Wednesday, February 24, 2010

China reacts to Dalai Lama talk with CNN

China was already reeling after the Dalai Lama met with President Barack Obama last week. But other than releasing of statements there was no direct action. The White House website remained online and pictures of the Dalai Lama with the American president remained accessible on the Chinese mainland. But the Dalai Lama's only television interview with CNN chat show host Larry King was highly restricted for those attempting to tune in across China. According to some reports the television broadcast via satellite was not interrupted, but those attempting to access online content found blank screens.
CNN radio which broadcasts a live audio feed of the US news channel was silent on many ISPs and third party websites which rebroadcast the CNN video feed returned blank screens. Throughout the interview, which was aired at 18:00 Beijing time Tuesday, the CNN website was slow to load and the video page was inaccessible for many users. By Wednesday morning the CNN site was almost completely screwed by the Great Firewall with graphics stripped and only basic text and links showing.

It is of course to be expected that China would attempt to stifle any free debate concerning Tibet, the Dalai Lama and issues of human rights. But the pettiness displayed showed by Chinese censors shows that the Chinese Communist Party has a long way to go before it becomes a part of the global community. While it plays an important part in the global economy, the behaviour of Chinese censors in respect to free debate and expression of ideas places the country alongside despots such as Iran, North Korea and others.

As for the interview [transcript] with the Dalai Lama, most of the world were able to view it freely. In opening, Larry King asked the Dalai Lama how his controversial meeting with Barack Obama went.  "Very good. Of course, when he was a new senator and on the Foreign Relations Committee or something... I met him once. A very impressive young politician. Then during the election, he telephoned me and inquired about Tibet. As soon as he became president, he said we'll have some -- some contact and was very sympathetic," the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader said.

He acknowledged that an earlier meeting with the president would not have been advisable due to Obama's intended visit to Beijing in November last year.
He went on to speak about three commitments. "The number one commitment, the promotion of human value in order to create a better world, a more compassionate world, a peaceful world. For that, technology -- economy is not the ultimate source of peace. The real source of peace is inner peace. Inner peace comes through a more compassionate heart. So that's my number one commitment I always say wherever I go."

His second commitment was "the promotion of religious harmony." And he said hoped Obama could make effective contributions in these fields. Tibet of course came up in discussion and he spoke of contacts with the Chinese government. "We are carrying various kinds of work for preservation of Tibetan culture, Tibetan Buddhist tradition, like that," the Dalai Lama said. He said his so-called'middle way approach was fully supported by the American administration.

But in respect to the Chinese administration he laughed and said, "Now, you know, the Chinese government (are) denying there is sort of a problem... They say Tibetans are very happy prosperity and much, much, much better than previous Tibet. But we received information that some, in some of some material development, but culture side or religious faith or all these fields, there's so much suppression or control, restriction."

"So, for example, just a few years ago, I met one Tibetan who come from Tibet -- one profession, a professional person. He told me his own salary, accommodation and also the education for his children, no worries. Everything is good. But then he mentioned, but being as a Tibetan, mentally, emotionally, some kind of overwhelming sort of -- what's the feeling? Then when he mentioned that, tear. So that has a Chinese -- some of these hard-liner Chinese do not understand.

Will there ever be greater autonomy for Tibet? Larry King asked. "Actually, we are not seeking independence," the Dalai Lama said, "No. We are -- you see, that's why we call the middle way. We -- we complain that the present sort of policy in Tibet, it's actually very much damaging about the Tibetans' religious freedom and also culture, heritage and also, very bad for environment. But, on the other hand, we also, you see, do not want separation from China, because the Tibet, landlocked country; materially is backward. Every Tibetan wants a modernized Tibet."

"So for that reason, remain within the People's Republic of China. It is our own interest, as far as materials development is concerned. But meaningful autonomy, self-rule in the field of the culture, education, religion -- in these fields, where the Tibetans can handle better -- a better way. So in these fields, Tibetans should have full sort of authority. So that's what we call middle way. So, firstly, we are not seeking independence. So, therefore, there's some people among Tibetans and also among our supporters, our friends, also are a little critical we are not sort of fight for independence."

King referred to a previous statement made by the Dalai Lama in which he said the middle way approach was failing. The prominent Buddhist responded. "Yes. After the 10th of March crisis in 2008, I publicly expressed now our effort -- one aspect of our sort of effort, that's to bring improvement inside Tibet. Now that aspect failed. But that does not mean complete failure. On the other hand, our approach brings a lot of support from Chinese intellectuals or writers. And then, also, you see many of government now in -- I mean, clearly, including the United States government and, also, the Indian government, fully support -- support our way of approach."

It was over 50 years since the Dalai Lama left Tibet. So did he feel homesick? "Occasionally, I remember my experience of childhood in Potala and also the Summer Palace in Norbulingka. Sometimes I remember these things. But otherwise, the last 50 years, now the portion of my life spent in India. And my body supported by Indian rice and Indian dal...So I -- I don't much sort of concern. But, you see, our concern is six million Tibetan people's basic rights and their culture and Tibetan environment. These are the main issue."

Moving on to other issues, the Dalai Lama spoke of his involvement with Whole Child International. "My number one commitment is to build a healthy world, a compassionate world, so these young children are the future generation. So they cultivate or nurture about compassion from -- right from the beginning. It's very, very essential," he told King, "Then, now, this organization is taking special care of these vulnerable children, who I felt like helpless children."

Sexual inequality was also discussed and the Dalai Lama broached the situation seen in many countries where a girl was seen as inferior. "I heard through BBC that one Chinese -- a Chinese woman who carries some research in China proper, she had one interview with the BBC, a reporter with her. And he -- she mentioned a terrible sort of story. So -- and then, India, also, sometimes the villagers and farmers, you see, they consider the son is more useful, daughter is (not)"

On the recent disaster to hit Haiti, leaving at least 100,000 dead, the Dalai Lama described it as "really terrible." But he focused on the humanitarian response, as seen following the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004 which left a similar number dead. "The response from the rest of -- the rest of the world is immense...Now, similarly, .. the response is very good."

It was important though to move on, however. "The Haitian people should think forward, not just to worry or sad, but work hard and utilize all these funds properly, then build a new nation, new buildings, a new nation. That's my feeling," the Dalai Lama said. "So from bad can come good?" Larry King asked. "Yes, that's right," the holder of a Nobel Peace Prize said.

Despite some health concerns in the past the Buddhist monk said he was "very fit". He also remained optimistic despite the many troubles in the world. "Oh, future is open. And then still, we are in this planet. So now I think, one, I think the practical reason is judging, even in the 20th century -- I think the later part of the 20th century basically much more healthier than the early part of the 20th century."

"Now for example, I think the concept of peace, reconciliation and also the concept of love and compassion, I think, these are -- and also the environment issue. I think human beings -- I think better awareness of all the reality. And I feel in 20th century, through a lot of pains, killing. I think some -- according to some experts, the 20th century more than 200 million people killed through warfare. So such a painful experience, you see, helped humanity thinking more mental. So I'm optimistic." 

Even when it came to his Chinese adversaries he spoke of love. "You love the Chinese?" King asked. "Certainly. We have to practice that. Sometimes you see some of these hard liners of a policy, ruthless policy. Sometimes I got some irritation, but a short moment," the Dalai Lama responded, "I have to make effort to keep love."

Sadly for the Dalai Lama, there was no such sentiment displayed by the Chinese government. Following the broadcast, the Chinese Embassy sent a message to CNN.

"What Dalai Lama has said and done in the past decades have fully shown that he is not a pure religious figure, but a political figure in exile who's long engaged in activities to split China and undermine ethnic unity in China under the cover of religion," the statement began.

The strongly worded statement carried all the usual rhetoric to be expected from the CPC. "Tibet has never been a country in history, but an inalienable part of China from ancient times," it said. "We urge the U.S. side earnestly abide by the U.S. Government's committment of recognizing Tibet as part of China and not supporting "Tibet independence", take measures to undo the damages caused by Dalai's visit, stop providing convenience or platform for Dalai and pro-Tibet independence forces."

Few Chinese would have seen the interview nor the statement issued by the Chinese Embassy. There was also no mention of the interview on Xinhua's website. But that's the nature of free debate in China.

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Beijing: Artist protest broken up by police

Police in Beijing broke up a protest by a group of artists on Monday as they attempted to march along Chang'an Avenue in the centre of the city shouting slogans such as "Capital Beijing, brutal demolition!". Amongst the protesters was Ai Weiwei, a leading Chinese artist, curator, architectural designer, cultural and social commentator and activist. Ai was a design adviser to the architects of Beijing’s Olympics Stadium, known as the Bird’s Nest. He also traced and published the names of children killed in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake on his blog which he says has been repeatedly closed down by Chinese authorities. The demonstration was an attempt to raise attention over the demolition of an art zone in the east of the capital.

The demonstration was short lived however. Gathering at around 15:00 on Monday afternoon the small group of artists marched along Chang’an Avenue, the main road through Beijing that crosses Tiananmen Square. But within minutes they were stopped by at least a dozen police officers about two kilometres from Tiananmen. It was not known if anyone was arrested or detained though reports say their banners calling for civil rights were confiscated. Photographs posted by Chinese activists on Twitter and Flickr showed police manhandling demonstrators and checking credentials of photographers. 

Such protests gain little attention in the media, either in China nor in international media. However a short pieces have appeared following this latest event. Xinhua posted a brief English language report though there has not been widespread coverage [Business Week / Global Times].

Monday's demonstration was only the latest of a series of protests. There was a large protest in January which saw a gathering of around 300 people in one of Beijing's well known art districts. Partly organised through the Internet and by word of mouth it was described by some of those who took part as an art activist event. The "anti-government protest" was an attempt to stop the demolishing of artists' studios in the Heiqiao district of Beijing. But just as seen in this week's demonstration, police quickly moved in to break up the protest though little was reported other than through social media websites like Twitter. 

The area is home to foreign and Chinese artists but with Beijing's rapid expansion the district has been targeted for destruction. Heiqiao [黑桥 or Black Bridge] is an area located east of Beijing, near Nángao [南杲] and Béigao [北杲] which, together with Caochangdi [草场地] represent an important enclave for communities of artists who maintain studios there.

Unlike the more self-contained, sanitized, and tourist-friendly 798 Art District, located in a former factory site, Caochangdi is a loose sprawl of unnamed and sometimes unpaved roads, criss-crossed by clothes-lines and studded with mounds of gravel and dirt that accompany the area’s many construction sites. Rumours as to its demise were already being discussed on the Internet in November [ArtInfo]. Despite its local prominence and international visibility, rumours have been circulating that much of Caochangdi, as well as neighbouringartist villages and studio compounds, were being considered for demolition in order to make way for new government projects and business development. 

Next to the Heiqiao area, a little further northeast in the 008 International Art Studio compounds, Taiwanese artist Peng Hung-Chih recently finished construction on his new 500 square metre live-work space, only to learn that he may not get to use it for long. “There are still a lot of rumors,” a troubled Peng said in November. “I heard that the farmers basically want reasonable compensation. If they get that, the destruction will go on. I think my problem is not over yet.”

The Heiqiao district is just one of several areas towards which artists have gravitated [NYT]. Some have already been torn down to make way for skyscrapers and modern building projects. The Dashanzi Art District, in the Chaoyang District of Beijing, houses a thriving artist community. It is a sprawl of old decommissioned military factory buildings considered by some to be of unique architectural design. It, and others like it, have often been compared with New York's Greenwich Village or SoHo, but they all face an uncertain future as Beijing pushes its modernisation plans forward.

The 008 Art Zone is divided into A, B, C, and D districts, and originally home to more than 150 artists. On 19th November developers ordered all artists to “move out” and on the 6th December the water supply was cut off. According to a press release issued by the community, electricity and heating in district A was also cut off on 17th December. Soon after "demolition squads began to pull down houses by force", the release says.

"History is being made today at the 008 Art District of Bejing," @KPinChina declared on Twitter in January, "Artists are not criminals." Maybe not, but for the city developers they are a nuisance and in the way. As is often the case, culture is often swept away in the name of progress. The news of such events are also swept away too. Authorities quickly stifle any dissent in a country like China and despite such protests being unusual foreign media often ignores such incidents.

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

Friday, February 19, 2010

Travel chaos as Spring Festival ends

As people return from the Spring Festival break there have been dozens of accidents across China. However the Ministry of Public Security has said road traffic had been smooth with no serious congestion or major accidents. The ministry has not given the total death toll from road accidents during the week-long holiday that started on February 13. But some authorities were warning of icy and wet conditions that would make travel difficult in some regions.

On Thursday afternoon four people were killed in the south Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region after their motorcycle collided with a bus, Xinhua reported. Authorities in south China's Guangdong Province warned drivers of icy conditions on an expressway linking the province with the capital, Beijing, as holidaymakers headed back to work after the Spring Festival.

Despite the generally mild winter climate in China's south, parts of the Guangdong section of the 2,310-kilometer Beijing-Zhuhai Expressway were covered with thin ice as temperatures dropped to -4°C. The provincial weather bureau said 65 cities and counties had reported freezing weather, while a cold front pushing down from the north could bring further temperature drops Thursday and Friday.

The main routes across Yunnan were also affected by bad weather on Thursday as rain brought slippery conditions for motorists. At least seven accidents occurred along the main route between Kaiyuan and Kunming. Several vehicles slid of the road including two large goods vehicles. In one incident a police vehicle crashed and became wedged in a ditch at the side of the G326 national expressway some 40 km south of Mile. Most accidents were caused by people not leaving adequate braking distance to the vehicle in front and travelling too fast for the road conditions. 

The traffic situation is likely to worsen in the coming hours as more people take to the roads. Most Chinese will head to work on Saturday, after the week-long Chinese New Year holiday. Airports will also become busier as will major coach and railway terminals in major Chinese cities.

An airport official at Chengdu's Shuangliu International Airport, in the south-west Sichuan Province, said post-holiday passenger travel peaked Wednesday with more than 70,000 passenger arrivals and departures. "We had 566 takeoffs and landings Wednesday, compared with 480 a day Sunday and Monday," Lu Junming told Xinhua. "Most of the passengers were sightseers and office workers, and we're expecting another significant rise when students and migrant workers head back from next week."

The Ministry of Railways estimated 210 million passengers will travel during the 40-day holiday period beginning 30th January, a 9.5% rise compared with 2009. Meanwhile the Ministry of Public Security said police across China were still monitoring road traffic closely as the holiday draws to an end.

tvnewswatch, Kunming, Yunnan, China

Monday, February 15, 2010

Drought brings disaster to Yunnan

The worst drought in 50 years is leaving millions of people and animals without drinking water in Yunnan province and the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region according to recent reports in the China Daily. And visiting the region it is all too evident that a lack of rain is having a devastating effect. Crops are drying up and fields are turning to dust bowls.

In the small village of Shiping, lakes are well below normal levels and dead fish can be seen lying along the banks. Many areas have cracked up as the soil becomes parched and it is virtually impossible to grow anything. Chilies hang dry and unusable on plants and other fruit crops are failing. 

The drought relief department in Yunnan has declared a red alert drought emergency for the area, according to reports. But declaring an emergency will do little to alleviate the problems faced by farmers. Yunnan's rainfall since last July has been just over 200 mm, lower than the perennial average and a record low. As well as low rainfall, the province is also experiencing record high temperatures. Average temperatures have been nearly 2 C above normal.

The prolonged drought also affected Guangxi where 240,000 people and 110,000 heads of livestock have been left without adequate drinking water. The mountainous areas in western and northwestern parts of the region have lacked rainfall since August last year, a spokesman for the regional flood control and drought relief headquarters said. "Local governments have been sending water trucks to villages that suffer severe shortages," the spokesman told Xinhua News Agency.

The central government has also sent emergency teams to oversee relief work in southern China, where 3.39 million people are short of drinking water. The drought has affected 1.14 million hectares of crops, resulting in direct economic losses of more than 3.6 billion yuan ($527 million) in the agriculture sector in Yunnan and Guangxi.

The central government has also earmarked 50 million yuan in emergency funds to help the province and region restore agricultural production and ensure that people and livestock have adequate drinking water.

tvnewswatch, Kaiyuan, Yunnan, China

China welcomes the year of the Tiger

Spring Festival celebrations brought with it spectacular fireworks displays in towns and cities across China. On the eve before the new year streets emptied as people headed to friends and relatives to partake in a traditional feast of meats; duck, pork and chicken. Firecrackers constantly broke the silence throughout the evening in Kaiyuan, a small provincial town to the south of Kunming in China's southern Yunnan province. It would have been a similar scene across China. Drink is seemingly an important part of the evening as are gifts of money to children. In the household where tvnewswatch was invited, several envelopes containing money were handed to children while baijiu, Chinese white spirit, was drunk with toasts to the new year.

After drinking and much eating many families stay at home and watch the annual Spring Festival Gala on Chinese Central Television. The event is a mixture of sketches and dance acts, many of which are little more than thinly veiled propaganda messages. Venturing onto the streets, many were extremely empty. At the heart of town hundreds had gathered to set off fireworks and await the strike of midnight. The main square in Kaiyuan was alive with people setting of all types of firecrackers. Police seemed very relaxed and maintained a low profile as people enjoyed the festivities.

At the stroke of midnight a large fireworks extravaganza began, paid for by the local government. Lasting at least twenty minutes the colourful display reflected off the Dong He River which runs through central Kaiyuan. But even as it ended many people staid and continued to party; drinking, eating smelly tofu and chatting at riverside bars. Others continued to set off yet more firecrackers, something which continued well into the early hours. 
While the festivities drew to a close, bangs and explosions could still be heard across the town. On Valentine's Day people also engaged in a western tradition of giving red roses to loved ones. Lovers could be seen sitting alongside the river, and street sellers sold single red roses for around 10 RMB [£0.93 / $1.46]. But there were few restaurants open in which to enjoy a romantic meal. However, many bars along the river stayed open and fireworks continued to resonate throughout the evening as couples and other youngsters drank beer and enjoyed street food.

In both western and eastern societies, the beginning of a new year brings hope and promise. The Year of the Tiger is particularly auspicious for the Chinese. According to Chinese astrology, the Tiger is said to be lucky vivid, lively and engaging. The Tiger is incredibly brave, reflected by its willingness to engage in battle. The Chinese also say having a Tiger in the house is the very best protection against the evils of fire, and burglary.

People born in the Year of the Tiger are said to have the following qualities and characteristics: courage, vehemence, self-reliance, friendliness, hopefulness, resilience, vanity and disregard.

As for the New Year of the Metal Tiger in 2010, Chinese astrologers say that the Metal element gives the Tiger its sharpness in action and speed of thought. Tigers born in the Metal year likely to stand out in a crowd. With an inspiring assertiveness and competitive demeanour, Tigers determine their goals and do anything necessary to achieve them.

The Tiger sometimes suffers from mood swings and temper tantrums however. The Tiger can be known to jump to conclusions or to act too quickly without weighing the options or understanding the consequences. This is a flaw Tigers must learn to curb. The west may thus see a more than determined China in the coming year, but one that may be even less open to diplomacy and concessions. That is if one believes in astrological superstition!

tvnewswatch, Kaiyuan, Yunnan, China

Meeting of minds along the east river

A chance meeting with a Chinese man at a bar along the river Dong He River in Kaiyuan gave rise to an interesting discussion as China entered the Year of the Tiger. In one context Mr Wang wasn't your average Chinese citizen, given he originally came from Mongolia. His views were also not that usually expressed by people in China. Having expressed one's desire to return to England when the year-long contract was up, he said it was good decision. The relatively young man had somewhat strongly critical views about his fellow citizens. "Everyone spits," he said, "You wouldn't spit in your home so why would you spit in the public?"

He also observed that most westerners had better habits, saying that Chinese ate with their mouth open and made a lot of noise when eating. Westerners also tended to obey the rules of the road better, he said. "Here in China drivers will ignore red lights at night," he said. While there may be some who will break road traffic laws in Britain and across Europe, most do abide by the rules. In China, especially in rural areas, one can never be quite sure that a vehicle will impact yours when traversing a junction through a green light. Lane drifting is extremely common and the use of indicators is extremely rare.

On discovering my wife had attained British citizenship, he was even more surprised at our continued presence in China. "Go home," he said, "and don't come back to China." It wasn't intended as a prejudicial dislike to foreigners, however. "China has a lot of problems," he insisted. While saying that the small provincial town of Kaiyuan was nice, it too suffered from pollution problems. He then moved on to criticising China's shirking its responsibilities at Copenhagen. This was a far cry from the usual banter expressed by many people one had encountered in Beijing and, of course, within the Chinese media.

His critique did not stop there. "China has no human rights," he said. Talking about the one-child policy, he said families and lives were destroyed by the government. "People have their homes dismantled if they have more than one child," he said. His vision for the future was not of a harmonious society much spoken about by China's leaders. "China will collapse one day," he said, "There is too much corruption amongst officials." Gordon Chang wrote of similar problems faced by China in his 2001 book 'The Coming Collapse of China'. Chang sees it from a western perspective, augmented through his own Chinese roots and understanding. However, Mr Wang's views were formed from direct experience and understanding.

"I hope to send my son abroad," he said, expressing his deeply-held belief that China's apparent growing economic status would be short-lived. Even amongst western commentators his views are relatively unusual. Many talk of China being the next super-power and some already estimate it to have become the second largest economy. But there are many fundamental problems existing in the country which need to be addressed if it wants to maintain its position on the world stage. Earlier in the evening while watching China's annual Spring Festival Gala performance on television, one could not help but laugh at the blatant propaganda. During a song performed by singers from Xinjiang the words bore hallmarks of Orwellian double speak. "The Government policies are good," rang out one line. "If they're so good why was there a riot?" one Chinese viewer exclaimed. Perhaps not everyone is blinkered into believing China is a 'harmonious society'!

tvnewswatch, Kaiyuan, Yunnan, China

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

China prepares for the year of the Tiger

Go to any supermarket or along any street and one cannot fail to spot signs and billboards welcoming in the Chinese new year. The festive period is marked by the setting off of fireworks and hanging of lanterns and other decorations. It is also a time of mass migration when family members come together and feast. Airports are crowded and roads are filled with cars. Markets are also busy with traders selling soft toys of stuffed tigers, cakes, snacks and a plethora of other things. It will all climax on the 14th of February with fireworks displays and much merriment before people begin heading home once again. The spring festival is perhaps the most important date in the Chinese calendar, and this year is a little different in that it falls on Valentine's Day. The last meeting of these two festivals happened in 1953 which was 57 years ago. The next time this will occur will be in 2048. 

During the upcoming festival people often spend money to buy presents, decorations, food, and clothing. It is also the tradition that every family thoroughly cleans the house to sweep away any ill-fortune in hopes to make way for good incoming luck. Windows and doors will be decorated with red colour paper-cuts with popular themes of "happiness", "wealth", and "longevity". On the Eve of Chinese New Year, supper is a feast with families. Food will include such items as pigs, ducks, chicken and sweet delicacies. The family will end the night with firecrackers. Early the next morning, children are expected to greet their parents by wishing them a healthy and happy new year, and will receive money in red paper envelopes. The Chinese New Year tradition is seen as a way to reconcile and forget all grudges, and sincerely wish peace and happiness for everyone. For some it will be a hectic and stressful two weeks!

tvnewswatch, Kunming, Yunnan, China

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Fresh snow disrupts Spring Festival get-away

Beijing was once again covered with a layer of snow on Saturday evening bringing disruption to roads and flights. The fresh wave of snow comes as many citizens start journeys home or to see relatives as the lead up to the Spring Festival begins. Traffic was heavier than usual late Saturday afternoon and there were a few minor accidents seen along the main expressway to the airport. Although there were no reported cancellations due to the snow, many flights were delayed as de-icing equipment was deployed to spray aircraft [pictured]. Temperatures in the capital dropped to as low as -9°C early Sunday and may fall to -11°C on Thursday. Further snow is also expected on Wednesday bringing the fifth bout of snowfall since November last year. This has been one of the coldest winters on record in Beijing though many other parts of China have been even worst hit by cold temperatures.

tvnewswatch, Kunming, Yunnan, China

Friday, February 05, 2010

MP expenses inquiry costs £1.16m

A year after The Daily Telegraph after published details of British MPs' expenses Sir Thomas Legg has published his report and recommended that 389 MPs should repay £1.3 million. Some complained about the way the audit was carried out and after appeals £180,000 has been cut from the total. It means that only £1.12 million will be repaid, less than half of that claimed for outside the rules. In what appears to be a further waste of taxpayers money, the repaid amount falls below the cost of the inquiry which cost in excess of £1.16 million.

Repayments range from only 40 pence to £42,458. Mike Gapes [above left], a Labour MP from Ilford in Essex was ordered to repay 40p after a 'clerical error' while Labour MP Barbara Follett is to repay the largest sum following a wide range of inappropriate claims. Follett has already repaid £32,976 and told the BBC, "This has been a very sad affair, I'm very sorry about it, I did try to act as honestly as possible but where I failed, I am sorry." Amongst her expenses claims was a security patrol outside her Soho residence in London [pictured above] and an insurance premium on valuable art.
Seventy five MPs and former MPs appealed against Sir Thomas's recommendations. Of these 31 were dismissed, 27 had the repayment reduced and 17 had the demands overturned entirely.

The issue has brought the British parliament into disrepute and is likely to play a factor in upcoming national elections later this year. The scandal has been capitalised by the opposition though many of their own members were also involved in the affair. Conservative leader David Cameron said it was "absolutely essential" that MPs pay back the money. "Those MPs who refuse to pay it back, they should have it taken off their salaries or their redundancy payments - that's got to happen." Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said he hope that parliament could recover from the long running saga. "I hope it'll be the final chapter in this rotten Parliament so we can look forward to a new Parliament with new rules," he said. 

The story was the lead in many British papers on Friday. The Telegraph headlined with "This Rotten Parliament" while the Times offered the 'full picture'. The tabloid while still covering the story led with other headlines. The Daily Mail's lead is a story about John Terry who faces new questions over his fitness to be England captain. The Daily Mail investigation claims that his personal box at Wembley is being 'touted out' for £4,000 a match. The Express focuses on Britain's weather which may suffer from further Arctic conditions next week. The Sun meanwhile leads with a photograph of Portsmouth boss Avram Grant leaving a building, which the paper claims is a brothel, near his club's training ground [Papers].

For MPs it may not quite be the end. New laws may yet be drawn up and the Crown Prosecution Service says it will announce on Friday whether it will bring charges against MPs and peers over expenses [BBC / UK Parliament: Report / Expenses].

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

MP expenses inquiry costs £1.16m

A year after The Daily Telegraph after published details of British MPs' expenses Sir Thomas Legg has published his report and recommended that 389 MPs should repay £1.3 million. Some complained about the way the audit was carried out and after appeals £180,000 has been cut from the total. It means that only £1.12 million will be repaid, less than half of that claimed for outside the rules. In what appears to be a further waste of taxpayers money, the repaid amount falls below the cost of the inquiry which cost in excess of £1.16 million.

Repayments range from only 40 pence to £42,458. Mike Gapes [above left], a Labour MP from Ilford in Essex was ordered to repay 40p after a 'clerical error' while Labour MP Barbara Follett is to repay the largest sum following a wide range of inappropriate claims. Follett has already repaid £32,976 and told the BBC, "This has been a very sad affair, I'm very sorry about it, I did try to act as honestly as possible but where I failed, I am sorry." Amongst her expenses claims was a security patrol outside her Soho residence in London [pictured above] and an insurance premium on valuable art.
Seventy five MPs and former MPs appealed against Sir Thomas's recommendations. Of these 31 were dismissed, 27 had the repayment reduced and 17 had the demands overturned entirely.

The issue has brought the British parliament into disrepute and is likely to play a factor in upcoming national elections later this year. The scandal has been capitalised by the opposition though many of their own members were also involved in the affair. Conservative leader David Cameron said it was "absolutely essential" that MPs pay back the money. "Those MPs who refuse to pay it back, they should have it taken off their salaries or their redundancy payments - that's got to happen." Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said he hope that parliament could recover from the long running saga. "I hope it'll be the final chapter in this rotten Parliament so we can look forward to a new Parliament with new rules," he said. 

The story was the lead in many British papers on Friday. The Telegraph headlined with "This Rotten Parliament" while the Times offered the 'full picture'. The tabloid while still covering the story led with other headlines. The Daily Mail's lead is a story about John Terry who faces new questions over his fitness to be England captain. The Daily Mail investigation claims that his personal box at Wembley is being 'touted out' for £4,000 a match. The Express focuses on Britain's weather which may suffer from further Arctic conditions next week. The Sun meanwhile leads with a photograph of Portsmouth boss Avram Grant leaving a building, which the paper claims is a brothel, near his club's training ground [Papers].

For MPs it may not quite be the end. New laws may yet be drawn up and the Crown Prosecution Service says it will announce on Friday whether it will bring charges against MPs and peers over expenses [BBC / UK Parliament: Report / Expenses].

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Concern over using https in China

Last October, Mozilla accepted the China Internet Network Information Center [CNNIC] as a trusted CA root. This affects Firefox, Thunderbird, and other products built on Mozilla technologies. The standard period for discussion passed without comment, and Mozilla accepted CNNIC based on the results of a formal audit. Some in the Internet community have raised concerns and claimed the Chinese government controls CNNIC. It has also surfaced claims of malware production and distribution and previous man-in-the-middle attacks in China via their secondary CA root from Entrust. All rather complicated stuff. But the blogosphere and Twittersphere are alive with comments as what the handing out of security certificates really means, and if it really does pose a threat to online security.

CA, or Certificate Authority, is a trusted third-party organization or company that issues digital certificates used to create digital signatures and public-private key pairs. The role of the CA in this process is to guarantee that the individual granted the unique certificate is, in fact, who he or she claims to be. Usually, this means that the CA has an arrangement with a financial institution, such as a credit card company, which provides it with information to confirm an individual's claimed identity. CAs are a critical component in data security and electronic commerce because they guarantee that the two parties exchanging information are really who they claim to be.

But the apparent close relationship of the CNNIC with the MIIT [Ministry of Industry & Information Technology] has raised questions over how the Chinese government might abuse the system.

Forums have debated the issue for several weeks. A user on one forum writes, "It has long been worried that GFW [Great Firewall] could intercept SSL [Secure Sockets Layer] sessions. Later its proved that GFW can interrupt SSL sessions based on its Certificates, which make people worried more and more. Someone even related the SSL cert signing date change to Google's Infiltration event. GFW seems to be seeking MITM solutions."
Another contributor urges action. "If you have business in china and have valuable data to protect, join us and import CNNIC cert into windows Untrusted CA list. Remove CNNIC root CA from firefox's trusted CA list. Write to MS, WebTrust, and express your dissatisfaction against signing/adding untrustworthy certs/authorities."

Comments on other forums also raise questions. Writing on a Slashdot forum one person argues that the "whole CA concept is flawed". Maybe so, but at present it's the best system available to identify whether sites are bonafide. However, abuse of such a system needs to be monitored and eradicated. 

The issue is reported in a post on TechEye and on LWN, and while much of the data discussed is speculative, recent accusations that the Chinese government may have been behind attacks on Google and other western interests does raise serious concerns. In China the issue is particularly worrying as authorities tighten restrictions of what can be done on the Internet. In December the CNNIC rolled out its initiative to register all .cn domains and barred individuals from registering websites [Chinatech News]. If allegations of CNNIC collusion with the MIIT and government to facilitate malware distribution and intrusion attempts turn out to be true, it will become very uncomfortable not only for so-called Chinese netizens, but also expats and foreign business interests based in China. 

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Consumer fears after mercury found in Sprite

Chinese police are said to be investigating cases of alleged mercury poisoning after two people became ill after drinking cans of Sprite, a lemon flavoured drink made by American multi-national Coca-Cola. The drinks manufacturer is assisting police to find out how the product came to be contaminated and discover how widespread the problem is.
The two incidents took place three months apart in Beijing and received high-profile coverage in local media. Online polls have shown rising concern among Chinese consumers about the safety of Coca-Cola products. The company has issued a statement ruling out contamination at its Beijing bottling plant, adding that it believed a third party had "maliciously" added the mercury after the canning process.

The first incident occurred on 7th November when a 21 year old Beijing man named as Ma Sai vomited several pieces of mercury after drinking Sprite purchased in a restaurant in Beijing's Xidan shopping district. According to the local Beijing News, the man was diagnosed with mercury poisoning but later released from hospital after Coca-Cola had paid 20,000 RMB (£1,850 / $2,900) in medical bills. Both sides agreed to go to the China Packing Research & Test Center for independent tests on whether the can could have been tampered with after leaving Coca-Cola's plant, the newspaper reported.

The second incident took place on 17th January this year when a 13 year old schoolboy, Wang Haoyong, contracted mercury poisoning after buying a can of Sprite in a supermarket near his school in the far eastern Beijing suburb of Tongzhou. "It felt like jelly when I drank it. One hour later, I started to have headaches and felt dizzy," the boy told China Daily.

After seeing his son showing unusual symptoms, his father, Wang Yijun, said he had tipped out the contents of the can into a transparent bottle and found an object "about the size of a soybean" that looked like mercury and took his son to hospital. The boy is currently still receiving treatment at the People's Liberation Army 307, but is said to be in a stable condition. Police are continuing their investigation into the circumstances of the case which remain unclear.

China is a key growth market for Coca-Cola and advertising for its products are seen everywhere. While the cases are indeed isolated it is indeed worrying that someone has seemingly, and deliberately, contaminated drinks with mercury. The motive can only be speculated. While it may be a prelude to extort money from Coca-Cola, it may also reflect growing anti-American feelings. Online discussions have recently called for boycotts of American products like McDonalds following US arms sales to Taiwan. And Google's recent statements, while applauded by some Chinese, have been met with much hostility. 

In a statement on the alleged poisonings, Coca-Cola said it wished to reassure customers that its stringent production processes could not have allowed mercury to contaminate the drinks. "This was an occasional case and a basic judgment was made that someone maliciously added the mercury into the drink after it entered the market for circulation," a local spokesman told Beijing News. "Currently the police are investigation the case and we would like to positively co-operate with the investigation in the hope of disclosing the truth as soon as possible."

Kenth Kaerhoeg, Coca-Cola's Pacific Group communications director, added that samples taken at the time of production and kept in a product 'library' had been tested and found to be clear of any contamination. "We have been fully co-operating with the police as they review the circumstances under which the products were consumed. As the case is still under review by the police, it would be inappropriate for us to make any further comments," he said.

Kaerhoeg insisted that Coca-Cola's products were "safe for consumption", but it appears that Chinese consumers are become concerned. One rather unscientific online poll on one of China's leading net portals asked "whether you would buy drinks produced by Coca-Cola anymore" following the recent news. Around 53% of the 42,102 respondents said they "would not", compared with 28% who said they "would" and 19% who expressed "no clear opinion".

This is just latest case of food contamination in China. Recently police broke up an illegal bottling factory on Beijing were fake beer was being manufactured in "unsanitary" conditions and passed off as foreign brands such as Budweiser, Corona and Carlsberg. In southern China further recalls were made concerning milk products after melamine contamination was found. While Coca-Cola production may be safe at its manufacturing level, the fact that products came to be contaminated somewhere along the distribution chain raises the question about the safety of any number of products being bought on stalls, supermarkets and in restaurants. This of course may be an isolated case. But sometimes small incidents can snowball and can have serious long term repercussions. The image of Coca-Cola may suffer in the short term, as may do sales. But another food safety scare may also harm China's image yet more [People's Daily / China Daily / Daily Telegraph]. 

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Was China behind COP15 email leaks?

The British government's former chief scientist has said foreign spies had probably been behind email hacking at the Climate Research Unit in East Anglia. While not pointing a finger at any specific government Sir David King said the leaking of the unit's emails going back 13 years bore all the hallmarks of a skilled intelligence operation from a foreign government rather than opportunist hackers. It was the "sophistication of the operation" that prompted Sir David to come to his conclusion [Daily Mail].

More than 1,000 emails and 2,000 documents were stolen from a back-up server used by the University of East Anglia since 1996. The release of the data was carefully timed to destabilise the Copenhagen climate change summit. While climate change sceptics had something to gain, it is countries which might be forced to change their energy policy that would benefit most if the COP15 talks failed.

One such country is China which was widely criticised for its unwillingness to commit fully to a binding agreement. Given the intransigence of China and the failure to make any real commitment, it would not be surprising if the PRC were behind these attacks. While publicly supporting climate change policy, China clearly wants to do very little, claiming it is still a developing nation. Recent revelations concerning the hacking of Google, and at least 30 other western companies, seems to add weight to this theory. 

Of course Sir David has been careful to avoid naming the country he might think are behind the hacks. He will only say that it was carried out by a team of skilled professionals, either on behalf of a foreign government or at the behest of anti-climate change lobbyists in the United States. Of course There are western corporations that would have much to gain from failed climate change talks, oil companies for example. 

But China is rapidly being seen as the source of viruses and hacking attempts. Last week Hillary Clinton issued a warning to China and Russia to tighten up their Internet security amid a growing threat of international cyber-crime. "We cannot afford in today's interconnected world to have too many instances ... where companies' accounts can be hacked into," she said. The speech came after Google threatened to end its operations in China following what it described as a "sophisticated and targeted" cyber-attack on Google, Adobe and up to 30 other US companies.

More recently Britain's security service MI5 accused China of setting up so-called "honeytraps" with a view to obtaining sensitive commercial secrets from top UK companies. According to The Sunday Times, promotional gifts handed out at business trade shows included cameras and memory sticks have allegedly been found to contain bugs that provide the Chinese with remote access to users' computers [Independent].

It may never be known who perpetrated the hacks into the Climate Change Research Unit. Some of the information revealed would be embarrassing to the US and China as well as other scientists around the world. The Guardian reports that data collected by Chinese and American scientists had been falsified. However while the release of such information could be embarrassing to governments, the main effect of discrediting climate change lobbies had been effected. 

Two days after the attempted hack, the compendium file of stolen emails appeared on a server used by a company called Tomcity operating from the Russian city of Tomsk in Siberia. However, again, the uploading could have been done by anyone, skilfully controlling a proxy server elsewhere in the world. Experts have suggested that loading the email compendium file onto a Tomsk computer server may have been a deliberate attempt to lay a trail to the door of the Russian intelligence service, which has since denied any involvement in the hacking incident.

Some expert analysts in Russia have said that China had more to gain from destabilising the Copenhagen conference than Russia. China has the world's fastest rising carbon emission rates and had an obvious motive for ensuring that no binding agreement or treaty emerged from Copenhagen. However, it cannot be ruled out that powerful oil interests in the West, above all in the United States, had as much an interest, as did Beijing, in seeing Copenhagen fail [Mi2G].

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

Monday, February 01, 2010

Terrorists able to circumvent body scanners

According to a report in the Daily Mail terrorists are already seeking ways to circumvent body scanners that some airport authorities are installing in the wake of a failed Christmas Day attack. In that incident the suspect carried explosives sewn into his underwear and which might have been detected by new hi-tech scanners which can see through peoples' clothing. However according to the Daily Mail, Britain security services believe terrist may already be planning to use different methods to evade detection.

The paper reports a new Al Qaeda terror threat comes from suicide 'body bombers' with explosives surgically inserted inside them. Until now, terrorists have attacked airlines, subway trains and buses by secreting bombs in bags, shoes or underwear to avoid detection. But an operation by MI5 has uncovered evidence that Al Qaeda is planning a new stage in its terror campaign by inserting 'surgical bombs' inside people for the first time. It is understood MI5 became aware of the threat after observing increasingly vocal internet 'chatter' on Arab websites this year [Telegraph blog].

The increased concern may bring about even more intrusive checks of passengers some reports warn. According to the London Times, French anti-terrorism officials may recommend using inspection techniques reserved for drug mules to catch this new threat to aviation security [Homeland Security Newswire].

Even before the failed December attack there were worries that terrorists might resort to methods usually employed by drug smugglers. CBS reported in September last year how one attacker used just such a method.

Abdullah Asieri, one of Saudi Arabia's most wanted men, avoided detection by two sets of airport security including metal detectors and palace security as he set out to kill Prince Mohammed Bin Nayef, head of Saudi Arabia's counter terrorism operations, last year . He spent 30 hours in the close company of the prince's own secret service agents but the threat was undetected because Asieri had the half a kilo of high explosives, plus a detonator inserted in his rectum. When detonated the blast left the prince only lightly wounded. It was a failure as an assassination, but as an exercise in defeating security, it was perfect. 

As such the so-called Trojan bombers represent an almost unstoppable threat. "This is the nightmare scenario," says Chris Yates, an aviation security consultant. On a plane at altitude, the effects of such a bomb could be catastrophic. And there is no current security system that could stop it. "Absolutely nothing other than to require people to strip naked at the airport," says Yates. Even then, a bomb hidden inside the body would not be evident.

Despite the fact new body scanners would only detect weapons or explosives hidden about the body, they have been installed at many airports around the world. Britain has now placed body scanners at Manchester and Heathrow airports and although people would be selected at random, passengers refusing the scan would be barred from flying [BBC]. The scanners come into use just 9 days after Britain's terror threat level was raised from 'substantial' to 'severe', meaning a terrorist attack was "highly likely" [BBC].

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

Goodbye China, hello India !

The spat between Google and Chinese authorities has raised many issues. But one major issue raised is how foreign companies do business in China and whether they would do better by shifting their enterprises to new shores. 

Rules of engagement

Unclear rules of engagement have left some in extremely hot water. Last year Rio Tinto executive Hu Stern and three Chinese colleagues were arrested on bribery charges and subsequently charged with industrial espionage. 

The issue made front page headlines in Australia and around the world as speculation grew over how business relationships in China might be affected in the future. Information found stored on Hu's personal laptop, seized by investigators, allegedly contained confidential business information of several dozen major business partners of Rio Tinto, including storage levels and sales plans, deemed much too specific and precise to have been acquired through legal means. This information, in the opinion of Chinese investigators, demonstrated that Rio Tinto, an exporter of iron ore and Stern Hu's employer, had an unfairly sophisticated and questionably thorough level of understanding of the Chinese market. 

As such authorities suggested that such information could only have been obtained through bribery and other illegal means. "Competent authorities have sufficient evidence to prove that they have stolen state secrets and have caused huge loss to China's economic interest and security," the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said shortly after Hu's arrest.

But speculation was already circulating as to the real reasons why Stern Hu had been detained. Rio Tinto, concerned for its other employees, advised many to leave the country. While sources told the Wall Street Journal that a number of staff had been told to leave or not return to China, Rio Tinto's London office declined to elaborate. "We still have a number of staff in China," said Nick Cobban, a spokesman for Rio Tinto. Meanwhile the head of the company's iron-ore operations, Sam Walsh, has insisted allegations that Rio staff had bribed officials at Chinese steel mills were "wholly without foundation."

Press reactions

The sharpest criticism was found in the press. "What makes it so sensational is the combination of a highly publicized major commercial negotiation that has failed with the immediate arrest of a principal figure, raising the possible inference of retaliation," Jerome Cohen, a leading expert on the Chinese legal system, told at the time.

Many analysts supported the retaliation theory. The four arrests came just days after the iron-ore price negotiations between China's steel industry and Rio Tinto and other producers ended without agreement. Rio Tinto also rejected Beijing's recent attempt to take a big ownership stake in the mining giant. On the face of it, the arrest of the four employees appeared like an attempt to teach a foreign company a "brutal" lesson. 

There was even speculation that Hu Jintao, China's president, ordered the arrests personally, though the Chinese Foreign Ministry denied any such involvement. Rumours persisted however, and there was also a belief that internal political posturing may also have had some bearing on the case.

Uneven playing field

To conduct business in China, it's all about relationships. There may be rules and regulations, but long-time China hands will often say it can be a complicated and often frustrating experience. So one needs to find the right person, either in government or the private sector, and that person must like you.

A little wining and dining may not seem unreasonable in order to build on that relationship. Entertaining a senior member of the Chinese team which negotiates the price of iron at a luxury box during the Olympics, as BHP did last year may seem appropriate. It's not illegal, but it is a legal grey area, says Xianfang Ren, a senior analyst with Global Insight. Talking to CNN, he says, "The line between entertainment, public relations, and government relations and bribery, commercial bribery it's kind of blurred here in China...Especially in a country where good government relationships are important in getting deals and contracts."

Derek Scissors from Heritage says the situation can suddenly change, especially during high-level iron ore negotiations where billions of dollars are at stake. "The international message they're sending is, if things get ugly enough and important enough we're going to break the rules. We'll follow our rules not international rules; we're not going to respect the rights of multinational executives'," Scissors tells CNN.

The line of acceptable behaviour may have been redrawn. Guanxi, or "developing good long-term relationships", is now a more difficult and more dangerous minefield. Xianfang Ren suggest that foreign companies stick to their own high standards. In short don't do in China what you wouldn't do back home, even if it seems as though everyone else is doing it.

But the difficulties of doing business in China have existed for a long time, and there is no level playing field. "This case illustrates some of the uncertainty of getting involved in business in China," said John Frankenstein, assistant professor of economics at the City University of New York. "A Chinese lawyer once told me 'basically, the state can legitimately intervene in any deal at any time under any pretext'."

"There are a lot of multinationals who came to China and have a fact-finding, commercial information arm. For those people it's certainly worrying," says Tom Miller, of the Beijing-based economic consultancy Dragonomics. "If you are in the kind of business where you think there might be an overlap between commercial information and state secrets, you would be concerned. The problem is that Chinese law on this is very, very oblique and frankly no one knows what a state secret is."

The worst fears of foreign investors appeared to have been mitigated by the details that emerged from the Rio case. "I don't think it's as alarming as it looked on day one," said one business adviser who asked not to be identified. In fact many people are reluctant to speak on the record, or have been instructed not to do so by their companies, in a sign of the case's sensitivity.

Google highlights new issues

Less than six months later it was Google that raised the spotlight. Highlighting the risks posed by possibly government sanctioned hackers, threats to intellectual property and rekindling debates over censorship, Google have more than rattled the cage, they have virtually broken it. While the issue over Hu Stern raised eyebrows, Google have made draws drop. Senior politicians in the US have made statements and other companies have voiced their support. 

The number of column inches given over to the story has grown exponentially and China, while initially trying to downplay Google's statement, has come out fighting with many equally forceful statements of its own.

The Google issue seems also to have drawn a line in the sand. China says companies are welcome to do business in the country, but must follow its laws. This is a fair statement, at face value. But as the Hu Stern case seems to show, China is not playing by the rules itself when it comes to its own companies.

India offers opportunities

Some have suggested that some companies might shift their operational bases to regions less hostile to business operations. Writing on the Huffington Post website, Ernest J Wilson says that the fracas might "open up space for India to attract more foreign investment from the West as a safer haven than China." 

An article in the Asia Times also points to China's southern neighbour. "Inevitably, the attractiveness of China's emerging rival, India, as a market for Google and ally for the United States will enter into the mix," Peter Lee writes. Google already enjoys an overwhelming market share for its search engine, media and networking business in India. Around 89% of Internet searches go through Google, 68% of India's social networking occurs on Google's Orkut service, and 82% of media is viewed on Youtube, according to the Internet marketing research company Even more astonishingly, Indian users spend almost 30% of their entire online time on Google sites, three times the world's average. 

William Pesek, a Bloomberg columnist writing in The Age, an Australian daily, says India may well gain advantage from the recent débarqué between China and the West. "India has a track record of innovation and a stable of internationally competitive companies that China doesn't," he says, "India also has far superior laws on intellectual property and corporate governance. And China's willingness to blow off Google plays to India's relative advantage in these areas."

Cheap labour is one thing, but the future is based on ideas, information and technology, Pesek agues. "Letting Google leave may dull the long-term benefits of the trillions of yuan that China is throwing at the economy. It limits the participation of entrepreneurs in an age where ideas and impulses mean more than sweat on factory floors," he says, "The world is now driven by knowledge flows, making it vital to stay attuned to the latest developments in any field. Only then can innovators ride the latest waves in international business and finance and create the hundreds of millions of jobs needed to raise living standards."

Pesek speculates that India's billionaires "must be rubbing their hands together in glee as China's leaders make an expensive miscalculation." According to a 2008 Forbes magazine poll, India may have the most billionaires by 2017, and while China's ultra-wealthy are growing in numbers, it's better, Pesek suggests, for one's billions to come from new ideas than from bubbles in the Chinese stock market. "What China lacks is a growing roster of homegrown knowledge-based and technology outfits creating jobs, pushing the country up the value chain and inspiring young people to become the next Bill Gates."

Nandan Nilekani, the co-founder of Bangalore-based Infosys Technologies, is often called India's answer to Microsoft's co-founder. When asked about the secret of India's success in technology, Nilekani points to a free press and a rabid embrace of information flows. In other words, if India censored cyberspace, companies such as Infosys or Wipro wouldn't be what they are today. Gordon Chang predicted China would fail in the coming years in his 2001 book "The Coming Collapse of China". He has yet to be proved right. But if China's leaders fail to embrace the 21st century, it may well be left behind as companies seek new pastures to build their technological dream without hindrance from the state.

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

A little trouble in China town

Violence is rarely seen in China's capital Beijing. Crime is often severely punished and pub fights and skirmishes, common in many western cities, are almost as rare as rocking horse droppings. And so it is a surprise to see an argument turn to blows or worse. A visit to a restaurant in east Beijing at the weekend gave witness to just such an incident that turned from an angry confrontation into a violent altercation and then a comical farce.

It was a Saturday night and on entering a popular Japanese restaurant on the east of town, loud voices could be heard. This in itself is not uncommon. But as one ascended the stairs and arrived at the main reception it was clear this was no ordinary argument. One man was clutching a cloth, holding it tightly to his head. There were raised voices and it was obvious that some incident had already occurred. Whatever had happened was not immediately clear, but it seemed one man was already injured and he was still not happy. 

Within a few moments the man clutching the cloth was boiling over and battling with others around him. Restaurant staff were shouting and there appeared to be attempts to calm the situation. But the injured man could not be placated and within seconds had armed himself with a fire extinguisher and began to wave it around. Charging behind the reception desk he broke through the door and was followed by several others. Crockery was heard to smash to the ground and as he re-entered the main lobby the others returned and people around him scattered. After a few more shouts, pushes and shoving, the man and several others descended the stairs and left.

Taking a seat in a private room, the incident was obviously the main topic of conversation as one awaited the arrival of friends. We ordered some beer and sake and discussed the fracas we had just witnessed. As we waited, a waitress entered and informed us we might have to find another restaurant. But why? What was the problem? It appeared the fight was between two of the chefs and the rest had left in the wake of the disturbance. They were apologetic and we debated where we might go instead. Then the manager returned and said they were making efforts to contact their staff and persuade them to return, perhaps with the threat that if they didn't they might find themselves being made into sashimi! Friends arrived and we were told that calls had been made and some of the chefs were returning. 

From here on in it began to resemble an episode of the British comedy Fawlty Towers. We could order the sashimi, but we were told cooked dishes might pose a problem. So a large mixed sashimi was ordered and several types of maki sushi. Over the next hour a number of erroneous dishes arrived along with some we had asked for. When the sushi eventually turned up it was only half of what had been ordered which gave rise to speculation the chef in question was not exactly skilled in preparing it and had discarded his failed attempts. The cuts of sashimi were much thicker than usual, which also suggested this was not their usual chef.

On leaving the private room for a cigarette break, one observed that some new guests had arrived. These were not usual guests however. These new arrivals were in uniform and were talking to the manager and staff. Outside there were two police cars and after a few minutes a young man was escorted from the restaurant by two Beijing security and placed in the back of one of the vehicles. A police officer later exited the building holding an object wrapped in paper. It was not known what the object was, but from the length and width it appeared to be a large knife!

Had one of the sushi chefs gone wild with a sashimi knife? What was the argument over? This information could not be verified. What could be established though was that one chef was in hospital and another was in police custody. As for the food, while it may not have been to the usual standard, it was still good. And the 'cabaret' had certainly brought with it a certain amount of 'entertainment'. 

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China