Thursday, June 30, 2005

Disney Shark Fin Debate Highlights Hong Kong's Role in Despised Trade

Hong Kong Disneyland is set to open September 12. But the theme park has already suffered bad publicity and it ultimately had to reverse course on its plan to serve shark's fin soup. The Disney controversy has ignited debate over the practice of eating shark fin, and the city's role in the trade.

After waging a spirited campaign against the Walt Disney Company, environmentalists welcomed Hong Kong Disneyland's announcement that it will not serve the Chinese delicacy, shark's fin soup.

Disney came under fire when it said it would serve the dish at two of the attraction's hotels. Greenpeace, the Worldwide Fund for Nature and WildAid say the company was neglecting its publicized commitment to protecting endangered species.

Disney said that although it takes environmental stewardship seriously, it wanted to balance those concerns with cultural sensitivity to Chinese customs.

But Hong Kong environmentalist Brian Darvell says that argument does not justify overfishing shark populations for what he calls a vanity dish.

"You have to bear in mind that times change and that if a particular habit or custom is unsustainable then all the bleating in the world is not going to change anything," he stressed.

Central to this conflict between culture, commerce and conservation is the decline of shark populations around the globe. Many scientists say the number of sharks worldwide has dropped by half over the past 15 years, and some species may have declined by more than 70 percent.

The World Conservation Union says more than 250 shark species may be threatened by the fin trade. Among them are hammerheads, the plankton-eating basking shark and the spiny dogfish.

Conservationists oppose what they call the cruelty and wastefulness of gathering shark fins. Darvell says the fins are most often obtained through a process called finning.

"The practice generally then is to remove the fins and dump the live animal overboard to bleed to death, to drown as some put it," he explained. "But of course in deep water it's just going to end up on the bottom. It won't be able to do anything and it dies. This is barbaric."

People in the shark fin industry say that is not true, that most of their product comes from standard fishing methods.

But Disney says it abandoned plans to serve shark fin because it cannot find a trader that humanely fishes sharks that are not endangered.

Conservationists say Disney's decision is important because its newest park is located at the center of the shark fin trade.

By some estimates up to 85 percent of the world's shark fin business flows through Hong Kong, where dried food shops proudly display shark fins.

Victor Wu, an activist associated with the conservation group WildAid in Singapore, says the stakes are rising, because increasing wealth in China is boosting demand for shark fin.

"Hong Kong is the capital of the shark fin trade, easily, without a doubt," he says. "Everywhere in the world, every fishing port that you visit where there are Chinese traders or local traders, all the fishermen around the world - we have done extensive research in Central America, out in Indonesia, and some of the other African and Indian peninsula region - everyone is sending their fins to Hong Kong."

Hong Kong's Sai Ying Pun district is the heart of the city's shark fin trade. Its shops are packed with fins of all shapes, sizes and prices.

For the best grade, one bowl of shark's fin soup can command hundreds of dollars. Hong Kong Chefs Association president Perry Yuen says that the more uncommon the shark fin, the more expensive the dish.

"They have different variety of shark fin. Some of them, they are, they are very unique, and they are very less in the world and then, you know (then) it gets more expensive," he explains.

And it is the price of the delicacy that appears to matter most. While many enjoy it for its taste and reputed healthful properties, shark's fin soup is most popular as a sign of status. Because it is expensive and requires intensive preparation, many Chinese associate it with wealth and power.

Shark's fin soup is a traditional dish at Chinese banquets and weddings. Yuen explains that to not serve shark fin soup to your guests is to lose face.

"Chinese people, we won't eat shark fin everyday. But for banqueting, shark fin almost is a must, almost is a must. If the menu is without shark fin then the guests will think, 'Oh, the organizer is cheap,' " he explains.

Disney says this is why it originally had planned to make shark's fin soup available for special functions at two of its Hong Kong hotels.

Conservationists applaud Disney's reversal. They say Disney has long been a supporter of wildlife conservation and should stick to that position.

WildAid's Wu also says the company has an opportunity to send a strong message to Hong Kong and the world about the need for shark conservation.

"Disney could really turn this around and make it a very, very positive story and reinforce the conservation message they have been preaching for all these years, considering all the great work that Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund has done, just because of a very, very small faux pas that Hong Kong Disneyland seemed to have made," he says.

Some conservationists have already shifted the battle to the Hong Kong government. Activists have sent letters to the Environment Secretary and the Hong Kong Tourism Board, urging the government to take broader action and reduce consumer demand through education. The Worldwide Fund has begun to pressure the government to promote the consumption of shark fin that is obtained from unthreatened species.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

China Preparing to Attack Taiwan? US Experts Warn it Could Happen

American experts are warning that China is rapidly building up its military so that it will have the capability to attack Taiwan, a separately governed island that Beijing considers part of Chinese territory. Tensions across the Taiwan Strait are hotter than usual, as Beijing increasingly sees Taipei's democratically elected government as moving the island toward independence.

China says it does not want to attack Taiwan to keep the island from declaring independence. But Beijing has refused to renounce the use of force. And, earlier this year, China's parliament passed legislation giving the country's military a legal basis for attacking Taiwan if the island moved toward declaring independence.

Richard Fisher, who is associated with the International Assessment and Strategy Center, a Washington-based group that focuses on security issues, blames China's authoritatian rulers for the current tensions. "This is a crisis that is being created by, in turn, the crisis of legitimacy by the government in Beijing," he says. "It is reaching a point where the democracy on Taiwan stands out increasingly as a challenge to its legitimacy."

Fisher says he sees China moving in an increasingly bellicose and dangerous direction. "It (China) can reform and become more free, more open, more humane, if you will, like the government on Taiwan," he says. "Or, it can eliminate the government on Taiwan. And what we're seeing is that the government in Beijing is choosing to eliminate the democracy that it could learn so much from."

The possibility of a military conflict in the Taiwan Strait is real, according to University of Miami Professor June Teufel Dreyer. China, she says, is ready. "I think they (Beijing) do have the capability, and I think they will do it if they think they can get away with it," she says.

She describes Beijing's current preferred approach as trying to isolate Taiwan to the extent that the island feels that resistance to reunification is futile. "In other words, that famous story about how to cook a frog. And that is, if you dump a frog into boiling water, it will hop out. Whereas if you put the frog in tepid water and slowly raise the temperature, it will poach, slowly."

Dreyer says Chinese efforts to "poach" Taiwan include a vigorous campaign against diplomatic recognition by countries or international organizations.

A crucial element in China's overall consideration is the 2008 Olympics, which Beijing is set to host. Dreyer says if China thinks Taiwan is acting provocatively, it could, in her words, "act sharply," sooner rather than later. "I think they (Beijing) would like to get it over before the Olympics, because I think they don't want the Olympics disrupted," she says. "But they consider it the business of taking Taiwan to be more important than the Olympics. Nonetheless, if they could get it over with in, let's say, 2006 or early 2007, the heat would be off. The Olympics would take place anyway."

But security expert Fisher says he believes it would not be so easy for China to win back the rest of the world if it did attack Taiwan. "I think the government in Beijing is deluding itself if it believes it can overcome the global reaction, a reaction that will likely include very destabilizing economic embargoes, which will last a long time and have a fantastic effect on stability and political relations that China has around the world."

The key to the issue is whether Beijing thinks Washington will get involved. The US has promised to help Taiwan defend itself if the island is attacked by China.

In Singapore recently (June 4), Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld questioned China's motives, pointing to the country's large estimated defense budget, as well as its rapidly expanding missile and military technology capabilities.

Rumsfeld: "Since no nation threatens China, one must wonder, why this growing investment? Why these continuing large and expensive arms purchases? Why these continuing robust developments?"

The Pentagon is expected to release its annual report on China any day now, after several months of delay. At issue, is the report's language. Some US officials want tough wording regarding China; others want to be more diplomatic.

China Praises Japanese Emperor's Surprise Visit to Saipan Memorial

China says the Japanese emperor's surprise visit to a memorial honoring Koreans who died on the island of Saipan during World War II is a positive sign.

Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko traveled to the US territory Monday to pay tribute to the tens of thousands of people killed in fighting between US and Japanese forces on the island in June of 1944.

Japan occupied much of Asia, including China and the Korean peninsula, in the years before and during the war and sent some 1,000 Korean forced laborers to Saipan.

The official Xinhua news agency quotes a spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry says the royal couple's visit to the Korean war memorial shows that Japan correctly understands its history of wartime aggression.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

US, Israel Reportedly Reaching Agreement on China Arms Sales

US and Israeli officials are holding talks in Washington aimed at resolving Bush administration concerns about Israeli arms exports, especially to China. An agreement is said to be near.

The two sides are having expert-level talks at the Pentagon amid reports that Israel will cancel a pending upgrade of drone aircraft it sold to China, which US officials fear might upset the military balance in the Pacific region.

Israel sold China a fleet of 100 armed, Harpy drone aircraft in the 1990s with American approval.

But US officials have objected to a planned sale of new high-tech parts for the drones, on grounds it would give them a capability to attack ground anti-aircraft radars.

Taiwan is understood to have expressed its concern about the sale to US officials.

The Washington Post reported Monday that Israel has agreed in principle to cancel the deal, and to allow US officials to review future weapons transactions to avoid a repeat of the dispute over the drones.

At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack confirmed that talks were under way but said there were still some issues to be resolved.

"Discussions on this matter are on-going," said McCormack. "The Department of Defense is the lead US government agency on this matter, and of course the State Department is involved in those discussions. You've heard from the Secretary [of State] that we've registered our concerns on this matter, specifically with respect to our concerns of the buildup of Chinese military power in the Pacific and our role in defending the Pacific. So at this point this is still an on-going matter of discussion with the Israeli government."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said at a news conference earlier this month that the US and Israel have had some very difficult discussions about Israeli defense exports, and that she believed Israel understood the seriousness of the matter.

Israel's Ambassador to Washington, Daniel Ayalon, told reporters on Monday that the two sides have made great progress toward an agreement, and that its terms would be mindful of US concerns.

Israel, which receives nearly $2 billion in Americn military aid each year, has a flourishing arms export business. There have been US concerns over the years that some systems it sells to third parties have included US technology.

Five years ago Israel, under American pressure, cancelled a sale to China of its Phalcon airborne early-warning radar system, a deal valued in excess of $1 billion.

The Phalcon system is similar to that carried aboard American AWACS radar planes.

China earlier this week complained about outside interference in its dealings with Israel. Without mentioning the US, the Chinese foreign ministry said development of its relations with Israel will not harm the interests of any third party.

WHO Says China Bird Flu Outbreak Much Worse than Beijing Reported

The United Nations health agency says an influenza outbreak among migratory birds in Northwestern China is far worse than the government had reported.

World Health Organization experts who recently visited China's northwestern province of Qinghai told reporters that five times as many birds have died of the avian flu there as originally reported.

The agency estimates that 5,000 wild birds died sometime during the spring on an island in Qinghai. In late May, the Chinese government put the number of dead at only 1,000.

Dr. Julie Hall, the WHO's coordinator for communicable diseases in China, said this is the first time that migratory birds have been found to die from the avian flu in such numbers.

She urged Chinese authorities to conduct immediate tests for the H5N1 virus, before the birds migrate to neighboring countries.

"So we feel that there's a window of opportunity here to study these birds, to understand which birds can carry the virus and which birds cannot," Hall said. "But this window of opportunity is very narrow, two to three months."

Experts are worried that birds that carry the virus may spread it to other animals as they move from place to place.

Tens of millions of domestic fowl have already died or been killed in Southeast Asia to prevent the spread of the virus. Avian influenza can be transmitted to humans through close contact with infected birds. In the past two years, 54 people have died in Vietnam, Thailand, and Cambodia from the disease.

Health experts are worried that the virus may mutate to a form easily transmitted between humans, possibly sparking a global flu pandemic that could kill millions.

China has been criticized in the past for failing to report outbreaks of contagious diseases. In 2003, authorities played down the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome before it spread around the world, killing 800 people.

Last week, Beijing denied that the government had encouraged farmers to vaccinate chickens against bird flu with an anti-viral drug meant for humans. Experts say such a practice would diminish the drugs' ability to fight infection.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Investors Greet BoCom Listing

Investors have responded positively to China's Bank of Communications debut on the Hong Kong stock exchange, while Britain's Standard Chartered Bank has acquired a stake in one of Vietnam's fastest growing lenders.

China's Bank of Communications opened strongly on the Hong Kong stock market Thursday, with shares jumping more than 12 percent. The company raised $1.9 billion in one of the biggest share offerings so far this year.

The Shanghai-based bank, known as BoCom, is the first of China's state-controlled banks to list its shares on a stock market outside the mainland.

Agnes Deng, a fund manager at Standard Life Investments in Hong Kong, says the bank's placement in a stock market that thrives on foreign trading is a key reason for strong investor interest. "It is actually the first Chinese bank listed overseas," she said. "That's why a lot of retail investors who didn't have exposure in terms of investing in China's financial sector … now they have a chance."

Global banking giant HSBC has already bought a 20 percent stake in BoCom, boosting investor confidence. But many analysts are still wary of the bank's long-term prospects, in part because of its large amount of unpaid loans.

Many investors also are waiting for the share offerings of China's bigger banks, such as China Construction Bank, due to list later this year.

Investors also welcomed China's move to include state-run, industrial giants Baosteel and Yangtze Power in its ongoing sale of $200 billion worth of state-held shares.

Analysts say the inclusion of the two blue-chip companies addresses complaints the government had withheld its stronger companies in its sell-off plan.

The United Kingdom's Standard Chartered Bank has spent $22 million to acquire an 8.5 percent stake in Vietnam's fast-growing Asia Commercial Bank.

The move reflects increased outside interest in Vietnam's economy, which has grown around seven percent a year for the last five years. But South Korea's economy continues to sputter. The Bank of Korea says consumer confidence dropped dramatically in the second quarter of 2005.

The increased pessimism is a further indication that an economic turnaround for South Korea is still beyond reach.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Israel Cancels China Arms Deal

An Israeli news report says Israel has decided to cancel an arms deal with China, after strong pressure from the United States to call off the deal.

The US-Israeli dispute centers on Israel's sale to Beijing of (HARPY) attack drones that Washington fears could threaten the security of American interests in East Asia.

Earlier this month, the Haaretz newspaper said the Bush administration imposed military sanctions on Israel six months ago that had caused "grave damage" to Israel's defense industries.

The US has not confirmed the sanctions; but last week, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Washington has had some "difficult discussions" with Israel about the arms deal.

The Haaretz report also says Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has instructed envoys headed for Washington this week to agree to American demands to call off the deal.

PM Rejects Revaluation Pressure

China's Prime Minister Wen Jiabao says his country rejects outside pressure to revalue its currency, the yuan, repeating assertions that revaluation must be done gradually and when conditions are right.

Wen stuck to Beijing's stance that it may eventually move to reform its currency, but only when the government determines that doing so will not hurt the country's fragile banking sector and the economies of its Asian trading partners.

He spoke Sunday at a meeting of European and Asian finance ministers in the port city of Tianjin.

Wen said currency reform would have far-reaching impact and requires a great deal of preparation for all sides to be able to handle the effects of a revaluation.

His remarks came a day after Japanese Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki said that moving toward rapid currency reform would be in China's interest.

China has been under heavy pressure from the United States, where some blame the peg of 8.2 yuan to $1 for the ballooning trade deficit with China.

US politicians, manufacturers, and labor groups allege the peg, which has been in place for a decade, makes Chinese products artificially cheap and results in US job loss.

This month, Alan Greenspan, the head of the US central bank, told central bankers meeting in Beijing that he expected China would move to a more flexible currency exchange regime "reasonably soon," saying it would be to China's advantage to do so.

But Greenspan said he did not expect a revaluation of the yuan to have any significant effect on the trade deficit between China and the US.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

WHO Investigating Reports of Bird Flu Drug Misuse by Chinese Farmers

The World Health Organization is investigating a report that Chinese farmers are giving a drug meant for humans to their chickens, in an effort to prevent the spread of bird flu. The Chinese government says it's also investigating

If large numbers of chickens are given medicine meant for humans to protect them against a lethal strain of bird flu, then the virus can become stronger and more resistant. That means the drug may no longer offer protection to humans.

Dr. Hendrick Bekedam of the World Health Organization fears that's already happening. "We are more and more concerned that this anti-viral might not be that useful anymore at the moment that we'll be needing it for treatment of humans," he says.

The WHO is looking into an American newspaper report that alleges Chinese farmers gave the drug Amantadine to their chickens for years, with the encouragement of the Chinese government.

Beijing denies the report. But there is evidence Amantadine has been misused.

Says Dr. Leon Lai, an infectious diseases specialist at Washington Hospital Center in Washington, DC: "If these are drugs that are supposedly only given to humans, why would these chickens be producing viruses that are resistant? And I think this is the answer to that mystery."

Since the H-5-N-1 strain of bird flu emerged in Southeast Asia eight years ago, millions of chickens have been slaughtered to prevent the virus from spreading. In rare cases birds have transmitted the virus to humans, resulting in 54 deaths. But the greatest fear is that the bird flu will mutate to a form that could spread from human to human, leading to a worldwide pandemic.

Amantadine would have been by far the cheapest, most readily available, drug for treatment.

Dr. Lai: "If you knock out one of these, you basically knock out a huge portion of the amount of tools we have to quarantine and contain an outbreak."

The World Health Organization has consistently recommended that Amantadine be reserved for human use only.

Dr. Lai says that if the Chinese government did advocate using the drug in chickens, it must have known it was violating international guidelines. "To flout that and to assume that you knew better than the worldwide scientific body of opinion would, I think, be very irresponsible," he says.

The World Health Organization estimates a bird flu outbreak among humans could kill up to 50 million people worldwide.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Rural Protests Growing

Last week a Chinese farmer handed over an extraordinary videotape to a Western reporter showing deadly clashes between Chinese farmers and unidentified men who were breaking up their protest. Despite government disapproval, these kinds of protests are becoming more common in China. In fact, there are thousands of them, and they typically go unreported by Western media enthralled with China's rise.

Villagers say the men who attacked these farmers with guns, pipes, and shovels did so without any warning. The farmers say the government took their land to build a venue for the 2008 Olympics without paying them for it, which is why they were protesting.

Like many farmers, the villagers contract with the local government to use the land, with the government retaining the right to revoke the lease.

Loss of farmland is a major issue in China. As China's economy has boomed, urban areas have become wealthier, but rural areas are still poor. Landless, unemployed farmers and their families often move to urban areas where they try to eke out a living. Thus, large segments of the left-behind-rural poor population are creating a new class of urban poor--people without rights to social services, medical care or education.

In a country, where an authoritarian government has based its legitimacy on delivering a better material life to masses of people, the potential for staggering social unrest should not be underestimated.

US Central Banker Says Revalued RMB Will Not Benefit US Economy

The chairman of the US Federal Reserve Bank says he does not believe an increase in the value of the Chinese currency will lead to more American manufacturing activity or jobs. Alan Greenspan's comments came in testimony Thursday to the US Senate Finance Committee.

Greenspan said a revaluation of the Chinese currency would not have the positive effects in the US that some lawmakers believe it would.

"Some observers mistakenly believe that a marked increase in the exchange value of the Chinese Renminbi [yuan], the so-called RMB, relative to the US dollar, would significantly increase manufacturing activity and jobs in the United States," Greenspan said. "I'm aware of no credible evidence that supports such a conclusion."

The US central bank chairman also warned against legislation that would impose more than 27 percent tariffs on Chinese goods flowing into the US if Beijing doesn't move to a more flexible currency system. He said the tariffs would not help the US lower its overall trade deficit.

"The broad tariff on Chinese goods that has recently been proposed, should it be implemented, would significantly lower US imports from China, but would comparably raise US imports from other low-cost sources of supply," he said. "At only slightly higher prices than prevail at present, US imports of textiles, light manufactures, assembled computers, toys, and similar products, would in part shift from China, as the final assembler, to other emerging market economies in Asia, and perhaps in Latin America as well."

While he urged caution on the US side regarding pressure on China to revalue its currency, Greenspan added that he thinks it is in China's own interest to loosen its currency exchange regime.

"It is nonetheless the case that a more flexible RMB would be helpful to China's economic stability, and hence, to world and U.S. economic growth," he said. "Rapid accumulation of foreign, largely dollar-reserve holdings by the People's Bank of China, China's central bank, as a consequence of support for the RMB, would boost the growth of the money stock with the accompanying risk of putting upward pressure on inflation and a general overheating of the Chinese economy."

China has been keeping its currency pegged at 8.28 to the dollar for the past decade. Critics say the RMB has become undervalued, which gives Chinese exports an unfair price advantage. They are calling on Beijing to loosen the RMB and let its value rise. Meanwhile, the U.S. Congress is considering proposals to impose punitive tariffs on Chinese imports.

This issue has taken on greater urgency following statistics showing that the U.S. trade deficit hit a record $618 billion last year. The trade deficit with China was nearly $162 billion, the highest ever with a single country.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Crackdown on Dissent Continues

Internet website operators in China face a June 30 deadline to register with the government or get shut down. Authorities are stepping up a crackdown on dissent, arresting journalists, scholars, and dissidents. But as prosperity and media access increase, critics say China's leadership is finding it more difficult to contain opposition voices.

Footage taken by a farmer and obtained by The Washington Post this month shows a band of thugs using sharpened pipes, clubs and other weapons to attack demonstrators staging a sit-in over a land dispute at Shengyou village in northern China's Hebei province on June 11. Reports said at least six people were killed.

It is the type of scene Chinese censors would normally not want people to see. Reports quoted witnesses as saying they suspected the assailants were hired by corrupt local officials to remove the demonstrators.

Analysts say the fact the story was allowed to be published underscores the pressure that is building on China's government to address tensions in the countryside.

President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao took office in 2003 with promises to create a more harmonious society by closing the gap between rich and poor and promoting more transparency. These factors, they said, would be crucial for the party's survival.

Many Chinese journalists credit the Hu and Wen administration with liberalizing - to a degree - by expanding the scope of stories they are now allowed to cover. However, control remains tight and reporters - especially those with the official media - say they are limited to covering items that are supportive of the leadership's agenda.

A 36-year-old reporter with an official Beijing newspaper, who asked not to be identified, said that despite China's emerging status as a free-market economy, journalists must regularly undergo training in Chinese Communist theory and Marxism. "These days, normally the bosses have to study them more. They have to learn these theories so they know how to keep the Communist spirit alive. We reporters learn how to apply this to our daily job. We have to have a clear point. We cannot make our readers go in the wrong direction. This is a very important principle," he said.

One western diplomat, who asked not to be identified, has described President Hu and Prime Minister Wen as being "obsessed" with maintaining stability as the Communist Party struggles to remain relevant in the free-market era.

This effort to tighten control is evidenced by the mounting number of journalists and dissidents who have been arrested, as well as religious leaders and academics who have been fired for speaking out of line. Newspapers have been shut down and books banned.

The government has also stepped up its use of espionage charges against dissident journalists. China classifies certain information, including social welfare statistics and scholastic aptitude test questions, as state secrets.

Beijing lawyer Mo Shaoping said this means virtually anyone can be accused of spying - a charge that carries especially heavy penalties. "In China, journalists are obliged to keep state secrets," he said. So you only report what you are allowed to publicize. If you are stubborn and go ahead and report things of which they disapprove, you will probably get in trouble."

Among those who have paid a price for speaking out is dissident Huang Qi. He was released from prison this month after serving a five-year sentence for posting pro-democracy messages on the Internet. He told a reporter he is in poor health following the harsh treatment he received in prison. "It was dark," he said. "Guards beat me often. I slept on the floor for more than a year. My strength came from support from friends and family."

The international press freedom advocacy group Reporters Without Borders says that with at least 31 news professionals in prison, China remains the world's biggest jailer of journalists.

Some analysts say the trend sharply contradicts new forces that are emerging as the government cuts subsidies on many newspapers and as Internet usage continues to grow.

Internet dissident Huang Qi said he does not plan to give up posting messages to promote freedom and democracy, even though authorities have threatened to re-arrest him. He said the progress he has seen since he first went to prison is one reason to hope that further liberalization will come. "The improvement of media freedom in China is not a result of the efforts of this government," he said. "Whatever improvements there are efforts from people who hold the same principles that I do. We have pushed these changes. The government cannot control the internet anymore. Look how many of us there are now. Five years ago, I was in the minority. Now there are many more like me."

With the government acknowledging the outbreak of at least 58,000 protests or what they call "mass incidents" across China in one year, some analysts are less optimistic that the leadership - wary of instability - will ease restrictions on the media in the near future.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

China National Offshore Oil Offers $18.5 Billion for US-based Unocal

A Chinese state-run oil company is offering to buy US-based Unocal Oil for $18.5 billion in cash, more than a rival offer by US-based Chevron Corporation.

The deal would more than double the oil and gas output of China National Offshore Oil Company and increase its reserves by more than 80 percent. The company says such a sale would not hurt US markets.

Chevron says it stands behind its merger agreement with Unocal, which has been approved by the Federal Trade Commission. Chevron warned that a merger with a Chinese firm would be subject to extensive US government regulatory review. A competing company would also have to pay Chevron a $500-million fee if it broke up the Unocal-Chevron deal.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Hu to Attend G8 Scotland Summit

China has announced that President Hu Jintao plans to attend next month's Group of Eight summit in Scotland.

A Foreign Ministry official in Beijing said Hu will attend the G8 summit's Outreach Session, along with the leaders of India, Brazil, South Africa and Mexico.

He did not say whether Hu will hold one-on-one talks with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi at the summit.

Before arriving in Gleneagles, Scotland, Hu is scheduled to stop in Moscow for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin. He will also stop in Astana to attend a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a regional security organization grouping Russia, China and four central Asian former Soviet Republics (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan).

The G8 summit brings together the leaders of the world's seven leading industrialized countries (the United States, Britain, Canada, Germany, France, Italy and Japan) plus Russia.

Beijing Denies Drug Misuse

China is denying press reports it encouraged its farmers to misuse a drug meant for humans by giving it to chickens as a guard against bird flu. But officials say they will investigate whether it is being used.

Reports, starting with one by the US newspaper, The Washington Post, quoted researchers as saying the Chinese government has for years encouraged farmers to feed to chickens the anti-viral drug amantadine, which is meant only for humans. Experts say the action - which would violate international guidelines - may have rendered the drug useless against influenza.

In remarks carried by a state-run newspaper, China's agriculture ministry called the Post report "groundless." At a regular briefing, a foreign ministry spokesman, Liu Jianchao, denied that the government played a part, but said the general situation would be investigated.

"China's government never allowed any human anti-viral drugs to be used on poultry to prevent bird flu or other animal diseases," Liu said. "We have a responsibility to mankind and will seriously investigate this matter."

Amantadine is one of the few drugs available for treating influenza in humans. Researchers quoted by the Washington Post said the misuse of the drug had caused the appearance in Thailand and Vietnam of a form of the bird flu virus, known as H5N1, that is resistant to amantadine.

Other reports quoted a World Health Organization official as confirming that a resistant form of the virus has been observed.

Bird flu has killed at least 54 people who contracted it from infected birds in Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam during the past two years. Health officials are concerned that it could mutate to a form that would make it easier to transmit from human to human.

International health agencies have expressed concern over the report that the anti-viral drug was allegedly misused in China and say they are awaiting more information from Chinese officials. An official with the World Health Organization in Beijing said the agency had no comment on the Chinese government's denial of wrongdoing.

Chinese Foreign Minister in Israel

Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing's visit to Israel is being billed as a chance to discuss a wide range of topics, from the Middle East peace process to issues of global interest. But it is Israel's sales of military technology to China that is making the real news because of the strains it has put on ties with its most important ally, the United States.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who was in Israel over the weekend, addressed the issue directly in a meeting with reporters following her talks with Israeli officials. She said she made the American position clear.

"I think everybody knows our concerns about arms sales to China, particularly arms sales with countries with which we have strong defense cooperation relationships as we do with Israel," she said.

The dispute stems from the sale of unmanned aircraft technology, originally sold to China by the state-owned Israel Aircraft Industries in the early 1990s. American officials say some of the parts were shipped back to Israel last year for an upgrade.

Israel has said the units were simply undergoing routine maintenance; but Israeli military officials have stopped work on the aircraft.

According to Israeli media reports, the US imposed a series of sanctions on the Israeli arms industry in recent months because of it sales to China. Washington has also suspended cooperation on several projects, frozen delivery of some equipment, and US officials are reportedly refusing to answer telephone calls from Israeli defense officials.

Secretary Rice did not say the conflict over the sales of advanced military technology to Beijing has been completely resolved. She suggested the US has not changed its position, but that a resolution to the problem can be found.

"I appreciate that the Israeli government has been working on this issue," she said. "I discussed it also with Defense Minister Mofaz last night and I believe that the Israelis now understand our concerns and I am certain that as good partners can, that we can come to some resolution that can allow us to proceed."

Israeli officials have taken great pains to downplay any negative impact from the arms controversy on their country's normally close relations with Washington. Still, the arms sales issue is present, even though Israeli officials and their Chinese guest are not likely likely to address it publicly during Li's visit.

The Chinese foreign minister is meeting with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as well as with the head of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee of the Israeli parliament.

Israel's Foreign Minister visited China in November of last year.

Chinese Defector Presents Evidence

A former Chinese secret policeman who is seeking asylum in Australia has provided more evidence to support his allegations that Beijing has a network of agents carrying out surveillance on dissidents. Hao Feng Jun says he has hundreds of sensitive documents that show that the Chinese government is spying on members of the spiritual movement Falun Gong in Australia.

Hao says among the documents he smuggled out of China is an intelligence report that details plans by the Falun Gong movement to host a conference in Sydney. Hao says it was compiled in Beijing and circulated to senior Chinese officials. The report names the organizers of the Falun Gong meeting and accuses them of being engaged in "quite a few activities that would disturb and damage the Chinese government."

Hao says he worked for a Chinese security service known as 6-10, which he says was set up specifically to wipe out Falun Gong. The movement has been labeled an "evil cult" by Beijing.

Hao's documents were obtained and independently translated by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, which says there is no way at this stage to confirm their authenticity.

This new information has drawn no official response from Beijing or the Chinese Embassy in Canberra. A middle-ranking Chinese diplomat, who is also seeking asylum in Australia, however, has said the documents appear to be genuine.

Chen Yonglin abandoned his post at China's consulate in Sydney last month. He, too, has asked for asylum, claiming he would be persecuted if he returned home because of his support for Falun Gong. The former diplomat is in hiding. Like Hao, he claims that China's network of spies and informers in Australia is extensive.

Chen has told Australian television that a senior Chinese security official told staff at the consulate in Sydney to work harder to gather information on dissidents.

"Of course he said that the consulate came to know about implementing the government policy of the policy strategy, like, fight eyeball to eyeball, should be more aggressive," he said.

The asylum claims of both Chinese officials are being processed by Australia's Immigration Department.

Australia's Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone has said her department is due to interview Chen about his refugee application later this week.

China has dismissed the allegations of espionage made by both would-be defectors as lies.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Chinese IPO Disappoints

Coal-mining company China Shenhua Energy limped into its first day of trading on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, closing 2.7 percent below the initial public offering price of 96 cents.

Market analysts say many investors are worried that coal prices in China might be near their peak, so they were reluctant to buy Shenhua Energy.

Investors are more upbeat about Bank of Communications, China's fifth largest lender, which starts trading its shares in Hong Kong on Thursday. Orders for the shares totaled more than $14 billion - making it one of the most popular initial public offerings ever in the city.

Howard Gorges, vice chairman of South China Brokerage, a Hong Kong securities firm, says the bank is considered a safe investment. "There is a lot of potential for this very large bank to be run better and also to diversify from being a corporate-oriented bank towards a retail-oriented bank with credit cards, wealth management and other services," he said.

China's auto industry suffered a 57 percent fall in profit for the first four months of the year, taking in 12 billion yuan, in large part because of slumping car sales.

The country's leading automaker, First Automotive Works, warned its profit could fall more than 50 percent for the first half of this year, because of higher costs and slower sales.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Israel Ending Dispute with US over Military Technology Sales to China

Israel says its dispute with the United States over its sales of military technology China will soon be settled. The statement from senior Israeli officials is the first acknowledgment of a major disagreement between Israel and the United States over the issue.

After several days of silence on the issue, Israeli government officials told journalists that Israel is, as one put it, "attentive to American concerns."

Ranaan Gissin, an adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, told reporters the issue will be resolved over the next few weeks.

On Thursday, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Israel has, "a responsibility to be sensitive" to American concerns. She said US officials have had what she characterized as "difficult" discussions with the Israelis over the technology sales to China. But she said she believes the Israelis now understand the seriousness of the matter.

Washington is increasingly concerned about military modernization in China, fearing this could upset the security balance in Asia and make it more difficult for the United States to help defend Taiwan from a mainland attack.

Secretary Rice said China must not be allowed to undertake a major military escalation before there are assurances that it will be a positive force on the international scene.

According to Israeli media reports, the US has imposed a series of sanctions on the Israeli arms industry in recent months because of it sales to China. Washington has also suspended cooperation on several projects, frozen delivery of some equipment, and is even refusing to answer telephone calls from Israeli defense officials.

The dispute stems from the Israeli sale of unmanned aircraft technology to China. Israel Aircraft Industries, which is state-owned, sold the aircraft to China in the early 1990s. American officials say some of the parts were shipped back to Israel last year for an upgrade.

Israel says the units were simply undergoing routine maintenance, but Israeli military officials have, nonetheless, stopped work on the aircraft.

Israeli Vice Prime Minister Shimon Peres told Israel Radio Friday that his government is not acting against the interests of the US and he is certain the problems can be worked out.

US and Israeli officials are preparing for a visit this weekend by Secretary Rice.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Farmers Protest in Beijing

Hundreds of Chinese farmers have staged protests near a planned Olympic stadium in Beijing in recent days, saying the government took their private land without paying compensation.

This week, protest signs reading "support the Olympics, resettle the farmers who have lost their land!" hung near a planned stadium and watersports complex for the 2008 Beijing Games.

A protest spokesman said that demonstrations will continue in the village northwest of Beijing until farmers get a satisfactory answer from officials regarding what he called "an unfair appropriation of land."

Similar protests have been reported elsewhere in the capital city, with residents complaining of being forcibly evicted from their homes.

Beijing Olympic organizers have announced plans to spend $2 billion on some 14 sports venues for the Games.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Defector Says China Plans to Turn Australia into "Political Colony"

A former law professor at Beijing University, has supported a Chinese defector's claims of a vast Chinese espionage network--an army of spies--operating in Australia, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported Wednesday.

The former professor, Yuan Hongbing, was jailed and then exiled for helping student activists after the Tiananmen Square massacre. He filed for a protection visa in Australia last July.

Yuan told ABC's Radio National that China plans to transform Australia into a "political colony."

"The political colony means CCP (Chinese Communist Party) will use their ideology to influence Australia's politics and gradually to turn Australia to betray its fundamental principle of freedom and democracy," Yuan said.

Yuan said he witnessed and was familiar with the work of the "army" of 1,000 spies defecting Chinese diplomat Chen Yonglin has described.

China Denies Torturing Dissident

China says a US resident in jail on spying and other charges is being treated well. An official's statement Thursday was in response to allegations by 40 US Senators that the man, Chinese-born Yang Jianli, has been tortured in prison.

China's Foreign Ministry says Yang, a veteran of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, is in good health and leads an active life in Beijing's Tianhe prison.

Forty US Senators disagree. The lawmakers sent a letter to Chinese President Hu Jintao urging him to free Yang. The Senators say the man was held in solitary confinement for a year, beaten by prison guards and shocked with electric wands. They said his release would help to improve relations with the United States.

At a regular briefing Thursday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said China has taken note of the US Senators' request. "China takes US concerns seriously. We have talked about this issue [in the past] with the US side, including US Senators. We have frequent communications and I believe it is good to enhance understanding between both sides. However, regarding this issue, China will keep addressing it according to China's laws," he said.

Yang Jianli had been living in the United States after he was forced into exile over his participation in the 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations at Beijing's Tiananmen Square.

He returned to China in 2002 to do research on labor unrest in China's Northeast, but was arrested shortly after his arrival for using a friend's passport and a fake identity card to enter the country. He was sentenced to five years in prison on charges of espionage and entering China illegally.

Hong Kong Has New Leader

Hong Kong has a new leader, Donald Tsang. As expected, he tied up so much support on the Beijing-selected election committee during the nominating process that no formal vote was needed.

The election was over before the votes were even cast. On Thursday, career civil servant Tsang effectively became Hong Kong's new chief executive, after securing the endorsement of about 80 percent of the 800-member election committee.

The committee members, selected by the Chinese government, were scheduled to cast their votes on July 10. But with such a big lead, the ballot is considered unnecessary. Tsang's nearest challenger - Democratic Party head Lee Wing-tat quickly conceded defeat. Tsang is expected to be sworn in in Beijing next week.

Tsang previously held the number-two slot in the Hong Kong administration. He was named acting chief executive last March, when his predecessor, Tung Chee-hwa, was eased out by Beijing after a turbulent and unpopular seven years in office.

Tung, a wealthy industrialist, came under heavy criticism for allegedly favoring big business, and for being out of touch with ordinary Hong Kong residents and their problems.

Tsang - more approachable and more politically experienced than Tung - promised to do his best to reach out to the Hong Kong people. "My whole election campaign was geared only partially to the electors, but mostly to the people of Hong Kong. I've been coming out, I've been talking to the people, and this is not the end, this is only the beginning," he said.

Tsang was selected to replace Tung by the Chinese government, meaning his victory in the circumscribed voting allowed in Hong Kong was a foregone conclusion.

Hong Kong's people had demanded direct elections for their leader, instead of selection by a group of mostly pro-Beijing representatives. But China rejected that idea last year.

Tung stepped down with two years remaining of his second five-year term. Tsang will serve for only the remaining two years of the vacated term.

During his campaign, Tsang has been vague on his position on major issues, including Hong Kong's transition to full democracy. Political analyst Ivan Choy of the Chinese University of Hong Kong says Tsang is likely to follow Beijing's direction on such issues. "Donald Tsang in the past always emphasized that he is a civil servant. The most important element for a civil servant is loyalty. Many in Hong Kong expect him, if there's a conflict between Beijing and Hong Kong, he would side up with Beijing authorities," he said.

Tsang came from modest beginnings - selling pharmaceuticals before joining the civil service under the British colonial government, and eventually being knighted by Britain's Queen Elizabeth.

When Britain returned Hong Kong to China in 1997, he became financial secretary, and eventually rose to the city's number-two post in 2001. He has remained popular despite the previous government's unpopularity.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Chinese Military Concerns US

For more than three decades, the challenge for the US government was China's reluctance to interact with the rest of the world, but now that China has emerged as a political and economic superpower, the challenge is shifting.

China is now America's third-largest trading partner, behind only Canada and Mexico, and accounts for more than 13 percent of all US imports. It has become one of the world's largest energy consumers.

But it is China's growing military presence that's causing the greatest concern among US policy makers. China's military budget is reported to be the third-largest in the world; but because of Beijing's secrecy, no one really knows how much that is -- raising concerns among US administration officials and members of Congress.

At a recent Asian defense minister's summit in Singapore, US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was critical of China for expanding its missile forces despite a lack of threats and its lack of political reforms.

"Though China's economic growth has kept pace with its military spending, it is to be noted that a growth in political freedom has not yet followed suit," Rumsfeld said.

On the other hand, the Bush administration sees China as an important regional player with a key role in ending North Korea's nuclear aspirations.

Christopher Hill, Assistant Secretary at the Department of State, says China must use its economic leverage to influence North Korea. "We cannot allow a country like North Korea to retain nuclear weapons, we cannot allow them to have nuclear materials with the potential or possibility that they could be proliferated," Hill says. "We need to address this problem. There are a lot of options, the one option we don't have is to walk away. The Chinese have that message, let's hope the North Koreans do as well."

Hill adds: "China needs to do more to bring North Korea back to the six country negotiations on its nuclear program."

He says that would be another way China can use its political and economic clout to achieve its political ends. For its part the US must create an open dialogue with China, including discussion on trade barriers, human rights and intellectual property.

Vatican "Anxious" for China Ties

China scores again.

The leader of the Hong Kong Catholic Church says the Vatican is "anxious" to establish diplomatic relations with China, and suggests that the Holy See might allow Beijing to have a say in the appointment of bishops.

Hong Kong's Bishop Joseph Zen told reporters Tuesday the Vatican's policy on China is unchanged under Pope Benedict XVI: it is willing to make concessions in order to normalize relations with Beijing. A major sticking point in the establishment of relations has been the appointment of Catholic bishops. The Vatican traditionally insists that it has the sole right to do this.

Beijing, wary of allowing its people to pledge allegiance to the Vatican or any other foreign power, has insisted on appointing the leaders of the officially sanctioned Patriotic Catholic Church.

Bishop Zen suggested that the Vatican might want to compromise on the issue, as it has with the government of Cuba, for example, by allowing the Chinese government to approve the Vatican's appointments.

"Not to surrender completely, but to make some compromise so that the Beijing government may also have some say in that appointment," he said.

Bishop Zen conceded that a switch to relations with Beijing would come at the expense of Taipei, with which the Vatican currently has diplomatic relations.

"The Holy See is ready to switch diplomatic relations with Taiwan to Beijing. Until now the Holy See never unilaterally abandoned any friend," he said. "So this time, it is forced to make a painful decision, because otherwise the China authority would not accept dialogue with the Holy See."

China demands the Vatican cut relations with Taiwan, and refrain from "interfering" in China's internal affairs - by agitating for religious freedom - before relations can be restored. But Bishop Zen says the Vatican should only accept normalization if Beijing will guarantee genuine religious freedom.

"It's unfair to switch diplomatic relations and to start negotiations [on religious freedoms] later. Nobody works that way," added Bishop Zen. "So the Vatican should be sure that the Beijing government is going to grant a real religious freedom."

Ties between Beijing and the Holy See have been severed for more than 50 years, since the Communists took power at the end of China's civil war.

Bishop Zen says the Vatican has tried to discuss a restoration of ties with China in the past, but he says Beijing in recent years has not shown any interest in pursuing the matter despite visits by Vatican officials to the mainland.

The Chinese government says there are five million Catholics in the country, but Western academics say there could be as many as 12 million. The government only allows Catholics to worship in the state-sanctioned church, and officials and followers of the underground, Vatican-affiliated church often face persecution.

Hong Kong reverted to Chinese rule in 1997, but under the "one country, two systems" principle, retains the freedoms it enjoyed under British colonial rule. The Catholic Church in Hong Kong is officially under Vatican supervision and operates without restrictions.

Bill Gates Kowtows to Beijing

Again, appeasement appears to be the order of the day. Not since the 1930s, when everyone, it seemed, from the giants of Wall Street to the British aristocracy, rushed ahead to enthusiastically embrace Hitler Germany--and Nazi/Fascist ideology as the so-called wave of the future--have so many powerful companies, groups and individuals disgraced themselves in the service of an ascending dictatorship bent on changing the international balance of power. How else to describe the awful kowtowing of none other than Microsoft founder Bill Gates to Beijing's bloody despots? Read on ... and weep ... for if even the impossibly rich Ultimate UberGeek and Master of the Universe cannot resist the totalitarian temptation ... the future of democracy and human rights worldwide is in peril.

Reporters Without Borders said it was disgusted to find that Microsoft was censoring the Chinese version of its blog tool, MSN spaces, with the system automatically rejecting words including "democracy" and "Dalai Lama".

"Following Yahoo, here is a second American Internet giant giving way to the Chinese authorities and agreeing to self-censorship", the worldwide press freedom organisation said.

"The lack of ethics on the part of these companies is extremely worrying. Their management frequently justifies collaboration with Chinese censorship by saying that all they are doing is obeying local legislation.

"Does that mean that if the authorities asked Microsoft to provide information about Chinese cyberdissidents using its services that it would agree to do so, on the basis that it is "legal?"

"We believe that this argument does not hold water and that these multinationals must respect certain basic ethical principles, in whatever country they are operating."

Reporters Without Borders has been able to check that, as reported by several news agencies, when a Chinese blogger attempts to post a message containing terms such as "democracy", "Dalai Lama", "Falungong", "4 June" (the date of the Tiananmen Square massacre), "China + corruption", or "human rights", a warning displays saying, "This message contains a banned expression, please delete this expression."

Generally "subversive" messages are displayed on Chinese-hosted forums and blogs but the banned words are automatically replaced with blank spaces.

The Chinese version of the MSN portal, along with the blog tool, were launched as a joint venture with a local state-controlled company, Shanghai Alliance Investment Ltd (SAIL).

The Chinese authorities are trying to impose self-censorship on all search engines and blog tools that that wish to operate on its territory. Yahoo, which was the first, agreed to remove all "subversive" news and information from its search results. Despite repeated requests from Reporters Without Borders, the company's management always declined to discuss the issue.

Google, which has so far refused to censor its search engine, now looks likely to follow in the footsteps of its competitor. When the company announced it was opening an office in China, Reporters Without Borders wrote to its two founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, asking them to respond clearly to the question: "Would you agree to censorship of your search engine if Beijing asked you to?" Google never replied.

Reporters Without Borders also wrote, on December 2003, to the CEO and founder of Microsoft, Steven Ballmer and Bill Gates, to bring to their attention their freedom of expression responsibilities, particularly in a country like China. This appeal, like the others, went unanswered.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Crackdown on Christians Reported

A US-based religious rights group says authorities in China have recently carried out a major crackdown on underground Christian churches in northeastern Jilin province.

The China Aid Association says police and Public Security Bureau officers launched simultaneous raids last month against about 100 so-called "house churches." They reportedly rounded up about 600 people - both church leaders and ordinary believers -around Changchun city, capital of Jilin province.

China Aid Association says in a statement issued at its headquarters in Midland, Texas, that most detainees were released after one or two days of interrogation following the raids on May 22, but that approximately 100 people are still being held in various detention centers.

Those in custody are said to include professors from Changchun University. According to China Aid Association, many university students and professors attend Jilin's underground churches. The rights group says its informants believe local authorities are carrying out a coordinated campaign to eliminate unofficial Christian churches' influence on the university community.

China forbids operations by any churches that are not approved by the state and strictly monitored by the government. Many Chinese, however, prefer to attend underground or "house" churches.

China Aid Association named one of those arrested last month as 58-year-old Zhao Dianru, who had links to 18 underground churches. Zhao, who was released on June 6 after two weeks of questioning, was accused of instigating and disturbing social stability. Arrest documents did not specifically mention Zhao's religious activities; but he reportedly had refused three recent invitations to switch his affiliation to government-sanctioned churches.

Foreign Investment Falls Slightly

Foreign direct investment in China fell slightly in the first five months of the year.

The ministry of commerce reported Monday that foreign direct investment from January to May slipped .8 percent from the same period last year, to $22.4 billion.

Contracted investment, which gives an indication of future inflows, grew 14.88 percent in the same period, to $64.97 billion.

Although foreign companies continue to build up investments in China, the pace of growth has been slowing. Investments soared in late 2003 through 2004 after slowing during the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome in the spring of 2003.

China's Good Neighbor Policy

China has assured its Asia-Pacific neighbors that it is striving to be a good trading partner. The comments by Vice Prime Minister Wu Yi Monday came as Beijing tries to resolve trade frictions with its major Western trading partners.

Wu told Asia-Pacific business leaders meeting in Hong Kong Monday that her country is ready to work with its neighbors to expand the region's economic prosperity.

"China always sticks to the diplomatic policy of befriending, comforting and enriching its neighboring countries," Wu said. "We are willing to team up with all countries in Asia Pacific to intensify dialogue and exchange with various levels, resolve differences through consultation, to accelerate regional economic integration."

China's rapid economic growth has worried some of its neighbors. They fear that China will corner much of the foreign investment coming to the region and soak up the world's energy and mineral resources.

Wu said China will invest more in the region and it is working to meet its energy needs on its own.

Her comments come amid frictions between China and its major trading partners over a recent surge in Chinese textile exports. The US and the European Union say the increase - resulting from the global elimination of textile quotas - threatens jobs in their domestic textile industries.

The vice prime minister said trade frictions are natural but says they should be resolved through dialogue. She slammed the United States for imposing quotas on several categories of textile products. Beijing says that violates free trade rules under the World Trade Organization.

"We strongly call on relevant parties to pay respect to the WTO rules and properly handle the issue of textile trade through equal dialogue and consultation as well as concerted effort with us. We are resolutely opposed to easily applying restrictions and sanctions let alone politicizing the economic and trade issues," Wu said.

In talks Friday, Beijing and the EU agreed to temporarily limit the flow of Chinese textiles to Europe. Chinese exports in 10 textile categories will be allowed to increase by 12.5 percent over the next two years.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Australians Rally for Ex-Chinese Diplomat Seeking Political Asylum

Protesters rallied in Australia over the weekend urging the government to grant political asylum to a Chinese diplomat who quit his post at the Chinese consulate in Sydney last month, claiming Beijing's treatment of dissidents forced him to defect.

There were small but noisy demonstrations in Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide in support of the former diplomat, Chen Yonglin, who has been in hiding for almost three weeks since walking out of the Chinese consulate in Sydney.

He said he decided to defect because he was troubled by his part in spying on practitioners of the Falun Gong spiritual movement in Australia.

Chen claimed China had kidnapped political opponents in Australia and taken them home for punishment. The former diplomat also alleged that Beijing has 1,000 spies working in Australia.

Chen has formally applied for political asylum, although Australian officials have still to make a decision on his application.

Speakers at this weekend's rallies accused the Australian government of being more concerned about trade than Chen's human rights.

China is Australia's third-biggest trading partner to tune of $22 billion a year. The two countries recently began negotiations on a free-trade agreement.

Canberra has insisted that economic considerations will have no bearing on the Chen case.

Bob Brown, leader of the Australian Greens, one of the minor opposition parties, says he can't understand why the government is taking so long to approve Chen's application.

"This is a democracy. Here we have a defector who has got extraordinary information about terrible things," Green said. "The protection of human rights in Australia should certainly take precedence. Is it legal for many people from the Chinese embassy or commissioned by the Chinese government to be spying on Australian citizens?"

More rallies in support of the fugitive diplomat are planned for Sydney and Perth in coming days.

Australia's Immigration Department is currently examining Chen's application for a refugee protection visa.

It's unclear how long the process will take.

A second Chinese official emerged last week to seek political asylum in Australia. Hao Fengjun, a former secret policeman from northern China, claimed he was a member of China's internal security force working to crack down on dissidents. He, too, is seeking sanctuary in Australia.

Beijing has dismissed allegations made by these two Chinese officials and has described them as "total slander" and lies.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

China, EU Agree on Textile Exports

China says a last-minute trade deal with the European Union over rising Chinese textile exports sets an example that the United States should follow. The EU and China agreed early Saturday to allow a slow rise in China's textile exports to EU nations, and eventually to eliminate restrictions by 2008.

China's state media praised the trade deal and suggested that a similar textile dispute with the United States should be solved the same way.

Negotiations on Friday between the EU and China lasted 10 hours. Both sides praised the settlement, saying it will create a more stable and predictable environment for trade relations.

The agreement limits the growth of certain Chinese textile exports to around ten percent a year for the next three years. If a deal had not been reached, Brussels was threatening to impose emergency quotas on dramatic increases of textile imports from China.

"This agreement is a win, win, win agreement," Mandelson said. "It is one that everyone who cares about free trade, cares about stability and cares about people who are affected by changing trade flows, as well as people who care about the long-term relationship between Europe and China will applaud today."

But Chinese Commerce Minister Bo Xilai used the occasion not only to praise the agreement with the European Union, but also to issue a veiled criticism at the United States for not reaching a similar deal with China.

"The European Union, unlike some countries, did not drastically take unilateral action," Xilai said. "But rather always strived for bilateral consultation to friendly and properly resolve our bilateral trade relations."

The US imposed emergency quotas on certain Chinese textiles after imports rose sharply with the ending of global quotas on January 1. Last week China retaliated by eliminating export taxes on its textile goods.

China says the United States is not acting within the principles of fair trade and that restricting imports from China could affect the jobs of 400,000 Chinese workers.

China says the textile industry in the US has had a long time to prepare for the rise in Chinese competition. But the US says it wants to give its textile industry more time to adjust.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Ambassador Visits Jailed American

US ambassador to China Clark Randt says he hopes Chinese authorities will soon release Jude Shao, an American businessman serving a 16-year prison sentence for alleged tax fraud.

Randt traveled to Shanghai Friday, after Chinese authorities granted him permission to visit American Jude Shao. He has been jailed since 1998 on allegations that he engaged in tax fraud related to his medical equipment export business.

Shortly after visiting Shao in prison, Randt issued a statement saying he is "very hopeful" that Chinese authorities will release the businessman soon on medical parole. Shao's family says he is suffering from a heart condition, and has complained of meager food rations in prison.

Shao's friends and business associates in the US have organized a campaign for his release. On their Internet site, they say police arrested Shao after he refused to comply with Chinese agents, who demanded bribes from him.

They say he was kept incommunicado for more than two years before he was sentenced.

Human rights advocates call the sentence excessive, and question the legality of his arrest. Nicholas Becquelin of the Human Rights in China group in Hong Kong says the US call for his release on medical grounds may give the Chinese authorities a chance to neutralize allegations that this is an infringement of human rights, this time involving a foreign investor.

"There can only be a diplomatic and political solution to the case, and one that allows the Chinese government and the courts not to lose face, and not to admit that they made a mistake, or that the person was prosecuted with other motives than just tax evasion," said Becquelin. "It's a bit of a bargain[ing] chip in the larger diplomatic relations."

US consular officials have regularly checked on Shao. However, the visit by the ambassador underscored the importance that the US government has given to his case, which has prompted inquiries from members of Congress.

Officials with China's Foreign Ministry on Friday said they had "taken notice" of Randt's visit to the prison Friday.

US Lawmakers Lash Out at China

US lawmakers have upheld US membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO) after debate centering largely on the US trade deficit with China and other countries.

This is the second time the House has overwhelmingly defeated resolutions to withdraw the United States from the World Trade Organization.

But congressional dissatisfaction with the $162 billion trade deficit with China and the outsourcing of jobs overseas by US companies was evident in emotionally-charged debate on the floor of the House.

Bernie Sanders, an independent congressman from Vermont known for his fiery criticism of globalization, the WTO and free trade agreements, asserts they have led to what he calls the erosion of the middle class in America.

"Our trade policies have failed the American worker, the American middle class, in a disastrous way and it is high time to re-think our trade policies so they begin to work for the middle class of this country and not just the CEOs of our major corporations," said Sanders.

Sanders acknowledged before the debate that the resolution, which was strongly opposed by the Bush administration, would probably not pass.

However, he and others drew satisfaction from the fact that the number of votes in favor of pulling the United States out of the WTO increased by 30 to 86 of the more than 400 members of the House, compared to 56 in the year 2000.

Congressman Benjamin Cardin, a Democrat from the state of Maryland, was among those voting for keeping the United States in the WTO, but at the same time expressing concern about it.

"It is in the US interest to be in a rules-based trading system and we need to make sure we continue US participation in the WTO," he noted. "[But] we also need to understand that we need to improve and make more effective the WTO, and we also need to strengthen the manner in which we review the operations of the WTO."

China's rapidly growing strength in world trade was a key part of the WTO debate, and a focus of other activity this week on Capitol Hill.

Democratic Senator Charles Schumer urged President Bush to convene a summit to address what he and others call China's unfair trade policies, including currency manipulation they say violates WTO and other agreements.

As the House was voting on the WTO resolution, congressional displeasure over trade policy with China also emerged in a hearing focusing on intellectual property protection.

Touching on issues raised during the WTO debate, Democratic Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky describes what she believes will happen if the Bush administration doesn't get tougher with Beijing.

"As our trade deficit grows and these dollars are used to purchase ever more of the debt instruments created by this administration, China becomes less and less vulnerable to retaliatory measures available to the US government," she explained. "By the time either this administration wakes up or is replaced by one more in tune with economic reality, we may find ourselves with no choice but to accept the terms of trade dictated by the Chinese, because they will have the power to harm our economy with a computer stroke."

Undersecretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property, Jon Dudas, who has been involved in discussions with Beijing in the US-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade, expressed Bush administration frustration with Beijing.

"China has taken some important steps in the right direction to improve intellectual property protection. Unfortunately, however, we have not seen a significant reduction in IPR infringements throughout China, the critical test," added Dudas.

The Bush administration says it continues to work hard in the US-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade and elsewhere to level the playing field with China.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

An Army of Chinese Spies?

Australia has given a hint that its intelligence agencies are investigating claims that hundreds of Chinese spies are operating on its soil. The allegations have been made by two Chinese men seeking asylum in Australia. Both men say they are seeking sanctuary in Australia because of what they describe as China's abuse of its political opponents.

One of the men, Chen Yonglin, alleges that China has one-thousand secret agents working in Australia. Chen was a first secretary at China's consulate in Sydney. He walked out almost two-weeks ago and has been in hiding with his wife and daughter ever since, awaiting the outcome of his asylum application.

The other man seeking Australia's protection is Hao Fengjin, who says he was an officer with China's internal security agency. He arrived in Australia on a tourist visa in February and, like Chen, is still waiting to see if Canberra will let him stay.

Both men say that China has an army of agents spying on Australia.

In Canberra, Attorney-General Philip Ruddock has indicated that Australian authorities are investigating these allegations. "The difficulty for me in relation to these matters is I can not talk about ongoing activities in which our security agencies are involved. It compromises them. Traditionally we do not speak about them," he said. "But it would be naive to believe that matters that are reported on are not matters that the organizations that work in this area would not be aware of and wouldn't act on."

The future of both men remains unclear.

The granting of political asylum in Australia is extremely unusual, but both the fugitive diplomat, Chen, and Hao could be eligible for refugee visas. One Australian official has said they are not in danger of being immediately returned to China.

Rights activists and some opposition politicians have said they fear the men's asylum cases could be influenced by Australia's efforts to negotiate a free-trade deal with China. China is Australia's third-largest trading partner, worth nearly $23-billion a year.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard denied that trade would be a factor.

Beijing has strongly denied the allegations made by the two Chinese men and has described their claims as "total slander."

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Another Chinese Diplomat Defects

A second Chinese official is seeking political asylum in Australia. The former security agent has claimed he was a member of China's internal police force working to persecute dissidents. His bid for asylum follows a similar application by a senior Chinese diplomat in Sydney. Both men have claimed that Beijing has hundreds of spies in Australia. China has strongly denied the allegations.

Hao Feng Jun has said he worked as a police officer in a specialist security unit known as 610 in the port city of Tianjin in northern China. His primary responsibility was monitoring the activities of the Falun Gong meditation movement and Hao claims to have seen members of the group tortured. He insisted he has a catalogue of sensitive information about the way Beijing spies on its political opponents at home and overseas. He also has alleged that Beijing was sending businessmen and students to foreign countries to work as secret agents.

In February, while he was in Australia as a tourist, the 32-year-old former security official applied for political asylum. He is waiting to see if Canberra will grant him refugee status.

Hao is the second Chinese official to seek sanctuary in Australia in the past two weeks.

A senior diplomat, Chen Yonglin, is fighting to stay in the country after walking out from his job as the first secretary at the Chinese consulate-general in Sydney at the end of last month.

Chen claimed that 1,000 Chinese spies were operating in Australia and he is seeking to defect because of what he described as Beijing's "abusive treatment" of its political opponents. These allegations have been supported by Hao Feng Jun. He has told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that it is now far too dangerous for him to return to his homeland…

"If I go back to China, there is no doubt the Communist Government will certainly persecute me," he said. "They know I have confidential information, some of it top secret, and I will be severely punished."

Neither China nor Australia has yet commented on Mr. Hao's allegations or the status of his asylum application.

The former police officer said he was encouraged to speak out after fugitive diplomat Chen Yonglin had voiced his concerns about China's treatment of dissidents.

The Chinese ambassador in Canberra, Fu Ying, has denied Chen's claims, saying he has made up the stories so he can stay in Australia.

Australia's foreign minister, Alexander Downer, said the former diplomat is still in hiding somewhere in Sydney and is being considered for a protection visa, which would allow him to stay in the country.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Taiwan Amends Constitution

Taiwan's National Assembly has passed a set of amendments to the island's constitution that analysts say could change Taiwan's political landscape.

The National Assembly voted Tuesday to halve the number of lawmakers in the 225-seat Parliament, institute a single constituency election system and put future constitutional amendments in the hands of Taiwanese voters.

The assembly approved the amendments by an overwhelming majority. Political analysts say the changes will redraw Taiwan's political landscape in favor of the island's dominant political parties - the ruling pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party or DPP and the opposition Kuomintang or KMT.

The single constituency system narrows down the number of representatives from each district to two. Analysts say this puts smaller parties at a disadvantage against their bigger rivals with larger budgets and greater political machinery to mount campaigns.

"We may only have a two-party system,” says Dachi Liao, a political science professor at Taiwan's National Sun Yat Sen University. “That means smaller parties would lose their chance to win elections and would gradually merge into the big ones like the KMT and DPP. They may push Taiwan public opinion [to be] further polarized."

By voting to allow Taiwanese voters to decide future constitutional changes, the National Assembly, which once selected presidents, dissolved itself. Any future amendments now will have to be endorsed by at least half of Taiwan's eligible voters.

Liao says that requirement creates a high mark for Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian to meet. "We require constitutional amendments to be passed in future [by] eight million-something votes. Presidential elections usually show the highest votes, Chen Shui-bian last year only got six million votes," she added.

The issue of referendums has worried the communist government in mainland China, which fears Taiwan President Chen would use them to pursue formal independence for the island.

Taiwan been separately governed since 1949, when Nationalist forces fled there after losing a war against the communists. China claims Taiwan as part of its territory, and says it will reunite the island with the mainland by force if necessary.

China: UN Expansion "Dangerous"

China has stepped up its criticism of a proposal by Japan, India, Brazil and Germany to become permanent members of the UN Security Council.

The four nations, known now as the G-4, have ignited anger among Chinese officials, who oppose Japan's bid to join the Security Council. China contends Japan must first meet Beijing's nonspecific demands for redress for atrocities committed by Japanese occupation forces in China during the first half of the 20th century.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao, at a regular briefing Tuesday, called the proposal "dangerous."

Liu said the four nations hastily came up with the proposal and are trying to put it up for a vote. The official calls the move detrimental to solidarity among UN members, and he says it hurts the interest of developing countries.

China supports another plan proposed by Italy, Mexico, and Pakistan to expand the body by ten more members - six of them permanent.

Beijing's criticism of the G-4 plan comes after Chinese UN Ambassador Wang Guangya said last week that China would block any move to give Japan, India, Brazil, and Germany permanent seats on an enlarged security council.

Tensions between China and Japan have been high over the past few months. In April, the Chinese government allowed thousands to take to the streets to protest some Japanese history textbooks that China says whitewash Japan's past record of aggression.

Beijing banned the protests after some of the demonstrations turned violent. Relations suffered further last month when Japan's prime minister defended his visits to a controversial war shrine in Tokyo where convicted war criminals are among those honored.

A proposal to expand the UN Security Council would require approval by two-thirds of the 191 United Nations members.

Japan says it will continue working to convince China to vote for the G-4 plan. Japan's foreign minister on Tuesday began a five-day tour of Brunei, Cambodia, and Vietnam in an effort to build support for the proposal.

The United States has already made clear its support for Japan's candidacy for a permanent Security Council seat.

Greenspan: "Flexible" RMB Possible

US Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan says China may move soon to make its currency, the yuan, more flexible. China, however, is standing firm saying it will not be pressured into removing its current peg.

Greenspan took part in a panel of central bankers who gathered in Beijing on Tuesday. Speaking from Washington via video-link, he said he expects China to make its currency - now fixed at a rate of about 8.20 RMB to the dollar - more flexible in the near future.

"The issue of allowing flexibility in some form in the RMB, strikes me as very much to the advantage of China and indeed it's something that I am certain they will take on reasonably soon," Greenspan said.

Also on the panel Tuesday was Chinese central bank Governor Zhou Xiaochuan, who repeated China's position that it will not bow to outside pressure. He said China will take its time to make any changes.

"Right now, if there is too much expectation on the role of the RMB, I think probably it's too heavy on our shoulders and I think it's not so good at this moment to try that," he said.

The official said China has much work to do in reforming its banking institutions so that they can be ready to handle the pressures that would be created by a floating currency.

Some politicians and labor groups in the United States want Washington to pressure China to allow its currency to float freely. They allege the current peg makes Chinese imports artificially cheap, causing the United States to lose jobs.

But Greenspan told panelists that while an adjustment of the Chinese currency would bring a drop in Chinese exports to the United States, it would not cause the giant US-China trade deficit to shrink very much, if at all.

Central bankers from Europe and Japan at the conference also expressed their support for making the yuan more flexible.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Chinese Official Discusses Nuclear Plans, Denies Aiding Iran, N. Korea

China has laid out an ambitious plan to almost double the percentage of nuclear energy it produces by the year 2020. Officials at the same time deny any suggestion that they are supplying nuclear technology to Iran and North Korea.

Kang Rixin, general manager of the state-owned nuclear power agency, China National Nuclear Corporation, told reporters in Beijing Monday the agency wants to share its technology with other nations. He denied any suggestion China might be supplying other nations with the materials or knowledge to develop nuclear weapons.

"Our international cooperation is for peaceful purposes and we strictly follow relevant rules and principles," he said. "We have no such cooperation with Iran, North Korea, and Libya."

Beijing in the 1980s and 1990s made repeated assurances that it was not helping other nations develop nuclear capabilities. These assurances were followed by later revelations that China had secretly supplied countries including Iran and Pakistan with nuclear technology.

China is helping Pakistan with plans to build a 300-megawatt nuclear power plant. Construction is expected to start as early as this year.

Chinese officials say they need to expand nuclear power production capacity to meet the country's rapidly growing energy needs. The country's coal- and oil-fueled power plants are unable to keep up with electricity demand and many areas of the country have experienced power outages over the past few years.

The nuclear plans were discussed as UN and Chinese government officials gathered Monday to begin work on a 12-year effort to address China's energy challenges as the nation becomes the world's second largest consumer of energy - after the United States.

UN Development Program representative Khalid Malik says China's energy problems stem from its reliance on highly polluting coal, insufficient production, and its inefficient use of electricity.

"China is using two and a-half times more energy than it needs to, per unit of output, if you were to compare global averages. So there is a lot of room for improvement," he said.

China currently gets little more than two percent of its electricity from its nine nuclear power plants. Officials on Monday said they plan to bring 10 more plants online in the coming years. The aim is to have four percent of the country's energy come from nuclear sources by the year 2020.

China Reacts to Defector's Claims

China has accused a senior diplomat who is seeking political asylum in Australia of fabricating stories about the abuse of political opponents by Beijing. The political affairs officer at China's consulate in Sydney walked out last month, and says he has defected because he opposes the persecution of dissidents by Beijing.

Chen Yonglin has been in hiding for almost two weeks with his wife and six-year-old daughter. He is reportedly living with supporters in Sydney's large expatriate Chinese community.

Chen has said he defected because he could no longer support China's treatment of dissidents, who - he said - were being kidnapped in Australia and sent back to be punished. He also alleges that China has a thousand spies working in Australia.

China's ambassador in Canberra, Fu Ying, says Chen has fabricated his allegations because he does not want to return to China at the end of his four-year posting. She rejects his claims that he would be punished if he went back to China.

The Australian government has not commented on Chen's claims about Chinese agents working in the country, and has said the diplomat will receive no special treatment as he seeks to stay in the country. His case presents a diplomatic dilemma for Canberra. It is negotiating with Beijing on a free trade deal that could be worth billions of dollars.

Some political analysts say China may link increased economic ties to cooperation from Canberra on Beijing's positions on political and security issues.

Kevin Rudd, foreign affairs spokesman for the main opposition Labor party, says Chen's future must be decided by humanitarian, not economic considerations. "These matters should be treated on their individual merits quite removed from any concerns about commercial interests or broader political interests in China," he said.

Chen is the highest profile attempted defection to Australia since Soviet spy Vladimir Petrov was granted political asylum in 1954.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Deadly Floods Hit Southern China

A week of torrential rain has triggered flooding and landslides in southern China that have killed scores of people and left dozens missing.

China's official Xinhua news agency says the seasonal downpours have affected millions of people and have destroyed thousands of hectares of farmland and crops.

The exact number of casualties was not immediately verifiable.

Governments across the country have been ordered to mobilize manpower and resources to battle the floods, in particular to prevent major rivers and reservoirs from being breached.

Authorities in one county dispatched 51 buses Saturday to transport more than 2,000 passengers stranded at the Qijiang railway station.

Hundreds of people die every year from floods in China, and officials have warned that this year could be worse than usual.

China Decries US Textile Quotas

China's Deputy Prime Minister says US restrictions on Chinese textile exports have created a "major problem" that has hurt China's textile industry.

The official Xinhua news agency quotes Wu Yi as making those remarks in meetings with US Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez and US Trade Representative Rob Portman Saturday in Beijing.

Her remarks come a day after Chinese Trade Minister Bo Xilai called the US restrictions unfair "trade protectionism."

The Bush administration has defended the restrictions, saying they are allowed under the agreement China signed when it joined the World Trade Organization.

The US imposed quotas in May requiring China to limit its exports of some textile products. China's textile exports surged after a global quota system was abolished on January 1.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Rumsfeld Steps Up China Criticism

Less than 24 hours after criticizing China for its military buildup and lack of democracy (scroll down for the story), US Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld stepped up his rhetorical assault, telling a regional security conference in Singapore on Saturday that the Pentagon's soon-to-be-released annual assessment of China's military capabilities shows that the country is spending more than its leaders acknowledge, expanding its missile capabilities and developing advanced military technology.

Rumsfeld said China now has the world's third-largest military budget, behind the United States and Russia.

Rumsfeld's speech at the conference, which was organized by the International Institute of Strategic Studies, represented the strongest criticism he has leveled at China since he took charge at the Pentagon in 2001. His remarks reflect growing apprehension in the US over China's rise and its regional and global aspirations.

Rumsfeld's remarks also amounted to a direct verbal confrontation with Beijing, which, after skipping last year's conference, sent representatives to the meeting. Under questioning from a Chinese delegate, Rumsfeld said he does not believe the United States is threatened by the emergence of China as a world power.

Singapore's Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, in a speech opening the conference Friday, warned that confronting China will antagonize it without blocking its growth. And he said that any attempt to contain China will receive little support in the region.

Defense ministers from 21 nations attended this year's gathering. Excerpts from Rumsfeld's speech follow:

"Although the Cold War is over, this region, unfortunately, is still burdened by some old rivalries; and military budgets are escalating in some quarters. These are matters that should be of concern.

"China’s emergence is an important new reality in this era.

"Indeed, the world would welcome a China committed to peaceful solutions and whose industrious and well-educated people contribute to international peace and mutual prosperity.

"A candid discussion of China, however, cannot neglect to mention areas of concern to the region.

"The US Congress requires that the US Department of Defense report annually on China’s perceived military strategy and its military modernization. The Department’s 2005 report is scheduled to be released soon.

"Among other things, the report concludes that China’s defense expenditures are much higher than Chinese officials have published. It is estimated that China’s is the third largest military budget in the world, and clearly the largest in Asia.

"China appears to be expanding its missile forces, allowing them to reach targets in many areas of the world, not just the Pacific region, while also expanding its missile capabilities within this region. China also is improving its ability to project power, and developing advanced systems of military technology.

"Since no nation threatens China, one must wonder: Why this growing investment? Why these continuing large and expanding arms purchases? Why these continuing robust deployments?

"Though China’s economic growth has kept pace with its military spending, it is to be noted that a growth in political freedom has not yet followed suit. With a system that encouraged enterprise and free expression, China would appear more a welcome partner and provide even greater economic opportunities for the Chinese people.

"China has important decisions to make about its goals and its future. Ultimately, China likely will need to embrace some form of a more open and representative government if it is to fully achieve the political and economic benefits to which its people aspire."

Friday, June 03, 2005

Hong Kong Urged to Help Reporter

Lawmakers and journalists are urging Hong Kong's government to do all it can to help a Hong Kong reporter detained in mainland China and accused of spying.

Ching Cheong, a senior correspondent for Singapore's Straits Times newspaper, has been detained since traveling to Guangzhou in April, reportedly to obtain transcripts of interviews with the late ousted Chinese Communist Party leader, Zhao Ziyang.

China claims Ching has confessed to spying--a crime punishable by death.

At a meeting Friday in Hong Kong, journalists and legislators urged action over Ching's arrest.

Legislator Ronny Tong said the Hong Kong government should take steps to help Ching.

"I think the first thing the government ought to do is gain more information about what is happening and how quickly Mr. Ching will be brought to trial, whether or not the Hong Kong government can help by arranging a lawyer to defend, or at least find out what is happening," he said.

Tong appealed for a speedy, open trial and for humane treatment of Ching. He said the case presented a clear challenge to the rule of law and freedom of the press, core values of Hong Kong.

Lawmaker Margaret Ng rejected the accusation that Ching would sell state secrets for money, and fellow journalists attested to his integrity.

Nicolas Becquelin of the organization Human Rights in China said if Ching signed a confession, it is likely to be the result of duress.

"Nobody can be under duress, detained without contact to a lawyer, without signing a confession,” he added. “This is because the psychological pressure is so high, the strain, the anguish about not knowing what one's fate will be, and all the pressure the interrogators bring on you, makes a confession absolutely inevitable."

China is the world's top jailer of journalists, with at least 42 detained in 2004.

The chairman of Hong Kong's security panel, James To, announced Friday that Secretary of Security Ambrose Lee will meet with Hong Kong lawmakers on Tuesday to discuss Ching's case.