China Comment

Energy, Environment, and Economy

Protesters and the Olympics (Guest)

by: Danny J. (Guest Contributor)

There is one group who the Western media has generally not quite given much face-time, a group who could potentially cause even more embarrassment to Beijing than the Tibet and Darfur protesters. This group is China’s general population of ‘petitioners.’

Beijing is said to have been home to 10,000 petitioners before the Olympics. Many of these people came to Beijing to petition because they believe they have ‘been denied justice in their home provinces.’ These people could expose untold numbers of stories of local corruption, and at least some of the stories would be true.  Now, groups allege there has been a large crackdown that has swept petitioners, along with other undesirables such as ‘beggars and pickpockets’ out of the city. Also, to discourage undesirables (the poor, migrants, Uighurs, 等等) from residing in Beijing, the government ‘closed down thousands of cheap hotels and basement apartments where rooms could be rented for less than $1 a day’ and ‘demolished housing in entire neighborhoods where petitioners have lived.’

Anyone who has lived in Beijing is probably familiar with this sort of tactic, the clearing off the street of beggars before a big event – be it a Party Congress, or the Africa-China meeting. This time, however, the clearing is being done with an ‘unprecedented intensity.’

One common petitioner spot known as Kaiyang Bridge had somewhere around 10,000 petitioners before the crackdown. Now it only holds a few hundred. Such petitioners wish to have their problems heard, hopefully in front of a television camera. Gauging Beijing’s reaction so far, it is a bit unlikely that their problems will be heard before they are detained.

High profile protests have already begun. Pro-T^&(t activists unfurled some huge banners near the stadium, ‘others managed to screen a pro-T^&(t video, a U.S. swimmer unveiled an anti-fur advertisement and three U.S. Christian activists were able to enter T*(ananmen Square to protest briefly.’ No one was arrested, although it appears that all save the anti-fur swimmer were deported on the 9th, but all were quickly quieted and removed from their protest sites.

For something to look forward to, there are the ‘more than 40 athletes’ who signed an ‘open letter to china’s government to respect human rights and freedom of religion.’ Protests have also started and have been ongoing, to some extent, in many parts of the world.

What all this will lead to in the aftermath of both protests and the Olympic games, and whether or not the Chinese government can respond appropriately to unrest and dissent, might very well shape future Chinese domestic and foreign policy.

(ed: in the August 19, 2008 WSJ, page A10- Shai Oster noted in “China is Pitching a Protester Shutout” that 77 applications for protests from 149 people have been filed. 74 were withdrawn “because their problems ‘were [allegedly] properly addressed by relevant authorities…’ No protests have been approved. This could lead to simmering discontent among the people as Leslie Hook describes on page A15 in “The Chinese Want Property Rights Too.” In that article, Hook describes several petitioners’ struggles.)

Specifically of note (and for deeper analysis): Willy Lam of the Jamestown Foundation wrote a good article on the “Coming crackdown” post-Olympics games.

This piece does not necessarily reflect the views of chinacomment. However, it is interesting, so I hope you will find it enjoyable. Once again, I thank Danny very much for his contribution.

(Note: Chinacomment is currently on vacation and without constant access to computer until the beginning of September; however, updates will continue at the pace of 1-3 a week since Chinacomment does have a sizable backlog of relevant material to post.)

18 August, 2008 Posted by | China Future, China General, China Stability | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Beijingers Love Their Games? (Guest)

by: Danny J. (Guest Contributor)

In a survey of Chinese natives, 93% believed that ‘the Olympics will help China’s image around the globe’ and 96% said that the games ‘will be successful.’

These numbers, while enlightening on exposing Chinese national thought, don’t hit on one key question: How are Chinese, and Beijingers in particular, satisfied with the preparations for the games and the new security regulations?

This quote seems to sum up at least some Beijingers’ feelings: ‘For years we couldn’t wait for the Olympics to start. Now we can’t wait for them to be over.’ To be fair, many are still excited for the event, they are just a bit tired of all the extra measures.

The quoted person presumably wants the Olympics to be over so everything can be ‘normal’ again, without all the new rules and restrictions imposed on Beijing to clean it up – environmentally, legally, and even in terms of fashion (Shirts and ties for taxi drivers) . (ed: One interesting dramatized story about local discontent with the Olympic games can be found in this “sci-fi” tale from China Digital Times, reposting from the SCI-FI Great Wall blog. The story discusses how poor local Beijingers are pushed aside in the lead-up to the Olympics, all for the sake of honored foreign guests.)

Rules have been drawn up to guard against fashion no-no’s. Here’s the abridged version: ‘white socks worn with black shoes are out, leather skirts are frowned upon, bright nail varnish is a no and woe betide anyone whose colours clash.’ What will actually happen to someone who violates these new guidelines, let alone what these rules will do to that Chinese 农民(nongmin) summertime tradition of rolling up shirts to mid-chest height, is unclear.

Maybe it’s not just the fashion police who are bothering Beijingers. It could be the new Taxi protocol requiring identity checks at random police stops. Or it could be that a good number of clubs ‘have been forced to go dark,’ and the ones that are still open have a mandated 2 a.m. closing time. Then, in a move to clean up pollution, most barbecue or 串儿 restaurants/stalls have been closed.

Checkpoints on the outskirts of the city have helped decrease the number of vegetables in Beijing, and partially due to that and inflation, foodstuff prices have increased by around ’20 percent.’ Compounded together, it’s easy to understand a Beijinger’s frustration.

There is some good news: Water will not be in short supply in Beijing. It has been diverted from Hebei, to ensure that the Olympians get enough water. Hebei, already a bit short of water, might have some problems. On top of sufficient water, rules have been put in place to ensure cabbies ‘go easy on their garlic consumption.’

One more humorous measure involved ‘a series of measures banning cigarettes in schools, railway stations, office buildings and other public places.’ Wen Jiabao ‘has declared that the Olympics will be smoke free.’ 100,000 inspectors are on the lookout to ticket smokers, but the ticket is a mere $1.40, which among the middle classes is unlikely to curb much smoking. To emphasize this, a general reaction to the rare non-smoking sign: “If I point to the no-smoking sign, the passenger will just laugh and keep smoking.”

Chinese may love their Olympic games, but with over 350 million Chinese smokers, 1/3rd of the world’s smoking population, many Chinese also love their cigarettes and their normal lives.

This piece does not necessarily reflect the views of chinacomment. However, it is interesting, so I hope you will find it enjoyable. Once again, I thank Danny very much for his contribution.

(Note: Chinacomment is currently on vacation and without constant access to computer until the beginning of September; however, updates will continue at the pace of 1-3 a week since Chinacomment does have a sizable backlog of relevant material to post.)

12 August, 2008 Posted by | China General, Isn't That Odd? | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Isn’t That Odd? : Segways & Flamethrowers

Here’s an amusing article describing Chinese preparing for anti-terrorism drills.

Proximately from Engadget-but originally from Xinhua

Xinhua’s photo gallery is here: Although the Segway use can be justified (sort of- though they would seem to be pretty difficult to balance under stress conditions), a question arises looking at Xinhua’s photos, why is a flamethrower necessary for anti-terrorism drills at the Olympics?

 From Xinhua

In recent years, China installed fire extinguishers in Tiananmen to prevent people being lit on fire, after certain high-profile self-immolation protests in 2001.

One wonders how much danger the Beijing security details are expecting to handle– and with what degree of deadly force. I spoke with an Olympic volunteer and was told they were very concerned, as all people at all Olympics are, about incidents at entrances to Olympic venues.

Another especial reason for Beijing’s security worries; As recently as May 2008 an unexplained explosion that may have been intentional, went off on a Shanghai bus. Xinhua didn’t initially attribute the explosion to terror, but TIME Magazine and people on the ground have suspicions. At minimum, following the explosion, Shanghai instituted new regulations about carrying certain materials on buses and increased anti-terror patrols, which leads one to believe that there may be some reason for these heightened concerns.

With luck, nothing untoward will happen in China during the Olympics. For China’s sake, if something does happen, hopefully the police/military response is proportional and appropriate and that the coverage of said problem is transparent.

One thing that seems quite Odd is China has long believed very strongly that ignoring a problem, even after the problem has become well known, allows the country to save face. By covering-up details, forbidding publication of negative stories, and making everything seem happy, Chinese officials seek to win accolades (As I discuss in an earlier article).  Thus, they barred reporters from T$$$bet during the recent disturbances, then denied Chinese-instigated abuses (which may or may not have happened- since the West lacked independent reporting all it really has is a “monks said/Beijing says” dichotomy).

Simon Elegant at TIME Magazine thinks the media’s coverage style is changing and the Chinese government is more willing to admit to problems rather than covering-them up; but he also points out difficulties suffered by Chinese trying to discuss incidents online.

Oh China, such an odd and amusing, but often frustrating place.

7 July, 2008 Posted by | China Stability, Isn't That Odd? | , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments