Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A Beijing conveniently forgetful

As I wrote in my article “A parade to end all parades,” published today in the Taipei Times, China is in a celebratory mood this year, what with the upcoming 50th anniversary of the “liberation” of Tibet next month and, in October, the 60th anniversary of the birth of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

Another key date that Beijing has been conspicuously silent about, however, is Feb. 17, 1979, which is when Chinese forces invaded Vietnam in response to the latter’s invasion of Cambodia to oust the Khmer Rouge regime.

Today in China, not a single state-run newspaper carried news of the 30th anniversary, while a Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman limited himself to comments to the effect that the past should be left alone and that “China and Vietnam had an unhappy period in history.”

Unhappy indeed, as the People’s Liberation Army invasion, which led to low-intensity warfare through most of the 1980s, resulted in tens of thousands of deaths on both side. To this day, study of the conflict is banned in Chinese schools.

This refusal to acknowledge the past may have something to do with the fact that there was no clear-cut outcome to the costly war, which for the PLA in effect became a smaller version of the US’ own debacle in Vietnam, or that of the Soviets in Afghanistan around the same time. Defeat simply has no room in PRC history books, especially in times of economic crisis when the state hopes to maintain the illusion of Communism’s great achievements. Through this filter, the invasion of Tibet is refashioned as a “liberation,” while the birth of the PRC, which came on the heels of the defeat of Nationalist forces, conveniently omits mentioning the years of devastating civil war that preceded it. Like everything else in China, negatives are twisted into positives, and when doing so is impossible, things are just ignored.

At a time when Beijing faces accusations, mostly from the West, that its massive, no-questions-asked investments abroad are propping up repressive and genocidal regimes (Sudan, Myanmar, Zimbabwe, North Korea, to name a few), CCP cadres would probably also want us to forget that 30 years ago, Beijing was an ally of the homicidal Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot, who killed millions of his own people.

Monday, February 16, 2009

China’s parade to end all parades*

Amid news that millions of migrant workers are roaming the Chinese countryside unemployed, a severe drought affecting eight breadbasket provinces and state authorities admitting that 2009 could be a year of unprecedented social unrest, Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials must be looking left and right these days for ways to retain their grip on power. After all, much of the CCP’s legitimacy rests on its ability to promote economic growth and pull millions of Chinese out of poverty, which in the past two decades or so it has managed to accomplish with some success.

However, failure to sustain such growth, the pessimistic theory has it, could result in serious social unrest, rebellion and, in the worst-case scenario, the fragmentation of the country.

Op-ed, published on Tuesday in the Taipei Times, continues here.

* Unfortunately the article refers to the 60th anniversary next month of the Tibetan uprising. In reality, it will be the 50th anniversary of the March 1959 uprising. Apologies for the error.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Book review: ‘Bob of Arabia’ explores the ills of our troubled times

How does one review a book by a man who has spent the past three decades reporting on the world’s bloodiest conflicts, who has interviewed Osama bin Laden and who, by Air France calculations, travels more frequently than any Air France crew member? Robert Fisk’s journalistic resume is impressive, from the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan to Israel’s own invasion of Lebanon, Iran after the overthrow of the Shah to the US-led invasion of Iraq, as well as the killing fields of Algeria, Syria, the Occupied Territories and other trouble spots in the Arab world.

Book review of Robert Fisk’s The Age of the Warrior continues here.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Some Tibetan lessons for Taiwan

Next month will mark the 50th anniversary of the “liberation” of Tibet by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). As Beijing — and purportedly all Tibetans — ready themselves to rejoice in the festivities surrounding “Serf Emancipation Day” on March 28, people in Taiwan would be well advised to turn to the history books.

For starters, the so-called liberation of Tibet did not occur in 1959, but rather nine years earlier, when the PLA made its first incursion into Tibet. Along with thousands of soldiers, the liberators brought the Seventeen-Point Agreement, a document that was purportedly intended as a blueprint for the “modernization” of “backward” and “barbaric” Tibet by a benevolent China and which called for the ouster of “reactionary governments” and “imperialist” forces that had thrown Tibet “into the depths of enslavement and suffering.”

Op-ed, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

O Canada, land of double standards

In recent weeks, Ottawa has sounded as if its speeches were written by the Jewish Anti-Defamation League or B’nai Brith, a Canadian Jewish advocacy organization. First, during Israel’s bombing of Gaza in December and January, Junior Minister of Foreign Affairs Peter Kent said that the escalating number of Palestinian being killed was solely Hamas’ fault. Then it was Liberal Party Leader Michael Ignatieff, who on Jan. 8 also blamed Hamas for everything, as if Israel — which was killing more than 100 Palestinians for every Israeli killed in the one-sided war, and was using weapons, such as phosphorus shells, in violation of international law — did not share at least part of the blame for the bloody catastrophe or for creating the conditions that led to it.

On Feb. 3, Kent justly condemned vandalism against the Mariperez Synagogue, the main synagogue in Caracas, Venezuela, calling the “act of anti-Semitic vandalism … an assault on the freedoms that Canada and all democratic nations cherish.”

“The scourge of hate-filled bigotry must be confronted and rejected whenever and wherever it rears its ugly head. Canada denounces this act of anti-Semitism and all acts of anti-Semitism around the world,” Kent said, calling on Caracas to launch an investigation.

About fifteen people broke into the synagogue on Friday night, tying the security guards, destroying scriptures and spraying graffiti, which among others included references to former US president George W. Bush, the Star of David and the Swastika.

As a multicultural country that takes pride in its ideals of justice, Canada and its government should always, in the bluntest terms, deplore acts of hatred targeting a people for their ethnicity or religion, and in that regard Kent’s outrage was perfectly justified.

The problem, however, is that when similar acts are committed against non-Jewish religious centers, Kent and Ottawa tend to remain silent. To wit, as the Observer newspaper reported on Jan. 4, the 12 Palestinians killed — six of them children — when an Israeli missile struck the entrance to the Ibrahim al-Maqadna mosque in Beit Lahiya, Gaza.

“The Israeli military has destroyed several mosques during its week-long offensive in Gaza,” the British newspaper reported at the time. In all, McClatchy Newspapers wrote on Jan. 23, Israel damaged or destroyed 23 mosques during the 22-day war.

Not once did Kent, Ignatieff or other Canadian politicians who ostensibly oppose “the scourge of hate-filled bigotry” react to the destruction of Muslim religious institutions in Gaza. In Ottawa’s political book, graffiti inside a synagogue is blasphemy that warrants strong condemnation. But when bombs and missiles, rather than spray paint, deface or altogether vaporize a mosque, all we get is silence, even when, unlike the sad incident in Caracas, people — innocents — are killed in the act.

If Canada really stood by its vaunted ideals, Kent’s comments would have read as follows: “… act of racist and discriminatory vandalism … an assault on the freedoms that Canada and all democratic nations cherish … The scourge of hate-filled bigotry must be confronted and rejected whenever and wherever it rears its ugly head. Canada denounces this act of racism and discrimination and all acts of racism and discrimination around the world.”

Perhaps this goes beyond Kent’s ability to see clearly, but deploring discrimination only when it affects a specific group while ignoring it when it concerns another is, in and of itself, racist — in this case, anti-Muslim. Surely this goes against the Canadian values of freedom and justice.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Hamas is responsible, but …

Outgoing, corruption-haunted and altogether discredited Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert vowed on Sunday that Israel would respond “disproportionately” to the continuing, albeit sporadic, firing of rockets from the Gaza Strip. In the long, sad and bloody history of disproportionate responses by Israel, Olmert’s comment may actually set a precedent, in that the Israeli leader no longer even attempted to hide the fact that his country’s military is breaking international law. Put through the political doublespeak filter, what Olmert essentially said was “we shall break international law.”

Two additional ironies marked the warning.

First, despite an intense 19-day bombing campaign in Gaza to “end” the firing of rockets into Israeli territory, causing about US$2 billion in damage to the Gaza infrastructure, killing 1,300 Palestinians and injuring thousands, rockets are still being fired, a humiliation of Israel’s military that is reminiscent of similar adventurism in Lebanon in 2006.

Second, while Jerusalem and its shrinking list of equally discredited supporters have blamed Hamas for the rocket attacks and, with odd logic, the devastating response by Israel, the latest rocket attacks (which caused no damage or injuries) were claimed by a wing of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a group belonging to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah faction. In Israel’s book (and likely in US Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton’s, as well as special envoy’s George Mitchell’s), Hamas are the bad guys, while Fatah (or at least Abbas) are the “moderate” Palestinians, the ones that “peace” can be negotiated with.

Now that the “good” guys — the “good Arabs” of the non-“terrorist” sort — are also firing rockets into Israel, who will Israel talk to? Quite the quandary, indeed. Could it be that Olmert’s latest disproportionate response in Gaza in December and January managed to anger even the portion of Palestinians it thought it could deal with? Could this mean that Israel’s US-backed blunt approach to peacemaking is finally backfiring, proving that “peace” at the end of a cannon, “peace” that isn’t accompanied by justice and respect for international law, can turn even one’s “friends” into enemies?