Saturday, April 27, 2013

Yunnan fire kills one, leaves dozens homeless

A fire in the provincial city of Kaiyuan in Yunnan province, China has left at least 1 dead and many people homeless.

The fire started in the kitchen of a local snack bar on the second floor of a building complex in Dongfeng Road at around 11 pm [Friday 26th April]. According to locals the fire started after a deep fat fryer was left unattended and burst into flames. Within minutes the building of several storeys was well alight.

Eleven fire engines and seventeen firefighters attended the scene and rescued 14 people. A further 60 were evacuated from adjacent buildings.

One local shop owner said that firefighters had difficulty tackling the blaze due to water shortages. Yunnan is currently suffering from a deep drought that has affected much of China's south-west.

There were rumours circulating amongst some local residents that more than one individual had died, though police at the scene would only say that one woman had perished in the inferno. Meanwhile the cause of the fire remains under investigation.

Local reports: Society.Yunnan / Xinhuanet (Yunnan) / Gas Show  [Chinese]

tvnewswatch, Yunnan, China

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Hunt over as second Boston bomber arrested

The second suspect wanted in connection with the Boston Marathon bombings is in custody after being found hiding in a boat in a suburban homeowner's backyard.

Police said they exchanged gunfire with Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, after cornering him in Watertown, near Boston. He had escaped on foot early on Friday, apparently wounded, after a police shootout that claimed the life of his elder brother, 26-year-old Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

"Hunt is over"

Boston police announced the arrest on Twitter with the message, "CAPTURED!!! The hunt is over. The search is done. The terror is over. And justice has won. Suspect in custody."

Word of the arrest spread quickly in suburban Watertown, where residents took to the streets to cheer the news that suspect had been arrested. "Thank you. Thank you. It was our pleasure," members of the Boston SWAT team said over a loudspeaker.

Three people died and more than 170 were hurt in Monday's bombings. During the operation to capture the suspects a police officer also died and another was said to be seriously injured. At least 58 people remained hospitalized on Friday, including three in critical condition, according to CNN.

Seeking answers

At a Friday night press conference, US President Barack Obama promised to seek answers on what had motivated the bombers and whether they had help.

The brothers came from the Russian Caucasus region and moved to Kazakhstan at a young age before coming to the United States several years ago. "My youngest was raised from 8 years in America. My oldest was really properly raised in our house. Nobody talked about terrorism," their mother said, who expressed her disbelief in her sons' involvement.

Family denials

"It's impossible for them to do such things. I am really telling you that this is a setup," Zubeidat Tsarnaeva told the state-run Russia Today television channel.

The suspects' parents recently returned to Dagestan in the Caucasus region after living in the United States for about 10 years because they were "nostalgic," the father, Anzor Tsarnaev, told Russian state-run Zvezda TV. He also accused someone of framing his sons. "I don't know who exactly did it. But someone did."

A federal official told CNN that Dzhokar Tsarnaev came to the US as a tourist with his family in the early 2000s and later asked for asylum. He became a naturalized US citizen in 2012. Tamerlan Tsarnaev was not a naturalized citizen, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. He came "a few years later" and was lawfully in the United States as a green-card holder.

Despite denials and refusals to admit their sons' involvement in the bombings, authorities beliefs the two suspects are the same as identified in CCTV footage placing devices near to the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

Dramatic hunt

The final hours of the operation were nothing less than dramatic. Authorities homed in on the suspects after they killed an MIT campus police officer before carjacking a black Mercedes SUV, taking its owner hostage and driving off towards Watertown with police in pursuit.

On their way, the hostage was dumped at a petrol station after around 30 minutes, before a shoot-out ensued in the residential area of Watertown. During the shoot-out, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, is said to have run at police and was shot at and arrested. He later died in hospital despite attempts to resuscitate him.

According to NBC, police ran over him because he was wearing an IED [improvised explosive device]. However this has not been confirmed by police or other officials.

During the operation Tamerlan's younger brother Dzhokhar escaped on foot and authorities ordered much of the area of Boston be placed in lock-down, shutting down public transport and telling residents to remain indoors.

Later the same day a member of the public alerted police to blood seen on the side of a boat parked in a backyard of a Watertown residence. SWAT officers quickly moved in using a robot to determine if anyone was hiding inside. After an exchange of gunfire the suspect was taken into custody, though he was described to be in a serious condition.

Public help and hindrance

The quick apprehension of the bombing suspects was in part due to the help of the public who provided authorities with footage, photographs and tip-offs. However, well-meaning members of the online community also hampered the investigation and created problems for many innocent individuals after they were wrongly accused of being connected to the attacks.

Thousands of individuals had been tirelessly picking through the evidence - every piece of video footage, every photo, every eyewitness account they could get their hands on. They discussed their theories and "leads" within massive communities such as Reddit, 4Chan, Facebook and Twitter.

False accusations

But on Friday, those efforts ended with an apology. After hours of chatter and speculation, the standout suspect identified - and named - was the wrong man.

"I'd like to extend the deepest apologies to the family of Sunil Tripathi for any part we may have had in relaying what has turned out to be faulty information," wrote Reddit user Rather_Confused. "We cannot begin to know what you're going through and for that we are truly sorry.

Others had also been wrongly accused and led to much soul searching on sites like Reddit. When the real suspects, as confirmed by the FBI, were identified, the moderators of the Find Boston Bombers group told members that any posts about other people would be deleted immediately.

It meant much of the focus in the subreddit had shifted to the morality of what had occurred. "This subreddit has been a disaster that has done more harm than good," wrote Reddit user DarrenGrey. "It ended up an epicentre of unstoppable finger-pointing and wild conjecture...And worst of all the mainstream media leapt on the information here like hungry hyenas."

"Unreliable crowd-sourced material plus the media's ravenous desire for fresh information has proved a disgusting mix. Let's never ever do this again." [BBC]

Further reports: BBC / Sky News / CNN

tvnewswatch, Yunnan, China

Friday, April 19, 2013

Boston terror suspect shot dead

One of two suspects wanted in Monday's Boston marathon bombing has been killed after a violent stand-off with police in a quiet residential neighbourhood just west of Boston. The second suspect remained at large following what authorities described as a deadly crime spree that left one police officer dead and another seriously wounded.

Authorities ordered the whole area in Watertown, Boston to be placed in lock-down and asked that residents keep their doors closed. The man pictured above is said to be still at large and is described as being extremely dangerous.

tvnewswatch, Yunnan, China

Boston terror suspects identified

The FBI has released photos of two suspects it wants to identify as part of the investigation into Monday's Boston Marathon bombings [FBI].

CCTV captured the two men, one wearing a dark-coloured baseball cap and the other a white cap, near the scene. Video of at least one suspect planting the bomb is said to exist according to an official who spoke to CNN. However the FBI have chosen not to release the footage fearing that should the media repeatedly show the suspects leaving the bomb some members of the public might overreact should they came into contact with them. Meanwhile FBI Agent Richard DesLauriers warned members of the public not to approach the two men saying they were considered to be armed and extremely dangerous [CNN / BBC / Sky News].

Suspects watched carnage

The identification of the suspects comes less than 5 days into the investigation with teams of forensic officers pouring over thousands of images and hours or video. According to reports the suspects callously stayed to watch the grim events unfolding following the two explosions.

Footage, still unreleased, shows the two suspects watching the carnage unfold, a federal law enforcement official with knowledge of the investigation told CNN's Susan Candiotti. "When the bombs blow up, when most people are running away and victims were lying on the ground, the two suspects walk away pretty casually," said the official, who has seen the unreleased video. "They acted differently than everyone else."

Reaction to Boston attack

Reaction to the terrorist attack which took three lives and injured more than 170 others has been one of shock. However there have been some who gloated or suggested America deserved the attacks.

In China, a significant minority of netizens suggested that the US was merely being punished for its military intervention around the world. Netizen 陈�cm commented, “Because of US intrusion or invasion, countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria all suffer from explosions and attacks every so often. If the US keeps messing around, terrorist attacks targeted at the US will only increase. No matter how soon and well the US media do the reporting, it’s still the ordinary American people who are paying back.” Another netizen 矢口一厅 commented, “The US is asking for troubles and fight-backs by imposing its values onto others.”

Of course such views, while numerous, were far fewer than the outpourings of grief expressed by the Chinese especially as they learned that one of their own citizens had died in the blasts [OffBeatChina / VoA / Washington Post / The Diplomat].

There were other displays of bad taste or inappropriately posted articles however. Xinhua, China’s state news agency, posted a picture essay on its front page on the same day as the Boston attacks entitled: “File photos: Horrible scenes in 9/11 terrorist attacks”

The 9/11 picture essay story ran as 8th while the Boston attack was the lead story, in what could only perhaps be described as bad timing or insensitive reporting.

Chinese victim

Initially the identity of the third victim remained clouded in mystery with Boston University only confirming that one of their students had perished and several others were injured. However, a provincial newspaper in China soon tracked down the family who confirmed their daught had been lost in the blasts [Telegraph / D Mail / CNN].

While Xinhua’s dredging up the past with its reporting of 9/11 was somewhat inappropriate, there were some striking similarities that could be drawn from the two events. Whoever perpetrated the attacks did not divide a nation. Instead it brought a nation, and the world, together. And just as with 9/11 the attacks struck at all sections of society. Both the old and the young were either injured or killed. Furthermore the attacks affected people from different ethnic and religious groups as well as different races.

It brought home the sad truth that terrorism can strike anywhere, and affect anyone. But there was also many positives coming from the tragedy. There were tales of heroism, if individuals putting themselves at risk to save others. The events also showed how both professionals and ordinary civilians came together to help the injured. The openness of media and the way technology was used to help find people was also marked.

Chinese reflection

Such things appeared to impress many Chinese netizens watching from afar, who used the incident to criticise their own authorities. “Three hours after the Boston bombing, news websites and TV channels are streaming live news – there is no ban on news reporting. Local police held a press conference immediately – quick reaction plus transparent information and thus there is no rumor or panic. Google released Person Finder; the public offered help for those runners who are from outside of Boston or the country; thousands of people left their contact information. In the face of a severe situation, the government, the media, companies and individuals all work together smoothly. It’s something we ought to learn,” wrote 假装在纽约 on the microblogging site Weibo.

Lessons for a free society

Whether such events as seen in Boston change the way other governments deal with their own domestic tragedies remains to be seen. Openness and transparency can bring about undesired consequences. Government can receive unwanted criticism and be brought to book for misdemeanours. Yet there are huge benefits especially in the face of such attacks seen this week. With so many people freely filming and taking pictures and posting them to Facebook, Google+, Twitter and other social networks, there was no shortage of evidence enabling police to track down the terror suspects.

While terror attacks in China are rare, they do occur. And gathering evidence is far more difficult especially photographic evidence. CCTV, while growing, is not as commonplace as seen in many western cities, and while cell phones are common controversial material posted to the web is often expunged by censors. In such cases important evidence could be deleted before being brought to the attention of authorities. A growing distrust between citizens and the authorities may also impede any investigation since some members of the public might prefer not to get involved, deleting important images of failing to provide them to police.

A free society does not guarantee safety. Neither does a state run system. However a free and open society offers far greater hope in bringing perpetrators of such acts as seen this week to justice.

tvnewswatch, Yunnan, China

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Terror attack in US leaves 3 dead, 100 injured

At least three people have been killed and more than 100 injured, some seriously, in two explosions at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, in the United States.

"Terrorist attack"

The blasts were described by authorities as having all the hallmarks of a terrorist attack, though no-one has yet claimed responsibility. TV footage showed bloodied runners and spectators being treated at the scene and the road strewn with debris. Meanwhile the FBI said that the incident was a "potential terrorist investigation".

In a television address, President Barack Obama said "we will find out who did this" and that those responsible would feel the "full weight of justice".

Unfolding events

The first explosion came at about 14:50 local time on Monday [18:50 GMT], approximately two hours after the winners crossed the line. Another loud explosion occurred a few seconds later, and smoke rose from the scene of the blasts.

Bloodied victims were initially rushed to a medical tent set up to care for fatigued runners. Emergency services descended on the scene, which was quickly locked down. First responders said there were many serious injuries and that some victims had suffered the loss of limbs.

State police officer Roupen Bastajian had just finished the race when he heard the blasts. "I started running toward the blast and there were people all over the floor," he said.

Serious injuries

"We started grabbing tourniquets and started tying legs. At least 25 to 30 people have at least one leg missing, or an ankle missing, or two legs missing."

A doctor at Massachusetts General Hospital said "several amputations" had been performed there with one source telling CNN that at least 10 people injured had limbs amputated. One of the dead was an 8-year-old boy, according to a state law enforcement source. Hospitals reported at least 144 people are being treated, with at least 17 of them in critical condition and 25 in serious condition. At least eight of the patients were children.


Investigators had alerted police to be on the lookout for a "darker-skinned or black male" with a possible foreign accent in connection with the attack, according to a law enforcement advisory obtained by CNN. The man was seen with a black backpack and sweatshirt and was trying to get into a restricted area about five minutes before the first explosion, the lookout notice stated.

A Saudi national with a leg wound was also said to be under guard at a Boston hospital in connection with the bombings, but investigators could not say whether he was involved, and said he was not in custody.

Heightened security

The Federal Aviation Administration placed a flight restriction over the site of the blasts soon after the attacks. Meanwhile security was elevated in other cities, including New York and Washington. Following standard protocol, the White House cleared out an area in front of the West Wing.

Across the pond, organisers of the London Marathon were reviewing security measures in the wake of the US attacks. Chief Superintendent Julia Pendry, the event's commander, said security arrangements will be reviewed following the explosions in Massachusetts. "A security plan is in place for the London Marathon. We will be reviewing our security arrangements in partnership with London Marathon."

London threat

Nick Bitel, London Marathon Chief Executive, said he was shocked and saddened by the news coming from the US, adding that he too had focused on security for London's up-coming sporting event. "Our security plan is developed jointly with the Metropolitan Police and we were in contact with them as soon as we heard the news."

The London Marathon was featured as the target of a failed terror attack in the film the Four Lions. The satirical film received generally positive reviews, but was also widely criticised for being in bad taste. Victims of London's 7/7 attacks described the film as "sick" and called for a boycott.

At the time of the film's release in 2010, Grahame Russell, whose 28-year-old son Philip died on board the bus blown up in Tavistock Square, said, "I didn't see the humour in four people buying ingredients to make a bomb to come to London and kill innocent members of the public on the underground." [Independent]

As well as increased security for the London Marathon, government and police officials involved in the security for Lady Thatcher's funeral on Wednesday are also said to be looking closely at their arrangements [Sky News].

tvnewswatch, Yunnan, China

Further reports: BBC / CNN / / Al Jazeera

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Thatcher, the passing of a divisive leader

Baroness Thatcher, one of Britain's most well known former Prime Minister passed away this week at the age of 87 from a stroke. Her passing perhaps came as little surprise having suffered from ill-health and dementia for several years. But the news still came as a shock for some, and even delight in others as they revelled in the passing of the former PM who divided a nation.


Some people took to the streets to celebrate her passing. Parties were held in several parts of the UK on Monday night, hours after the announcement of her death. Gatherings took place in Brixton in London, in Glasgow and in Bristol, where several police officers were hurt during violent clashes.

Six officers were injured as they tried to break up a gathering of around 200 people and were pelted with bottles and cans. One officer remained in hospital on Wednesday. Police said that one person was arrested for violent disorder [BBC].

In Brixton in south London, windows were smashed and shops looted as more than 100 people gathered in the area. Police said two women were arrested on suspicion of burglary. Some of the revellers scaled the nearby Ritzy Cinema and changed the film listings to read "Margaret Thatchers dead".

Such scenes were condemned by local and national politicians on both sides of the bench. Former Prime Minister Tony Blair told the BBC he thought the scenes of celebration were in poor taste.

"I think that's pretty poor taste. You've got to, even if you disagree with someone very strongly - particularly at the moment of their passing - show some respect," Blair said [BBC / Telegraph].

Meanwhile local councillor Alex Bigham condemned the celebrations in Brixton as "disgraceful", adding, "Even if you detested her policies, many of which I did, it is tasteless posturing" [Twitter]. Bristol's independent Mayor George Ferguson said the gathering in his city was also in "thoroughly bad taste".

"There are strong feelings about Margaret Thatcher but I think it's in very bad taste to be dancing on her grave and it's a shame this should have happened in Bristol."

Impact on society

While Thatcher undoubtedly cause rifts in some sections of society particularly amongst the working classes, she also brought about major changes to British politics and Britain.

She began a course of privatisation of many state owned industries, brought about a financial boom, attempted to tackle Britain's manufacturing decline by drawing in foreign investment, most notable Nissan. Home ownership soared as she also created a way for people to buy their own council house and she dramatically changed union laws in order curtail the often destructive effect repeated strikes were inflicting upon British society.

When historians look back at the Thatcher years, the familiar landmarks that will surely loom largest are the battle over the economy in the early 1980s, the victory in the Falklands in 1982, the bitter struggle with the miners in 1984-85, the deregulation of the City in 1986, the disastrous introduction of the Poll Tax, and the high drama of her resignation in 1990.

But such landmarks ignore some of her more important achievements. By the time of her leaving office taxes were lower, strikes were down, productivity growth was much improved and far from fleeing Britain, as they had once threatened to do, foreign investors were now queuing to get in. This trend symbolised above all by Nissan's groundbreaking investment in the North East of England.

Some of the negatives came with booming unemployment which hit around 3.6 million, though it is arguable that unemployment may well have grown anyway and was already at 1.5 million and rising when she took office. Some too have argued that her deregulation of the City was what set the ball rolling for the financial collapse seen more than two decades later. Though again this is wild and fanciful speculation.

Adoration abroad

Beyond Britain's borders, Thatcher often courted far more adoration than at home. The former president of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Klaus said, "Thatcher was one of the greatest politicians of our time. In the Czech Republic she was our hero." In fact for many who broke the shackles of communism, Thatcher was seen as an inspiration.

In a now vastly changed Russia, Dmitri Medvedev, the Russian Prime Minister said, "Margaret Thatcher was an outstanding politician, her political views invited varied opinions but her political will commanded respect."

On the other side of the pond the US president offered nothing but praise Obama focused on her success in breaking gender barriers. "As a grocer's daughter who rose to become Britain's first female prime minister, she stands as an example to our daughters that there is no glass ceiling that can't be shattered," the president said.

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has been dubbed the Iron Lady of Europe for her tough line over the eurozone crisis, called Thatcher a "formidable leader in world politics in her time".

China's tempered response

China offered no official statement. The only comment came through the state run Global Times newspaper from Hu Xijin, editor in chief of the populist paper. "People's most striking memory is of her 'being tough'. As a successful woman in politics, she was revered. As a politician, her experience and policies stirred feelings," Hu wrote. "The 'Iron Lady' era is over. Today is the era of cooperation."

Of course there was no mention of Thatcher's condemnation of Chinese troops opening fire on protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989. Shortly after the massacre of up to 3,000 people, she expressed "utter revulsion and outrage", and said she was "appalled by the indiscriminate shooting of unarmed people."

Her role in the handover of Hong Kong was briefly mentioned in some Chinese papers which focused more particularly on her dealings with Deng Xiaoping.

Shi Yinhong, an expert on foreign relations at Renmin University, said, "I think Chinese people respected her and positively assessed her historical role."

"Although in the process of Hong Kong's return to China and the negotiations there were some difficulties between Mrs Thatcher and our great leader Deng Xiaoping, Britain and China successfully overcame them and both sides made efforts to smooth the transfer of sovereignty."

However he did not mention the feelings of abandonment that some Hong Kong citizens felt as the handover agreement was signed.

When Margaret Thatcher signed the Sino-British Joint Declaration with Deng Xiaoping in 1984 there was criticism from many Hong Kong residents that they had been abandoned to a totalitarian regime. During one meeting before the press and interested parties she was asked whether her decision was ethical.

"Prime Minister, on Wednesday you signed an agreement with China promising to deliver the handover of 5 million people into the hands of a Communist dictatorship. Is this morally defensible?" Emily Lau, a Hong Kong Legislative Councillor at the time, asked.

Thatcher dismissed her concerns saying her views were likely the exception. "I think you would have had great cause to complain had the government of Great Britain done nothing until 1997. And I believe that most of the people, indeed the overwhelming number of people in Hong Kong think the same," the then Prime Minister responded [ABC full transcript].

Past regrets

More than two decades later and ten years after the handover to China, Margaret Thatcher expressed her regret at not being able to negotiate an extension of the lease. In a radio interview with the BBC she said she faced an "impossible" situation. The interview secured with David Tang a was broadcast as part of the BBC Radio 4 series Hong Kong: A Decade of Change [Telegraph].

"What I wanted was a continuation of British administration," she said. "But when this proved impossible, I saw the opportunity to preserve most of what was unique to Hong Kong through applying Mr Deng's [one country, two systems] idea to our circumstances." [Shanghaiist - YouTube]

Other regrets

She left office with many regrets concerning her own country. Effectively abandoned by her own party and consigned to the House of Lords, she eventually faded from politics altogether. In 1995 she revealed that in hindsight she would have not entered politics. "If I had my time again, I wouldn't go into politics because of what it does to your family," she told Lord Spicer who published his diaries only last year [D Mail].

The grocer's daughter who became the longest serving female politician leaves behind a much disputed legacy. She also leaves mixed feelings for those she affected though her policies during her political career.

Whatever one feels about this divisive politician, she certainly won't fade from history, and is unlikely to be forgotten.

tvnewswatch, Yunnan, China

Friday, April 05, 2013

Tales from China, a return journey

It's been a least 18 months since last having visited China. In that time there have been significant changes. The most notable change has been that of a reshuffling of leaders. But while this has been a major focus for news media in the West, inside China, Xi Jinping's new role of President is not the hottest topic falling from people's lips.

A less than 'Harmonious Society'

The up and coming middle-classes are far more interested in finding ways to increase their wealth and income than they are about the change in political leadership.

And further down the ladder China's poor are more concerned about keeping a roof over their head.

In the lead up to, and few years following the Beijing Olympics, authorities cleared the streets of what they considered to be undesirable elements. The strict enforcement has gradually relaxed however and in the last month beggars were once again a common sight in China's capital Beijing.

Outside subway stations and especially near to hotels near to tourist hotspots, such as Wangfujing, beggars, some with children, pestered foreigners for money.

In many ways China still remains far from the "Harmonious Society" envisioned by Xi's predecessor Hu Jintao.

Growing environmental concerns

For many visitors to the Chinese capital in the past few months, it is the extremely poor air quality that has been more noticeable than the rich poor divide. And it's not just Beijing. The thick soup of pollution seems almost inescapable. Several thousand kilometres south in Yunnan's capital Kunming and the air can feel just as bad. In more rural locations it may just be a matter of air being saturated with dust or sand, rather than the more usual mix of car exhaust, industrial pollution and emissions from power stations. Such conditions create a longing to breathe clean fresh air, something that is perhaps taken for granted in the West.

It is not just the air that is of concern. Polluted waterways are becoming an increasing concern too. Industry and individuals are all too willing to poor waste products into rivers, creating problems for those downstream as well as local government and environmental resources.

The recent dumping of thousands of pigs into a river near Shanghai has raised worries too that there may be a link to that and a recent outbreak of a SARS like virus. Although only 6 people have died after contracting the H7N9 virus, there are fears of an epidemic that could spread across the country [BBC / Xinhua]. There are particular concerns raised by the WHO that the virus could be transmissible between humans, which in a densely populated country such as China could have disastrous consequences [Business Insider].

It could all prove to be yet another storm in a teacup like the last worldwide concern over the H5N1 and various subtypes that rattled health authorities in 2009. That particular strain killed a little over 600 people worldwide significant in itself, but to put it into perspective seasonal flu kills many more every year. Nonetheless, it is perhaps best to keep an eye on such developments, especially whilst travelling around rural China!

Stifled Internet

This is perhaps a subject that has been done to death, and anyone familiar with China will know much about its restricted Internet. Nonetheless it is still worth mentioning since such factors are beginning to affect the way people do business with China - the other factor apparently driving away foreign talent is the bad pollution [SCMP].

There has been little if any improvement with China's Internet, since last having visited the country. Unless accessing locally based websites, pages may take an eternity to resolve. Censorship of the web is strictly enforced and many foreign sites still remain inaccessible.

Hardest hit are Google services. While Google search works, it is often slow and pages may not resolve on occasion. Picture or image search are seemingly worst affected. A simple search took several minutes without any result, yet after connecting to a VPN the search request appeared in seconds. Gmail is almost unusable at times, forcing many Chinese users to abandon their accounts for locally based Chinese email services.

Google Talk is almost completely blocked, while Drive, Google+ and most of Google's other cloud based tools are entirely inaccessible.

There are however some bizarre anomalies in that those using Android devices see their pictures being sent without hindrance to Google's 'Instant Upload' facility from where they could be shared, though of course not to any blocked services such as Google+, Facebook, Twitter et al!

GPS anomalies

For tech-heads perhaps one major annoyance is the Google Maps/GPS anomaly. The maps used by Google are supplied by Chinese firm AutoNavi, and for all intents and purposes they are highly accurate. However, in many parts of China the GPS icon on an Android device using Google Maps will often show the user as being in a location up to a kilometre from one's correct position.

The reason for this can only be guessed at. There have been accusations by Chinese authorities that western companies, such as Coca Cola in a recent case, as well as individuals have been using GPS devices to illegally log information. While only speculation, it could be that authorities are using GPS jammers. Such devices have been known to be used by North Korea who severely affected the workings of South Korea's Internal Airports in May last year [ArsTechnica]. In parts of Europe smaller devices have been used to circumvent GPS monitoring of stolen vehicles [Guardian]

It could be that maps supplied by AutoNavi are misaligned to the GPS coordinates, though this does not seem to tally with certain anomalies observed over the last few weeks. On arriving in Beijing the GPS showed a discrepancy putting the user some 200 metres to the west, yet the following day the discrepancy was much reduced to only a few metres. In Kunming, the discrepancy was far more obvious showing the user more than a kilometre from the actual location [see image above]. Yet some 100 km south of Yunnan's capital the GPS locator showed as being almost 100% correct. Coincidence? Anywhere else in the world perhaps. But this is China, where nothing is ever quite what it seems.

tvnewswatch, Yunnan, China