Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Curry 200 years old in Britain

It is exactly 200 years since the first curry house opened in Britain and launched a cuisine that has arguably one of the most popular in the country. Sake Dean Mahomed [1759-1851], an Indian migrant opened Britain's first curry house to cater for the fashion for spicy food. A newspaper advert printed in 1809 ran with the line, "Indian dishes, in the highest perfection… unequalled to any curries ever made in England." The clientèle to the Hindostanee Coffee House could smoke hookah pipes and recline on bamboo-cane sofas as they ate the spicy dishes [BBC].

In one sense, it was not the first time Indian cuisine had been offered to the English. A handful of coffee houses served curries alongside their usual fare, and in the gracious homes of returnees, ladies attempted to recreate dishes and condiments their families enjoyed on the sub-continent. Some wrote out their own recipes while others may have used one of the many editions of Hannah Glasse's The Art of Cookery, first published in 1747, which contained recipes for curries and pilaus.

However, the Hindostanee Coffee House is considered to be the first proper Indian restaurant and a plaque hangs in George Street, London. However his venture was not entirely successful and by the start of the Second World War in 1939, there were still only six curry houses in Britain. At least one remains today however. 

The Veeraswamy, opened by Anglo-Indian Edward Palmer at the British Empire Exhibition of 1924, became so popular that it moved to Regent Street where to this day it is frequently fully booked.

By 1982 there were 3,500 curry restaurants in Britain. Today there are more than 12,000. More than 80% are run not by Indians but by Bangladeshis. Of all the meals eaten at restaurants around two-thirds are at Indian restaurants and Britains spend more than £5 million a day and eat 205 million poppadoms [or papadums - most items of Indian cuisine have variations on their name] every year.

The popularity of Indian cuisine has even resulted in curry being regarded as Britain's national dish. One in seven curries sold in Britain is chicken tikka masala, a dish that is disputed in its true origins. The cross-cultural popularity of the dish in Britain led former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook to proclaim it as "Britain's true national dish". Chicken tikka masala is even exported to the likes of India and Bangladesh. 

The taste for a curry is unlikely to dwindle amongst the British. A survey found one curry restaurant for every 853 residents in Bromley, south-east London. Other curry restaurant hot-spots included Epsom, Reading, Leicester, Cardiff and Doncaster, according to the study by a Cobra, a lager manufacturer. However, Birmingham, famous for its balti belt, failed to make the top 10 [BBC]

The study found the Taj Mahal to be the most popular name for an Indian restaurant followed by Taste of India, Maharaja, Akash, Spice Lounge and Monsoon. More unusual names included Posh Spice, Urban Turban, Ace of Spice and Some Like It Hot.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Google seeks to appease Chinese govt.

A few months after search giant Google redirected users to Hong Kong after claiming its servers had been hacked, the company has announced has been forced to make further changes. In a move to abide by its stated promise that it was no longer willing to censor its search results at the behest of the Chinese government, Google began to redirect Chinese Internet users who arrived at Google.cn to Google.com.hk. But on Monday the company said had become clear from conversations they have had with Chinese government officials that they find the redirect unacceptable. "If we continue redirecting users our Internet Content Provider license will not be renewed," Google said on its blog. Without an ICP license, Google would not be able to operate a commercial website like Google.cn and Google would effectively go dark in China, the company said.

"That's a prospect dreaded by many of our Chinese users, who have been vocal about their desire to keep Google.cn alive," David Drummond, SVP, Corporate Development and Chief Legal Officer, said in a blog post. "We have therefore been looking at possible alternatives, and instead of automatically redirecting all our users, we have started taking a small percentage of them to a landing page on Google.cn that links to Google.com.hk ... This approach ensures we stay true to our commitment not to censor our results on Google.cn and gives users access to all of our services from one page."

On Monday Google re-submitted their ICP license renewal application based on the new approach. While the landing page will be fully implemented in the coming days and redirects to Hong Kong stopped, it is as yet unclear how the Chinese authorities will react [BBC].

China increasingly hostile

China is seen as becoming increasingly hostile to foreign companies. While Internet companies have to abide by specific rules related to censorship, others are also restricted. On Tuesday [29th June] the Wall Street Journal reported that many European companies are saying they expect the regulatory environment to worsen for foreign firms operating in China over the next two years. The annual European Union Chamber of Commerce's business confidence survey in China for 2010 shows that many European companies believe uncertainty about the regulatory environment in China undermines their otherwise positive expectations for market growth. The results of the EU survey come just months after US companies in China voiced concerns about what they perceived as an anti-foreign-investor attitude from Beijing in a similar survey [WSJ].

In fact only last week the US spoke of its concern over China's protectionist policies. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said the US continues to have "legitimate concerns with China's approach to economic growth" [Telegraph].

"US companies operating in China are not granted the same degree of openness and fair treatment that foreign companies, including private Chinese companies, receive in the US market," Locke said. Writing in the Telegraph, Malcolm Moore their Shanghai correspondent argued that China led the way in protectionism. Soon after India began to boycott Chinese made toys in February there came strong voices calling for retaliation. Moore reported of one hysterical outburst from Long Guoqiang, a fairly senior official at a State Council think tank. 

Trade war looming

China should prepare for a trade war Long exclaimed. "We should draw up a list of retaliatory products [to boycott]," he said. "Personally I also think the retaliation does not need to be limited to goods. The retaliation could be more extensive," he told a conference in Beijing. Long said that China should even consider a military response. "The best way to deal with trade protectionism is to have a nuclear threat," he said. 

While Long's comments of a military response should not be taken too seriously, there is nonetheless a growing fear in the country of how a fall in exports might affect China's economy. "There's a lot of rhetoric about protectionism from the Chinese at the moment because they are very very afraid," says Joerg Wuttke, the head of the European Chamber of Commerce in China, "But they have very little leverage when it comes to talking about trade. From our perspective they buy very little from Europe."


Indeed a visit to any supermarket or shopping mall will reveal how few foreign products are available. While there are many foreign chains, most of the products are made in China. The Hard Rock Café in Beijing sells a wide range of memorabilia, yet nearly everything is made in China. There are a few exceptions however. Shot glasses on sale at the Hong Kong branch of the Hard Rock Café are made in Taiwan and a Zippo lighter is made in the US. But badges, T-shirts, bandannas and other items of clothing are all manufactured on the mainland.

In supermarkets food is almost entirely home produced. Where western products are available they are expensive. The foreign brands that are cheap, such as Coca Cola or Marlboro cigarettes, are usually manufactured in China under licence. 

In Europe and the US the opposite is true. Toys, electronic goods and clothes are mostly imported from China. Food comes not only from local producers but from all corners of the globe. Meanwhile the manufacturing base in the west dwindles. And as western companies attempt to expand their businesses in China they are thwarted by complex rules. 

No European company has ever been allowed to buy a major Chinese company, and a $2.5 billion [£1.75 billion] bid by Coca Cola for Huiyuan, the Chinese juice maker, was stalled by Beijing. In 2006, Chinese trade barriers cost European companies £19 billion of lost business. "German companies have tried to buy steel mills and ball-bearing factories but have failed. I hope the situation changes, but there are lots of national interests in China and I cannot see any signals of change yet," Joerg Wuttke says.

China faces many social problems and economic failure would bring instability to a country which is already seeing an ever widening gap between the rich and poor. It is understandable that the Chinese authorities want to maintain a strong economy but by excluding foreign companies is likely to create consternation amongst the buying public abroad. Product safety was an issue amongst many consumers in the last few years. China's not playing the rules or within the spirit of the rules laid down by the World Trade Organisation will only fuel calls for boycotts of Chinese made products. In a global economy there should be a level playing field. Recent reports suggest the field is very lumpy with many holes.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Saturday, June 26, 2010

'UFOs spotted over east London'

Of course, they may have just been Chinese lanterns, often seen during lantern festival in China throughout February. But the sight of very bright lights drifting silently towards London in Britain had people stop and stare with puzzlement. At around midnight UK time on Friday 3 bright lights in formation could be seen heading on a bearing of 240° toward London from the east. 

The lights glowed a strong orange and no sound emanated. Witnesses stood around a gasp and out came the camera phones. "They're not helicopters or planes, they're making no sound," one person said. Moments after the first wave of three passed by, two more lights silently floated to the west. Then a single extremely bright light, heading in the same direction passed overhead. A car stopped, the occupants yelling out, "What is it?" The answer, unknown. It may have been aliens, but the most likely explanation is candle-lit Chinese lanterns. Though why someone would launch such things at midnight on the 25th of June is a puzzle in itself!

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Thursday, June 24, 2010

William Hague conducts Q&A on Twitter

Britain's Foreign Seceretary conducted a Q&A session on the micro-blogging website Twitter on Thursday and said he hoped to engage with the public again via the social networking site. "I have enjoyed the frank questions and the chance to respond," William Hague said at the end of more than hour of responding to questions posed to him about his current visit to Pakistan. "I hope to do this again soon," he added.

He admitted that it was "challenging to fit everything into 140 characters!" but said many questions had raised some interesting points. Arriving in Pakistan on Wednesday 23rd June, the Foreign Secretary said he was due to meet with the Pakistani PM Yousuf Raza Gilani as well as his Foreign Minister during his 3 day visit [APP]. It was "important to build a long-term partnership between our nations," he said on a Twitter post. In Karachi he met with business leaders and visited the Stock Exchange. "Commerce and trade are crucial for the future of Pakistan," Hague proclaimed in a tweet sent on Thursday. 

Many asked Britain's Foreign Secretary about the continuing conflict in Afghanistan and the possibility it would only increase the terror threat. "Will the continuing Afghan war create 100s of potential Trafalgar Square bombers, in the mould of the Times Square bomber?" one Twitter user asked. Hague insisted that the continued military action was necessary. "Troops and civilians are working with Afghan govt to stop this happening in future, safeguarding security for whole region," he said in response.

Asked about the opium production in Afghanistan, William Hague said, "[the] UK supports Afghan Drug Control Strategy. Includes law enforcement action, capacity building, developing alternative livelihoods."

Another Twitter user asked how fighting a war in Afghanistan was protecting residents in the UK and claimed evidence suggested the opposite was true. Again, Britain's Foreign Secretary said that the war was necessary. "If int'l forces left now, threat to region would rise; Taliban could again take control in some areas and al Qaeda would return," Hague said.

Some were evidently concerned at Pakistan having reportedly signed a civil nuclear deal with China and asked William Hague what the UK's position was with regards to the deal. "[We are] aware of reports suggesting that China and Pakistan may be considering renewed civil nuclear cooperation," Hague said, "We have not seen details of any potential arrangement and urge all Nuclear Suppliers Group member states to abide by the relevant guidelines."

While answers were brief, it was interesting to see Britain's Foreign Secretary engaging with people through the Internet directly. Not all MPs use social media, but Twitter is fast becoming a forum through which politicians are helping put democracy into action. While some feeds are from aids, such as President Obama, others are posting the tweets themselves. So far William Hague has 18,333 followers, not as high as Barack Obama's 4,353,240, but significant for a British politician of a newly formed government.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Saturday, June 19, 2010

From the Bogside to the Beanfield & Beijing

Perhaps one bit of news than has dominated British media in the last week, apart from the World Cup, is the release of the Saville Report which after 12 years and a bill of some £200 million released its findings surrounding the events in Northern Ireland known as Bloody Sunday or the Bogside Massacre. Thirteen people died on 30th January 1972 at the hands of the British Army with a fourteenth dying of their injuries several weeks later. The event was a catalyst in Northern Ireland's troubles and became a key element in boosting the popularity within the Catholic community for the Provisional IRA. Over thirty years later much of the violence has stopped. Most para-military organisations have laid down their arms and only a few splinter groups are resolved to continue their fight with the bomb and the gun.

The Saville Report was received well from the families of the victims and those who had campaigned for the truth. The report found that no warning had been given to any civilians before the soldiers from the 1st Battalion of the Parachute Regiment opened fire. None of the soldiers fired in response to attacks by petrol bombers or stone throwers and some of those killed or injured were clearly fleeing or going to help those injured or dying. Most pointedly the report said none of the casualties was posing a threat or doing anything that would justify their shooting. The report said that many of the soldiers lied about their actions but that the events of Bloody Sunday were not premeditated. Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, and member of Sinn Fein, was present at the time of the violence, the report said. McGuinness was "probably armed with a sub-machine gun" but did not engage in "any activity that provided any of the soldiers with any justification for opening fire" the report said. McGuinness, said to have been the IRA's second-in-command at the time, denied that he was carrying a weapon on the day. Meanwhile, lawyers representing the unnamed soldiers disputed the findings of the report.

Britain's Prime Minister said he was "deeply sorry" and that the killings were "unjustified and unjustifiable" [BBC]. This certainly brought comfort to the families of those who died and the 17 who were injured. But for others it has stirred up a painful past. The following day Lord Tebbit who survived the IRA bombing of Brighton's Grand Hotel in 1984 which left 5 dead and 31 injured. Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Lord Tebbit said, "If the victims of Bloody Sunday deserved a public inquiry, so do those of the Brighton bomb". In a further scathing reaction to the idea, suggest by Cameron, that no more expensive inquiries would follow, Lord Tebbit added, "Some victims, the peace process seems to imply, have superior rights to others."

In many respects Lord Tebbit is right. History should not be forgotten or be whitewashed. Costly though it is, and with a risk of stirring up bad feelings, the truth must be sought and set down to set the record straight. But all too often it takes concerted efforts by families to force governments and authorities to acknowledge fault or wrong doing.

In 1985, ITN journalist Kim Sabido stood in a beanfield in Wiltshire and said that there must be a public inquiry into the events he and his crew witnessed, the beating and arrest of travellers who had attempted to make their way to Stonehenge to set up a free festival. "What I have seen in the last thirty minutes here in this field has been some of the most brutal police treatment of people that I've witnessed in my entire career as a journalist. The number of people who have been hit by policemen, who have been clubbed whilst holding babies in their arms in coaches around this field, is yet to be counted. There must surely be an enquiry after what has happened today." There has been no such enquiry to date, and while twenty-one of the travellers were successful in their case against Wiltshire Police for wrongful arrest, assault and criminal damage and awarded £24,000 in damages, the judge refused to award them their legal costs, thereby significantly reducing the amount received.

The Battle of the Beanfield has been seen by some as an example of the state flexing its muscles against whom it saw as subversives. Even the police acknowledged that many of the techniques employed during the events of 1985 had been learnt during the policing of the miners' strike that had started the year before. The Police Review of June 8 1985 reported "The Police operation had been planned for several months and lessons in rapid deployment learned from the miners' strike were implemented."

Some incidents of police brutality have been investigated however. In April this year the Metropolitan Police released a report into the death of Blair Peach, a protester who died in April 1979. In June 2009, the Metropolitan Police Authority decided to publish the original internal police inquiry into Blair Peach's death by the end of the year. As of December 2009, the Crown Prosecution Service was reviewing the internal report and said it would advise police as to whether further action should be taken. The reports into the death of Blair Peach were published on the Metropolitan Police website on 27 April 2010. The conclusion was that Blair Peach was killed by a police officer, but that the other police officers in the same unit had refused to cooperate with the inquiry by lying to investigators, making it impossible to identify the actual killer [BBC].

The shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes by anti-terrorist police in 2005 was investigated by the IPCC [Independent Police Complaints Commission]. However findings of two reports released by the IPCC have not satisfied the family and failed to answer many questions as to what led up to the shooting of an unarmed civilian in the mistaken belief he was a suicide bomber. This was not the first time a suspect had been misidentified and shot. Stephen Waldorf was mistaken for escaped criminal David Martin and shot several times by police.

State violence against civilians has also occurred in other western democracies. And many families of the victims have found the seeking of the truth just as difficult. The Kent State shootings in 1970 left 4 unarmed students dead and 9 others injured. On May 14, ten days after the Kent State shootings, two students were killed (and 12 wounded) by police at Jackson State University. On June 13, 1970, as a consequence of the killings of protesting students at Kent State and Jackson State, President Nixon established the President's Commission on Campus Unrest, known as the Scranton Commission, which he charged to study the dissent, disorder, and violence breaking out on college and university campuses across the nation, The Commission issued its findings in a September 1970 report that concluded that the Ohio National Guard shootings on May 4, 1970, were unjustified. The report said, "Even if the guardsmen faced danger, it was not a danger that called for lethal force. The 61 shots by 28 guardsmen certainly cannot be justified. Apparently, no order to fire was given, and there was inadequate fire control discipline on Blanket Hill. The Kent State tragedy must mark the last time that, as a matter of course, loaded rifles are issued to guardsmen confronting student demonstrators." There was no forthcoming apology from the then president however.

In non-democratic countries the truth is even harder to establish. In China the 4th of June comes and goes with no mention in the media of the events of 1989. The Tiananmen Square massacre, as it has become known, saw the bloody crackdown by government troops leaving hundreds if not thousands of students dead. The Chinese govenment refuses to discuss the event nor admit the true number of those killed, injured, jailed and persecuted. A public inquiry into those events will be a long time coming despite efforts by the Tiananmen mothers to seek the truth. They have attempted to identify the dead and a map of the dead has been compiled. But the real truth behind the events and the numbers who died may never be known. Even as a book outlining some of the decisions made by Beijing authorities, and due to be published in Hong Kong was halted this week for spurious reasons [Reuters].

Costly though such inquiries may be, and contentious maybe the findings, it is probably better to make an attempt to establish the truth than to cover up the past.

[pictured above: Father Edward Daly attempts to lead shooting victim Jackie Duddy to safety during the events of Bloody Sunday in 1972, A blooded traveller is led away by police following the Battle of the Beanfield in 1985, and victims of the Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing 1989]

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Back in Blighty!

tvnewswatch has returned to Britain after a year in China. However it has taken a little time to get things up and running hence the lack of posts over the last week. Obtaining a new broadband account is not as easy as flicking a switch. After an order was placed it took 7 days to become active, and so far appears to work fine. At least access is unrestricted; there are no Internet blocks as seen in China. However the Internet is still not without its problems. Twitter went down late Monday causing many people to 'lose' all their tweets. Twitter claims all will soon be put right soon [Daily Mail]. 

The most noticeable difference on arriving in London from Beijing was the clean air. Despite a week of mostly cloudy weather it has been relatively warm. While Beijing has seen humid conditions and temperatures in the 30s, London has experienced an average daytime temperature of around 20°C. Traffic on the M25 was relatively light despite continued roadworks to widen the London orbital motorway. In fact the most obvious difference between London and Beijing is the lack of cars on the roads, and indeed the fewer people on the streets.

Streets are noticeably cleaner, there is no spitting and people queue. There was no lingering followed by a mad rush as the Post Office opened its doors this morning. Instead, customers formed an orderly line and filed in without any panic whatsoever. Of course, not everything is perfect. For the smoker the continuing ban in pubs, bars and restaurants still creates consternation, though non-smokers are no doubt happier. There is no waitress service in British pubs, something commonly seen in other countries including China. But drink is most certainly cheaper. 

China is not known for having a drinking culture. People may have a beer with their meal but it is often relatively weak compared to foreign products.The alcohol content of Chinese beer is often around 3% or less. At a street food stall a 500 ml bottle of TsingTao will cost around 5 RMB [£0.49 / $0.73]. This may rise to 15 or 20 RMB in a restaurant [£1.47 / $2.19]. It is only at certain bars that foreign beers and cocktails may be found. Most are, of course, targeting foreign expats and tourists. Those located around Qianhai lake to the wst of the Forbidden City may charge more than 50 RMB for a 330 ml bottle of TsingTao, even more for foreign beers or wine.

But even in Sanlitun, and outlying areas where many bars are located, the prices are still comparatively high. Even during 'Happy Hour' the cheapest pint of Strongbow [cider] or Guinness will still cost around 30 RMB [£2.97 / $4.39] a pint [568 ml]. Outside of 'Happy Hour' this can rise to more than 60 RMB [£5.94 / $8.78]. In comparison many British pubs rarely charge more than £3 a pint. For example in the J.J.Weatherspoons chain a pint of Strongbow is only £2.35 [23.71 RMB / $3.47]. At a privately owned pub in London with live music the price was slightly more at £2.60 [26.23 RMB / $3.84], but still less than the prices seen in Beijing. For cocktail fans there isn't so much choice, though.

Many people have often said how cheap China is. It is, if you want to live like the locals. For expats this is perhaps more difficult. Living without Guinness, French wine, cheese, Marlboros, cream and proper bread is all too possible, but many westerners find living without such familiar commodities uncomfortable. There are many stores providing such products in Beijing, and many other cities across China. However the cost is either the same or a great deal more than seen back home. Some prices also make little sense and seem to point to high import tariffs. 

Anchor New Zealand butter is a particular example. At Jenny Lou's in Beijing a 225g pack will cost 13.90 RMB [£1.37 / $2.03]. However in Britain a 500g pack will only cost £2.38 [24 RMB / $3.51]. This would make a 225g pack £1.07 [10.79 RMB / $1.58]. Not a huge difference, but consider the distance travelled. It is over 18,000 km from New Zealand to the UK. Beijing is only 10,000 km from New Zealand. French products are extremely expensive. A 250g round of Coeur de Lion Camembert costs around 64 RMB [£6.34 / $9.36] in Beijing. In Britain the price is around £2 [20.18 RMB / $2.95]. French wine will often see high price tags varying from 50 to 150 RMB a bottle [£4.95-14.86 / $7.31-21.95]. In France itself a bottle may cost as little as a couple of Euros [16.72 RMB / £1.65 / $2.44], but even in Britain a reasonable bottle of wine can be bought for only £3 or £4 [30.27-40.35 RMB / $4.43-5.90].

So what is cheap in China? Basic vegetables, if bought at the local market as opposed to the superstore, can be exceedingly cheap. But there is not always the same choice as seen in the west. In London it is as easy to find Pak Choi or Chinese cabbage as oranges, lemons and limes. But even in Beijing the choice is often limited. Outside big cities the choice of products falls away dramatically. The hunt for specialist products to make Thai, Japanese or Indian cuisine will often be a lost cause.

Noodles and rice are often cheap, and oil is readily available and not cost prohibitive. Street food is very cheap. Rou Chuan [肉串] literally meat sticks, are served across the city. Extremely popular, they consist of several pieces of meat skewered onto a stick and barbecued often with chilli and cumin. Five sticks may cost as little as 10 RMB [£0.99 / $1.46]. A popular noodle dish known as Mi Xian [米线], or rice noodles, will often be less than 10 RMB. But few westerners can live for long on noodles and meat sticks.

Getting around is very cheap of course. Even taxis in Beijing are very economic with a standard fare starting at 10 RMB [£0.99 / $1.46]. The subway is 2 RMB [£0.19 / $0.29] for any journey while buses are less than half that with some journeys costing only a few jiao amounting to only pennies [One yuán or RMB (元) also known colloquially as a kuài (块 - "piece") is divided into 10 jiǎo (角) or colloquially máo (毛 - "feather"). One jiǎo is divided into 10 fēn (分)].

Britain can be expensive. Eating out is often considered a luxury, taxes are high, and many continue to complain at the television licence fee. But there is choice and fewer restrictions on the individual. Cigarettes are far more expensive than seen in China, but perhaps that might be considered a good thing. Internet access is unrestricted and 8 Mb broadband is fast becoming the norm and at half the price charged in China. Beijing is exciting and fast becoming a more cosmopolitan city. But it is far from cheap, and nowhere near the world city it might claim to be. It is perhaps no surprise that Beijing came 114th place in Mercer's Quality of Living listings. In terms of it's Eco listing it fell even lower at 181st place. In comparison London fell in at number 39 in the Quality of Living standard and number 63 in Mercer's Eco rating.

For those wondering, Blighty is English slang for Britain, derived from Hindustani and harking back to the days of the Raj.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Friday, June 04, 2010

tvnewswatch is heading home...

After a year in China tvnewswatch is heading back to Britain. While there have been many things that make China uncomfortable, the Internet for one, the experience has been fantastic and educational. Many expats in Beijing and around China that use Twitter have made the experience all the more fulfilling.

A particular thanks to @SirSteven, @beijingboyce, @beijingdaze, @betsydrager, @maggierauch, @ullrich, @islandchic & @charlieflint who have tweeted interesting news and events going on in Beijing and elsewhere in China.

Good luck to you all. Thanks also to those that have encouraged tvnewswatch with the blog. The news and analysis will continue...

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

A quiet day on Tiananmen Square

It was a quiet day on Tiananmen Square today, a scene very different from 21 years ago when the army moved against pro-democracy demonstrators which left hundreds dead. Any protest would have been swiftly dealt with however. Anyone entering Tiananmen Square was subject to a body search and all bags had to be sent through X-Ray machines. Such measures have been in place for months, but there was also a higher than usual police presence.

Armed police SWAT teams could be spotted to the south of the square while soldiers and regular police patrols kept a watchful eye in the main square itself. However despite being surveyed by countless cameras and no doubt dozens of plain clothes security officials, the atmosphere was far from tense. Tourists gathered under umbrellas to protect themselves from the summer sun and temperatures well into the 30s. Visitors to the square posed for photographs and it seemed just like any other day in central Beijing.

In fact the security was much less than seen in previous years. Last year plain clothes officers swarmed the square preventing filming by foreign television crews. But while an Associated Press cameraman was allowed to film Friday, there is not the same interest in the anniversary this year. Ten and twenty year anniversaries gain far more attention than the random years in between. Nonetheless, authorities in China still keep a lid on any dissent or talk about the so-called Tiananmen Square massacre. 

A cartoon which was published by the Southern Metropolitan Daily newspaper on Wednesday showing a young schoolboy drawing a picture on a blackboard that appeared to be a pastiche of the famous “tank man” picture from 1989 was quickly withdrawn. It had been published by the Guangzhou-based paper as part of a World Children’s Day feature but it obviously rattled some nerves in official circles [Telegraph blog]. 

The Internet which saw a particular tightening during last year's anniversary has changed little. Sites that were blocked such as Twitter, Facebook and Blogger remained so. Search terms that are off-limits also returned the usual error, though Google's new secure [https] search engine was available and enabled easier searches for Tiananmen Square related enquiries.

While protests are allowed to proceed relatively unhindered in Hong Kong, mainland China hopes people will forget. This is unlikely to happen. The Mothers of Tiananmen continue to press for the truth. But any action is hidden from public view. 

On Thursday night in Beijing, the leader of the Tiananmen Mothers' group held a brief candlelight vigil at the spot in western Beijing where her son was killed in the crackdown. However a line of police kept the media away, and Ding Zilin and her husband were surrounded by strangers who appeared to be blocking any filming of the event. "I didn't know any of them," the husband, Jiang Jielian, said afterward by phone. "We went there alone."

Even after 21 years it is difficult to determine how many died in what has become known as the Tiananmen Square massacre. The official figure is 241 dead, including soldiers, and 7,000 wounded. The highest estimate as declared by the then Soviet Union is 10,000 dead made up from both civilians and soldiers. A PLA [Peoples' Liberation Army] defector, citing a document circulating among officers, claimed 3,700 had died. Hundreds most certainly perished. Others were persecuted, many fleeing to other countries. Some still remain locked up, languishing in Chinese prisons.
The failure of the Chinese government to come clean and to straighten out its record on human rights continues to weigh heavy on its international image. Bloggers and those calling for reform are still locked up, merely for asking for change. On Christmas Day last year Liu Xiaobo was sentenced to 11 years for organising a movement called Charter 08 which called for reform.

The South China Morning Post urged Beijing to reconsider its position on the 1989 protests in an editorial published Friday. "The crackdown will not be forgotten. Beijing should have the courage to deal with it openly, fairly and compassionately, so that June 4 no longer casts a shadow over China's achievements."

This is unlikely to happen any time soon. Jiang Yu, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, reiterated the government's position on the 1989 protests. "About the political issue you mentioned ... there has already been a clear conclusion," she said, "The development path chosen has been in the clear interest of the Chinese people." [Washington Post]

There was a clear reminder of the path the Chinese people should follow in Tiananmen Square on Friday. A large electronic screen displayed a message which read, "Unswervingly follow the road of socialism with Chinese characteristics and courageously advance" [坚定不移地沿着中国特色社会主义道路奋勇前进]. 

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Beijing on alert as Tiananmen anniversary nears

Democracy campaigners marched through central Hong Kong on Sunday but there are no signs of dissent on Beijing's streets as the 21st anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre approaches. On Saturday 13 activists were arrested for erecting a Tiananmen Square remembrance statue in a busy shopping district in Hong Kong but all were later released on bail.

The march came ahead of an annual candlelit vigil this Friday. Last year the event year drew about 150,000 people who gathered to mark the anniversary of China's bloody crackdown on protesters near Tiananmen Square in 1989. Protests over the weekend in Hong Kong only drew an estimated thousand demonstrators however [AFP / Daily Mail].

Last year in China, authorities tightened control of the Internet ahead of the anniversary. Popular email services GMail and Hotmail were blocked for a time and Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites were also blocked. Facebook and Twitter remain blocked and the restrictions have become tighter over the last year.

In what might be a sign that the authorities may be tweaking the so-called Great Firewall of China, some users in the country found that searches for pornography were less restrictive than usual [Telegraph blog]. An image search for 'porn' returned dozens of hardcore images instead of the usual place markers or a block on the search altogether. It is possible this may be just a glitch, as has often occurred before,

On Beijing's streets there appeared to be a higher than usual police presence. Armed SWAT teams could be seen around the city some standing by shiny black Hummers. While protests are unlikely, the authorities are seemingly keeping a watchful eye for anything unusual.

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China