Sunday, October 23, 2005

Friday, October 14, 2005

As China Plans Moon Landing, Millions Still Struggle to Survive

BEIJING -- As China basked in the successful launch of its second manned space flight, a ''sacred and glorious'' mission beamed live to hundreds of millions of television viewers Wednesday, Li Jing wasn't watching.

"The space program is fine, but they should take care of us farmers first,'' said Li, 42, gazing into the sky above the Beijing vegetable market where she cycles every day with her husband and two children to sell leeks and other produce. "Life is really tough for us.''

China's Shenzhou-6 launch highlights the contradictions in a nation that is gaining economic, diplomatic and scientific clout while 200 million people of its people still live on less than $1 a day, according to World Bank 2004 estimates. It comes as the communist government also struggles to deal with a growing number of violent protests by its poorest citizens.

"China's space program represents its aspirations to become a superpower,'' said Laurence Brahm, a Beijing-based author and adviser to the Chinese government. "It's a symbol of nationalism, in a country that's facing a huge challenge to make the transition to a capitalist state.''

China in October 2003 became the third country after the U.S. and Russia to send a man into space, when astronaut Yang Liwei completed a 21-hour orbit. Shenzhou-6, which blasted off from the remote northwestern province of Gansu with two men aboard, is scheduled to spend five days aloft and will lay the ground for missions including a space laboratory and a moon landing.

'Step Forward'

China's government-controlled media yesterday gave saturation coverage to the launch. The English-language China Daily covered most of its front page with a photograph of astronauts Fei Junlong, 41, and Nie Haisheng, 40, walking to the launch pad, under the heading "A big step forward.''

Inside sections featured international reaction, biographies of the astronauts with pictures of their families, and primers on how they will eat, wash and work in space. The official Xinhua news agency even sent a report titled: "Deadly flatulence: how to excrete without risk in space?''

The space mission showcased China's technological prowess as finance ministers and from the U.S., Japan, Europe and elsewhere arrived for the Group of 20 nations meeting in Beijing this weekend. U.S. Treasury Secretary John Snow and other leaders are expected to press China to let its currency gain and boost domestic consumption to help reduce trade imbalances, a measure of China's increasing importance to the global economy.

Two decades of economic growth averaging 9.5 percent a year have made the Asian nation the world's biggest consumer of commodities such as steel, cement and grain and the second- largest user of oil. China, the world's seventh-largest economy, has become its biggest producer of computers, mobile phones, televisions and other manufactured goods.

Wealth Gap

Those achievements have come at the cost of environmental degradation, corruption and a widening gap between cities and the countryside, where about 800 million of the nation's 1.3 billion population live. Average urban disposable incomes were 3.2 times those in rural areas last year, a gap that's widened from 1.9 times in 1978, according to Xinhua.

The number of mass protests in China increased to more than 74,000 last year from 10,000 in 1994, Public Security Minister Zhou Yongkang said last month. Many disputes have been sparked by the seizure of peasants' land for urban development by corrupt local officials.

China is "confronted with increasingly acute potential social unrest caused by disparity in development and distribution, inequality, injustice, and corruption despite rapid economic progress,'' Xinhua said on Oct. 6, in an unusually frank assessment of the problems facing the country.

Eliminating social inequality will be a key priority for the Communist Party in the next five years, China's President Hu Jintao said at the annual meeting of Party leaders which ended on Tuesday, a day before the space launch.

Rural Clashes

"The government is under pressure to increase the quality of its growth,'' said Huang Yiping, China economist at Citigroup Inc. in Hong Kong. The government wants "growth that will be more environmentally friendly, and more fair in how wealth is distributed.''

Typical of this year's protests was a clash at Dingzhou village outside Beijing in July that left six farmers dead and 48 injured. The central government intervened, arresting more than 100 people, including local Communist Party Secretary He Fang and the Party Secretary of nearby Kaiyuan township Yang Jinkai.

"In China today, farmland can be seized any time by corrupt local Party officials for redevelopment,'' said Li Ping, Beijing chief representative for the Seattle-based Rural Development Institute, a non-government organization that advocates legal rights for the rural poor. "The key to resolving this crisis is to give land ownership rights back to farmers.''


Income disparities were further highlighted this week with the release of an annual list of China's richest people that showed the top 100 increased their wealth by more than 50 percent last year.

"Let's face it, a lot of rich people in China aren't there because of ability,'' said Howard Snyder, president of Beijing- based Great Leap Capital, a firm that advises foreign companies on buying distressed assets in China. "They got there because of connections. For instance, in real estate, many people got rich because they knew someone in the land bureau and got land cheap.''

Many of China's poor farmers may see their escape in moving to the nation's booming cities. The Li family rises at 5 a.m. every morning to cycle five miles into Beijing, not returning until 9 p.m. They make about 1,000 yuan ($123) a month.

"I want to go to Shenzhen or somewhere down south to work as a waitress or in a factory,'' said Li Na, 16, as she helped her mother sort lettuces. ``I don't want to do what my mom does. Life's too tough as a Chinese farmer.''


Highly reccomended Dylan titles, for any fan

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Bob Dylan- No Direction Home (A Martin Scorsese film) DVD

The Bob Dylan Scrapbook, 1956-1966

The Bob Dylan Chronicles, Vol. 1

Bob Dylan - Limited Edition Catalog Box Set
(includes the following full titles: Another Side of Bob Dylan, Blonde on Blonde, Love & Theft, Blood on the Tracks, Nashville Skyline, Bringing it All Back Home, Oh Mercy, Desire, Planet Waves, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, Slow Train Coming, Highway 61 Revisited, Street Legal, Infidels)

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

China Launches Second Manned Space Mission

China has launched its second manned space mission in what analysts see as a bid by the Communist government to boost its prestige.

Following a countdown, the Shenzhou 6 spacecraft lifted off from a desert in northwestern China's Gansu province on a mission that officials say may go for five days.

With President Hu Jintao watching from Beijing, astronauts Fei Junlong and Nie Haisheng started a journey that will have them orbiting 80 times around the world in their spacecraft, which is based largely on the design of the older Russian Soyuz models.

The launch reaffirms the Asian giant's place in space exploration. Only three nations have launched their own manned spacecraft. Chinese scientists conducted their first manned mission on October 23, 2003, when Colonel Yang Liwei circled the earth a few times - more than four decades after astronauts from the United States and the former Soviet Union had done so for the first time.

Observers see this as yet another effort by China's communist leaders to build their government's prestige. Independent space consultant James Oberg, a retired U.S. space engineer, says this and other launches will have a profound commercial and political value for the Chinese leadership.

"It enhances the value of every item of high technology that the Chinese intend to sell overseas," he explained. " It enhances the psychological value of every weapons system that China possesses or intends to sell overseas. And, it enhances every statement or promise and - I'm afraid to say - every threat that Chinese diplomats make overseas."

Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, speaking at the launch site Wednesday, said his country intends to use its space program for peaceful purposes - a bid to ease international concerns that have arisen over China's rapid military buildup.

"China's space flight scientific experiments stem completely from the objective of peace, and are also a contribution to mankind's scientific study and the cause of peace," he said.

Analysts say the Chinese leadership hopes the space program will enhance the government's image at home, where the Communist party is struggling to remain relevant at a time when China is becoming more of a free market economy and less of a socialist society.

The launch of the Shenzhou 6 and its two astronauts came the morning after Communist Party leaders wrapped up a meeting in which they laid out a five-year plan for the development of China's economy.


Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The 11 commandments of the Internet in China

"You shall not spread rumours", "You shall not damage state security”, “You shall not destroy the country’s reputation”. There are just three of the 11 commandments ordered by Beijing, on 25 September, aimed at bloggers and websites managers.

Reporters Without Borders expressed concern at this latest turn of the screw in an ongoing crackdown on freedom of expression.

"The Chinese authorities never seem to let up on their desire to regulate the Web and their determination to control information available on it ever more tightly,” the worldwide press freedom organisation said.

“These new rules, announced with a fanfare by the official media, are certainly more intended to frighten Internet-users than to codify the use of the Net,” it said. “In fact there is nothing really new in these 11 commandments, which simply repeat that the party has the monopoly of the dissemination of information and that the media’s task is not to be objective but to relay state propaganda.

“These moves to filter the Internet are nevertheless a sign that the Internet frightens those in power, in particular during a period of ever greater social unrest. It’s noticeable that the only new elements in the text relate to banning the calling of strikes or gatherings though the Net,” it said.

The new rules, ordered by the state council information bureau and ministry of industry and information, are aimed at bringing into line all previous such edicts. According to the Chinese daily Beijing news (, it contains 11 subjects forbidden to online editors.

They are banned from putting out news that :
- violates the basic principles of the Chinese constitution :
- endangers national security, leaks national secrets, seeks to overthrow the government, endangers the unification of the country ;
- destroys the country’s reputation and benefits ;
- arouses national feelings of hatred, racism, and endangers racial unification ;
- violates national policies on religion, promotes the propaganda of sects and superstition ; [Reporters Without Borders note : More than 30 members of the spiritual Falungong movement are currently behind bars for posting news on the Internet]
- diffuses rumours, endangers public order and creates social uncertainty ;
- diffuses information that is pornographic, violent, terrorist or linked to gambling ;
- libels or harms people’s reputation, violates people’s legal rights ;
- includes illegal information bounded by law and administrative rules.

Two completely new bans have been added to the nine rules above :
- It is forbidden to encourage illegal gatherings, strikes, etc to create public disorder ;
- It is forbidden to organise activities under illegal social associations or organisations.

Websites that break these new rules will be shut down and those running them will have to pay a fine that could reach 30,000 yuans (3,000 euros).

Reporters Without Borders points out that 62 people are currently imprisoned in China for having posted articles on the Internet that the authorities deemed to be “subversive”.

Two foreign reporters beaten for trying to probe village corruption cover-up

Reporters Without Borders today deplored a physical attack on two foreign journalists by militiamen and thugs in a village in southern China and the news blackout which local leaders have imposed on corruption and mafia-style activities there.

The attack on Malaysian journalist Leu Siew Ying of the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post and French journalist Abel Segretin of Radio France Internationale (RFI) took place on 7 October in the village of Tai shi in Pan yu district, in the southern province of Guang dong.

They went to Tai shi to investigate reports of corruption involving village leaders but were attacked outside the village by some 20 individuals who appeared to be thugs hired by the local authorities. Repeatedly punched and beaten on the back of their heads, they refused to comply with demands to surrender their identity papers until the police came.

“These mercenaries were furious when they discovered we were journalists,” Segretin told Reporters Without Borders. “Even the police feared these apparent gangsters and quickly drove us away, locking the doors of the car.” They were taken to a police station and were released soon afterwards. Both were very shaken by the experience.

The day before the incident, the Guang dong authorities had officially arrested Yang Maodong, a lawyer better known as Guo Fleixiong, who had been in custody for three weeks for “disturbing the peace” at a 13 September demonstration in Tai shi at which he called for the resignation of village leader Chen Jinshen for alleged embezzlement.

Among other things, Guo accused Chen of selling village land to construction companies without the permission of residents. Hundreds of armed police raided Tai shi the day after the demonstration and arrested dozens of villagers.

Reporters Without Borders called for the immediate release of Guo, who had posted many messages on websites such as the Chinese human rights site Peacehall and the online forum Yannan defending the rights of villagers who have been stripped of their land.

Among the Tai shi affair’s many repercussions on press freedom has been the closure of the Yannan online forum on 30 September.

Tai shi is now under a virtual state of siege, with residents being closely watched and banned from talking to journalists. Chinese journalists who tried to investigate found that their newspapers were told to reprint an article from a local newspaper that supposedly provides all “necessary information” and dismisses the allegations against Chen.