27 November, 2005

malaysia acts on police abuse video

Malaysia is seeking to prosecute one of the participants in the prisoner abuse scandal. Authorities are seeking the identity of the whistle-blower/amateur-pornographer who shot the video of a female Chinese national being forced to do nude ‘ear squats’ for a Malay policewoman.:

Ah.. no, no this isn’t a cover up, this is about attacking targets of their choosing. Instead of prosecuting the policewoman in that infamous video clip, the Police are going after the person who took the video clip. It’s all over the Star.

Who shot the scenes? This is the crux of police investigations into the controversial video clip showing a naked Chinese woman doing ear squats while in police custody.

Deputy Inspector-General of Police Datuk Seri Musa Hassan said whoever took the video clip - whether from the force or a civilian – would be charged under the Penal Code with insulting the modesty of a person or intruding into the privacy of a woman.


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by @ 8:50 pm. Filed under Malaysia, Asia, East Asia, Southeast Asia

don’t panic… just die quietly

From the Telegraph:

Hundreds of thousands of people living in towns and villages along the upper reaches of the Songhua river were allowed to continue using toxic water for more than a week, even though authorities knew that benzene levels were lethally high, Chinese officials have admitted.

Anger was growing in Jilin and Heilongjiang provinces as new details emerged of how officials lied to conceal the fact that a potentially deadly 50-mile long slick was slowly flowing through cities, towns and villages.

The sprawling city of Harbin remained the centre of containment efforts this weekend, with its water cut off for a fifth day.

But the authorities revealed that millions of people who live closer to the chemical plant where a huge blast occurred two weeks ago, releasing cancer-causing compounds, were kept in the dark for 10 days - despite the fact that some drew water regularly from the polluted river.

A water official in Jilin province said the decision not to reveal that in some places benzene levels were 108 times above the safety level was made because “we did not want to panic the public”.

AsiaPundit has been relatively quiet on the mess up north, aside from a few snarky comments on beer production.

No one else can really touch ESWN’s roundup of coverage of the Harbin water shutdown, which has been kept updated throughout the week (scroll down for recent entries). We can also thank ESWN for asking Beijing-based flack Imagethief how the authorities erred in dealing with the incident from a public-relations viewpoint.:

The Chinese government’s response to the Harbin crisis has been a case study in bad PR management…”

That the Jilin chemical plant exploded and released tons of benzene was bad. It could have been incompetence or it could have been plain bad luck. But the actions of CNPC and the Jilin and Harbin governments after the disaster have tarred them with the stink of incompetence and untrustworthiness regardless of the reasons for the original disaster. They were caught in an enormous lie, and that makes everything else they have to say about the disaster untrustworthy. And people will remember.

Without having been in the boardroom, it is hard to say why the decision to cover up the disaster was made. It may be that Chinese doesn’t provide and incentive for openness about these sorts of things; this is an area where I don’t have enough information to make an informed judgment. Certainly neither the Chinese government nor Chinese business has a great reputation for transparency. The explosion would already be subjecting the plant to scrutiny for safety and operational standards. Perhaps a toxic release would have brought a different level of scrutiny, say from central government as opposed to malleable provincial authorities. And perhaps that level of scrutiny would have turned up some unpleasant truths surrounding CNPC, the plant and the Jilin government.

Government is a Brand, Whether You Like it or Not

Let’s think of the Chinese government as a brand. This is an oversimplification, but the comparison holds true in many ways. Like all brands, government, in this case Chinese Government (new and improved!), possesses or seeks certain attributes that it believes will help it in the execution of its business. Competence, compassion, pragmatism, security, and so on. For most governments, trust is an essential attribute. The job of governing is easier when people trust what the government tells them and trust that the government will provide essential services and intervene in times of stress or disaster.

To see how erosion of trust can affect a government badly, look at the current US administration, which has two trust serious issues right now. First, many people saw Katrina as a huge abrogation of trust, and it severely damaged government credibility at municipal, state and federal levels by undermining the compact that the government will help to mitigate severe crisis. Second, a majority of the US public now believes that it was misled about the reasons for launching the war in Iraq. That is eroding public support and making it much harder for the administration to prosecute its plans in Iraq.

With regards to China, the foreign knee-jerk reaction is to say, “The Chinese government is authoritarian! Why should they give a damn about trust?” But I would wager that most Chinese people trust their government on a fundamental level, or at least want to trust it, and that the Chinese central government places a fairly high priority on maintaining that trust. You can see aspects of this in many of the initiatives the CCP is prioritizing right now. Programs to control corruption and help the rural poor to climb out of miserable poverties are all part of building and maintaining trust. Even propaganda is designed to foster trust in the government. Power may flow from the barrel of a gun, but it is significantly easier to hold onto that power and exercise it effectively when people trust you. The Chinese government is executing several simultaneous, tricky balancing acts. I think they realize that their jobs will be much easier the more people trust them. Unfortunately, they seem unable to break their bad, Stalinist habits.

It’s not surprising that officials from Jilin and CNPC didn’t want to publicize the massive environmental damage caused to the water supplies of the Songhua River. Still, it’s beyond belief that they thought a a 50-mile long slick of benzene would go without notice.

Some reports are saying that the local authorities held back on announcing the full damage caused by the disaster because they were waiting for central government direction. If we assume this is the case, it still remains to be seen whether Beijing was actively trying to cover things up or if this was just a matter of bureaucratic incompetence.

I never expect to find out but, either way, AsiaPundit’s judgement is pretty damning, and so too is the judgement of residents of villages along the Songhua. From the NYT.:

Liu Shiying lifted the metal cover off the clay cistern in a corner of the bare kitchen and lowered a tin ladle into what remained of her water supply. Then she raised a scoop to her mouth.

“Do you think it smells?” she asked on Saturday, not taking a sip. “We’re still drinking this. It is our only choice.”

Ms. Liu lives in one of the dingy villages on the outskirts of Harbin, the provincial capital whose water supply had been shut off for four days to prevent contamination from a chemical spill that dumped a huge tide of pollution into the city’s main water source, the Songhua River. …

Ms. Liu said the local water had become cloudy in recent weeks and she could not tell whether it had changed, or become contaminated, as the pollution flowed by. On Friday, village officials finally turned off the faucets from the wells, but people continued drinking well water stored in pots and cisterns.

No one was sending any water to us,” Ms. Tao said. “We watched on television all the city people getting water delivered to their doors. Who cares about us village people?”

Hu and Wen’s focus is said to be on rural areas and their development. AsiaPundit has generally given them the benefit of the doubt on this (actually, it’s less a matter of giving them the benefit of the doubt, and more about harboring doubts that they aren’t as market-oriented as some of the Shanghai clique, notably Zhu Rongji.) If pollution is as bad as some reports have said, if an upsurge in acute leukemia is imminent, then their pro-peasant message will be rather undermined.

That said, AsiaPundit will withhold any judgement of malice.

As a reporter by day, AP frequently struggles to get state-owned corporations to reveal things that would be considered good news. A couple of weeks back, China allowed its first inter-broker dealership. A press release was issued by the Chinese party, and AP’s agency didn’t receive one. Calls to the Chinese side were fruitless. They explained that no-one in the office was authorized to re-issue a press release that had been earlier issued, and refused to interrupt the person who was authorized to give the statement.

The assessment in this Stratfor report is closest to AP’s own thinking (via Secular-Right India):

It is clear once again that the Chinese government bureaucracy remains incapable of making rapid decisions for dealing with unexpected problems. This inability to decide what to do for more than 10 days created panic in Harbin and further undermined trust in the local and national governments and Communist Party. In 1989, it was indecisiveness that contributed to the violent end to student protests in Tiananmen Square. And indecisiveness led first to the delay and then to the draconian crackdown on the Falun Gong after its members gathered for a silent protest outside central government housing in 1999.

As the central government prepares to enact the latest five-year economic plan, it will undoubtedly face many new and frequently unexpected challenges. A concerted effort to shift the balance of wealth in the country, to urge (if not require) “sacrifice” from the already well-off to bring up the other 900 million rural Chinese will bring massive social changes and threaten the political and economic interests and power of many. But, as the Harbin case shows, China’s leadership, on the local and national levels, is still far from capable of making rapid decisions and acting quickly to pre-empt — or at least mitigate — problems as they arise, rather than simply trying to ignore them and make up for it later. Trouble is brewing just beneath the surface, and while a watched pot may not boil, ignoring a pressure cooker can be disastrous.

Other essential reading, a blog by a Jilin-born journalist covering the crisis there (h/t Other Lisa)

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by @ 7:45 pm. Filed under China, Asia, East Asia, Northeast Asia

bruce lee, a hero for bosnia

A German cultural foundation has financed the erection of a statue of Chinese-American martial arts icon Bruce Lee in an effort to provide representation of a hero for Bosnian Croats and Muslims in Mostar. Any questions?

BruceleeBELGRADE, Nov. 26 (Xinhuanet) — A bronze statue of martial arts legend Bruce Lee was unveiled in the ethnically divided city of Mostar in Bosnia-Herzegovina on Saturday, a day before a second statue of him is unveiled in Hong Kong to mark his 65th birthday.

The life-size 1.68 meter statue depicts the Chinese-American kung fu cinema icon in a typical defensive fighting position as a symbolic protest against ethnic division, said reports reaching here from Mostar.

"Lee fought for justice freedom and reconciliation. I hope his statue will bring you happiness and prosperity," Chinese ambassador to Bosnia-Herzegovina Li Shuyuan told the unveiling ceremony, held in Mostar’s central park.

The ceremony was also attended by the German ambassador, whose country’s cultural foundation financed the project, and staff of the US embassy here.

In a rare show of unity some 300 Bosnian Croats and Muslims attended the ceremony. During the ceremony members of a local kungfu club, dressed in colorful kimonos, demonstrated the martial art skills using the kung fu accessories that included nun chucks, swords and sticks.

The statue, made by Croatian sculptor Ivan Fijolic, was unveiled by Nino Raspudic of the Urban Movement of Mostar, a youth association that pushed for a statue to be erected more than two years ago.

Lee was chosen as a hero that all ethnic groups could relate to, in a city that was nearly destroyed during fierce fighting between Croats and Muslims and remains bitterly divided.

South Africa’s Mail & Guardian notes that Mostar unveiled the statue a day ahead of a similar unveiling in Hong Kong.:

Youths in the Bosnian city of Mostar said on Thursday they were delighted they would beat Hong Kong to erect a statue honouring the late martial arts film legend Bruce Lee.

The statue is to be unveiled at the weekend in the southern city more famous for its 16th-century Ottoman bridge, which reopened last year after being destroyed during Bosnia’s 1992-1995 war.

"We initiated this long before Hong Kong. I am sure they did not have as many problems as we did in securing the permits … but it all turned out well," said Nino Raspudic of the Urban Movement of Mostar.

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by @ 11:45 am. Filed under China, Hong Kong, Asia, East Asia, Northeast Asia, Media

history blogs and remote voices

AsiaPundit is a lazy sod when it comes to blogrolling, and is actively considering outsourcing the task to someone in China or India. Until then, two new history blogs are worth adding to your reading lists now.

The Sparkplug is a China-focused photo history blog. For an example of what’s on offer, check out this post on the criticism and death of Wu Han.:

WuhanThe official being criticized at left in this photograph is Wu Han (吴晗), vice mayor of Beijing and the author of the play "The Dismissal of Hai Rui" (海瑞罢官), which was the focus of the internal power struggle leading up to the Cultural Revolution.

As a result, the treatment of Wu and his family was exceptionally harsh.

Wu was often criticized at public struggle sessions during 1966 and 1967. In this picture, it is interesting to note that he is wearing a traditional-style jacket instead of the Zhongshan suit that most people wore during this period. Wu was arrested by the Ministry of Public Security in 1968 and died in prison on Oct. 11, 1969.

As well, visit the new addition to the Frog in a Well history blogs, focusing on Korea. Here is a post looking at the demotion of a history teacher:

[W]hen a Tokyo city councilman in an official meeting said “Japan never invaded Korea,” her history class sent an apology to Korean President Roh Moo-hyan - an action that sparked her removal from her classroom.


Masuda, who says her two sons have Korean friends, got censured after her class did a study group on Japan’s occupation of Korea. Her social studies class wrote a letter of apology to Roh, and sent it to the Korean Embassy in Toyko. In a cover letter, Masuda said that councilman Koga Toshiaki’s remarks were “a disgrace” by objective historical standards, but “regrettably [they] can be presented proudly as a triumph in the assembly of Tokyo, the capital of this country.”

The class never heard from the Korean consul. But Masuda did hear from the Tokyo Board of Education. Her letter was discovered by a Yasukuni shrine support group and they complained to city officials. Masuda was told that while Mr. Koga did speak in public, it was “inappropriate” for Masuda to repeat his name in a letter that was not private, and a violation of city employee codes.

AsiaPundit admits a Shanghai bias and a focus on the urban coastal centers of China. it’s good  to have a blogger on the opposite end of China. And it’s reassuring that, even with the outbreak of bird flu in nearby Anhui Province, AP is still far from the bird-flu’s most afflicted area.:

AfflictedTime to break out the champagne. I didn’t think we could do it, but Xinjiang has just been named "the most-afflicted area in the country" (in terms of bird flu) by China Daily. We were awarded the top title after Xinjiang’s seventh outbreak in ten days was announced to have struck a farm outside of Turpan. That’s gotta be some kind of record! I’m going to have to start taking bets on when Korla’s first confirmed H5N1 sighting will happen. My money is on the first of December.

Finally, something that would have been more valuable before AsiaPundit was blocked in China. 

Dongxi Magazine - a newly launched publication China-wide magazine gratuitously publishing words, thoughts, ideas, lists, letters, reviews, poems, translations, short stories, images, photos and artwork - is seeking contributors:

All contributors shall be paid, at the expense of our advertising budget. Fifty RMB per poems, photograph or piece of art, and two hundred to five hundred RMB per short story. We thought we’d best get this juicy tidbit of info out as quickly as possible; hopefully it’s something you can use. As we’re currently working on getting the first issue out, this is the best we can give you for now.

Contact them at dxzine(at)gmail.com or via their website.

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by @ 1:27 am. Filed under South Korea, Blogs, China, Asia, East Asia, Northeast Asia, Weblogs, North Korea

singapore sacks hangman

Singapore has fired its executioner (via Singabloodypore):

Picture-3-2Darshan Singh … No longer Singapore’s hangman. SINGAPORE has sacked its long-serving hangman on the eve of the execution of Australian drug courier Nguyen Tuong Van.

A new executioner is expected to be flown into Singapore this week to carry out Nguyen’s death sentence as scheduled on Friday despite pleas for mercy from Australia. It is believed the new hangman will be flown in from another Asian country, possibly Malaysia, with which Singapore has a close relationship.

The 25-year old from Melbourne will become the first prisoner in Singapore in 46 years not to be sent to his death by Darshan Singh. The 74-year-old grandfather was dumped after his identity and picture was revealed by The Australian newspaper.

Mr Singh said he was in big trouble and was out of a job.

"It has been very, very difficult for me," he told The Sunday Telegraph. "I am not the hangman anymore."

Mr Singh said he would miss the $400 fee for each execution but was relieved he would not be placing the noose around Nguyen’s neck. "In a way I am happy," he said.

Nguyen’s lawyer Lex Lasry said the prospect of an inexperienced hangman was disturbing because mistakes could cause extended suffering. "If this must happen it must be done as humanely as possible. It just shows the high level of inhumanity of it."

The article doesn’t mention why Singh was sacked, although the firing comes on the heels of a press interview with him. Singapore is secretive about its execution, so AsiaPundit suspects the revelation of Singh’s identity was the top reason for his dismissal.

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by @ 12:46 am. Filed under Singapore, Asia, East Asia, Southeast Asia

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