Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Tensions rise in S Korea after attack

Tensions remain high a day after North Korea struck the South Korean island of Daeyeonpyeong, one of several islands collectively referred to as Yeonpyeong Island. Two military personnel were killed along with 2 civilians and at least 13 others were injured when North Korea launched a barrage of missiles onto the island. South Korean forces responded with return fire and F-16 fighter jets were scrambled, though the hostilities calmed after an hour. However the situation remains volatile with both sides accusing the other of firing the first shot and each vowing to defend their sovereign territory.

The island is home to more than 1,300 civilians but also houses a military base. It was this base that was apparently targeted by the North soon after South Korean forces had staged an artillery exercise in the area. North Korea claims that missiles had been fired towards its territory, something strongly contested by the South. Shelling of Yeonpyeong Island began at approximately 14:34 local time. The South Korean military base as well as several civilian buildings were struck by the missiles and the South Korean military responded with artillery fire from K-9 155mm self-propelled howitzers against two North Korean coastal artillery bases. It is unclear what damage was sustained by North Korea, but power was knocked out across Yeonpyeong Island and several fires broke out. South Korean Air Force F-16 fighter jets were scrambled, but it did not engage enemy targets. North Korea is said to have fired more than 100 shells, some reports citing a number as high as 200. South Korea said it fired 80 shells in response.

Media coverage

As news broke of the attack media organisation broadcast pictures relayed via Yonhap TV News in South Korea. Images showed plumes of smoke coming from the island and later footage from closed circuit TV cameras and mobile phones which had capture missiles landing and of the K-9 howitszers being fired in response. But despite the severity of the situation there was not the saturation coverage often seen during such a major breaking news story. Russia Today and China's CCTV News channel barely touched on the story, with CCTV only reporting event late into the day. Al Jazeera provided the longest in depth coverage, with Euronews and CNN following closely behind. The events were the top story on both the the BBC and Sky News though at noon when the date for the royal wedding was announced they both dropped the story of the attack in favour of the royal couple.

Wednesday's papers varied in what they covered on their front pages. The Independent ran with the front page headline "War Clouds Over Korea" while the Financial Times spoke of the fears over any escalation. A picture of the bombing dominated the Guardian though the main story focused on The Archbishop of Canterbury's worries over the future of the Anglican Church. The Times also ran with a large picture but its front page was also dominated by school examination results and the royal wedding. The daily Telegraphy spoke of a £5 million royal wedding and an exam shake-up as well as a health story about aspirin. All the tabloids adorned their front pages with the royal wedding plans, though the Sun did also have a mention of the strike on South Korea along the side.

World reaction

There was strong condemnation from many countries around the world. US President Barack Obama said he was "outraged". As the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George Washington, carrying 75 fighter and a crew of over 6,000 servicemen, headed towards the Korean Peninsula, Obama reiterated his commitment to stand by the Republic of Korea. "We strongly affirm our commitment to defend South Korea," he said. 

On the streets of Seoul there were protests calling for a strong response to North Korea's hostilities. Hundreds of demonstrators gather to burn pictures of Jim Jong-Il and his successor Kim Jong-Un as well as the North Korean Flag. Meanwhile on the streets of North Korean capital of Pyongyang residents reiterated the party line of the ruling government. "The South Korean puppets should realise that any provocation will be responded to with merciless fire," one man told a local television news reporter. 

Similar voices came from North Korean media. "The puppet group dared make an uproar over 'a provocation' from someone and cry out for 'punishment' like a thief crying 'Stop the thief!'" the North's KCNA news agency said. "The Lee Myung-bak group's treacherous and anti-reunification acts are intolerable as it vitiated the atmosphere for improving the inter-Korean relations overnight and drove the situation to the brink of war, challenging the desire of all the Koreans," KCNA said.

Meanwhile the administration of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said it was consulting the United States and other allies Wednesday, following the North's shelling. "We have come to the judgment that what happened on Yeonpyeong Island was a definite military provocation against the Republic of Korea," the Lee administration said. "The fact that they have indiscriminately fired upon a defenseless civilian zone was a brutally inhumane action, an illegal and intentional action against the UN constitution and the armistice between the North and South Korea."

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the attack "one of the gravest incidents" since the Korean War ended in 1953. And top US general in South Korea, General Walter Sharp, called on North Korea to stop what he called "unprovoked attacks" and to abide by an armistice agreement that ended the 1950-53 Korean War. "These actions are threatening the peace and stability of the entire region," he said. 

China has been reserved in its response. Hong Lei, China's Foreign Ministry spokesman said, "We have noticed related reports and are concerned about the issue. The real situation needs to be confirmed." But he also called for calm. "We hope related parties to do things conductive [sic] to peace and stability in the Korean Peninsula," Hong said.

While the situation is extremely volatile, many residents in Seoul were not as concerneed as might be expected. "I was talking with a friend this morning and we wondered why we weren't more concerned," a Seoul restaurant owner, Pyun Sung-ja, said on Wednesday. "I guess it's because the area of the shelling is so far from here. It feels like it happened in another country."

Yeonpyeong Island is more than 100 km to the north-west of the capital Seoul. and is much closer to the border of North Korea. However, Seoul is also well in missile range from the North standing less than  36 km from the nearest border with its neighbour. Should the capital be targeted, there would be far greater casualties. There would likely be a far greater military response too from South Korea and its allies. With the North believed to possess nuclear weapons and having strong ties to China, the political and military fallout is too dreadful for many to contemplate [Wikipedia / CNN / BBC / Sky News / Al JazeeraNYT].

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Thursday, November 18, 2010

China manipulated Internet traffic report says

The annual report from the United States China Economic Security Review Commision has once again raised concerns over China and its use of the Internet. In the latest report there are particularly worrisome issues. According to the study around 15% of the worlds Internet traffic was redirected through servers owned by China's state owned China Telecom for 18 minutes. China has refuted the accusations. 

Dmitri Alperovitch, vice president of threat research for McAfee, said the rerouting of Internet traffic incident occurred in April. Most troubling about the incident is the apparent lack of motive as well as the fact that there were no obvious adverse side effects, at least so far.

But Larry Wortzel warned that an analysis of the data could be used to socially engineer phishing emails that might not be so easily identified by the recipient. Dr. Larry Wortzel, a retired Colonel in the US Army, is a leading authority on China and has written a number of books and studies examining the country's military ambitions. In his 2006 report, China's Military Policy in Space [PDF], Wortzel examined China's military goals and intentions in space as well as its technological capabilities. It also considers the means and measures needed to counter prospective Chinese threats and protect the United States

But since that book was published there has been growing concerns that China's military may be examining how to use the Internet as a weapon. The US government has said that the latest breach was not cause for alarm as classified information sent over US military networks is encrypted. But it was not only military networks whose data was rerouted. Nor was it only the US that became victim to what some refer to as a deliberate hacking by China. Some of the data that was hijacked came from American, Japanese and Australian military networks, but commercial sites were also affected. According to the USCC report sites, owned by the US Senate, the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Office of the Secretary of Defense, Department of Commerce and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, as well as commercial Web sites such as those for Dell, Yahoo!, Microsoft and IBM were targeted.

Speaking in congress Larry Wortzel said that with the use of powerful computers "you may get a little useful information" from the data that travelled through China's servers. It was also possible to "socially engineer a fake email" by analysing the IP addresses of the traffic he said. "If you were a pretty knowledgeable intelligence service, you would get the internet addresses of everybody that communicated. And then you could essentially engineer a fake e-mail," Wortzel said, "and if someone opened an attachment, you would then insert a virus into the whole system."

The concern is that China does indeed have some of the most powerful computers in the world. In fact by its own admission China has built the world's fastest supercomputer, the Tianhe-1A, which is capable of 2.57 quadrillion computing operations per second [Xinhua]. Such a computer would easily be able to sift through the terrabytes of information gleaned from April's hacking.

Wang Baodong (王寶東), spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Washington, has dismissed allegations that China deliberately hacked foreign networks. "The commission's specious and unwarranted allegations against China and its enterprises are irresponsible," Wang said. "China will never do anything to harm other countries' national security, either in real or virtual worlds."

The hijacking was made possible because of the way the global telecommunications grid operates; on trust. Internet data flows through the quickest and most efficient path identified by routers. On April 8, China Telecom told the world's Internet Service Providers that channels were the best for traffic, resulting in terrabytes of data being sent through the Chinese network, even if both sender and receiver were in the United States.

Alperovitch, who said McAfee was able to witness and monitor the redirection of the traffic, said the Chinese could have spied on or even modified the traffic as it flowed through their networks. They might also have been able to decrypt commercially encrypted files, Alperovitch said. Intentional or not, it is the largest successful "hijacking" or rerouting of Internet traffic ever, he said.

As well as Internet traffic manipulation the USCC report also focused on the continued and widespread use of censorship. The report said that there were signs of a "spillover of China's Internet censorship activities". In March 2010, reports surfaced that China's Internet censorship regime (known colloquially as ''the Great Firewall'') temporarily affected Internet users outside of China. Specifically, certain users in Chile and the United States who tried to access popular social media sites, including Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook, were denied access by being redirected to incorrect or nonexistent servers. This incident, which relates to the Internet ''Domain Name System'' illustrates the implications of China's effort to impose ''localized'' restrictions to something as inherently global in scope as the Internet [tvnewswatch, March 2010].

Although the Commission had no way to determine what, if anything, Chinese telecommunications firms did to the hijacked data, incidents of this nature could have a number of serious implications. This level of access could enable surveillance of specific users or sites. It could disrupt a data transaction and prevent a user from establishing a connection with a site. It could even allow a diversion of data to somewhere that the user did not intend, for example, to a ''spoofed'' site. Arbor Networks Chief Security Officer Danny McPherson explained that the volume of affected data could have been intended to conceal one targeted attack. Perhaps most disconcertingly, as a result of the diffusion of Internet security certification authorities, control over diverted data could possibly allow a telecommunications firm to compromise the integrity of supposedly secure encrypted sessions.

The report also highlights further concerns surrounding the way regulations and Internet controls affect trace and business. In particular there are worries at new regulations which force all technology companies to disclose sensitive cryptography information to Chinese authorities. Regulations require firms to turn over ''encryption algorithms, software source code and design specifications'' to ''government-connected testing laboratories,'' namely, the Certification and Accreditation Administration of China under China's General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine.
Firms that fail to comply with the new regulations may be prohibited from doing business in Chinese markets. Furthermore those that choose to comply may risk exposing their security measures or even their intellectual property to Chinese competitors. The USCC report also says that censorship is affecting trade. "China's Internet censorship activities have broad implications for the United States," it states. "Impeded information flows are destabilizing, particularly in the context of a crisis. Moreover, censorship in some respects is actually a barrier to trade, thereby undermining US businesses' ability to operate in China." 

[BBC / CNN / Time / Washington Post / Bloomberg

USCC 2010 report full [PDF] / Chapter index /  USCC 2010 report China's Domestic Internet Censorship Activities [PDF] / USCC 2010 report External Implications of China's Internet-Related Activities [PDF] / Recommendations [PDF

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Ai Weiwei colleague Wu Yuren on trial

Wu Yuren who describes himself as a freelance contemporary and conceptual artist on his Facebook page faced trial on Wednesday for what many of his supporters see as trumped up charges. Wu, a friend and colleague of renowned artist Ai Weiwei found himself arrested in June after he had gone to a police station to raise a complaint about a friend's landlord. But Wu was beaten and found himself detained and charged with obstructing justice.

His wife Karen Patterson now finds herself struggling to make sense of the events that sees her Chinese husband facing up to 3 years in jail. Tweeting from Beijing she relayed events as the trial began as did many of Wu's supporters including Ai Weiwei. Only three hand picked members of the public were allowed into what was believed to be an 'open trial'. Outside dozens of supports posted pictures on the Internet of those who had gathered to offer moral support. All of them were kept back behind the barrier including controversial artist Ai Weiwei who could be see remonstrating with police in some pictures posted via social media.

As those outside the courthouse filmed the events and took pictures, they too were filmed by plain clothes police. Meanwhile the gathering gradually turned into a 'cirucus' as petitioners arrived and began shouting about their own causes. "We are the homeless of the harmonious society," two women chanted.

Ai Weiwei has previously said the case illustrates how powerless ordinary citizens are before the law in China. "Wu Yuren is one of those cases where some stupid police at a very low level made a very stupid mistake, and now they're going to sentence Wu Yuren just to justify this decision."

Wu Yuren's wife is somewhat pessimistic but nonetheless determined to raise the profile of her husband's case. She has already written to everyone from Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to Fu Zhenghua, Beijing's new chief of police, in the hope that outside pressure might bring about a lighter sentence.

"It sometimes feels a little like, 'Why are we doing all this?'" Karen Patterson says. "But if it makes a difference between three years [in prison] and one year, or three years and two years, or maybe making sure the cops don't completely get away with it – something has to be done." Sadly the trial has gained little publicity or attention both inside or outside China except on social networks such as Twitter [Frontline Contemporary Artists / WuYuren / Art Threat / Globe & Mail]

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Europe's economy in crisis

EU president Herman Van Rompuy has said the Eurozone will not survive if it fails to overcome the current debt crisis that is beginning to sweep across several member states. Many woke this morning to depressing headlines which painted a bleak picture for the economic future of Europe and those upon which it depends.

Front pages of many of Tuesday's newspapers talked of the Euro being "under siege" and facing an "unprecedented crisis". The Daily Telegraph in particular ran several in depth articles focusing on Europe's latest economic problems. The Irish government is facing growing pressure to accept a massive financial bailout from EU though it has said it does not need any help. But the Telegraph reports Ireland had begun preliminary talks over its debt problems.

Ireland is just the latest in a series of woes. The Greek economy is virtually collapsing and millions of Euros have been pumped into the country. And yesterday it was disclosed that the country's economic problems are much worse than previously believed. There are concerns too that Portugal and Spain may soon be asking for financial help [Telegraph].

As European finance ministers headed to Brussels to discuss a new European stability plan there were warmings that of the seriousness of the situation coming from leading politicians. German Chancellor Angela Merkel echoed the words of the EU president saying, "If the euro fails, then Europe fails."

But Ireland's minister for European affairs has urged EU finance ministers not to panic over the country's economic problems, insisting there was no need to resort to a bail-out. Dick Roche said that the markets were "not reacting rationally" to Ireland's debt difficulties and insisted that the country's stringent austerity measures were working as planned [Telegraph].

Austerity measures have been implemented in Britain and across Europe to deal with massive deficits that have hung over from the global economic downturn. But the cut backs have not been accepted graciously by large sections of society. In Greece there have been strikes and widespread disorder. In France too proposals to raise the pensionable age brough the country to a virtual standstill. And in Britain there is also growing discontent. A student demonstration descended into violence last week and many people expect further troubles in weeks to come.

Portugal has admitted it may need an EU bail-out. If it does, it will be the latest in a collection of the most vulnerable European member states known the PIGS [Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain] to ask for help. 

Portugal's deficit is €15.7 billion accounting for 9.3% of the country's GDP. The government also has debts of €127.9 billion, more than 76% of GDP. In comparison Ireland's deficit is €22.9 billion, 14.4% of GDP and the government debt is in excess of €104 billion.

Greece have a deficit of €36.1 billion, 15.4% of GDP, and a government debt of €288 billion accounting for 126.8% of the country's GDP. Spain has the largest deficit of the PIGS standing at €117.3 billion though this is only 11.1% of its GDP. But it has government debts of more that €560.5 billion, or 53.2% of Spain's GDP.

Brussels recommends an annual budget deficit no higher than 3% of GDP. This includes the sum of all public budgets, including municipalities, regions and so on. It also advises that countries hold a national debt lower than 60% of GDP. 

The news that the Euro might be in trouble may please some Euro-sceptics but Britain will be severely affected by a collapse of Europe's economy. David Cameron said he was "thankful" that Britain had not joined the euro, but indicated his displeasure that taxpayers faced a £7 billion [€8.25 billion] liability in any bail-out package. Meanwhile, veteran Conservative MP Peter Tapsell warned that the "potential knock-on effect" of the Irish crisis "could pose as great a threat to the world economy as did Lehman Brothers, AIG and Goldman Sachs in September 2008".

Britain is far from being economically stable either. Government debt has passed £903 billion [€1,065 billion], equivalent to 62.2% of GDP. the highest since records began in 1993 [Guardian / Govt Statistics / Eurozone in crisis - charts BBC]

Writing in the Telegraph, Jeremy Warner says Britain should not be complacent nor gloat at Europe's woes. "Any disorderly disintegration of the euro could plunge all of Europe into prolonged depression, destroying Britain's nascent recovery and with it the Coalition's plans for deficit reduction," he says. "In such circumstances, Britain too would be vulnerable to debt crisis and punishingly [sic] high interest rates." [Telegraph]

Even as austerity measures take effect, it will be a long time before Britain is out of the woods. Today it was announced that UK inflation had risen to 3.2% in October, though the retail price index had fallen to 4.5%, the lowest since march [Sky News / Guardian / BBC].

The negative news was kept from most however as many news channels revelled in the news that Prince William and Kate Middleton are to marry. While early reports in the day focused on the economic news the breaking news at 11 am that a Royal wedding was in the offing soon filled the airwaves with wall-to-wall coverage on the happy couple which the BBC described as "the big story of the day". Nothing like a Royal wedding to bury bad news. "Hopefully it's going to lift us all we all these cuts and everything. I know they're necessary but it's so depressing," one Londoner told BBC News outside Buckingham palace.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Monday, November 15, 2010

Did China launch mystery missile?

Several news reports are circulating that put claim to China being behind the launch of a mystery missile seen of the Californian coast last week. While some have dismissed the apparent missile launch as merely a trail from an aeroplane, some sources are claiming Chinese hackers were responsible for launching a US owned missile.

The trail of what appeared to be a missile was seen off the Californian coast on Monday and filmed by a news helicopter. It created a sensation on the Internet and a debate as to what it was. The Pentagon have been particularly quiet and would not say what they thought it was. Some bloggers claimed it was only a contrail left by a plane [Fox News]. Others speculated that there was something far more sinister.

In Sunday's News of the World an article claimed that there was a distinct possibility, if slim, that the incident was in fact the launch of a US missile sent on its way by Chinese hackers. It was not the only publication to claim the Chinese were behind the phenomena.

When KCBS aired the news helicopter footage of the mystery missile launch last Monday off the coast of southern California, Director John Pike claimed it was an 'optical illusion'. This gained the most attention from the media. However, he raised an interesting question which was not so widely reported. "The Air Force must … understand how contrails are formed," he said. "Why they can't get some major out to belabor the obvious, I don't know."

Already, conspiracy theories are flying. The slow response of the Pentagon to explain the apparent missile launch has heightened concern and fueled such theories. One ireport published on CNN's website and reposted on InfoWars goes further than most and claims China had "flexed its military muscle" by launching an intercontinental ballistic missile from international waters off the southern California coast from "a Chinese Navy Jin class ballistic missile nuclear submarine, deployed secretly from its underground home base on the south coast of Hainan island." [dprogram / death by 1000 papercuts / Examiner].

The claims in the article suggest the Chinese were attempting to "demonstrate to the United States its capabilities on the eve of the G-20 Summit in Seoul and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Tokyo" where President Obama is scheduled to attend during his ten-day trip to Asia. 

Of course legitimate news sources have yet to make so bold a claim that either Chinese hacker or indeed a missile actually launched by the Chinese themselves accounted for the sighting last Monday. Yet there are certainly more questions than answers. 

The DOD have issued several explanations from an 'illusion' to 'most likely an aircraft'. Speaking Sean Hannity's FOX News show, General McInerney was a little more forthcoming. "First of all I do not agree with the assertion, Sean, and your question is we should get a definitive answer, you're absolutely correct. Look, this is not an airplane because of the plume and the way you see that plume, airplanes do not con (contrail) at sea level or at 5000 like that. I spent 35 years flying fighters and I have never seen an airplane con like that. That is a missile, it was launched from a submarine and you can see it go through a correction course and then it gets a very smooth trajectory, meaning that the guidance system is now kicked in, it's going about 45 degrees away from you that why you're not seeing a lot of vertical velocity." Sean Hannity questions him further, "General, are you a 100% certain?" General McInerney is adamant. "Sean, I've watched that film ten times, I've watched 15 other Trident films, SM-3′s, standard missile 3′s, and T-Lan launchers, I am absolutely certain that that is not a an aircraft."

Well, as Fox News says 'We report you decide'. [Telegraph blog / Daily Mail / LA TimesFox News]

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Aung San Suu Kyi released

Aung San Suu Kyi, one of the world's most well known prisoners of conscience, has been released after years being held under house arrest. Thousands of supporters gathered outside her house before noon and the atmosphere was electric as she eventually stepped out an attempted to address them. Few heard her words however as the cheers drowned out her short speech. Those near the front of the crowd were able to catch a few words however. "We must work together in unison to achieve our goal" Aung San Suu Kyi told the crowd. She eventually withdrew into her house but before she did, Suu Kyi told the jubilant crowd that she would address them on Sunday at the offices for the National League for Democracy.

Media reaction

As the news broke most news channels cut away from their regular programming. Sky News, BBC, CNN, France 24 and Al Jazeera all covered the events extensively. There was little if any coverage from Russia Today, Iran's Press TV and CCTV News in China. CCTV continued with its political discussion programme Dialogue and the hourly news which followed headlined with the APEC meeting in Japan, a trade forum on Yokohama and the Asian games in Guangzhou, China. Russia Today also headlined with APEC, a story claiming socialism was rising and a report on global warming. It was not until 12:18 GMT, an hour and 20 minutes after her release, that they said "reports are coming in that Aung San Suu Kyi has been released from detention". Press TV reported on a bombing in Afghanistan and currency conflicts between the US and China before moving to the release of Aung San Su Kyi later in the bulletin. Meanwhile Japan's NHK headlined with the Aung San Suu Kyi story despite the fact that Japan is hosting the APEC meeting.

Political response

Soon after Aung San Suu Kyi had spoken, there came a stream of statements from around the globe. British Prime Minister David Cameron said the release was "long overdue and an inspiration to all of us who believe in freedom of speech." He went on to describe her detention as "a travesty designed to silence the voice of the Burmese people." British Foreign Secretary William Hague also released a statement in which he said, "Aung San Suu Kyi's arbitrary detention for most of the last twenty years has been deeply unjust." Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said he was "delighted" on hearing the news and described her prolonged detention as "a disgrace."

US President Barack Obama issued a statement saying, "the United States welcomes her long overdue release" and he called for the more than 2,000 political prisoners to be freed by the military Junta. EU President José Manuel Barroso added his voice saying he was "delighted" and there were also positive remarks from Thailand and Japan. However, most most of the voices of support for Aung San Suu Kyi and the condemnation of the military Junta came from the West.

The elections this month have been widely criticised by western democracies, but some countries have been vocal in their support of the military government. The People's Republic of China's Foreign Ministry said the election was "a critical step for Myanmar in implementing the seven-step road map in the transition to an elected government, and thus is welcome." Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also welcomed the vote and characterized it as a "step forward in the democratisation of Burmese society." India was conspicuously silent with segments of the Indian media questioning if principle gave way to expediency.

Speaking to the BBC, Baroness Kinnock, a board member for Burma campaign UK, criticised China, Thailand and India for both praising the recent flawed elections and of investing in Burma which she said was "not in the interests of the people of Burma." While she welcomed the release of Aung San Sun Kyi, Baroness Kinnock said it was "not the time to relax". She called on the international community to increase the pressure and not to be 
complacent. And on the streets of London protesters also called for more action.

Such views have been aired in the blogosphere too. One conservative blgger who goes by the name of Archbishop Cranmer acknowledged it was a day for rejoicing but raised many questions. "Aung San Suu Kyi is free. But free to do what, exactly?" he wrote. Was she free to address the NLD and campaign against the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party, to speak out about the torture and plight of other political prisoners or to communicate via electronic media without surveillance or censorship? "If not, what is this 'freedom' we are celebrating?" he asked.

Adrian Phillips, brother in law of Aung san Suu Kyi, who has not spoken to her in over 20 years, described her as "a remarkable woman" and said he had raised a toast to a free Suu and a free Burma. How far off a free Burma is, remains to be seen.

Slow move to democracy

With countries like China remaining supporting allies, change is likely to be slow. There is also a sense of hypocrisy when it comes to opinions voiced by western politicians. Today Baroness Kinnock said that countries who invest in Burma were not helping serve the interests of the Burmese people. Yet when Chinese artist Ai Weiwei raised similar views concerning his own country while under house arrest in Beijing, his calls were virtually ignored. By doing business with China without addressing issues of human rights does not serve the country well, the artist insisted in a recent interview with the Today Programme on the BBC. Trading countries "commit some kind of crime by not look [sic] at such issues," Ai Weiwei said.

Yet the primary focus of David Cameron's visit was business. Human rights were mentioned, according to a spokesperson, though few details were given. There was a more vocal protest however after China asked that Remembrance Day poppies not be worn as it might offend the sensibilities of the Chinese as it would bring back memories of the Opium Wars. On this the British refused to comply. But when it came to human rights, business came first.
"Economics is reality and politics is wishful thinking if you like," The Daily Telegraph's Janet Daley speaking on BBC's Dateline London said on the subject of China. And the same is true of other countries around the world yet to embrace democracy and move away from military dictatorships and autocratic rule. 

Diane Wei Liang, a Chinese writer & broadcaster, described the release of Aung Sun Suu Kyi as a "great moment of freedom and democracy" but added "I'm not particularly optimistic." Janet Daley called the release "essentially a public relations exercise" but RTE's Brian O'Connell said he found it "hard to see what the PR advantage actually was" for the military leaders. Time Magazine's Catherine Mayer offered no firm prediction on what might happen next. "Its a wait and see moment," she said.

Burma may have to fight its own battles towards democracy. Just as in China, there is often little more than rhetoric issued from the west. Hollow gestures in the face of dogmatic dictatorships [BBC / Sky / CNN / Al Jazeera / France 24 / Xinhua].

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Doing business with a one party state

British Prime Minister David Cameron arrived in China today with the biggest delegation seen in over 100 years. His aim is to drum up business and trade initiatives between the two countries and help drag Britain out of debt following the worst financial crisis in living memory. But the timing could not be worse as there is an ever increasing focus on China's failure to respect basic human rights and work through political reform.

As Cameron arrived in Beijing early this morning there were already criticisms and calls for him to raise the issue of human rights. One outspoken critic, Ai Weiwei, an artist who was recently put under house arrest, has been the most vocal. "Cameron should ask the Chinese government not to make people 'disappear' or to jail them merely because they have different opinions," Ai told the Guardian newspaper in Britain. "Cameron should say that the civilised world cannot see China as a civilised country if it doesn't change its own behaviour." By doing business with China without addressing such issues would not serve the country well, the artist insists. Trading countries "commit some kind of crime by not look at such issues," he says. "In last 30 years things have not changed," Ai Weiwei told BBC's Today programme on Tuesday morning. David Cameron should "emphasise the concern of human rights." While fearful for his own freedom and well-being, he said it was important that someone spoke out [BBC].

Ai Weiwei is not the only person to call for change. But most of those who do are silenced by a paranoid state, jailed, beaten and even killed. Liu Xiaobo, the architect of Charter 08 which called for greater freedom, was sentenced to eleven years' imprisonment and two years' deprivation of political rights on 25 December 2009 for "inciting subversion of state power." His efforts to reform the political system in China were recognised by those at the Nobel Prize committee "for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China". But his being awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace prize has angered China who said it was tantamount to "encouraging crime". There have also been warnings emanating from China. Vice-Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai, whose comments were published in the People's Daily, said "The choice before some European countries and others is clear and simple: do they want to be part of the political game to challenge China's judicial system or do they want to develop a true friendly relationship with the Chinese government and people?" There were veiled but unstated threats too. "If they make the wrong choice, they have to bear the consequences" [BBC]. One person already bearing the consequences is Liu Xiaobo's lawyer whose movements are now strictly controlled. As David Cameron arrived in China, Mo Shaoping says he was stopped by border police at Beijing airport, and told that if he was allowed to leave it could "threaten state security" [BBC].

David Cameron says he will raise issues of human rights and environmental obligations when he meets Chinese officials. But it is clear where his, and Britain's priorities lie. "Our message is simple: Britain is now open for business, has a very business-friendly government, and wants to have a much, much stronger relationship with China," David Cameron earlier [BBC]. When questioned about other issues by Sky News he said that while his visit was "predominantly" focused on "economic business and trading relationships" other issues were on the table. "One of the things about the UK/China relationship is that it is at the very highest level, we have dialogues covering all of these areas," Cameron said.

While his visits to Tesco and tea shops were open to the media pack, any dialogue with Chinese officials will be kept firmly behind closed doors. There will be no press conference or open public statements. "Obviously this visit is predominantly a UK/China summit and also about the economic and trading relationship but we have dialogue covering all the issues in the right way," the Prime Minister said. Such comments will only be heard outside China and won't be published in the country's strictly controlled media.

Cameron faces a difficult choice. Arriving with a team of 43 business leaders, including senior representatives from Tesco, Virgin Atlantic, Barclays, Shell and Diageo in addition to members of his Cabinet, bolstering trade is of utmost importance to Britain's economy. But propping up a country with an appalling human rights record and a failure to tackle environmental issues will leave a sour taste in many people's mouths.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Sunday, November 07, 2010

'Inhuman' govt arrests Ai Weiwei

Ai Weiwei, one of China's best known artists, has branded his government 'inhuman' after being placed under house arrest. Ai says he was arrested to stop him attending a gathering at his new studio in Shanghai which the artist has been told to demolish by authorities who say he ignored planning regulations. The artist had planned hold a demolition party at his $1.1m (£670,000) Shanghai studio on Sunday prior to its demolition and to serve up hundreds of river crabs. 

The proposed menu was evidently seen as politicising the event. The Chinese word for river crab is an slang term created by netizens in Mainland China in reference to Internet censorship. The word river crab [河蟹, héxiè] sounds similar to the word harmonious [和谐, héxié]. The construction of a Harmonious Society has been a stated aim of Chinese leader Hu Jintao and and anything that is banned or blocked on the Internet is often referred to as being 'harmonised'

On Friday, soon after returning from London where he unveiled his Sunflower Seeds at Tate Modern, a van without numberplates arrived at Ai Weiwei's Beijing home and 10 men blocked the entrance. "I'm under house arrest to prevent me from going to Shanghai. You can never really argue with this government," Ai told the Associated Press by telephone. According to messages on his Twitter feed, Ai has been told he will be under house arrest until midnight on Sunday. "Please accept my deepest apologies," he tweeted to his guests in Shanghai.

While his studio has been deemed illegal, and broke planning regulations. Ai Weiwei says it is a matter of revenge for his political outspokenness. "Ai's studio did not go through the application procedures, therefore, it is an illegal building," Chen Jie, director of the urban construction department in Malu township, where the studio is located, is quoted as telling the Global Times. But both Ai Weiwei and his architect have disputed this claim. 

Lü Hengzhong, the architect and Ai's assistant, believes that two documentary films made by the artist have angered authorities. One was about a man who killed six police officers in Shanghai, and the other was about Shanghai lawyer, Feng Zhenghu, who was stranded at Tokyo's Narita airport for more than 100 days. Ai says the head of Jiading district, Sun Jiwei, invited him to build the studio two years ago in the district. "We have reason to believe that such a move was a planned trap for me," he claimed.

While unable to leave his home yesterday, he was able to talk to reporters over the phone. He spoke calmly but critically of the Chinese government. "This society is not efficient, it's inhuman in many ways politically," the told AFP. "The government, the whole system... sacrifices education, environmental resources and most people's interests just to make a few people become extremely rich only because they are associated with the government. This cannot last too long.... This society basically has no creativity. It's just cheap labour and very police-controlled. How long can that last?" The outspoken artist hailed the Internet as being "the best gift to China" despite its being so strictly controlled. "This kind of technology will end this kind of dictatorship," he claimed.

In Shanghai a few hundred supporters of were reported to have gathered at Ai Weiwei' studio in Shanghai. One of them, a 27-year-old man surnamed Zhang, said supporters started turning up on Sunday morning to attend a party to commemorate the forced demolition of Ai's newly built studio. Zhang said several plainclothes security officials watched but did not intervene. "It is very orderly," he said. "We came here just to show our support for Ai Weiwei. China currently lacks the rule of law and I hope that we can build a society that is ruled by law. This is what we need to do." The host was absent, but more than 400 people turned up at the artist's million-dollar studio a thousand kilometres away in suburban Shanghai.

By confining the prominent Chinese artist to his home in Beijing in an attempt to stop his politically motivated performance art, authorities have instead created far more publicity than may have otherwise occurred. The demolishing of the artist's studio may well have drawn a few lines of criticism in the world's media. But placing an artist under house arrest has put a spotlight on China's political system. "In a harmonious society, we eat river crabs," [在一个和谐的社会,我们吃河蟹 / Zài yīgè héxié de shèhuì, wǒmen chī hé xiè] the guests chanted, as some posed for photos in front of banners and crowded into the two-storey structure's courtyard and expansive rooms. Of the decision to demolish his studio for allegedly misusing the land, Ai Weiwei said, "It's ridiculous." The decision has also made China look ridiculous, once again [BBC / BBC video / CNN].

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Thursday, November 04, 2010

"Technical failure" on A380 grounds flights

Shares of Rolls Royce and EADS, the Airbus parent, have taken a dive after the catastrophic failure of an engine on an A380. And safety of the Airbus is in question as both Qantas and Singapore airlines ground their fleets of the aircraft.
Shortly after taking off from Singapore's International airport at 13:30 local time [02:30 GMT], passengers on board the Qantas flight 32 heard a "loud band" and saw smoke issuing from the starboard side of the world's largest jet. There was a tense 60 minutes as the pilot circled, dumping fuel before making an emergency landing back in Singapore.

Many of the passengers disembarking the Spirit of Australia did not wish to speak to the media, but those that did praised the crew and the airline. Some said it could have been a lot worse, many of them shocked after seeing the damage to the Trent 900 engine manufactured by Rolls Royce. Lars Sandberg, a DJ from Glasgow, Scotland told the BBC he was "just happy to be alive". Another passenger Matt Hewitt said, "I was confident in that I knew that as long as there was at least one, possibly two engines, we could still fly, as long as the wing was effectively still there." 

It has been described as an "uncontained engine failure" which saw parts of the outer housing blown away. Part of the debris struck the wing causing damage to the top side. And on the ground residents of the small Indonesian island of Batam were showered with parts of the engine causing one minor injury. It also created concern that an aircraft may have crashed.

However, the crew on board remain calm and told passengers that everything was under control. The pilot informed people on board that there had been "a technical issue" with the number two engine and that they would not be proceeding to Sydney [CNN].

Within an hour the A380, carrying 433 passengers and 26 crew, had landed safely at Changi at 11.45 local time [03:45 GMT]. As it landed some passengers filmed smoke issuing from beneath the wing. It could have been a lot worse, but the fallout of this incident is still serious and may have implications both for EADS and Rolls Royce.

There are currently 37 Airbus 380s in the skies, operated by Singapore Airlines, Qantas and Emirates amongst others. Another 234 have been ordered by airlines around the globe, including British Airways and Virgin Atlantic. But this incident has raised concerns. Qantas has already grounded all its fleet and Singapore have also said it will halt flights until further notice. Emirates, Lufthansa and other carriers have yet to stop flights, though not all aircraft owned by these operators possess the same type of engine [BBC].

Stocks were hit hard as the news filtered out. EADS, the Airbus parent, suffered sharp share price falls with its stock dropping 4.05% to 18.225. Rolls Royce shares fell 5.04% to 621.50. Howard Wheeldon, senior strategist at brokerage BGC Partners in London, said, "Until the investigation is properly done we will not know whether it is a defined engine fault or if the explosion was caused by a malfunction of a part within the engine or outside interference such as a bird strike or debris. It could also be a maintenance-related issue." [BBC]

While doubts remain, passengers will feel uneasy about taking to the air in an Airbus. The Airbus A380 has only been in operational service for about three years, though it was first unveiled five years ago. This has been the first serious incident involving the A380 and the Airbus in general has a good safety record, though there have been fatal crashes. For such a new plane, an incident as occurred today will raise serious concerns [Telegraph].

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Ugly scenes as fire strike escalates

There is growing resentment towards striking firefighters as bonfire night approaches with violence being reported. There have been a series of negative reports in newspapers and there are signs that anger is growing not only from members of the public but amongst the ranks of firefighters themselves.

Firefighters Ian Lehair and Tamer Ozdemir were injured in collisions with two fire vehicles during protests in south London over planned 12 hour shifts. Ozdemir reportedly screamed out in pain as he was thrown over the windscreen of a car being driven by strike-breaking fire crews outside Croydon Fire Station. Chris Young, the station manager who is believed to have been in the car at the time of the collision, was arrested but it is not clear whether he was driving at the time [FBU].

Lehair was hit by a fire engine returning to Southwark fire station on Monday night and was taken to hospital with suspected broken ribs. A second man was arrested over the collision. According to reports firefighters in Croydon began banging on the side of fire engines entering the station at around 15.20 on Monday while shouting "scabs" and "traitors" at strike-breakers crossing the picket line.

The incidents on Monday were not the first signs of frustration and anger. During an earlier walk-out on the 23rd October strike-breaking firefighters were met by "intimidation and harassment" according to London Fire Commissioner Ron Dobson. Footage on YouTube [1/2] showed demonstrators surrounding a fire engine as it returned to Southwark Bridge Road station [BBC]. The angry scenes seen outside some fire stations has resulted in police being drafted in to protect strike-breakers [YouTube].

The strike action in London stems from a dispute about new working contracts and if not resolved will involve thousands of firefighters striking on Bonfire Night. Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, said the changes were unacceptable to those already working antisocial shifts and would not allow firefighters to see enough of their families.

However many tabloid newspapers have slammed such claims and highlighted rampant moonlighting amongst firefighters. The Mail on Sunday carried out investigations and revealed that up to a third of the striking firefighters have second jobs. According to the report almost 2,000 of London's 5,900 firefighters also work in jobs including accountants, undertakers, actors and models. The document also discloses that 107 full-time London firefighters are employed as retained, or part-time, staff with other brigades.

Business groups have also criticised claims made by striking firefighters, saying 12 hours a day was the norm for many workers in Britain. Firefighters will get three days off each week under the new deal. London Fire Brigade wants to change the current 15-hour night shift and nine hour day shift to equal 12 hour shifts day and night. The Fire Brigade Union has accused the brigade of threatening thousands of firefighters with the forced redundancies if they do not agree to new shift patterns.

Contract staff have been brought in to cover the strike, although firefighters have said they would attend serious fires, explosions, blazes involving gas cylinders or hazardous substances and road collisions but not incidents such as grass fires, flooding and people stuck in lifts, according to the brigade [Telegraph].

But politicians have called the strike irresponsible and could cost lives. One family has been left homeless after an "embarrassing" fire crew standing in for striking regulars failed to put out a blaze in their north London house. The family claimed the stand-in fire crew, drafted in by the London Fire Brigade, took nearly half an hour to reach them, did not know where the water was and continuously overshot the house with their hoses. It was only when the regular firefighters finished their strike at 18:00 and arrived at the house that the blaze was finally extinguished [North London Today].

Not all press coverage has been negative however. Writing in the Guardian, Linda Smith a firefighter of 25 years attempted to "put the record straight" and explain why the strikes were necessary. Some firefighters acknowledge the action could put lives at risk, but that they have no other choice but to strike [Romford Recorder]. The lack of support is a far cry from the atmosphere surrounding industrial action in 2002 and 2003 when firefighter were demanding a £30,000 salary [Wikipedia]. This strike is further complicated by the fact that fire vehicles have had to be taken from striking fire stations. In previous strikes the army gave cover while using Green Goddess fire engines. They have been sold off to fire brigades in developing countries, mostly in Africa.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Phone users fail to protect themselves

Many people fail to lock their mobile phones and risk identity theft. Research by Unysis has found users in many countries fail to take advantage of security features leaving themselves vulnerable should their phone be stolen.

Unisys managing director Brett Hodgson said many people kept phone numbers, addresses, birthdays and bank account numbers on their mobile phones and the with the rise of smartphone ownership the risks are growing. Despite many people being aware of the importance of using security features on laptops and home computers, when it came to their mobile devices there was less importance attached. 

Research found that around 60% of mobile phone owners never secure their devices and even fewer use anti-virus software which can guard against applications which might contain malware. And many are not aware of the risks that some applications might pose. Some applications on the Android market have raised particular concern as some ask for access to sensitive data such as address books and phone numbers. 

But there are also reports that certain aspects of the code used in some smartphones may also leave users open to risks. The "Scan 2010 Open Source Integrity Report" found 359 defects in the HTC Incredible, a handset using the Android operating system. Of these, 88 defects were considered "high risk", a category that includes memory corruption, resource and memory leaks [Inquirer]. Coverity which compiled the report have passed their findings to HTC, but it highlights the increased security problems that come with new smartphones.

It is such concerns that has spawned a new generation of specialist security software specifically aimed at the mobile market. Lookout is once such company. It has recently expanded its cloud-based security service for smartphones to include the ability to wipe or lock lost phones, backup photos, and find out what information installed apps are accessing on the device. But some features come at a price. The new Lookout Premium service, costs $2.99 a month, or $29.99 a year, and includes all the basics in the free version: antivirus, anti-malware, firewall, backup and restoration of contacts, Web-based console management, as well as the ability to locate a lost phone via an online map and to force a "scream" on the device to help locate it in the event it is misplaced, John Hering, chief executive, told CNET.

Lookout are not the only firm to enter into the field of mobile phone security. Symantec, well known for its computer based security products, launched an Android App earlier this year adding to its support of Windows Mobile and Symbian systems [CNET / IntoMobile]. Juniper too have rolled out a security product [CNET].

Mobile phone security is in its infancy, and so far there have not been widespread instances of hacking. But if people fail to protect their data on their mobile phones as well as their computers this may well change.

While choosing anti-virus software may be tricky, users should start off by using the phone-lock. On Android devices there are three alternatives. One may use a password, entered by using a QWERTY keyboard, or a PIN, using numbers only. But they may also use a 'pattern' in which a user joins a series of dots from a configuration of nine. While the password and PIN are undoubtedly the most secure, it can be frustrating to constantly enter a series of numbers or letters every time the phone is used. The pattern lock is quick, and as long as one is not being overlooked, can be quite secure. Though iPhones do not come with a pattern lock installed as standard, there are apps that provide similar functionality. However recent reports suggest that even a locked iPhone is not entirely secure. A security flaw has been found in Apple's latest iPhone which allows strangers to bypass the handset's passcode-protected lock screen with a few button presses [Guardian].

[McAfee / Cisco / Norton / Juniper / LookOut]

tvnewswatch, London, UK