China: Wen Jiabao “hidden riches” don’t exist, say lawyers

Lawyers for Wen Jiabao, China‘s prime minister, have taken the unprecedented step of issuing a written statement late last night rebuking the claims of the New York Times that Wen’s family have amassed a hidden fortune worth US$2.7 billion.

In a letter sent to the New York Times and theSouth China Morning Post, Bai Tao and Wang Weidong, lawyers for the family, state:

  • The so-called “hidden riches” of Wen Jiabao’s family members in The New York Times’report does not exist.
  • Some of Wen Jiabao’s family members have not engaged in business activities. Some were engaged in business activities, but they did not carry out any illegal business activity. They do not hold shares of any companies.
  • The mother of Wen Jiabao, except receiving salary/pension according to the regulation, has never had any income or property.
  • Wen Jiabao has never played any role in the business activities of his family members, still less has he allowed his family members’ business activities to have any influence on his formulation and execution of policies.
  • Other relatives of Wen Jiabao and the “friends” and “colleagues” of those relative are responsible for all their own business activities.
  • We will continue to make clarifications regarding untrue reports by The New York Times, and reserve the right to hold it legally responsible.

The move to publicly challenge the claims is highly unusual, being the first time a top Chinese minister has formally rebutted foreign media, and likely reflects how highly Wen regards his reputation as ‘Grandpa Wen‘ of the people.

A much discussed  U.S. diplomatic cable posted in Wikileaks has been touted as evidence that Wen knew of his family’s wealth. In the alleged cable, he was apparently “disgusted” by his wife and children riding on his name. However, other U.S. cables posted by wikilinks have also alleged that he had an affair with a TV presenter younger than his daughter, and that he was out of favour with [then] prime minister Jiang Zemin, neither of which have been confirmed.

As yet, the New York Times hasn’t responded to Wen’s lawyers, its last published piece on the story covering the censorship of its article in China. Critics in the West have been quick to highlight the censorship of the article, however the move is common practice in China .

The New York Times report is very damaging to the reputation of Wen Jiabao,” said Steve Tsang, of University of Nottingham, UK. “What Wen Jiabao’s image is domestically in China is much more important to Wen.”

Source: SCMP “Wen family hits back at ‘lies’ on hidden fortune”

China: Further signs of a strengthening economy

Manufacturing and, more importantly, order volumes from international customers have both risen this month, according to the South China Morning Post. The China HSBC Flash Manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) recorded a three-month high in output.

Despite GDP just missing the official government target in Q3, this news is the latest in a string of signifiers that China’s economy is healthy, and that past government stimulus measures have proved generally effective.

Previous signs of steady performance have included higher-than-expected export growth in September (9.9% year on year), Lenovo knocking Hewlett-Packard Co from the top spot as the worlds number 1 PC manufacturer in Q3, and Anoop Singh, director of the Asia and Pacific department, stating that “China is not having a hard landing…[and] will grow this year”.

Although all the signs are positive, China’s performance is likely to be steadily upward rather than a rapid bounce back. This will no doubt be of particular concern to governments in Europe and the US hoping the Middle Kingdom will hold up the global economy.

Speaking to Reuters, Dariusz Kowalczyk of Credit Agricole CIB in Hong Kong said “Markets may be disappointed to realize that the Chinese recovery will be gradual and no new stimulus is forthcoming,”

However, a general consensus is growing that China will avoid a Japan-style bubble, with HSBC suggesting that the Deng Xiao Ping reforms of the late 1970’s could still underpin growth for another decade due to the large parts of China still being left underdeveloped. This is the main thrust of Beijing’s ‘go west’ strategy, which is designed to move manufacturing inland from the coastal regions, as these move up the value chain.

A further asset that China retains, and that has also figured prominently in the US presidential debates, is its control over its currency. As the Asian financial crisis of 1997, which stalled the economies of much of South East Asia, was largely the result of currency speculation, China looks set to not encounter similar issues in the short-term.



Lhasa, Tibet: Happiest City in China?


Lhasa, the capital city of the Tibet Autonomous Region has topped a survey of the top 10 happiest cities in China.


What with the high profile self-immolations that regularly hit the international press (56 have been confirmed in Tibet since 2009), and the general global awareness of the controversy surrounding Chinese sovereignty over the region, perhaps you should be.

But, then again, perhaps not.

The survey was carried out by CCTV, China’s state-run media Behemoth, and reported by Xinhua, another state run agency reporting to the Communist Party of China’s Propaganda and Public Information Departments. Both these agencies clearly have a vested interest in painting a more positive picture regarding public opinion in Lhasa, and Tibet more generally.

The moral of the story? The boundaries of freedom of speech in China may be being expanded by social media and civil action but, when it comes to state media, a pinch of salt is still advised.

Japan: Chinese tourism and investment still welcome


Behind the muscle flexing, demonstrations and general tension over the ongoing Japan/China islands dispute, there lies a positive fact that none of the players will directly admit: actual conflict would destroy the economies of all involved.

Therefore, it is unsurprising that Harumi Takahashi – Hokkaido Governor – told a recent press conference that

We welcome Chinese tourists and Chinese investment in tourism infrastructure [and hope to] boost relations with China at a regional level at a time when country-to-country level relations are sour

In an attempt to offset the economic damage already being caused by the dispute, her comments come just days after the Chinese navy sailed close to the islands.

In a further sign of caution from Japan, the Japanese armed forces cancelled a joint drill with the US, during which they were to rehearse retaking an uninhabited island from invaders.

Chinese/American Relations – the shape of things to come

Picture: Dan Green/2012

The last week has seen both the US and China flexing their respective economic muscles, as both countries show signs of growing awareness that their relationship will be the most significant defining factor for the geopolitical order for the foreseeable future.

As the last US presidential debate showed, America’s future stance on China is likely to be a key vote driver for candidates Obama and Romney. With Romney’s promise of labelling “China a currency manipulator” and Obama in turn highlighting Romney’s involvement in off-shoring US manufacturing to developing markets, both represent two extremes of the same view among American voters: that China is a growing economic threat.

Also this week, the most recent Pew Global Attitudes China project opinion poll indicated that chinese views on America have also declined. Since the last poll two years ago, the percentage of Chinese who view U.S. relations as cooperative has declined from 68% to 39%. However, many of those polled still expressed positive views about US democracy.

These domestic opinions are becoming increasingly visibility at the international level.

Last week, the US Commerce Department levied steep import duties on Chinese made solar cells and panels, and was joined by Canada in blocking Chinese telecommunication giants Huawei and ZTE from government contracts due to claimed security concerns. As a back drop to these moves, Chinese PC manufacturer Lenovo knocked Hewlett-Packard Co from the top spot as the world’s number one for the third quarter of this year.

The motives and legitimacy of these moves are highly questionable. Not only do they go against free trade, which has underpinned US economic ideology throughout the 20th century, but they have also been based on questionable evidence: the claims of spying by Huawei have since been rebuked by The White House, and it seems that many mutli-national companies operating in China (such as IBM) also have Communist Party committees as part of their operations.

A few days later, the IMF dismissed the notion of a crash for the Chinese economy, regardless of the continuing problems in Europe. According to Anoop Singh, director of the Asia and Pacific department, “China is not having a hard landing. The numbers are clearly recognising that China will grow this year”. This was followed by the announcement that Chinese exports in September had grown much more than expected – by 9.9% year on year.

Such positive news no doubt spurred on the decision by China’s finance minister and central bank chief to miss the current IMF meetings in Tokyo. This move was clearly designed to remind that world that it needs China as much as – if not more than – China needs it.

Now that the China/US relationship is firmly centre stage, this recent sparring between the two is likely to continue as both seek to adjust to relative changes in their relationship. Up until now, China has largely played by America’s rules, as demonstrated by its entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO). However, as its power grows, it is likely to attempt to adjust the international system to one that suits its needs – just like the US did.

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Vietnam’s Batmen

Vigilantes in the (Adam?) West are usually fictional characters, wearing ridiculous costumes and wielding superpowers. Despite not wearing rubber or driving military grade tanks, Vietnam’s real-life batmen have become a regular feature round the country.

There are more than a hundred Hiep si duong pho (literally, street knights) in Binh Duong province alone, which was where the first organized vigilante groups emerged back in 1997. The model then spread to Ho Chi Minh City. These ‘anti-crime’ clubs received official government endorsement in 2006, while Hanoi and Dong Nai have announced plans to set up similar groups.

Despite official endorsement, many concerns have been raised. Many people argue that the self-appointed crime fighters are not qualified in anyway, while others see them as a chance for the police to take a step back (criticism Batman would no doubt understand).

One particular case has formed the foundation for much of the criticism. Ten crime-fighters were accused of “appropriating property” in Binh Duong while helping a local retrieve a stolen car. The man who asked for their assistance, Loc, is under suspicion of mis-using the vigilantes and is currently wanted for police questioning. Regardless of guilt, many argue that the matter should have been reported to the police.

Also, without any monitoring, the vigilante groups themselves are more open to corruption and mis-use of power. Three vigilantes in HCMC were imprisoned recently for taking brides worth VND124 million in exchange for letting robbers off the hook.

It is cases like this that cause many to worry about the motives of Vietnam’s batmen, who may end up having more power than the police at street level. Without any system to keep them in check, their goals may quickly deviate from those of society as a whole.

Batman: “Better put 5 cents in the meter.”
Robin: “No policeman’s going to give the Batmobile a ticket.”
Batman: “This money goes to building better roads. We all must do our part.”

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65 percent of parents believe foreign English teachers offer better education


Victoria SungContributor

Hong Kong — A survey of 300 households showed that 65 percent of parents believe a foreign teacher of English can offer better education than a local teacher. In response, early childhood education experts have issued statements reminding parents and institutions to check the qualifications of foreign educators during the hiring process. Experts also warn against hiring “traveling” foreign teachers who have no certification or experience.

The survey also revealed that 59 percent of respondents believe having an English-speaking domestic helper at home improves their child’s English language level. Educators have stated there is no evidence supporting claims that foreign domestic helpers improve English levels, although a child’s confidence in the language might be boosted if the helper interacts frequently with the child during the critical learning stage of 3-6 years old. 3 percent of Hong Kong’s population are foreign domestic helpers employed to help with child care and household chores. The majority come from the Philippines, Indonesia, and Thailand. Many speak English, are highly educated, and hold post-secondary degrees.

On average, children in Hong Kong learn three or four different languages, with Cantonese being the main language spoken at home. Although English is a subject taught in all schools, most parents hire a part-time tutor to supplement materials taught in class.

Sansan Ching Teh-chi, Director of the Hong Kong Council of Early Childhood Education and Services, warns against enrolling children in too many language subjects, stating that doing so can weaken a child’s ability to communicate effectively in any of the languages.

Ching instead suggests that biliteracy or trilingualism is sufficient for elementary education.

This post originally appeared at Meanwhile in China

Malaysia: people displacement, Borneo

Traditional rooftops in Sarawak, Borneo (Picture: Dan Green/2012)

When governments embark on mega-dam projects, the displacement of local communities is always a politically sensitive issue. When a dam is built somewhere like China, it tends to attract international attention as the world’s governments and media latch on to a point scoring opportunity (all most everyone knows about the Three Gorges Dam). When this happens, displaced people get an international voice to at least mitigate some of the consequences facing them. But what happens with dams not really hitting the international press?

A RM 3 billion ($985,545,383) mega dam being built in Sarawak, Malaysia is one such project.

The dam will displace about 1,500 indigenous people living on Borneo Island, including Penans and Kenyahs. In 2009, during the planning stage, many of these people sent a petition to the government objecting to the project, which the government ignored, choosing instead to arrest several of the petitioners.

Now, more than 300 Penans are blockading the road leading to the dam’s construction site, in a last ditch effort to stop the project and to force the government to engage with the affected people.

Many are also angry at how the government has deliberately timed the Social and Environmental Impact Assessment (SEIA) Report on the dam so that it will be completely ineffective (the report was issued when the dam was 75% complete).

The Penans have a history of protesting against losing their land, making international headlines in the 1980’s with their resistance to deforestation:

The army and the police came to our blockade and threatened us and told us to take down our barricade. We said ‘we are defending our land. It is very easy for you as soldiers and policemen. You are being paid. You have money in your pockets. You can buy what you need; rice and sugar. You have money in the bank. But for us, this forest is our money, this is our bank. This is the only place where we can find food. (Penan spokesman, 1987)

It is for this reason that the government’s claim that the Penan blockage is the result of meddling by NGOs with a hidden agenda seems especially flawed.

As Save Sarawak’s Rivers Network (SAVE Rivers) chairman Peter Kallang put it,

Bona fide NGOs do not have any ulterior motives in supporting and making the people aware of their rights and to say otherwise is imprudent

Hopefully, the Penan’s protest will start to make a few headlines before the dam is completed.

76 year-old “basketball grandma” becomes celebrity in China

Zhu showing her muscles to the reporter.

Zhu’s favorite basketball players are Yao Ming and Jeremy Lin

Meanwhile in China

October 15

Jinghua, Zhejiang — A photo of an elderly lady playing basketball went viral on China’s microblogs. Zhu Shumei is 76 years old and is only 5 feet tall due to a medical condition. She goes to the local university to play basketball everyday, leading students from Zhejiang Normal University to give her the nickname “basketball grandma.” Zhu has been playing basketball over 20 years, and according to other people, she has very good shooting skills. Besides playing basketball, Shumei also exercises on the parallel bars, goes running, and climbs poles. Some students took some photos of her and uploaded them to microblogs. Within a couple of hours, the photos had been shared hundreds of times. Many people on the internet have commented that they feel ashamed when they compare themselves with her consistent and persistent exercise regiment.

23 years ago, Zhu Shumei and her husband divorced. She has three kids…

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Malaysian Porn: Getting Recognition For Your “work”

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Alvin Tan and Vivian Lee were feeling under valued. They had been putting so much effort in, but without any recognition – poor things.

One fine day, we were just fooling around and my girlfriend had the idea of taking nude photos, just taking them, not necessarily uploading them. With more and more photos that we took, we started to want some sort of recognition for our work so we started uploading them on FB but we blurred out the critical parts

So they started a blog – Sumptuous Erotica – which, after posting on the popular HardwareZone forum,

…exploded… [t]he last I checked, we had about 20,000 page views when previously we had only about 1,000

As a Malaysian National University of Singapore (NUS) law scholarship holder, the popularity of Alvin’s efforts has naturally caused some controversy.

What can (NUS) do? Terminate my scholarship or expel me? I can’t say I will be fine with it, but if it happens, I can accept it. I’ve started my company and I have my own savings

Well, if he is expelled, he could always take up the offers to endorse sex toys and lingerie in Singapore.

Well done that man.


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