Business has turned ugly for multinationals and foreign businesses in general operating in China. After the financial crisis, many looked to China for salvation but the business climate for them has soured in the past couple of years. They have become an easy target for authorities looking to send a message to various industries, with a number of foreign firms such as GlaxoSmithKline and Danone swept up in a far-reaching anti-corruption campaign that is increasingly defining Xi Jinping’s presidency to date. Other firms to have received tough treatment include Apple, whose humiliating apology in 2013 for offering inadequate warranties I wrote about for Al Jazeera English. Read the rest of this entry »
Ties between China and Japan wax and wane like the course of the sun during the day. Brief spats end as quickly as they begin and promises of better cooperation espoused by both parties leave everyone wondering what the fuss was about anyway. But the current bitterness over the Senkaku/Diaoyutai islands puts the relationship perilously close to a sunset.
Hysteria – almost all from the Chinese side – shows little sign of abating. The official rancour though masks an ugly side to the dispute. Anti-Japanese protests are sweeping Chinese cities, fuelled by ordinary citizens proud of their country’s achievements and still resentful of Japan’s wartime past. Read the rest of this entry »
Bilingual readers of the South China Morning Post might have raised an eyebrow or two at its front page story yesterday. The English language newspaper splashed on the presence of China President Hu Jintao at the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington DC, which begins tomorrow. Chinese officials confirmed their participation only a week before the event but securing their visit was seen as crucial by the US. Relations between the two countries have been cold in recent months so the visit was an opportunity for the White House to both re-engage the Chinese leadership and present a multilateral front against the Iranian nuclear programme. The story clearly merited its front page placement.
All well and good then – except the SCMP mistakenly referred to Hu Jintao as a well-known Chinese dissident. In this picture (click it for a zoom in), the Chinese characters next to Hu’s name on the first line are 胡佳. This is the Chinese name for Hu Jia, an award-winning pro-democracy activist currently serving a three-and-a-half jail sentence.
Hu Jia’s Wikipedia entry states:
Hu Jia is an activist and dissident in the People’s Republic of China. His work has focused on the Chinese democracy movement, Chinese environmentalist movement, and HIV/AIDS in the People’s Republic of China.
The paper took the unusual step of recalling that day’s copies and blacked out Hu Jia in copies sold in Beijing. It issued a terse front page correction the next day, saying:
“The South China Morning Post sincerely apologizes for the Chinese name translation error for President Hu Jintao in yesterday’s newspaper.”
A spokesperson later blamed foreign staff for the mistake, stating that copy was read by a proof-reader who did not understand Chinese.
Hong Kong and international media immediately highlighted the SCMP’s gaffe. But I doubt there will be any reaction from the mainland government. It is unlikely the mistake was intentional – unless the paper’s editorial staff were railing against their owner’s perceived pro-Beijing stance. And any comment about standards slipping might also be premature. After all, this is a paper won eight of 16 categories at the 2009 Society of Publishers in Asia Awards for local newspapers, including investigative journalism, newspaper design and best journalist.
Google’s decision to back out of China and no longer kowtow to the government has been rightly applauded around the world. But the company’s actions have brought into sharp relief the political balancing act that Hong Kong now faces. Google’s move now threatens to marginalise Hong Kong and accelerate its assimilation into China.
Hong Kong is something of an enigma to China. Reunited after Beijing regained sovereignty in 1997, the two possess cultures that at times can be as disparate as those between the East and West. Besides the language difference, Hong Kong is unlike any of China’s other major economic centres in that it possesses rule of law, strong press freedoms and an uncensored internet. It is the only place where politicians and people can openly discuss the events of Tiananmen in 1989 and Falun Gong, the repressed spiritual movement whose practitioners frequently demonstrate in Hong Kong’s tourist spots.
Values that once helped draw Western praise and investment are the cause of much hand wringing in Hong Kong. It is the city state’s respect for freedom of information that represents a direct challenge to authorities in Beijing. Google’s retreat has highlighted Hong Kong as a paradox, a place within China’s domain that lies beyond the government’s reach and control. But increasingly reliant on favourable policies from Beijing, the Hong Kong government must now convince the Chinese leadership it will not become a hub for subversion. Simultaneously, it must not cede the autonomy accorded to it in the ‘one country, two systems’ approach.
The two have clashed in the past. In 2003 the Hong Kong government tried to pass anti-subversion legislation that critics feared would outlaw free speech and criticism of the mainland. The laws were widely viewed as an attempt to appease Beijing but withdrawn after 500,000 protestors marched on Hong Kong island. Since then, China has regarded Hong Kong warily and stymied efforts for further political reform. Pro-democracy campaigners are fighting to bring forward Beijing’s timetable for universal suffrage. At present, Hong Kong’s seven million people will be able to directly elect their chief executive in 2017 and their lawmakers in 2020. But campaigners want to see elections take place in 2012 which caused ire on the mainland.
Government officials now speak openly of establishing Shanghai as China’s financial capital and Hong Kongers fear this will extinguish their home’s unique role as gateway into the country. BusinessWeek reported that when Hong Kong’s chief executive Donald Tsang visited Beijing earlier this month, he was told Shanghai had surpassed Hong Kong’s economic output for the first time in almost 30 years.
Almost exactly a year ago, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman made an ominous remark about his country’s attitude towards the internet. “Many people have a false impression that the Chinese government fears the internet,” Qin Gang said. “In fact it is just the opposite.” This ruthlessness could be wielded against Hong Kong if further insubordination is to come.