torsdag 5. mai 2022

Torbjørn Færøvik: Riper i lakken og bulker i panseret

Bak lukkede dører i Beijing forbereder Kinas fremste menn høstens viktige partikongress. Men utenfra forstyrres de av en stadig sterkere klagesang. Tjuetre kinesiske byer med rundt to hundre millioner innbyggere er nå helt eller delvis nedstengt på grunn av covid-19. Folk lider, og viruset sprer seg fra dag til dag.

I Shanghai, en by med 26 millioner innbyggere, er gatene tomme. Bare matbudene får lov til å sykle rundt og levere føde til mer eller mindre sultne familier. Tusenvis av mennesker klager over at de har for lite å spise. Mange av dem ytrer seg på sosiale medier. ”Både barna mine og jeg er blitt tynnere de siste to ukene”, skriver en mor. ”Hvor skal dette ende?” 

Torbjørn Færøvik: Kina er ikke nøytral i Russlands krig mot Ukraina

Kina har i årevis forsøkt å fremstå som de små og mellomstore lands høye beskytter. Vi er blitt fortalt at den prektige stormakten i øst stiller i en egen moralsk divisjon, i skarp kontrast til ondsinnede land anført av USA, som bare er ute etter å mele sin egen kake.

Stemmer det? Kinas reaksjon på Russlands overfall på Ukraina forteller det meste.

Så tidlig som i 1954 lanserte Kina ”de fem prinsipper for fredelig sameksistens”. Det første og viktigste er at land skal respektere hverandres territoriale integritet og suverenitet. Andre viktige prinsipper er ”ikke-aggresjon” og ”ikke-innblanding” i hverandres indre anliggender. Siden da har de kinesiske lederne uopphørlig viftet med disse prinsippene. De ble også bakt inn i den såkalte normaliseringsavtalen som Norge inngikk med Kina i 2016: ”Den norske regjering … respekterer fullt ut Kinas suverenitet og territoriale integritet.”

Torbjørn Færøvik: Nå handler det om å overleve

Nå handler det om å overleve. Å pløye, harve og så. Men vil Putin gi de ukrainske bøndene arbeidsro? Fra byer og landsbyer stiger svart røyk, på himmelen farer dødelige missiler. Viktige forsyningslinjer er brutt, og lass på lass med såkorn, gjødsel og sprøytemidler sitter fast bak røyksøylene. Drivstoff er også en mangelvare. Hvordan skal bøndene få liv i traktorene og landbruksmaskinene uten olje, bensin og diesel? For bøndene, ja for alle landets 44 millioner innbyggere, blir de neste ukene avgjørende. Fortsetter krigen, kan jordbruket gå i stå. 

Nikolaj Gogol (1809–1852) konstaterte at Gud var gavmild da han skapte Ukraina. Den store dikteren ble født i en landsby i Poltava-distriktet i landets sentrale del, i et område kjent for sin «svartjord». Alt som steg opp av den, vokste så fort at øyet slet med å følge med. Svartjord er et jordsmonn av løss som særlig finnes nord og øst for Svartehavet, og det er som skapt for hvetedyrking. Jorda på prærien i Nord-Amerika og pampasen i Sør-Amerika er av nesten samme type. I Ukraina utgjør svartjorda to tredjedeler av landets areal.

Gogol merket seg også vannveienes betydning. Først og fremst Dnipro, hovedelven, men også de mange andre elvene som sildret og rant i alle retninger. Med passe nedbør og vann fra elvene kunne bøndene i gode år høste to avlinger i året, nok til å lokke til seg handelsmenn fra mange land. Store mengder korn ble fraktet på vannveiene til Baltikum og videre til Østersjøområdet. 

Torbjørn Færøvik: Nixons møte med Mao skapte store overskrifter, men få resultater - i første omgang

Mao hadde våknet tidlig den dagen. At helsen tillot ham å møte Nixon, var nesten et mirakel. I flere måneder hadde han slitt med ødem, lungebetennelse og ujevn hjerterytme. Nixon innledet samtalen med flere smigrende bemerkninger om Maos helse, betydning og storhet. Kissinger fulgte opp med å si at han hadde anbefalt sine studenter ved Harvard å lese formannens skrifter, men Mao svarte tørt: «Disse skriftene mine er ikke verd noe. Det er ikke noe å lære av dem.»

Men Kissinger ga seg ikke: «Formannens skrifter har forandret landet og verden.» Men Mao sto på sitt: «Jeg har ikke klart å forandre noe, bortsett fra noen steder i nærheten av Beijing.». Mao snakket utydelig, men alle forsto hva han sa da han uttrykte bekymring for at Nixon ikke skulle bli gjenvalgt som president. I så fall måtte kineserne forholde seg til en demokrat. «Jeg håper da at det ikke skal skje», svarte Nixon. «Jeg stemte på deg under det siste valget», tilføyde Mao og smilte. «Jeg liker høyrefolk.»

Torbjørn Færøvik: Kyiv - byen med det vakre hjertet

Forleden kom jeg over et maleri som forestiller Kyivs grunnleggelse i år 482. Okser og muskelsterke menn pløyer den første dype plogfuren. Rundt dem står forventningsfulle kvinner og barn. En av kvinnene, en ung skjønnhet, sitter i gresset med en blomsterkrans på hodet, og i bakgrunnen flyter livets kilde, elven Dnipro.

Kyiv ligger på et høydedrag med vid utsikt over Dnipro og slettene bortenfor. Snart kom de første bymurene opp; etter hvert ble de forsterket og utvidet. Hit kom vikingene allerede på 700-tallet. Handelsmenn og sjøfarere fra Sverige, Finland og Baltikum trengte seg inn på de russiske vannveiene, de reiste i «austerveg». Nordmennene var ikke sene om å følge etter; de seilte i små, slanke skip lastet med pelsverk, honning, bivoks, tjære og andre varer. Vikingene fra Norge og Østersjøområdet solgte også slaver med liv og lyst. Stakkarene var tatt til fange på reisen og innbrakte kjærkommen klingende mynt. Kjøperne var for det meste arabiske handelsmenn som virket i Svartehavet og Konstantinopel (Miklagard).

Old China: Bound Feet and Bad Smell

We don't know when Chinese women began binding their feet. It was most likely around 800-900 A.D. The curious custom had to do with marriage, with sex, with beauty - and duty. This is a chapter from my book "Midtens rike" (The Middle Kingdom, Oslo 2009).

Torbjørn Færøvik: Hjemme hos George Orwell

Jeg skriver disse linjene fra Twante, en småby i Myanmar. Båten vår har fulgt en smal kanal gjennom mangroveskog og grønne palmelunder. I det fjerne blinker byens største pagode. En protestantisk kirke lyser også med sitt spir.

Her bodde en ung brite, Eric Arthur Blair, på 1920-tallet. Før han ble forfatter og verdenskjent som George Orwell, gjorde han karriere i det britiske imperiepolitiet. ”Jeg hatet jobben min fra første stund”, skrev han mange år senere. Etter å ha herset med de uskikkelige burmeserne i fem samfulle år, reiste han hjem, tynget av skam og skyldfølelse.

onsdag 4. mai 2022

Elon Musk 'Must Change' Twitter Policy: China State Media Bureau Chief

After Tesla CEO Elon Musk bought Twitter on Monday, some observers wondered if China—where the carmaker has an important plant and market—would subsequently wield more influence over the social media platform. On Friday, Chen Weihua, the EU bureau chief with state-controlled media outlet China Daily, called for the removal of the label on his Twitter bio as "China state-affiliated media." He called it a "suppression of free speech" and said the policy "must" be changed.

"Elon Musk should remove my label. Also, when people want to like or RT my tweets, they are now reminded by Twitter that 'this is state affiliated media'. This is totally discriminatory and suppression of free speech. Twitter must change such policy," Chen tweeted. Chen was responding to a tweet by Musk on free speech.

"By 'free speech,' I simply mean that which matches the law. I am against censorship that goes far beyond the law. If people want less free speech, they will ask government to pass laws to that effect. Therefore, going beyond the law is contrary to the will of the people," Musk wrote.

Chinese hackers cast wide net for trade secrets in US, Europe and Asia, researchers say

Chinese government-linked hackers have tried to steal sensitive data from some three dozen manufacturing and technology firms in the US, Europe and Asia, security researchers said Wednesday, in findings that shed new light on Beijing's alleged use of hacking to buttress its powerhouse economy. The hackers targeted blueprints for producing materials with broad applications to the pharmaceutical and aerospace sectors, according to Boston-based security firm Cybereason. The firm discovered the activity last year but said the hacking campaign dates to at least 2019, and it suggested that reams of data could have been stolen in the interim.

The research is an unsettling reminder of the scope of the cyber threats facing US businesses and government agencies as the Biden administration attempts to thwart them. For all of the attention on potential Russian hacking due to the war in Ukraine, China's digital operatives have been very active. "It's clearly industrial espionage, IP [intellectual property] theft at the highest level," Assaf Dahan, Cybereason's research lead, told CNN.

Asked to respond to the Cybereason report, Liu Pengyu, a spokesperson at the Chinese Embassy in Washington, claimed that China "will never encourage, support or condone cyber attacks."

When the Boat People Came to Hong Kong

Les Bird still recalls his first encounter with the Vietnamese boat people. The year was 1977, and the Englishman was out patrolling with Hong Kong’s marine police force. In the distance, he saw a cluster of small, rickety boats chugging toward him. Each was crammed with 20 or 30 people. They had sailed over 1,000 kilometers on the barely-seaworthy vessels, fleeing poverty, war, and political repression in Southeast Asia. Bird was dumbstruck.

“It was very surreal,” he tells Sixth Tone. “These first people — many of them families — were coming directly across the South China Sea. The journey was long, so they were malnourished and very dehydrated.”

It was the beginning of a wave of migration that would upend countless lives. As the North Vietnamese army finally conquered the South, vast numbers of refugees took to the sea in the hope of finding sanctuary in Hong Kong, which was then under British rule. Nearly 200,000 Vietnamese would seek asylum in the city over the following years. Thousands more died trying to make the journey.

North Korea launches ballistic missile, Japan and South Korea say

North Korea fired a ballistic missile into the waters off its east coast on Wednesday, Japan and South Korea have reported. The missile was launched from Sunan, an area of the North Korean capital of Pyongyang, according to South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff. Meanwhile, Japanese Deputy Defense Minister Makoto Oniki said the missile is estimated to have flown at a maximum altitude of about 800 kilometers over a distance of about 500 kilometers before falling into the sea outside of Japan's Exclusive Economic Zone. The launch is North Korea's first since a military parade late on April 25, at which leader Kim Jong Un vowed to ramp up his development of nuclear arms.

A Onetime Confucian Academy Balances Past, Present, and Future

Situated at the foot of Mount Yuelu on the west bank of the Xiangjiang River in Changsha, the capital of Hunan province, is one of China’s oldest cultural and educational institutions: the Yuelu Academy. One of the “four famous academies” of imperial China, its modern-day incarnation consists of school buildings, a Confucius Temple, and a newly built museum.

My own office is located in the Hall of Victory, designed by one of modern China’s pre-eminent architects, Liu Shiying, and finished in 1948. Even after the past two years brought new pandemic-related controls, a steady stream of tourists files past my door almost every day. They’re drawn by the Academy’s buildings and gardens, long history, and cultural significance. Yet, few see the Academy as more than just a living fossil, a curious holdover from China’s Confucian past. That it could not just carry on that tradition — and actively seek to evolve it — rarely seems to cross their minds.

‘We are living in hell’: Pakistan and India suffer extreme spring heatwaves

For the past few weeks, Nazeer Ahmed has been living in one of the hottest places on Earth. As a brutal heatwave has swept across India and Pakistan, his home in Turbat, in Pakistan’s Balochistan region, has been suffering through weeks of temperatures that have repeatedly hit almost 50C (122F), unprecedented for this time of year. Locals have been driven into their homes, unable to work except during the cooler night hours, and are facing critical shortages of water and power.

Ahmed fears that things are only about to get worse. It was here, in 2021, that the world’s highest temperature for May was recorded, a staggering 54C. This year, he said, feels even hotter. “Last week was insanely hot in Turbat. It did not feel like April,” he said.

As the heatwave has exacerbated massive energy shortages across Indiaand Pakistan, Turbat, a city of about 200,000 residents, now barely receives any electricity, with up to nine hours of load shedding every day, meaning that air conditioners and refrigerators cannot function. “We are living in hell,” said Ahmed.

Aung San Suu Kyi on trial in fresh bribery case against ousted Myanmar leader

Ousted Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi has gone on trial in a new corruption case against her, alleging she took $550,000 in bribes from a construction magnate. She is charged with two counts under the country’s the Anti-Corruption Act, with each count punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a fine. Aung San Suu Kyi has been detained since the army ousted her elected government in February 2021 and has not been seen or allowed to speak in public since then. She is being tried in closed sessions and her lawyers cannot speak publicly on her behalf or about her trial because of a gag order placed on them.

She has already been sentenced to 11 years’ imprisonment after being convicted of illegally importing and possessing walkie-talkies, violating coronavirus restrictions, sedition and another corruption charge. Aung San Suu Kyi’s supporters and human rights groups have said the cases against her are an attempt to discredit her and legitimise the military’s seizure of power, eliminating the possibility of her taking part in a possible 2023 election.

India and Pakistan heatwave is 'testing the limits of human survivability,' expert says

Temperatures in parts of India and Pakistan have reached record levels, putting the lives of millions at risk as the effects of the climate crisis are felt across the subcontinent. The average maximum temperature for northwest and central India in April was the highest since records began 122 years ago, reaching 35.9 and 37.78 degrees Celsius (96.62 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit) respectively, according to the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD).

Last month, New Delhi saw seven consecutive days over 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit), three degrees above the average temperature for the month of April, according to CNN meteorologists. In some states, the heat closed schools, damaged crops and put pressure on energy supplies, as officials warned residents to remain indoors and keep hydrated.

Colombo Port City: A new Dubai or a Chinese enclave?

"An economic game changer" is how officials describe Colombo Port City, a shiny metropolis soaring out of the water along the Sri Lankan capital's seafront. Next to Colombo's leafy business district, the huge expanse of sand reclaimed from the sea is being transformed into a high-tech city which will host an offshore international financial centre, residential areas and a marina - prompting comparisons with Dubai, Monaco or Hong Kong.

"This reclaimed land gives Sri Lanka a chance to redraw the map and to build a city of world class proportions and functionality - and compete with Dubai or Singapore," Saliya Wickramasuriya, a member of the Colombo Port City Economic Commission, told the BBC.

But critics question how much of an economic game changer it will really be for Sri Lanka. For a start, in order to reclaim the 665 acres (2.6 sq km) of new land, the country needed the China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) to invest $1.4bn. In return, the firm has been given 43% of it on a 99-year lease.

tirsdag 3. mai 2022

Pacific nations walk geopolitical tightrope over Ukraine war, as nuclear legacy looms

Some Pacific island nations have been left walking a geopolitical tightrope in their response to the war in Ukraine, as they try to balance regional alliances with both the west and China and Russia. Comments by Russian president Vladimir Putin, which many have interpreted as thinly veiled threats about the potential use of nuclear weapons have also touched a nerve in a region long affected by the catastrophic effects of nuclear weapons testing by the US, France and Britain.

Pacific leaders have broadly lambasted the Russian assault, with the Federated States of Micronesia even going so far as to sever diplomatic ties with Russia the day after the invasion was launched. Micronesia’s president David Panuelo accused Moscow of engaging in “numerous war crimes,” writing, “There is no nuance in Russia’s behaviour; they are choosing to act as villains.”

Why Europe will have to face the true cost of being in debt to China

Billions of dollars of Chinese money are boosting some European economies - but some of the deals being struck have a catch. Critics say they are "debt traps", where China gets to choose what happens if loans aren't repaid. China insists it is a reliable investment partner - but it is also facing allegations of worker exploitation and environmental damage.