Monday, August 29, 2011

Taipei After Hours

Wall Street Journal, July 30, 2010

Taipei, TAIWAN --
Taipei is more an eating city than a drinking city. You won't find here the raucous public drunkenness of Tokyo, the hip watering holes of Beijing's restored hutongs, or the alcohol-fueled debauchery of Bangkok.

What you will find is a culture in love with food, and the pursuit of food -- in all kinds, shapes and sizes, but especially snacks (xiao chi). Drinks are often an afterthought.

That's not to say there's no booze culture. For wealthy male Taiwanese movers and shakers, serious drinking is tucked away in private, high-priced clubs and karaoke halls packed with nubile staff. Linsen North Road, though hard-hit by the economic downturn and an expat exodus, still caters to the thirsty -- carving out a strip of Japanese-style hostess and piano bars south of Nanjing West Road, and Filipina-staffed hostess bars in the former U.S. military's R&R "Combat Zone" further north.

Western-style lounge bars and cookie-cutter hip-hop clubs have sprung up in recent years, too, especially in the sleek new Xinyi shopping district in eastern Taipei that's clustered around the landmark Taipei 101 skyscraper. Taiwanese are justifiably proud to boast all the same luxury brands as Tokyo, Paris and New York, and Xinyi is where Taipei flaunts how far it's come -- from a garbage-strewn developing-world town with nightmarish traffic to a clean, neon-washed and brand-savvy metropolis.

But at night, the city's soul is still in its crowded night markets; its narrow, dark side alleys; its corner fruit stands; and its incense-choked temples, where the clacking of wood divination blocks
mixes with cell-phone rings. So when the lights go down, to discover the real Taipei, give Xinyi a pass and head west, to the old city.

6:30pm: Wanhua (Monga)

Taipei has vaulted headlong into the 21st century -- but someone forgot to tell Wanhua.

This is the heart of old Taipei, still barely beating -- a commercial hub dating back to the early Qing dynasty that's far past its prime. It's an old person's neighborhood, a slice of the Taiwan of
yesteryear, full of crumbling beauty and earthy Taiwanese culture but faintly embarrassing to well-educated, upper class Taiwanese. Wanhua is the polyester-clad Taiwanese great-aunt who spits in public, never learned how to use the Internet, and tells you you're fat to your face.

The neighborhood got a boost recently from a coming-of-age gangster movie titled "Monga," after the old name for Wanhua. Now, the seedy charms of this former thieves' bazaar, turned second-hand market, is luring more tourists -- both foreign and domestic.

Start at the Longshan Temple subway stop. Turn right after coming up the escalator, walk a few meters, and it's like traveling 30 years back in time. The park and underground shopping mall are worthy of Fellini: groups of gnarled old men playing Chinese chess, middle-aged women in motorized wheelchairs belt out hackneyed karaoke with a Taiwanese twang, fortune tellers show off photos of celebrity customers and birds ready to peck out your fate (they pick slips of paper with their beaks), 'nakashi' bands entertain drunk retirees, a down-at-the-heels septuagenarian tries to grasp a Hello Kitty doll with a mechanical pincer at a glowing grabber machine.

Check out Longshan temple, then exit and take a left and then another immediate left to cut through pungent Herb Alley. Cross the street to the temple of the King of Hell. On the other side of the temple, you'll come to the newly restored, historic street of Bopiliao. It's Taiwan's answer to the hip, restored hutongs of Beiijing; a fragrant lane dedicated to the wood-and-paper-lantern nostalgia of small-town 1960s and 1970s Taiwan.

Now it's time to get down to the serious business of eating. Retrace your steps to the narrow markets, especially the Guangzhou Street night market. The idea here is to graze; moving from stall to stall, while chewing on your latest plastic-bag-wrapped treat with the help of a wooden skewer. Try the ren bing (NT$50), a Taiwanese-style jumbo spring roll, packed with dried tofu strips, radish, carrots, crushed peanuts and sprouts.

Dart down Snake Alley (the covered Huaxi Night Market), perpendicular to Guangzhou Street, for the snake-gutting shows, and -- if you dare -- to down a snake blood-and-sorghum liquor cocktail (it's supposed to be good for men, especially). Also on offer: "three-cups" field rat, turtle, and snake soup -- as well as sex toy shops and several stores offering foot massages so excruciating they've been known to make grown men cry.

Make sure you stop for a mango ice (NT$100) at the popular Lungdu Ice and Juice Shop, on Guangzhou Street near the entrance to the night market.

8pm: Changan Road, central Taipei

If you're scared of street-stalls or just prefer a sit-down meal, beat a retreat to central Taipei. Head to the standby Shin Yeh, which serves Taiwanese favorites like oajian (oyster pancake, NT$280) and sauteed sea clams with ginger (NT$295) in a lively setting not far from the Linsen North Road "Combat Zone." Efficient staff whisk dishes from the kitchen, and the noise reaches a dull roar as the alcohol flows.

Another excellent and quieter option is Jiu Fan Ken, where you'll find down-home Taiwanese cooking in a classy, old-Taiwan atmosphere of wooden antique furniture and slow-turning ceiling fans. The small joint, an old favorite of Japanese tourists and pro-independence politicians, closed briefly after its previous owner passed away last year, but has reopened by popular demand, with a slightly different look.

Try the fong rou (NT$350), a chunk of fatty pork slow-cooked to an almost custard-like consistency, and topped with a cilantro garnish. Other favorites here are the five-flavored-fish (wu wei yu, NT$480) -- a fried fish in a sweet red sauce -- and duck strips.

At Jiu Fan Ken you can also sample the island's sudsy pride, Taiwan Beer, served out of blue-and-white bowls. Or if you prefer more company, head to the Taiwan Beer bar, just ten minutes' walk away. It's a vast beer hall in a converted warehouse, where large groups of
Taiwanese revelers imbibe and celebrate with signature green mini-kegs of Taiwan Beer at picnic tables.

Also not far from here, and well worth checking out, is the 1914 Huashan Culture Park. It's a sprawling former winery complex that's been tastefully converted into an artsy, dimly-lit complex of cafes, boutiques, art galleries, the live music hall Legacy, and classy pizza and pasta joints.

9:30pm: Zhongxiao East Road, Dunhua road intersection

Hop in a cab or take the MRT's blue line a couple stops to this throbbing center of Taipei nightlife. It's a prime destination for the beloved Taiwanese pastime of "guangjie" -- slow-paced strolling, window-shopping and snacking. This nameless 'hood is the haunt of stylish twenty- and thirty-somethings, older scenesters who wish they were still that age, dandies, hip-hop kids in trucker hats, camouflage or Bathing Ape-wear, and la mei ("spicy girls") in body-hugging dresses and stiletto heels.

Check out the eye-candy from a good people-watching vantage point, visit a Taiwan-style teahouse in the strip on Lane 181, Alley 7, sample some pomelo or other locally-grown fruit at a corner stand, or try one of the hip lounge bars like 2046. It sports wicker furniture on an outside patio; glass bead curtains, plush chairs and moody lighting within, and serves up cool cocktails like the Honey Paradise (fresh apple juice, Southern Comfort and honey, NT$300).

To find out where Taiwanese flock at night instead of bars, walk a few blocks south and check out the 24-hour Eslite bookstore on Dunhua South Road, a favorite haunt of night-crawlers, book-lovers and Hong Kong tourists. Most nights the aisles and marble tables are packed with young Taiwanese soaking in the latest business fad, thumbing through travel magazines or devouring American and European bestsellers in translation.

10:30 pm: Anhe Road. Serious drinkers will want to retire now to Anhe Road, Taipei's premier lounge bar and wine bar strip, with a saloon, club and a few quirky watering holes thrown in for good measure. One of the first clubs here, and walkable from the Eslite bookstore, is the elegant Champagne, which serves up a cool champagne-and-lychee liqueur cocktail in a classy, glittering setting; it also does a super-sweet lychee Mojito (NT$300).

Further south and just off of Anhe Road (a 15-20 minute walk, or brief cab ride), pop in to China White to sample a truly diabolical concoction: the Tai Ji (NT$350). It's a stomach-battering blend of Kahlua, triple sec, Korean soju and 80-proof vodka, garnished with cinnamon and set alight along with a flaming absinthe garnish. Also popular here are Lemon Drops, served with a lime wedge.

Midnight, take your pick: Serious club-hoppers can head back to Zhongxiao East Road to hit Luxy, a standby of Taipei nightlife that's still going strong, with a steady diet of electronica, hip-hop, special shows by gyrating "Luxy dancers" and bottle-juggling bartenders, and cavernous dance floors with plenty of elbow room. Other nightclub options like Barcode, Primo and Room 18 are located further east in the Xinyi district.

But for pure dumb fun, Carnegie's -- just across from China White -- still can't be beat. Some long-time expats will groan and recoil at the name, as the Taipei incarnation of this pub chain is a notorious meat market with rowdy, drunken revelers spilling into Anhe Road late at night. But on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, it's hard to find a better, more expat-friendly party, though definitely one geared toward those a bit long in the tooth.

On a good night, Carnie's, as expats call it, continues Wanhua's Fellini-esque theme with amateur dancing on its long, brass-railed bar, in front of a towering wall of booze. Sip your drink and feast
your eyes, if you dare, on the 50-something woman gyrating on the bartop in lingerie; the elderly gay queen shaking his booty, a group of Malaysian stewardesses attempting a pole-dance without the pole, and a pot-bellied, balding and be-spectacled European businessmen, well into his seventh Corona, working off his jetlag with jerking, a-rhythmic motions that at times resemble dance moves. By this stage, you might be ready to join them.

Late night, Fuxing South Road: To end your night like in true Taiwanese style, it's imperative to eat. An early-hours snack, if administered correctly, can help blot out the shameful memory of whatever happened at Carnegies, soak up alcohol and stave off a crushing hangover (that goes double if you've had the Tai Ji at China White).

Try one of Taipei's signature congee joints on Fuxing North Road, such as No Name Congee Snacks, open until 6 a.m. Select a few small plates like bamboo shoots (NT$50), sliced beef with yellow chives (NT$60), and cucumber with red pepper (NT$35), served with a bowl of congee
(the Chinese answer to oatmeal) with sweet potato chunks. Some like to dip bites of food in their congee; others dump everything in their bowl, mix and slurp away.

Now you're ready for the Sandman -- and if you're a true Taiwanese, you're already thinking about where to get breakfast.

Mentioned in this article:

Lungdu Ice and Juice: Guangzhou Street #168, +886 (0)2-2308-3223

Shin Yeh: ShuangCheng Street #34-1, +886 (0)2-2596-3255

Jiu Fan Keng: Changan East Road Section 2, #172-1, 2F, +886

Taiwan Beer Bar: Bade Road Section 2, #85, +886 (0)2-2771-9131

1914 Huashan Culture Park, Bade Road Section 1, #1, (Includes Legacy, +886 (0)2-2741-7065,

2046: Zhongxiao East Road Section 4, Lane 205 #24, +886 (0)2-2711-5589
(MRT stop: Zhongxiao Dunhua)

Eslite Bookstore: Dunhua South Road Section 1, #245, 2F +886
(0)2-2775-5979, (MRT stop: Zhongxiao Dunhua)

Champagne: Anhe Road, Section 1, #75, +886 (0)2-2755-7976

China White: Dunhua South Road Section 2, #97-101, 2F (just off Anhe
Road in the Modern Mall),,, +886 (0)2-2705-5119

Luxy: Zhongxiao East Road Section 4, #201, 5F,,
+886 (0)955-904-600 (MRT stop: Zhongxiao Dunhua)

Primo: Zhongxiao East Road Section 5, #297,, +886
(0)2-2760-5885 (MRT stop: Yongchun)

Carnegies: Anhe Road Section 2, #100,, +886 (0)2-2325-4433

No Name Congee Snacks: Fuxing South Road Section 2, #130,, +886 (0)2-2784-6735

Original site

What's changed since Copenhagen?

Few expect big breakthroughs at China's climate change talks this week. The real success will be in smoothing relations after the Copenhagen debacle and small side deals that are more realistic, observers say.

Christian Science Monitor, Oct. 5, 2010

Taipei, Taiwan --
United Nations climate officials say they hope to get talks for a new global deal on carbon cuts back on track after last year's climate talk debacle in Copenhagen. This week's climate change conference hosted by China in Tianjin could give them just that opportunity.

But with mistrust still high and feelings raw, few expect any big breakthroughs in Tianjin, or at higher-level talks beginning in late November in CancĂșn, Mexico. Instead, participants are focusing on smaller side deals that are more realistic, observers say, indicating that though a comprehensive deal might not get finalized here the real success of the conference will be in smoothing relations with small steps.

"Almost everybody is downplaying their expectations," said Yang Ailun, Greenpeace China's head of climate and energy, in a phone interview from Tianjin. "People are talking more about specific issues they think they can make progress on, such as climate finance and forestry."

Tough road ahead

The Tianjin talks are a prelude to CancĂșn, when world leaders will again try to cobble together a global deal on reducing greenhouse-gas emissions blamed for global warming. The aim is to forge a consensus before the current Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012.

Hopes for a grand deal were dashed in Copenhagen last December, when talks broke down amid recriminations between rich and developing countries who couldn't agree on how to share the burden for deep emissions cuts, and how such cuts should be verified.

Much of the focus is on China and the US, now the world's top two emitters of greenhouse gases. China insists the US and other developed countries should make more dramatic cuts and do more in funding and transferring technology to poorer countries for green energy efforts.

The US wants China and some other developing nations to bear more of the burden for cuts, and wants a mechanism for verifying such cuts – something Beijing has resisted.

And they're closely watching the attitude of China, the world's largest greenhouse-gas emitter, as it hosts the conference for the first time in the 20-year history of United Nations global climate change talks.

Observers say there's no sign either side is prepared to budge much from those positions. From China's point of view, said Greenpeace China's Yang, the US is doing little domestically – climate change legislation is stalled in the US Congress – and isn't offering much at the negotiating table, either.

"China can't get any of the technology or climate finance it wants, so it feels like there's very little the US can offer," she said. "It's one reason why negotiations have really stalled."

Some progress

Still, the view from Tianjin isn't all bleak. Of $30 billion pledged by developed nations in Copenhagen to help developing countries fight climate change, $28 billion is already lined up. Observers are optimistic the rest will be in place by Cancun, though there's skepticism that some of the funding is merely previously-committed money repackaged as "green" aid.

Yang said negotiators also appear to be closing in on a deal on fighting deforestation.

There are also signs that China is getting more serious about climate change, both domestically and on the global stage. The US and China have begun cooperating on clean energy research, and China is retooling coal plants in an effort to ease pollution.

In Copenhagen, where China took much of the blame for the breakdown in talks, Beijing learned that it has new-found responsibilities as a major world player, said Yang.

"China came to understand that given the scale of the country, there's simply no way it can hide – you're either the leader or you will be blamed," Yang said. "By hosting this meeting, it sends a strong signal that China is thinking about how to play a more proactive role on the international stage."

Ma Jun, director of the Beijing-based Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, said in a phone interview that China has a strong domestic motivation to curb emissions, especially from its coal plants, which still supply 80 percent of its electricity, according to the World Resources Institute.

Greenpeace China has estimated that there are more than 1,400 coal-fired power plants in China producing over 375 million tons of coal ash a year.

"We understand that if we don't change our current way of inefficient growth model, then China will sooner or later face a very severe energy security challenge," said Ma. "Our current way of growth also generates a massive amount of pollution, which we cannot afford."

Ma noted that China is now the world's leading investor in renewable energy, but said "it's not enough." He said better enforcement was needed to rein in emissions and curb construction of new coal-powered plants, and that the Chinese public needed to be better informed about "the true environmental and social cost of coal mining and coal burning."

Alternatives to a deal

Ma said many obstacles remained for a global deal, including America's failure to take a "proactive" stance on the issue. US greenhouse-gas emissions increased 16 percent from 1990 to 2006, according to a 2007 study by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency.

Given such challenges, he said the world should explore alternatives to an elusive UN-backed global deal, which might not even prove effective. Worldwide emissions have ballooned 25 percent since the Kyoto Protocol was negotiated, according to a World Bank report last year.

One avenue some environmental groups are exploring, Ma said, was corporate carbon disclosure projects, which could allow consumers to apply economic pressure on big polluting businesses to cut carbon emissions throughout their supply chains. "That could serve as a kind of feasible alternative if we can't reach an intergovernmental agreement," said Ma.

China surpassed the US as the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases in 2007, and each country now produces about 20 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions, according to the World Resources Institute.

But China's per-person emissions are only about a quarter that of the US 70 percent of China's energy demand comes from the industrial sector, while private consumption accounts for most of the energy demand in the US, according to the Institute. Private energy demand is expected to skyrocket in China in the coming years as the middle class swells and car sales boom.

China is a major investor in hydro, wind, nuclear, solar, and other renewable power sources, and aims for 15 percent of its energy needs to come from such sources by 2020. The US has no such national goal, though some states like California have set their own targets.

China and other developing countries have pledged to curb the growth of their carbon emissions, rather than promise absolute cuts. Those targets "should be understood in the context of the development stage in China," where 150 million people still live in poverty, Stanley So, manager of Oxfam Hong Kong's Economic Justice Campaign, wrote in an e-mail.

China's per-person GDP is $3,700, compared to more than $46,000 in the US.

"It is a compromise between development and the climate change challenge," Mr. So said, of China's target.

Original site

Losing patience with Pyongyang

WikiLeaks: China May Be Fed Up With North Korea

AOL News

TAIPEI, Taiwan (Dec. 3) -- U.S. State Department cables made public by WikiLeaks appear to confirm what many suspected: China is just as fed up with North Korea as the U.S. and other countries, despite its reluctance to speak out publicly.

Beijing is seen as the only government with influence over an increasingly dangerous and unpredictable regime in Pyongyang. It has come under sharp pressure from the U.S. to take a harder line, but so far has appeared reluctant to do so.

The leaked cables appear to show that part of China's strategy is to privately bemoan North Korea's behavior while publicly maintaining a studied neutrality. That has frustrated South Korean and U.S. officials, who want a stronger response to Pyongyang's provocations.

North Korea's recent shelling of a South Korean island near the maritime border shocked the international community, pushing tensions on the Korean peninsula to the brink of war. The attack killed two civilians and two South Korean marines. But Beijing only called for calm from both sides.

And earlier this year, China refused to join the U.S. and other nations in condemning North Korea for an attack on a South Korean navy vessel that killed 46 sailors. A multinational probe pinned the blame on Pyongyang, but China never accepted those findings. Beijing continues to block any action against North Korea at the United Nations.

Experts have long said that China's paramount concern is stability on the Korean peninsula, because it fears a flood of refugees in the event of a North Korean collapse, and also fears the prospect of a U.S.-allied unified Korea on its borders.

However, quotes from Chinese and South Korean diplomats and officials in recently leaked U.S. State Department cables suggest a more complicated picture: China is also growing exasperated with Pyongyang and has carefully studied the possibility of regime change and what a unified Korea might look like.

"Beijing has already set up a study group to look at the unification of Korea," said Antonio Chiang, a Taiwan-based commentator for that country's Apple Daily newspaper. "They are exploring all kinds of possibilities, because it [North Korean collapse] could come at any time. It's a very serious strategic dilemma, challenge and risk."

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In one leaked cable, a Chinese official compares North Korea to a "spoiled child." And a cable from February this year reports a South Korean official saying, "The PRC [People's Republic of China] would be comfortable with a reunified Korea controlled by Seoul and anchored to the United States in a 'benign alliance' -- as long as Korea was not hostile towards China," according to reports.

Brian Bridges, an expert on East Asian politics at Hong Kong's Lingnan University, told AOL News that the leaked cables showed "the evident Chinese frustration with North Korea." That's something he and other observers had guessed was increasingly the case in the past few years. "The 'spoiled child' quote is a very nice one, and I shall be using it in my own writing, but it doesn't surprise me," Bridges said.

He said one of the most interesting details was the suggestion that some Chinese officials could live with a unified Korea under South Korean control. "If that is really the case, I find it a bit surprising," Bridges said. But he and others have cautioned that this was secondhand information (via a South Korean official) and not necessarily reliable.

Original site

Meet China's dolphin tribe

Analysis: Inflation, hoarding, hot money — why the "currency wars" will only get worse.

TAIPEI, Taiwan — They're called the "dolphin tribe," a pun on the Mandarin word for "hoarding."

They're an example of how a weaker U.S. dollar is starting to affect everyday lives in China and across east Asia — and why, even as Asia-Pacific leaders meet in Yokohama to hash out a free trade agreement, the "currency wars" have only just begun.

"Dolphin tribe" (haitunzu) is one of the latest buzzwords on the Chinese-language internet, and it refers to Chinese who have begun hoarding everyday goods on expectations of more price hikes.

Ms. Zhang, from the southern metropolis Guangzhou, told China's Southern Daily that hoarding had become an obsession, and she's even snatching up makeup and towels. "I'm hoarding everything I use — I've become a 'dolphin'," she told the paper.

It's not just hysteria. China just shocked analysts by posting 4.4 percent rate of inflation in October, far higher than expected — and some economists are now saying the rate could soon hit 6 percent. According to the Southern Daily, prices at Guangzhou supermarkets are soaring: cooking oil shot up 15 percent in late October; sugar, 13 percent, ditto garlic, ginger, apples and rice wine.

Why the sharp rise in prices? One of the reasons, explains Taiwan finance expert Norman Yin, is the weak dollar. "When the U.S. dollar is going down, people holding U.S. dollars dump them to buy other things to secure value, so it pushes everything up," said Yin. "So the price of imported goods and all kinds of materials is soaring."

Commodity prices are also sharply up in Taiwan, prompting the government to slash tariffs on key imports like corn flour, soybean flour and cane sugar to ease the burden on consumers.

Now, central banks in both Beijing and Taipei are expected to hike interest rates as they pivot from stimulating the economy to taming inflation. Expectation of those hikes from China — possibly over the weekend — sent commodities tumbling Friday, a sign of markets' ultra-sensitivity.

But hiking rates is likely to worsen another long-standing problem: hot money inflows. "Hot money" refers to short-term speculators looking to turn a quick buck on the currency or another craze du jour — be it New Taiwan dollars, South Korean won or Indonesian rupiah. Such investors are basically turning East Asian currency markets into casinos, pumping in funds by the billion only to dump the local currency when they think it has peaked.

According to one Chinese official, there's now $10 trillion — that's trillion with a 't' — in "hot money" sloshing around the globe, looking for easy returns. Buying in mass amounts creates self-fulfilling prophecies: whatever the hot money thinks will go up, usually does.

But exporting countries don't want their currencies to climb too much, because that makes their goods pricier abroad, and so slows business, sags economies and kills jobs. To keep their currencies from spiking up and then cratering like stock circa 2000, China's central banks and others engage in massive interventions. Basically, they're sopping up all the "hot money" to keep their currency stable.

Now, the U.S. Federal Reserve has just made their job that much more difficult — turning the headache of "hot money" into a serious migraine. From East Asia's perspective, the $600 billion "QE2" injection plan has sent a tsunami of new "hot money" rolling toward their shores.

"The U.S. is trying to boost domestic demand in America, but that money will go abroad instead of staying in the U.S.," said Yin. "So it causes problems. When it goes abroad, it just pushes the U.S. dollar's value further down, and then it triggers a currency war."

Yin says Washington may not mean badly, it just don't "give a damn" about what QE2 will mean for China or other Asia exporters. "Americans aren't really taught to see this kind of thing as a concern," said Yin. "But for us, if there is such a large quantity of money flowing in in a very short period, then it really causes a lot of trouble, because most Asian countries have quite shallow financial markets."

"Hot money" inflows account for about 20 percent of China's accumulated reserves, says Yin; some economists say much more. And it's not just China; Japan, South Korea and Taiwan are also struggling to sponge up hot money inflows and hold down currency values. Yin said hot money began surging into Taiwan's currency market at $1 billion a day starting in mid-September when QE2 was first signaled, at least twice the typical daily flows before. It's coming in at $1.5 billion a day now.

"The four central banks are very busy in dealing with hot money from abroad, and they'll use every means," said Yin.

That means loading up their weapons of mass intervention. In Taiwan, sipping coffee with foreign bankers and hinting politely that maybe they should lay off the NT dollar didn't work so well (they called it "moral suasion.") So Taiwan's central bank is now selling massive amounts of Taiwan dollars toward the end of daily trading sessions to keep the currency down, adding steadily to its more than $380 billion pile of foreign exchange reserves — the world's fourth-largest reserves after China's, Japan's and Russia's.

Taiwan and South Korea are also dabbling with capital controls; changing rules to discourage short-term speculators. Japan is ready to sell massive amounts of yen into the market to keep down its value.

And China will continue to do the same with its own currency, the yuan. In fact, its intervention is only likely to increase, and its reserves balloon more (they're now a cool $2.65 trillion), as higher interest rates attract even more hot money.

That means despite what Obama and his "dogs" at the IMF may say (see Next Media Animation rap below), China's not likely to throw Washington a bone on the value of the yuan.

Economist Andy Xie is downright alarmist, writing in a recent commentary in China International Business that tit-for-tat attempts to drive down currency values are wreaking havoc on the global economy.

"If you print a trillion, I'll print a trillion. No change in exchange rate after a trillion? Let's do it again, QE2," writes Xie. "The world is heading towards high inflation and political instability. It's only a matter of time before there is another global crisis."

Think we're in a currency war? The dolphin tribe's rise is a sign you ain't seen nothin' yet.

Original site

Underworld justice

A surprising number of Taiwanese still take disputes to the gods.

Global Post, Nov. 18, 2010

HSINCHUANG, Taiwan — In his small, fluorescent-lit office, the portly temple scribe Lai Ming-hsien faces a middle-aged man in a dark blue jacket.

Lai asks the man's name, age and address, then begins jotting Chinese characters with a ball-point pen on a fresh piece of bright yellow paper, as the man looks on intently.

The matter that brought the man here is working its way through Taiwan's criminal justice system in nearby courts. But like many Taiwanese in such situations, he's also seeking an otherworldly remedy.

Lai is writing out the man's formal complaint to deliver to the "Lord of the Hordes" (Da Zheng Ye), an underworld dispenser of justice in Chinese Daoist and folk belief. (The man did not want his name or the nature of his case published.)

Here, in a side wing attached to Dizang Temple in a working-class Taipei suburb, Taiwanese come to air their grievances, at about $13 per complaint. Dizang is just one of scores of Taiwan temples offering such services, but it's among the most well-known.

In fact, business has boomed in recent years, says the 53-year-old Lai, so much so that the temple now employs three full-time scribes, who record and transmit to the gods more than 100 petitions per day. That's double or triple the number just a few years ago, when Lai was a one-man show.

Taiwan may have rapidly modernized and boosted educational levels in the past few decades, and its flagship high-tech industries embrace scientific rationalism. Yet many centuries-old, Chinese folk beliefs and practices show no signs of dying out.

Some practices have merely taken new, urban forms as Taiwan's old rural ways fade. Others — like underworld petitions — have survived into the 21st century intact, and might even be more prevalent than before. Such appeals can also be made by the dead against the living, says Paul Katz, an expert on Chinese religious and judicial traditions at Taiwan's Academia Sinica, at a recent talk in Taipei.

"There are people indicting people, ghosts indicting people, people indicting ghosts, and all sorts of other things." said Katz, who did field work at Dizang Temple. "This whole underworld indictment thing is busier than L.A. Law."

According to Katz, approximately 3,500 people file underworld petitions at the Dizang Temple every year.

The Chinese custom of underworld indictments dates back to sometime after the emergence of religious Daoism around the 2nd century A.D., with its emphasis on the bureaucratic order of the underworld.

"There's always been an idea that justice was being administered by officials in this world and the other world," Katz said.

At the Dizang Temple, the custom persists in modern packaging. Just like in a Taipei bank or clinic, petitioners file into a lobby off to the side of the main temple, take a number from a machine and wait their turn on rows of plastic chairs. When an automated voice calls out their number and shows it on a red L.E.D. screen, they step into the scribe's office.

Their complaints involve stolen vehicles, workplace troubles, extramarital affairs, even intellectual property rights disputes between technology firms.

"If they have situations they can't resolve, they come to us," Lai said. "We consider ourselves a bridge to the gods."

Katz' field work found only one change in the nature of such appeals from the late 1990s to 2006: An increase in missing pets cases. More recently, financial disputes have increased with Taiwan's high unemployment and recession-battered economy, Lai said.

The scribes also handle appeals for good health, better karma and getting rid of troublesome ghosts. Such petitions are directed toward the Buddhist deity Ksitigarbha ("Dizang Wang Pu Sa," in Chinese), Lai said. Both Ksitigarbha and the Lord of the Hordes are worshipped side by side at the temple, a common practice in Taiwan's blend of Daoist, Buddhist and folk practices.

On a recent Monday morning, some 30 Taiwanese visited the scribes in the space of a couple hours, mostly couples or small groups of relatives. Some of the men chewed betel nut, the mild stimulant popular with Taiwan's working class; others toted babies.

Wei, a 50-year-old man from the nearby city Shulin, padded in and out of Lai's office in old-fashioned wooden, thonged sandals, as a female companion waited outside. He said he came to ask the gods for relief from bad karma he believes he earned in a past life and is plaguing him in this one. It was his second visit; the first was three months ago for "another matter," he said, declining to elaborate.

An elderly couple asked Lai to write down their appeal for a relative's cancer treatment to go smoothly. After Lai had done so, they each pressed their left thumbs on a red ink pad and put a print on the yellow paper, which Lai then folded neatly and gave to them.

Every so often Lai refuses a case. One instance involved a third party in an adulterous love triangle, another, an inheritance dispute between brothers, he said. "You can't write just anything" and pass it on to the gods, said Lai. Sometimes he tells petitioners they should first go see a lawyer; sometimes lawyers send their clients to him.

If he's uncertain about a case, he may use a delaying tactic, such as telling a petitioner to first directly approach the gods. If the petitioner tosses wood divination blocks in front of the god's altar and three times in a row get a "yes" answer, he'll take the case.

Prices for a petition haven't gone up much — it cost $7.50 a pop when he began working as a scribe 32 years ago. But he works longer hours; he now gets only one day off a week and works eight or eight-and-a-half hour days with an hour's lunch break. Back when the temple paid him based on the number of petitions he wrote, he could earn better money than he does now (about $1,600 a month), but the income wasn't as stable, he said.

He said he mainly taught himself how to write indictments in formal Chinese, and experience tells him when a petitioner is lying. He keeps an Asustek "Eee PC" netbook on his desk, but only to listen to music. "I'm used to writing" petitions by hand, he says, though the other two scribes now tap out theirs on computers.

Katz said temple appeals have traditionally been made to win legitimacy for one's cause, or to prove one's innocence. That's an important move in a judicial culture where the burden of proof usually lies with the accused. Cops and lawyers have been known to make offerings to the gods, or even take suspects to the temple as a test of their honesty, he said.

Scribes like Lai deal with situations the courts "can't or won't deal with," Katz said. Going to a temple scribe can also be a way to "put pressure on family and friends in cases where it's difficult to work within the legal system," or to cool off a dispute.

Many Taiwanese charge into the scribes' offices in an agitated, emotional state, said Katz. But Lai then calmly writes out their complaint in formal Chinese. "By the time these people leave the temple, their facial expression has totally changed — a lot of that anger is gone," Katz said. "So it's really a great safety valve."

Taiwanese often appeal to the underworld at the same time as they pursue a case in court, Lai said. His services are especially valued since the island's judicial system is plagued by corruption, he said, citing recent high-profile cases of crooked judges.

"Judges can be bribed, but the gods cannot," Lai said.

Huang Guo-rong contributed to this report

Original site

What cross-strait thaw?

Famous Taiwanese actress Vivian Hsu was reduced to tears — and that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Global Post, Nov. 1, 2010

TAIPEI, Taiwan — In terms of international news, it was barely a blip.

But an ugly quarrel between delegations from China and Taiwan at a recent Tokyo film festival was the type of petty spat that has long characterized interactions between the two sides of the strait on the global stage.

Such incidents help explain why most Taiwanese have a dim view of China's government, and no interest in unification.

They also show how far apart the two sides remain politically, despite a historic warming of economic relations.

It started innocently enough. A group of Taiwanese movie stars and starlets lined up to take a stroll down the "eco-friendly" green carpet at the 23rd International Tokyo Film Festival on Oct. 23. A group from China did the same.

Then the head of China's delegation, Jiang Ping, decided to make a scene. After apparently noting that Taiwan's delegation was participating under the name "Taiwan," he demanded that this moniker be switched to "Chinese Taipei" or "Taiwan, China."

Beijing sees Taiwan as part of China and is hypersensitive to any suggestion on the world stage that the island is actually something else — namely, a de facto sovereign and independent state. For that reason, Taiwan is only allowed to participate in the Olympics and other global sporting events as "Chinese Taipei" due to the high-decibel pressure China puts on organizers.

The head of Taiwan's delegation refused his Chinese counterpart's request, saying "no concessions will be made this time around." Then, as cameras rolled, the two sides bickered.

"The Taiwan area delegation is a part of China's delegation," Jiang angrily told news cameras. At one point he gave Japanese organizers 10 minutes to accept his demands.

In the end, after more than two hours of heated discussions, neither delegation strolled the green carpet. China later withdrew from the event entirely after the Japanese hosts refused to enforce its demands.

But what really added news value in Taiwan were the waterworks from Taiwanese celebrity Vivian Hsu, one of the island's stars at the festival.

A news clip of the actress crying in Tokyo was played and replayed in Taiwan's frantic media. Hsu told reporters that one Taiwanese actor had "torn off his tie" after being told they couldn't walk the carpet. Hsu herself had bought a more than $6,500 Zac Posen-designed dress for the occasion, only to be stymied by the Chinese, media reported. The head of Taiwan's delegation said he felt as if his daughter's wedding had been ruined.

Soon the editorials poured forth and talk show discussions ensued. The island's internecine quarrels were put aside for a moment as politicians and commentators of all stripes lined up to condemn China's behavior and applaud Taiwan's delegation for standing up to China. The spat in Tokyo "proved to Taiwan's people that unification with China is absolutely not a good thing," wrote the Apple Daily. The presidential spokesman rebuked China, as did the premier, who said Jiang's behavior was "unreasonable and rude."

Such a strong reaction to a tiff at a minor event may seem puzzling to outsiders. But it speaks to the petty humiliation Taiwan routinely endures from China at international events — treatment that dredges up deeply emotional issues of identity and respect. While the rest of the world is just now getting to know a more assertive China, Taiwanese have long been familiar with Beijing's sterner face.

"We have to stand up to say we don't agree with that type of behavior," said George Tsai, a cross-strait relations expert at Chinese Culture University in Taipei. "We have our dignity and principles."

China has in the past two years allowed Taiwan to participate in some World Health Organization meetings as an observer. But it continues to block Taiwan's participation in other bodies.

One example, at the top of Taiwan's priority list, is the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Membership would allow Taiwan to network on green energy issues and receive technical and financial support for such efforts; China continues to block the island's participation.

Such snubs — hardly newsworthy outside Taiwan — have had a cumulative effect on Taiwanese. In the Taiwan government's latest opinion poll on cross-strait relations from September, 48 percent of those polled think China is "unfriendly" toward Taiwan's government, with 37 percent thinking China is "friendly," despite a dramatic warming in ties and the recent signing of a historic trade deal.

Just 10 percent of Taiwanese support unification with China, with a scant 1.7 percent supporting unification "as soon as possible," according to the government's latest data.

Well aware of this public sentiment, the Taiwan government has recently stressed that it has no timetable for political talks with China.

Analysts say that President Ma Ying-jeou has accomplished much of his cross-strait economic agenda, and is likely to put any further, substantial cross-strait talks on hold indefinitely. That's because he's now returning to job No. 1 for any Taiwanese politician: winning elections.

Local polls are coming up at the end of November. Those will soon be followed in Taiwan's hectic election schedule by a primary season, legislative elections and Ma's own re-election bid in March 2012.

Under the circumstances, slamming China for its film festival tantrum was a political no-brainer. Tsai said that "domestic political considerations" helped explain the strong backlash to China's belittling behavior; it was an easy way to score points by defending Taiwan's dignity.

Moreover, China has yet to meet Ma's longstanding condition for political talks; namely, that Beijing draw down its missile arsenal across from Taiwan, now estimated by the U.S. military at some 1,050 to 1,150 short-range ballistic missiles and scores of cruise missiles.

There are some signs this might change. Chinese premier Wen Jiabao caused a stir in September when he made vague comments suggesting the missile issue could eventually be addressed. Chinese Culture University's Tsai, who just returned from a trip to China, said Chinese academics told him Beijing is "seriously considering the possibility of re-deploying the missiles," but that it doesn't want to appear to do so under pressure.

"So if we keep a low profile, it will be easier for them to do this," said Tsai, who was told there is "very high-ranking internal discussion" in China on re-deploying the missiles, and even an "inclination" to do so.

But so far there haven't been any concrete steps. Even if there were, Tsai and other analysts say political talks are "out of the question." "It's not in the foreseeable future," said Tsai. "It's not in Ma Ying-jeou's interests, and it's not on his political agenda."

Ma's own premier said conditions are "not yet ripe" for political talks.

And if he needed any help making that point, what better than a fresh-faced Taiwanese actress, reduced to tears by China's bullying, at an event intended to celebrate cinema and the arts — not power politics.

Original site

Japan besieged north and south

China, Russia muscle in on Japan-claimed islands

AOL News

TAIPEI, Taiwan (Nov. 6) --
Japan, which for centuries relished the security of being an archipelago, is being challenged in separate territorial disputes over small islands.

It's unclear whether the challenges -- from Russia in the north and China in the south -- are in any way coordinated. But analysts say they represent a diplomatic baptism by fire for Japan's year-old, center-left government, which is seen as inexperienced in world affairs.

Both rows are also seen testing the strength of the U.S.-Japan security alliance. That alliance has come under severe strain in the past year due to sharp disagreement over a relocation plan for a U.S. military base in Okinawa.

In both territorial disputes, the U.S. has urged bilateral talks between Japan and the other claimant, but neither China nor Russia is disposed to listen to Washington.

"China and Russia do not trust the U.S. enough to accept it as an honest broker and would likely view such an offer as U.S. interference," James Manicom, an expert on East Asian maritime disputes at the University of Toronto, said in an e-mail exchange. "I'm skeptical that U.S. mediation will be accepted by parties to either dispute."

China earlier this week rejected one U.S. offer to mediate its dispute with Japan.

Russia sparked a diplomatic spat Monday when President Dmitry Medvedev visited an island chain northeast of Japan's Hokkaido that has been controlled by Russia since World War II but is also claimed by Japan. Tokyo protested and recalled its ambassador to Moscow. (See a map here and a video report on the flap from Russia Today below.)

Called the Southern Kuril Islands by Russia and the Northern Territories by Japan, the islands have been contested since World War II, a dispute that has prevented the two countries from inking a formal peace treaty. Various offers and counteroffers have been made through the years, with little success.

Japanese media attributed Medvedev's provocative visit to his desire to burnish his nationalist credentials ahead of a power struggle with his rival and mentor, Vladimir Putin, for the presidency in 2012. The visit was also seen as a rebuke to Japanese foreign minister Seiji Maehara, who said bluntly last year that Russia was "illegally occupying" the islands.

Kimie Hara of the University of Waterloo said the visit was an affirmation of Russia's ties with China, too. "The Russian president's visit to the disputed island was also prompted by his meeting with his Chinese counterpart in late September in Beijing, where they celebrated the 65th anniversary of the Soviet-Chinese alliance in the war against Japan (1936-45) and confirmed their solidarity," Hara wrote in an e-mail.

A Chinese analyst suggested the same in comments to Global Times, saying "the strong message by Medvedev's visit to the island, to some extent, echoes China's firm stance on its dispute with Japan."

The dispute over islets on Japan's southern flank is seen as being more explosive. The uninhabitable islets, called the Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese, have been effectively controlled by Japan since 1972 but are also claimed by China and Taiwan.

A collision between a Chinese fishing boat and Japanese coast guard vessels in September near the islets sparked the worst diplomatic tensions in at least five years between the two Asian powers. The collision triggered large-scale, tit-for-tat nationalist protests in both Japan and China.

Now, Japan and China are both running regular, armed patrols near the islets. "The potential for miscalculation between such vessels is thus elevated," Manicom said.

"The probability of something really bad happening is pretty modest, but the consequences are very bad," Richard Bush, an expert on China-Japan security relations at the Brookings Institution, said at a recent forum in Washington, D.C. "The chance of some kind of clash between marine forces of the two countries is increasing because of competing interests in the East China Sea."

Bush warned that even a minor episode could spiral out of control because of poor crisis management capabilities on both sides.

"Institutional factors at play suggest that just because the two governments have contained these episodes and don't want a crisis doesn't mean that they can contain incidents in the future," Bush said. "Neither side wants a true crisis, but each may be hard pressed to avoid one in the event of a really serious clash."

In the northern dispute, by contrast, potential crises are seen as more manageable. Hara noted that a more serious incident occurred in the north in 2006, when a Japanese fisherman was shot dead by the Russian Coast Guard near the disputed islands.

"But the situation was handled more skillfully," Hara said, sparking no protests in either Japan or Russia. In the south, "the tension escalated this time because the case was mishandled by the young [Democratic Party of Japan] government."

Both disputes could potentially drag in the U.S. due to its treaty obligations. The U.S.-Japan defense pact obligates Washington to respond in the event of an attack on any territory under Japan's administration.

The U.S. said it backs Japan's claim in the island dispute with Russia. But Washington has also said the defense treaty doesn't apply because Japan does not control the islands, according to a Xinhua news report.

In the south, the reverse is the case. The U.S. takes no position on the sovereignty of the disputed islets. But it says the islets fall within the scope of the U.S.-Japan defense pact because they are administered by Japan.

On Monday, video of the Sept. 7 collision between the Chinese fishing boat and Japanese coast guard vessels was shown to Japanese Diet members.

Purported excerpts were later leaked and posted to YouTube (See links at Japan Probe here, and an Al-Jazeera report below.)

Original site

Asian space race heats up

The Asian space race is moving along slowly, but steadily – and China is in the lead, with technology that could give it a military advantage over the US.

By Jonathan Adams, Correspondent / October 28, 2010

Taipei, Taiwan

China looks set to pull ahead in the Asian space race to the moon, putting a spacecraft into lunar orbit Oct. 6 in a preparatory mission for an unmanned moon landing in two or three years.

Chinese engineers will maneuver the craft into an extremely low orbit, 9.5 miles above the moon's surface, so it can take high-resolution photos of a possible landing site.

Basically, China is looking for a good "parking space" for a moon lander, in a less-known area of the moon known as the Bay of Rainbows.

The mission, called Chang'e 2 after a heroine from Chinese folklore who goes to the moon with a rabbit, highlights China's rapidly growing technological prowess, as well as its keen desire for prestige on the world stage. If successful, it will put China a nose ahead of its Asian rivals with similar lunar ambitions – India and Japan – and signal a challenge to the American post-cold-war domination in space.

The Asian space race

Compared with the American and Soviet mad dashes into space in the late 1950s and '60s, Asia is taking its time – running a marathon, not a sprint. "All of these countries witnessed the cold war, and what led to the destruction of the USSR," says Ajey Lele, an expert on Asian space programs at the Institute for Defense Studies and Analysis in New Delhi, referring to the military and space spending that helped hasten the decline of the Soviet regime. "They understand the value of money and investment, and they are going as per the pace which they can go." But he acknowledged China's edge over India. "They started earlier, and they're ahead of us at this time," he says.

India put the Chandrayaan 1 spacecraft into lunar orbit in 2008, a mission with a NASA payload that helped confirm the presence of water on the moon. It plans a moon landing in a few years' time, and a manned mission as early as 2020 – roughly the same timetable as China.

Japan is also mulling a moonshot, and has branched out into other space exploration, such as the recent Hayabusa mission to an asteroid. Its last lunar orbiter shared the moon with China's first in 2007.

Both Japan's and India's recent missions have been plagued by glitches and technical problems, however, while China's have gone relatively smoothly.

Mr. Lele said the most significant aspect of the Chang'e 2 mission was the attempt at a 9.5-mile-high orbit, a difficult feat. India's own lunar orbiter descended to about 60 miles in 2008, he said, but was forced to return to a more stable, 125-mile-high orbit.

A low orbit will allow for better scouting of future landing sites, said Lele. "They [the Chinese] will require huge amounts of data on landing grounds," said Lele. "A moon landing hasn't been attempted since the cold war."

During the famed 1969 Apollo 11 manned mission to the moon, astronaut Neil Armstrong had to take control of the lander in the last moments of descent to avoid large moon boulders strewn around the landing site. China hopes to avoid any such last-minute surprises with better reconnaissance photos, which would allow them to see moon features such as rocks as small as one-meter across, according to Chinese media.

Is China's space exploration a military strategy?

Meanwhile, some have pointed out that China's moonshot, like all space programs, has valuable potential military offshoots. China's space program is controlled by the People's Liberation Army (PLA), which is steadily gaining experience in remote communication and measurement, missile technology, and antisatellite warfare through missions like Chang'e 2.

The security implications of China's space program are not lost on India, Japan, or the United States.

The Pentagon notes that China, through its space program, is exploring ways to exploit the US military's dependence on space in a conflict scenario – for example, knocking out US satellites in the opening hours of a crisis over Taiwan.

"China is developing the ability to attack an adversary's space assets, accelerating the militarization of space," the Pentagon said in its latest annual report to Congress on China's military power. "PLA writings emphasize the necessity of 'destroying, damaging, and interfering with the enemy's reconnaissance ... and communications satellites.' "

More broadly, some in the US see China's moon program as evidence that it has a long-range strategic view that's lacking in Washington. The US has a reconnaissance satellite in lunar orbit now, but President Obama appears to have put off the notion of a manned return to the moon.

With China slowly but surely laying the groundwork for a long-term lunar presence, some fear the US may one day find itself lapped –"like the tale of the tortoise and the hare," says Dean Cheng, an expert on China's space program at the Heritage Foundation in Washington. "I have to wonder whether the United States, concerned with far more terrestrial issues, and with its budget constraints, is going to decide to make similarly persistent investments to sustain its lead in space."

Original site

China pulls ahead in moon race

The US has cutting-edge technology and India won't give up, but China has its eye on the prize.

Global Post, Nov. 2

Taipei -- The next human to plant a foot on the moon's surface is most likely to be Chinese or Indian — and that "small step" could happen as soon as 2020.

In late October, China's moon orbiter Chang'e 2 shifted into a lopsided orbit that brings it as close as 9.5 miles from the moon's surface. It's snapping pictures, scouting a landing site for an unmanned rover in two to three years' time in a lesser-known area of the moon known as the "Bay of Rainbows."

India plans a similar rover mission around the same time, and both countries hope to follow that feat with a manned mission as soon as a decade from now.

Both countries are pouring money and resources into moon programs. Japan has also floated plans for a manned lunar mission and moon base. By contrast, the recession-battered United States earlier this year scratched its Constellation program — the ambitious, George W. Bush-launched plan to return Americans to the moon's surface — because it was too pricey (about $100 billion through 2020 alone).

So is Asia poised to make a giant leap, past the United States, in space?

Not necessarily. Experts say both China and India still lag far behind the United States in space expertise and experience. After all, American astronauts bounded over the moon's surface more than 40 years ago. President Barack Obama himself downplayed the importance of manned moon missions earlier this year, saying bluntly "we've been there."

U.S. spacecraft and satellite technology is still cutting-edge; witness the high-tech American lunar orbiter that's now sharing the moon's skies with China's orbiter. And the United States is now aiming for a daring new stunt: landing an astronaut on an asteroid by 2025, a project dubbed "Plymouth Rock."

But some worry that by giving up its grand lunar ambitions, the United States is ceding important political and symbolic ground to Asia — China, in particular. "I’m afraid what the president and his administration want is for the United States to no longer be pre-eminent in space flight, and that has very, very serious consequences," former astronaut Harrison Schmitt told the Madison, Wis., Capital Times. "I am very much of the mind that America can’t afford to be second-best in space.”

There are commercial fears too. While extracting lunar resources may still be the stuff of science fiction, in another generation or two it could become reality — and the United States might find itself on the back-foot in a race to mine the moon.

Moreover, voices including former Apollo astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk the moon, argue that the moon should remain a focus of the U.S. space program because it could provide a stepping stone to Mars and the rest of the solar system. Last year's findings of extensive water on the moon (first confirmed by an Indian lunar orbiter, by the way) suggest that rocket fuel could one day be produced at a moon base, making a Mars trip more feasible, Armstrong's co-pilot Buzz Aldrin pointed out recently.

Chinese and Indian scientists claim their space programs are only pursuing peaceful, scientific research, and they deny they're competing in a "space race."

But it's clear that prestige and bragging rights are drivers for both countries — and neither wants to be the second Asian nation to put a man on the moon. "We can definitely put Chinese on the moon," Ouyang Ziyuan, a senior adviser to China's moon program, said recently, according to Taiwan's Want Daily. But if China falls behind India, "That would show that Chinese scientists are incompetent," he said.

Boosting military prowess is also a motivator. As the Cold War space race showed, most space technologies have military uses, especially in missile development and remote monitoring and control. "For any space-faring nation, space technologies will have military applications," Dean Cheng, an expert on China's space program at the Heritage Foundation, wrote in an email. "This is further reinforced in the case of [China] because of the extensive integration of the military into China's overall space program."

India's timeline for putting a human on the moon is actually ahead of China's — it's gunning for 2020, while China is looking at the 2020 to 2030 time frame and has not yet set a timetable.

But in terms of actual achievements to date, China's ahead. China has already put six men in space; India, zero. China has more doable, twin goals of establishing a space station above the Earth and landing a moon rover by 2020 (the space station program formally kicked off in late October). The success of those missions will determine how quickly it tries a manned moon shot.

China's lunar orbiters have so far fared better than India's, too — or Japan's. India's first lunar orbiter Chandrayaan-1 was forced to cut its mission short by more than a year due to glitches, and wasn't able to stay in a shallow orbit because of technical difficulties blamed on solar storms. Japan's orbiter actually beat China's to the moon in 2007 by a few weeks, but its mission was delayed several times and it was deliberately crashed into the moon due to a malfunctioning part.

China's missions have so far been mostly snafu-free, and it has now completed the challenging maneuver of putting the Chang'e 2 in an extremely shallow orbit.

Long-term vision

Both China and India cite the possibility of mining lunar minerals as a potential long-term goal.

Such potential resources have China talking already about the need to plant its flag on the moon to secure development rights to whatever's sitting below the moon dust. "If China doesn't explore the moon, we will have no say in international lunar exploration and can't safeguard our proper rights and interests," Ouyang told Global Times.

The moon is thought to be rich in uranium and titanium ores, "rare earths" that have lately made headlines, and an obscure substance known as helium-3 that some scientists describe as a Holy Grail of energy sources. Helium-3 could potentially be mined from the moon, the thinking goes, returned to Earth and used in a nuclear fusion reaction to generate massive amounts of energy.

It may sound wacky, but helium-3's enthusiasts include Schmitt and his fellow moon-walking Apollo program veteran Edgar Mitchell (see interviews with them from the BBC special "Mining the Moon").

Indian scientists believe a successful fusion reaction using helium-3 could happen by the decade's end.

"Helium-3 could be one of best solutions for providing clean energy," Ajey Lele, an expert on Asian space programs at the Institute for Defense Studies and Analysis in New Delhi, said in a phone interview. "Scientists say that if you can manage to get a shipload of helium-3 from the surface of the moon, it will resolve your problems for the next 10 years as far as energy security is concerned."

"But it's all in the experimental stages at this point," he stressed. "It's unproven."

The Heritage Foundation's Cheng is one skeptic. "Helium-3 becomes useful in a fusion power generation context," he wrote in an email. "It will become something meriting more sustained discussion when we get closer to actually having a sustained fusion reaction."

Still, he said that China's programs, especially its space lab, could give China an edge if and when the extraction of moon resources turns political. "Once you start mining, and even before, questions arise as to ownership, as to profit-sharing (if any), as to who has the ability to establish and enforce claims in space," he said. "A long-term presence in space will give China political capital."

Original site

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Chinese Internet no threat to regime

China's Internet Imperils Corrupt Officials, but Not Regime

AOL News

TAIPEI, Taiwan (Oct. 28) --
The Chinese Internet has been abuzz over a hit-and-run incident involving the young son of a high-level security official in Hebei Province, outside Beijing.

The episode shows how quickly outrage over abuses by privileged Chinese officials can come to a boil, as well as the power of Internet-fueled popular pressure in today's China.

Still, many experts caution that while the Internet has become an outlet for anger against local officials, it is not a significant threat to the Chinese Communist Party's grip on power.

What sparked the uproar was not only the hit-and-run itself, but the young man's lack of remorse and high-handed attitude. "Go ahead and sue me, I'm Li Gang's son," he reportedly said, just after the accident.

The Oct. 16 accident left one student dead and another injured, according to Chinese media reports translated at Chinahush.

The "human flesh search engine" -- a Chinese-coined term referring to the collective efforts of angry Internet users -- found and posted personal information on the young man, including photos. The police later arrested Li Qiming, the son of high-ranking public security official Li Gang, according to the Global Times.

Father and son have since both given blubbering apologies, but unsatisfied observers say they're crying "crocodile tears." Some have even posted running commentaries analyzing the duo's facial expressions to prove they were faking it. (See translations at EastSouthWestNorth here.)

It's not the first time angry Chinese Internet mobs have targeted local officials and their relatives.

In the summer of 2009, millions of Chinese Web users rallied around a 21-year-old pedicurist in Hubei Province who stabbed to death a local official, claiming he was trying to rape her. Amid the outcry, her original charge of murder was changed to a lesser charge.

And in 2007, an online video game, in which players kill and torture corrupt local officials, became an Internet sensation.

Despite public outrage, though, corruption by local officials appears to be on the rise. The China Daily reported that prosecutors handled 6,375 cases of "malpractice" or "abuse of power" by civil servants in the year leading up to November 2009, a 6 percent increase over the previous year.

And observers caution that the central government is still able to keep a strong grip on the Internet to head off any organized challenge to its rule. If anything, the Internet has become a useful tool for helping Beijing monitor and purge bumbling local officials who hurt the party's image.

"China is pioneering a new kind of Internet-age authoritarianism," Rebecca MacKinnon, an expert on China's Internet, said in testimony to Congress this year. "It is demonstrating how a nondemocratic government can stay in power while simultaneously expanding domestic Internet and mobile phone use.

"In China today there is a lot more give-and-take between government and citizens than in the pre-Internet age, and this helps bolster the regime's legitimacy, with many Chinese Internet users who feel that they have a new channel for public discourse," she said.

"Since the openness of the Internet allows the tracing of every online activity, fear of arrest and imprisonment ensures that the impact of that monitoring is likely to be strong," Junhao Hong, an expert on China's Internet controls at the University of Buffalo, told the Science 2.0 website. "So at the moment, at least, the Internet is not a real threat to authoritarian regimes."

According to the human rights group Dui Hua, China arrested an estimated 1,150 people in 2009 for "endangering state security" and imprisoned 1,050 of them -- a far higher number than most previous years, though a decline from the spike in such arrests in 2008, when China hosted the Olympics.

Original site

Commercial bloggers cash in

Taiwan bloggers, Taiwan cartoons

Cartoonist Wanwan shows how enterprising Taiwanese turned blogs into big business

TAIPEI, Taiwan — Hu Jia-wei started posting cartoons about her office life to her blog in 2004 because work was "too boring."

Six years later, the 29-year-old, better known by her cartoon alter-ego "Wanwan," is a brand name, complete with an agent and rabid fan following in Taiwan and throughout east Asia. Her blog gets more than 100,000 visitors a day, and she's sold more than a million copies of her cartoon books in six Asian countries. She's also licensed her images for scores of TV commercials, products and promotions.

Her story shows how a few savvy Taiwan bloggers have parlayed their online popularity into business opportunities and fame.

Besides Wanwan, other notable examples include "Nu Wang" (The Queen), who launched best-selling books on the popularity of her girl-power, Sex-in-the-City-style blog.

But in comics-crazy Taiwan, cute cartoon blogs hold a special appeal. Several regularly appear in the top ten blog rankings. The "Caterpillar" blog features simple cartoons like Wanwan's, and Mark Lee's "I'm Mark" blog, which mines Dilbert-like territory of absurd office dynamics and has also inspired a book.

But Wanwan holds the cartoon blog throne. Her blog has been in the top five or so for at least a few years, and often tops the charts. Wanwan and her agent were cagey about her earnings, but one Taiwan media estimate puts her net worth as high as $3.25 million.

Why is she so popular? Jerry Hsu, marketing and sales director at BloggerAds in Taipei, said her success is due in part to clever promotional tactics.

A convenience store chain passed out stickers with her cartoons, and many of Taiwan's eight million users of the MSN Messenger instant messaging service downloaded and used her cute, funny "emoticons," said Hsu. "These were simple cartoons to show 'boredom', 'annoyance', 'happiness' — everyone started using them," he said. "They were distributed for free, and allowed many people to get to know her."

Now, Wanwan has helped launch a trend of cartoon bloggers, many of whom also offer free emoticons and have turned their sites into at least a part-time business.

In an interview with GlobalPost in a private room at a Taipei coffee-shop, the poised, well-spoken Hu said she drew cartoons about everyday experiences that people could easily connect with — starting with her parody of soul-crushing office life.

"Everyone who works in an office has had these experiences," said Hu. "And when it comes to work and day-to-day life, these things happen in every country."

Watch "Wanwan" in action here:

Shortly after graduating from college in design, Hu went to work at a computer game design firm, joining the ranks of Taiwan's shangbanzu — or "office tribe." She created a blog and started posting cartoons and instant-message "emoticons" inspired by life in Taipei's white-collar trenches.

Her cute style and depiction of that life — complete with goofy bosses, inane elevator conversation and broken-down air conditioners — soon struck a nerve.

"At first, just some friends and relatives saw it, but it got more and more popular," said Hu. "I never thought it would get so big.

A typical cartoon shows Wanwan dying to tell her clueless boss he's got food stuck in his teeth, but finally daring not to.

Soon a Taipei publisher, Revolution Star, had taken note of her popularity, and in 2005 it released her first, best-selling cartoon book, "Can we not go to work?" (Ke bu keyi bu yao shang ban?)

That same year, the company she worked for went belly-up, and she became a full-time blogger, cartoonist and author, often sleeping in as long as she likes.

Six other books have followed, on themes like school ("Can we not go to school?) travel ("Can we go on vacation every day?") and raising pets. More recently, she's focused on her family life, chronicling her older brother and mother's travails (her older sister and father are off-limits because they're "more serious" and don't like being the subject of her cartoons, said Hu.)

She's published in China (where unauthorized editions of her cartoon books are also available, she said), South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, and she says her readers span elementary-school age to recent college graduates.

Now, thousands follow her on Facebook, Plurk, (Taiwan's Twitter clone) and a mainland China Twitter clone. When she appears at conventions or book signings, huge crowds show up to meet her. Her agent helps her review frequent promotional and licensing requests.

She's already cooperated with cellphone firm Taiwan Dageda, the Family Mart convenience stores in Shanghai, and the popular bakery chain 85 degrees C. Alcohol or cigarette ads are out. "Many of my fans are kids, so we can't accept that," says Hu. Her blog has had some 240 million visits since it launched in 2004.

It's heady stuff for a young woman who, as a girl, would sneak comics back home to read, stuffing them under her clothes so her mom wouldn't find them. "My dream was to be a cartoonist, but I always thought it was just a dream," said Hu. "I've been very lucky."

As a kid, she devoured Japanese comics on the sly, especially those starring the blue robot cat from the future, Doraemon (called "Xiao Ding-dang" in Chinese). Her mother disapproved. A typical Taiwanese parent, she wanted Hu to spend all her time studying so she could be a doctor or teacher one day, rather than wasting time on frivolities such as comics.

Now her mother takes credit for her success, likes to boast about her daughter to strangers, and urges Hu to write about her in her cartoons, said Hu with a laugh. Hu is even collaborating with her mother on a new book.

She learning drawing techniques in school, but when it came to drawing Wan Wan, she reverted to a doodle-like style, making rapid sketches and sloppy Chinese characters with a Wacom pen tablet that she touches up in Photoshop. She says she can finish a typical frame in ten minutes. "If you want to draw everyday life, the simplest style is the best," she said.

She gave an impromptu demonstration of her sketching style at the coffee-shop, rapidly sketching a cartoon in thick, black lines.

What's next for Wanwan?

She's now targeting the Japan market ("Japan doesn't often accept foreign books, so it's very difficult," says Hu.) And she's mulling an English-language edition, possibly even a U.S. edition. "I'm very interested in the American market," she said.

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Brother gymnast goes viral

'Brother Gymnast' Shows China's Road Risks

AOL News

TAIPEI, Taiwan (Oct. 21) --
A video of a motorcyclist miraculously walking away from a crash has gone viral on the Chinese Internet -- the latest of several spectacular accident videos to cause a stir.

The video, which had received 1 million hits as of today on Tudou (a Chinese YouTube clone), shows a helmet-less motorcycle rider slamming into the side of a small pickup truck, flipping through the air, then walking back, seemingly unscathed, to inspect his totaled bike.

AOL News could not confirm the authenticity of this or other viral Chinese accident videos. Hoaxes -- for fun or profit -- are widespread in today's vibrant and booming Chinese Internet culture.

Such videos show how the Internet is blasting once-trivial, local events across the Chinese Web, but they also highlight the dangers of China's anything-goes roads.

According to the posted videos, the accident occurred in Wenzhou. That city's police posted the video footage online on Oct. 20 in an attempt to locate the motorcycle rider, but he has reportedly not come forward.

The website Chinasmack, which posted the video with English translations of Internet users' responses, said viewers had dubbed the flying motorcycle rider "Brother Gymnast."

In a report by China's Zhejiang TV, the truck driver, identified only as Mr. Mei, says he lost control of the truck when the motorcyclist hit him. "I also thought I was finished," Mei said.

According to Mei, the motorcyclist asked him for compensation of 200 renminbi (about $30), a demand Mei rejected, saying the motorcyclist had hit him, not vice versa.

In May, another viral Chinese accident video purported to show a man -- dubbed "Brother Tricyclist" -- pedaling serenely through the mayhem of a high-speed, fatal Beijing car accident.

Videos of that accident have since been removed from Youku and other sites, but a news report is still viewable on YouTube. The report also shows "Running Brother," a man who narrowly avoids an accident involving a city bus and passenger car as he crosses the street.

"We would like to remind everyone to pay attention to traffic safety," the anchorwoman says at the end of the report.

Traffic accidents are the leading cause of death for people age 15 to 44 in China, according to the World Health Organization. Every year an estimated 250,000 people are killed and half a million more are injured on Chinese roads, the WHO says.

China's own official statistics report far fewer accidents, with about 68,000 killed and 275,000 wounded in 2009, according to the state-run Xinhua news service. Road deaths have declined since a 2002 peak, according to the Chinese government.

China had the world's highest number of road accidents and road fatalities in 2005, according to the Chinese government.

But measured by traffic fatalities per 100,000 people, China (at 16.5) is hardly the worst in east Asia, trailing Laos (18.3), Mongolia (19.3), the Philippines (20) and Malaysia (23.6), according to a recent WHO report.

Chinese drivers routinely ignore traffic lights and rules and do not observe "right of way." In 2009, a retired 74-year-old teacher became famous for trying to enforce a traffic light near his home in Lanzhou, Gansu Province, by hurling bricks at disobedient drivers' cars, according to a China Daily report cited by Agence France-Presse.

Police stopped him after he'd damaged 30 cars, but 80 percent of the 400,000 respondents in an Internet poll supported his efforts, the China Daily reported.

The WHO says China is improving on road safety, especially after the 2003 formation of a national road safety coordination committee and the 2004 passage of stricter seat-belt, helmet and insurance guidelines in a new road safety law.

But roads are also becoming far more crowded as car sales soar in line with China's economic growth. China passed the U.S. to become the world's largest car market by unit last year, with 14 million autos sold, according to the Facts and Details website. Car sales have grown 20 to 30 percent per year since 2005, the fact sheet says.

Ninety million vehicles traveled China's roads in 2005, and 140 million are expected on the roads by 2020, according to the fact sheet.

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