North Korea curbs commentary


Kim Jong-un got fat.

According to the South Korean National Intelligence Service, the North Korean dictator has gained around 40 kg (about 88 pounds), and it has not gone unnoticed on various social media platforms in China, such as Weibo.

The weight gain spawned nicknames like “Kim the Fat,” “Kim Fat III,” “Kim Fatty III,” and “Kim III half-moon,” according to Stephen Fottrell’s blog on BBC. Needless to say, the North Korean government was not amused.

Chinese media outlets have censored readers’ comments to appease the North Korean government.

“The North Korean authorities have formally demanded that media, government officials and people from the mainland must not address leader Kim Jong-un in the future as ‘Kim the Fat,'” Hong Kong’s Apple Daily said.

“They are terrified the tyrant will find out about the insult and look for someone to blame,” Fox News World claimed.

Diplomatic relations, particularly peaceful relationships with neighboring nations, is essential in this day and age. However, when does censorship for the sake of political niceties hinder the function of media as a watchdog and critic of the government?

While it is unfortunate but true that citizens of other nations do not enjoy the same rights to freedom of speech and freedom to criticize the government that U.S. citizens do, the internet has begun to give citizens a voice in countries where traditional media is more tightly controlled by the government.

This censorship is a step back for journalism as well as freedom of expression in China. Citizens are unable to comment on or voice disapproval for Kim, even if it is merely centered on his appearance. Media has resumed its submissive role to the government by sacrificing the opinions of citizens to pacify a foreign dictator.

Behind the ice-breaker meeting


Chinese President Xi Jinping and Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou shook hands ahead of an historic summit in Singapore last weekend. It is the first time since the Chinese Civil War ended and the nations split in 1949 that leaders from both sides have met.

Xi said the meeting “has opened a historic chapter in the cross-Strait relations, and history will remember today.” He also emphasized, “We (China and Taiwan) are one family.”

Relations between China and Taiwan have improved under Ma since he took office in 2008, with better economic ties, improving tourism links and a trade pack signed.

It is unfathomable why the meeting has taken place at this moment. From Ma’s side, there is a presidential election in Taiwan in January. Ma might take this meeting as an opportunity to give a boost to his party’s candidate, who is trailing in the polls. Also Ma built his presidency on his closer connection to China, so it is a good chance for him to meet Xi.

On Xi’s side, first, Xi wants to exert more of his political control over Taiwan. If he showed his favor in a certain party, in this case, the Nationalists, it might influence many Taiwanese voters’ decisions. If a Nationalists is elected as the upcoming president in Taiwan, it will maintain the policy of being close to China, which will be the ideal outcome for China.

We cannot foresee whether Xi’s meeting with Ma will boost the Nationalists or backfire. During the meeting, many Taiwanese protesters threw stones at the Taiwanese Parliament to demonstrate their anger on Ma’s intention of building a closer connection with China.

Interestingly enough, in Ma’s welcome address, he expressed his sincere hope for continually building peaceful and friendly relation between the strait.  Neither side put fingers on serious political conflicts and territory disputes. They both referred the other side as “sir” rather than his political titles. It is the first time ever in Chinese political reporting that no political titles were involved.

Lego versus Ai Weiwei


Artist Ai Weiwei accused Lego of “censorship and discrimination” because the latter refused to sell its bricks to him because his new artistic work may convey a political statement.

According to Ai, Lego rejected Ai’s bulk order of bricks, saying that its bricks could not be used for any artworks that may of “any political, religious, racist, obscene or defaming statements.”

In response to Lego’s refusal, many fans and artists demonstrate their supports for Ai. Many of them donated their bricks to Ai, hoping that their donations could adding the amount of bricks to the degree that Ai can accomplish his Melbourne show. Some people also expressed their opinions on their social website such as Instagram or Twitter. One used Lego’s toy bricks to spell out the word “I support Ai Weiwei” and added a cutline that “we won’t be buying anymore.”

Ai wrote on his Instagram that “Lego will tell us what to do, or not to do. That is awesome!” to make an irony here because Lego has a slogan “everything is awesome”.

Ai was an artist known for his fierce criticism of Chinese government. Last year, Ai used Lego bricks in his art show at the former Alcatraz prison, near San Francisco, to create portraits of 175 dissidents who had been jailed or exiled, from Nelson Mandela to Edward Snowden. He intended to hold a similar art display in Melbourne.

Ai has changed the theme of his upcoming artistic show to defend freedom of speech and “political art,” due to Lego’s rejection of selling its bricks.

From where I stand, I consider that Lego’s behavior is for the sake of its future cooperation with the Chinese government. Lego plans to build a new Legoland in Shanghai. For Lego, building a theme park is apparently more profitable than selling bricks to an artist. Given that Chinese government is not welcoming Ai, Lego would absolutely not offend and annoy its future cooperator, Chinese government, by selling Ai bricks and indirectly assist Ai to demonstrate unpleasant arts to Chinese government.

Essentially, it is another story about people who stand on the tip pyramid of money and power win the game, or rather, make the rule.

Why the Chinese visit to UK matters?


Chinese President Xi Jinping, arrived on Monday for his first state to the United Kingdom.

In the following days, he will address the members of the Houses of Parliament, visit Imperial College London, meet with the Britain’s prime minister and, probably kick a football in Manchester.

From Xi’s visiting schedule, it is apparent to conclude that China is seeking to build, or strengthen its cooperation with UK on technology and business. On Wednesday, Xi will visit UK-China Business Summit at Mansion House, companied with David Cameron. Then he will also visit Chinese telecommunication company Huawei Technologies.  On Thursday, Xi is scheduling to participate in a global satellite communication.

China is also interested in British infrastructure projects. British government would offer a $3 trillion guarantee to secure the new Hinkley Point nuclear plant and Chinese investment towards it. China is also hopes to get involved in the HS2 high-speed rail project.

From my personal understanding, Xi’s sought for cooperation on business and technology with the Britain can be seen as a method to adjust Chinese economy, for the growth speed and the drive.

For ages, China is devoted to shift from an export-led economy to consumer and service-led one. Since China’s economic growth drops to 6.9 percent in the third quarter, the weakest rate since the global financial crisis, which is below the government’s 7 percent target, Chinese are faced with restructuring pressure because it is not easy to transfer from a world-manufacture to a technological leader.

In the past years, Xi imposed more restrictions on industries that produce pollution and enacted several polices to combat bureaucratic corruption, reshaping Chinese economic landscape by decreasing industry investment and reducing government manipulation.

The reform will take long time to upgrade Chinese economy structure and rebound it economic growth.

China’s Xi Jinping visits America


Chinese President Xi Jinping landed in the United States on Sept. 22. During the first two days of events in Seattle, Xi first visited the Boeing manufacturing complex, then greeted the governor of Washington, Jay Inslee, and a group of governors from Western states. He also attended U.S.-China Internet Industry Forum that was co-initiated by Microsoft and Chinese Internet Association.

We can infer from the events that they were designed to demonstrate a firm relationship with American business.

The New York Times commented on Xi’s Seattle stay: “in a broad sense it has worked as a show of force to President Obama about the power that China wields, and how much American companies need China even if its policies do not align with Washington’s.”

Nevertheless, frustration is simmering here. A survey conducted in 2010 asking U.S.-China Business Council members’ opinions of business outlook in China. Fifty-eight percent delivered positive feedback, confirming business in China would thrive and support U.S-China business cooperation and 33 percent were somewhat optimistic, compared with 24 percent who were positive while 67 percent maintain somewhat optimistic or neutral in 2015.

Xi is going to stay in the U.S. for a couple of more days and is expected to visit the White House on Sept. 24, to meet with President Obama and attend a State dinner.

Interesting enough, China itself analyzed Xi’s visit quite differently from outside perspectives.

From the Western news media’s accounts, Xi’s visit is expected to address several issues including cyber espionage. The U.S has claimed that China was responsible for cyber theft of U.S. confidential data and 5.6 million federal employee’s fingerprints, that China has inconsistent protection of intellectual property. China’s staggering stock market and contested waters in South China Sea are also expected to be discussed.

Press freedom tested in Hong Kong


Hong Kong is experiencing what CNN calls its all-time low in press freedom.

Historically, Hong Kong has served as the “window into China,” reporting stories about government criticism that mainland reporters could not or would not report.

However, Hong Kong is experiencing serious decline in their press freedom as journalists fall victim to being bullied out of reporting.

Protest organizer and veteran reporter Shirley Yam says headlines and complete pages have been removed from newspapers, columnists have been sacked, and interviews have been bought.

“We get calls from senior government officials, we get calls from tycoons, saying ‘we don’t want to see this in your paper,'” Yam said.

A prime example of oppression of the press in recent days is Kevin Lao.

Lao was editor for Ming Pao, a daily newspaper known for its coverage of human rights, before a Malaysian editor replaced him.

To add insult to injury, Lao was hospitalized Wednesday after being attacked with a meat cleaver. The source of Lao’s attack is unknown, however, many fear that if incidents like Lao’s aren’t addressed seriously and stopped, public fear will grow and Hong Kong’s press will be further prevented from running stories dealing with government and big business.

The issue in Hong Kong highlights the relationship between the press and its government. It seems there is a conundrum with the fact that journalists are supposed to serve the watchdog function over the same government that they depend on to give them the rights and safety to do so.

In the United States, we experience the luxury of a constitution that explicitly tells us there is freedom of press within the First Amendment. Checks and balances within the government makes sure this right is protected.

However, in places where the press is not so fortunate, being watchdog to the government can be dangerous, especially if the government doesn’t want to be monitored. This is the heart of the issue in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong legislative council member Cyd Yo told CNN, “Beijing is a control freak. It cannot bear any opposition.”

It seems to me that journalists and the public alike are on a long road for change in the special administrative region of China. While many are protesting now, what China needs is a fundamental change in how its government relates with the press and a change like this will need both time and passionate supporters.

China cracks down on foreign reporters


Reporting news in China has always been a sticky situation but even more recently, there has been in influx of rejected visas for foreign journalists who report within the country.

Even journalists who have worked in the field for years in China are now receiving rejections towards renewed visas. This is forcing people who have been living there for their journalism profession to leave and find new jobs elsewhere.

This issue is also forcing many journalists who have not had their visa renewals rejected to reconsider how they report news. Most have decided that they need to take part in self-censorship, but is that really reporting the news? There have also been reports of death threats towards foreign journalists who are reporting things that are not necessarily agreed with by citizens of China. This can also affect how journalists report news with accuracy.

Local citizen journalists have always been restricted in what they report. Freedom of the press in China is very limited and it has been known that foreign news coverage has always had more freedom to report than Chinese journalists. But nowadays it is becoming more evident that both foreign and local reporters are becoming one in the same.

During the past 10 years, many Western media companies have increased their coverage of China. Companies like The New York Times and the BBC have created blogs strictly dedicated to the country. This investment reflects China’s growing significance as an important country in international affairs. China requires attention from the media. But as a result, this has given China more leverage over the foreign media than it once had.

One of the main reasons for this type of crackdown on foreign coverage is that China does not want the world to know about the relationship its big business and politics have with each other. In the end, it’s all about money. But it is argued that in doing so, China is harming its ties in foreign affairs. If China is kicking out journalists from other countries for unfriendly reporting, it causes those countries to question China’s relations with them.

As China gains more wealth, it is becoming more and more apparent that other things, like foreign news coverage, do not matter because the Chinese leaders know they have leverage over other countries. This is bad news for journalists who have ties in China when it comes to reporting.

Thankful for the freedom to press ‘Enter’


Nowadays, just about everyone has some sort of a blog. Whether it’s light and fluffy with details about fashion or sepia-toned shots of food, or a bit deeper and serious with commentary regarding controversial issues, everyone with access to the Internet reveals who they are and what they believe.

Even if someone doesn’t have a specific blog per se, he or she is bound to have a Facebook profile, Twitter, Youtube, or Instagram account — all Web sites that let you share your opinions, personalities, thoughts, and just about anything else (yes, even the fact that you just worked out at the gym or that your niece does look pretty adorable with those bunny ears on.)

But what if you truly had to think before you pressed the Enter key?

Yesterday I came across an article on BBC about a journalist in China who was just arrested for posting about the alleged corruption of some government officials on his blog.

I immediately thought back to all the times I’ve been scrolling on my Facebook home feed and found countless posts criticizing the government. From “I wish the people in government could let go of their egos and come to an agreement” to “OBAMA SUCKS I’M MOVIN TOO CANADA.”

No matter the post, no matter the content, no matter the truth or the falsity, no matter the, ahem, spelling errors…everyone in the United States is allowed to speak their minds, provided they are not endangering anybody by doing so.

Unfortunately, the same does not go for the people in China.

After posting corruption details of some high-ranking officials onto his blog, Liu Hu, who works for the Guangzhou-based newspaper New Express, was taken by police from his home in August and was then formally arrested at the end of September. When Hu was detained by police, his posts were deleted.

Charged with defamation, analysts call the charge a speech crime, and say it is part of the government’s recent campaign to tighten control over the Internet.

The new Internet guidelines are meant to crack down on “rumor-mongering.” Many believe it is a tool being used by the ruling Communist Party to cut down criticism and control internet opinions and rumors.

In a separate case, four people were arrested for posting about government dissatisfaction on a social media forum. Several other journalists as well as a high-profile blogger have also been arrested for allegedly spreading rumors online.

Obama memeRemember when President Obama was elected and people wrote posts and made memes calling him an “Islamic terrorist”? And then all those people were arrested and charged for doing so?

Yeah, me either.

So keep posting my fellow Internet-users, because whether it’s regarding your criticism of the government or your cat wearing hipster glasses, you’re safe. You’re free.

Imagine going to jail for posting this on your Facebook page.