Sunday, January 11, 2009

Charter 08 worries China

Charter 08 worries China

Police have detained activists behind the democracy petition, which has drawn diverse support.

Jonathan Adams
The Christian Science Monitor
January 7, 2009

Beijing -- On Dec. 8, the police took Zhang Zuhua into a room in Beijing and sat him in a chair.

For 12 hours, they questioned him. They brought him water, but no food. And they debated the document that had led him here: Charter 08, a call for sweeping political change in China.

It's gotten to be an old story here: A clutch of activists challenges the government; the government jails one or two to scare others into silence.

But the movement around Charter 08 is different, say human rights groups and Mr. Zhang, who helped draft the document.

A month after its release, Charter 08 is still making waves in China. A wide cross-section of citizens has expressed support online. And the government, nervous about social unrest and the approaching anniversary of Tiananmen Square, has contacted – and in some cases, interrogated and threatened – at least dozens of the manifesto's original signers.

"This text is having a lot of impact – people are debating and signing it online," says Nicholas Bequelin, China researcher for Human Rights Watch. "This is a landmark in terms of its appeal, and [the] attention that it has provoked."

Charter 08 calls for an end to one-party authoritarian rule and lays out a vision for a rights-based society – an electoral democracy, under the rule of law, with equality for peasants and city-dwellers and protected freedoms of speech and expression.

Similar calls have been made before; all have failed to weaken the Chinese Communist Party's grip on power. But activists say this manifesto is significant in several respects.

First, thousands of citizens of all backgrounds – peasants, teenage netizens, prominent lawyers, former party members – have added their names to the petition, not just the usual gadflies. They reflect a minority unwilling to accept the party's vision for China.

Second, the Internet has vastly expanded the charter's reach, with no central organization. That makes it a new kind of threat to a government concerned about organized challenges to its rule.

"It's a testament to the power of the Internet," says Joshua Rosenzweig, of the Dui Hua Foundation, a group that promotes human rights in China. "[It's] allowed Charter 08 to galvanize and bring together a lot of people from different walks of life and locations."

Meanwhile, the government has gone after key players behind the document. Liu Xiaobo, a coauthor of Charter 08, was detained on Dec. 8, the eve of the charter's scheduled publication online. He is being held by authorities at a Beijing hotel, according to Human Rights Watch.

The group has called Mr. Liu's detention "the most significant Chinese dissident case in a decade." "He was seen as being pretty untouchable," says Mr. Bequelin. "The fact he was taken away shatters that notion, and indicates an escalation in the repression of independent thought in China."

Zhang was also arrested on Dec. 8, but later released. Less then three weeks after the pair's detention, sitting in a private back room of a Beijing coffeeshop, he explained the appeal of the document he helped craft. "I think Charter 08 articulates what many Chinese people want to say," he says.

The direct inspiration is Czech activists' call for freedom in 1977, during the days of Soviet occupation. Charter 08's critique is blunt: "The political reality, which is plain for anyone to see, is that China has many laws but no rule of law; it has a constitution but no constitutional government. The ruling elite continues to cling to its authoritarian power and fights off any move toward political change."

Zhang says more than 300,000 websites now link to the charter, and it's being discussed on blogs, QQ (a popular Chinese instant message service and website) groups, and other chat rooms. "It's impossible to block information in society now," he says.

One user posted the following on the Independent Review, an online forum: "The CCP cannot even accept such peaceful and rational suggestions? I will sign the charter!"

Zhang says police seized from his home four computers, books, documents, DVDs, and all of his, his wife's, and their parents' cash and credit cards. Just hours after the Monitor interviewed him on Dec. 26, Zhang was detained again, according to the group China Human Rights Defenders.

"His interrogators sternly warned Mr. Zhang about 'severe consequences' to his family and friends if he continued to give media interviews or engage in any other activities promoting Charter 08," the group wrote in a press release.

Zhang and other activists say the government's reaction to the document reflects its worries ahead of the 20th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, and as China's economic engine begins to sputter.

Beijing has banned state-run media interviews with charter signers, banned articles by charter signers, and ordered a crackdown on journalists who signed the charter, according to Radio Free Asia. Websites publishing Charter 08 have been blocked, though it's easily found using a proxy server.

Zhang says he expected this reaction to Charter 08 and is "mentally prepared" for jail. He notes police have treated him well so far – due to his party background, he guesses.

"Sent down" to Sichuan Province during the Cultural Revolution to make missile parts in cave factories, Zhang later became a high-ranking party youth league official – only to be stripped of his post in 1989 after he spoke out in support of protesters. Now he's vulnerable to charges of "inciting subversion" for his role in Charter 08.

Zhang says his home is watched around the clock by at least two men, whom he brings hot water and magazines. "We get along very well. We're all humans, they're only doing their job," says Zhang. "We're not enemies."

"I don't want to be jailed, but I have no choice," he continues. "We have to stand up and fight for democracy."

Zhang Yajun contributed to this story.

Original site

Rehab for webaholics

In an increasingly wired China, rehab for Internet addicts

A Beijing treatment center for Web-addicted youths includes counseling, group games like laser tag, and physical exercise.

By Jonathan Adams
The Christian Science Monitor
January 6, 2009

Beijing - A 6 a.m. wake-up call. Afternoon drills in military bearing and formations. And a grueling regime of push-ups and leg lifts before the 9:30 p.m. lights-out.

Welcome to rehab for Internet addicts – People's Liberation Army (PLA) style.

Here, on a military base outside Beijing, a progressive Chinese psychologist, Tao Ran, has established a treatment center for a distinctly 21st-century malady.

The center is an experiment in treating "non-material" addictions – others include work-, shop- and sex-aholism – that are booming along with China's rapid modernization, says Dr. Tao.

"The problem is getting worse," says Tao. "[Internet addicts] can't adjust to school and society, so they try to escape their difficulties and avoid problems. They lack self-confidence and often don't have the courage to continue their lives."

China has the world's largest number of Internet users – 290 million and counting, with 70 percent under the age of 30. And a recent survey of Internet use by global market information group TNS found that Chinese spend the highest proportion of their leisure time online – 44 percent – out of users in 16 countries.

Tao estimates that 4 to 6 percent of Chinese netizens, which includes more than 13 percent of Chinese college students, are addicts – a term he defines as anyone who spends more than six hours per day for three months or more on nonwork- or study-related Internet use. That amounts to as many as 17 million net junkies in China. By comparison, about 8 percent of college students in the US are addicted Web users, he estimates.

Last fall, Tao coauthored a controversial diagnostic manual for "Internet Addiction Disorder," and he's now fighting to get the disorder accepted both by Chinese netizens and by health organizations at home and abroad.

Finding games and friends in the real world

Tao's center, which opened in 2004, has become the model for other such centers countrywide, which now number more than 300.

Here, in addition to military-style discipline, some 60-odd patients at his center undergo a three-month regimen of counseling, confidence-building activities, sex education, and in about 60 percent of the cases, medication. The treatment is designed to address underlying family and psychological problems, and boost their self-confidence.

There are a handful of young women here, going "cold turkey" from "Audition" and similar games, where players engage in dance battles, decorate virtual homes, and have virtual husbands and babies. (One female patient had amassed 68 "husbands," says Tao, with a sigh).

But most of the patients are young men, 15 to 21 years old, hooked on multiplayer online games – especially World of Warcraft and Counterstrike.

"They believe the virtual world is beautiful and fair," said Tao. "In the real world, they become depressed, upset, and restless – they are very unhappy."

Jia Chunyang, a teenager from the coastal city Qingdao, is a typical patient. Wearing a military-green jumpsuit and hip black-framed glasses, he explains that Counterstrike is his "drug" of choice. A couple years ago his gaming habit – which he indulged at least five or six hours a day – started to seriously affect his life.

"My relations with friends weren't good; I only communicated with them online," says Jia. "I stole money from my family and skipped school. And the games also affected my personality. If I couldn't play for a while, I would feel upset."

He hit bottom in 2006, when he ran away from home and went on a 15-day Counterstrike bender in an Internet cafe. He took breaks for instant noodles and half-hour catnaps, but otherwise went on an uninterrupted shoot-'em-up spree, as his parents searched for him.

Now, at the rehab center, he says he's feeling much better. He was touched by his parents' willingness to come all the way to Beijing to try to address his problems.

He says the toughest parts of rehab are the evening exercises and military training. But he credits the center with helping him regain control of his life. "It's changed me a lot," says Jia, giving him structure, access to counseling, and new friends. "I feel like we're brothers, sharing this different life together ... sometimes I don't want to leave."

A symptom of deeper problems

Tao emphasizes that "Internet addiction" is a symptom of deeper family and psychological problems. The majority of patients come from broken homes or were emotionally neglected in childhood, he says, which is why he insists on treating young patients together with their parents.

He says more than 20 percent of patients also have psychological problems such as attention deficit hyperactivity or personality disorders, which require more attention.

Still, he says his center gives young men and women and their families a chance to face their demons head-on, and try to kick Internet habits which have interfered with their schooling, work, and personal relationships.

The center is on the cutting edge of Chinese society, in which seeking help for mental illness, family problems, or addiction has traditionally been rejected as a shameful loss of "face."

But Tao says such attitudes are changing as China's modernization poses new social challenges: higher pressures in China's hyper-competitive workplace, breakdown of family ties, higher divorce rates, rapid commercialization, and issues related to new technologies.

In China, he says, Internet addiction is mostly a problem for teens – as opposed to the US, where it affects more adults (in particular, US males addicted to online pornography).

Back at the center, the mother of one patient from Jiangsu Province says her generation was spared what she calls the "mental heroin" of online games and content that hooks kids. "I think this kind of treatment is good," says the mother, who did not want to give her name out of embarrassment over her family's problems. "It combines psychological, medical, educational, military, and physical exercise."

Despite the military-style discipline, the patients also have fun. Tao shows off the mock AK-47 assault rifles and battle gear they use for "laser tag" games. Later, 40 Internet addicts in military-green jumpsuits huddle in a conference room for some team-building exercises, as their "counselors" – PLA soldiers – watch.

As the song "If you're happy and you know it" plays, two web addicts at a time spin around until dizzy, then try to race each other across the room. Later, they line up in pairs to pop pink balloons by hugging each other tightly, amid raucous laughter.

"Every child in this rehab center has a sad or miserable history, because their parents didn't treat them justly," says Tao. "Here, they can build their confidence, become more social, and develop group spirit."

Zhang Yajun contributed to this article.

Original site

Tiger territory dwindles

Sri Lanka presses farther into rebel territory

Although Sri Lankans celebrated significant gains against the Tamil Tigers on Monday, the rebels claimed to have killed at least 53 soldiers in fighting.

Jonathan Adams
Christian Science Monitor
Terrorism and Security Update
January 05, 2009

The Tamil Tigers claimed they killed several dozen Sri Lankan soldiers, as the island nation held a day of celebration Monday to mark battlefield successes against the separatists.

Monday's events came days after the government announced it had taken the key rebel stronghold of Kilinochchi – raising hopes of an end to decades of civil war that have ravaged this small island off India's southeast coast.

But that announcement was immediately followed by a Tamil suicide bombing in the capital Colombo that killed two.

In grinding warfare amid monsoon rains in thick jungle terrain, the Sri Lankan military has made progress in recent months in its latest campaign against the rebels, and has repeatedly claimed victory is at hand. The rebels are now confined to "a jungle area slightly larger than the city of Los Angeles," according to the Associated Press (AP).

In honor of the troops, and of those slain in the war, the government held flag-raising ceremonies across the country and called for two minutes of silence, even as the military pressed ahead with its attacks.

The AP said the Sri Lankan military on Sunday took reporters on a tour near the front lines, as soldiers pushed north and east to corner remaining Tamil forces.

The military brought some reporters on a victory tour of the Kilinochchi area, where they watched tanks rumble north to the war zone, attack helicopters fly overhead and heard artillery fire roar through the jungles.

Special forces with rifles and grenade launchers prepared to head to battle as well.

The army was using Paranthan Junction, a strategic crossroads the military captured Thursday, as a staging area to send troops into the fight for two of the biggest prizes remaining in the battle, the rebel-held areas of Elephant Pass to the north and Mullaittivu to the east.

"Day by day, the Tigers' territory is shrinking and their numbers are dwindling. The objective of finishing this war won't be that long off," said Maj. Gen. Jagath Dias, who commanded the battle for Kilinochchi.

For their part, the Tigers released a statement claiming they had killed 53 government soldiers, according to the BBC.

The rebels said the soldiers died in fighting on the main road towards the rebel-held town of Mullaitivu....

"At least 53 Sri Lanka Army soldiers were killed, more than 80 sustained injuries and the Tamil Tigers recovered two bodies of the soldiers in heavy fighting," the pro-Tamil website TamilNet reported.

Sri Lankan military officials denied the rebel casualty claims and said troops had recovered the bodies of 12 Tamil Tigers.

The Times (of London) noted the Tamils' claims were "impossible to verify" amid an "almost complete media blackout."

If the military wins the battle for Mullaitivu district and the nearby Elephant Pass, the whole of Sri Lanka will be back in government hands for the first time since 1983.

Colombo, the capital, was in near-lockdown for a second successive day today with roads throughout the centre of the city closed completely for several hours by military checkpoints amid a fear of a wave of suicide attacks.

A columnist in The Sunday Times, a Sri Lankan newspaper, said the president's announcement of the fall of Kilinochchi on Friday immediately sparked "national euphoria."

In many towns, crackers were lit and the national flag was hoisted in public places. In Colombo, breaking news on TV, radio and even SMS messages had set the stage earlier. The burst of crackers surpassed the crescendo created by fireworks that signaled the dawn of 2009.

Another Sunday Times commentary gave the blow-by-blow of the recent battles, complete with a detailed map.

Still, some analysts warned that despite the government's military successes, the conflict was "far from over," Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported.

And a Japanese official warned only a political solution would fully resolve the conflict. Japan is Sri Lanka's top aid donor and has been involved in seeking a resolution to the war between the government and rebels, according to another AFP report.

Meanwhile, the Financial Times reported that as the Tamil Tigers appeared to face their day of reckoning, India has renewed its call for the extradition of the rebel leader, Veluppillai Prabhakaran, to face trial for the 1991 assassination of Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

The attack [on Rajiv Gandhi] was revenge for Gandhi's sending of an Indian peacekeeping force to Sri Lanka four years earlier in a bid to end the bitter ethnic conflict. New Delhi blames the Tigers' secretive leader for the assassination.

Hindu Tamils are a disadvantaged minority in Buddhist Sinhalese-majority Sri Lanka. The Tamil Tigers have waged a struggle for as long as 25 years for a separate Tamil state in northern and eastern Sri Lanka.

The conflict has killed an estimated 65,000 and displaced 200,000 more, according to a background report by the Council on Foreign Relations.

Original site

China reverses course

Amid economic chill, China reverts to export-friendly ways

Beijing restores tax breaks and other perks for Chinese exporters. It's worried that declining exports mean more social unrest.

Jonathan Adams
The Christian Science Monitor
January 2, 2009

BEIJING - In recent years, China scrapped many of its export-friendly policies – a turn welcomed by foreign competitors as a step toward freer, fairer trade.

In typical style, Beijing did so incrementally, "crossing the river by feeling the stones," as the Chinese cliche goes.

But now, with the economic downturn in full effect, China is scrambling back toward the riverbank. The government has reversed itself on tax rebates and other export-friendly policies, restoring perks it had only recently scrapped.

The latest tax rebate hikes, which take effect Jan. 1, will be doled out to exporters of motorcycles, sewing machines, industrial robots, and other goods, according to the China Daily.

Beijing's about-face risks raising tensions with the US and other trade partners. Washington and others have long complained about China's "unfair" trade policies and a flood of cheap Chinese imports. The US welcomed the 2007 elimination of some tax rebates as a sign of progress, only to see many of them now restored.

But analysts here say China isn't trying to undercut foreign competitors. Rather, it's giving life support to flailing exporters – and trying to stave off the social unrest it fears will result from massive factory layoffs.

"The leadership here is under enormous pressure from manufacturers and local officials to do whatever it takes to save jobs and maintain stability," said Russell Leigh Moses, a China-watcher at The Beijing Center for Chinese Studies. "There are some voices within the bureaucracy who are concerned about this 'China first' strategy, but they are being overwhelmed by these domestic cries for help."

In fact, in the current gloomy climate, most nations are pursuing a "me first" strategy, and China's no exception. Trade barriers that were only recently taken down are going up again. Russia recently slapped tariffs on imported cars, and Vietnam has done the same for steel. The World Bank predicts such policies, and slack demand will cause global trade to fall 2.1 percent next year, the first contraction since 1982.

All of which has raised worries of a return to the "beggar-thy-neighbor" protectionist policies of the 1930s, which helped create the conditions for World War II.

But Andy Xie, a Shanghai-based independent economist, says such fears are overblown. "There will be some protectionist measures, but I don't think we're going back to the 1930s," says Mr. Xie. "This round of globalization is much more resilient."

Xie says there's a "disconnect" between high-level policy talks between the US and China, and the situation in places like Ningbo or Dongguan, a center of light manufacturing in southern China. There, exporters are in dire straits. He says labor costs have roughly doubled in the last five years for such firms. Many factories have closed (100,000 in 2008, by one estimate) – a massive shakeout.

The Chinese government has bigger concerns than just belly-up exporters. Failed factories means a huge unemployment problem, which in turn could fuel widespread social unrest. An estimated 10 million of China's 200 million migrant workers have been laid off and gone home, according to Chinese government statistics cited by the China Daily.

In that context, the tax rebates are a type of emergency first aid.

"I think the government is trying to lower bankruptcy rates, not to boost exports," says Xie. "The government needs to show some concern for exporters, and the [tax] rebates help relieve cash pressure."

When it did away with such rebates, notably in the summer of 2007, China hoped to reduce its dependence on the export model. It wanted to end perks for foreign firms using China as an export platform, help domestic firms better compete, and force low-end manufacturing industries up the value chain.

But its timing couldn't have been much worse.

Just months after it began taking perks away, the US subprime crisis snowballed into a global financial crisis. Now, gloomy times in the US, Europe, and Japan have reduced appetite for Chinese goods.

Chinese exports fell 2.2 percent in November, the first fall in seven years – and a striking statistic in an era of steady, double-digit growth. Analysts expect exports may continue to fall in 2009 as foreign consumers keep their wallets closed.

Zhuang Jian, a senior economist with the Beijing office of the Asian Development Bank, says China's return to export-friendly measures is only a stop-gap measure, until such bleak conditions pass.

"This kind of policy should be regarded as a short-term action," says Mr. Zhuang. "The government is concerned about how to deal with laid-off workers.... Right now, their policies are aimed at keeping exporters in operation in the coming years, rather than just letting them go bankrupt."

Some economists worry that China may also reverse course on its currency. It could devalue the yuan to give its exporters an edge, after letting it climb 20 percent since 2005 in response to foreign pressure. Zhuang says China is unlikely to do that, or to fiddle with tax policy on firms' earnings. That leaves adjusting tax rebates for exporters as one of the few policy tools at Beijing's disposal to help address exporters' woes.

Still, he and others agree that such measures are only of short-term utility. In the long term, they say China needs to boost demand at home, especially by increasing private wealth and consumption.

"The case for stimulating domestic demand is stronger than the case for trying to stimulate exports by depreciating the exchange rate or giving tax incentives to exporters," the World Bank wrote in a China report in December.

Original site

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Somali president quits

Amid growing international pressure, Somalia's president resigns

Widely considered an obstacle to peace, Abdullahi Yusuf announced his resignation on Monday.

Jonathan Adams
Christian Science Monitor
Terrorism and Security Update
December 29, 2008

The president of Somalia resigned Monday, in a move that analysts say could help bring stability to the war-ravaged, failed state.

Abdullahi Yusuf, a former warlord, took office amid high hopes in 2004 as the first president of a United Nations-backed transitional government. But during his term he was unable to extend the government's writ much farther than the capital.

Somalia has been without a strong central government since former dictator President Siad Barre was overthrown in 1991, and the area near the capital of Mogadishu has seen fierce fighting between US-backed Ethiopian and Somali government troops, and Islamist fighters.

Mr. Yusuf's weakness was further highlighted this year by the shocking surge in pirate attacks off the Somali coast, which has stirred international outrage.

Reuters reported that Yusuf's departure could help break a "deadlock" at the top of Somalia's government.

"As I promised when you elected me on October 14, 2004, I would stand down if I failed to fulfill my duty, I have decided to return the responsibility you gave me," Yusuf said....

Yusuf had become increasingly unpopular at home and abroad and was blamed by Washington, Europe and African neighbors for stalling a U.N.-hosted peace process. He had come under intense pressure to step aside.

Reuters cited analysts as saying Yusuf's departure, combined with the scheduled withdrawal of Ethiopian troops, could help stabilize the country. Yusuf had clashed with his prime minister on several issues, including whether to include moderate Islamists in peace talks (Yusuf opposed doing so).

According to Bloomberg, Yusuf made the announcement of his resignation to the Somali parliament.

Sheikh Aden Mohamed Nor, the speaker of parliament, will assume the presidency under the country's transitional federal charter, Yusuf told lawmakers in the nation's parliament in Baidoa, 155 miles northwest of the capital, Mogadishu. The address was broadcast on Capital Voice, a closely held broadcaster.

Garowe Online, the sister site of Radio Garowe, a community radio station based in northern Somalia, reported that security was "extra tight" in Baidoa. It said the president's resignation was no surprise.

Yusuf's resignation was expected, after being labeled an obstacle to peace and pressured by the U.S. and regional powers to resign....

Yusuf's resignation ends a months-long feud with interim Prime Minister Nur "Adde" Hassan Hussein, who enjoys the backing of the international community.

The power struggle between the two men peaked a couple weeks ago, when the president fired his prime minister, according to a Xinhua report.

Yusuf sacked his Prime Minister Hussein on Dec. 14, accusing him of incompetence, embezzlement and mismanagement.

The Somali Parliament, one day after the sacking of the prime minister, voted to endorse Hussein and his government, overturning Yuruf's decision.

Agence France-Presse described the next steps for replacing Yusuf.

Somalia's parliament now has 30 days to elect a new president by secret ballot.

The winner must win a two-thirds majority of the votes. If not, a second and third round of voting is called. In the last round, the winner would only need a simple majority.

Somalia has been a failed state since 1991, when Mr. Barre was ousted. Warlords carved up the country, but Islamists seized control of southern and central Somalia, and took the capital in 2006. A US-backed Ethiopian offensive drove them out of Mogadishu in late 2006 and Yusuf arrived in the capital several days later.

The government controls only a "few city blocks in a country almost as big as Texas," according to The New York Times. But the Times reported that fighting has now broken out between rival Islamist militias, further complicating the picture.

On Sunday, a powerful, newly militarized Islamist group declared a "holy war" against other Islamist factions, and it seems to have the muscle to back up its intentions. Over the weekend, the group, the Ahlu-Sunna Wal-Jama, killed more than 10 fighters from the Shabab, a rival Islamist faction known as one of Somalia's toughest.

The group issued a statement calling on its followers to "prepare themselves for jihad against these heretic groups," referring to some of the other, more hard-line Islamist factions, and "to restore stability and harmony in Somalia and achieve a genuine government of national unity."

The US says some Shabab leaders have ties to Al Qaeda, and fears Somalia could become a haven for foreign jihadis, notes the USA Today.

In a background report on Somalia's Transitional Federal Government (TFG), which Yusuf headed, the Council on Foreign Relations noted that despite widespread instability, elections are due in Somalia next year.

Because TFG members earned their posts through protracted negotiations, rather than elections, Somalia is not a democracy. That is set to change in 2009, when Somalis are scheduled to vote in the first elections in more than twenty years. Few analysts, however, anticipate the government will last until the vote. In an April 2008 report on Somalia, Africa expert John Prendergast called the TFG "feeble, faction-ridden, corrupt, and incompetent."

Original site


China extends a friendly bear paw across the Taiwan Strait

Beijing marked warming ties with Taiwan by sending two pandas, Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan, to the Taipei Zoo.

By Jonathan Adams and Zhang Yajun
Christian Science Monitor
December 24, 2008

BEIJING - There's economy class. There's business class. And then there's "giant panda" class – featuring temperatures of 18 to 20 degrees Celsius, all-you-can-eat cornbread and bamboo, and panda-sized doses of motion sickness pills.

Those were some of the services provided for two giant pandas transported by airplane Tuesday from China to Taiwan. In a symbolic move of "panda diplomacy," Beijing marked warming cross-strait ties with the furry gifts, amid fanfare and a media frenzy.

China sees self-ruled Taiwan as part of its territory awaiting unification, by force if need be. So some in Taiwan fret about the gift's political overtones, saying the bears are unwitting (if cute and cuddly) pawns in Beijing's unification agenda.

Beijing's names for the pandas – Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan, which together mean "reunion" – do little to allay such concerns.

"The Chinese leadership is working very hard to win the hearts of the Taiwanese people, and pandas are one of the more prominent gestures," said Joseph Cheng, a political scientist at City University of Hong Kong. "That's why you see a playing-up of the whole episode."

But politics was drowned out today by panda fever, with a barrage of Internet commentary and breathless coverage in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Chinese state-run media.

All went into overdrive, tracking the pandas as they traveled by road from their mountainside home in Ya'an, in Sichuan Province, to the city of Chengdu, and from there on a chartered flight to Taipei, where the panda-bearing plane touched down late Tuesday afternoon.

Chinese state-run TV showed footage of the two bears eating an apples-and- bamboo breakfast. A panda-doll-clutching reporter gave on-the-spot updates from the tarmac at the Chengdu airport. And one CCTV presenter gushed, "They're a legend in the panda world – they grew up together, they love each other, and now they're going to Taiwan together."

The pandas will be quarantined at their new home in the Taipei Zoo for about a month. The goal is to have them on display by Lunar New Year, which falls on Jan. 26, 2009.

Panda party preference

Beijing first offered the two pandas in 2005 – but not to Taiwan's elected government, which was then controlled by the pro-independence party. Instead, it offered the pandas to the more China-friendly Kuomintang (Nationalist Party), then the opposition party, when its chairman made a trip to the mainland.

That end run around Taiwan's official institutions was unacceptable to the government, which refused the bears entry.

But after the KMT retook power in Taiwan in May on a platform of improving cross-strait ties, the door was flung open.

Now, the island's pro-independence figures can only urge Taiwanese to be wary of China's apparent goodwill gesture. They stress that China still has more than 1,000 missiles pointed at the island.

"Their intentions are clear," says Lai I-chung, with the pro-independence Taiwan Thinktank. "Beijing wants to use [the pandas] to pacify Taiwan. They want to cover up their threatening military posture and create an atmosphere in which the Taiwanese people would like to reunite with China.

Some Chinese netizens had their own concerns about the pandas' fate. "[The] poor pandas will be sent to that dangerous island," wrote one in a chat room on the popular website Tianya. "Are they going to be attacked and poisoned by the mob?

"I beg the DPP [the pro-independence party] not to kill the pandas in four years when they take office. Please send the pandas back home."

Panda propagation

After the panda pair settle into their new home and the initial hype fades, the focus will turn to babymaking. Both pandas are pushing 4-1/2 years old, which experts say equates to roughly 16 in human terms.

That means they're ready for romance, although the ideal age for breeding is 5 to 7 years old, Li Desheng, of the China Giant Panda Protection and Research Center, told China's People's Daily newspaper.

But experience at other zoos shows that, to paraphrase Shakespeare, "the course of panda love never did run smooth." Pandas are notoriously hard to breed in captivity.

Veterinarian Kanika Mimtragul should know. She's been trying for three years to breed her pandas, Chuang Chuang and Lin Hui, at the Chiang Mai Zoo in Thailand.

Females are in heat for only three days each year, usually in February or March, Ms. Mimtragul explained in a phone interview.

They're also extremely picky about their mates, and have been known to attack would-be Casanovas who didn't spark their fancy, panda expert Chen Yucun said on CCTV.

In Chiang Mai, it's the male Chuang Chuang that hasn't been up to the task. The zoo has tried its best to interest him in sex – showing him videos of other giant pandas mating, among other tactics. All to no avail.

"Our male giant panda, he doesn't like mating, I don't know why," Mimtragul says. "I tried to stimulate him in many ways, but he did not respond."

Artificial insemination is tricky, too. The Chiang Mai Zoo tried it after giving up on the natural process. But Mimtragul says they were too late – about 30 hours after ovulation – due to delays waiting for a team of panda reproduction experts to arrive from Bangkok, Thailand, and for hormone test results.

Daily exercise – and extra apples

Mimtragul said the Taipei Zoo may have an easier time of it, since they have no language barriers with Chinese panda-breeding experts.

"My panda has a problem," said Mimtragul. "But maybe in Taipei, they'll be more lucky."

Another good sign: commentators in China claim Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan genuinely like each other.

And according to the English-language China Daily, trainers have taken the pair for daily runs to strengthen their endurance for mating.

Original site

Drone attacks kill seven

Suspected US drone attack in Pakistan kills at least seven Taliban

Monday's attack came amid discussion of doubling the US forces in Afghanistan by mid-2009.

By Jonathan Adams
Christian Science Monitor
Terrorism and Security Update
December 22, 2008

Suspected US attacks by unmanned drones killed at least seven (some reports claim eight) suspected Taliban members in the tribal areas of northwest Pakistan on Monday morning, according to Pakistani officials.

It's the latest in a series of such air attacks. US officials, citing policy, have refused to comment on most of the strikes.

The attacks are believed to be carried out by "Predator" unmanned aerial vehicles, remotely controlled from CIA. headquarters in the US, targeting Al Qaeda terrorists and Taliban militants from Afghanistan who are hiding out across the border in tight-knit tribal communities.

Pakistan has condemned the attacks as a violation of its sovereignty, and warned that they are counterproductive.

The airstrike came after a US commander on Saturday said Washington will deploy up to 30,000 additional US troops to Afghanistan by the middle of next year, in a mirror of the "surge" strategy that proved effective in Iraq.

Incoming US President Barack Obama has promised to draw down troops in Iraq and increase deployments in Afghanistan, according to TheBoston Globe.

Citing local intelligence officials, CNN reported that the attacks in South Waziristan targeted suspected Taliban militants.

Three missiles reportedly targeted vehicles mounted with anti-aircraft guns, according to the sources. One missile missed its intended target and landed near a house.

The dead were suspected Taliban militants, a local intelligence official said.

Another local official said nine other militants were wounded in the attack.

The missile strikes took place Monday morning about nine miles (15 km) from the town of Wana in South Waziristan.

Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported that the attacks started massive fires in two villages and sent residents fleeing in panic. Local residents later told AFP that hundreds of Taliban had gathered near the sites of the attacks for funeral prayers.

The suspected US strikes have continued despite a warning by Taliban militants based in tribal territory last month that any more would lead to reprisal attacks across Pakistan.

A missile attack late last month by a US jet killed Rashid Rauf, the alleged Al-Qaeda mastermind of a 2006 transatlantic airplane bombing plot, as well as an Egyptian Al-Qaeda operative, security officials have said.

The Voice of America (VOA) reported that media reports suggest the US has carried out some 30 air attacks in Pakistan this year. "The Pakistani government has publicly condemned the air strikes, saying they undermine Pakistan's counter-terrorism efforts," the VOA reported.

Al Jazeera noted that the attacks came a day after the Taliban killed two Afghan brothers they suspected of being spies for the US.

Pakistani police found the bodies strewn with bullets in an abandoned village in North Waziristan, Khan Zada, a local police official said.

A note signed by the Taliban was left with the bodies. It said that the brothers were from the Afghan city of Khost, near the Pakistan border, and had been abducted and killed.

The chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, said at a news conference in Kabul on Saturday that the US would potentially double its deployment to Afghanistan by mid-2009, according to AFP.

A total of 70,000 foreign troops are currently deployed in Afghanistan to fight the Taliban insurgency, AFP said, but violence is on the rise.

This year has been the bloodiest for international forces here since the Taliban fell, with nearly 290 soldiers killed. About 1,000 Afghan troops and police, as well as more than 2,000 civilians, have also been killed in 2008.

In a recent Christian Science Monitor dispatch from Kabul, experts warned that the US is increasingly facing a similar problem in Afghanistan as the Soviets did in the 1980s: attacks on vulnerable supply roads, lack of control of the countryside, and an enemy with hideouts across the border in Pakistan.

From the perspective of Zamir Kabulov, the former Soviet official, President-elect Barack Obama's proposed troops surge for Afghanistan is not enough....

The Soviets had nearly 400,000 Soviet and Afghan soldiers at their disposal – more than twice what the US and NATO have here – and yet they still failed, he notes.

The coalition's stretched resources have created an unwanted echo of the worst of Soviet times, Professor Goodson [of the US Army War College in Carlisle, Pa.] says.

In a commentary in Dawn, a Pakistani English-language daily, Muhammad Khakwani said the problems in the north Pakistan tribal areas were aggravated by ill-defined borders.

Whether it is wheat being smuggled, water rights, or militants crossing unchecked, addressing the root causes of the problems always gets complicated by the absence of agreed upon borders....

How can we fence a border when the neighbor does not agree on where to draw the line? We have unofficial agreements with tribal elders regarding the role of our troops from the lawless zone between Afghanistan and Pakistan. This guarantees that the tribal, lawless zone will remain tribal and lawless.

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Made for China

Dispatch from China's 'Puppet Capital'

by Jonathan Adams
December 23, 2008

QUANZHOU, China -- On a factory floor in this city on China's southeast coast, 15 women huddle over sewing machines, stitching the clothes of the gods.

They're skilled laborers, embroidering detailed, brightly colored dieties' outfits, banners and wall hangings for Buddhist, Taoist and folk temples. They also make clothes for the hand puppets and marionettes that have earned Quanzhou fame as China's "puppet capital."

The factory used to make products for export, particularly to neighboring Taiwan. Now, it's increasingly selling to domestic Chinese buyers. Take puppets. Fifteen years ago, this factory sold all of its puppets to Taiwan, said factory manager David Zeng. These days, he says, they only ship 20% of their puppets across the Taiwan Strait; most of the rest are sold in China.

"Taiwan buyers are still purchasing the higher-end products," Mr. Zeng said. "But now we have a bigger demand in the Chinese mainland."

Mr. Zeng's factory reflects a dramatic shift in Chinese manufacturing. The export model that made it rich—becoming the world's cut-rate factory floor—is becoming obsolete. China's exports just aren't as cheap anymore, thanks to rising labor costs and a slew of new laws and tax policies. The current global downturn is sapping demand in key export markets like the U.S. and Europe, making a tough climate worse.

In response, China's exporters are either shutting down or adapting to the new economic reality. Media attention has focused mostly on hard-hit, low-end manufacturers. More than half of China's toy companies went out of business this year, according to the Chinese government.

But the shift also applies to skilled and higher-end manufacturing, such as Quanzhou's many craft workshops. In addition to embroidery and puppet-making, these include wood and stone carving, porcelain, and bamboo weaving. Like China's other exporters, many of these firms have downsized sharply, and now look to the domestic market to take up the slack in falling export orders.

Mr. Zengs' factory is typical. In the 1990s his factory began taking orders from Taiwan, which shares a common "Minnan" culture with southern Fujian province. They began doing a brisk business supplying Taiwan temples and puppet troupes, seizing a cost advantage. "Ten or 15 years ago, it was about 1/3 the cost to make these supplies in China versus making them in Taiwan," said Mr. Zeng. "But now it's not so cheap."

Mr. Zeng says their production costs are now only about 80% to 90% that of Taiwan—still less expensive, but not by much. One reason is salaries. Fifteen years ago a typical skilled embroiderer made about 800 renminbi per month, now the average is 2,000. As their exports have become pricier, they've begun targeting their home markets downsized sharply. From 600 workers five years ago, they now have only 60.

Not everyone can make the switch from exporting to the domestic market so easily, of course. Orders are drying up, and China’s exports fell in November for the first time in more than seven years. In addition to fewer export orders, many factories are finding it difficult to find enough staff. "Every factory now in China is finding difficulties in recruiting new workers—not to mention factories that require specialized skills which take time and patience," Mr. Zeng said.

He expects they may shrink again by half in the next five years, to just 30 workers. And they may move their factories further inland where costs are cheaper. But he worries that he may not find workers there with the special skills that have made Quanzhou a crafts exporter.

"It's difficult," said Mr. Zeng. "There may be nowhere else to go."

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Marooned in Mindanao

Humanitarian crisis brews in southern Philippines

Sunday, December 21, 2008

TALAYAN TOWN, Philippines: The 50 soldiers came into Hassan Kalipa's home in broad daylight, looking for rebels. He served them coconuts.

Later that day - Aug. 29 - gunfire erupted a couple of kilometers away from Kalipa's village of Linamunan, in the southern Philippines, which has seen an upsurge in fighting between government forces and rebels from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in recent months.

The soldiers moved a mortar into the village to fire on the rebels. So, fearful of getting caught in the cross-fire, Kalipa, 31, and other Muslim farmers and their families fled their village.

They ended up in a camp in a public market here, about seven kilometers, or four miles, from Linamunan.

Kalipa and his fellow villagers are among hundreds of thousands of civilians whose lives have been turned upside down by conflict in the southern Philippines.

More than 2,000 are living in tents and thatched huts in the evacuation camp in the predominantly Muslim province of Maguindanao. Kalipa says some of the displaced return to their villages during the day to farm rice, coconut and corn fields, then come back to sleep in the camps.

They will not go back for good until the military leaves - and takes its mortar with it. "We're afraid to go back to our homes," Kalipa said.

The displaced villagers are the human fallout of a political failure: the breakdown in August of the peace process between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Four months after talks broke down and violence erupted, the lives of the villagers remain on hold.

As far as such conflicts go, casualties are low - which may explain the relative lack of attention to this troubled corner of Southeast Asia. In a report in late October, the International Crisis Group estimated that more than 200 had died in renewed violence since August, half of them civilians.

The relatively small numbers are due to the nature of this war. The military is playing a cat-and-mouse game with three MILF commanders blamed for attacks on civilian areas in August, with only occasional, brief engagements that often produce no casualties.

But even if casualties are light, a heavy climate of fear has paralyzed entire communities and polarized them along religious lines. The result, say aid workers, rights groups and others, is one of the worst humanitarian situations since all-out war raged on the island of Mindanao in the 1970s.

In a report in late October, Amnesty International accused both sides of human rights abuses. It says that the conflict displaced 610,000 at its peak.

Some 240,000 people have since returned to their homes; the rest are still living in relatives' homes or in primitive evacuation camps. The International Committee of the Red Cross says it has delivered food and aid to nearly 130,000 in 100 such camps.

"While the armed conflict in the Philippines's south is not new, the number of civilians directly affected by this most recent escalation of hostilities has increased dramatically, with no clear end in sight," Amnesty International said in the report. If perpetrators of rights abuses are not brought to justice and violations continue, the group said, "Mindanao may find itself approaching a human rights crisis."

One obstacle to talks is what to do about the three "rogue" commanders. The MILF wants a halt to military operations against the three and an independent investigation into allegations of atrocities. But the government considers them criminals who must face justice.

"They must take control of those people," Hermogenes Esperon, presidential adviser on the peace process, said in an interview at his office in the capital, Manila. "Otherwise, how could we be talking at the negotiating table?"

Still, the government is optimistic about the resumption of talks. It recently named the head of a new negotiating panel and says talks could resume by Christmas. But the MILF poured cold water on that, saying Dec. 14 in a statement on its Web site that the government's recent comments were "empty talk."

Even if the two sides do resume dialogue, the way forward in the peace process is far from clear. After 11 years of on-and-off negotiations, the MILF had accepted a preliminary deal, due to be signed Aug. 5, that would have expanded an autonomous Muslim area and given it greater control over its resources and revenues.

But Christian leaders in Mindanao loudly opposed that deal, fearing some Christian areas could come under Muslim control. They helped persuade the Philippine Supreme Court to issue an injunction against the agreement. The court later ruled the deal unconstitutional, arguing it would have effectively partitioned the Philippines.

Looking back, most analysts and observers put most of the blame for the breakdown on the government. They say it did not sufficiently consult with affected communities ahead of a deal and did not shore up support in Manila for the agreement. The MILF "has reason to feel deeply dismayed about what happened with the court rulings," said a U.S. official who did not want to be quoted by name discussing sensitive peace negotiations.

"The government underestimated the public backlash to the settlement, and they were caught off guard," said Scott Harrison, managing director of Pacific Strategies and Assessments, a risk consultancy. "They felt they could ramrod this through and everyone would just sign on the dotted line. But it raised a firestorm."

In an interview at his Cotabato City home, the MILF spokesman Eid Kabalu blamed President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's administration for failing to win consensus on the Aug. 5 deal from the legislative and judicial branches. Kabalu said that the rebels want to resume talks but that some now question the administration's sincerity in wanting a deal.

"Many believe a peace deal isn't really possible under this president," he said. But he added that the group would give the government "the benefit of the doubt, to prove we are really for peace."

They may have little choice. Forty years of fighting has shown that there is no military solution to the problem in Mindanao, many specialists say, including Esperon, the government peace adviser, and Abhoud Syed Lingga, director of the Institute of Bangsamoro Studies, a nonprofit nongovernmental research institute in Cotabato City.

"The situation now is moving toward a strategic stalemate," Lingga said in an interview at his office. "There are no good options for both sides except to negotiate a solution."

Back in the evacuation camps, the civilians wait. Aid groups are helping, but conditions are still rough. Kalipa said 11 people had died in his camp in recent weeks, suffering from diarrhea and high fever.

Amigos Maminto, 60, has been displaced for the second time. In the 1970s, as war raged in Mindanao between the military, Muslim rebels, and Christian and Muslim vigilantes, Maminto and many others fled their homes.

Some 35 years later, he has once again fled his home in Linamunan, this time with four of his children and several grandchildren.

"As long as there is no peace deal between the government and MILF, I expect a similar situation in the future," Maminto said. "I fear fighting will happen again."

Original site

Congo rebel camp raided

Joint raid sets camp of Ugandan rebel group ablaze

Uganda, Congo, and south Sudan attacked the Lord's Resistance Army camp in northern Congo on Sunday.

By Jonathan Adams
Christian Science Monitor
Terrorism and Security update
December 15, 2008

Three African nations announced Monday they had launched military operations against the notorious Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) in the remote northeast forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo the previous day.

Uganda, Congo, and south Sudan said they had attacked an LRA camp and set it ablaze.

The LRA has waged a 20-year rebellion against the Ugandan government and is notorious for kidnapping children and conscripting them. Its leaders are now hiding out in the jungles of the neighboring Congo.

The Ugandan government and the LRA have been in on-and-off peace talks for more than two years, but LRA head Joseph Kony has three times this year failed to show up to sign a deal, frustrating efforts to bring peace.

The BBC reported that the three countries released a joint statement on the raid.

A statement announcing the operation was released in the Ugandan capital Kampala by the intelligence chiefs of all three armed forces.

The statement said the attack targeted the "terrorists" at their bases in the forested area of Garamba, in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

"The three armed forces successfully attacked the main body and destroyed the main camp of Kony, code-named camp Swahili, setting it on fire," the statement said.

Agence France-Presse reported that the three governments have lost patience with Mr. Kony. It reported that both the LRA and the Ugandan government say they are still open to negotiations, despite the obvious breakdown of the peace process.

"We are attacking the camps. So for now the peace process is off," Ugandan army spokesman Major Paddy Ankunda told AFP.

But he added: "We still think that if there is an opportunity to re-open negotiations we will do it."

The attack, in which the forces raided and set an LRA rebels' camp on fire in the Garamba region, ended a two-year ceasefire between the Ugandan army and the rebels.

LRA spokesman David Nyekorach-Matsanga condemned Sunday's attacks but said they were still committed to peace.

Bloomberg reported that the Ugandan Air Force began bombing LRA positions Sunday. Quoting a Ugandan Army official, it said there weren't yet any details on casualties. It said the stumbling block to a peace deal was International Criminal Court charges against Kony.

Rebel leader Joseph Kony refused to sign the peace agreement, demanding that the International Criminal Court first withdraw war crimes charges against him.

The Uganda government referred Kony and his commanders to the court, which indicted them in 2005, after they had fled to neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo.

Uganda started negotiations with the rebel movement in July 2006 with the mediation of the South Sudan government in an attempt to end a war which has claimed thousands of lives and displaced more than 1.5 million people.

The Daily Monitor, a Ugandan daily, reported that peace talks had already collapsed in November, when Joseph Kony "failed to turn up for the third time this year to sign a deal earlier agreed upon by both sides."

In a separate interview, Maj. Ankunda told Daily Monitor last night that the attack was prompted by the rebel leader's failure to sign the deal. "He continues to kill and abduct, so we decided to move and rescue the women and children," Maj. Ankunda said. "This operation is also intended to implement the warrant of arrests issued by the International Criminal Court against Kony and his top commanders."

The Monitor said the attack was believed to have included infantry and special forces, in addition to the airstrikes.

In a report last week, the International Crisis Group said the peace process was "failing." It warned that the LRA could be used as a pawn in the coming years by the Sudanese government in Khartoum. That Arab government has long been accused of sponsoring the LRA in its fight against the Ugandan government, as a tit-for-tat measure against Uganda's alleged past sponsorship of southern Sudanese Christian rebels who fought Khartoum.

[The LRA] is available again as a proxy if Khartoum wants to disrupt the 2009 national elections, Southern Sudan's 2011 referendum, or restart war on the Sudan People's Liberation Army's (SPLA) southern flank.

The Associated Press wrote that the LRA's insurgency has destabilized several countries in the region.

The LRA has been waging one of Africa's longest and most brutal rebellions for the past 20 years, drawing in northern Uganda, eastern Congo and southern Sudan. The rebels were notorious for raping children and using them as soldiers.

According to the website, the LRA has "committed numerous abuses and atrocities, including the abduction, rape, maiming, and killing of civilians, including children."

The LRA rebels say they are fighting for the establishment of a government based on the biblical Ten Commandments. They are notorious for kidnapping children and forcing them to become rebel fighters or concubines. More than one-half-million people in Uganda's Gulu and Kitgum districts have been displaced by the fighting and are living in temporary camps, protected by the army.

Time magazine has called the LRA "one of the world's most terrifying rebel groups."

See video documentary from Journeyman Pictures on the LRA.

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