Tag Archives: China

A Surveillance State Unlike Any the World Has Ever Seen

These days, the city of Kashgar in westernmost China feels a bit like Baghdad after the war. The sound of wailing sirens fills the air, armed trucks patrol the streets and fighter jets roar above the city. The few hotels that still host a smattering of tourists are surrounded by high concrete walls. Police in protective vests and helmets direct the traffic with sweeping, bossy gestures, sometimes yelling at those who don’t comply.

But now and then, a ghostly calm descends on the city. Just after noon, when it’s time for Friday prayers, the square in front of the huge Id Kah Mosque lies empty. There’s no muezzin piercing the air, just a gentle buzz on the rare occasion that someone passes through the metal detector at the entrance to the mosque. Dozens of surveillance cameras overlook the square. Security forces, some in uniform and others in plain-clothes, do the rounds of the Old Town with such stealth it’s as if they were trying to read people’s minds.

Journalists are not immune to their attentions. No sooner have we arrived than two police officers insist on sitting down with us for a “talk.” The next day in our hotel, one of them emerges from a room on our floor. When we take a walk through the city in the morning, we’re followed by several plain-clothes officers. Eventually, we’re being tailed by some eight people and three cars, including a black Honda with a covered license plate — apparently the secret police. Occasionally, our minders seem to be leaving us alone, but already awaiting us at the next intersection are the surveillance cameras that reach into every last corner of Kashgar’s inner city. The minute we strike up conversation with anyone, officials appear and start interrogating them.

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Posted by on August 14, 2018 in Asia



The Rise of China and the Fall of the ‘Free Trade’ Myth

‘America first does not mean America alone,” President Trump declared last month at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. This sudden burst of pragmatism from an avowed nationalist showed what a difference a year can make. Denouncing the “false song of globalism” during his presidential campaign, Trump, on his third full day in office, canceled the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a regional trade deal with Japan and 10 other countries. He then denounced Canada, Germany and South Korea for exporting more to the United States than they import. He promised to renegotiate trade pacts with Europe, Canada and Mexico and get a better deal for American workers. In Davos, however, he reached out with conciliatory words to the very free-trading and globalizing elites he has consistently maligned.

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Posted by on August 9, 2018 in Asia


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How Dyslexia Remains Invisible in Chinese Schools

In a classroom at Weining Dyslexia Education Center, several kids around 10 years old excitedly grab colored pens and begin highlighting patterns in a series of Chinese characters. The exercise is one of many designed to help the children overcome dyslexia. Inside the classroom, they are surrounded by peers who struggle with the same disorder, but outside, they are often seen as bad students and called “stupid” or “lazy” by teachers.

The need for recognition of the learning disability in China is pressing: An estimated 11 percent of the country’s primary school students have dyslexia, a total of about 10 million children, according to research published in 2016 by the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Despite this staggering number, there is little understanding of and barely any support for dyslexic students on the Chinese mainland — the Weining center, located in southern tech hub Shenzhen, is one of few organizations dedicated to the cause. Dyslexia is well-known and well-researched in many Western countries, but awareness of the disability remains low across the Chinese mainland; without support, those affected are unable to compete in school, stifling their future potential.

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Posted by on August 8, 2018 in Asia



Asia’s new ways to say goodbye

On a recent Saturday afternoon on the roof deck of a small ship in Tokyo Bay, 13 passengers sat in somber silence as the vessel chugged its way to the middle of the inlet. The tortured lyrics of John Lennon’s 1970 song “Mother” wafted faintly from a speaker inside the boat as jets roared against a deep blue sky above.

In the water below, hundreds of brightly colored flower petals floated on the surface, marking the spot where a paper bag containing the cremated remains of a passenger’s family member had been tossed into the bay.

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Posted by on August 3, 2018 in Asia


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The Myth of a Neo-Imperial China

The geopolitical focus of the still young 21st century spans the Indian Ocean from the Persian Gulf all the way to the South China Sea alongside the spectrum from Southwest Asia to Central Asia and China. That happens to configure the prime playing ground, overland and maritime, of the New Silk Roads, a.k.a. Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

The epicenter of global power shifting East is rattling US Think Tankland to the core – with a proliferation of parochial analyses ranging from Chinese “imperial overstretch” to Xi Jinping’s Chinese Dream provoking “nightmares“.

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Posted by on April 15, 2018 in Asia



Echoes of Mao as Xi Jinping ends term limits

Has Xi Jinping just made himself president for life?

The announcement on Sunday that China will amend its state constitution to remove the two-term limit for the presidency has seemingly cleared the way for just that.

Under the old constitutional provisions, Xi would have been required to step aside as president in early 2023, when his second five-year term would come to an end. Xi would not necessarily have had to cede power, however. There are no terms limits for one of the other key positions he occupies, that of secretary of the communist party, the office in which true power resides in China.

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Posted by on March 23, 2018 in Asia



Making China Great Again

When the Chinese action movie “Wolf Warrior II” arrived in theatres, in July, it looked like a standard shoot-’em-up, with a lonesome hero and frequent explosions. Within two weeks, however, “Wolf Warrior II” had become the highest-grossing Chinese movie of all time. Some crowds gave it standing ovations; others sang the national anthem. In October, China selected it as its official entry in the foreign-language category of the Academy Awards.

The hero, Leng Feng, played by the action star Wu Jing (who also directed the film), is a veteran of the “wolf warriors,” special forces of the People’s Liberation Army. In retirement, he works as a guard in a fictional African country, on the frontier of China’s ventures abroad. A rebel army, backed by Western mercenaries, attempts to seize power, and the country is engulfed in civil war. Leng shepherds civilians to the gates of the Chinese Embassy, where the Ambassador wades into the battle and declares, “Stand down! We are Chinese! China and Africa are friends.” The rebels hold their fire, and survivors are spirited to safety aboard a Chinese battleship.

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Posted by on February 9, 2018 in Asia



The Petro-Yuan Bombshell

The new 55-page “America First” National Security Strategy

(NSS), drafted over the course of 2017, defines Russia and China as “revisionist” powers, “rivals”, and for all practical purposes strategic competitors of the United States.

The NSS stops short of defining Russia and China as enemies, allowing for an “attempt to build a great partnership with those and other countries”. Still, Beijing qualified it as “reckless” and “irrational.” The Kremlin noted its “imperialist character” and “disregard for a multipolar world”. Iran, predictably, is described by the NSS as “the world’s most significant state sponsor of terrorism.”

Russia, China and Iran happen to be the three key movers and shakers in the ongoing geopolitical and geoeconomic process of Eurasia integration.

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Posted by on December 31, 2017 in Asia, Economy, Europe


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China’s Race to Find Aliens First

Last January, the Chinese Academy of Sciences invited Liu Cixin, China’s preeminent science-fiction writer, to visit its new state-of-the-art radio dish in the country’s southwest. Almost twice as wide as the dish at America’s Arecibo Observatory, in the Puerto Rican jungle, the new Chinese dish is the largest in the world, if not the universe. Though it is sensitive enough to detect spy satellites even when they’re not broadcasting, its main uses will be scientific, including an unusual one: The dish is Earth’s first flagship observatory custom-built to listen for a message from an extraterrestrial intelligence. If such a sign comes down from the heavens during the next decade, China may well hear it first.

In some ways, it’s no surprise that Liu was invited to see the dish. He has an outsize voice on cosmic affairs in China, and the government’s aerospace agency sometimes asks him to consult on science missions. Liu is the patriarch of the country’s science-fiction scene. Other Chinese writers I met attached the honorific Da, meaning “Big,” to his surname. In years past, the academy’s engineers sent Liu illustrated updates on the dish’s construction, along with notes saying how he’d inspired their work.

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Posted by on December 23, 2017 in Reportages, Uncategorized


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How the mass eviction of migrant workers has left Beijing reeling

Zhang Jun was lucky. Evicted from his rented hut in the east of Beijing, the electrician from Anhui province managed to find a flat in the same village in Chaoyang district.

Like many others – tens of thousands of mostly poorer migrant workers – he was forced to move out after the electricity and water was cut off on December 1, in freezing temperatures, amid a 40-day safety blitz by Beijing to rid the city of “illegal structures”. The campaign was launched after 19 people were killed in a fire in the city’s Daxing district on November 18.

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Posted by on December 18, 2017 in Asia