November 2009

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Writer Caroline Finlay has written for China Beat in the past about Southeast Asian news stories that have a China angle. Here, she draws parallels between Internet controls in Vietnam and those in China. She’s written about speech issues in Vietnam before, for instance see “Vietnam Youth Given Rare Chance to Protest–Against China” from May 2008.

By Caroline Finlay

Facebook users have begun having difficulty logging on to the social networking site, the Associated Press and the Inter Press Service reported on November 17th.

News agencies are citing an unverified document that says it’s from Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security and states, “For security reasons and to fight against propagative activities that oppose the Party and the government, Department of Professional Technology – Office of Security Administration – Ministry of Public Security suggests that the addressed companies to apply technical methods to block thoroughly these following websites:” followed by a list of eight websites including two Facebook addresses.

Of the web sites listed, Facebook has gotten the most attention from the press and from Vietnam’s blogging community, many of whom had set up shop there after social networking site Yahoo! 360 was shut down this August. Almost five years of content was removed and many users lost friend lists and comments. Yahoo offered replacement services Yahoo! 360Plus and Yahoo! Profile, which have less functionality.

In an article on Vietnam news website Vietnamnet, Yahoo’s managing director said,

Nhằm mục đích bảo vệ an toàn cho người dùng, Yahoo!360Plus không cho chuyển Quick Comment từ Yahoo!360 sang Yahoo!plus là nhằm ngăn chặn tình trạng AutoSpam. Với Yahoo!plus, Nếu phát hiện blog có nội dung xấu. Yahoo sẽ xử lý ngay blogger đó”.

“In reaching the goal of protecting the safety of all those using Yahoo!360Plus, there will not be a transfer of Quick Comment service from Yahoo!360 to Yahoo!Plus; the goal is to stop the problem of AutoSpam with Yahoo!Plus if bad content is discovered. Yahoo will immediately handle such bloggers.”

Most expatriates in Vietnam have used Facebook for longer than their Vietnamese counterparts and are upset because many use it to communicate with family and friends back home or to plan gatherings and charity events in Vietnam.

Many Facebook users are using workarounds and proxies and can still access the beloved social networking sight. The use of proxies and encryption is illegal in Vietnam.

The other six websites ordered blocked in the unverified document are:

The  Vietnamese Democratic Party website, which has reported prior censorship:

Ngày 6 tháng 8 năm 2009, trang web của Đảng Dân Chủ Việt Nam bị kẻ gian tại Việt Nam tấn công, chiếm lấy tên miền ddcvn.org và các tên miền khác. Trong thời gian phục hồi lại tên miền cũ, trang www.ddcvn.info là trang web chính thức của Đảng Dân Chủ Việt Nam, kể từ hôm nay, 24 tháng 8 năm 2009. Việc lấy cắp mật mã email, phá hoại các trang mạng thông tin, cài virus trên mạng internet là hành vi vi phạm pháp luật. Đây là hành động tội phạm. Đảng Dân Chủ yêu cầu Nhà nước Việt Nam hợp tác ngăn chặn tình trạng tin tặc lộng hành này.

On August 6th, 2009, the Vietnamese Democratic Party’s website was attacked by evil doers in Veitnam, who seized the domain name ddcvn.org and all other domain names. While recovering that website, the page www.ddcvn.info has served as the principal web page of the Vietnamese Democratic Party as of today, August 24th, 2009. The theft of the email cipher, the sabotage of the web news pages and the implantation of an internet virus were deeds in violation of the law. This is a crime. The Democratic Party demands the government of Vietnam cooperate and prevent this hacking and abuse of power.

Prajna Buddhist Monetary

Posts articles citing the persecution and harassment of monks and nuns.

The Voice of the Vietnamese People

Has sections reporting on the Paracel and Spratly Islands, Sino-Viet and Viet-U.S. relations, and on striking and demonstration.

Rallying for Democracy

Promotes human rights in Vietnam and reports on human rights issues in China, Laos, Vietnam and Burma.

Save Our Country

Posts a scathing criticism of Vietnam’s founding father, Ho Chi Minh, on its front page.

Brandishing the Sword of Knowledge

Một điều ai cũng phải công nhận rằng, muốn xây dựng một Cộng Đồng Người Việt Quốc Gia tại Hải Ngoại nầy thật vững mạnh là phải có sự yểm trợ thật hữu hiệu của hệ thống báo chí truyền thông. Không có sự tiếp tay nầy thì sinh hoạt của các Cộng Đồng tại địa phương sẽ bị giới hạn, mọi việc sẽ gặp rất nhiều khó khăn khi chuyển tải những thông tin cần phổ biến cho toàn thể đồng hương trong vùng.

One thing everyone needs to admit if they desire to create a truly powerful community of overseas Vietnamese is the need to have a truly effective and powerful press and free communication. Without that joining of hands, the life of all those in communities in all areas will be restricted and every activity will run into much hardship when carrying common news to their countrymen in the area.

The new restrictions on internet access are another step in the tightening of Vietnam’s media following its comparatively freer policy in the run-up to gaining entry into the World Trade Organization in January 2007. In 2005 and 2006 a number of stories reporting corruption featured prominently in the press, most notably the PMU 18 scandal, but in late 2008, political discussion in blogs was banned and users were told to post personal content only. Many Vietnamese language websites that directly and indirectly criticize the government have been blocked.

Vietnam may have taken to heart the example of its biggest trade partner, China, by blocking dissident and social networking websites, but unlike their northern neighbors Vietnamese users have access to Twitter and YouTube. Vietnamese bloggers writing on Sino-Viet relations are often censored for implying that the Chinese government influences Vietnam’s policy.

Vietnamese government officials have denied blocking Facebook according to a November 20th BBC report.

By Maura Elizabeth Cunningham

Barack Obama spent fewer than three days in China, but his first trip there has been a week-long story in the news world, as countless journalists, academics, and pundits have shared their thoughts about what this visit could do for U.S.-China relations. Now that the president has left the PRC, how did it all go? Obama Administration officials are speaking highly of it, claiming that Obama was forceful in private meetings with Hu Jintao and the rest of the Chinese leadership. And perhaps the devil is in the details, as political scientist David Shambaugh says, speaking favorably of the joint statement of cooperation that Obama and Hu issued on Tuesday, which he thinks sets a positive tone for future Sino-U.S. relations.

However, most of us weren’t privy to the Obama-Hu conversations, and my reading of the joint statement is somewhat more pessimistic than Shambaugh’s. On the whole, I’d say that Obama’s trip was anti-climactic, and even a bit disappointing. While most commentators didn’t really expect that Obama would accomplish all that much during his time in China, a survey of what happened on the trip, and what’s been written about it, reinforces the general sense among China watchers that very little got done. Below, a review of Obama-in-China, both the trip itself and the discussion surrounding it:

The Good:
1. The town hall meeting in Shanghai took place on Monday as planned. At one point last week, we were hearing stories that both American and Chinese officials had reservations about the event, and there were rumors that it might be canceled due to conflicts over who could attend and whether or not the meeting would be broadcast in China. Thanks to what I assume was a weekend full of closed-door negotiations, the town hall went ahead as scheduled. If it hadn’t, Obama’s trip would have been even less interesting — and both sides would have appeared unwilling to cooperate with the other. As for Obama’s performance in the town hall meeting itself . . . well, see below for more, under “The Bad.”

2. My Google Reader has been full of great writing this week. A trip like Obama’s generates a lot of press, and those of us in the China field have been feasting on it. A few of the pieces I like the most are Isabel Hilton, on internet censorship in China (hat tip to China Digital Times); Paul French, comparing Obama’s arrival in Shanghai to that of Ulysses S. Grant when he visited China in the late 1870s; and all of the short takes that Evan Osnos has posted at his New Yorker blog. Yale Global Online has two thoughtful pieces about Obama in Asia, and there are some interesting essays at The Daily Beast — one by Peter Beinart on the shifting U.S.-China dynamics that few people seem to have noticed, and another by Richard Wolffe summing up “Obama’s Bad Trip.”

3. While nothing spectacular happened, at least the trip went smoothly. Sometimes, that’s enough — we shouldn’t discount the importance of maintaining the status quo, which I think is more or less what Obama managed to do on his first visit to China. Ian Johnson speaks in a video at the Wall Street Journal’s site about the somewhat ambiguous nature of Obama’s relationship with the Chinese leadership, but also points to the fact that the two sides have agreed on a “framework” for future cooperation on some of the world’s biggest issues. Obama has either three or seven more years to move the U.S.-China relationship forward, and the uneventful nature of his visit means that’s still a possibility.

The Bad
The town hall meeting itself (video of the full event available at the White House website). My feelings about the town hall were initially somewhat mixed, but I’ve come down on the side of being less than impressed. Although I knew before the meeting that it was going to be a carefully scripted affair, and therefore didn’t expect anything terribly interesting to occur, I still think it could have gone better. I cringed when Obama quoted a “Chinese proverb” in his opening remarks — really, isn’t there a way to ban this tired speechwriting standby? — and groaned when he called on Ambassador Jon Huntsman to ask a painfully pointed question about internet censorship. Given that the “should we be able to use Twitter freely?” query was pre-planned, Obama showed a surprising inability to answer it in a coherent manner. “I’m a big supporter of non-censorship” probably wasn’t the sound bite that Obama wanted to stand out from the hour-long town hall, but it’s representative of the stilted manner in which he tiptoed around issues. It was clear, I thought, that Obama wanted to talk about topics like Tibet and human rights, but held himself back from taking a hard stance on anything that could cause a confrontation with his Chinese counterparts.

The Boring:
Pretty much everything else. The most potentially dramatic event, the town hall meeting, occurred on Day 1 of Obama’s trip; the rest of his time in China was divided between meetings with state leaders and sightseeing at the standard can’t-miss spots, the Forbidden City and the Great Wall.

In the absence of interesting stories, the trivial took over. A few examples: The students who attended the town hall were hand-picked by Communist Party officials — maybe I’m a cynic, but I never expected otherwise. Obama sped through his tour of the Forbidden City — well, he’s a busy man. And Jon Huntsman called those of us who aspire to be China experts “morons.” I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that joke sounded funnier in his head.

As Obama wraps up his Asian tour and heads back to the U.S., what will be remembered about this first China trip? Most likely, the answer is “nothing.” There weren’t any standout moments — good or bad — and Obama missed several opportunities to send a clear message to activists in China that he supports their work (check out this “Room for Debate” blog at the New York Times for more on that issue). Instead, he seemed to drift genially from one staged event to the next, politely toured a few famous national landmarks, and met with his half-brother for five minutes.

Few know what was discussed in private meetings with Chinese leaders, but no impressive public announcements emerged to indicate that the U.S. and China will be collaborating on anything major in the coming years. Perhaps, however, this was the Obama Administration’s goal all along: to pull off a short, polite visit that didn’t make any waves but didn’t raise any problems in the Sino-U.S. relationship, either. If that’s the case, mission accomplished.

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1. Many of us around here have been spending time over the last couple of years thinking about the growing number of China-India connections (as well as their historical antecedents), so we’re always pleased to find another blog from an Indian journalist or writer covering China. But “China India Citizens’ Initiative” takes the genre a step further, encouraging people-to-people dialogue between Chinese and Indians. Recent post topics include the role of the Dalai Lama, coverage of the Berlin Wall anniversary, and issues in Chinese-Indian trade.

2. Alec Ash of Six (who also contributes bi-weekly photos to China Beat), drew our attention to a recent guest post at his blog by one of the subjects of Six, “Tony.” Titled “Beida Students: Should China Be a Responsible Stakeholder?,” Tony’s post relays a student discussion over China’s international role, a discussion that seems even more relevant in light of media discussions surrounding Obama’s visit:

If Beida students are not so familiar with Robert Zoellick or the English term “stakeholder”, it doesn’t mean they don’t have a general expectation for China’s future. During the seminar, a large number of students expressed that China needs to step out and take more global responsibilities. Western countries want China to not only accept and benefit the contemporary world system but also to sustain and nurture it. “Of course such an idea was made according to their own interests, but the identity as a responsible stakeholder is also good for our national development,” commented by a junior student from the School of International Studies. It seems undeniable that the past thirty years has helped China become a contributor to, rather than a spoiler of, the international system built mainly by Western countries. And the reasons which led to that change were decided by many students as simply being “our rational choice based on national interests”. Such interests include alleviating counterbalances against China’s rise and creating a proper regional and international environment for domestic development. This is almost the same as what Mr. Zoellick said in his article in 2005.

Some students further pointed out that China can hardly become a stakeholder if it keeps on pursuing narrow interests in a self-centered way. When students heard that some Party officials defined China’s major foreign policy concerns as “Three NOs” (no arms sale to Taiwan, no meetings with the Dalai Lama and no meetings with Rebia Kadeer), they claimed that the country’s mindset is still not broad enough and it fails to pay enough attention to issues such as global climate change, energy security and anti-terrorism. Some of them also brought up China’s sensitivity towards sovereignty and Chinese citizens’ general distrust of the international system.

However, this is not to say that Beida students are allured by the US and conform to the American definition of a responsible stakeholder. When I moved on and raised the question “should China keep a tacit attitude and accept the American definition”, the answers were diversified. A few participants held the view that by accepting it, China will have to meet the Western criteria and thus be restricted by those countries. “While China needs to develop a broader mindset to become more responsible in global environmental protection and regional security, we have our own pursuits derived from China’s global identity and cultural tradition. The US requires China to impose sanctions on DPRK, Iran and Sudan. It runs against our ways of behavior, our principle of non-intervention, and even the Chinese character,” claimed one student. When I asked him whether non-intervention has become an obstacle for China’s growing global influence, he said it is a principle written in the UN Charter and a diplomatic tradition of PRC. “We should not abandon it, but there could be many flexible approaches and adjustments.”

Visit Six for the complete post.

3. At Huffington Post, Andy Borowitz riffs on stereotypes over Chinese environmental problems (managing to also skewer US policies in the process) in the piece, “US, China in Race to Pollute Water on Moon”:

Hours after scientists confirmed finding evidence of water on the moon, the United States and China each announced ambitious plans to become the first nation to pollute the moon’s water.

Both space programs argued that there were more than bragging rights at stake, with China and the U.S. both vying for the coveted title of biggest polluter in the universe.

“Our mission is simple: get a rocket up there, dump some PCBs in the moon’s water, and then return safely to Earth,” NASA said in an official statement today.

For its part, China indicated that it would take a different approach: “We hope to pollute the moon’s water with run-off from a lead toy factory.”

4. Prizes! Most of you will have heard that Chinese author Su Tong was awarded the Man Asian Literary Prize (for The Boat to Redemption; Su is also the author of, among other novels, Wives and Concubines, on which the movie Raise the Red Lantern was based). Another of our favorite authors has also been recently recognized with a prestigious award: Michael Meyer, author of Last Days of Old Beijing, has received a Whiting Writers’ Award. For a peek back at the work that drew the foundation’s attention, check out Tom Mullaney’s interview with Meyer.

5. We have been checking in with a new group history blog (for which a few of our colleagues at UCI are regular contributors): History Compass Exchanges. A few contributors deal regularly with China issues, including Shellen Xiao Wu, whose post today, titled “Will the Real China Stand Up?,” reflects on the disconnect between the China films that make a big splash internationally and those that appeal to domestic audiences:

From “The World” (2004), set in an amusement part on the outskirts of Beijing, to “Still Life” (2006), which took place in the rubble and chaos of the Three Gorges Dam project, Jia’s films provide a counter to the carefully orchestrated image fostered by the Chinese state of a nation on the rise.

Perhaps because they strike too close to home, Chinese audiences have shown little interest in watching these forlorn films of dislocation and alienation. For escapism, CGI-effects and spectacle, they can turn to Chen Kaige’s The Promise (2005), Zhang Yimou’s Curse of the Golden Flowers (2007), House of Flying Daggers (2004), Hero (2002), and of course, the Hollywood blockbusters upon which these directors have based the big-budget spectacles. These are the films that get Chinese media talking.

6. Odds and Ends: Actually, Ambassador Huntsman, that’s “Dr. Moron,” if you don’t mind.

Prominent Qing specialist Pamela Crossley of Dartmouth College has a new book coming out in February, The Wobbling Pivot, China Since 1800: An Interpretive History, 374_Pamela_Crossleywhich is aimed at general readers and is designed to be suitable as well for classes devoted to modern Chinese history. One theme in the book that is likely to be of special interest to those who follow this blog is her frequent discussion of similarities and differences over time in patterns of unrest and the way that the state and its representatives respond to challenges from below. Focusing largely on tensions and modes of accommodation between central authorities and local communities, Crossley offers an intriguing new way of thinking about many of the big upheavals of the recent past, from the White Lotus Rebellion to the recent unrest in Tibet and Xinjiang. In this excerpt, however, which gives a good sense of the liveliness of the book’s prose as well as the kinds of subjects it addresses, we see how her approach can also be used to shed light on minor fracases of the sort that anyone who has spent time in China is likely to have witnessed at some point during their stay.

It is unusual for the contents of a semi-confidential email to become universally known on the Internet. But in March of 2009, after the nomination of Charles W. Freeman Jr. as chair of the American government’s National Intelligence Council, his email to the ChinaSec listserv group of May 26, 2006 drew attention for this comment about the Tiananmen incidents of 1989: “I find the dominant view in China about this very plausible, i.e. that the truly unforgivable mistake of the Chinese authorities was the failure to intervene on a timely basis to nip the demonstrations in the bud, rather than – as would have been both wise and efficacious – to intervene with force when all other measures had failed to restore domestic tranquility to Beijing and other major urban centers in China. In this optic, the Politburo’s response to the mob scene at ‘Tian’anmen’ stands as a monument to overly cautious behavior on the part of the leadership, not as an example of rash action.”

Freeman’s suggestion that the contrast is to tactics, and not to politics, leaves the comment dangling above the ground, out of contact with historical patterns of China’s recent centuries. The hearts of China’s political capitals have been occupied by state opponents and dissidents repeatedly over the centuries. State reaction is rarely swift, though it is often bloody. These events are products of a structural relationship between government and society that was strongly in evidence from at least 1644 to 1958, and since 1976 has been reestablishing itself to a modest degree. It is a system with a peculiar way of producing social and economic order, but one that in very extreme circumstances is vulnerable to catastrophic breakdown. Considered outside its historical context, it sometimes leads observers too quickly to words like “instability,” “disorder,” “chaos.”

When I was following the thread that now runs through this book, my mind kept returning to scenes from contemporary China. I was in China for the first time in 1977. On an otherwise quiet afternoon in Luoyang, where the streets did not look particularly crowded, a loud discussion broke out between two men over a bicycle (in those days, bicycles were all Flying Pigeon, identical to any but the eye of love). A small knot of people quickly wound itself around the disputatious men, listening carefully, advising moderation and not, coincidentally, preventing the bicycle from going anywhere. The knot grew to a crowd large enough to block the narrow street. A few men at the front of the throng had joined in the conversation, questioning the men in turn, and repeatedly advising calm and honesty. After some minutes the inevitable representative of local public security arrived. She was a small woman, not plump but solidly built, with the regulation even hair length and middle part, and a bright red arm band proclaiming her official status. The crowd shifted only enough to allow her to make her way to the front, a few people darting glances of blame at the bicycle men for having brought the authorities onto the scene. The public security woman asked a few questions of the men and appeared, for a moment, to be attempting to break up the congregation and send the men on their way. But she was a late arrival on the scene. The two men who had begun negotiations between the adversaries continued in their role, with polite acknowledgment of the official’s presence. Occasionally Public Security would inject her questions or views, but at roughly the same rate and pitch as others at the center of the circle. After ten minutes, the contenders nodded agreement to each other, one moved off with the bicycle, and the crowd, including the woman distinguished by her bold red armband, moved on to their business.

I had the strong feeling that I had seen something that was not the least unusual. Everybody took the dispute, the resolution and the public participation in stride. The crowd was not merely bystanders, camp followers or observers for sport. The quickness with which they organized themselves for conflict containment and resolution, the precision with which certain individuals assumed and fulfilled their roles, suggested to me something basic about the social methods of the Luoyang inhabitants who had entered the street expecting to do their shopping or their chores, but instead became embroiled in the forensics, the philosophy and the administration of a dispute between two men over a bicycle. I did not know at the time, but am convinced now, that in 1977 such a social phenomenon in Luoyang evinced ancient practices that a decade before had been under extreme assault, and wounded seriously though not fatally.

Another side of this phenomenon seems to be evident in two anecdotes recently related by the journalist Tim Johnson in 2008. In the first, Johnson discovers that it is impossible to get taxi drivers in Changchun to actually use the meters and issue receipts from them. Since the law requires that the meters be used and the receipts issued, Johnson approached a “security guard” (the contemporary equivalent of the security maiden I spoke of in Luoyang in 1977) to complain. The guard merely shrugged. Johnson commented, “At first, I found this a little irksome. But on reflection, I sort of admired the taxi drivers. The local authorities apparently had imposed an impractical limit on fares, and the cabbies rebelled in the only way they could. The security guard understood and sympathized.” In a second vignette, Johnson ends up on a bus after the flight he expected to take was cancelled. The airline had chartered the bus at no expense to the passengers, and had obviously provided the driver with sufficient cash to take the high-speed, well-maintained toll roads to the destination. The driver, however, took a meandering, pothole-riddled route, keeping the toll fees for himself. Passengers repeatedly pointed out to him the highway ramps he was passing, but otherwise took no issue or action. Johnson experienced some outrage at this, too, but then reconsidered after taking a comparative view: “It was a minor inconvenience. I thought back to times in South America, where bus drivers would be in cahoots with armed bandits, pulling buses over at remote spots where everyone would be robbed.”

All around the internet, China-watchers are commenting on Barack Obama’s inaugural China trip. Some links to check out:

1. At 11:40 PM Eastern Standard Time tonight, President Obama’s town hall meeting with students in Shanghai will go live on the White House website.

2. Ian Johnson of the Wall Street Journal asks “Is Barack Obama Unpopular in China?” Johnson explains that it seems initial enthusiasm for the president has dropped off in recent months:

Internet polls provide anecdotal evidence that China is just not as enamored with the U.S. now as in years past, when the U.S. was seen as something of a model. An economic crisis and several trade spats later, few in China admire the U.S. system, and that seems to be behind the blasé attitude around Obama’s visit.

3. Over at Time magazine, Bill Powell discusses “Five Things the U.S. Can Learn From China.”

4. James Fallows blogs about why Obama’s China trip matters at the Atlantic, arguing that this visit could set the tone for future Sino-U.S. cooperation (or lack thereof) on environmental issues:

Thirty years from now, the most important aspect of Barack Obama’s interaction with China will be whether the two countries, together, can do anything about environmental and climate issues. If they can, in 2039 we’ll look back on this as something like the Silent Spring/Clean Air Act moment in American history, which began a change toward broad environmental improvement. If they can’t….

5. John Pomfret of the Washington Post explores how China is changing the U.S., looking in particular at the ties between the PRC and Wisconsin:

China is now Wisconsin’s (and the country’s) third-biggest export market, buying more American soybeans, oil seeds, hides and animal skins, raw cotton, copper, nonferrous metals, wood pulp, semiconductors and miscellaneous chicken parts (a.k.a. chicken feet) than anyone else.

At the University of Wisconsin, as at college campuses across the United States, mainland Chinese dominate the study of science and technology and form the backbone of the engineering, chemistry and pharmacy departments. They receive twice as many doctorates in this country as students from India, the next-closest foreign competitor. And among foreigners, they register by far the most patents in the United States.

(hat tip to Jottings from the Granite Studio)

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