Rounding up East Asian News in the French Press

French Vigilance to Beijing’s October 1 Preparations

Robert Neville reports in the French newsweekly L’Express about heightened security measures in Beijing in the leadup to the October 1 commemoration of the 60th birthday party of the PRC.  Entitled with a type of pun, the article “Beijing Tightens the Net [Pékin serre la Toile]” is, of course, accompanied by the obligatory photo of soldiers marching in lockstep [en défilé].  It describes slogans in Beijing about the government’s transcendent desire for stability, and reflects back upon Deng Xiaoping’s fateful decision in 1989 to send troops to crack down on the student demonstrators.  (On June 3, 2009, Neville published an interview with dissident Ma Jian, whose statement served as the article title: “In China, every day is June 4, 1989.”  As I have argued in these [1] other [2] essays [3] on the durability of the Tiananmen incident in the German press, Ma’s statement might indeed be said to sum up many European views of China.)

Neville then delves into Beijing’s crackdown on certain NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations / organisation non gouvernementale). On 29 July, Xu Zhiyong, the lawyer and founder of Gongmeng, an NGO which helps “victims of injustice” (e.g., petitioners), was arrested at his home.  His “fault,” Neville writes ironically, was to take on a case about melanin-contaminated milk in 2008.

Gongmeng has also defended Tibetans detained by the government and conducted inquiries into the “black prisons” in the capital.  A few days later, the authorities shut them down on the pretext of tax evasion, and revoked the law licenses of 53 of the Gongmeng lawyers.  After Xu’s arrest, his blog was shut down and his name was erased from the internet in China, including on Google.  “It is as if,” Neville concludes, “that Gongmeng itself never existed.”

Moreover, Beijing has shut down micro-blogging sites like Twitter and censored the blog of Ai Weiwei.  (Although Neville does not mention it, Gongmeng is up on Twitter but, perhaps a bit ominously, has no “tweets,” a reminder that the Beijing government doesn’t kill birds, just the ones that sing.)  At present, a propaganda department circular (tongxun) recommends that media outlets “do not approach regrettable subjects” during the celebrations (ne pas aborder les suject fâcheux pendant les fêtes).  Neville concludes his destructively compact paragraphs by asking: “Is this tightening merely conjectural?  Or does it represent a logical evolution for the CCP which seeks to reinforce its ascendency [empris]?”  A harmonious society indeed!

Neville’s article is only available on newsstands and on this friendly blog, but the L’Express website has a few other articles which are worth checking out.  On internet censorship in China, “Green Dam Youth Escort” has lots of good French links, including to the French tech site ZDNet.fr, which carries an article on Western and Japanese corporate complicity with the censorship and an eye-catching title “Porno: Google Blocks Certain Google Services.”

French Press Retrospectives on Tibet, Xinjiang, the Olympics, and Internet Censorship in China

Naturally Le Figaro and Liberation have some fantastic new articles this week as well, and I’m hoping to stew on these for a bit before posting again on the French analysis of the PRC commemoration in particular.   I’m surprised at how little press the October 1 preparations are getting in the United States, but then again, we’ve got health care legislation to crucify, cars to repair, and school loans to sign in September, so perhaps it shouldn’t be too shocking.

A June 29 L’Express article, “Uighur Dissidents Accuse Peking,” is a nice takedown of the Ribiya Khadeer issue which reminded me that the phrase “turkophone” should always be employed when discussing the still-majority ethnicity in Xinjiang. And the several hundred Danwei readers who enjoyed my earlier translation of an article from Liberation about the Chinese destruction of Kashgar might also enjoy, or prompt a translation of, Neville’s dispatches (here and here) from Kashgar in late June, 2009.

Cache-cache a Kashgar, via LExpress/Reuters

Cache-cache à Kashgar, via L'Express/Reuters

And although it’s a bit of a blast from the past, this French blog post regarding the CCP blocking YouTube from the mainland (where it is still blocked) during the March 2008 Tibetan uprising is fascinating, mainly for the extended comments section.  Some typical back and forth involved statements like this: “Boycotter les JO est la chose la plus humaine et digne a faire ! [Boycotting the Olympic Games is the most humane and dignified thing to do!]“

Which was followed by statements like this:

Ah oui ? Donnez-moi un seul exemple d’un boycott ayant radicalement changé la polique d’un régime totalitaire. Vous n’en trouverez aucun. Je ne vois aucune humanité et encore moins de dignité dans le fait de boycotter un évènement sportif sous prétexte que l’on est pas d’accord avec la politique du pays organisateur. C’est avant qu’il fallait manifesté pour que les jeux aient lieu ailleurs. Heureusement que la très grande majorité des gens sauront faire la différence et ne pénaliseront pas des sportifs qui sont par définition apolitiques, car une telle attitude est incompatible avec l’esprit des jeux tel que l’a voulu Pierre de Coubertin. La Chine s’ouvre à une économie de marché planétaire et elle besoin de ces marchés, sa politique s’adaptera petit a petit car sa survie va dépendre en grande partie. C’est l’économie de marché qui viendra à bout du régime totalitaire chinoi et non des boycotts dérisoires et improvisés. Mais Paris ne s’est pas fait en un jour et changer les mentalités chinoise est une chinoiserie qui prendra du temps et beaucoup de patience.

Oh really? Give me a single example of a boycott having radically changed the politics of a totalitarian regime.  Not one can you find!…Fortunately, a great majority of people will know how to differentiate [between the games themselves and the host state] and will not penalize sportsmen who are by definition apolitical, because such an attitude is incompatible with the spirit of the games such as desired by [Olympic founder, Frenchman, and star of many a patriotic-internationalist CCTV documentary] Pierre de Coubertin.  As China is open to a global market economy [une économie de marché planétaire!], it is in need of these markets, and its politcs will adapt little by little due largely to its need for economic survival. It is the market economy which will bring about the end of the totalitarian Chinese regime, not derisory and improvised boycotts. But Paris [e.g., Rome] was not built in a day and changing the Chinese mentality will take time and plenty of patience.

This brings back such wonderful memories of that heady spring!  So many great debates were springing up, sort of like a hundred flowers taking bloom…It’s hard to imagine a May 4th-era intellectual taking the statement seriously, but when China blocked YouTube, the world seemed to shift somehow.

John Bolton’s French Lament

And finally, at least for this afternoon, and because I know there are Koreanists out there who may be wondering when I am going to return from the Chinese “dark side” and back into the happy and shining fold of DPRK analysis, there is this precious article from L’Express about the Clinton visit to North Korea.  Apart from some gossipy French-style suspicions of factionalism (e.g. Hillary Clinton was in Africa!  Did she even approve of the mission?), there isn’t much new information.

The greatest thing about this article is, instead, its extended quotations from Mr. Rollback himself, John Bolton.  Bolton is the Fox News go-to guy on North Korea, because he was and remains so reliably opposed to any form of engagement with North Korea.  And Bolton has got great neoconservative credentials, too — Bush 43 appointed him as Ambassador to the United Nations in spite of the fact that Bolton opposes the very existence of the UN.  And I will admit that I rapidly tire of seeing his face and hearing his voice in outlets like the New York Times, especially when more informed people (like the reliably skeptical Bruce Cumings and even the reliably moderate but always-in-the-know Sig Harrison) would have more intelligent things to say.

But now, thanks to L’Express and Clinton’s visit to North Korea, I have had a personal conversion, a John Bolton renaissance!  When his Anglophone splutterings are rendered into French (that is, when they translate “I think that the North Koreans completely won”), he somehow becomes a Left Bank imperialist, a reactionary pied noir, a Legion veteran who votes de Gaulle every time!    Can’t you just see him getting really animated in a little café, an espresso on a dirty table in front of him, waving smoke wreathing around his face as he gesticulates, raises his eyebrows and his mustache in mock woe and says “Je pense que la Corée du Nord est totalement gagnante” in a deep Calais accent?

In my perfect world, Bolton shows up from Paris on Fox next week to tear down the UN and bilateral talks with the North Koreans.  Let’s hope Bill O’Reilly switches into Francophone territory (and drags us all back to the best debates of the 1950s) by serving up a fat softball where Bolton can denounce Sartre’s turnabout on the Algerian War.

Several French performers dressed up as swordsmen pose for a group photo in the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, Oct. 10, 2004. (Xinhua Photo) -- click photo for more cross-cultural fechten

French "musketeers" at the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, Oct. 10, 2004. (via Xinhua) -- click photo for more cross-cultural fechten