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Whither China? A conversation.

I came across this video yesterday via a blog item at the Atlantic about Eric X. Li, a man who founded a Shanghai venture capital firm and, more notably, is a fierce proponent of the Chinese Communist Party. Most recently, Li penned an opinion piece at The New York Times titled "Why China's Political Model is Superior."

The video, a conversation he had last summer, is an interesting look at his arguments and thoughts along those lines:

China, Tibetans and that which is not known

Normally, when there are conflicting versions about something as dramatic as a series of protests or self-immolations, foreign correspondents travel to the place in question and try to figure out what really happened.

In the case of ethnic Tibetans in China's Sichuan Province, however, that has been a difficult task.

Because police checkpoints in the region are turning outside media away (sometimes after detaining them, as happened to me in Sichuan during November), it's so far not been possible to pin down the facts on the ground.

For example, when writing yesterday on reports that surfaced over the weekend about three more Tibetans reportedly lighting themselves on fire, I was left to quote an advocacy group, Radio Free Asia and then give the Chinese government's line on unrest in the region. If confirmed, the three would make it 19 self-immolations in less than a year. (UPDATE: Chinese officials, quoted in state-run media, have denied those reports. The rights group Free Tibet stands by its information -- my story is here.)

When I got to the office this morning, I saw that China Daily, a government-run newspaper, had a story on the subject of ethnic Tibetans and Sichuan. Its reporter seemed to have no trouble at all gaining access to the areas in question. The piece looked at two incidents in which Tibetans were shot by police on Jan. 23 and 24.

I thought I might pass along a few different perspectives:

I. China Daily: Riots linked to organized crime and subversion

"The police station in Seda county was attacked on Jan 24, one day after the violence broke out in Luhuo.

About 200 people, mostly in their 20s and 30s, started to gather at Jinma Square in Seda town around 2 pm, according to Palden, the county director.

Around 2:40 pm, he said, they began to attack a police box near the square using Tibetan knives, rocks and flaming gas bottles. Gunshots were heard.

One participant died, and another was injured when the police fought back, Palden said. The riot lasted about 20 minutes before the mob was dispersed. Thirteen people were arrested.

The riot frightened people. Yeshe Lhamo, 28, a nun at the local Buddhism academy, said she didn't feel comfortable going into the county seat until several days had passed. 'People are scared, and the atmosphere in the temples is tense,' she said. 'Violence is against monastic order. No one wants to see such things happen.' 

...

Palden, who is 48 and ethnic Tibetan, has been the county director in Seda for four years. 'Some people involved in the violence are not locals,' he said. 'They traveled all the way from Tibet autonomous region and Qinghai province, so it is obvious that the riot was planned. It's also the reason why the violence in Luhuo and Seda was only one day apart.'"

II. Two images from Free Tibet, a Tibetan advocacy group, reportedly from the same town and incident.

From FT1

From FT2
Photos from Free Tibet

III. An e-mailed statement from the Foreign Correspondents' Club of China

"The Chinese authorities have set up a massive security cordon in an attempt to prevent journalists from entering Tibetan areas in Western Sichuan Province where major unrest – including killings and self-immolations – has been reported.

The FCCC considers this a clear violation of China’s regulations governing foreign reporters, which allow them to travel freely and to interview anyone prepared to be interviewed.

Correspondents attempting to travel to the region in question have faced major obstacles, including detention by the police and roadblocks at which they have been stopped and turned back by officials who have then forcibly escorted them back to Chengdu. 'Bad roads' and 'weather' are being used as excuses for denying correspondents entry to the area.

One team reported that their car was suspiciously rammed by another vehicle. Reporters have been followed, questioned for hours, asked to write confessions and had their material confiscated.

...

Journalists are merely trying to do their job and independently confirm the truth of reports from the area. We call on the Chinese government to recognize our purely professional motivation and to abide by its own regulations that allow us to enter the areas in question."

Mr. Hu Xijin joins Twitter in China

If you're on Twitter and keep an eye on China news, here's an interesting account to follow: @HuXijinGT. Hu Xijin is the editor in chief of both the English and Chinese editions of Global Times, a state-run tabloid noted for its nationalist tendencies.

Screen shot 2012-02-01 at 1.38.39 PM

For the average Chinese person, accessing Twitter is impossible. China's online censorship regime blocks the site and other social networking platforms that it cannot control. To get on Twitter, users here must purchase Virtual Private Network software that opens a portal allowing them to skirt those restrictions.

Apparently, the chief of a newspaper run by the state that imposed those rules in the first place has done just that.

Hu bristled when a Wall Street Journal blog item pointed out his appearance on Twitter and described him as "a staunch defender of China’s need to censor the Internet."

Responding via Twitter, Hu wrote, "That's overstated."

Posting at 11:40 p.m. last night, Hu said that, "I understand China’s current Internet censorship but I support the gradual lift of it. I believe speech freedom is inevitable in China."

Something about the tone of that remark reminded me of an editorial the Global Times ran last month with the headline "Self-imposed exile reflects one’s waning influence." Commenting on the departure of dissident writer Yu Jie to the United States, the unsigned piece said in part that:

"China's environment for writers cannot achieve Western standards overnight, as some seem to require. This would mean, with many urgent tasks facing it, the nation should prioritize the needs of a few intellectual elites. This is impractical.

Such a requirement also indicates their selfishness in politics - their judgment on China's path depends on their own social clout, rather than whether the total benefits for the huge population could be improved. Once they find their own interests violated, they spare no efforts in advertising their personal feelings as 'public pains,' and try to attract various forces to help them combat the authorities."

Yu Jie held a press conference in Washington a few weeks ago in which he said his mistreatment by Chinese security officials included being beaten about the head, kicked on the chest and made to cower naked as he was photographed and taunted. A state security officer reportedly informed Yu Jie that he could have him buried alive and no one would ever know. 

Hu Xijin and his publication are not in the habit of exploring the details of those sorts of accusations. (Foreign Policy has an informative, and unflattering, profile of the publication here.)

Other Twitter users have sought to remind him. After Hu described an essay that complained about conditions at the U.S. Embassy visa hall in Beijing, an influential blogger and journalist here, Charles Custer, asked him how long artist and political provocateur Ai Weiwei was detained by the Chinese government. 

Screen shot 2012-02-01 at 12.41.56 PM

Ai responded with the answer: 1,944 hours.

Hu Xijin had no response.

His profile picture makes clear that he's proud of his days as a reporter in the field. It has him sitting on a sidewalk, his shoes dirty and a notebook in hand. It's marked Sarajevo. From 1993 to 1996, Hu was a People's Daily correspondent in Yugoslavia and covered the war. I imagine there were political directives about coverage in Sarajevo, but the image he chose for Twitter is that of a man who seeks interviews and opinions. 

But as of this writing, Hu is following only one account on Twitter: the Global Times.

Screen shot 2012-02-01 at 12.52.25 PM

ABOUT THIS BLOG

Tom

"China Rises" is written by Tom Lasseter, the Beijing bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers.

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