30 November, 2005

get back in the box

AsiaPundit supports the commercialization of university research. If an institute of higher learning can find a way to patent and monetize the results of a research project, the institute should be able to generate more funds for pure research. That would remove the need for government funding for studies on such things as why toast always lands butttered-side down.

A Singapore institute seems to have developed a device that could be quickly turned commercial. Unfortunately, as Imagethief notes, the researchers seem to be missing the most obvious application of delivering touch on the internet.:

NetsexReuters: SINGAPORE–Singapore scientists looking for ways to transmit the sense of touch over the Internet have devised a vibration jacket for chickens and are thinking about electronic children’s pajamas for cyberspace hugs.

A wireless jacket for chickens or other pets can be controlled with a computer and gives the animal the feeling of being touched by its owner, researchers at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) told The Straits Times.

The next step would be to use the same concept to transmit hugs over the Internet, it said.

“These days, parents go on a lot of business trips, but with children, hugging and touching are very important,” the paper quoted NTU Associate Professor Adrian David Cheok as saying.

NTU is thinking of a pajama suit for children, which would use the Internet to adjust changes in pressure and temperature to simulate the feeling of being hugged. Parents wearing a similar suit could be “hugged” back by their children, the paper said.


Now, when you think of Internet + tactile technology, what comes to mind? Is it hugs for the little children? Or petting the cat while you are away? Or is www.handjob.com? Or, perhaps less conventionally, www.slapmesilly.com? Sounds like another great moment for e-commerce to me. And what’s with the chickens?

A common criticism of Asian educational systems it that it leaves people without the skills to “think outside the box.” That isn’t the case here. No, the concepts of ‘chicken petting’ and ‘hug pajamas’ are already so far removed from the obvious commercial applications that AsiaPundit suggests that Nanyang’s researchers quickly find a way to get back inside the box.

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by @ 1:15 am. Filed under Singapore, Asia, East Asia, Southeast Asia

29 November, 2005

transgendered pop blog

Via Supernaut, lady is blogging.:

Lady, the hot trash Korean transgender manufactured pop band noone has listened to but everyone has seen pictures of, now has a blog. Or more likely someone has made a blog pretending to be them. Anyway, Lady - now that’s what I call music. (But there used to be four and now only three? What happened to Binu?)


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by @ 11:52 pm. Filed under South Korea, Asia, East Asia, Northeast Asia

singapore hangman escapes the axe?

Reports that Darshan Singh, who had been the hangman for 850 of Singapore’s executions, had been sacked after an interview with an Australian newspaper are being denied by the city state.

Singapore - Prison authorities denied sacking Singapore’s hangman after the 74-year-old executioner told Australia media he was ready to retire, but shed no light on who will place the noose around a condemned Australian drug trafficker’s neck on Friday.

‘Darshan Singh has not been ’sacked’ and continues to be a contract officer engaged by the Prisons Department,’ a spokesman confirmed on Tuesday. ‘There is no change to his status.’

Singh, a Sikh who converted to the Moslem faith, revealed his identity in an Australia newspaper interview last week and said he would like to retire but no one wanted his job.

On Sunday Singh said he had been informed of his sacking by the department and that someone else would be flown in to conduct the hanging of Vietnamese-born Melbourne man Nguyen Tuong Van, sentenced to death after he was caught with nearly 400 grams of heroin while in transit from Cambodia to Melboune three years ago.

The department had no response yet to Australia’s plea that Nguyen’s mother, Kim Nguyen, be allowed to hug her son before his death.

AsiaPundit opposes capital punishment, if only because justice systems are fallible. Still Harry Hutton makes a persuasive argument.:

NtvThey are hanging Nguyen Tuong Van in the morning. I am not myself in favour of hanging Australians. I’m in favour of beheading them, but hanging is oafish. The government of Singapore has come in for a lot of criticism for this unpleasant fetish of theirs; but as long as they are sure, beyond all reasonable doubt, that he is Australian… As David C says in the comments, which of us can honestly put his hand on his heart and say that we haven’t at some time wanted to hang an Aussie? I know I have.

Let he who is without motes in his eye cast the first beam.

I don’t know why the government of Australia doesn’t string up a couple of Singaporeans in retaliation. That’s what I would do. It’s idiotic, but sometimes idiocy is all we have left.

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by @ 11:07 pm. Filed under Singapore, Asia, East Asia, Southeast Asia

singapore voting rights in hong kong

Via Simon World, a look at the 191-vote strong Transport Constituency in Hong Kong shows that Singapore, Dubai and - naturally - Mainland China have more say in how Hong Kong’s government is selected than its average individual resident:

HkdemoWe found that of the 191 eligible Transport electors, 36 are taxi-related associations, 19 are minibus associations and 10 are driving instructor associations. These three lobbies alone amount to 65, or over one third, of the electorate. Bear that in mind next time you hear their legislator whinging about diesel duty being too high, when it is far lower than the duty on unleaded petrol which private motorists pay, and when LPG is exempt from duty and franchised buses are exempt from diesel duty anyway. And don’t forget the $1.4bn in taxpayer grants handed out to get the taxi and minibus owners to buy LPG vehicles in the first place. Yes, in Hong Kong, we don’t charge the transport trade for air pollution, we pay them to reduce it.

The names of some trade associations suggest overlapping membership through their geographic coverage. While some of the apparently overlapping trade associations may exist separately for historical reasons, others may have come into being, or stayed separate, simply to claim another vote for their sector. Similarly, companies under common ownership may continue to exist separately rather then undergo a full merger, and thereby avoid losing voting rights in the constituency.

Our research also identified tycoons with heavy voting interests, including 1 family with stakes in 11 electors. We also found 3 electors which are controlled by the HK Government, and several which are controlled by overseas Governments, including Dubai, Singapore and of course mainland China.

It’s worth reminding our readers that we only looked at one sector. If we had extended our coverage to sectors such as the Real Estate, Hotels, Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce, Chinese General Chamber of Commerce and others, then we would have found many of the same tycoons controlling corporate electors in those sectors too.

Don’t worry too much though, a number of above-average residents do actually have more of a say in how Hong Kong is run that Singapore or Dubai. So it is possible for Hong Kongers to get a larger say in government, so long as they can become as rich and heavily invested in the territory as  Li Ka Shing or the Kwok brothers.

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by @ 10:13 pm. Filed under Singapore, China, Asia, East Asia, Hong Kong, Southeast Asia

don’t corrupt our youth!

A local Malay tabloid in Malaysia put another blogger on the frontpage - the popular Sixth Seal who have since removed the offending posts relating to - not racial relationships, not politics, not complex corporate media issues, but recreational drugs! Granted, Malaysia is one of the few places where carrying around a stash of ganja is enough to get you hanged, while raping a classroom of 8-year-old girls wouldn’t.

One of the reasons (Malay link), according to Harian Metro, why that blog is the bane of the earth and should be strike from the face of this world is because the “activity could influence teenagers”; but being a teenager for the next four months, I must say though we teenagers aren’t all that impressionable. Reading Instapundit regularly, for example, haven’t led me to put puppies in blenders. Yet.

by @ 3:53 pm. Filed under Malaysia

i’m going to send you to a better place

More paranoia and self-censorship in the Lion City. A state-funded, but generally high-quality, art school has threatened to sue an Australian newspaper for printing a photo of an installation piece that was… political.


IT was a rare public display of protest against the death penalty that even Singapore’s arts community didn’t want the world to see.

Titled “I am going to send you to a better place”, the now infamous send-off from veteran hangman Darshan Singh, the disturbing artwork is the only act of open defiance in the city-state during the final days of condemned Australian drug-trafficker Van Tuong Nguyen.

Slovenian art student Matija Milkovic Biloslav had displayed under falling nooses a single standing stool carrying a card with Van’s execution number, C856, a very deliberate reference to the Melbourne man, scheduled to be hanged at dawn this Friday.

But after The Australian unexpectantly attended last Friday night’s opening of the exhibition at the Lasalle-SIA College of the Arts, the self-censorship that pervades the country of four million took hold.

Over the weekend, The Australian newspaper was threatened with legal action by Lasalle directors if it published a picture of the work and all requests for an interview with the artist were denied.

The card carrying Van’s execution number was hastily removed. The college, which receives government funding, said the artwork was about suicide.

The reaction of the art college is typical of the sensitivity in Singapore to the very limited political and social debate allowed by the long-ruling People’s Action Party.

Local coverage of Van’s trial, conviction and sentence has been almost non-existent in the government-owned media, with daily reports only appearing in the past week and limited to the outcry in Australia or a defence of the looming execution.

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by @ 12:06 am. Filed under Singapore, Asia, East Asia, Southeast Asia, Censorship

28 November, 2005

groundswell of support for status quo (aka apathy)

Jason of wandering to Tamshui offers a rare note of approval for a visiting foreign correspondent on his assessment of the mood of Taiwan residents toward the Mainland.:

PangreendressLarry Johnson, a columnist covering Asia-Pacific Issues for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer has returned from a two-month trip to Taiwan with some information that has been long-known to some but little-known to many: most young Taiwanese are either apathetic to China or support continuing a separate existence from their long-lost brothers across the strait.

Among his findings after speaking to young students around Taiwan:

"The younger generations will decide Taiwan’s future. And that decision will be of great concern to a United States that is obligated by treaty to provide for the defense of Taiwan. What are the attitudes of Taiwan’s young people toward reunification and mainland China?

To answer that question, I recently spent two months traveling throughout Taiwan, talking with young people from 13 to 30. Their answers, overall, show an attitude in stark contrast to the conciliatory attitude of Taiwan’s top political parties and suggest a much more forceful stand for independence, one that would bring Taiwan into sharp conflict with China.

I did formal interviews with 50 people, from Taipei, the modern capital in the north, to Tainan, the ancient capital in the south. My subjects, for the most part, were high school and university students but also included young workers and business people. The interviews were in English, which is widely spoken, and even when language was somewhat a barrier, many of the young people were still eager to express their views.

Of the 50 people, only six said they would like Taiwan to become part of mainland China."

First of all, kudos to Johnson for taking the time to interview people from all over Taiwan, not just Taipei, which skews blue. Most foreign journalists are either too lazy or too ignorant of the rest of the country to even bother asking themselves whether the other 90% feel the same way as a pampered university student with family business interests in China.

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by @ 11:38 pm. Filed under China, Taiwan, Asia, East Asia, Northeast Asia

taiwanization III

Madman of Chu responds to Michael Turton’s counter-argument on the prospects of the Taiwanization of China.:

Buttons-1China’s only hope of avoiding cataclysmic meltdown is to opt for an eventual program of decentralization. All of the provinces of China must ultimately enjoy a great deal of autonomy and independence from Beijing- even more autonomy than the 50 states of the U.S. do from Washington, as each province is geographically, socially, and demographically more complex than even the largest U.S. state. As this process of decentralization occurs (assuming for the moment that the best-case scenario arrives), the question of the non-provincial territory of the PRC (the so-called “autonomous regions”) will naturally come into play.

Beijing is no more likely to ever grant Tibet, Inner Mongolia, or Xinjiang total independence than it is to Taiwan. Even so, it is not inconceivable that a reformed Chinese government might accede to a “bimodal” polity. In this scheme the 22 historical provinces of China would be fully integrated into a Chinese Federation. The autonomous regions of Xinjiang, Tibet, and Inner Mongolia (Ningxia and Guangxi too, should they so desire) would be bound more loosely into a Greater Chinese Commonwealth. Commonwealth members would have many of the powers of sovereignty (thus the Dalai Lama could return to Tibet, Xinjiang could resolve its own policy toward Uighur language and Islam, etc.), they would only defer to Beijing on matters of foreign policy and defense.

If Taiwan were to join such a system as a Commonwealth member it could retain its own institutions and sovereign independence, and would benefit from the lowering of all logistical impediments to cross-Strait trade. This might seem like an impossibly optimistic scenario, but international trends such as that exemplified by the EU demonstrate that it is the downhill slope of history. A Greater Chinese Commonwealth is no more intrinsically unlikely than a European Union, it only seems so because where Europe had historically been artificially hyper-fragmented China has been artificially hyper-united. If despite centuries of destruction and hardship Europeans have finally moved toward a more rational reconciliation of disparate sovereignties, it is not too much to hope that China, whose suffering has been no less intense, might make an analogously rational move (albeit in, superficially at least, the opposite direction).

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by @ 11:24 pm. Filed under China, Taiwan, Asia, East Asia, Northeast Asia

AsiaPundit loves Google Earth. As noted here earlier, the Spy Satellite for the Masses has brought us pictures of places that were usually off limits, such as Pyongyang, Beijing’s Zhongnanhai party compound and South korean presidential compound Cheong Wa Dae.

Now, a Filipino blogger uses the tool to expose what is possibly illegal logging in Laos:

Lao Landclearing-Thumb

I’ve been using Google Earth to get an idea about some of the landscapes in rice growing regions for a project I’m working on and I came across what appear to be cleared areas in Northern Laos.

These bare patches seem to be limited to the area roughly bounded by the red circle in the inset image. There aren’t any obvious sites like these in the highlands in neighboring Vietnam.

If you look carefully you can even see that there are light green patches on the landscape that I assume are cleared areas that are regrowing, indicating that the process has been going on for at least a few years.

If you know anything about land use in this region, I’d be curious to hear from you about it. (Blog commenting is off for a while due to excessive spamming…)

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by @ 11:21 pm. Filed under Asia, East Asia, Southeast Asia, Philippines

jilin, harbin and beijing

A young journalist in China explains clearly, on his must-read blog, why central government authorities as well as Jilin and Harbin authorities must take responsibility for the disaster along the Songhua river.:

JilinNow that everybody’s jumping in on the benzene spill incident, it seems there’s hardly any aspect of the story that hasn’t been covered by domestic or foreign media — from the Fascist rule of the CNPC subsidiary’s chief manager, Yu Li, to the old man shuddering in the howl of Harbin’s cold wind waiting in a long line to get rationed water, to the unsuspecting Heilongjiang fishermen who kept on catching and eating fish from the Songhua while the toxic stretch of water slowly passed their domain. Now everybody knows there was a shameful cover-up.

A friend who works at Jilin city’s drinking water corporation told me that they started testing water samples in the Songhua the night of the explosions. Although they mostly sampled water near their intake points, there’s reason to believe that they knew some pollution probably was created. I also got on the phone with water-quality supervision officials from the provincial capital of Changchun, who said that they were stationed in Songyuan (downstream of Jilin city, near the border of the two provinces) to monitor river water contamination levels 24 hours a day between Nov. 15 (two days after the explosion) and Nov. 24. On Nov. 16, they found the water with benzene levels over 60 times the national standard. It peaked on Nov. 17, when benzene reached more than 300 times above national standard. Hell, they knew it from the very beginning.

But according to Heilongjiang officials, their bretheren in Jilin didn’t notify them of the contamination until Nov. 18. The truth may be even more shocking. My colleague who went to Harbin learned that Jilin authorities probably never sounded the alarm to Heilongjiang — the latter only knew about the toxins in the river on Nov. 19, when their own water-quality monitoring outposts tested alarmingly high levels of benzene near Zhaoyuan.

Despite what some people may think, the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) didn’t play an honorable role either, at least not initially. They also knew about the spill from the very beginning. SEPA sent officials down to Jilin on Nov. 13, and they later claimed they tested and found benzene in Jilin waters on that day. In theory they should have access to all statistics from both provinces all along, and we confirmed this partially. Again, they chose to remain silent until Nov. 23. Presumably the central government agency waited out the finger-pointing and political bantering between the two provinces, and then jumped in at the perfect moment to play God.

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by @ 10:45 pm. Filed under China, Asean, East Asia, Northeast Asia, Censorship

china’s paranoid information policies

Via the Peking Duck, In These Times offers a relatively good summary of the stranglehold that China’s Communist Party keeps on freedom of expression and the free flow of information:

The Ministry of Public Security has also announced plans to roll out a software program developed by Venus Information Technology, a local company, that will monitor cell phone text messages. Plans to create a network of 100 satellites capable of monitoring every inch of Chinese territory by 2020 are also in place. In addition to monitoring the environment and urban growth, the network would monitor “various activities of society,” Shao Liqin, an official in the ministry of science and technology, recently said.

China is also “more successful than any other country” in censoring the Web, according to a recent report by Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society.

More than 250,000 Web sites—including those of major Western media and non-governmental organizations—cannot be accessed. An estimated 30,000 human monitors scan e-mail, Google searches, and chat sites such as MSN and Yahoo, and troll online groups and blogs to find offending information. Individuals identified for “seditious” online activity are often arrested, as was the case with Zhang Shengqi, a 23-year-old student arrested for publicly supporting the Roman Catholic Church, which is banned in China.

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by @ 10:30 pm. Filed under Blogs, China, Asia, East Asia, Northeast Asia, Censorship

cancer in china

Lonnie at One Man Bandwith is considering setting up a charity to support cancer treatment among those who cannot afford it. In China, as he notes, a lack of funds equals death.

PinkribbonThe Chinese State media recently reported that a poor (still known as “peasant” here) woman debilitated by a stroke was dropped off at a crematorium, still alive, by her family who had run out of money for her hospitalization. Three days of the woman’s treatment had exhausted their life savings.

She was saved only when the mortician noticed tears coming from her eyes as he prepared her. Later, residents of the area collected money for further treatment.

According to a local official in her area: “The fundamental reason is the absence of a social welfare system.”

China’s Vice Minister of Health estimates that half of all farmers cannot afford medical treatment when sick. In the 70’s, more than 90% of China’s rural population was covered by cooperative medical programs. Those programs ended with the introduction of market reforms.

Another farmer who could not pay for his lung cancer treatment blew up himself, killed another passenger on a bus and wounded some thirty others with a homemade bomb.

And a security guard who had once been hailed a hero in his town jumped to his death while still in the hospital because he knew he would not be able to afford the bills.

The Unsinkable Ms. Yue, the subject of the cancer journals in this blog, is staring down the barrel of the same dilemma: her treatment has already cost the equivalent of 10 year’s of salary in China. Her upcoming chemo’ bills, with the only drug known to be effective in her kind of cancer, will cost another 40 years salary equivalent. If the money is not found, she will not receive treatment. It is simple: pay or die.

Given that peasants were drinking benzene-polluted water for 10 days, there will probably be a few more cases of Chinese who will not be able to afford payment.

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by @ 10:12 pm. Filed under China, Asia, East Asia, Northeast Asia

peace-promoting nunchucks stolen

The Bruce Lee statue unveiled in the Bosnian city of Mostar as a way to promote peace between Muslims and Croats has been vandalized.:

NunchucksHe used to conquer rooms full of bad guys without breaking sweat - but now the mighty Bruce Lee has been mugged by petty vandals.

A life-size brass statue honouring the martial arts legend in Bosnia had its nunchucks swiped just hours after it was unveiled.

The chain and sticks were reportedly taken from the kung fu equipment and empty wine bottles were left scattered around the park where the statue sits.

Nightkeeper Veljo Dojcinovic said he saw a group of teenage hooligans entering the park in the middle of the night.

“I heard a loud bang but I was alone and I couldn’t stop them. Police should have been more agile. They know that hooligans visit this park regularly,” he said.

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by @ 9:59 pm. Filed under China, Hong Kong, Asia, East Asia, Northeast Asia

kampong days

Via Tomorrow.sg, a Singaporean has started a blog aiming to recapture some of Singapore’s now vanished third-world charms.:

Recently I was in Myanmar for a business trip. On my way back to the airport, I shared the hotel car with a Japanese visitor. During our conversation, I remarked that Yangon was very much like Singapore during the time when I was a kid. Many of the old British style buildings resemble those in Singapore.

He was surprised and said that Singapore must have changed a lot during the past few decades. Yes, and too fast, I replied.

It occurred to me that life in Singapore, the physical landscape especially, has changed a lot during our lifetime. There are very few spots that have not changed during the past 30 years.

I have therefore started this blog to share my memories of life back in the 60′ s and 70’s when we were kids. If you are my age group, I am sure you too have a lot to share. Whenever, my old and friends and relatives get together, we like to reminisce about the good old days.

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by @ 9:52 pm. Filed under South Korea, Singapore, Asia, East Asia

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, Weblogs, East Asia, Northeast Asia, 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

26 November, 2005

kim jong-il’s makeup tips

Kim Jong-il has issued guidelines for applying makeup.:

MakeupMakeup should be applied in consideration of the tasks for the day, the magazine said, being light enough to look natural when women go out in the day and only more colorful if they perform on stage or “dance in the open air” at night.


But it exhorted the daughters of North Korea to use makeup to “look beautiful, elegant and sound, bearing in mind that they wear it not to adorn themselves or flaunt their looks but to play their role and take responsibility as flowers of their society, community and family.”

Mrs AsiaPundit says "you should never actually look like you’re wearing makeup, unless you’re a teenager and can get away with it."  That’s the biggest endorsement of any of Kim Jong-il’s proclamations that has ever been made in the AP household.

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by @ 11:31 pm. Filed under Asia, East Asia, Northeast Asia, North Korea

taiwanization II

Michael Turton responds forcefully to a post by Madman of Chu (MoC) last week arguing that closer economic integration across the Taiwan Strait would lead to the Taiwanization of China.:

Buttons… One could profitably ask — what integration? May as well say that a mining company is integrated with its vein of ore. Taiwanese investment in China is a plant that exists in the hothouse of 9% growth. If that growth should slacken, the plant will die. Although I have been talking to local businessmen about Taiwan-China investments for many years, I have never heard one say: "I really have come to love China and even if the economy tanks and my costs rise, I’ll still keep my company there regardless." Taiwanese economic investment in China has not produced any emotional connection to China. In fact, until the economy took off at the turn of the century, polls showed consistently that Taiwanese who went to China came back more confirmed in their Taiwanese identity. Talk of political integration following trade is strictly a phenomenon of the last five years, and, I believe, strictly a wish-fantasy of those who flinch from facing the reality of potential conflict in the Taiwan Straits.

Another way to look at Taiwanese economic integration is to ask in what important way Taiwanese factories in China are different from the factories of other nations’ businesses in China. After all, American businessmen come to China, live in enclaves, shop in American supermarkets, eat in American-style restaurants, and take a local mistress. Ditto for Japanese businessmen. Again, do Taiwanese business behave differently? If economic integration drives political integration, surely China and Japan or China and America will draw closer politically. But the reality is that just the opposite has happened: Taiwan, Japan and the US have grown more wary of China even as their economic relationships with China have deepened.

AsiaPundit sees neither a political union between the Mainland and Taiwan nor a war as imminent. While I admit that both are possible, the former is far more unlikely. A war could be prompted by a single event such as a declaration of independence while unification would require a large series of events.

What I read in the MoC’s item on Taiwanization was not an argument for reunification but rather an expectation of political liberalization similar to what has happened in Taiwan, South Korea and elsewhere. That does come with wealth and exposure to outside liberal ideals - even Singapore and Hong Kong are relatively free, albeit not fully democratic.

Barring unforeseen events, the status quo is unlikely to change anytime soon.

Still, MoC’s flight of fancy is nice to entertain.:

"Strange as it seems to contemplate, coming decades could potentially see a KMT or DPP president at the helm in Beijing.:

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by @ 11:23 pm. Filed under China, Taiwan, Asia, East Asia, Northeast Asia

singapore’s technorati dominance

Kevin Lim of Theory is the Reason offers a few theories to explain Singapore’s exceptional large presence in Technorati’s top searches.:


James was mystified as to why Singapore, being a small country of 4 million people (much less for those who blog), could register such an effect on Technorati. I’d say that size matters, but not for obvious reasons. Being collective and small, the Singapore blogosphere has the distinct advantage of being well coordinated. A tactical assault of searches on Technorati, tipped off by localized memes through the blogosphere and by Tomorrow.sg (a moderated blog aggregator which make the SG blogosphere easier to visualize), might explain the surge onto the Technorati charts. Metaphorically speaking, if we were a country of spammers, I can only imagine how we’d be filthy rich by now (not that I support it!).

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by @ 10:20 pm. Filed under Blogs, Singapore, Asia, East Asia, Southeast Asia, Web/Tech, Weblogs

china’s first e-mail

Via China Top Blog, a copy of the first e-mail sent from China.:

China Frist Email

“Across the Great Wall we can reach every corner in the world”

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by @ 9:48 pm. Filed under China, Asia, East Asia, Northeast Asia, Web/Tech

the legality of nude chat

ESWN reports that nude chat rooms are not illegal in China - so long as it’s not for profit and the chatters avoid organizing politically,:

The 43-year-old male named Chai is a temporary worker at a certain Beijing unit and his job duty is to maintain computers.  Usually, Chai’s favorite hobby is to do Internet chat.  At the end of July this year, a certain male netizen named Dada whom Chai enjoys chatting with suddenly told him one day: "Let me take you a good place — audio-visual chat!"  So Chai followed the instructions and arrived at the chat room known as "Young women" at 263.com’s EConversation audio-visual chat section.

To Chai’s surprise, this was a ‘nude chat room.’  There were males and females inside.  Including Chai, there were five men and one woman, with a married couple.  Within the chat room, everybody chatted in the nude.  The couple even engaged in some sexual activity.  Those who enter this chat room must be "good Internet friends" who have received the secret code from "good acquaintances."  Very soon, Chai was immersed in it.

On August 9, the Beijing City Internet Monitoring Department went through 263.com and saw that there were five men and one women engaged in pornographic shows in the Young women chat room.  Upon investigation, they were able to find Chai.  Chai admitted that he did it, and the Public Security Bureau then asked the Dongcheng Procuratorate to approve the arrest of Chai for the crime of "disseminating pornographic materials."

According to Zhao Gehua, in September 2004, the Supreme People’s Court and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate issued a judicial explanation concerning pornographic activities on the Internet: "The judicial explanation was that the punishment for the distribution of pornographic materials shall depend the numbers for hits, pictures and words on the web site.  But there is no clear requirement for an audio-visual pornographic crime such as ‘nude chat.’  So this is going to make it difficult to specify the crime."

Prosecutor Han Xiaorong said: "Concerning pornographic performances, the punishment is usually for the crime of organizing.  But organizing pornographic performances usually mean presenting a performance to an audience at a certain locale.  This does not fit the situation of this case.  Besides, Chai was not the organizer."

According to China University of Politics and Law criminal law professor Pei Guangchuan, it is not correct to characterize this as a "crime of disseminating pornographic materials" because "the body does not equate materials."  "For now, the law is blank insofar as any clear requirements for ‘nude chat’ are concerned.  I would recommend the relevant departments to organize expert scholars to study it in terms of criminality or public opinion."

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by @ 9:46 pm. Filed under China, Asia, East Asia, Northeast Asia, Media, Web/Tech

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