building its pipeline, along the Burmese coast, India is starting work to revive another seaport with a special road and waterway to link to Assam and India’s other isolated and conflict-ridden northeastern states. There is even a proposal to reopen the Stilwell Road, built by the Allies at epic cost during World War II and then abandoned, a road that would tie the easternmost reaches of India with China’s Yunnan province. Indian government officials speak of Burma’s importance for the security and future development of their country’s northeast — while also keeping a cautious eye on China’s dynamic push into and across Burma.

But is a modern-day Silk Road really in the making? Until earlier this year, it was difficult to be optimistic, with Burma at the heart of the transformations and the news from Burma remaining so bad. Ordinary people were as poor as ever, political repression was the order of the day, and the Chinese projects under way seemed to be doing more to fuel corruption and devastate the environment than anything else. Fresh elections were held late last year, but they were widely condemned as fraudulent.

Over the past several months, however, there have been increasing signs that better days might lie ahead.

This March, the junta was formally dissolved and power handed over to a quasi-civilian government headed by a retired general, U Thein Sein. President Thein Sein quickly began to exceed (admittedly low) expectations, speaking out against graft, stressing the need for political reconciliation, appointing technocrats and businessmen to key positions, inviting exiles to return home, announcing fresh peace talks with rebel groups, and even reaching out to Aung San Suu Kyi, not long before released from house arrest. Poverty reduction strategies have been formulated, taxes lowered, trade liberalized, and a slew of new laws on everything from banking reform to environmental regulation prepared for legislative approval. Parliament, after a shaky start, began to take on a life of its own. Media censorship has been significantly relaxed, and opposition parties and Burma’s burgeoning NGO community have been allowed a degree of freedom not seen in half a century.

It’s a fragile opening. The president seems determined to push ahead, but his is not the only voice. There are other powerful ex-generals in parliament and in the cabinet, and the structures of repression remain intact. Burma is at a critical turning point.

How India and China develop, and their relationship with each other, is going to be hugely important this century. It’s almost funny that a relatively small and sparsely populated country in between them might end up playing such a huge roll in how it all turns out.

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“Beijing’s latest army… of ‘civilisers’”

This piece from FT captures the feeling of efforts by the government to ‘civilize’ cities in one way or another- it’s always funny to see in real life:

Having groups of uniformed people trying to herd Beijing’s unruly throngs in one or the other direction, mostly by waving little banners in front of your face or shouting slogans that have become unintelligible – thanks to the thick Beijing accent blaring through cheap loud-hailers – is nothing unusual.

Many busy intersections in the city are staffed with traffic police, preoccupied with catching and fining drivers hitting the road on the one day their license plate is blocked, and traffic wardens, elderly men and women tasked with shooing pedestrians across the road when the lights turn green.

On Thursdays, they are joined by the ‘queuing ladies’, middle-aged women in maize-yellow shirts who try to convince commuters at bus and subway stations to wait in line and let others get off before they press on.

On any occasion considered important or sensitive by the ruling Communist party, the neighbourhood committees, its grassroots organisations, send out elderly party members to watch everyone. All along Chang’an Boulevard, the capital’s main thoroughfare, groups of three or four aunties and uncles with red armbands, foldable stools and thermoses can be spotted chatting the day away.

Grading places by their degree of civilisation might seem strange in the West, but not in China. Much like ‘harmony’, the word ‘civilisation’ is part of the ideology-speak the Communist party uses to rule this vast country. While ‘harmony’ refers more to the goal of avoiding conflict by ironing out differing views and interests, ‘civilisation’ means a set of behavioural rules.

Be polite – don’t push, shout, swear, spit, or engage in any other of those habits everyone around you displays every day.

As interpreted by the Chaoyang tracksuit volunteers, the push for ‘civilisation’ is not directed at big black cars with People’s Armed Police license plates – when they run red lights, the volunteers just look the other way. It does however include a rule not to sell fruit on the sidewalk in residential areas – carts doing that have all been driven away by the tracksuits over the past week.

But then, nobody is making a big fuss about this because it’s going to be over in no time. “Once the inspectors have left, we’ll send the volunteers home,” says the district official.

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“China not allowing Tibetan traders into India”

Before the Chinese annexation of Tibet, Tibetan traders had a strong presence in northern India. Following the takeover, Beijing sealed the border with Tibet’s southern neighbor, which both greatly damaged the Tibetan economy and made it more dependent on China. Although Beijing claims to have reopened the routes, it looks like there are some unwritten restrictions in place (via Tribune India):

Although Indo-Tibetan border trade resumed in 2004 along the old “Silk Route”, authoritative sources said not a single trader from Tibet had been allowed so far to enter India for trading.

“Though traders from Kinnaur have been going every year, not even a single Chinese trader has come to India,” confirmed Sanjay Sharma, Sub-Divisional Magistrate, Pooh, the issuing authority for trade passes.

In sharp contrast, Indian traders, majority of them hailing from Kinnaur have been going across to Shipki village in Tibet with their cargo every year.

“The trade was resumed in 2001, we kept waiting with garlands for Chinese traders at Chuppan to come to Kinnaur with their goods but our wait proved futile as no one was allowed to enter India by the Chinese authorities,” reminisces Pasang Cherring who, however, goes over to Tibet every year.

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“What’s on lunch plate of Chinese people?”

From Ministry of Tofu, a collection of photos showing lunchtime in China. Oddly compelling, and worth a quick minute.

Zhang Jingjing, 6th grader. Father is a porter carrying loads. Mother is a sanitation worker.

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“Veils Banned in Khotan”

Autonomous Region translates some news from Khotan:

Uighurbiz reports that the crackdown on Uyghur women wearing veils in Khotan has escalated since the beginning of Ramadan. The government requires restaurants owners not to tolerate veiled women and akhuns to preach the legality of the rules prohibiting veils. Roadblocks are set up at major junctions to check for wrongdoers. Signs that say “veiled women not allowed” are seen on public buses.

Should the “56 harmonious nationalities” signs be re-photographed with veils removed, or are those ok?

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Hiatus!

The China Hotline will return next week! Stay tuned!

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