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Currency, culture, Confucius: China’s writ will run across the world

Posted in Uncategorized by malaysiasms on June 24, 2009


The rise of the East will change more than just economics. It will shake up the whole way that we think and live our lives

Martin Jacques

The world is being remade but the West is only very slowly waking up to this new reality. In 2027 Goldman Sachs estimates that the size of the Chinese economy will overtake America’s and by 2050 will be twice as big.

But we still think of the rise of the developing countries and the relative decline of the developed nations in almost exclusively economic terms. China’s rise is seen as having momentous economic implications but being of little political and cultural consequence. This is a profound mistake.

In the past – Britain and the US being obvious cases in point – the economic rise of a country has always been the prelude to the exercise of much wider political and cultural influence. So why should China be different?

The only plausible reason that I can think of is the hubristic belief that our ways of doing things are so superior that other countries will automatically adopt our arrangements, values and belief systems. It is based on the absurd assumption that China’s modernity will not be deeply shaped by its own long and rich history and culture.

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Let me give a few examples of how China will remain very different from the West. The nation state, a product of the European tradition, has become the primary defining entity of nations. The problem is that China is not really a nation state: it may have called itself one over the past century, but for the previous two millennia it was a civilisation state. For China, the nation state is the top soil and the civilisation state the geological formation.

The Chinese do not think of themselves in terms of nation but civilisation; it is the latter that gives them their sense of identity.

Although we tend to think of China in somewhat homogeneous terms, it is a continent that contains great diversity; and to govern a continent requires a plurality of systems that a nation state would never tolerate. The maxim of a nation state is “one nation, one system”; that of a civilisation state is, of necessity, “one country, several systems”.

Think back to the constitutional formula that underpinned the handover of Hong Kong: “one country, two systems”. Despite Western scepticism, the Chinese really meant it, as the Hong Kong of today clearly illustrates.

Now imagine what it might be like to have a civilisation state, rather than a nation state, as the world’s dominant power: the consequences are bound to be very far-reaching but very difficult to conceive because of its unfamiliarity.

Or take the tributary state system, which organised interstate relations in East Asia for thousands of years. It was a loose and flexible system of states that was organised around the dominance of China, the acceptance of the latter’s cultural superiority, and a symbolic tribute that was paid in return for the protection of the Chinese emperor. That system lasted until about 1900.

The deeply rooted attitudes that informed the tributary system have never really gone away, either on the part of the Chinese or others. Furthermore, the conditions that swept it away – the decline of China and the arrival of European colonialism (and the subsequent influence of the United States) – have disappeared or, in the case of America, is waning.

We are now witnessing the rapid reconfiguration of the region around a resurgent China. It is entirely plausible that we might once again see the return, in a modern context, of some elements of the tributary state system, thereby challenging the global dominance of that European invention (the Westphalian system) of sovereign, independent nation states.

There are other examples of how China will remain very different from the Western norms that we are so familiar with: unlike in Europe, the state has never had its powers curbed by competitors, giving it an unrivalled position at the heart of Chinese society; or its highly distinctive position on race, where about 92 per cent of the population believe that they are of one race; and the lack of a conception of, or respect for, difference that flows from this.

The rise of China will transform a world that presently conforms to a Western template. It will not happen quickly; not least because the Chinese are, for now, too preoccupied with economic growth and escaping from poverty to entertain such questions. But in time that will change as the country becomes more prosperous and people can afford to raise their sights and entertain other ambitions. In the 19th century, Europe left a profound and indelible impression on the world, marking the birth of the Western(-made) world. That era is now in retreat.

The rise of China signals the slow dawning of a very different era in which Chinese influence will become profound.

The renminbi will replace the dollar as the world’s dominant currency. The international financial system will be remade in China’s financial centre, Shanghai. Mandarin, already spoken by twice as many people as English, will become a lingua franca just like English is now.

The great landmarks of Chinese history – the voyages of Zheng He, the formation of the Qin dynasty, the inventions of the Song dynasty, the 1949 revolution – will become universally familiar.

Confucius will take his place as a philosopher of global, not just Chinese, signficance. Chinese film, already popular in the West through movies such as Hero and Curse of the Golden Flower will exercise a growing influence on the popular imagination. Beijing, rather than New York, will be the global reference point. Chinese traditional medicine, based on principles very different from Western, will become widespread across the globe.

Our children and grandchildren will grow up in a world that is increasingly unfamiliar to us, where the old Western furniture can no longer be taken for granted. For the first time for more than two centuries Westerners will be obliged to adapt to and learn from other cultures in a quite novel way. It will be a highly disorientating and disconcerting process.

Martin Jacques is author of When China Rules the World: the Rise of the Middle Kingdom and the End of the Western World (Allen Lane £30)

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China tries to stop spread of HIV/AIDS among prostitutes

Posted in Uncategorized by malaysiasms on June 22, 2009


BEIJING, China (CNN) — A 19-year-old prostitute working in an apartment that doubles as a brothel said she has up to eight clients a day.

A woman awaits customers at a Beijing barber shop in 2008. Sex workers also ply their trade in barber shops.

A woman awaits customers at a Beijing barber shop in 2008. Sex workers also ply their trade in barber shops.

Working in the southern boom city of Shenzhen, a special economic zone just north of Hong Kong, she told CNN she worries about getting AIDS, but has her own prevention measures.

“I always use condoms or take an injection. The medicine can prevent sexually transmitted diseases,” she said. “Some girls do not use prevention measures, but we don’t talk about that in public.”

This young woman, who would not give her name, is part of a group that Chinese and international health authorities are concerned could potentially spread HIV and AIDS in the world’s most populated country, so officials have stepped up efforts to educate them about the virus and dispel misconceptions about so-called “injections” that can prevent infection.

“I think sex work is probably one of the most important factors for the potential of HIV spreading in Asia and also in China. There is no doubt about it,” said Bernhard Schwartlander, UNAIDS China Country Coordinator. “One of the things that we have seen in China is that knowledge about HIV/AIDS is very low in the general population and certainly also in the sex work industry. That is a big, big problem,” Schwartlander said.

It is estimated that some 700,000 people are living with HIV in China and there are about 50,000 new infections every year, according to the Chinese government and UNAIDS. The U.N. agency believes a significant number of those new infections include sex workers.

Prostitution is officially illegal in China, but very loosely addressed by the government. It is estimated that there are between two and four million sex workers in China. As the country’s economy has boomed, so has the sex industry, especially in prosperous cities like Shenzhen. Many clients flock there from Hong Kong which is just an hour away, some of them businessmen with money to spend.

Condom use in China can range anywhere from about 20 percent to 80 percent, according to UNAIDS.

“There are misconceptions. People think that they can avoid HIV infections by taking a pill. People think that they are not at risk for HIV infections because they don’t know anybody (who has it), because you can’t see it, you can’t touch it. And clearly, this is something that we have to change very rapidly,” Schwartlander said.

Historically, HIV and AIDS have been taboo topics in China, another reason awareness can be so low. Prevention in the gay community has also been difficult because of traditional stigmas against homosexuality.

But the Chinese government is now conducting educational campaigns to inform higher risk groups, including sex workers, about how to prevent the transmission of HIV.

“After years of these campaigns, we found out through survey that condom use is constantly increasing, especially in urban areas, the condom use can reach 70 percent or even up to 80 percent,” said Hao Yang, Deputy Bureau Chief of the Chinese Health Ministry’s Disease Prevention and Control Bureau.

But other areas are proving difficult. In rural parts of the country, the proportion of condom use among sex workers is less than 50 percent, Hao said.

“When we go to investigate in rural areas, the proportion of people with this knowledge (of AIDS prevention) is still very low,” he said. “In addition to that, the proportion of change in their activities is also very low, which means that the condom use rate is still low.”

About one in 200 sex workers nationwide currently has HIV, Schwartlander said. But in one part of Yunnan province in the country’s far southwest, seven percent of the sex workers — or as many as 14 in every 200 — have HIV, according to UNAIDS.

“The sex workers living in remote areas and rural areas have played an important role in AIDS spreading. We do not have a precise figure for the proportion that sex workers make up in it (the spread of AIDS), but we can say that they are making up a significant proportion,” Hao said.

The government has a long-term plan to educate the general public and to strengthen intervention in the high-risk populations, particularly sex workers, Hao said.

When HIV initially began to spread in China, infections were concentrated among people who injected drugs, Schwartlander said. Campaigns among this group have been effective, while infections among other groups have risen.

One of those groups, Hao said, was men having sex with men, which accounts for 5.9 percent of infections, according to the Chinese Health Ministry.

A majority of the infections are concentrated among drug users, men having sex with men, and sex workers and their clients, Schwartlander said.

“Society and communities have been able to curb the spread of HIV, also in sex work, and that is what we have to do,” Schwartlander said.

As China’s economy grows, it is likely the sex industry will as well. Current estimates show that some 30 to 50 million people are at significant risk for HIV infection, Schwartlander said.

“China is a society which is in quite a significant transition. There is a huge increase in disparity of income between the rich and the poor, and all these are very well-known factors that drive the sex industry forward,” Schwartlander said. “Clearly, in China, I think that the sex industry is a rising industry. We will see an increase in the number of sex workers due to these factors in the future.”


A 22-year-old prostitute in Shenzhen, who did not want to give her name, said she knows the risk but needs the work.

“AIDS is the number one killer for my job. I cannot let this disease destroy my life. This is only a short-term business. I don’t have any relatives in Shenzhen and can’t borrow any money. I can only rely on myself.


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China: Filtering Software Challenges Computer Industry

Posted in Uncategorized by malaysiasms on June 21, 2009


Technology Companies Should Resist Censorship Attempts

The government’s order to install censorship software represents a grave threat to freedom of expression in China. The Green Dam technology highlights Beijing’s ongoing efforts to intensify its chokehold on Chinese citizens’ internet access and the need for computer software and hardware firms to resist complicity in those efforts.

Arvind Ganesan, Business and Human Rights Pogram director

(New York) – The computer industry should make it clear to the Chinese government that it will not cooperate in efforts to curtail access to information on the internet through government-mandated or provided filtering software such as the “Green Dam Youth Escort” program, Human Rights Watch said today.

Despite domestic and international criticism, the Chinese government has apparently not reversed its initial demand that companies pre-install Green Dam on all personal computers by July 1. This week, a Washington-based group representing leading information technology companies issued a brief statement urging the Chinese government to “reconsider implementing its new mandatory filtering software requirement,” but to date has received no response indicating the new requirement would be rescinded.

“The government’s order to install censorship software represents a grave threat to freedom of expression in China,” said Arvind Ganesan, Business and Human Rights Program director at Human Rights Watch. “The Green Dam technology highlights Beijing’s ongoing efforts to intensify its chokehold on Chinese citizens’ internet access and the need for computer software and hardware firms to resist complicity in those efforts.”

Green Dam is ostensibly designed to filter out pornography and other “unhealthy information” from the internet, but reportedly is also programmed to censor content ranging from political information to websites catering to the needs of China’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. Green Dam is not transparent and does not facilitate users choosing which sites or terms to block or allow. Numerous commercial parental-control software packages are already widely available in China, including products sold by Microsoft.

Human Rights Watch said that instead of providing the promised protections, the Green Dam software could instead pose a serious new threat to free expression if industry leaders do not actively oppose any new efforts by the Chinese government to reintroduce mandatory pre-installation of Green Dam or other filtering software in the future. In addition to the censorship threat, the software could further intrude on user privacy, undermine user choice, and have the potential to make multinational companies complicit in those efforts.

According to the Open Net Initiative and other research institutions, Green Dam has serious security vulnerabilities that leave users vulnerable to hacking and could ultimately allow the government to track users’ browsing habits and communications. While the Chinese government has recently announced that it would issue security patches to fix some flaws in the software, it is not a sufficient step to address all the problems that the software creates for human rights.

“The controversy over Green Dam is just the latest attempt to make computer, software and internet companies complicit in China’s attempts to censor the internet,” said Ganesan. “It is critical for the industry to draw a line and make it clear to the government that it won’t sacrifice ethical principles and international human rights standards for profit.”  

In a letter to major computer makers, including Dell, Hewlett-Packard and Lenovo, Human Rights Watch expressed concern about the May 19 directive, “Notification Regarding Requirements for Pre-Installing Green Filtering Software on Computers,” and its human rights implications for companies in China and abroad.

Human Rights Watch called on the computer industry to address in a systematic manner the problems posed by the Green Dam directive in China and other efforts to curtail online freedoms in other countries. A meaningful next step is to adopt and implement robust policies and procedures to safeguard human rights, such as those promoted by the Global Network Initiative, a multi-stakeholder effort created in 2008 to protect freedom of expression and privacy online.

“This episode shows how vital it is for the technology industry to stand together on principle, implement standards to protect human rights, and oppose government requirements that could force them to aid censorship in China,” said Ganesan.

The Chinese government has already developed the world’s most advanced system of internet censorship and surveillance, known as the “great firewall.” Chinese citizens who post content considered by the government to be “sensitive” on overseas websites are liable to severe official reprisals. For example, the journalist Shi Tao is serving a 10-year sentence for “divulging state secrets abroad” after he was arrested in November 2004 for posting notes from a directive issued by China’s Publicity Department (formerly known as the Propaganda Department) on how to handle the 15th anniversary of the 1989 military crackdown in Tiananmen Square. Shi’s conviction followed Yahoo!’s disclosure of his identity to Chinese security officials.

According to an analysis of Green Dam 3.17 by the Open Net Initiative, the software sets its defaults at a high level of filtering and presents difficulties in customizing. The default setting does not just block sites, but kills all applications running on the computer. The software auto-update function can add new sites and terms to block, and could potentially be used to enable the software to monitor users.

“When the government mandates software that blocks political and religious sites and hampers user choice, it is not providing a service but a government censor by proxy,” Ganesan said.

High security in Tiananmen Square

Posted in Uncategorized by malaysiasms on June 3, 2009


A woman takes a picture as Chinese paramilitary policemen march past on Tiananmen Square on June 3, 2009.

Chinese policemen mix with tourists on Tiananmen Square

China has boosted security in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, ahead of Thursday’s anniversary of the killings in 1989.

Many dissidents say they have been told to leave Beijing or are confined to their homes.

Hundreds, possibly thousands, of people died in the Tiananmen crackdown, and open discussion of the events of 20 years ago remains taboo in China.

Even in Hong Kong, where freedom of expression is guaranteed, some dissidents have been denied entry.

Xiang Xiaoji, now a US citizen, was trying to come to Hong Kong on Wednesday to join commemorative events being held to mark the anniversary. But he was refused entry and returned to New York.

Turned away

On the eve of the anniversary, police have been examining visitors at checkpoints dotted around Tiananmen Square, and checking the bags and papers of people in the area.

Tiananmen Mothers' leader Ding Zilin

Some journalists say they have been turned away from the site.
Ding Zilin, the head of a group called Tiananmen Mothers – made up of women whose children were shot dead in the crackdown – has reportedly been blocked from leaving her home, as has the wife of jailed dissident Hu Jia.

Bao Tong – a former official who was purged for sympathising with the Tiananmen protesters – was escorted out of Beijing last week.

The Chinese Communist Party has never held an official inquiry into what happened in and around the square 20 years ago, and discussion of the issue is banned on the mainland.

In the run-up to the anniversary, the authorities are also blocking social networking sites such as Twitter and Flickr.

Even the architect of Beijing’s Bird’s Nest Olympic stadium, Ai Weiwei, says his blogs have been blocked.

“Three of my blogs have all been shut down,” he told the BBC. “I don’t know the exact reason, but I can sense it’s about the coming-up anniversary.”

Influence from Beijing?

In Hong Kong, too, there is evidence of pre-anniversary sensitivities.

Members of the HK Federation of Students on hunger strike at Times Square, Hong Kong, 1 June 2009

HK students are on hunger strike to press China to re-examine 1989

While one exiled Tiananmen leader, Xiong Yan, was allowed into Hong Kong at the weekend, another student leader, Xiang Xiaoji, and a Danish sculptor who made a statue entitled Pillar of Shame were both denied entry.

As a former British colony, Hong Kong is guaranteed autonomy and freedom of expression by the Chinese, but bans on Mr Xiang and others are adding to a growing sense of unease over how solid the territory’s rights record really is.

According to the BBC’s Vaudine England in Hong Kong, the ruling elite of Beijing-appointed civil servants and powerful business figures believes closeness to Beijing is the only guarantee of survival.

Yet the majority of Hong Kong people consistently suggest in surveys that they want the freedoms they were promised.

China on the rise once more across the East

Posted in Uncategorized by malaysiasms on May 26, 2009

If any more evidence of China’s steady ascent towards Asian regional dominance was needed, the climax of Sri Lanka’s war has provided the proof.

By David Blair, Diplomatic Editor

Hambantota: China on the rise once more across the East

Hambantota Chinese construction workers bore a hole in the harbor bed at the construction site of the new Hambantota harbor Photo: AP

An ally of Beijing has fought a bitterly controversial conflict to a final victory, while shrugging off international protests along the way. India, the other Asian giant, is only 50 miles from Sri Lanka across the waters of the Palk Straits, yet it has been shown to have far less influence on its neighbour than China.

Through a combination of strategic investments in seaports and pipelines, along with direct financial and military support for friendly governments, China is building a web of influence across South Asia. Many of Beijing’s immensely ambitious projects are years away from fruition, yet the repercussions of these ventures are already being felt.

 In Sri Lanka, Beijing began constructing a port in Hambantota in 2007 and the scheme is scheduled for completion in 2022. This forms the basis of China’s alliance with President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government and helps explain the diplomatic support Beijing gave Sri Lanka during the war against the Tamil Tigers.

The official line is that Hambantota is only a “commercial” trading venture and the facility will handle civilian shipping and nothing else. “Any attempt to distort the facts would be invalid,” said Ma Zhaoxu, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman.

But the appearance of a new Chinese port on Sri Lanka’s southern coast would allow Beijing the option of using the facility as a naval base in the future. Other projects under way at strategic points across the Indian Ocean raise the same possibility.

China is building another port at Gwadar on the Pakistani coast and at Kyauk Phyu on Burma’s island of Ramree. Taken together, these and other facilities may allow China to extend its growing naval strength well beyond its traditional coastal waters and into the Indian Ocean. It would mark a crucial stage in the country’s rise to become Asia’s hegemonic power.

“China is marching towards regional dominance and that brings it into conflict with India on one flank and Japan on the other,” said Kerry Brown, a senior fellow at the Asian programme of the Chatham House think tank. “It will at some point become much more active as a military power in the region.”

China’s ambitions are of deep concern to its Asian rivals, especially India which shares a 2,100-mile disputed border with its neighbour. Countries as far away as Australia have also shown they are worried. Kevin Rudd’s government in Canberra is hugely expanding the Australian navy with the unspoken aim of balancing China’s growing strength.

These fears may, however, be exaggerated. China is bidding to become Asia’s foremost power, but not a global behemoth to rival the United States. Moreover, all the evidence suggests that its prime aim is securing its economic growth and domestic stability.

“The Chinese are not seeking conflict. They are seeking a stable international environment within which they can continue their economic development,” said Mr Brown. “The key imperative is to preserve internal security within China.”

There is no sign of China becoming an overtly threatening, expansionist power. Far from having designs on other countries’ territory, China has resolved all border disputes with 12 of its 14 neighbours. In the case of Russia, where the People’s Liberation Army fought bloody frontier skirmishes in the 1960s, and Vietnam, where Chinese forces waged a full scale border war in 1979, Beijing chose to make big concessions and give away large areas it had previously claimed.

If a future Chinese government decides to use the string of new ports as naval bases, this does not necessarily mean Beijing is out to intimidate its neighbours and overawe the region.

Instead, China’s economy is largely dependent on energy supplies brought from the Middle East and Africa along vital Indian Ocean shipping lanes. Guaranteeing the safety of these arteries is an understandable aim and does not, of itself, show an aggressive intention.

In particular, China imports about 80 per cent of its oil through the Strait of Malacca, where the Indian Ocean joins the Pacific. President Hu Jintao has called this dependence the “Malacca Dilemma” and China’s naval planning seems geared towards ensuring this passage remains open, while developing alternative routes where possible.

Whatever the motives behind the inexorable extension of China’s influence in Asia, however, the balance of global power has already changed dramatically.