Tag Archives: China

It’s the End of the World as We Know It (No, really)

I think it’s safe to say that we’re all going to die. SOON. The world is exploding. Every other day there’s another TV broadcast spilling the news of an earthquake, flood, landslide, volcano or other natural disaster. Thus, the age-old question has now become rather pertinent: Is the world ending?

The Mayans say yes, and in a year or two, in fact. Their exact prediction is December 21, 2012. Coming up pretty soon, eh? Kind of makes you think harder about that sports car you’ve always wanted to buy, the kids you’ve been hoping to have, the job you’re itching to quit. If we’re all going to die in two years anyway, why are we putting our dreams on hold?

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Probably because most of us just can’t fathom the end coming. And why should we trust the Mayans anyway? After all, the Jehovah’s have been wrong – their predictions for the end of the world have failed to come to fruition on numerous occasions. And what if you’re not religious at all? Perhaps a look at Nasa’s http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/NaturalHazards/ website will help you get a handle on where we’re at environmentally (and by the way, it ain’t good).

Just in the past few months, Nasa’s site has recorded dozens of natural calamities that are slowly but surely putting pressure on our planet. Here’s just a taster:

January 12: It all starts here, with the devastating 7.0-magnitude earthquake in Haiti. Hundreds of thousands of people are killed. Rebuilding efforts are still taking place and are far from finished.

February 27: 8.8-magnitude earthquake in Chile. Nearly 500 people are killed.

March 20: Intense tropical cyclone nears Australia with wind gusts of up to 130 kilometers per hour.

March 20: Flooding in southeastern South Dakota causes closed roads, filled basements and soaked agricultural fields.

March 23: Flooding near the Betsiboka River in Madagascar kills 36 and affects 85,000 others.

March 24: Tropical cyclone swirls over southern Indian Ocean with gusts of 130 kilometers per hour.

April 3: Flooding in Rhode Island and Massachusetts causes hundreds of millions of dollars in damage, and sends 11,000 people applying for FEMA aid.

April 4: 7.2-magnitude earthquake hits Mexico. Rumblings are felt all the way in Los Angeles and Phoenix.

April 6: 7.8-magnitude earthquake cracks open Sumatra, Indonesia (One day this entire country is going into the ocean, I’m sure of it).

April 13: 6.9-magnitude earthquake in Qinghai Province in China kills 400 people and injures 10,000.

April 14: Volcano in Iceland erupts from under a glacier. Seven-hundred people are told to evacuate as rivers risk flooding over.

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Although (based on the above evidence) the environmental outlook is rather grim, I don’t know if we should throw it all away quite yet. I mean, maybe this year is a blip. Maybe next year will be better. Who knows?

All I’m saying is, there’s no need to blow the bank on a brand new house for what we might gather is the approaching demise of existence. But perhaps a few tasteful splurges are in order. A new pair of shoes perhaps? The guts to ask out that cute coworker? Come on, just do it. We’re all going to die anyway – someday.

Tibetans in Paris March for Freedom – Tibetan National Uprising Day

Hundreds took to the streets of Paris on Wednesday in honor of the 51st Tibetan National Uprising Day. While holding signs reading, “Stop the Torture in Tibet” and shouting messages of “Hu Jintao: Assassin!”, demonstrators marched along the Seine towards the Chinese embassy, where the group strengthened its calls for freedom.

For the Tibetan exiled community, National Uprising Day is one of the most important events of the year, alongside New Year festivities in February. The day marks the anniversary of March 10th, 1959, when Tibetans in the capital city of Lhasa rose up against their nearly 9 years of Chinese occupation. Despite the Tibetans’ peaceful protest, a bloody battle ensued and almost 90,000 Tibetans were killed. Exiled communities worldwide use the day as a platform to promote justice for Tibet.

Protesters march towards the Chinese embassy in Paris

As per tradition, Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, made a statement from his home in Dharamsala, India. He reiterated his desire for Tibet’s autonomy, despite Beijing’s continually hard-line stand. The Dalai Lama called on Tibetans to respect others, educate themselves and continue working to preserve Tibetan language and culture. He also expressed the need for China’s 1.3 billion citizens to have free access to information and greater transparency within the country.

Tseyang, a board member of the Communauté Tibétaine de France, who jointly organized the Paris demonstration with La Maison du Tibet, hopes that the day’s protest will bring some sort of change within the current Sino-Tibetan dialogue.

“The Chinese government should try to better understand the situation,” she said as she marched, “Tibet and China are in their ninth round of talks and there are still no concrete results.”

A young Tibetan supporter

The Dalai Lama sent envoys to Beijing at the end of January to resume negotiations between China and Tibet, which again were fruitless. International intervention has not yet produced any significant change for the Tibet issue, which often gets pushed under the table due to Chinese pressure or in favor of more pressing political concerns. U.S. President Barack Obama met the Dalai Lama last month, resulting in angry reactions from the Chinese government.

Sonam Topgyl, an exiled Tibetan living in Paris, believes that the Uprising Day protest will be useful in its ability to bring light to the situation in Tibet and to show China that Tibetans are still fighting for freedom. “When it comes to politics, it’s difficult. But what France can do is to talk about the Tibetan situation to the rest of the world,” he said. Uprising Day demonstrations were planned for today in cities across France, as well as in other parts of the globe.

Above all, Sonam hopes that talking about Tibet will one day result in real change. Holding his Tibetan flag high in the air as he marched, he said, “What I would like is for Tibet to have the same rights as in France – culture, religion, everything.”

The demonstration finished in front of the Wall for Peace overlooking the Eiffel Tower

Say it ain’t so – disbelief over Briton Shaikh’s execution

Britain is outraged. Akmal Shaikh’s family is outraged. I’m joining the outrage.

On Tuesday, the Briton Akmal Shaikh was put to death in China for smuggling 8.8 pounds of heroin in a flight from Tajikistan to Xinjiang last year. He didn’t kill anyone, he didn’t threaten to destabilise the Chinese government, he wasn’t out in the streets defaming Mao – he just tried to rope in a whole lot of cash for a whole lot of dope.

Dope. Illegal powder. Powder that, when caught in doses of more than 50 grams at one time, is grounds for the death penalty in China for the person carrying it.

I’m not denying that Shaikh didn’t know the rules or that he didn’t, in fact, break them (he obviously did). I’m more concerned that this rule exists in the first place.

How does China justify killing someone over drug smuggling? My brain just doesn’t register the logic. For killing another human being – yes. Or for terrorist plots against a nation – check. But selling some white stuff that will get you high? Nope. I don’t get it. It’s yet one more area where China has a long way to go in terms of human rights.

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I remember when I was in junior high and heard a rumor about a country somewhere that cut people’s hands off for stealing (part of Shariah Islamic law, incidentally). I was horrified, but somewhere deep inside, I decided that while it was awfully harsh, the crime there must at least be strictly minimized.

While now that I’m all grown up i do see flaws in that plan, it’s true that the punishment, if nothing else, fits the crime. There are reasons why parts of Islamic law say it is necessary to cut off one’s hands for stealing – it prevents the thief from ever stealing again, keeping all the rest of us safe. Yes, it is inhumane, but it somehow makes sense.

China’s law of the death penalty over drug smuggling doesn’t. If we apply a tit for tat policy, Akmal Shaikh should have been forced to smoke up a massive amount of that heroin for a month, then quit cold turkey. Is this inhumane? Maybe. But at least it applies some kind of reasoning. Killing him outright goes from A to Z without addressing the missing letters.

In truth, I’m against the inhumane treatment of anyone, including the world’s most serious offenders. In my world, I wouldn’t instate the death penalty at all. Prisons would still exist, but they’d be centers of reform with teams of psychiatrists working around the clock to ensure that criminals would be out in a few years and back to leading a normal, socially-acceptable life.

Unfortunately, until I become president, our current world governments will have to figure out other ways of keeping each other safe within the established infrastructures while maintaining some essence of human rights. Ordering an execution for a little white powder – or even a lot – isn’t getting us, as a people, anywhere.

Human rights on the line: Obama snubs Dalai Lama and meets with Chinese president

I find it interesting that Obama, the man who speaks loathingly about torture, who caused a cafuffle over Guantanamo and denounced Iran’s violent crackdown on protesters last June, is now seemingly devoid of emotion toward human rights abuses caused by China.

The most recent photos of President Barack Obama have him not sitting white-scarved and smiling with the Dalai Lama like most U.S. presidents before him, but shaking hands with Chinese President Hu Jintao. Sure, Obama has every right to meet with the leader of this swiftly developing nation, but the wounds are still fresh from last month when, during the Dalai Lama’s visit to the U.S., President Obama canceled their planned meeting and postponed it to a still unidentified date.

On November 17, Obama and Jintao met to discuss environmental issues and what Obama calls their shared “burden of leadership” (as he put it to a forum of students in Shanghai). The two talked, shook hands like old friends and agreed in advance not to talk about the sticky issues.

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If anyone still remembers, Obama recently won the Nobel Peace Prize. As shocked as I am over this development, I would think that his top advisors, if not the man himself, would want to protect that award and prove to us naysayers that he does indeed deserve it. Slapping butts with the Chinese president – who recently allowed the execution of two Tibetans who participated in the deadly protests against Chinese oppression in Tibet last year – won’t get Obama any closer to winning international approval on his ability to make equal rights a priority. Especially when the Dalai Lama is a fellow Nobel prize winner himself.

The Times of India had this to say on October 6, before the Jintao/Obama meeting even took place:

“The loud sucking noise you hear? That’s President Barack Obama kissing up to the Chinese.

At least that’s what supporters of the Dalai Lama would have you believe after the U.S President passed up a meeting with the Tibetan leader in Washington D.C. this week – ostensibly to not offend Beijing ahead of Obama’s visit to China next month.

It’s the first time in ten visits to the U.S. in 18 years that the Dalai Lama has failed to meet with the American president. The political and diplomatic slight to the man widely admired in the US has brought forth a volley of criticism against Obama, hitherto hailed a champion of human rights.”

The China-Tibet issue is not the only tolerance card Obama has left undealt. He has yet to ban CIA-organized “extraordinary renditions” – in which suspected terrorists are abducted and shipped offshore, interrogated and usually tortured – despite his supposed opposition to the use of coercive cross-examination techniques.

In fact, Obama’s softening backbone also seems to apply to his definition of torture and consequences for those who practice it. His condemnation of waterboarding last year ended in a retraction to press charges against CIA officials who had employed the tactic. He claims that instead of rehashing the past – and squabbling over wrongs committed by the Bush administration – he and his team were better off focusing their energy on the future. That’s all fine and dandy, except that it sets a mean precedent: if Bush’s authorization of torture was acceptable based on legal rationale, then what is stopping Obama’s administration from following suit?

I don’t doubt that Obama, the man, is against torture, is pro-human rights, is looking out for the genuine good will of every man, woman and child in America. Behind all the media and PR hype, there is a strong, intelligent, liberal and effective man who deserves to be leader, president, Nobel prize holder (perhaps).

But without some of that early grit and resolve that made so many vote for Obama, he’s bound to lose his head among the many self-serving and manipulative world leaders hoping to profit from his hyper-egalitarian nature. And there’s simply nothing human or right about that.

European Union: membership denied

As I read about the Eastern Partnership, the summit meeting in Prague last Thursday that attempted to lure six former Soviet republics towards the European Union and away from Russia’s influence, I got to thinking about this whole immigration/E.U. thing.

Politicians in every E.U. country seem to be bewildered by the influx in immigration, the rampant crossing of European country borders, the migration of people towards better jobs in wealthier European nations than their own. What did they expect? If you create a club for people, you can’t exclude those same people months later when they actually start wanting to get more involved than simply paying the joiner’s fee.

The European Union was created in 1993 with the notion that it would create a stronger bond between nations, become a world economic and political power, and allow freedom of movement between member countries. Now in its 16th year, it seems that the original creators of the group forgot to outline a few things.

French president Nicolas Sarkozy aboard Mistral warship...

French President Nicolas Sarkozy

Like work, for example. How do you allow people to cross borders freely but then put restrictions on employment? Do you pull a “Sarkozy” and try to send everyone home? Is this whole E.U. idea just globalization at its worst?

And the biggest question, where does it stop? E.U. member countries are having an increasingly tough time deciphering who is European and who isn’t. The Czech Republic? Yup, they’re mostly white and mostly Christian. How about Poland? Why of course – they’re also mostly white and mostly Christian. And Turkey? Oops, sorry. They’re not so white and not at all Christian. But they touch all the right country borders so technically…

I have a French friend who is diametrically opposed to the European Union. He wants his precious franc back and not to worry about yet another European immigrant taking a job from him. He is proudly nationalistic and protectionist.

But is that such a bad thing? Yes, the European Union has succeeded in becoming a world power, giving the U.S. and China a serious run for their money. And tourists everywhere are having a hay-day, no longer worrying about changing money at every border or dealing with exchange rates. But lately, it seems that there are some serious kinks in the plan. Not to mention the joiner’s fee, which is a small sum in comparison to the price people pay with their souls once they officially become members.

Asia’s human rights offenders: A look at Reporter Without Borders’ annual press freedom index

I promise, I am not becoming a China-hater. Despite what these last two posts may read, I have visited the country and think the people, cities and countryside of China are amazing. However, after joining Reporters Without Borders yesterday, I took a gander through their annual Press Freedom Index from 2008. I was shocked to see some of the more developed, thriving nations rock bottom on the list.

Which brings me back, of course, to China. How can a country so fraught with humanitarian issues be constantly congratulated by the U.S. government? How could they have been chosen to host the most important, influential and unifying sporting event in the world – the Olympics? They were given this honor even though Tibetans are continually enslaved in their own country, Falun Gong practitioners are tortured and imprisoned, and Reporters Without Borders ranked the country 167th out of 173 in terms of the rights journalists have in China.

North Korea Premier Kim Yong II Visits China

Human rights offenders Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (R) and North Korean Premier Kim Yong II

“Being a journalist in Beijing or Shanghai… is a high risk exercise involving endless frustration and constant police and judicial harassment,” reads a passage from the report. Although liberal media outlets are beginning to form, China has a long way to go if it wants to compete with its nearby neighbors such as Japan (29th), Taiwan (36th) or South Korea (47th). Even war-torn Sri Lanka beat them by two places.

Of course not all of Asia is booming with press freedom. Not surprisingly, North Korea was listed second from the bottom, where government propaganda rules and the population is largely cut-off from world happenings. Burma and Vietnam came in as the fourth and sixth worst rated countries, respectively. Eritrea, in Northeast Africa, came in at number one.

Still, China must reconcile what it wants to become and what it still inevitably is. While the country has made huge strides economically, pulling millions out of poverty, their successes have not come without a price. Human rights activists are imprisoned regularly, religious freedom is highly restricted (the constitution forbids any practice that may cause “disruption”to society) and the media struggles to produce independent journalism.

Human Rights Watch announced just today that on February 13 China placed new restrictions on Chinese news assistants to foreign correspondents, who risk being dismissed or losing their accreditation for engaging in “independent reporting.” The government also announced that it would create a blacklist for Chinese journalists who participate in “illegal reporting.”

Great nations are not only formed by swift economic growth and a reduction in poverty but by an open society where all citizens are free to express themselves and to strive for what they want to achieve. Great nations are those which respect the environment, engage in constructive dialogue with their allies and their foes, educate their children, and provide services to the poor and underprivileged.

I would never presume to list any of today’s countries as “great nations,” and certainly not my own. And I’m not saying that we shouldn’t give China a chance to improve themselves. After all, they haven’t been at this whole “developed country” thing for very long.

But still, certain issues just can’t wait to be dealt with. How many people will have to die before China’s human rights records improve?