Aug 1, 2007

Aisa In Focus # 18

The new Asia America Initiative Newsletter "Asia in Focus # 18" is up and on the AAI website. Please check it out at and let us know what you think. It is titled "A Model for Peace in Areas Torn by Religious Conflict" and like all China in Focus and Asia in Focus publications, is written and edited by AAI President, Mr. Albert Santoli. Thanks!

Jul 25, 2007

Representative Wu Speaks on the Challenges to Taiwanese Democracy

On July 9, 2007, the Asia America Initiative was invited to attend a discussion about building democracy in developing countries. The event, entitled "Divisive Politics and National Unity: Challenges of Democracy," was hosted by the Association on Third World Affairs.

One of the keynote speakers was Representative Joseph Wu of the Republic of China (Taiwan). As the head of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in Washington, D.C., he also serves an ambassadorial function for U.S.-Taiwan relations. The focus of Representative Wu's talk was the historical, present, and future problems and prospects facing Taiwan's democratic development.

Martial law was lifted only in 1987, and the first peaceful transfer of power between political parties did not happen until 2000. As a relatively young democracy, Taiwan continues to have some remnants of its authoritarian past. Symbols such as the national anthem are vestiges of the old Kuomintang (KMT) dictatorship. Public allegiance to a "one China" policy is also split along historical lines. Indigenous Taiwanese in the south and in the provinces tend support independence, while more recent mainland emigres continue to support the concept of a unified China.

These historical influences combine with fierce domestic divisions to apply pressure on democracy in Taiwan. The pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) narrowly beat out the pro-unity KMT in the most recent, and highly controversial presidential election. With another presidential election cycle approaching this spring, politics continue to be deeply divisive.

Looming over and throughout the Taiwanese politics is the spectre of China. Representative Wu stressed that the China issue simply cannot be resolved with such domestic division. While there are minorities that push strongly for independence or unification, the vast majority of Taiwanese simply want to continue the status quo. The spring 2008 elections will thus have very significant implications for the future of China-Taiwan relations.

China, for its own part, has gone to great lengths to change the status quo. By throwing around its international clout, China has pushed for a sort of de jure unification. It has been successful in barring Taiwan from membership in key international organizations such as the United Nations and the World Health Organization. It has also used foreign aid and economic power to pressure states into switching diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing.

Representative Wu closed by reaffirming the resilience of Taiwanese democracy. Its foundations are built on the rule of law, respect for human rights, and due process. Despite many challenges, both internal and international, Taiwan has continued to move forward in the process of democratization.

Jul 5, 2007

Interesting Videos

Check out the "Sexy Beijing" video series to the right for an interesting and entertaining account of life and culture in China's capital.

For more information, check out this article:

China Censored Pollution Report, says Financial Times

The Financial Times reported On July 3rd that Beijing removed “nearly a third of a World Bank report on pollution in China because of concerns that its findings on premature deaths could provoke ‘social unrest’.”

According to the article, the original report prepared in cooperation with Chinese authorities contained the following conclusions:

- High air pollution levels in Chinese cities are leading to the premature deaths of 350,000-400,000 people each year

- An additional 300,000 people die prematurely each year from exposure to poor air indoors

- Approximately 60,000 premature deaths were attributable to poor-quality water, largely in the countryside, resulting in severe diarrhoea and stomach, liver and bladder cancers.

All of which was cut from the report.

Financial Times Article:

Preliminary Version of the World Bank Report “The Cost of Pollution In China”:

As China prepares for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, air pollution has become a major concern.

The Australian Broadcasting Service (among other sources) has reported that the International Olympic Committee is concerned about pollution aversely affecting athletes and Beijing has experimented with the temporary measures including a plan to remove one million cars fro Beijing’s congested roadways.

ABC News Article:

As China attempts to polish its image for the showcase of the Beijing Olympic Games it has to contend with many issues it would perhaps rather ignore or obfuscate. Pollution is one of them.

Jun 20, 2007

Poisoned Cough Syrup in Panama

Cough syrup has recently been linked to possibly hundreds of deaths in Panama. A component that originated in China which was thought to be glycerin but was actually a type of antifreeze was mixed into the medicine.

Here is the full story from the L.A. Times:

Tracking Panama's poison 'medicine'
An antifreeze element mistakenly put in cough syrup is blamed for dozens of deaths.
By Chris Kraul
Times Staff Writer

June 20, 2007

PANAMA CITY — When 4-year-old Allan Gutierrez died a year ago, the symptoms he displayed, including severe nausea, violent heart palpitations and "ascending" paralysis, baffled doctors.

Since then, his condition has become known only too well to Panamanians who have friends or relatives among the hundreds of identified victims.

The culprit is not a microorganism, but diethylene glycol, a toxic automotive antifreeze component that was mixed mistakenly by this country's social security agency into 450,000 bottles of cough syrup for distribution to the poor. At least 20,000 were distributed across the country.

Ingestion of the toxic brew can cause kidney failure, chronic headaches, high blood pressure, and in the current Panamanian episode, there have been at least 67 confirmed deaths. Fatalities here actually may have exceeded 300, officials say.

The fatal ingredient originated in China. It was shipped to a Spanish company and then to the private firm Medicom in Panama that resold it to the country's social security agency, which mixed the "medicine" in its laboratory. The Panamanians thought they got glycerine, a component of many medicines, but in fact got the highly toxic diethylene glycol.

Although the case is still playing out amid much finger pointing, the poisoning seems to be a tragic confluence of confusion over labeling, sloppy controls along the supply chain, and poor to nonexistent testing in the Panamanian labs where the syrup was mixed.

For example, a Chinese investigation found that the product had been labeled "TD glycerin," a misleading name that could be confused with glycerine, a harmless, more expensive sugar substitute.

And the Panamanian firm had ordered glycerine, and didn't know that the chemical it received was not in fact medicinal.

Panama's social security agency lab could have averted the disaster if it had properly tested the syrup, officials said.

"The terrible sin of Panama is having a system where you have a production laboratory mixing medicine that doesn't adequately test components," said Jorge Motta, a Stanford-educated doctor who is director of the Gorgas Memorial Institute, a research institution specializing in tropical medicine.

Last week, after an autopsy was performed on Allan's exhumed body on orders of the attorney general's office, and tell-tale signs of the toxic chemical were detected in his remains, his name was added to the official list. His family now becomes eligible for a share of $6 million that the government has set aside for a victims fund.

More than 50 exhumations have been ordered, and hundreds more are pending. In an interview last week, prosecutor Dimas Guevara said 500 claims had been filed by apparent victims and their families. In at least 369 of these cases, he said, the reported victims had died. The figures don't include deaths that may have been caused by the cough syrup but for which no proof is available because the victims' remains had been cremated, or were badly decomposed, or in the case of indigenous tribespeople, had not been made available to the government.

The crisis has caused a severe erosion of confidence in the health system, and has even dented President Martin Torrijos' popularity. Many Panamanians are unhappy with the pace of the investigation. Twelve people have been arrested, including six employees of Medicom.

The others detained are government officials, including social security agency Director Rene Luciani and two former directors, Juan Jovane and Rolando Villalaz. Many Panamanians complain that the three were charged June 5 only after China made Panama look lax by sentencing the former head of China's top food and drug safety watchdog to death May 29.

The official, Zheng Xiaoyu, had pleaded guilty to corruption and accepting bribes in connection with the poisoning scandal.

It also became known last week that the United States is not immune. Colgate-Palmolive Co. warned that counterfeit Colgate toothpaste containing traces of the same antifreeze component had been found on store shelves in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland. No deaths have been reported from the counterfeit toothpaste.

But in Panama, the poisoning scandal is playing out every day in the newspapers and on television and will continue indefinitely as the government slowly recovers the syrup, exhumes the bodies of victims, examines survivors and brings the responsible government and company officials to justice.

At first cloaked in mystery, the puzzle surrounding the cause of the deaths was solved last fall when scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta provided assistance in the inquiry. They quickly determined that an infectious disease was not the cause because neither family members nor doctors of victims seemed to catch it.

The investigation soon focused on cough syrup that many of the victims had taken. An analysis of the syrup revealed that the 27 barrels of what the social security agency thought was glycerine to make cough syrup contained diethylene glycol.

The antifreeze component has a sweet smell and taste, officials said.

Widespread poisonings in the 1930s due to diethylene glycol were a factor in the formation of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to protect Americans from bogus drugs.

Torrijos has promised to tighten regulations and invest in better facilities at the social security agency's test labs, and is considering merging the agency with the Health Ministry.


Jun 19, 2007

Chinese press critical of government complicity in slavery scandal

The PRC news service, Xinhua, has recently published a condemnation of local governments failure to prevent slave labor -- including child labor -- at a kiln in the coal-rich Shanxi and Henan provinces.

The article provides startling details of the extent of the injustice:
"By Saturday, 315 people, including 22 under the age of 18, had been freed after police raided more than 3,700 small brick kilns and collieries"

"Police in central Henan said they had freed 217 slave laborers, including 29 juveniles and 10 mentally handicapped people."

It then goes on to condemn the officials on who's watch it happened:
"We should be asking how local governments allowed such blatant labor abuses to happen in broad daylight"

"Labor protection officials must shoulder a large portion of blame"

"Police in Shanxi and Henan have patently failed to perform their duty to protect the people."

Finally, it acknowledges that these are not isolated incidents and calls for broader reform:
"Slavery scandals are not unique to Shanxi and Henan."

"It is high time the government stepped up labor protection and spurred idle officials to do their jobs properly if we are to come even close to building a 'harmonious society'."

Clearly any illusions of the People's Republic of China as a "Workers Paradise" have been long since abandoned, but how does one account for this candor from the state-run press?
Damage control for a scandal that could no longer be contained?
Any attempt to separate Beijing from the misdeeds of rouge kiln operators and local officials?
Or, is it possible, a real sign of increased freedom of the press?

See the Xinhua article Here

Jun 18, 2007

Refugee Relief Project

Dear Readers:

An integrated humanitarian component of Asia America Initiative's Development for Peace project in Muslim Mindanao Philippines is providing assistance to refugees and displaced families caused by military operations surrounding AAI's project areas. AAI is partnering with the local Red Cross, the Sulu Provincial Hospital and local volnteers to provide care to hundreds of refugee families being sheltered in local public schools, such as the AAI Model of Excellence Peace Zone school in Kasambuhan Village. In support of this effort, the international NGO support organization Universal Giving is raising awareness of AAI's efforts in honor of United Nations mandated World Refugee Day. We welcome you to become part of the AAI team in deterring terror and saving the lives of innocents through providing emergency relief services to this vulnerable population.

Support the Asia America Initiative

Check out Universal Giving!

The UN recognized World Refugee Day on June 13. Asia America Initiative joins Universal Giving and other organizations in support of the 20.8 million refugees worldwide.

Jun 11, 2007

China in Focus, Number 15 - Success Story or House of Cards: Seeing China with "Chinese Characteristics"

"When I walked in the park today, I heard criticism of the government that would have brought death sentences in Mao Zedong's time. But nothing like this can be broadcast or published in the media. Nothing like this can be said in an organized meeting... The change you see and hear is the flowers, and the leaves. But there is no change in the root. That [root] is the party's control over everything, including control over the market. Money is to the leaders today what revolution was to Mao -- a tool to control the people. The unchanged root is the one-party dictatorship." Bao Tong, senior Chinese reform advocate, remarks to Washington Post's Jim Hoagland, Beijing, June 2007

Greenspan's Warning, Paulson's Optimism

Speaking before an international financial conference in Madrid, Alan Greenspan, senior statesman of Western markets, warned of an impending Chinese stock market crash, reported the May 24, 2007 London Telegraph. Greenspan stated that the recent 90 percent rise in the values of Beijing stock shares was, "clearly unsustainable. There is going to be a dramatic contraction at some point." In Beijing, the Chinese government raised interest rates reluctantly in a series of emergency moves to bring an overheated economy under control. Meanwhile, in Washington, U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson described his 2-day economic meeting with Chinese Vice-Premier Wu Yi in an upbeat manner, even though Yi openly rejected U.S. criticism of its undervalued currency. The Congressional Research Service recently found that economists estimate that China's currency, the yuan, is undervalued by as much as 54%. As a result, with a massive $200 billion annual trade surplus with the U.S., China now holds more than $1.2 trillion in foreign-exchange reserves, compared with U.S. reserves of about $69 billion. Yet, while China's coastal cities continue their meteoric rise, the majority of China's population who live in the countryside are surviving in pre-modern conditions.

In the cities, the Party worries that there are tremors beneath the futuristic landscape of new skyscrapers and the enthusiasm expressed by Western corporate investors. In early June 2007, a panic struck China's emerging urban middle class as their life savings suddenly shrunk when the government imposed new taxes on the corruption-riddled Shanghai stock exchange. The June 9 Washington Post reports that some shocked investors called the government's "stamp tax" on stock trades "planned murder." Other investors talked about "storming Tiananmen Square." The tremor was caused by an overheated stock market whose composite index has grown by 300 percent since 2005. The Chinese stocks markets, closed off to foreigners except for select institutional groups, with potentially disastrous consequences for US pension funds. Investment is dominated by in inexperienced private Chinese citizens, who often make chaotic decisions based on rumor or superstition [numerology] that have driven up shares of state-owned companies that are actually losing money. State-control and manipulation of the stock markets are not true investment markets, states Yi Xianrong, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, "but rather markets led by the government."

Contradiction in Military Affairs

The massive surplus in monetary reserves has fueled a massive military modernization program, where actual annual spending is estimated to be up to $125 billion, three times the officially cited figure. Contradictory assessments and estimations of Beijing's intentions are also apparent in the US military's assessments of China's unprecedented naval, air and ballistic missile buildup. The Pentagon's annual report on China's military capabilities released publicly on May 25, 2007, expressed concern that Beijing's new capabilities. Developments include longer range strategic missiles, attack submarines and aircraft -- enable China to launch attacks far from its borders. The open seas and space have become potential battlefields between U.S. and Chinese forces. Some high level U.S. officials, however, refuse to consider the Chinese military to be a threat. In mid-May while visiting Beijing, America's Commander in the Pacific, Admiral Timothy Keating, stated that he believed Chinese leaders are "intrigued" by the idea of having aircraft carriers. He added, "If they choose to develop [an aircraft carrier program] we would help them to the degree that they seek and the degree that we're capable, in developing their programs."

Chinese Society in Transition

China watchers in the West appear polarized between the optimistic and the pragmatic assessments of China's role on the world stage. They reflect fundamental contradictions that exist in Chinese society today. Both schools of thought have been hindered by a tendency to analyze China's evolution through the values and symbols of the analysts own cultures. The manner in which these complex issues are dealt with in China, by the Chinese people themselves, will determine whether the Middle Kingdom ultimately has a constructive or destructive role in the shaping of the 21st Century.

Contradictions with Chinese Characteristics

The most accurate assessment of China today may be observed in the struggle between reformers in the Communist Party who warn of looming instability beyond the glittering pre-Olympic skylines of showcased cities such as Beijing and Shanghai. A significant factor in the increasingly complex dialogue between China and the West is influenced by the unbalanced relationship between the privileged minority associated with the Communist Party and the vast majority of the Chinese population. Of 1.2 billion people, only .05% are Party members. Most ordinary citizens struggle to survive in a rapidly changing environment, without coherent civil society and basic human rights. Although there are many laws on record, few are enforced.

With international markets showing signs of potential instability, China's banks, stock markets and social stability show signs of previously hidden vulnerabilities. The results of an economic "correction" could destabilize not only China but the entire international financial system. Such events could also result in an effort by China's ruling elite to unite a fragmented population against external enemies who are perceived as "containing" China's growth. James Mann, author of "The China Fantasy," warns, "We need to get beyond the arid framework of seeing every policy dispute involving China as a choice between 'engagement' and 'isolation.' Any serious policy must be based on China as it is, and not on our mistaken assumption that prosperity and liberty go hand in hand."

A key factor to international peace in 21st Century is the growing aspiration for human dignity by the vast majority of China's people. Most ordinary citizens reside outside of urban areas and are largely exploited by the country's political elite. These masses are patriotic, but as in previous periods of Chinese history, willing to stand up against state abuses of power in their pursuit of life's basic necessities. Will the West choose to stand in support of the dignity and basic rights of China's people, or reinforce a non-democratic mandate of the ruling elite?

Fault Lines in China's "Economic Miracle"

According to the World Bank, although China has $1 trillion in foreign currency reserves, that is more than offset by $1.6 trillion in pension obligations to its aging citizens. This deficit is just the "tip of the ice berg" of the actual state of China's real economy. Although most attention is focused on aging populations in Japan and Europe, China's one-child policy has set off a ticking time bomb that has left the largest population in the world without a social safety net. According to the September 18, 2006 Wall Street Journal, today there are three workers in diminishing state owned enterprises supporting each retiree; by 2010 this "dependency ratio" will jump to two workers per each retiree; and the World Bank warns by 2020 it will reach a catastrophic 1-to1 ratio.

Making matters more difficult, according to Chinese government reports, billions of dollars earmarked for China's elderly and poorest families have been misappropriated or outright stolen by corrupt Party officials. Although outsiders continue to extol China's economic development, there are serious repercussions of its uneven development that have yet to be felt.

Internal Migrants and Undocumented Laborers

According to the highest level of the Chinese government, China's unemployed, especially in vast rural areas where state owned enterprises have been closed and farming remains at subsistence level, has already reached crisis proportion. At present, more than 150 million undocumented workers have migrated to China's cities in search of opportunities, according to a report by the Council on Foreign Relations. That number is estimated to double to 300 million by 2015, according to Amnesty International. In an effort to reduce burdens on overcrowded cities, police have been especially forceful with this population. Amnesty International claims they are often, "exploited by police, landlords, employers and local officials... they labor under some of the worst conditions and experience some of the worst abuses in the work places."

In addition, in 2006, Human Rights Watch reported that in preparation for the Olympic games, tens of thousands of migrant workers' children in the Beijing area have been denied access to education, and have been forcefully removed by police from unofficial elementary schools operated by migrant communities.

A report, "Undue Influence," issued by the non- governmental Global Labor Strategies and cited in the May 21, 2007 Epoch Times, accuses multi-national corporations from both the United States and the European Union of pressuring local Chinese officials to resist labor reforms. The reasons cited by Global Labor Strategies are to suppress improvements in wages and working conditions. "On one side," the report states, "are US-based and other global corporations who have been aggressively lobbying to limit new rights for Chinese workers. On the other side are pro-worker rights forces in China, backed by pro-worker, labor, human rights and political forces in the United States and around the world."

Rising Popular and Spontaneous Civic Movements

During the past few years, China's Interior Ministry which controls local law enforcement has reported an average of at least 10,000 annual incidents of public demonstrations and unrest throughout the country. Many of these incidents involve civil insurrection and heavy handed actions by police and other state security forces. In some instances, this has led to physical confrontation between protestors of all ages and security forces. The causes of these incidents are heavily influenced by the expropriation of land and property by local officials and their cronies who sell the land to developers. The original owners are forcefully evicted and left destitute without fair compensation.

On March 23, 2007, the New York Times focused on the resistance of a woman in Chongqing who launched a determined campaign to save her home from developers. It became a nationally recognized issue when Chinese bloggers picked up the story and spread it around the country. Even though in the end, the woman could not prevent her home from being demolished, she is symbolic of the increasing willingness of Chinese citizens to confront authorities through legal challenges or public protest.

In other incidents, rural and urban populations have stood up against the government on health and environmental issues. On June 2, 2007, the London Times reported that in the southern city of Xiamen, residents sent nearly one million text messages via their cell phones to convey live coverage of a spontaneous protest that swelled to crowds numbering thousands who tried to stop government plans to build a toxic chemical plant in the center of the city.

Standing With the Chinese People

The Chinese Communist Party's most astute dissident, Bao Tong, 74, played a leading role with former Prime Minister Zhao Ziyang in drafting China's sweeping economic reforms in the 1980s. Both men both were purged and persecuted by the party for being "soft" on the student protestors following the government's brutal suppression of the 1989 Tiananmen Square democracy movement. When Washington Post columnist Jim Hoagland, who covered the events in Tiananmen 18 years ago, recently asked Mr. Bao if the students and workers of 1989 failed, he courageously responded, "They should have protested, and they did. The party failed. The party violated the constitution and its own charter. It became a Communist Party without communism, without any concern for the people. I feel proud of those who protested. I feel ashamed of the leadership."

The Chinese people's hopes and aspirations for better lives is, in principle, an internal matter. Attempts to directly intervene by the West will jeopardize the reformers as "traitors" or "traitorous pawns of the West." And there will be movements that will take shape within Chinese traditional culture and lore that may be incomprehensible to Western cultural norms and biases. However, their basic and fundamental appeal is universal. In many instances their grievances are under the jurisdiction of international human rights provisions and laws, some even signed by the Chinese government or that may be statutory within China's written laws, decrees and Constitution. Western corporations should choose to support democracy and respect for human dignity over exploitation of vulnerable laborers and blinding greed. Support for the struggle of China's reformers and desperate masses for equality and basic human dignity not only will affect China's internal conditions, but have a dramatic impact on international relations.
Jim Hoagland's Sunday, June 10, 2007 Washington Post column,
Fading Echoes in Tiananmen Square:

Jun 8, 2007


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