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The Umbrella Movement Fights Back

The run-up to the Sept. 4 election for Legislative Council is getting tense, and the governments of both Hong Kongand Beijing are watching with keen interest. 

For the first time, a crop of fresh-faced candidates who cut their political teeth during the pro-democracy Umbrella Movement in 2014 are hoping to bring to the lawmaking body their battle to emancipate Hong Kong from Beijing’s increasingly authoritarian control.The activists, most of whom are in their 20s, no longer believe in the promises of the “one country, two systems” principle set out in the Basic Law. Even after paralyzing major traffic hubs in the city for 79 days in 2014, they failed to obtain any concession to democratize the rules by which the head of Hong Kong’s government, the chief executive, is nominated and elected. They concluded from the experience that democracy is impossible in Hong Kong as long as the territory remains under Chinese sovereignty. Read the rest of this entry »

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China’s Nationalist Fervor & Fear-Mongering Paranoid Xenophobic Bloodthirsty Racist West-Bashing Reaches Dangerous New Levels

This kind of propaganda is highly effective and gives licence to ordinary people to indulge their most primitive prejudices. By convincing its people that many of China’s ills are the work of foreign spies and conspiracies, Beijing could eventually be forced to hit back against such perceived enemies in order to placate popular outrage. 

Across much of the world, fear-mongering and xenophobia are creeping into public and political discourse.

In liberal democracies with traditions of free speech, vociferous denunciations of these attitudes can act as a counterweight. But in authoritarian countries where alternative narratives are forbidden, official attempts to demonise foreigners and “others” can be especially dangerous. In the past week, the Chinese government has launched several viral online videos that blame “western hostile forces” for a host of ills and supposed conspiracies within China.

U.S. Navy leadership and senior officers from the Chinese People's Liberation Army (Navy) meet for lunch aboard the Chinese destroyer Harbin (DDG 112) marking the conclusion of a U.S.-China counter piracy exercise between Harbin and the guided-missile destroyer USS Mason (DDG 87). Mason is deployed in support of maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Gary M. Keen/Released)

“In the past, most foreigners in China enjoyed a certain level of unstated protection and privilege. In business and in everyday life ‘foreign friends’ were welcomed and often treated with kid gloves by the authorities. Some of them undoubtedly took advantage of this to flout the rules or behave badly without fear of retribution.”

The videos are crude but exceptionally powerful in their simplicity and emotional appeal. One video promoted by the Supreme People’s Procuratorate and Communist Youth League, two of the most powerful state bodies, begins with heartbreaking scenes of orphans and victims of the wars in Iraq and Syria, and then jumps to an assertion that the west, led by the US, is trying to subject China to the same fate.

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“Today, that informal immunity seems to have vanished. In its place are hints of a backlash that many long-term foreign residents will tell you can be very ugly, ranging from casual discrimination and racial slurs, to physical altercations that take on a racist dimension.”

“Under the banner of ‘democracy, freedom and rule of law’ western forces are constantly trying to create societal contradictions in order to overthrow the [Chinese] government,” the subtitles read over pictures of democracy protesters in Hong Kong and President Barack Obama meeting the Dalai Lama.

[Read the full story here, at FT.com]

According to the video, western plots and the “dark shadow of the Stars and Stripes” are also to blame for everything from attacks on Chinese peacekeepers in Africa, to farmers’ riots in China’s hinterland, to the Tibetan independence movement. The effect is heightened by ominous music and juxtaposition of chaos elsewhere with heroic images of Chinese soldiers and weaponry.

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 “In the past week, the Chinese government has launched several viral online videos that blame ‘western hostile forces’ for a host of ills and supposed conspiracies within China. The videos are crude but exceptionally powerful in their simplicity and emotional appeal.”

In some ways this is a mirror of the populist, jingoistic tilts happening elsewhere in the world. While not a direct reaction to the assertive Trumpism emanating from the US or the rise of rightwing nationalism in Europe, some of the same collective animus is taking hold in China, partly at the instigation of the ruling Communist party.

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“According to the video, western plots and the ‘dark shadow of the Stars and Stripes’ are also to blame for everything from attacks on Chinese peacekeepers in Africa, to farmers’ riots in China’s hinterland, to the Tibetan independence movement.

Many of those propagating this message are the shallowest of nationalists — the kind of party apparatchiks who are diversifying their (often ill-gotten) assets abroad as fast as they can and sending their children to study in Australia, the US, Canada or the UK.

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“The effect is heightened by ominous music and juxtaposition of chaos elsewhere with heroic images of Chinese soldiers and weaponry.”

Indeed, one of the main producers of the video on western plots is a 29-year-old PhD student from China now living in Canberra, Australia. Meanwhile, the party has called for the rejection of western values and concepts in favour of Marxism — an ideology named after a German living in London and refracted into China via Moscow. Read the rest of this entry »


Rendezvous at Beidaihe: Never Underestimate the Power of Chinese Beach Towns

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China leadership gathers in Beidaihe for secret conclave.

Beijing watchers will closely monitor comments that trickle out over time after the meeting this year to discern what may have been discussed there. Xi is closing in on the last year of a five-year term that ends in October 2017.

Seems Mody reports: A closed-door meeting in a resort town on the Bohai Sea may be where China‘s future leadership begins to take shape, at a time when observers say there’s tension at the top in Beijing.

“We will be looking for signs that the successors to Xi and Li have been chosen, as this time 10 years ago it was clear that Xi and Li would come to power after five years.”

President Xi Jinping is said to be hosting the very highest echelon of China’s Communist Party this week in Beidaihe. No hard decisions on leadership are expected to come immediately from the annual meeting, but this year’s conclave is expected to initiate those conversations among top officials.

[Read the full story here, at cnbc.com]

The precise whereabouts of the meeting are not disclosed, but sources close to CNBC said the annual meeting typically takes places in four to five villas nestled in Beidaihe, a coastal town.

The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not respond to a message left by CNBC.

Beijing watchers will closely monitor comments that trickle out over time after the meeting this year to discern what may have been discussed there. Xi is closing in on the last year of a five-year term that ends in October 2017. It’s for that reason that experts say politics and leadership changes will likely be on the agenda. Read the rest of this entry »


China Sentences Human-Rights Lawyer to 7 Years for Subversion 

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Julie Making reports: A prominent Chinese lawyer who had taken on sensitive, high-profile cases involving activists and victims of a tainted infant formula scandal was sentenced Thursday to seven years in prison on charges of subversion.

“This wave of trials against lawyers and activists are a political charade. Their fate was sealed before they stepped into the courtroom and there was no chance that they would ever receive a fair trial.”

Zhou Shifeng, a human-rights lawyer and director of the Beijing Fengrui Law firm, was arrested in July 2015 in a wide-reaching crackdown that saw hundreds of people detained.

“The Chinese authorities appear intent on silencing anyone who raises legitimate questions about human rights and uses the legal system to seek redress.”

State-run media accused him of operating a “criminal syndicate” that masterminded serious illegal activities to incite “social disorder” all in the name of making money.

Authorities accused Zhou of drawing unwarranted amounts of public attention to  “sensitive cases” by publishing information about them online and encouraging people to appear outside courthouses where trials of such cases were being held.

Fengrui gained a reputation as a firm that would take on the most difficult, and from the government’s perspective, nettlesome cases. Outspoken artist Ai Weiwei turned to the firm when he was slapped with a tax evasion case; the firm also represented Ilham Tohti, a scholar from the Uighur ethnic minority who was accused of separatism and sentenced to life in prison in 2014. And when contaminated baby formula sickened thousands and led to multiple deaths in 2008, Fengrui represented families seeking redress. Read the rest of this entry »


Andy Warhol’s Hamptons Estate Sells for a Record $50 Million

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Candace Taylor reports: The former Andy Warhol estate in Montauk—a collection of white-shingled cottages overlooking the ocean—has sold for $50 million, believed to be a record for the former fishing village.

Andy Warhol bought the estate in the 1970s.

Andy Warhol bought the estate in the 1970s.Photo: Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images

The buyer of the roughly 5.7-acre oceanfront compound, called “Eothen,” was Adam Lindemann, founder of the gallery Venus Over Manhattan. The property had been listed together with a 24-acre horse farm for $85 million, but Mr. Lindemann wasn’t interested in the horse farm, and it is still available, said Paul Brennan of Douglas Elliman Real Estate, who listed the property with Sotheby’s International Realty. The seller was J.Crew CEO Millard “Mickey” Drexler, who bought the property for $27.5 million in 2007, according to public records.

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The deal closed Monday, according to Mr. Brennan, who said the property is the most expensive home ever to sell in Montauk.

A few weeks ago, Mr. Lindemann put another oceanfront Montauk home he owns on the market for $29.5 million, according to Rylan Jacka of Sotheby’s, who is listing the property with Compass. Read the rest of this entry »


BREAKING: Jurors Deadlocked in Freddie Gray Case

Officer William Porter is charged with involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault

Jurors deliberating in the trial of Baltimore police Officer William Porter said Tuesday afternoon that they were deadlocked. The judge sent the jury back in and told them to continue deliberating.

The judge in the first trial related to the death of Baltimore resident Freddie Gray denied a new defense request for a mistrial Tuesday, as jurors began their second day of deliberations.

Defense attorneys for city police Officer William Porter — the first of six officers to be tried in Gray’s death from a neck injury sustained while in police custody — moved for the mistrial Tuesday morning, citing a letter about the case that Baltimore City Public Schools sent to parents a day earlier.

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“Whatever the jury decides, we must all respect the process. If some choose to demonstrate to express their opinion, that is their right, and we respect that right, and we will fight to protect it. But all of us today agree that the unrest from last spring is not acceptable.”

—  Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake

The defense argued that the nonsequestered jurors could have received Monday’s letter, in which school district CEO Gregory Thornton addressed the possibility of civil unrest after a verdict is reached and the school system’s preparations for the verdict.

The defense also asked that the trial’s venue be changed. The judge rejected the requests.

The jury began deliberating Monday, 12 days after testimony began.

Authorities say Gray, a 25-year-old black man, broke his neck on April 12 while being transported in a police van, shackled but not wearing a seat belt. His death a week later sparked demonstrations and made him a symbol of the black community’s distrust of police.

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Prosecutors say Porter, one of three black officers charged in the case, was summoned by the van’s driver to check on Gray during stops on the way to a police station. They say he should have called a medic for Gray sooner than one was eventually called, and also should have ensured that Gray was wearing a seat belt.

Porter is charged with involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office.

For convictions on some or all of the first three charges, he would face no more than 10 years in prison combined. There is no statutory maximum sentence for the fourth charge, misconduct.

Ready for unrest

With a verdict possible this week, the city of Baltimore — which witnessed protests and unrest after Gray’s death — said it activated its emergency operations center Monday “out of an abundance of caution.”

Last week, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Police Commissioner Kevin Davis cautioned the city to be respectful as the verdict gets closer. Read the rest of this entry »


Claude Monet: Willows in Giverny

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MONET, Claude
Willows in Giverny
1886
Oil on canvas, 74 x 93 cm
Konstmuseum, Gothenburg