Saturday, August 04, 2012

China going for gold, Africa & the Internet

China's insatiable quest for achievement has pulled out all the stops to win gold at the London 2012 Olympics. But it hasn't come without criticism. The Daily Mirror this week took a look at the "training factories" that churn out China's champions.

According to the Daily Mirror, the reason behind China's immense success in the Olympic events lies in atrocious training regimes that youngsters are forced to follow back home.

"Mandarin Machine"

Swimmers, gymnasts, boxers and athletes are all products of a so-called Mandarin Machine, a government programme designed to churn out Olympic gold medallists and ensure China's world domination of sport, the paper claimed.

For the past four decades, children as young as six have been tested for size, fitness and skill as part of a national "talent identification strategy". In short, athletes have been "manufactured like automatons on a cynical human production line" the paper asserts.

With a population of 1.3 billion to choose from, more than 400,000 are selected and sent to 3,000 sports schools, or boot camps. Here they are subjected to gruelling daily training and strict diets while some are even doped with hormone injections. Separated from their families for weeks or months on end, they are brainwashed into believing they have one purpose, that of winning gold.

Photos posted on the Internet showed tiny gymnasts weeping silently as they endured tortuous stretching exercises, children being made to do handstands for 30 minutes at a time to improve balance and endurance and seven-year-old swimmers forced to do 20 chin-ups.

It wasn't just the Mirror which highlighted China's obsessive push for gold. The Daily Mail also focused on a Gymnasium in Nanning, China where young gymnasts are subject to a gruelling regime of exercise, verging on torture. Another article looked at the training endured by China's next generation of Olympic swimmers [Daily Mail]

Sky News also carried a story about the rigorous training regimes, though their report was not as hard hitting as seen in the British tabloid media this week or on some websites such as ChinaSmack. The success of China at the Olympics thus far has also fostered much debate about how the rest of the world, and particularly Britain, looks at China as "cheats, freaks and robots" [Telegraph].

Chasing resources

China is not only chasing gold medals, it is also seeking the precious metal and other natural resources. Africa has been a particular focus, and one that is beginning to create friction between China and the indigenous population. China's exploitation of Africa's vast mineral wealth has also increased the ire of other countries.

This week, during her African tour, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton emphasised America's commitment to democracy and human rights contrasting that with rival powers' focus on exploiting resources and labour [VoA / Guardian

While Clinton did not mention any country by name, her remarks were a clear swipe at China, which eclipsed the US as Africa's biggest trading partner three years ago.

Resource-hungry China is often criticised for turning a blind eye to dictatorships and internal repression in its partnerships with African states such as Angola, Ethiopia, Sudan and Zimbabwe. It built the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa as a gift and has just doubled its credit line to Africa to $20bn [£12bn].

The line Clinton took did not please China, and there was an angry response coming from state media. He Wenping, director of the African Studies Section at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times that making comparisons between China and the US was a result of the upcoming US election.

"China has provided concrete help economically to African nations because without well-off economic soil, democratic growth on the continent will be weak and all the African nations are in consensus on this," He said.

"Plot to sow discord"

China's state-run Xinhua news agency was more robust in its criticism and accused Clinton of trying to undermine political and economic ties between Beijing and African governments that have grown stronger in recent years. Xinhua said her trip was "aimed at least partly at discrediting China's engagement with the continent and curbing China's influence there."

"Her remarks betrayed an attempt to drive a wedge between China and Africa for the US selfish gain," the article said. The op-Ed labelled Clinton's visit to Africa as a "plot to sow discord between China and Africa" but insisted it would be doomed to fail [ / Global Times / FT / WSJ / IBT / BBC / Guardian]. 

Internet control

If control and exploitation of Africa's resources was not enough, there were indications this week that China also wanted to extend its influence on the way the Internet is run.

The proposal, backed by China, Russia, Brazil, India and other UN members, would give the UN's International Telecommunication Union [ITU] more control over the governance of the Internet.

The US has confirmed it will resist efforts by China, Russia and others to put the Internet under the control of the United Nations. The confirmation came in a statement issued by the US Department of State.

China's attempt to influence the way the Internet is controlled is nothing new. In their book, "Who Controls the Internet?", the authors Jack Goldsmith and Tim Wu quote law professor Peter Yu, who warns, "the question is no longer how the Internet will affect China. It is how China will affect the Internet."

China's Internet policy is reflected in a statement made by president Hu Jintao in early 2007 when he said he aimed to "purify the Internet environment" and "ensure that one hand grasps development, while one hand grasps administration." China has long been pushing acceptance of its policy on the international plane in several ways.

Lobbying UN

China's goal is to increase its control over critical Internet resources. China is among the leaders in lobbying for a UN organization to take over regulation of the Internet from the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). Many other countries have supported this proposal, including the European Union and Brazil, the site of an important Internet Governance Forum [IGF] meeting in November 2007. This proposal has alarmed human rights advocates who have seen the negligent attitude of the UN toward human rights abuses.

While Chinese demands were dismissed at the World Summit on the Information Society [WSIS] in 2003, where the IGF was created as an agreeable alternative to a UN institution such as International Telecommunication Union [ITU], China succeeded in restoring "management of critical Internet resources" [DNS root servers and IP addresses] to the agenda of a subsequent IGF meeting in Brazil.

"Proposed norms"

China has pursued a policy to create an adoption of proposed norms. The government-endorsed Internet Society of China conducted a workshop at the Athens meeting of the IGF in November 2006, at which "A Proposed Framework of World Norm of Internet" ["World Norm"] was circulated. In the document it states, "Anyone has the rights to contribute true and trusty information to others via Internet."

"The openness of Internet should never be utilized for any harmful purpose to users" and "any kinds of unhealthy content...should be forbidden" the document states. "Users should never violate the regulation for secured, trusty and efficient use of the networks." The proposal also articulates the need for an organization under the UN to handle Internet related disputes and a permanent mechanism under the UN to generate governance proposals.

With the latest proposals, China's vision for the Internet is another step closer [ / Computer Weekly / BBC]

Dominance in the real world

China is also asserting itself in the real world too. In the South China Sea tensions have increased as China seeks to maintain a grip on territories it claims are its own.

In news that's been virtually ignored because of blanket coverage of the 2012 Olympics, China has established a city on a disputed island, something which will be seen as highly provocative to neighbouring countries [Al Jazeera / Daily Mail].

China named two senior military generals to head a garrison on a group of islands also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan. They are to be based in the new city of Xansha. The city has a supermarket, a bank and a hospital and a population of only 1,000 inhabitants. And for all intents and purposes, Xansha is a propaganda effort to assert China's claims in the region.

The US has criticised the move saying it will only increase the threat of hostilities. And with such a prospect being all too real, China is preparing itself. With massive mineral and fish reserves at stake, as well as national pride, China has increased its military presence in the South China Sea. As far as China is concerned the territorial claims are non-negotiable and China is likely to defend its claims with force.

Military build-up

"China has indisputable sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea and their adjacent waters," General Geng Yansheng told Sky News, "It is opposed to military intervention in this region." [Xinhua] However, the opposition to military intervention China refers to is that of other nations, not of its own defence of the islands.

It is a tenuous stand-off. Few nations will willingly antagonise China or engage militaristically. The danger is that a mistake by either side could escalate, drawing in larger nations with an interest in the region, particularly the United States, which have a sworn duty to defend many countries in the region including the much disputed island of Taiwan.

China has continually warned the US to "be careful" in its actions suggesting that any intervention in China's territorial claims would not only hurt the feelings of Chinese people, but would be aggressively repelled [Daily Mail / Xinhua].

tvnewswatch, London, UK

No comments: