Friday, May 27, 2011

Mladić arrest "opens door" to EU membership

The announcement yesterday of the apprehension of Ratko Mladić was broadly welcomed around the world. While there were a few of his supporters protesting in parts of former Yugoslavia, they were in a minority. A fugitive of some 16 years, Mladić was wanted for war crimes, in particular the Srebrenica massacre which saw 8,000 men, women and children killed in a campaign of 'ethnic cleansing' perpetrated during the Balkan conflict in the early 1990s.

Following the split of Yugoslavia into independent states, Serbia was refused any offer of joining the European Union until Mladić was handed over to the Hague to stand trial for genocide.

With Serbian President Boris Tadic talking of closing "one chapter of our recent history" he was evidently hoping of opening a new chapter with possible accession to the European Union.

Step towards EU membership

EU leaders have praised his decision to hand of the accused war criminal. UK Foreign Secretary William Hague hailed the arrest as a "historic moment" while French President Nicolas Sarkozy said it was "a very courageous decision by the Serbian presidency".

"It hasn't been an easy choice," Sarkozy said. But he was generally positive as he spoke at the G8 in Deauville, France. "It's one more step towards Serbia's integration one day into the European Union."

Bloomberg reporter Elliott Gotkine Bloomberg said Serbia was likely to become an official EU member candidate, joining a list of other hopefuls Iceland, Turkey, Macedonia and Croatia. Amongst other countries wanting to join the EU are Bosnia and Kosovo.

However, while the handing over of Mladić is certainly a step forward, Serbia will have to fulfill other criteria. Any potential member state should prove it has a functioning market economy, something the current member states are finding difficult to maintain [BBC / Guardian].

The so-called PIGS [Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain] are still on an economic rollercoaster ride. At the G8 the main focus has been the economy, though the crisis in Libya has also featured strongly [Reuters].

Europe's debt crisis remained the buzz word, with Japan and the US also suffering from heavy debts. While such issues were not officially on the agenda, it was difficult to get delegates off the subject.

Looking to China for help

America has been bailed by China to the tune of billions of dollars. And now there is even talk of some European countries looking to the east for financial help. Already there appears to be some interest on China's part in bailing out those with an empty trough. On Sunday President Hu Jintao said China would back Portugal's efforts to deal with fallout from the world financial crisis, but he stopped short of promising to buy Portuguese bonds as the debt-ridden country had hoped [Reuters]. In December last year Portugal's minister of finance, Fernando Teixeira dos Santos, had flown to China to make an appeal for help [BBC].

But China is certainly will to pick up some of the tab. In April, Premier Wen Jiabao promised to buy Greek government bonds when Athens returns to markets, in a show of support for the country whose debt burden pushed the eurozone into crisis and required an international bailout.

Nonetheless China has remained cautious in putting all its cards on the table. While Beijing has acknowledged it remains a significant holder in Portuguese and Greek sovereign bonds, Chinese officials have been reluctant to disclose where in Europe it will make investments [FT].

Pessimistic outlook

The big fly in the ointment at present is Greece and the IMF. There have been many outspoken voices  saying further bailouts of the Greek economy would be foolhardy.

Peer Steinbrueck, former German finance minister and possible contender for Germany's next Chancellor he insisted the problems pertaining to Greece could only be tackled by cutting back. It is "necessary to have haircut," Steinbrueck said, edging towards a theory of default followed by a working out of contagion risks. Steinbrueck was not the only one to raise his voice. Jean-Claude Juncker, who chairs meetings of eurozone finance ministers, took it upon himself to come out in public and say just how bad the Greece situation had become.

And he was pessimistic concerning how the financial problems might be solved. He said the "troika" [the IMF, the ECB, and the EU] had to agree all of Greece's funding needs for the next 12 months and their being covered or guaranteed by someone, something they had failed to do. "I'm not the spokesman of the International Monetary Fund, but the rules say they can only disburse if there is a financing guarantee for the 12-month period," Juncker said, "I don't think that the troika will come to this result." [Reuters]

With such an unclear economic future riding on Greece, and the EU as a whole, it is a little perplexing why other nations would wish to join the party when the drink is running out.

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Bomb blasts hit Fuzhou, China

Media reports say that 2 people have died and 6 others have been injured following 3 separate car bomb explosions outside government offices in Fuzhou in China's Jiangxi province.

The nearly simultaneous blasts occurred Thursday morning [26th May]. The first explosion struck outside the Linchuan District prosecutors building at 9:18 local time [01:18 GMT], followed soon after by another at the district government building at 9:29 [01:29 GMT]. A third explosion was reported near the local drug administration office at 9:45 [01:45 GMT].

Authorities swiftly closed off the areas around the buildings and some reports on social networking sites claimed police were deleting pictures taken by passers-by.

Huge plumes of smoke rose from the three sites and windows in nearby building were blown out by the blasts. Some reports circulating said the bombs were planted by an "angry farmer" said to have been incensed by an earlier court ruling [Shanghai Daily / Al Jazeera / BBC / France 24 / AP-Yahoo / Xinhua (Chinese)].

While citizens in China's cities are reaping the benefits of the country's economic development, there is growing discontent in poor rural areas. Earlier this month, dozens of people were injured in in a petrol bomb attack on a bank, by a disgruntled former employee, in north-west Gansu province.

Ethnic tensions, terrorists & disgruntled peasants

Rising ethnic tensions in some areas are also creating concerns. In August last year a bomb blast killed 7 and injured 14 in Aksu city in the western Xinjiang province. That was said to have been set off by a Uighur man who drove a three-wheeled vehicle carrying an explosive device into a crowd [BBC / tvnewswatch].

In 2008 a week before the Olympic games bombs tore through buses in central Kunming in the south-western province of Yunnan. The blasts killed two passengers and injured at least 10 others on the morning of the 21st July, the same date as a number of failed suicide attacks on London's transport system in 2005 [tvnewswatch].

Those attacks were blamed on a disgruntled citizen, Li Yan [李彦], who was caught after the bomb he was carrying detonated at the Salvadors coffee shop in Kunming on 24th December. While he is said to have admitted to the July bus blasts a little know terrorist group had earlier claimed responsibility.

The Turkestan Islamic Party said it had carried out the attacks describing it as part of its "Blessed Jihad in Yunnan" [tvnewswatch]. However, officials dismissed any terrorist links to the explosions, and said DNA found at the bus blasts and a confession from Li proved his involvement [tvnewswatch].

While China is certainly in the sights of al-Qaeda, especially since the crack down on ethnic Muslims in Xinjiang [tvnewswatch]. It is likely that
today's attacks were connected with domestic issues. Land grabs by authorities have certainly raised tensions in some areas and there have been cases where individuals have resorted to extreme measures following overzealous treatment by police. In July 2008 a man stabbed several policemen to death and set fire to the police station in Shanghai last July as retribution for perceived maltreatment by the authorities [BBC].


There have been other signs of frustration seen in the last week concerning China's censorship machine. Last Friday Fang Binxing, widely seen as the father of the Great Firewall of China, turned up at Wuhan university to give a lecture. But his presence was not appreciated by everybody. News spread on Twitter, which although blocked in China, is used by many tech savvy Chinese who are able to jump the wall. On seeing the messages one student armed himself with an egg which he threw at the much detested official. On missing its target the student three his shoes, the first of which hit Fang square in the chest. News of the incident sent China's Internet into a frenzy. While news website initially reported the incident, many were forced to remove the posts and micro-blogging posts were also deleted by authorities. Blocks were soon put on the use of Fang Binxing's name, the irony was not missed by China's army of micro-bloggers who have now termed the incident 'shoe-gate' [China Digital Times - Twitter responses / China Digital Times / Telegraph / BBC / CNN / Time / PC World / Forbes / FangBinXing AppSpot (Chinese) / news report (Chinese)].

There may not be a Jasmine revolution brewing in China, but there is an undercurrent of growing discontent.

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Kim Jong-Il tours China in secret

Some foreign media had already speculated the North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il was in China, but now Chinese news outlets have reported his presence.

According to reports the reclusive leader visited an industrial city in northeastern China on Saturday and appeared to be heading to Beijing by train on the second day of a mysterious trip to China.

Kim has not made any public appearances since his apparent arrival in China on Friday. Details of his arrival, with whom he was meeting nor the make-up of his entourage have been made public, but his presence comes as Chinese officials meet with Japanese and South Korean counterparts in part to re-initiate 6-party talks.

Kim Jong-Il's visits have always been shrouded in secrecy. North Korean and Chinese media rarely report on his trips to China and official pictures emerge only after the North Korean leader has returned to Pyongyang.

Kim's past state visits, most recently in May and August of 2010, were confirmed by China only after they finished. But today the Global Times appeared to buck the trend. Citing a source "close to the local government", the paper confirmed Kim Jong-Il was in China but his heir apparent, Kim Jong-Un, was not among the delegation.

Details of Kim's itinerary were not laid bare however. Japan's NHK have speculated the leader was on his way to Nanjing and showed pictures of Kim emerging from a hotel in Mudanjiang on Saturday before heading to Changchun under high security. Meanwhile Asahi, the Shanghai Daily, the Global Times, Yonhap news agency and YTN television reported he had visited three high-tech industrial complexes in Yangzhou, Jiangsu province on Monday. Dong-a Ilbo also reported the North Korean leader visited a shopping mall. News reports speculated his visit would last three days before seeing him head to Shanghai [Urbanatomy].

As regards his son some reports say he may have already arrived on Chinese soil to join his father. A reporter at Japan's Nippon Television Network Corporation in Nanjing is reported to have seen a Air Koryo plane, belonging to North Korea's national airline, arriving at Nanjing Lukou International Airport on Monday evening. Kim Jong-Un was suspected to be on the plane, though this cannot be confirmed [Daily NK / Washington Post].

His visit to China is likely to discuss ways of increasing food aid and relax international sanctions. North Korea has been under heavy sanctions imposed by the international community since it began engaging in the development and testing of nuclear weapons. Skirmishes with South Korea and the sinking of a naval ship have heightened tensions between to two countries.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said he had no information on any North Korean officials visiting China, but said US officials would be visiting Pyongyang on Tuesday to meet officials and evaluate the country's food needs.

After bad weather hit crops North Korea appealed for humanitarian aid in January. A United Nations assessment completed in March said 6 million people, around a quarter of the population, needed emergency help. However, many countries are suspicious of Kim and his intentions.

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

Icelandic volcano halts flights

Ash from an Icelandic volcano has begun to disrupt air traffic with some trans-Atlantic flights being re-routed and some flights leaving Scottish airports being cancelled or delayed.

The Grímsvötn volcano began to issue smoke and ash a few days ago, but it has only just begun to effect flights beyond Iceland itself. The eruption comes a little over a year from when the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano caused widespread disruption across Europe. In April 2010 thousands of flights were cancelled costing airlines and the economy millions of Euros.

It is hoped that the ash being spewed from Grímsvötn will not create such a major impact. There is a better understanding of the risks posed from volcanic ash, though some airlines are being more cautious than others.


A number of airports in Scotland saw cancellations including Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh. British Airways said it was not operating any flights between London and Scotland until 13:00 GMT. EasyJet cancelled its flights to Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness and Aberdeen but only those scheduled between 04:00 and 08:00 GMT.

KLM cancelled flights to and from Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh, as well as some to Newcastle while Flybe cancelled flights to and from Aberdeen and Inverness. Glasgow-based Loganair cancelled 36 flights and only its inter-island routes in Orkney were unaffected. Flights between Scotland and Ireland were also affected. Aer Lingus cancelled a number of its flights between the Republic of Ireland and Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen. Eastern Airways said it was cancelling all its Scottish operation [BBC]. Further afield air traffic between Greenland and Denmark was temporarily halted [Xinhua].

The drifting ash cloud even prompted the President of the United States to change his plans. Barack Obama cut short his Ireland visit and landed in London last night, a day earlier than scheduled.


So far there has not been and mandatory flight restrictions imposed and airlines have been withdrawing their services voluntarily. Nonetheless there are risks posed from flying through volcanic ash. Assessing the level of risk is difficult however. There are issues of density and while some flight levels may be saturated with dust, higher altitudes might be clear.

The restrictions seen last year were implemented because of the very real danger volcanic ash poses to aircraft. Tiny particles of rock, glass and sand in the cloud could damage engines and lead to a potential catastrophic power failure. In 1982 a British Airways 747 descended several thousand feet after all four of its engines failed when it flew through a volcanic cloud from Indonesia. It eventually landed safely.

Different kind of ash

Experts believe the latest eruption will not cause as many problems since the ash being issued is different. Particles are said to be much larger and should descend much quicker [BBC].

However the markets have been less optimistic. Shares of several carriers dropped with news of the drifting ash cloud. International Consolidated Airlines and EasyJet fell by about 5%, and Air France KLM stocks were down 4.5% [BBC].

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

Monday, May 23, 2011

Attacks, threats & unconfirmed reports

Nearly 12 hours after terrorists attacked a Pakistani naval base in Karachi, a security official said the operation to regain control was complete. Several militants had been killed while a number of others had been taken alive to an unspecified detention centre.

Reports say that Pakistan troops were "mopping up" and assessing the damage. The raid which began late Sunday night saw militants destroy two US-made P-3C Orion anti-submarine planes as well as a helicopter [BBC].

Several people were taken hostage though it was not immediately known if they escaped unharmed. Earlier the BBC reported that amongst the hostages were Chinese military personnel. China's own state broadcaster CCTV said the four Chinese nationals were engineers. Later China's Foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said, "No Chinese nationals were taken hostage," adding further confusion. Another report suggesting four US engineers working at the base had been killed were denied by the US consulate in Karachi. The true number of hostages, their nationality and status has yet to be established.

Also unclear is the number of militants killed or taken prisoner, as well as the number of Pakistan troops killed or injured in the operation to reclaim the base.

The Taleban declared responsibility for the raid saying it was in retaliation for the killing of Osama bin Laden. However a reporter from the Pakistan newspaper The Dawn suggested the attack had been planned for some time before bin Laden's death due to the complex nature of the mission.

London faces terror threat

There have also been threats of further attacks in revenge for bin Laden's death. Over the weekend several messages surfaced which warned of imminent attacks in both Britain and America [The Sun / Hindustan Times].

Al Qaeda's new chief Saif al-Adel vowed to launch a devastating terror attack on London to avenge Osama bin Laden's death. Adel, 51, is said to have once been bin Laden's security chief and is regarded by the FBI to be extremely dangerous.

al-Qaeda critical of NATO

On Saturday a tape surfaced which claimed the West was after Libya's oil. Al-Qaeda's number 2 Ayman al-Zawahiri referred to the US as "crusaders" and insisted the NATO mission seen in the past few weeks was not a humanitarian one. "NATO is not a goodwill organization ... it is an aid to the hegemonic powers in this world," al-Zawahiri allegedly says in a portion of the tape on Libya. "They aim to end the corrupt (Moammar) Gadhafi regime but then install their own ideals. They want to steal Libya's resources and relics because of their greed and politics." [CNN / AP / Daily Mail]

Taleban leader 'dead'

In other news it was reported that Mullah Omar Mohammed a high ranking Taleban commander had been killed on Monday. An Afghan television station was the first to report his death in the Waziristan region of Pakistan. The report was quickly picked up by China's state news agency Xinhua and disseminated by other news organisations [Press TV]. However, the Taleban themselves denied Omar was dead and Pakistan officials could not independently confirm the reports [WireUpdate-BNO / LA Times / CNN].

Obama defends operations on foreign soil

The reports came a day after President Barack Obama said he would launch a similar style raid to that seen a few weeks ago on Pakistani soil which targeted Osama bin Laden. He was speaking during an exclusive interview with the BBC. The president was directly asked if he would launch an operation on foreign soil. "If you find another very high value target at the top of al-Qaeda, Mullah Omar or whoever it might be in Pakistani territory or other sovereign territory, would you do the same again?" the reporter asked. Obama did not hold back saying he would do whatever was necessary to protect America.

"Well I've always been clear to the Pakistanis. And I'm not the first administration to say this. That our job is to secure the United States. We are very respectful of the sovereignty of Pakistan. But we cannot allow someone who is actively planning to kill our people or our our allies' people we can't allow those kind of active plans to come to fruition without us taking some action."

"And our hope is and our expectation is that we can achieve that in a way that is fully respectful of Pakistan's sovereignty. But I had made no secret. I had said this when I was running for the presidency, that if I had a clear shot at bin Laden...we'd take it.

The president touches down in Britain this week on a three day visit which has already seen a vamping up of security in light of a increased terror threat [Daily Mail].

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

Chinese amongst hostages in Karachi raid

Chinese military personnel have been taken hostage after terrorists attacked a Pakistan air force base in Karachi. Official sources said around a dozen militants launched the attack overnight destroying two aircraft, one said to be a US-made P-3C Orion aircraft.

Reports on Monday said at least 11 people were dead amongst them five naval officers, a ranger soldier and a firefighter. The Pakistan Taleban said they were responsible for the attack, claiming it was in revenge for the killing of Osama bin Laden.

The violence began around 23:00 [18:00 GMT] Sunday, when 10 to 15 terrorists launched their assault carrying hand grenades, automatic weapons and rockets. The battle was still raging as the sun rose over Karachi with sporadic gunfire heard around 06:15 [01:00 GMT].


The BBC reported on Monday that amongst an unknown number of hostages were several Chinese military personnel, though details were sketchy. It is not known why the Chinese were at the base, though China has been building close ties with Pakistan recently. The Chinese state news agency did not immediately report the taking of hostages and had only a few lines on the attack [Xinhua]. CCTV News reported hostages "may have been taken" and referred to four Chinese engineers.


The attack on the Faisal Base located around 10 km from Karachi international airport will be further embarrassment to the Pakistan government. The government and military came under a barage of criticism after it emerged Osama bin Laden has apparently slipped below their radar and was living close to a Pakistan military base.

The base attacked on Sunday is home to the Pakitan Air Force and is also used by the air arms of the Pakistan Army and Navy as well as by the VVIP squadron. All air surveillance movements over the sea, whether by the PAF or by the Army or by the Pakistan Navy, are also controlled from the base.The fact that only a dozen or so militants could inflict so much damage, will raise many questions.

The raid is most serious against the military since October 2009, when militants attacked the army headquarters close to the capital, Islamabad. They held dozens hostage in a 22-hour standoff that left 23 people dead, including nine militants.

As the military tried to regain control of the base, reports from the area were difficult to obtain. Media organisations have been kept away and few TV news stations are broadcasting live pictures from the scene. Channel News Asia placed the item at the top of its reports, and CCTV News also headlined with the story, but it is far from saturation coverage [CNN / Reuters / CTV / Dawn]

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

Sunday, May 15, 2011

China's divided loyalties

Was China behind 9/11 attacks? Probably not, but there are disturbing ties between China and enemies of the United States. Some relationships have existed for years while others continue to this day. While the world economy relies heavily on China, the conflicting interests threaten to destabilize the relationship between East and West.

Ten years after the worst terrorist attack to befall America, questions are still being asked. Conspiracy theorists continue to dismiss official explanations, and put forward ideas from the outlandish to plausible. However, as the very words suggest, they are but theories. There is no absolute proof.

In the infamous words of the then Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld, “there are known "knowns." There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say there are things that we now know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we do not know we don't know.”

Not all of the "knowns" pertaining to 9/11 have been entirely established, and there are still many questions. It is known that four planes were hijacked that fateful day and that some 3,000 people died.

The hijackers names have been established, and enough detail released by the US government and verified by independent research points to these details being true. Whether or not the US government, or agencies within it, were complicit in allowing the attacks to happen, as some conspiracy theorists assert, it is clear that the actual attack itself was perpetrated by 19 hijackers under orders from al-Qaeda.

At the time the attacks were launched, and in the months and years leading up to it, al-Qaeda had been establishing safe havens in parts of Africa and Afghanistan. The Taleban which ruled Afghanistan at the time, seemed either to turn a blind eye to al-Qaeda’s activities or were directly complicit in allowing them to operate unhindered. The latter seems more likely.

But despite, the grip of power the Taleban had in Afghanistan, and the wealth Osama bin Laden is supposed to have had access to, the combined funds may not have been sufficient to finance an operation on the scale seen in September 2001.

The terror group and its hangers-on had to have obtained funding from somewhere. There might be a trickle from supporters around the world, but to launch any major operation, they would need some serious cash. And some have speculated that al-Qaeda and the Taleban may have been helped by some unlikely sources.

As early as October 2001 there were reports that China was supporting bin Laden and the Taleban both financially and logistically. Rense, a website set up by Jeff Rense, republished the findings of an article from the Washington Times which said Beijing was directly funding these enemies of America.

According to Bill Gertz, "[American] Defense and intelligence officials said Beijing appears to be following a dual-track policy of voicing official support for US efforts against terrorism while maintaining ... ties to the Taleban militia."

But according to Rense, the relationship is much older. As far back as 1998 the Iranian official press said there was a secret defence agreement between China and the Taleban.

Post 9/11, there were some reports of unusual military manoeuvres near the Chinese border with Afghanistan. "Convoys of Chinese military trucks roared along the Karakoram Highway last week," the London’s Sunday Telegraph reported shortly after the terror attacks in 2001.

According to the Debka File, a leading intelligence publication, a convoy of 3,000 PLA (Peoples Liberation Army) troops crossed into Afghanistan on Friday October 5th 2001. Three additional PLA Convoys were said to have followed. According to Debka File's sources, Beijing's troops were ethnic Muslims sent to reinforce the Taliban. If the Debka File is correct, the total Chinese reinforcement of the Taleban may have been as many as 15,000 troops.

Anticipating America's October 7th airstrikes against the Taliban, Beijing may have hoped to stem the deterioration of Taleban morale with a show of support. Beijing would thereby hope to check US progress against bin Laden and his Afghan allies.

Mixed messages

In the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhu Bangzao expended the better part of a week deflecting attention from his country’s extensive dealings with the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Zhu Bangzao described as "absurd" any suggestions that China had been involved in any manner with the Taleban [].

However, for a state that habitually complains of being a victim to terrorism and “splittists” in Xinjiang, the People’s Republic of China courted these terrorists quite actively.

Ever pragmatic, the People’s Republic of China sought to nip the Uighur separatist movement in the bud by engaging its sponsors in Afghanistan, perhaps in the effort of fostering a peace agreement. With the escalation of separatist violence across Xinjiang in 1998, China pressurized its Pakistani clients to rein in Islamic terrorists based in Afghanistan. Consequently, Pakistan facilitated contact between the two sides.

Taleban relationship

Five senior Chinese diplomats arrived in Kabul for talks with the ruling Taliban in February 1999, the first of a series of interactions. Chinese diplomats met with Council of Ministers Deputy Chairman Mullah Muhammad Hassan, Interior Minister Mullah Abdur Razzaq and Deputy Foreign Minister Abdurrahman Zayef.

Chinese food aid to the Taliban at the start of winter is said to have laid the groundwork for the visit. Following their first meeting, the Chinese announced they had agreed to start direct flights between Kabul and Urumqi, the capital of the troubled Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, and open formal trade ties with the Taliban. The Chinese also agreed to help provide the Taliban with arms and spares for its ageing equipment. Apparently, the two sides agreed to institutionalize military to military contacts. In return the Taliban made it clear that they would not allow Afghan territory to be used against China. The Taliban also facilitated the transfer of at least two unexploded US Tomahawks to China for $20 million each.

This close relationship with the Taleban had been nurtured for many years. During the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989, the United States and China had collaborated in financing and arming resistances forces of Afghan mujaheddin and Taleban (freedom fighters and Islamic students) through their mutual ally and frontline state, Pakistan, in order to evict the Soviets from that country. China had trained and dispatched Uighurs to fight against the Russians in Afghanistan, fearing that the old silk route along the Karakoram highway built across northern Kashmir could, in time, come under Moscow’s domination if the Soviet Union was not dislodged from Kabul.

Post 9/11

China’s official response to the September 11 terrorist attacks was prompt and unequivocal. Describing terrorism as a “common scourge” for the international community, President Jiang Zemin, in his message to President George Bush, expressed “sincere sympathy” and offered “condolences to the family members of the victims.”

Subsequent official statements were, however, more circumspect. China urged the United States and other countries to conduct their anti-terrorism military operations through the United Nations. Beijing wanted an appropriate U.S. military response only after “consultations with the UN,” and one directed at “those proven to be guilty” and “clearly defined targets,” in “compliance with the international law,” and that avoided “civilian casualties.”

Jiang Zemin’s calls to other UN Security Council permanent members to reinforce these preconditions, however, did not please the Bush administration officials. Given the frosty state of Sino-US relations in the preceding months, China-watchers were not surprised with Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhu Bangzao’s statement of September 2001.

The United States asked China to provide assistance in the fight against terrorism. China, by the same token, had its own reasons to ask the United States to give its support and understanding in the fight against terrorism and separatists.

We should not have double standards . . . [But] we are not making bargains here, Zhu had said. But despite his denial that “we are not making bargains here,” Zhu meant exactly what he said. Beijing was indeed “seeking a bargain—a Chinese promise not to veto proposed anti-terrorism operations in the UN Security Council in exchange for reduced US arms sales to Taiwan.”

Military strategy

China’s militaristic aims and motives are far from clear. While they make claims to several disputed regions, their intentions and actions cannot be predicted. But there are occasionally some hints at the mindset behind the opaque walls of China’s defence policy.

In a leaked document from the Chinese Central Military Commission, dated August 1998, that was sent to all corps commanders of the People’s Liberation Army, it stated the United States was vulnerable and could not withstand even a limited nuclear strike from China.

In the logic of China's Central Military Commission it believes it could face-off Washington if hostilities erupted over Taiwan despite the power America holds. As China sees it, the US would be unwilling to sacrifice cities in a tit-for-tat war, while China might follow through with such action.

On September 13th 2001 two leading Chinese military strategists were interviewed by China's state-owned Ta Kung Pao newspaper. Senior Col. Qiao Liang and Col. Wang Xiangsui credited themselves with predicting the September 11th terror attacks in the 1999 book, "Unrestricted Warfare." The terrorists used no military weapons, said Qiao and Wang, yet the attacks were more effective than those resulting from open warfare.

The two Chinese experts said that those killed in the Twin Towers were the victims of US foreign policy, plain and simple. "September 11, 2001 probably marks the beginning of US decline as a superpower," said the Chinese colonels. "The attacks demonstrated the US fragility and weakness and showed that, basically, it is unable to withstand attacks. The National Missile Defense system cannot save it."

Asked about the adverse effects the attacks may have on the Chinese economy, the two colonels admitted that a short-term negative impact was to be expected. "However, from a long-term viewpoint, the attacks could be favourable to China," they said.

The relationship with the Taleban continued some time after 9/11. As recently as September 2007 the British complained to Beijing that Chinese-made weapons were being used by the Taleban to attack British troops in Afghanistan.

When asked about the British concerns, the Chinese foreign ministry referred back to a statement made by their spokesman Qin Gang in July 2007 who said China's arms exports were carried out "in strict accordance with our law and our international obligations" [BBC].

Divided loyalties

Bush’s ultimatum of “with us or against us” seems to have been almost entirely ignored by China. There are loose statements of support by Chinese officials such as those that followed 9/11, but there are just as many statements to the contrary. Furthermore, by its actions, China appears to be acting more against American interests, in particular the supplying of arms to hostile nations and forces.

Of course it goes beyond the supply of weapons. In 2000, China's Huawei Technologies Co., a company tied closely to the PLA, was accused by Washington of helping Iraq upgrade its military communications system despite Chinese denials. The company also signed an agreement with the Taleban to install 12,000 fixed-line telephones in Kandahar. Meanwhile, another southern Chinese telecom firm, ZTE, agreed to install 5,000 telephone lines in Kabul. The deal stalled until Pakistan could provide guarantees for the project.

In July 2001 a Taleban delegation led by their Commercial Attaché to Pakistan, spent a week in China as guests of the government. Whilst the Chinese Commerce Ministry declined to accord them the requisite diplomatic protocol, it did facilitate their interaction with a group of Chinese industrialists and businessmen in order to explore business and investment opportunities.

In fact the Chinese were dealing with the Taleban right up to the day of the World Trade Center attacks. Indeed a new protocol on commercial relations was inked on the day of the attack. The warmth of the China-Taleban relations can be gauged by annual felicitations conveyed by Mullah Omar (via Radio Shariat) on the occasion of China’s National Day since 1999, and by Osama bin Laden's public proclamations of the need to cultivate ties as recently as August 2001 [China's Taleban Connection / Rense / Strategic Studies Institute report - PDF]

While it is clear that the Taleban have been aided and funded by China for more than a decade, what is less clear is any link to the 9/11 attacks. There is much finger pointing, but no smoking gun. China does have probable cause and even motive. They even had much to gain from the attack which precipitated two wars and helped bring America to the brink of bankruptcy.

Fragile friendship

China and the US have never been the best of friends. But the current relationship is tenuous at best. China now holds vast amounts of US debt. It has been accused of currency manipulation in its own favour while reaping the harvest of massive exports and building its economy and country with foreign resources and technology. Western companies fall over themselves trying to establish themselves in China, yet many are forced to hand over intellectual property. Even where it is not handed over willingly, China has been caught red handed stealing intellectual property and blatantly ignoring copyright as it floods the domestic and international market with counterfeit products.

Ten years ago, China rarely obtained a mention in the news. In 2001 China was in fact still seen as a hangover from the Cold War. In fact the strongest reminder of this was seen when a US spy plane was intercepted by two Chinese fighter jets early that same year.

The incident came after months of acrimonious exchanges between the US and China. In March, President George W Bush's administration began taking its first steps in Sino-US relations, mindful of his election pledge to adopt a firm line with Beijing [BBC].

President Bush's first face-to-face meeting with a high-level Chinese official, Deputy Prime Minister Qian Qichen, came at a crucial moment. But as strong words were issued by Beijing over the supply of weapons to Taiwan by the US, the temperature rose a notch.

Academics visiting China in early 2001 had been arrested sparking concerns abroad. Li Shaomin, originally from China but who had been a US citizen for six years, was detained by authorities while on a visit to Shenzhen [BBC]. He was held in solitary confinement for 10 weeks before being convicted of being a spy, charged with working for a Taiwanese foundation that the Chinese government said was a spy agency. However while expecting a sentence of some 10 or 20 years, Dr Li was deported to the United States after a total of 6 months’ detention. Upon his release he spoke a little of the conditions he endured. "The secret police did a lot of very humiliating things to me, that are not legal under Chinese law," Li said, but did not elaborate [].

Li was not the only person dragged into Chinese courts on trumped up charges of spying. The case against Li also involved US residents Gao Zhan and Qin Guangguang, as well as a Chinese scholar and official, Qu Wei. In a separate trial some days after Li ’s, Gao and Qin were also convicted of spying and expelled from China. Qu was less fortunate, receiving a 13-year prison term [HRI China].

The news of their conviction was not widely publicised. In fact the trial and verdict came only the day after China was selected as the host of the 2008 Olympic Games, something which gained far more attention.

Colin Powell said he was "pleased" about Beijing's later decision to deport Li Shaomin [CNN / see also NYT]. Within weeks Gao and Qin were also released after pressure from the US, but Qu remains in a Chinese prison to this day [HRI China].

The Hainan Incident

Soon after the academics’ arrests, America became embroiled in a major stand-off with China after a mid-air collision between a United States Navy EP-3E ARIES II signals intelligence aircraft and a People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) J-8II interceptor fighter jet.

The incident which occurred on April 1, 2001, resulted in a tense international dispute between the United States and the People's Republic of China (PRC) which became known as the Hainan Island incident [BBC / CNN / Guardian].

The EP-3 was operating about 110 km away from the PRC island province of Hainan when it was intercepted by two J-8 fighters. A collision between the EP-3 and one of the J-8s caused the death of a PRC pilot, while the EP-3 was forced to make an emergency landing on Hainan. The 24 crew members were detained and interrogated by the Chinese authorities.

The US maintained they were operating in international airspace, a point disputed by the Chinese. In the exchanges that followed there were strongly worded statements from both sides. The commander of the US Pacific military forces rejected Beijing's claim that the American plane rammed the Chinese jet on Sunday and caused it to crash.

Admiral Dennis Blair said the Chinese planes were at fault and sharply criticised China for more "aggressive" tactics in intercepting US planes. "It's not a normal practice to play bumper cars in the air," he said. US military officials also warned the Chinese not to "seize, board or inspect" the plane without US permission, adding that the aircraft was sovereign US "territory".

After being forced to land the crew aboard the EP-3 spent 15 minutes destroying sensitive items and data on board the aircraft, as per Department of Defense protocol. They disembarked from the plane after soldiers looked through windows, pointed guns, and shouted through bullhorns.

The crew were eventually released after 11 days of negotiations. However it took longer to regain possession of the aircraft. US Navy engineers said the EP-3 could be repaired in 8-12 months, but China refused to allow it to be flown off Hainan island.

The disassembled aircraft was released on July 3, 2001, and was returned to the United States by the Russian airline Polet in an Antonov An-124-100. It was eventually reassembled and returned to duty. Whether China gleaned any intelligence information from the plane is not clear, but it had not been the first time they had opportunities to pilfer US military secrets.

During the 1999 Balkan war parts of a downed F117 stealth fighter are believed to have been secured by the Chinese and returned to Beijing, to be later incorporated in its own stealth jet [tvnewswatch].

"deep repercussions"

As regards the 2001 incident, a US report pointed to the deep repercussions. “The incident prompted assessments about PRC leaders, their hardline position, and their claims,” the report published later that year says. “While some speculated about PLA dominance, President and Central Military Commission Chairman Jiang Zemin and his diplomats were in the lead, while PLA leaders followed in stance with no more inflammatory rhetoric.”

The PLA was likely to benefit from this incident the report asserts. “Despite PRC claims that the EP-3 plane caused the accident, it appears that the PLA pilot, executing a close pass in an apparent attempt to impress or intimidate the EP-3 crew, made a fatal error in judgment. International law is clear that all aircraft have a right of overflight with respect to ocean areas beyond the territorial sea.” [China-U.S. Aircraft Collision Incident of April
2001: Assessments and Policy Implications - PDF]

The incident of April 2001 was the third in a series of major troubling difficulties since the mid-1990s that could have serious implications for US-PRC relations, the report concludes. The standoff also raised questions about whether the issues of the incident and arms sales to Taiwan should be linked and whether to change the process of annual arms sales talks with Taipei. It also highlighted a worsening of political ties which could have negatively affected the business climate in China for US firms and disrupt negotiations over China’s WTO accession.

Observers also speculated that the chief benefit to the PRC from inspecting the EP-3 would be to gather information about US targets and degree of success that could enable them to prepare countermeasures to hinder future U.S. surveillance efforts.

In bed with the enemy

Five months later the focus was not China, but instead a little known and little talked about terror group, al-Qaeda, and its friends in the Taleban.

Even if China had climbed in bed with the Taleban in order to appease radical Muslims, China was failing in its domestic policy to soften attitudes to towards its own Muslim population. Heavy handed repression in Xinjiang brought threats from al-Qaeda after 46 Muslim Uighurs were killed in riots in the western city of Urumqi.

In July 2009 al-Qaeda in the Islamic Mahgreb threatened to target the 50,000 Chinese workers in Algeria and other parts of northern Africa. Two websites affiliated with al-Qaeda also threatened Chinese in the Middle East. "Chop off their heads at their workplaces or in their homes to tell them that the time of enslaving Muslims has gone," said one posting. It was the first time an al-Qaeda group had threatened China in what appeared to be a change of mood [SMH / tvnewswatch].

Following the death of Osama bin Laden, China's message has been mixed [Eurasia Review]. While publicly lauding the US success, Beijing is concerned of any instability that might upset its Afghan-Pakistan strategy.

Playing with fire

Threats from al-Qaeda and the risks of playing with fire do not appear to frighten Beijing. In a recent report it has been revealed that Iran and North Korea have exchanges ballistic missile technology. The report says that the information and hardware was exchanged through a third country, and cites China as being the willing middle-man.

The report, titled "China, Iran and North Korea: A Triangular Strategic Alliance," by Israel's GLORIA Center, says China and North Korea were the key suppliers of Scud-based ballistic missiles to Iran's military, the target of Western sanctions. In addition the report says China is a key player in sanctions busting with regards North Korea and Iran. The report also says regular transfers have been taking place through "a neighbouring third country", named by diplomats as China.

China refused to sign off on the report which was leaked at the weekend. The findings will prove uncomfortable for Beijing [BBC / NYT].

Ten years after the War on Terror was declared it seems more than clear that China is less an ally than an enemy. The US has warned Iran many times that it would face serious consequences if it harboured al-Qaeda terrorists or aided America’s enemies [Independent]. “Either you're with us or against us,” President Bush said in 2001. However, such rhetoric is muted when it comes to China.

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Google's Blogger outage raises concerns

It was a black Friday 13th for millions of bloggers who use Google's Blogger service after the company suffered an outage lasting some 20 hours. Everything seemed to return to normal by Saturday, but there were some anxieties and concerns raised by this latest cloud outage.

Google had earlier warned users they may experience an hour long outage on Wednesday as the company performed maintenance tasks. However it did not go according to plan, and users found they were unable to post to Blogger for nearly a whole day. But there were further problems as anything posted after 07:37 PDT [14:37 GMT] disappeared.

A "frustrating day"

Google said it had been "a frustrating day" dealing with the issue and apologized to the millions of people who use the service. Google said they understood the frustration its users were feeling. "We use Blogger for our own blogs, so we've also felt your pain," the company said in a blog post.

"We're very sorry that you've been unable to publish to Blogger for the past 20.5 hours. We're nearly back to normal — you can publish again, and in the coming hours posts and comments that were temporarily removed should be restored.  Thank you for your patience while we fix this situation."

Details of what caused the outage were sketchy, Google only saying they "experienced some data corruption" during the scheduled maintenance. The effect was broad, but also inconsistent. Bloggers and readers experienced a variety of anomalies including intermittent outages, disappearing posts, and arriving at unintended blogs or error pages. A small number of Blogger users, Google estimated at some 0.16%, may have encountered additional problems specific to their accounts - though the company did not elaborate [CNET / AFP].

Google not the only victim of outages

Blog hosting site Tumblr has also experienced outages in the past with nearly 50 hours of downtime over two months last year. In December, Tumblr blogs were unavailable for almost 24 hours. Earlier this year Flickr made headlines after accidentally deleted thousands of pictures from one user's account, though it did eventually restore the pictures [PC Mag]. Twitter, the popular micro-blogging site, has also suffered major outages, in some cases deleting accounts or data going back years [tvnewswatch]. Even the Internet telephone service Skype went down last Christmas leaving many people with only the expensive option of using a landline to contact their friends and business associates abroad [BBC].

Concerns over cloud computing

But the most recent outage has raised eyebrows and questions from technology bloggers and commentators. The outage comes the same week as the Internet giant lauded its innovatory moves forward with cloud computing and the launch of Google Chrome OS based netbooks [Google I/O].

Google talks of storing all data in the cloud, to be accessed easily via an Internet connection anywhere in the world. "Your apps, documents, and settings are stored safely in the cloud. So even if you lose your computer, you can just log in to another Chromebook and get right back to work," the company stated in a recent post about its latest venture [Google Chromebook features].

Ed Bott, writing for ZDNet questioned the case for moving all of one's documents into the cloud. "What if this had happened to another Google service?" he writes. What if every document written and saved in Google Docs on Wednesday was suddenly taken offline on Thursday, and access to an important presentation, notes or research for a client meeting became impossible.

Data back-up strategy

This is the strongest argument against putting everything in the cloud. If data matters, users should not rely only on one storage method. Local storage can fail too, as laptops, and their drives are not infallible. But the cloud cannot be entirely relied upon either. There are some who not only store data in the cloud and on their PC, but who also back it up onto a separate drive and burn it to disc periodically. Overkill, maybe, but if that data is important enough, one needs to be doubly sure it it retrievable.

Google has had downtimes with many services. GDocs, GMail and now Blogger have all suffered from severe outages. But with the exception of a tiny minority of users everything has always returned to 'normal'. Google, like any data professional, also backs data up. When GMail failed for some customers earlier this year Google turned to tape back-ups in order to restore accounts [BBC]. That problem in March was caused by a "storage software update that introduced the unexpected bug" [GMail blog].

While Google's Blogger was back up Friday with most posts restored [including those posted by tvnewswatch], many people will be rethinking their data storage strategy. It may also be sensible to think about other back-ups for email, VOIP and other web-based activities.

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

At least 7 dead after 5.3 quake hits Spain

A magnitude 5.3 earthquake has struck southern Spain killing at least seven people according to early reports. The earthquake occurred around 20km south-west of Alicante, at 18:50 local time (16:50 GMT) hitting a depth of 1 km.

Several buildings have collapsed in the town of Lorca, nearest to the epicentre where at least four people were killed according to officials. Local television reports showed rescue workers rushing through debris-littered streets, the BBC said. 

Lorca's Mayor, Francisco Jodar, has told local radio the four deaths were caused by falling debris and cave-ins. Meanwhile pictures on RTVE have shown rubble in the streets including a bell fallen from a church. Some pictures show cars crushed by falling masonry. The tremor follows a 4.4 magnitude earthquake which struck an hour earlier.

Spain's Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero says emergency military units have been sent to the scene.

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

China & US clash on human rights

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has once again upset China, saying its leaders were running scared as a wave of revolution sweeps the Middle East. She criticised China's recent crackdown on dissent as "a fool's errand", saying Beijing was attempting to halt history.

Describing China's human rights record as "deplorable" she said the country's leadership would fail in the long run. "They're trying to stop history, which is a fool's errand," she said. "They cannot do it, but they're going to hold it off as long as possible."

Her comments came as officials from China and the US met in Washington DC for high-level strategic and economic talks.

In an exclusive interview with The Atlantic the Secretary of State defended the United States dealings with China saying, "We live in the real world." [BBC / AFP].

Clinton also spoke out publicly at the Opening Session of the US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue on Monday. While most of her speech concentrated on cooperation between the two nations on trade and tackling climate change, she also raised the issue of human rights.

"We have our differences," Clinton said, "We have made very clear, publicly and privately, our concern about human rights. We worry about the impact on our domestic politics and on the politics and the stability in China and the region."

In particular she pointed to the "reports of people, including public interest lawyers, writers, artists, and others, who are detained or disappeared." While not making any direct threat she attempted to persuade China to take the right course of action by pointing out the benefits of a more liberal approach. "We know over the long arch of history that societies that work toward respecting human rights are going to be more prosperous, stable, and successful," the Secretary of State insisted [State Dept]. 

China has accused the US of using politics to upset economic relations and defended its human rights record. China had made "remarkable progress" since the communist state was established in 1949, Executive Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun said, insisting China was committed to human rights. "No country, including the United States, is perfect on the human rights issue. It is only natural for China and the United States to see human rights differently in some aspects," Zhang said.

In much repeated rhetoric Zhang called for an end to interference in China's own affairs. "We call for a dialogue and consultation on the basis of equality, mutual respect and non-interference in each other's internal affairs," he said.

Aside the uncomfortable issue over human rights there was a meeting of minds concerning economic issues. China said it would allow American companies easier access to sectors of its market. However, a key US demand to let China's currency appreciate was not met.

"We are seeing very promising shifts in the direction of Chinese economic policy," said US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. But he said more progress still needs to be made. "We hope that China moves to allow the exchange rate to appreciate more rapidly and more broadly against the currencies of all its trading partners," Geithner added.

China's vice minister of foreign affairs Cui Tiankai was more optimistic. "So far both our nations have never signed any economic cooperation as broad," he said. Concerning the subject of the yuan Cui said, "We stick with China's national interests." [BBC]

There was some breakthrough as regards the US-China EcoPartnerships Memorandum of Understanding which also convened at the State Department this week. Hillary Clinton's remarks were far more moderate with no critical comments made concerning China, only a broad encouragement to build collaborative efforts in tackling environmental issues including climate change and pursuing cleaner energy models.

She spoke of fostering best practices and innovation to deal with environmental concerns. "We need to harness the unique skills of both of our cities, our states, our universities, our private companies, our civil societies to find solutions to common problems," Clinton said.

"That is especially true when it comes to clean energy, energy security, environmental stability, and climate change. Both of our countries have companies that are developing new and exciting technologies, universities that are doing ground-breaking research, and local governments that have unique perspectives on the community environmental issues they face which can have a global impact."

Chinese Vice Chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission Xie Zhenhua also supported the efforts of both countries' efforts in achieving a sustainable energy policy.

"In order to enhance our cooperation in the area of energy, environment, and climate change, the US and China Government have signed the ten-year framework for cooperation on energy and the environment," Xie said.

"Today, we have another new six partners signing their statement of intent here. I welcome and congratulate them for joining this big family of eco-partners, and I look forward to innovative cooperation from them so as to make a contribution to the greener, cleaner, low-carbon future of both countries as well as to contribute to the greener future of the human beings." [State Dept / YouTube].

While human beings may face a greener future, the issues surrounding human rights seem less certain.

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China
with additional reporting from our correspondent in Washington DC

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Strawberry Fields not forever

One of pop cultures most famous landmarks may soon be no more. The gates to a children's home which inspired the Beatles song Strawberry Fields Forever are to be taken down and may be sold off by their owners the Salvation Army.

The BBC World Service was one of the first to report the news which will be troubling to pop fans around the world. The Salvation Army say that they may consider replacing the gates with replicas, but there is dismay amongst some who feel it will not be the same. Many Beatles' landmarks have long gone and the Strawberry Field gates are one of the few remaining reminders of one of the world's most influential pop acts.

At the time of writing neither the official Liverpool City website nor the Salvation Army page devoted to the history of the children's home gave any indication the gates would soon be removed.

The gates have become a shrine drawing fans from around the world, many leaving their mark in the form of graffiti on the two sandstone pillars.

It will not be the first time the gates have been removed. In 2000 the 2.5 metre tall gates were stolen by men who drove off with them in a blue transit van [BBC]. They were recovered a few days later after a scrap-metal dealer contacted police following wide-spread publicity surrounding the disappearance of the wrought-iron gates [BBC].

Despite their return many fans have been unhappy about the upkeep of the iconic gates. In 2009 Colin Unwin a 61-year-old Beatles' fan was so fed up in seeing the years of neglect, he contacted the Salvation Army to obtain permission to paint the gates [Liverpool Echo].

As well as restoring the gates to their original pillar box red he also cleaned off all the graffiti and removed all the weeds from the overgrown entrance and path. The graffiti soon returned, by the gates looked significantly better for their lick of paint. But now, some two years later fans may only be able to take a virtual visit on Google Maps.

Update: Shortly after posting this article, the Salvation Army contacted tvnewswatch and said they were "looking at all options for the gates" including the possibility they might be returned to the site as part of a heritage centre. The Salvation Army have now posted an article on their website explaining that their decision was made to prevent further damage to the 100 year old gates and that they will be replaced with hand-crafted replicas.

In other Beatles' related news the musician David Mason who played the trumpet on Penny Lane, which was the flip-side to Strawberry Fields Forever, has died aged 85 [Toronto Star]. And Paul McCartney, 68, is set to marry for a third time to long time fiancée Nancy Shevelle [Belfast Telegraph / Reuters].

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

Monday, May 09, 2011

Brawl at Beijing Apple store over iPad2

In China mobile phones and owning the latest device is a growing obsession. And amongst the most sought after devices is the Apple iPhone. The release of the iPhone 4 saw shortages and the rush to snap up the iPad 2 has now resulted in physical injury.

Massive queues have been seen outside Beijing's two Apple stores since its release, but by Saturday frustration, queue jumping or impatience resulted in a fracas between staff at the Sanlitun branch and some customers. The details remain sketchy, but the incident left several people injured, some reportedly hospitalised, and Apple store with a broken door and a difficult public relations exercise.

There are conflicting reports of what kicked off the trouble, some saying that scalpers had pushed in line causing anger amongst others in the long queues.

Several online posts said that a scuffle occurred between a "foreign" Apple staff member and a Chinese customer, some saying the customer had cut into a line and was a scalper. Wang Ming, 30, a customer who was at the store told the  Associated Press he had heard that the customer was a reseller. Wang says he was passing by when a bottle hit his head, causing a gash.

There are reports the member of staff had used a metal bar to hit over exuberant customers. Some say a staffer had merely pushed people back, but after the glass door was smashed, an "iron rod" was allegedly used to beat people back [Macobserver / ifeng].

Photographs taken shortly after the incident showed the heavy glass door smashed to smithereens and of some injured customers, who may or may not have been scalpers, lying on the ground.

Police were soon on the scene helping to clear the crowds, some patrolling the Sanlitun shopping precinct with dogs. Meanwhile staff at the Apple store were left picking up the pieces of what may be a PR disaster for the US firm.

Four people are said to have been taken to hospital, though the severity of their injuries is not known. Authorities have not released any official statement and Apple have not responded to media requests for information nor released any comment.

Whether or not Apple staff were too forceful in trying to protect their store or stop queue jumping, it appears clear that scalpers and resellers helped precipitate the trouble.

Lines for the popular iPad 2 have grown so long that some people began selling their places in the queue. But the biggest problem has come from a secondary market with consumers reselling their tablet computers for profit after leaving the store.

Even after Saturday's incident there were some reporting people trying to sell on the sought after electronic product. "Police with dogs is patrolling around the Apple store in Sanlitun. Outside so many sellers of iPhone 4 and new iPad 2," Michael Hakel tweeted from near the Apple store on Saturday afternoon.

The store was open again on Sunday, though queues were significantly smaller. However Saturday's incident will be troubling for Apple, who already have a chequered history in China.

In 2010 there were questions raised over working conditions after a spate of suicides at a Foxconn factory where Apple and other electronic products are made [BBC]. At the time Apple's CEO Steve Jobs insisted "Foxconn is not a sweatshop," but said the 13 suicides were nonetheless troubling [BBC].

More recently there have been complaints that Apple was failing in it obligations to customers after denying customers refunds said to have been promised in promotions for the newly released iPad 2 [China Daily].

Further reports: NY Daily News / CBSSMH / NPR / PC World

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Osama death: conspiracies and repercussions

The dispatching of America's most wanted has only brought further questions over his death and rekindled debate over the future of the War on Terror.

Conspiracy theories are already circulating concerning the operation to kill Osama bin Laden and controversy over Pakistan's role, and even the naming of the operation.

While there is some optimism as to the future of the Afghanistan, and the Arab world in general, there is caution too. The killing of al-Qaeda's leader may be a blow to the terror organisation, but many commentators are warning against complacency.

The operation, while successful in itself, has created a rift between America and Pakistan and fueled questions over how committed the Zardari government is in helping combat terrorism.

There are also worries how the death will affect the war on terror and if the support for radical groups will diminish across the Arab world.

Conspiracy theories

Jubilation, shock and disbelief followed the announcement that Osama bin Laden had been killed. But while most people accepted the official story that the al-Qaeda leader had been shot twice in the head during a midnight raid on a compound in Pakistan by an elite American military unit, very soon the Internet was awash with conspiracy theories.

Some asserted that bin Laden had been dead for years, perhaps already killed by US troops and "kept on ice" until such point that it was deemed suitable to announce his death.

The quick disposal of bin Laden's body has brought criticism from some religious leaders and been cited as "evidence" by conspiracy theorists that the al-Qaeda leader may not even be dead.

Osama bin Laden's body is said to have been buried at sea, dropped from a US aircraft carrier stationed in the Arabian Sea within 24 hours of his death. Some religious leaders have said that even a criminal should be buried in the earth and questioned whether the funeral was carried out in accordance to Islamic law.

Those questioning whether the most wanted terrorist was even dead suggest that such disposal conveniently covers up the lies.

The US say that two of bin Laden's wives identified him and that both facial recognition and DNA evidence also established bin Laden's identity.

This has not satisfied everyone who want to see photographs or video as proof. But President Barack Obama has refused to give in to such requests.

No photo release

Speaking to NBC he was adamant in his decision not to release graphic photographs of the dead terrorist. "We have done DNA sampling and testing," Obama said, "So there is no doubt we killed Osama bin Laden."

The publication of the pictures would be an "incitement to additional violence as a propaganda tool" the president insisted. There was no reason to gloat Obama said, "That's not who we are." [MSNBCChannel Four News]

The graphic photos could certainly be used as propaganda, but the reasoning behind not releasing them seems contrary to previous policy.

Following the death of Saddam Hussein's sons in 2003 the US released graphic photographs of both Uday and Qusay Hussein to the media.

At the time the US defended the release of the pictures. US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said he was "glad" concerning the decision to release the photographs. They would help convince frightened Iraqis that Saddam's rule was over, a consideration that far outweighed any sensitivities over showing the corpses, he said. "I feel it was the right decision and I'm glad I made it," Rumsfeld told a Pentagon news conference.

President George W Bush did not make a direct comment on the release of pictures but said the brothers had been "brought to justice".

"These two sons of Saddam Hussein were responsible for hundreds and hundreds of people being tortured and maimed and murdered," Bush said. "And now the Iraqi people have seen clearly the intent of the United States to make sure that they are free and to make sure that the Saddam regime never returns again to Iraq." [The Age]

Three years later the policy had not changed. When Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the so-called head of al-Qaeda in Iraq, was killed during an operation in June 2006 photos were soon released. The US government distributed an image of Zarqawi's corpse as part of the press pack associated with a press conference. The release of the image was criticised for being in questionable taste, and for inadvertently creating an iconic image of Zarqawi that would be used to rally his supporters. There was debate too in some news media that the US could be accused of double standards. CBS drew comparisons of the dragging of bodies of US troops through Mogadishu streets following a failed operation in 1993 and of US POWs being paraded on television after being captured by Saddam Hussein's forces during the first Gulf war.

Such questions would have played on the mind of Obama and his administration. But Obama's decision has prompted a mixed reaction from US politicians, some of whom were shown the photos.

Steny Hoyer, the number two Democrat in the House of Representatives, said he shared the president's view. "In my opinion there's no end served by releasing a picture of someone who has been killed," CNN quoted him as saying.

But senior Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said the decision was a mistake. "I know Bin Laden is dead," he said. "But the best way to protect and defend our interests overseas is to prove that fact to the rest of the world. I'm afraid the decision made today by President Obama will unnecessarily prolong this debate."

Faked photographs have already circulated on the Internet, and the release of real photographs may also be questioned as regards their authenticity [Guardian / LiveLeak]. "It's certainly a hallmark of conspiracy theorists that whatever evidence is presented, they always find problems with it," said Brooks Jackson, director of, a nonpartisan organization that monitors the factual accuracy of politicians. "There are still some people who say the moon landing was faked."

Some pictures of the other victims have emerged however, though they are believed to have been taken by local security officials after the Americans left [Mirror / Infowars].

Burial at sea

Osama bin Laden's body was laid to rest in the Arabian Sea, wrapped in a white sheet before being placed in a weighted bag and lowered from the US aircraft carrier Carl Vinson.

Conspiracy theorists on both the left and right were quick to insist that bin Laden was either still alive or had been dead for years, pouncing on the government's decision to slide the body of the world's most wanted man off a board into the Arabian Sea.

"I am sorry, but if you believe the newest death of OBL, you're stupid," antiwar activist Cindy Sheehan posted on her Facebook page. "Just think to yourself — they paraded Saddam's dead sons around to prove they were dead — why do you suppose they hastily buried this version of OBL at sea?"

Infowars, the website of Libertarian radio host Alex Jones, was crammed with stories suggesting the US government had concocted the killing to justify a security crackdown and called the whole affair a hoax. Speaking on his show Tuesday, Jones suggested the rising tide of anger towards Pakistan was being encouraged deliberately and could precipitate military action against a country with strong ties to China. Such action could start a new world war, Jones inferred. The Tea Party Nation website brimmed with indignant posts questioning the timing of Obama's announcement.

Even a relative of one of the victims of the September 11th attacks voiced skepticism, citing the burial at sea. "Is it true or false? I don't know," said Stella Olender of Chicago, whose daughter Christine died at the World Trade Center. "To me that seems strange, that they disposed of it and no one [besides] whoever was right there knows what happened."

Administration officials say a sea burial was necessary because arrangements could not be made with any country to bury bin Laden within 24 hours, as dictated by Muslim practice. A senior military officer said the US also wanted to avoid creating a shrine somewhere on land that would attract his followers [LA Times / Daily Telegraph].

Such concerns did not seem to be an issue following the deaths of other high profile terrorists such as al-Zarqawi, nor of the much reviled dictator Saddam Hussein or his two sons.

The burial has also been called un-Islamic. Muslim clerics and scholars appeared divided Monday on the issue of burial at sea. Some declared the burial un-Islamic while others said it is permissible under some circumstances. The head of Cairo's prestigious al-Azhar University, one of the top Sunni clerics in the Islamic world, said that the burial was "un-Islamic" and an insult to his religion. The body of Osama bin Laden must be buried in the ground, and throwing it into the sea would be a 'sin', said Mahmoud Ashour.

There have also been criticisms from Native Americans who said the naming of the operation after Geronimo, the legendary Apache, was painful and offensive [BBC].

Treasure trove of technology

Aside the controversy surrounding Osama bin Laden's death, the US say that the raid did result in more than just the death of the al-Qaeda leader. A "treasure trove of technology" was secured at bin Laden's hide out.

Cell phones, computers and memory sticks were recovered which investigators will attempt to glean information about al-Qaeda operatives and planned operations [CBS].

Strained relationships

The location of what has been described as a mansion has been the focus of much discussion. The safe house was close to a Pakistani military base and there are questions how the al-Qaeda leader could remain hidden for so long without local authorities noticing.

In fact some have already pointed to possible collusion or a cover-up and suggested this as a reason why the US did not share intelligence about the investigation or the raid with its Pakistani counterparts [BBC]. In unusually frank remarks, CIA director Leon Panetta told Time magazine, "It was decided that any effort to work with the Pakistanis could jeopardise the mission. They might alert the targets."

But Lt Gen Asad Durrani, former head of the ISI, the Pakistan intelligence agency, dismissed the idea that Pakistan was not brought into the loop.

Speaking to the BBC, Durrani said, "It is possible they did not know, but it is more likely that they did." He suggested the Pakistan administration was wary of stating its ties to the US because of anti-American sentiment in the country. "If you say we were involved, it would get many people upset because of being involved with Americans."

David Wurmser, senior advisor to Dick Cheney under the Bush administration, said that there was probably "a don't ask, don't tell policy amongst some elements of the Pakistani security forces."

But both he and General Sir Michael Jackson were both puzzled at how the al-Qaeda leader had remained undetected for so long. "It does seem to many observers that for Osama bin Laden to remain in Pakistan for so long without their knowledge pushes credibility quite a long way," Jackson said.

All agreed that the war against al-Qaeda and other terror groups was far from over. The "removal of Osama will not make much difference," Durrani said, a sentiment echoed by Jackson who said, "We won't have seen the last of al-Qaeda."

At the same time he dismissed the idea that the revolutions sweeping across the Middle East would give al-Qaeda a breathing space and a fertile breeding ground. "The Arab Spring does not appear to be based on perverted ideology," Jackson said.

Further afield he warned of an early pull-out from the war against insurgents in countries like Afghanistan and the surrounding region. "We must be looking for a stable Afghanistan - and Osama's departure does not immediately effect this," Jackson said. Wurmzer also supported a continuance of the battle. "Our departure could leave a vacuum," he said.

Optimistic voices

There are some voices of optimism following this week's news. Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague said the death of Osama bin Laden and the Arab Spring might greatly advance democracy across the Arab world.

In a speech at the Lord Mayor's Easter banquet at Mansion House in London he talked with cautious optimism about the wave of freedom engulfing north Africa and the Middle East.

"There is a potentially explosive tension between people's expectations of immediate economic benefits from their revolution and the need for these new governments to take painful measures to open their economies and offer more opportunity to their citizens," Hague warned.

"We have to do our utmost to help the Arab world make a success of more open political systems and economies, and it is massively in our own interests to do so." 

Hague praised the US achievement in hunting down the man behind 9/11 but warned of complacency. "There are risks ahead. All change brings the risk of instability and there are some who will seek any opportunity to create chaos," he said.

"If the Arab Spring does lead to more open and democratic societies across the Arab world over a number of years, it will be the greatest advance for human rights and freedom since the end of the Cold War," the British Foreign Secretary said. "If it does not, we could see a collapse back into more authoritarian regimes, conflict and increased terrorism in North Africa on Europe's very doorstep." [FCO]

British Prime Minister David Cameron also called the killing of bin Laden and the recent uprisings across the Arab world, a "unique opportunity" to make a decisive break from the "poisonous ideology" of al-Qaeda.

Whatever the truth behind the contradictions or inconsistencies of the raid accounts, this story is likely to run and run.

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