Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Slave labour exposed in China

So I recently wrote about a television report from China which related to allegations of children working in manufacturing plants in Beijing. I mentioned there that as long as people were being paid for their work, I didn't feel it was our place to complain. I am convinced most would prefer to receive some money working manufacturing jobs than struggling to make ends meet on a farm. But the ugly sister of cheap labour has come to the party only days later. Slave labour has hit the press and the world and China together have watched in dismay and horror as an endemic is exposed in China’s mines and kilns. More than 500 battered people, including children, have been released from the shackles of their surreptitious existence.

These shameful acts were uncovered after a group of families decided that approaching the police about kidnapped children had proven futile. Chinaworker claims that the, “Parents of missing children (had) reported that police refused to intervene even when given the whereabouts of child slaves.”

In desperation, they posted a letter for help on the internet. It was this letter that has been the catalyst to the detainment of 168 people in relation to slave labour and human-trafficking. The media took up the fight where the parents could fight no more.

Arguably, had the media not uncovered the letter then the police may have continued to ignore pleas for action from those families concerned. This lackadaisical attitude from authorities may be tied to the fact that Communist Party officials have been implicated in many of the offences, with suggestions that police may have also have also colluded. Local media has been particularly stinging in demands for answers from authorities and is also seeking resignations.

CNN plucked a quote from the website of the People’s Daily: “"The dereliction of local government departments and even collusion between officials and criminals is plain to see." Such appearances leave Beijing with a nasty mess to mop up quickly.

Shanghai Daily reports that Shanxi province has “mobilized 14, 000 police officers to raid more than 2, 500” sites. Local governments have been given a 10 day deadline to investigate all these sites and interview each worker in order to mitigate future scandals. If local officials fail to meet the deadline, charges of dereliction of duty may be imposed. Clearly, authorities are keen to be seen as cracking down hard so that international scrutiny is muted quickly.

But perhaps the damage is already done: CNN argues that, “The unfolding scandal has stained the ruling Communist Party's promises to build a ‘harmonious’ society with better rights and income for hundreds of millions of poor farmers.” Such damage to the party domestically won't be tolerated, and the China Digital Times provides a "translation of a notice released by the CPC Central Office of External Communication, one of the party’s main propaganda arms:

All External Communication Offices, Central and Local Main News Websites:

Regarding the Shanxi “illegal brick kilns” event, all websites should reinforce positive propaganda, put more emphasis on the forceful measures that the central and local governments have already taken, and close the comment function in the related news reports. The management of the interactive communication tools, such as online forums, blogs, and instant messages, should also be strengthened. Harmful information that uses this event to attack the party and the government should be deleted as soon as possible. All local external communication offices should enhance their instruction, supervision and inspection, and concretely implement the related management measures.

The Internet Bureau, CPC Central Office of External Communication
June 15, 2007

Clearly this is damaging to China’s reputation, but notices like this make me wonder: Will the fact that this has been exposed on such a grand scale force Beijing to act to stamp this out wholesale, or will this damage party interests too significantly?

The local media in China has taken the fight to the authorities on this one. Will the combination of increased international scrutiny and the growing number of international media in China prompt more active journalism in China?

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Hamas, Fatah, Unity government no more

Hamasek Gaza osoa hartu du
Originally uploaded by 2007. urtea

If the plight of the Palestinians wasn't already painfully complex, the events that have unfolded in the last couple of days have certainly made it so. The unity government formed between Fatah and Hamas has violently vanished, and any hopes of a unified Palestinian state comprised of the West Bank and Gaza have been dealt an aching body blow.

Hamas has come up trumps and essentially taken control of Gaza, securing key Fatah institutions and infrastructure, declaring that, "All of the headquarters of the security services in the Gaza Strip are under control of the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades."

Economic sanctions directed at Hamas by Israel and the Quartet on the Middle East have failed to achieve their objectives. "The financial sanctions they imposed ... were designed to either force Hamas to recognise Israel or to push it out of power," reported the BBC. Today, however, Hamas has effectively pulled off a "military coup", according to Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas. Hamas has also managed to reinforce that it is an organisation that wilfully brings about its aims through violence, even if that violence means the deaths of their fellow Palestinians.

The Arab League has condemned Hamas’ moves as criminal. ""We are seeking a national unity in Palestine and we stand against the events that we have witnessed in the last days," declared Amr Moussa, the body's spokesperson.

These actions by Hamas have already led to retaliatory attacks by Fatah, but it is the actions of the external actors that may prove the most decisive. Israel has signalled that it may release funds it has withheld from the Palestinian Authority to Fatah in hopes this may help undo what has been done. The US will undoubtedly have to provide extra resources if it wants to avoid Gaza descending into what some media organisations have suggested is “hell”. Egypt, bordering Gaza, surely won’t tolerate a radical, lawless Hamas running amok next door. The Palestinian plot thickens, and this may turn out to be a key chapter in this ongoing struggle.

How will these events impact on the domestic fates of Fatah and Hamas? Do economic sanctions only serve to embolden and radicalise those at the mercy of such punishments? Does this put the Palestinian cause on a road that has just forked into two one-way streets?

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Vote on the 7 Wonders of the World

The Age recently ran a story about a campaign to establish a new 7 Wonders of the World. The organisers have put up 21 sites for nomination. The list includes, but is not limited to; the Acropolis in Athens; Angkor in Cambodia; Christ Redeemer in Brazil; the Colosseum in Rome; the pyramids of Giza, although one can no longer vote for it; the Statue of Liberty in New York and of course, the Great Wall of China.

The article brought to light the fact the voting for the Great Wall had been pretty dismal, and blamed this on a lack of votes for this squarely on a lack of English in potential Chinese voters. China's "Academy of the Great Wall of China" has managed to have the website translated from English to Chinese language, and has also been able to secure a system through which votes may be registered via telephone.

It would be a tragedy if the Great Wall was not on this list - you can see this structure from space! The pyramids at Giza, no longer a votable option, were given honorary status, and rightfully so - the site is the only remaining wonder of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World.

Anybody got any gems that aren't on the new 7 Wonders website's list? Should the pyramids have been given honourary status? Any strong opinions on this list?

Politicians split on meeting, but Dalai Lama not "Splittist"

Lhamo Dhondrub, the 13th reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, and 1989 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, is surely delighted to finally get the thumbs up from both Little Johnny and two-bob-each-way Kev in Australia. Not only will the Dalai Lama meet the south Pacific’s sheriff and sheriff-in-waiting, but he also secured a seat with George Negus on Australia's Dateline.

The interview made for some interesting viewing, with the Dalai Lama asserting he is not a "splittist", despite reports across media worldwide that Chinese officials claim he is. In fact, he understood that Johnny and Kev might not want to see him because of a booming resources trade and a potential FTA with China. "Of course. Their relations with China, good relations with China is certainly important," he said.

Well, it didn't take Mr Negus long to move onto issues more pressing than whether Johnny or Kev wanted to sip green tea with him. He quizzed the Dalai Lama with, "The Chinese Communist Party regard you as one of the most reviled people. They have accused you of waging a clandestine campaign for Tibetan independence, that you have been fomenting revolution. In fact, on that basis they actually warned Mr Howard and Mr Rudd not to see you because you were not the kind of person they should see. How do you react to that sort of description of you from the Chinese?"

In reply the Dalai Lama said, "I think many people knows what I am thinking. The whole world knows I am not seeking independence, therefore is many Tibetan disappointed, and also some of our supporters ... And also the Chinese officials whom, you see, our delegations have met, they have also, you see, acknowledged the Dalai Lama is not - for the future is concerned - the Dalai Lama's side is not seeking independence. Now, they have acknowledged. But the other side, the officials, also you see they're using that same sort of accusation continuously. I think there must be some reasons."

So His Holiness is not seeking independence, and makes quite a rational argument as to why not. He goes on in the interview to say, "Firstly, Tibet case - materially, backward country. Spiritually, yes, now many people knows Tibetans in spiritual field are very, very advanced but in material field is very, very backward. Meantime, every Tibetan is want modernised Tibet. No single Tibetan dreaming return of previous sort of backwardness, therefore as far as economy development is concerned, Tibet remain within the People's Republic of China, we will get greater benefit." So the Dalai Lama basically wants to jump on the China bandwagon and use this prosperity for the benefit of the people living in Tibet. Seems like a reasonable and rationale path to head up.

Negus questions some more, and the Dalai Lama suggests he thinks this is the best way forward, especially if the Chinese can respect Tibetan culture. Surely, this is not a huge ask and probably a net gain for the Chinese in regards to future revenue from tourism. And one assumes that China identifies this factor, hence the train line recently built into Lhasa.

When Negus asked for the Dalai Lama's opinion of the Chinese leadership, he encouragingly replied with, "I always, you see, sort of summarise the Chairman Mao's era, Deng Xiaoping's era, and Jiang Zemin's era and Hu Jintao era - if you look at the government in these different eras, it shows the people or leadership are more practical, so they acting according to the new reality, so therefore there is some business to trust them."

So the Dalai Lama has some level of trust for the Chinese, and he claims not to be a "splittist" but simply wants autonomy which allows for Tibetan culture to live on. So, with this in mind he sums up his position: "The present sort of situation is actually no benefit either to China or Tibet, particularly the President, Hu Jintao, very much emphasis importance of harmony. Absolutely, I agree. The policy based on harmony is very essential but, you see, the harmony must come from within, from heart not just lip-service or from under gun, therefore my approach, middle approach is the best way to achieve genuine harmony on the basis of trust."

Finding a harmonious way forward is essential. as Tibetan culture is under threat, and if the threat isn't mitigated, it could be a sorry future for this beautiful oasis is the mountains. The Dalai Lama explains, "There is real danger. Now, for example, the population of Lhasa - our capital - there's about 300,000 - 100,000 Tibetan, about 200,000 are Chinese. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, some kind of cultural genocide is taking place because now they have people in the younger generation in Lhasa, the overwhelming Chinese population. The Tibetan language now, not much useful. And their sort of daily life becoming more like Chinese."

Cultural genocide! Strong words, surely to upset some, but you can't argue that Tibetan culture isn't at threat of being diluted to the point of extinction by the growing Chinese influence in Tibet. Nobody can argue that Tibetan culture isn't worth saving, so let's hope with China's economy continuing to mature, that leadership on both sides of the Tibetan-Chinese table also start to show some maturity and find a mutually beneficial and harmonious way of sorting out the future of Tibet.

Why is it reported so often that the Chinese continue to consider the Dalai Lama a "splittist" when he consistently voices the contrary? Is Tibetan culture doomed? Will Australia be adversly affected by having its head of government and opposition leader sit with His Holiness?