Saturday, October 09, 2004

NKZone article - negative impact of North Korea Human Rights Act

I posted this in response to an article on NKZone:

This item implies that viewing the

the North Korean Human Rights Act, recently passed by the Senate, as a violation of Korean sovereignty and "an excuse to invade."
as the DLP [South Korean Democratic Labour Party] does, is somehow incompatible with being in favour of the downfall of the North Korean regime.

But on the contrary, many people who would like to see regime change in North Korea and the chance for non-violent reunification of Korea also want to see a less bellicose approach from the US administration to the problems of the region. Historically, US Human Rights Acts and similar pieces of legislation _have_ been used as excuses to invade other countries, or to infiltrate them using the CIA, so it's not crazy to suppose that one or both of these will be among the consequences this time.

As the article about the DLP [that the NKZone article quoted] says,

"In particular, the DLP took examples of the Iraq Liberation Act and Iran Democracy Act and expressed concern that even within the NKHRA, there was a hidden U.S. intention to invade North Korea. In fact, the U.S. enacted the Iraq Liberation Act in 1998 with the intention of making the Saddam Hussein regime collapse, and five years later, the U.S. carried out its invasion of Iraq."
Something similar seems to be happening now with last December's "Syria Accountability Act" passed almost unanimously in Congress, and partially implemented by Bush on 11th May this year. There's criticism of Bush's imposition of sanctions by the right-wing Cato Institute here and a better piece on the leftist site, Counterpunch, here.

It's only good sense to oppose totalitarian regimes AND to oppose US foreign policy which seems likely - at best - to entrench the power of the dictator, and not unlikely to lead to violent confrontation, given the US's record. There's no inconsistency there, just the humanitarian/leftist principle of putting first the interests of the people likely to be most affected - in this case Koreans and others in the region.

Here's a summary of the Act, which was presented to the US president for his signature yesterday. Section (302) is pretty bizarre. I don't recall anyone saying during the cold war that East German refugees shouldn't be treated as citizens of West Germany if they wanted.

Rep. Lee Yeong-sun (second from right) and other DLP members short slogans protesting the passing of the NKHRA by the U.S. Senate in front of the U.S. embassy on Sejong-no, Thursday morning.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

New cruise missiles for China

Jane's email news service sent me this joyous news today:

China tests new land-attack cruise missile

China has test-fired a new land attack cruise missile (LACM) designated Dong Hai-10 (DH-10), or East China Sea-10, writes Wendell Minnick. A US defence source identified the DH-10 as a ground-launched second-generation LACM with a range of more than 1,500km. He said it is likely to be equipped with an integrated inertial navigation system/Global Positioning System, supplemented by a terrain contour mapping system and digital scene-matching terminal-homing system able to provide a circular error probable (CEP) of 10m. [Jane's Missiles & Rockets - first posted to (You can't read the article on their website unless you subscribe to Jane's - and I'd be amazed - and amused - if anyone reading this blog did.)- 22 September 2004]

See how they've called it the East Sea missile - a nice touch, that, just in case Taiwan can't read between the lines. Also good for Japanese nationalists who would like to rearm. (The Japanese military, for all of its faults, doesn't have missile systems capable of hitting targets in other countries: but there has been some debate about it in the last week...)

Another point to consider is whether this will convince EU leaders who want to lift the arms embargo on China that perhaps there are enough weapons in East Asia already. ... I doubt it too.There was a demonstration on 1st October in Taipei (that is, purposely on China's national day) calling for the EU to keep its sanctions. China already has some 600 missiles aimed at Taiwan, or so Taiwanese sources report. Germany's chancellor Schroeder, the UK's PM Blair, and, particularly, France's president Chirac want to start selling weapons to the Chinese. The US administration is against the lifting of the sanctions.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Discrimination limits Chinese tourism in Japan

An interesting op-ed piece in the Japan Times picks up on a report on NHK TV's Tokuho Shutoken (i.e. 'Capital Newsflash', I think):

Discrimination keeps Chinese tourists at bay


Japan's neglect of its tourism potential could be called a sidelight of its overall self-image. On the international stage, Japan sees itself as culturally impenetrable and overpriced. Moreover, the xenophobia that many people accuse it of fostering has become accepted by the citizens as a national trait, even by those people who object to xenophobia on principle.


Since Japan prides itself on being one of the most powerful economies in the world, it tends to look upon tourism as a secondary industry, or at least not as important as IT, kaigo (nursing care), or other vanguard industries that have received government stimulation. In terms of tourist volume, Japan is 35th in the world (France is No. 1) and ninth in Asia. However, the government not only neglects international tourism, in some sectors it seems to be purposely discouraging it, despite the 3.2 billion yen it has spent on the "Visit Japan" campaign.

The sector that's been most neglected is China. Since 1994, the average annual growth rate in the number of Chinese people traveling abroad has been 14 percent, culminating in 20 million overseas Chinese travelers in 2002 alone. The World Tourism Organization predicts that 100 million Chinese will be going abroad in 2020. Given China's population and economic development, this shouldn't be surprising. What is surprising is that Japan, one of its closest neighbors both geographically and culturally, isn't taking advantage of this.

And the main reason is good old-fashioned institutionalized xenophobia. Most industrialized countries in the world require visas for Chinese tourists, but Japan limits those visas to residents of certain "economic zones." In 2000, the Justice Ministry specified these zones as Beijing, Shanghai and Canton Province. This year, they've added four provinces and one city.

Apparently, the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry, which deals with tourism, wanted to add even more zones, but the Justice Ministry and the National Police Agency opposed the plan, saying that there is still a danger of Chinese jumping their group tours and staying in Japan illegally. According to their figures, of the 95,000 tourists who have come to Japan from China since 2000, 362 didn't go back.

Last month, NHK's evening news magazine, "Tokuho Shutoken," looked at Chinese tourism. The show pointed out that Chinese can only obtain tourist visas as members of package tours and that they must produce five documents and a 500,000 yen security deposit when they apply.

However, the restrictions that really matter are those that may take place during the tour itself. The program looked at one tour group of Chinese bankers who were visiting Osaka. The Chinese guide, who lives in Japan, was constantly taking head counts and imploring her charges not to wander. The group was limited to only one store for shopping, and when the members checked into their hotel they had to trade their passports for room keys. There was also a 10 p.m. curfew.

It sounded more like a trip to North Korea, but one should keep in mind that these are the practices of that particular travel agency, not rules laid down by the Japanese government. By focusing on only one tour, NHK was being misleading -- anyone who walks through Ginza these days will certainly run into unsupervised Chinese tourists. The point is that travel agencies who deal with Chinese tourists bear responsibility for anyone who stays behind. According to the program, an agency can have its license suspended or even revoked if tour groups return to China lighter than they were when they left. The government's paranoia may be the source of an agency's Draconian measures, but it's obvious the tour company singled out by NHK doesn't trust Chinese, even when they have money and no logical reason to stay behind.

I removed this paragraph from the text (after the first paragraph above) because it seems only to damage the argument:
In terms of tourism, these qualities can be expressed statistically. According to financial writer Main Koda in the Asahi Shimbun, in 1964, the year that Japan first allowed its citizens to travel abroad, 128,000 Japanese went overseas while 353,000 foreigners visited here. By 1972, the year of the Osaka Expo, these numbers had been reversed, and the gap has increased ever since. In 2003, more than 13 million Japanese traveled abroad, while only about 5 million people visited Japan. This imbalance is translated as a 3.5 trillion yen trade deficit in the area of tourism.
Japan became much richer and much more expensive between 1964 and 1972 - that could account for all of the difference.

Monday, October 04, 2004

"3,000" at Naha rally against US bases

From the Japan Times:

3,000 rally in Okinawa seeking closure of Futenma base

NAHA, Okinawa Pref. (Kyodo) About 3,000 people staged a rally here Saturday to call for the closure of the nearby U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station following the crash of a helicopter at a university in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, in August.

"We're not looking for lip service, but concrete action -- that is, the return of (the land of) Futenma," said Tokushin Yamauchi, head of the rally organizers, in reference to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's remarks Friday over a plan to relocate U.S. military bases from Okinawa to other parts of Japan.

Koizumi said in a speech in Tokyo that the national government will start efforts to relocate U.S. military bases from heavily burdened Okinawa to other locations in Japan.

Regarding Futenma, Koizumi told reporters after his speech he will continue with the government's plan to relocate the air station's functions to a military-civilian airport to be built off Nago, also in Okinawa.

Participants at the gathering called for the suspension of a seabed drilling survey off Nago that began Sept. 9 in preparation for the offshore facility.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Google China helps Chinese government to censor the web

The excellent independent Chinese news site, The Epoch Times, reveals that

An Internet monitoring group has discovered that the Chinese-language version of The Epoch Times and other independent Chinese news media are not available inside China on the popular search engine Google.

The censorship was discovered by Bill Xia and volunteers at his company, Dynamic Internet Technology.

When asked about the implications of this issue, Xia told The Epoch Times, 'I'm worried that Google is bowing to the pressure from the Chinese government. That's a bad thing. For the users in China, this will reinforce China's media control in creating a fake reality. I call it the China Matrix.' According to Google spokesperson Debbie Frost, the search engine chooses not to display results for sites that are unavailable in China. 'Google has decided that in order to create the best possible search experience for our mainland China users we will not include sites whose content is not accessible, as their inclusion does not provide a good experience for our News users who are looking for information,' she said in a written statement. This explanation worries Xia, who says, 'Even though those websites are themselves blocked, the title and description presented when the search results are returned on Google are very important. It helps Chinese people see that there is something beyond what they are shown by media in China. By blocking that information, it creates an illusion that the whole world is in line with Chinese state-run media.'

An editorial on the Epoch Times goes into the implications:

Josh McHugh in the January 2003 edition of Wired discussed Google's maxim of 'Don't be evil.' This is a pretty good saying, but complicated to carry out, he pointed out, when dealing with, among other things, repressive regimes like China. Many in the U.S., both in government and in the corporate world have the idea that if we do business with a corrupt government, then we'll reform them. It hasn't worked out that way in China. It seems the opposite happens, and the government corrupts you. Yahoo a few years back complied with the PRC's censoring. Cisco equipment forms the backbone of China's Great Firewall. Google had a choice to make when it started its version of Google News for China. It could have displayed all possible news outlets and let the Chinese government make its own choices. Or it could have filtered out sites blocked by the Chinese government. It chose the latter. Google may have thought it was benefiting the user by not showing sites that can't be accessed. But is this true? When you search on Google News, you get a summary of the article. For example, if I search for 'Google news' a number of the results are about the Google 'censoring' issue. From just reading the summaries, you get a sense of what's going on. In China, you don't get that sense, because sites are omitted. Which sites? I asked Google for a list, but was not given them. So in China you get a false sense of reality. Bill Xia of DIT talks about the China Matrix. As in the movie, The Matrix, where people took as real the world presented to them. The official goal for Google News China is 'providing the user with the best search experience possible.' To me, ensuring a 'best search experience' sounds a bit too much like what the Matrix has to offer. What if I'm searching for the truth? Each individual has a choice. Do we want to know the truth or do we want to live in ignorance? Google's decision to censor hinders the ability to make that choice. If Google News would show search results from banned websites then people in China would have an idea that there is something beyond the China Matrix. And then they might try to find the truth

"Don't be evil." It sounds so good, and then someone offers you power and influence... in this case, access to the Chinese market. One more comment: I like the idea of people in the US government and US companies hoping to reform the Chinese government. I'm sure they do hope to do this, but I doubt that most of the reforms they have in mind are the ones Chinese citizens would like...

Anyway, now we have the interesting spectacle of the Chinese government corrupting a US company (or exposing the latent corruption that was there all along) to add to the long history of Western governments and corporations corrupting China. (Anyone remember the East India Company or Jardine and Matheson?) I'm thinking here of pure malevolence like two Opium Wars, the suppression of the Taiping Rebellion, the unequal treaties and forced concession of territory, of course, but also of the presumably unintended consequences of imperial muscle. (One example would be the British anti-piracy drive in the South China Sea in the 1840s which drove pirates inland, making life hell for people living on southern Chinese rivers.)

Anyway, for the moment, I guess our job is to email Google and get them to change policy. If you live in a Western democracy your chances of going to gaol for doing so are just about zero--unlike Chinese cyber-dissidents.

The Chinese government also blocks other informative websites--including this one, perhaps, since it's hosted by blogspot. (See this column from The South China Morning Post, Jan 2003.)

And in North Korea, even computer scientists don't have access to the internet--although Kim Jong Il does, apparently, and is a big fan.

There's more reaction to the Google story, with links, at chinaweb.

Alex Higgins on the Beijing Olympics

Alex Higgins has posted a fantastic article on the human-rights abuses associated with the Beijing Olympics on his Bring on the Revolution blog. As usual, I reproduce the whole thing here because you have to scroll a lot to find it on his blog.
Olympic Spirit The 2004 Athens games ended with some embarassment and controversy, but on the whole the Greek government had succeeded in pulling off the organisation of the games despite the criticisms and fears. In the run up to the Athens' games, there were many alarmed press reports as to whether the organisers would complete the necessary facilities on time, often with a tone of contempt for the Greeks thrown in. Oddly, there is, as yet, much less controversy over the preparations for the 2008 Olympics which are due to be held in Beijing. On its website, the International Olympics Committee gushes excitedly:

"a Beijing Games would leave a unique legacy to China and to sports. The Commission is confident that Beijing could organise an excellent Games".

A link below this reassurance offers us - "Find out more on the election of Beijing". The 'election of Beijing' - now there's an interesting turn of phrase. Human Rights Watch, which has launched a campaign - Olympics Watch - reports on the preparations underway to make China's capital ready:

China’s rapid urban development, fueled in Beijing by preparations for the 2008 Olympics, is leading to the eviction of homeowners and tenants in violation of Chinese law and international standards on the right to housing. In many cities, Chinese local authorities and developers are forcibly evicting hundreds of thousands of homeowners and tenants who have little legal recourse. Evicted residents left with few avenues of redress have increasingly taken to the streets to protest, where they have met police repression.

An earlier HRW report on forcible evictions in Beijing begins with this story:

"At 8:45 on the morning of September 15, 2003, forty-five-year-old farmer Zhu Zhengliang and his wife sat down in Tiananmen Square under the portrait of Mao Zedong. As his wife quietly watched, Zhu doused himself with gasoline and set himself alight. Police stationed in the square rushed to his aid, and Zhu was hospitalized in Beijing with minor burns on his arms and back. According to news reports, Zhu attempted self-immolation to protest his family’s forced eviction from their home in a rural region of Anhui province.'Zhu’s was the most prominent, but by no means the only, attempted suicide to protest forced evictions in China in 2003. In August, a Nanjing city man who returned from a lunch break one day to find his home demolished, set himself afire and burned to death at the office of the municipal demolition and eviction department. In September, resident Wang Baoguang burned himself to death while being forcibly evicted in Beijing. On October 1, China’s National Day, Beijing resident Ye Guoqiang attempted suicide by jumping from Beijing’s Jinshui bridge to protest his forced eviction forconstruction related to the 2008 Beijing Olympics.5 These suicides and attemptedsuicides were the most dramatic in a wave of almost daily protests that swept cities across China from September to December 2003."

In a courageous open letter to the Chinese government, a lawyer and tenants' rights advocate, Xu Yonghai, explained:

"Demolition and eviction has several decades of history in China. In the past, ordinary people longed for demolition and eviction [because they were moved to better homes], but now ordinary people fear demolition and eviction, they hate [it], and even use death and suicide to oppose [it]... This hatred, this opposition to demolition and eviction has really only appeared in the last few years."

The reasons for this change is that many Beijing residents can no longer expect to receive compensation when their homes are demolished and the demolition itself is often a callous and violent process with armed gangs carrying out evictions and bulldozers starting their work before people leave the area. Faster, higher, stronger! as the Olympic motto goes. Xu Yonghai has since been imprisoned for "circulating state secrets" (i.e. faxing the above to a human rights organisation). Oh Lord, these people annoy the hell out of me.Athletes are not the only people who will be working faster, higher, stronger. In the deformed worker's state, as some still like to call it, the workers are forbidden to strike or form independent labour unions:

"Many workers also lack minimal health and safety protections and adequate wages. Many are compelled to work long hours. Some contract workers may not even be paid by factories for the work they have done. 'Because they lack the right to organize independently, Chinese workers also lack effective ways to resolve these problems in the workplace. Many workers who have organized protests and demonstrations to improve conditions or demand compensation for injuries in the workplace, as well as those who have demanded unpaid wages and unpaid pensions and severance pay, have faced severe state repression. The ACFTU [government-approved trade union body] has never spoken out against the laws and regulations routinely used to justify imprisoning independent labor activists." (emphasis added)

HRW adds that international companies involved in the Olympics preparations are "generally required to abide by these conditions" - as if they needed to be forced into screwing their workforce! In reality, many multinational corporations love China precisely because its one-party dictatorship is so good for business.Such criminal conduct by the Chinese government helps to expose the fanciful notion that holding the Olympic games in China will help to usher in a new age of political pluralism for the self-serving guff that it is. In electing Beijing, the IOC has made one of its worst decisions since going ahead with the 1936 Olympics in the Berlin of Hitler's Germany.Dictatorships use international sporting events to give themselves legitimacy and to divert attention from social problems, of which China has many. Furthermore, they are aware of the potential for dissenters to use the international media presence to tell the world what goes on in the country's dark corners and respond by taking pre-emptive measures.In one notorious example, the World Cup in 1978 was held in Argentina, then run by a military junta made up of outright Nazis. In the run-up to the international football tournament, the regime stepped up the imprisonemnt and torture and killed hundreds of people, drugging them, tying them up and dropping them out of aeroplanes into the Rio Grande to ensure the World Cup went smoothly. Argentina's team went on to win the cup - now there's a story to warm the heart.Can we expect a similar crackdown in China faced with democrats, persecuted religious minorities, Tibetans, and hundreds of millions of poor people who have had enough? In China a security crackdown is something that might make even John Ashcroft or David Blunkett blink - as with what Amnesty International described as an "execution frenzy" a few years ago when the regime decided to punish criminal offences such as corruption and prostitution with the enthusiastic use of the death penalty.A woman is led to her execution following a crackdown on crime in 1999 Some human rights groups have got together to produce a set of minimal demands that the Chinese government should be obliged to meet before being permitted to host the Olympic Games. Failing that - and this is likely - we should boycott these games. Occasionally in the West our governments go through the motions of pretending to deplore the Chinese government's human rights record or the occupation of Tibet. More usually, they are fairly open about the fact that they don't care (and that they have written off Tibet). The rest of us need to decide whether we share that view. HRW: "There are many ways that people outside of China can support Chinese rights activists—by writing a letter to the government, using the Internet to help Chinese citizens get around censorship restrictions, or by linking up with other Chinese and international activists to help build the movement." It would be wonderful for China to have the Olympics at some point in the future, but not under the current regime. For more information, see the Olympic Watch website.