Agam's Gecko
Monday, August 04, 2008
Kashgar street
A Uighur woman and her son walk past security forces in Kashgar.
Photo: AFP / Mark Ralston

ollowing release of a Zawahiri-style propaganda video last month, which took credit for the July 21 Yunnan bus bombings on behalf of the "Turkestan Islamic Party," Chinese officials scoffed at the idea. Despite hammering on the terrorism issue for months and pointing expectant fingers at Uighurs, Tibetans, domestic dissidents and "foreign anti-China forces," when faced with actual terrorism they were suddenly sceptical.

Ben Venzke, an international expert in extremist threats and director of the security consultancy IntelCenter, said that the TIP has the capacity for such attacks and that their claims and further threats were credible.

This morning a large truck barged into a police compound in Kashgar, in the former East Turkestan (Ch: Xinjiang). The riders threw explosives into the barracks and hacked at police with knives. Sixteen were killed, making it the highest casualty incident of its kind in China. Police are said to be "suspecting terrorism."

While that news was still sinking in, people who had been evicted from their homes to make way for a trendy business development in the heart of Beijing held a peaceful demonstration against their treatment. Police quickly surrounded the protesters, then let the local CCP "neighbourhood committee" cadres round up the protesters and take them away amid screaming and scuffling. It isn't known where they were taken or whether they have been arrested. A police spokesman said he didn't know what happened to them.
A large crowd of onlookers gathered to watch the protest in the historic Qianmen district just south of Tiananmen Square, one of Beijing's most famous landmarks where large pro-democracy protests were held in 1989.
I'm reminded of something I read yesterday regarding the people who lived in the vicinity of the square at that time, by the pro-democracy writer Ma Jian. In an excellent piece about China's secret grief, he recounts how the residents understood what the students most needed after the initial confrontation and chaos: running shoes.
The city had come out to support the protesters: workers, entrepreneurs, writers, petty thieves. After the tanks drove the students from the square in the early hours of 4 June 1989, nearby shop owners turned up with baskets of trainers to hand out to protesters who'd lost their shoes in the confrontation. As soldiers opened fire in the streets, civilians rushed to the wounded to carry them to the hospital.
Ma Jian's latest novel, Beijing Coma, is the story of a student injured in that massacre. His books are banned in China.

In this period of high paranoia, it isn't only foreigners who are viewed with suspicion. Even far from the Olympic venue cities, there is a prescription for dealing with strangers.
The unwritten Olympic tourism guidelines here prescribe treatment for three types of traveller. Run-of-the-mill Westerners are to be politely guided through bureaucratic inconveniences until they leave town of their own volition. People from the provinces of Tibet and Xinjiang are to be quickly evicted.
Special "mouldy" hotels have been prepared and tasked with lodging any Westerners who find their way to the town of Handan, south of Beijing. This writer and an assistant were there to deliver a donation to a crippled man (not to write a story), but ended up with an eye-opening experience.

Olympics-goers will need to be very careful what they say and where they say it, even if they think nobody's listening. If big brother CCP can eavesdrop on two US Congressmen riding in a US Embassy vehicle, nobody is safe. When you emerge from that gleaming new airport and get into a cab, for goodness' sake, keep your mouth shut.
Beijing's thousands of taxicabs are being fitted with video cameras and satellite technology that transmits a live audio feed of what is being said in the cab back to a computer for monitoring and linguistic analysis, according to industry sources.

"It was about two or three months ago. All the taxis in our company had this fitted," an employee at a major Beijing cab company said.
The cameras are on and recording, but only the audio is streamed live to the control centre, where over 100 people are doing nothing but listening to your conversations.

And as for the surveillance of your internet habits, which every "foreigner permitted" hotel is obliged to provide, the government says it's the same rules for everybody. The kerfuffle over net access in the Olympic media centre apparently embarrassed the authorities into lifting the block on some sites (but not on the "evil fake religion" of breathing exercises and forbearance, nor Tibet sites). The internet censorship index (see the live update in our sidebar, derived from constant testing) has been fluctuating between 28 and 44, but remains shamefully poor. Officials continue to defend the censorship but promise that they'd never, ever look at your email.

However, in a good piece about the former top official (and current dissident) Bao Tong in the Sydney Morning Herald, comes this nugget:
Yesterday, however, the interference remained crude and clear. Multiple attempts by the Herald to send an email to Australia and within China that mentioned taboo subjects such as Tibet and Falun Gong failed to arrive.
I'm sure there must be an explanation for that, and the authorities are probably working toward a credible one right now.

Late last month, the US House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed Resolution 1370,
"Calling on the Government of the People’s Republic of China to immediately end abuses of the human rights of its citizens, to cease repression of Tibetan and Uighur citizens, and to end its support for the Governments of Sudan and Burma to ensure that the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games take place in an atmosphere that honors the Olympic traditions of freedom and openness."
Of course the Chinese authorities didn't care for that advice one bit, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao denigrating it as "odious conduct." The measure had been adopted in the Democrat-controlled House by a vote of 419 - 1.

That is practically as bipartisan as it ever gets in Washington. On issues like Tibet and human rights in China, the polarized political camps in the US are united. It must feel good for a change, to be able to say to an otherwise political opponent, "We are together on this one."

But even that single "nay" surprises me, so I checked up on it. Who is the one who would vote against the statement quoted above? None other than that wacky former presidential candidate, Ron Paul. The second-looniest representative, Dennis "Tinfoil Hat" Kucinich, voted "present" -- unable to make his mind up on the issue.

But Paul must be a hero in China today (in Party circles, at least), with his own headline in the government's mouth organ, Xinhua: U.S. congressman opposes House resolution on China. Funny that the article doesn't mention the vote count at all, or the fact that Paul was the sole opposition.

Reporters travelling to Beijing should really take a look at the Guide to China’s Labor Camps if they're looking for story ideas. It's surprising how many of these are practically within walking distance from Olympic venues. It comes complete with maps, directions, background and photos for easy identification. Put the pdf on an encrypted thumb drive, then put the thumb drive where the sun won't shine, and you should be fine.

Chinese journalists are not fine, though. An analysis of Freedom House's annual Freedom of the Press survey shows that they face much greater repression today than when the Games were awarded in 2001. The IOC, on behalf of the world, took a bet that the Games would be a boon to freedoms and rights. It was a foolish bet. China's press freedom index dropped four ranks over the past seven years.

A joint protest by people from three countries adversely affected by China's veto in the UN Security Council is to be held on 8-8-8 by Zimbabwean, Tibetan and Burmese exiles. Sudanese are also expected to join. Nine German Olympians have appeared in a magazine photo spread, holding pictures of jailed Chinese dissidents, before heading off to Beijing.

This might be a good point to recall Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who passed on last night after a long and eventful life. Quoted by Richard Powers in "Not Without Honor," he said in 1975,
"On our crowded planet, there are no longer any internal affairs. The Communists say, 'Don't interfere in our internal affairs. Let us strangle our citizens in peace and quiet.' But I tell you: Interfere more and more. Interfere as much as you can. We beg you to come and interfere."
And one more, just for fun (yes I hear you - you're welcome!), from Slashdot. A restaurant in the Olympic host country decided to mount an English language sign to entice visitors. They ran the restaurant's Chinese name through an online translator, took the result to a sign-maker, and ordered a large. It must be something truly poetic in Chinese, but foreign visitors are advised to look for the the restaurant called:
Translate Server Error
Unless it was a dig at their waiters, but I don't think so.


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