4 January, 2006

philippines: still deadly

AsiaPundit has had the pleasure of working alongside many Filipino journalists and has almost always been impressed, which makes the following news more depressing. AP suspects that part of the reason the death toll among reporters in the Philippines is so high is because they do their jobs so well.:

UjpThe Philippines was second only to Iraq as the most dangerous place for journalists in 2005, two international media watchdogs, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and the Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF), said today.

Worldwide, last year was a deadly one for journalists with 47 killed, most of them deliberately targeted because of their work, according to CPJ. “Kidnappers in Iraq, political assassins in Beirut and hit men in the Philippines made murder the leading cause of work-related deaths among journalists worldwide in 2005,” the US-based watchdog said. (Read the CPJ report here.) The killers, CPJ added, targeted journalists “to silence them for their criticism or to punish them for their work.”

RSF, however, had a higher casualty count, with 63 journalists killed and 1,300 others physically attacked or receiving threats. It said last year’s total was the highest since 1995. It reported six journalists killed in the Philippines last year because of their work, while several others were murdered for unknown reasons. “Their enemies were no longer armed groups but politicians, businessmen and drug-traffickers ready to silence journalists who exposed their crimes,” said the RSF report.

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by @ 11:42 pm. Filed under Asia, East Asia, Southeast Asia, Philippines, Media, Censorship

msn: making the internet safe

In a response to ZDnet, Microsoft said it shut Chinese blogger Michael Anti’s site because it is committed to the safety of internet users:

“MSN is committed to ensuring that products and services comply with global and local laws, norms, and industry practices. Most countries have laws and practices that require companies providing online services to make the Internet safe for local users. Occasionally, as in China, local laws and practices require consideration of unique elements,” the spokesperson said.

Questions still remain over why a site believed to be hosted in the US has to comply with Chinese law. Microsoft responded to requests for more information on this issue by claiming that “Microsoft is a multi-national business and as such need to manage the reality of operating in countries around the world”.

AsiaPundit uses TypePad, which is currently unblocked in China. AsiaPundit is concerned that TypePad owner Six Apart has not had the slightest bit of concern about keeping him safe.

This should be the end of the story. MSN did a good thing by shutting down Anti. It is clearly more concerned about its users safety than services like TypePad. This had nothing to do with the security of its own bottom line or helping to maintain the CCP’s near complete control on information.


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by @ 11:26 pm. Filed under China, Asia, East Asia, Northeast Asia, Media, Weblogs, Censorship

randolph hobson guthrie

AsiaPundit would wager that at least 80 percent of expats in China buy pirated DVDs, including those who are members of the US and European chambers of commerce as well as employees of media and entertainment industries. AsiaPundit would even argue that it is understandable given the dearth of legal, uncensored material in the country. That said, selling pirated DVDs from your Shanghai penthouse is truly a dumbass thing to do. Randolph Hobson Guthrie deserves this:

RandyguthrieRandolph Hobson Guthrie, the international DVD piracy kingpin profiled recently in Wired, pled guilty today in Mississippi federal court to Conspiracy to Traffic in Counterfeit Goods.

He agreed to forfeit $823,833.00 to the U.S. government, and may receive penalties of up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

Snip from a media advisory issued this afternoon by the Motion Picture Association of America, which supported the case against Guthrie:

    In July 2004, officers from the Chinese Ministry of Public Security and the Shanghai Public Security Bureau arrested Guthrie, along with five others in Shanghai. Investigators seized more than 210,000 counterfeit DVDs. Guthrie was then brought to the United States in October.

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by @ 10:58 pm. Filed under China, Asia, East Asia, Northeast Asia, Media, Censorship

beijing: suckier than shanghai

Oh dear, this report in the ‘official mouthpiece’ People’s Daily says that the capital has slipped out of the top-10 Chinese cities for quality of life.:

Olympic TankBeijing is the nation’s capital, but according to a recent survey, it does not even rank in China’s top 10 cities in terms of suitability for living.

The city came 15th in the list, as compared to third in 2004, due to its bad traffic, high housing prices and heavy pollution.

Coastal city Dalian in Northeast China was selected as China’s most suitable city for living, followed by Xiamen, also a coastal city, in East China’s Fujian Province.

Following were Mianyang in Southwest China’s Sichuan Province and the provincial capital Chengdu; Wuhan, provincial capital of Hubei; Hangzhou, capital of Zhejiang; Shanghai; Nanjing, provincial capital of Jiangsu Province; Qingdao in Shandong Province; and Chongqing Municipality.

Beijing was not the only other well-known city to miss the top 10: Tianjin, Shenzhen, Xi’an and Guangzhou also lost out.

The list was compiled last month by Beijing-based polling agency Horizon Group after interviewing 3,434 urban residents aged between 18-65, and 1,604 investors.

The urban habitable index, which takes traffic, environment, social welfare and security into account, averaged 65.7 out of 100 points. “The findings indicated that there is much room for improvement in Chinese cities,” the polling agency said.

The agency listed major problems faced by Chinese cities such as shortage of housing supplies, tough job markets, lack of or poor waste water and garbage treatment, and pollution.

This is actually great news for China. When tourists start arriving in 2008, authorities can further boost national tourism by stating: “Enjoy Beijing… and be sure to visit any of these 14 other cities, they’re much nicer.”

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by @ 10:37 pm. Filed under China, Asia, East Asia, Northeast Asia

rural china and tax reform

China at the start of this year eliminated its agricultural tax, in an effort to raise rural incomes and eventually unify the taxation system, gaining praise from the US Tax Foundation.:

Last week, China’s move to repeal its agriculture tax made headlines around the world. Although many stories overdramatized the move by labeling the tax "ancient" and "2,600 years old"—the actual tax dates only to 1958—it’s still a significant shift in tax policy for a nation bearing one-fifth of the world’s population.

The repealed agriculture tax was similar to a modern property tax. It was a lump-sum fee paid by farmers based on the amount of cultivated land and number of family members. And as with property taxes, the tax was widely perceived as unfair, for two reasons.

First, the amount of tax was based on a proxy for grain production not income, forcing farmers to bear the same tax burden both in prosperous and lean years. Second, the tax devoured a large portion of farmer’s incomes. While the average agricultural tax amounted to just $36 per family, that’s a hefty tax bite given the annual per capita income of Chinese farmers of around $242 (nearly 15 percent).

Until recently, China has operated parallel tax systems for urban and rural taxpayers. One of the goals in repealing the agricultural tax to unify the tax system and simplify tax rules. It’s hard to argue that it’s isn’t good tax policy. This, along with China’s recent exemption of foreign and domestic investors from capital gains taxes, places the People’s Republic of China closer to the cutting edge of economically sound tax policy than many avowedly capitalist nations.

The tax reform is essential for China in building a more consumer-driven society and removing factors that help maintain disparities between urban and rural residents. It’s only a single step forward though, and in an item yesterday Simon noted that some other policies could be huge steps backwards.:

RuralA new movement, entitled the "new socialist countryside", will be the focus of rural development during the 11th Five-Year Programme. A similar slogan, "building socialist rural areas", appeared in the 1950s, but was later dismissed as part of propaganda about building a utopian society. The latest campaign draws comparisons between the situation on the mainland and South Korea’s experiences 30 years ago…

According to state media, Beijing’s vision of a "new socialist countryside" consists of five components: production growth, affluence, rural civilisation, a clean environment and democracy in the management of local affairs. The vision may look like a holistic approach, but scholars are worried that it may turn into another white-elephant construction spree….

Proper land reform, well-deliniated land rights, open and honest courts that will defend the poor from developer and government land grabs and cops that don’t shoot those defending their patches of earth are all vital. But the control freaks demand progress, and progress can only come with control. The true beauty of the capitalist market system is it works with a minimum of control, not a maximum of it.

AsiaPundit’s general view of the current CCP leadership is that they are far more sincere than their predecessors in wanting to reduce the immense gap between rural and urban Chinese. That’s a good thing, the downside is that they are also less market oriented. We can hope that the ‘new socialist countryside’ is another misnomer and that rural areas will eventually look more like the new ’socialist’ Shanghai.

However, if collectivization and state control remain central tenets for new reforms the new socialist countryside will likely look a lot like the old socialist countryside.

On rural China, one point that is often missed is that agrarian lifestyles will only produce rural-sized incomes (barring, of course, the types of protectionism and subsidies that American, European and East Asian farmers have received - something China would be wise to avoid).

The longer-term solution is allowing the urbanization and retraining of rural populations. China is not just governed by control freaks when it comes to economics, but also when it comes down to the internal movement of its people.

Further reading: Mark Thoma posts an article on China’s development troubles, government statistics (2004) on rural poverty in China. Photo nicked from the IFRC.

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by @ 5:47 pm. Filed under China, Asia, East Asia, Economy, Northeast Asia

microsoft vs anti

As noted here earlier, MSN has taken down Michael Anti’s blog. Rebecca McKinnon, in a now widely linked post, has a more detailed look at what Microsoft and other blog-service providers are doing in China.:

Anti 20Takedown 20Cropped

Microsoft’s MSN Spaces continues to censor its Chinese language blogs, and has become more aggressive and thorough at censorship since I first checked out MSN’s censorship system last summer. On New Years Eve, MSN Spaces took down the popular blog written by Zhao Jing, aka Michael Anti. Now all you get when you attempt to visit his blog at: http://spaces.msn.com/members/mranti/ is the error message pictured above. (.)

Note, his blog was TAKEN DOWN by MSN people. Not blocked by the Chinese government. (emphasis added)

Rebecca also recalls posting a trial blog in mid-December, confirming that the censoring is being done by Microsoft and not Chinese authorities:

Now, It is VERY important to note that the inaccessible blog was moved or removed at the server level and that the blog remains inaccessible from the United States as well as from China. This means that the action was taken NOT by Chinese authorities responsible for filtering and censoring the internet for Chinese viewers, but by MSN staff at the level of the MSN servers.

This is not to give the authorities a pass on censorship - China blocks and censors everything from print to satellite broadcasts - but MSN has again gone well beyond what is required of them by the Chinese government. Microsoft doesn’t just follow orders, it goes out of its way to flatter and kowtow to Communist Party authorities.

Microsoft Geek blogger Robert Scoble has asked MSN for more details on the shutdown of Anti.

A further roundup on China internet censorship is here.

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by @ 8:05 am. Filed under Blogs, China, Asia, East Asia, Northeast Asia, Web/Tech, Weblogs

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