Saturday, June 27, 2009

US, Europe charge China with WTO violations

by M. Ulric Killion 

US Trade Representative Ron Kirk speaks about trade between the U.S. and China at a news conference in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The United States and the European Union on Tuesday filed complaints with the WTO over Chinese restrictions on the export of key industrial raw materials, such as coke, bauxite, fluorspar, magnesium, silicon metal, yellow phosphorus and zinc. 

The response from Kirk is that: "China's policies on these raw materials put a giant thumb on the scale in favor of Chinese producers," and "It's our job to make sure we remove that thumb" (Bloomberg, 2009). (WSJ: Bloomberg News/Landov). 

The two countries, the US and EU, allege that China failed to reduce its export tariffs and raise quotas on these industrial raw materials, and that China's export restrictions created an unfair advantage for Chinese industries. All of this, as alleged by both the US and EU, distorted world competition, thereby violating the WTO rules.

"U.S. steelmakers and unions complain that cheap government loans, tax rebates and grants give Chinese manufacturers an unfair advantage" (Bloomberg, 2009). "USTR officials told reporters that the two complaints filed separately by the EU and the U.S. highlight the importance of this dispute" (WSJ, 2009).

According to China's Ministry of Commerce, the policy of limiting exports of these raw materials aims to protect the environment and natural resources and therefore "is in accordance with WTO rules" (Bloomberg, 2009). In the interim, as the Wall Street Journal (WSJ, 2009) reported, on Wednesday, China also announced the filing of its own challenge to a US ban on the imports of Chinese poultry.

Both the US and European Commission are formally seeking consultations with China. Given the WTO's dispute settlement procedures, should these talks fail, the next step would be to request a WTO panel to hear the complaint after 60 days.

In addition, the critical importance of this particular trade dispute is that it is the first case initiated under the Obama administration, which could potentially affect Sino-US trade relations. [US Trade Representative Kirk] "said it does seem somewhat 'counterintuitive' that the Obama administration's first WTO complaint involves allegations that China isn't exporting enough" (WSJ, 2009).


China Defends Curb on Exports, WSJ, June 24, 2009.

US, EU file WTO case over Chinese raw materials, Agencies, June 24, 2009.

China Says Raw-Material Export Limits Meet WTO Rules, Update 2, Bloomberg, June 24, 2009.

U.S., Europe File Trade Complaint Against China, WSJ, June 24, 2009.

Copyright © Protected - All Rights Reserved M. Ulric Killion, 2009.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

New China Decree mandates PCs with "Green Dam-Youth Escort" software

by M. Ulric Killion   

The Public Debate and Responses 

As of July 1, 2009, according to a new decree, all computers sold in China will be shipped with "Green Dam-Youth Escort" software, which blocks access to contraband websites. China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology says the new decree intends to protect young people from "harmful" content such as pornography.

However, Beijing's history of censoring a broad range of web content has raised concern among foreign industry officials and in Washington that the new effort could increase government control over Chinese cyberspace.

It is noteworthy that earlier in June, Microsoft's Bing,, Hotmail, and other Internet services were blocked, though temporarily, for customers in China (Lefkow, 2009; Blanchard and Hornby, 2009). The reason cited for the Internet services being blocked by most China observers was the 20th Anniversary of Tiananmen and the June 4th suppression of the pro-democracy movement in Beijing.

The response from Microsoft to the earlier June blocking of Internet services follows. According to Microsoft director of public affairs Kevin Kutz, "We are reaching out to the government to understand this decision and find a way to move forward." Further Kutz said, "Microsoft is committed to helping advance the free flow of information, and is committed to encouraging transparency, due process and rule of law when it comes to Internet governance" (Lefkow, 2009; Blanchard and Hornby, 2009).

Conversely, other groups such as Reporters Without Borders (RWB) and China's foreign correspondents' association did, of course, more harshly criticize the blocking of Internet services. Moreover, t
he US government has even suggested that China by requiring PC makers by mandate, or decree, to install this variety of Internet filtering on new PCs may violate China's trade commitments.
Blocking software: Customers use computers at an internet cafe in Shanghai (Bloomberg).

The Decree and its Enforceability 

The notice, The Wall Street Journal reports, could also force PC manufacturers to choose between refusing a government order in a major market or opening themselves to charges of abetting censorship (Eisenman, 2009). 

In addition, China's history of censoring a broad range of web content is raising concerns among some foreign industry officials. The US government perceives potential problem of the new decree as significantly increasing government control over Internet access in Mainland China. "Industry executives also warn that the software could cause PCs in China to malfunction, and could make them more vulnerable to hacking (WSJ, 2009).  

The Wall Street Journal (Chao, PC firms face China decree) reports: "We are studying the new rule to assess its impact," said Susan Stevenson, spokeswoman for the US Embassy in Beijing. "We would view any attempt to restrict the free flow of information with great concern and as incompatible with China's aspirations to build a modern, information-based economy and society." . . . The software's Chinese name is "Green Dam-Youth Escort". The word "green" in Chinese is used to describe web-surfing free from pornography and other illicit content. 

Further, the Wall Street Journal (Chao, PC firms face China decree) reported that "the rule was outlined in a notice that was issued by China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology on May 19 but that hasn't yet been reported. The notice, a copy of which was seen by The Wall Street Journal, says PC makers must ship PCs to be sold in China as of July 1 with the Green Dam software "preloaded".  

The notice says the software must either be preinstalled on the hard drive or enclosed on a compact disc. It says PC producers will be required to report to the government how many PCs they have shipped with the software.

It is unclear how the Chinese government might enforce the new rule. Although the notice doesn't mention any punitive action, fear of consequences if PC makers don't comply could be enough to ensure their compliance" (Chao, PC firms face China decree). 

The Chinese Netizen Community 

The greater issue of the new decree, more importantly, is that it will ultimately affect Internet use in the mainland, which, according to the latest statistics from China's Information Technology Industry, as of the first quarter of 2009, is about 316 million Internet users in China (Xinhua, 2009). The consequences of the new decree have yet to unfold, especially as concerns the Chinese netizen community and how wide or narrow the girth, or reach, of the new decree in censoring Internet services.

As Bryan Zhang, founder of Jinhui, observed, "Some computers sold in China already come with parental-control software, but it isn't government-mandated" (Choa, China Squeezes PC Makers, 2009). However, the "Green Dam-Youth Escort" software, as Zhang explained, would problematically allow the blocking of other types of content, as well as the collection of private user data (Choa, China Squeezes PC Makers).


Chris Lefkow, China blocks websites ahead of Tiananmen anniversary, June 2, 2009, AFP.
Ben Blanchard and Lucy Hornby, China ups security ahead of Tiananmen anniversary, June 2, 2009. Reuters.
Joshua Eisenman, Editor, China Reform Monitor No. 767, June 24, 2009.
Loretta Chao, PC firms face China decree, Wall Street Journal, June 8, 2009.
Loretta Chao, China Squeezes PC Makers, Wall Street Journal, June 8, 2009.
"网络民意"在争议声中推进中国公民权利保障, 新华网, 2009年06月24日 ["Web people" in the controversy to promote the protection of the rights of Chinese citizens, Xinhua, June 24, 2009].

 Copyright © Protected - All Rights Reserved M. Ulric Killion, 2009.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

ITC rules on China tire imports - finds import surge (dumping) in US

by M. Ulric Killion 

In Beijing, according to a government spokesman, "China "deeply regrets" about the affirmative determination made by the US International Trade Commission (ITC) on China safeguard investigation involving certain passenger vehicles and light truck tires" (Xinhua, 2009). The ITC "found certain passenger vehicles and light truck tires from China are being imported to the United States in such increased quantities or under such conditions as to cause or threaten to cause market disruption to the domestic producers of like or competitive products."

According to Yao Jian, the spokesman for the Ministry of Commerce (MOC), "The ITC's decision is "not objective", and is "against the World Trade Organization (WTO) regulations. Lots of evidence have proved that the Chinese-made tires did not cause direct competition with the US products. Restriction of the Chinese imports can not fix the structural problem in the US, he said. We have noted the US tire makers did not claim such disruptions. The US Tire Industry Association, which representing all segments of the tire industry, also opposed to limit Chinese tire imports, said Yao. We hope the US authority could consider the overall interests of the two sides and think twice before the final rule, he said. As a result of the affirmative determination, ITC will consider the issue of remedy, and send its report to the US President and the US Trade Representative by July 9" (Xinhua, 2009).

Many in China perceive the ITC decision as evidence of growing domestic protectionist policies, especially in the United States. In Washington, on June 2, 2009, the ITC hearing commences. It is a case filed by the United Steelworkers (USW) Union, which alleges that an increase in Chinese tire imports has cost 7,000 US jobs. In response, the USW wants the Obama Administration to more than halve the number of imports from 46 million units last year to 21 million. The USW also wants the Obama administration to employ section 421 of the Trade Law, which requires the ultimate approval or rejection of the president even after a ruling of the US International Trade Commission (Zhu, 2009).

Dealers are negotiating beside a tire model at an auto part exhibition in Shanghai, May 21, 2008. [Asianewsphoto].

A problem is that the administration of President Obama has sent mixed signals on the critical issue of Sino-US trade. For instance, there is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton encouraging China to continue to buy US debt, while US Treasury secretary Timothy Geithner accused China of currency manipulation, though the US immediately and officially withdraws his comment, and the appointment of Ron Kirk as the new US trade representative, who announced that he did not come to the job with deal fever. More particularly, while Kirk supported international trade in a broad sense, "he has also made comments suggesting that protectionism might not be so bad after all" (Abrams, 2009). The problems of US protectionist policy may become more of a reality with the passage of time for proponents of Buy American provisions.

These problems directly associate with the U.S. bailout and its potentiality for protectionist consequences. As Daniella Markheim (2009) earlier observed, "Looming large in the stimulus package passed by the U.S. House of Representatives Wednesday--and currently under consideration in the U.S. Senate--is the expansion of 'Buy American' provisions that discriminate against foreign goods and services in U.S. government procurement." 

While the House legislation only focused on iron and steel products made in America being in public works projects that are funded by the stimulus package, notwithstanding domestic steel adding an amount great than 25 percent to project costs, the Senate, contra distinguishably, intends even more harsh restrictions, such as the banning of any imports in subsequent stimulus-funded projects. Protectionism, as Markheim rightly observed, is not the answer to American woes.

Nonetheless, there are many groups in the US pushing the Obama administration to use the economic crisis as an excuse to resort to trade protectionism (Zhu, 2009).

The USW (2009) announced that they are pleased that ITC has moved forward on the union's Section 421 petition, ruling by a 4-2 vote that a surge of low-priced consumer tires from China is harming the domestic industry," an import surge they alleged has caused "major job losses and plant closures in the United States."

According to the USW (2009): "Our domestic industries cannot survive unless our government enforces the trade laws designed to curb and dissuade anti-competitive practices that cause market disruptions," said USW International President Leo W. Gerard. "We anticipate the remedies that will be delivered to President Obama will allow the time necessary to rebuild the U.S. tire industry."

On April 20, 2009, The USW filed its petition with the ITC. The petition sought relief under Section 421 of the Trade Act of 1974. More particularly, Section 421 is a temporary country-specific safeguard that China agreed to as part of its bilateral trade negotiations with the United States leading to its 2001 WTO membership.

"The USW petition claimed that imports of consumer tires from China increased from 2004 to 2008 by 215 percent in volume and 295 percent by value. In 2008, China exported nearly 46 million consumer tires with a value of more than $1.7 billion to the U.S., making it the largest source of consumer tire imports. While imports nearly tripled by volume during the surge period, domestic production of consumer tires declined by more than 25 percent. During this period, nearly 5,100 U.S. tire workers have lost their jobs as a result of massive erosion in the domestic production that coincided with the massive increases in imports of consumer tires from China. About 3,000 more jobs are slated to be lost by year's end as three plants are threatened to close. Whether the remedies will be established at a sufficient level to save these jobs and plants is a question that the USW and others await the answer. To combat this egregious trend, the USW believes that the government should impose an import quota on China of 21 million consumer tires used on passenger cars, light trucks, minivans and sport utility vehicles per year. This would return Chinese tire imports to a 2005 level and allow for an increase of five percent per year over a three-year period. 'We anticipate that the final decisions on remedies will improve domestic job security, increase production and sales, and allow for investment in capital equipment to better compete in the global market for the long term,' said Tom Conway, USW International Vice President" (USW, 2009).

China regrets US rule on tire imports, Xinhua, June 20, 2009.
Alec Zhu, Sino-US trade ties face a tough tire test, China Daily, June 9, 2009.
Jim Abrams, Former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk confirmed as US trade representative, AP, March 18, 2009, (Chicago Tribune).
Markheim, Daniella. 2009. Buy American Hurts America, Heritage Foundation, WebMemo #2256.
USW Lauds ITC Vote Affirming China Tire Import Surge, United Steelworkers (USW), June 19, 2009. 

Copyright © Protected - All Rights Reserved M. Ulric Killion, 2010.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Foreign investment in China falls for eight straight months

China's Ministry of Commerce (MOC) announced that, as of May 2009, the amount of used foreign direct investment (FDI) fell 20.4 percent year on year in the first five months in China. The figure from January to May stood at US$34.05 billion, said MOC spokesman Yao Jian. In May alone, the investment dropped 17.8 percent to US$6.38 billion, the eighth straight monthly fall, Yao told reporters Monday" (Xinhua, 2009).

According to China's Ministry of Commerce, FDI in China actually fell in May for the eighth straight month as the global economic crisis battered trade and corporate finance (Agencies, 2009).

China ministry spokesman Yao Jian said this is the "first time since the 1998 Asian financial crisis that three top investment indicators - actual foreign direct investment, contractual foreign investment and new approved foreign companies - all declined." Yao Jian is specifically referring to FDI, which in May totaled $6.4 billion, but was down 17.8 percent from the same month last year, while the number of new approved foreign companies reached 1,649, down 32 percent year-on-year.

China is a top destination for investment but companies have canceled or postponed spending on factories and other assets due to weakening trade and the global financial turmoil. Foreign direct investment last year rose 23.6 percent from 2007 to $92.4 billion, though growth began to weaken toward the end of the year (Agencies, 2009).

In terms of attracting both foreign direct investment and aid, the problem is China's historical, pursuit of an export-based growth intended to conquer distant markets. This is because, in the context of China, the political economy forces driving both economic growth and regional economic integration have been resource endowments and differing developmental levels (foreign capital and technology, and domestic land and labor) in pursuit of export-based growth. Francois Gipouloux (1998), when describing the spatial effects of FDI in China during the late 1990s, observes of this phenomenon, "The massive re-locations that took place all through the 1990s, first in ASEAN countries and then in the Chinese coastal areas, resulted in a manufacturing crescent, the vocation of which was to reach out to the world and conquer distant markets."

A problem for China is that a falling rate of FDI, now eight straight months, may challenge China's ability to sustain economic growth, especially high growth rates. The falling rate of FDI in China also presents other issues. Such as whether China's declining FDI is also attributable to the now seeming trend of both developed and developing economics to engage protectionist trade policies.


Used FDI down 20.4% in first five months in China, Xinhua, June 15, 2009.

Foreign investment in China falls 17.8%, Agencies, June 15, 2009.

Francois Gipoulous, Integration or Disintegration? The Spatial Effects of Foreign Direct Investment in China, China Perspective, May-June 1998.

Copyright © Protected - All Rights Reserved M. Ulric Killion.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Admadinejad's landslide victory triggers street riots in Tehran

On June 12, 2009, Presidential candidate Mirhossein Mousavi flashes a victory sign after casting his vote during the Iranian presidential election in southern Tehran June 12, 2009 [Agencies].

Iran's President and presidential candidate for Iranian election Mahmoud Ahmadinejad holds his passport up as he arrives to cast his ballot during Iranian presidential election in Tehran June 12, 2009 [Agencies].

On the day of elections, Iran's interior ministry said that President Admadinejah had taken a commanding lead with nearly 70 percent of all votes counted. However, his rival, Presidential candidate Mirhossein Mousavi, still countered that he was the clear victor.

At the close of the day, and post election, what is now deemed in Tehran a controversial election, prompted rioting in the streets.

"Opponents of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad clashed with police in the heart of Iran's capital Saturday, pelting them with rocks and setting fires in the worst unrest in Tehran in a decade. They accused the hard-line president of using fraud to steal election victory from his reformist rival. The brazen and angry confrontations — including stunning scenes of masked rioters tangling with black-clad police — pushed the self-styled reformist movement closer to a possible moment of truth: Whether to continue defying Iran's powerful security forces or, as they often have before, retreat into quiet dismay and frustration over losing more ground to the Islamic establishment." (AP, 2009).

The Iranian government on Saturday declared victory for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the nation's hotly-disputed presidential election, triggering mass opposition protests.

The response from the U.S. government was a refusal to accept President Ahmadinejad's claim of a landslide re-election victory. In the interim, the official position of the United States, though past Iranian elections were deemed fair, is that it will explore allegations of election fraud. Accordingly, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced that she hopes "the outcome reflects the 'genuine will and desire' of Iranian voters. At a joint appearance with Clinton, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said his country was 'deeply concerned' by reports of irregularities in the election" (AP, 2009).

From the U.S. perspective, no doubt a primary concern was the loss of a potential presidency in Mirhossein Mousavi, which could have served to present a more pro-American government as opposed to the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.


Iran's Ahmadinejad, rival both claim election win, (Agencies/Xinhua), June 13, 2009.

Ali Akbar Dareini, Disputed Iran Election Prompts Rioting, June 13, 2009.

Monday, June 8, 2009

North Korea sentenced US journalists to 12 years of hard labor

On June 8, 2009, the Associated Press reported that the two US journalists were tried, found guilty, and sentenced to 12 years of hard labor, or more accurately, reform through labor by the Central Court in Pyongyang. "Washington said that it would 'engage in all possible channels' to win the release of Laura Ling and Euna Lee" (AP, 2009).

According to the state run media, the two reporters were found guilty of committing a "grave crime" against North Korea, and illegally entering the country. The Korean language version, actually, reads that they were convicted of "hostility toward the Korean people."

Moreover, according to Choi Eun-suk, a North Korea law expert at the Institute for Far East Studies, at South Korea's Kyungam University, verdicts issued by North Korea's highest court are final and cannot be appealed. As required by the Korean penal code, the two journalists will be transferred to a prison facility within 10 days.

As for now, their release will be dependent on successful diplomatic efforts by the US government. Problematic is that the US government does not have diplomatic ties with Pyongyang. All of this occurring at a time when the United Nations (UN) is debating a draft resolution to punish North Korea for its defiant May 25 atomic test. The fate of the two journalist are directly tied to these issues of international concern. This is because many perceive the harsh punishment of the two US journalists as eventually presenting a bargaining chip for Pyongyang.

Kim Yong-hyun, a professor at Seoul's Dongguk University, said the 12-year sentence, though the maxium under Korean law, "does not mean much because the issue will be resolved diplomatically in the end" (AP, 2009).

Vijay Joshi, North Korea Sentences US Journalists, AP, June 8, 2009.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

US journalists on trial in North Korea

In early April of 2009, North Korea’s state-run news agency reported that two American reporters were detained earlier this month, and will be tried for illegal entry and hostile acts. According to news sources, apparently Current TV reporters Laura Ling and Euna Lee were detained on March 17, 2009, near North Korea's northeastern border with China.

Euna Lee and Laura Ling,(picture above left) reporters for former Vice President Al Gore's San Francisco-based Current TV media venture, were detained by North Korean border guards March 17.

According to Reporters Without Bordres (RWB): The detention of Euna Lee (who is of Korean descent) and Laura Ling (who is of Chinese descent) was confirmed by the North Korean press on 21 March. The fact that the state media reported their arrests suggested the government was directly involved. The South Korean news agency Yonhap quoted an unidentified Chinese source as saying it was probable that the two journalists were taken to Pyongyang for interrogation by North Korean military intelligence. North Korea could try to exploit the arrests politically, the agency said. A source close to the case said the US government has begun negotiations with the North Korean government with a view to obtaining their release (RWB, 2009).

Although several blogs are carrying this report, there is a detailed version of what occurred and possible consequence at the blog “As in the days of Noah.” An excerpt from this blog follows: "The Korean Central News Agency report did not say when a trial might take place, but said preparations to indict the Americans were under way as the investigation continues."The illegal entry of U.S. reporters into the DPRK and their suspected hostile acts have been confirmed by evidence and their statements," the report said, referring to the country by its official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.The report did not elaborate on what "hostile acts" the journalists allegedly committed. Euna Lee and Laura Ling,(picture above left) reporters for former Vice President Al Gore's San Francisco-based Current TV media venture, were detained by North Korean border guards March 17. Their Korean-Chinese guide and a third American, Current TV cameraman Mitch Koss, reportedly escaped arrest but were detained by Chinese border guards. Koss since has left the country, China's Foreign Ministry said last Tuesday."

Further, the same blog reads, "An activist who helped the team plan their trip to China, the Rev. Chun Ki-won, said the three were on a reporting trip to interview North Korean defectors living in border areas at the time. He said he last spoke to Lee by phone early March 17 when they were near the Tumen River dividing the two countries.North Korea confirmed in a brief March 21 dispatch on KCNA that two Americans had been detained and were being investigated for "illegally intruding" from China. A report in South Korea's JoongAng Ilbo newspaper said the two were undergoing "intense interrogation" at a military guesthouse in Pyongyang's outskirts for illegal entry and alleged espionage.Conviction on charges of spying and illegally crossing the border could draw more than 20 years in prison for each under North Korea's criminal code."

However, there are blogs also taking a different slant on this tragedy. For instance, some blog are focusing on the association with former vice-president Al Gore, rather than the tragedy of these reporters being detained, then possibly being found guilty, and subsequently receiving a prison sentence of up to 20 years. These controversial blogs elected, instead, to attempt to project an image of Gore as presenting a hands-off approach to the dilemma that these reporters now find themselves facing. For instance, one blog reads: “All you young liberals out there who stand by professors who get you to go out and protest while they watch you get arrested from the sidewalks, here's another example of young people being hung out to dry by progressive oldheads… The two work for former Vice President Al Gore's San Francisco-based online media venture Current TV” (Black&White, 2009).

In fairness to Gore, what is meant to be implied by this blog, and other similar blogs, denies the reality of the present crisis of North Korean-US relations. For this reason, the aforesaid blog, as equally true of other similar blogs, fails to consider that Gore’s inaction, if any, is undoubtedly due to the wisdom of following the lead of the state department in this crisis. It is hardly reasonable to suspect that Al Gore or any other US citizen could eventually address this problem alone, that is, without the assistance of the US government or its Department of State. In this respect, at a time of trouble for these journalists, and the drama that their families are suffering, such comments are totally inappropriate; perhaps even lacking in much-needed compassion.

The detention of these American citizens is not a partisan issue, or Democrat versus Republican; it is simply an issue of an American citizen in dire need of assistance from the US government and support from other US citizens.

As recently reported by the Associated Press (Lee, 2009), in Seoul, South Korea the two American journalists faced trial Thursday (June 4, 2009) in North Korea on accusations of illegal entry and "hostile acts" in a case that could send them to a labor camp for 10 years. Back home, their families pleaded for leniency. Laura Ling and Euna Lee, reporters for former Vice President Al Gore's California-based Current TV media venture, were arrested March 17 near the North Korean border while on a reporting trip to China (Lee, 2009).

North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency said in a brief dispatch earlier Thursday that the trial was to have begun at 3 p.m. (0600 GMT; 2 a.m. EDT) in Pyongyang's Central Court. There was no immediate word on the status of the proceedings. The trial was taking place at a time of mounting tensions on the Korean peninsula following the regime's provocative nuclear test last week.
As discussions continued at the United Nations and in Washington on how to punish the regime for its defiance, there were fears the women could become political pawns in any negotiations North Korea undertakes.

Analyst Choi Eun-suk, a professor of North Korean law at Kyungnam University, said the court could convict and sentence the women to labor, and then use them as bargaining chips in negotiations with the U.S. "The North is likely to release and deport them to the U.S. — if negotiations with the U.S. go well," Choi said. North Korea and the U.S., former Korean War foes, do not have diplomatic relations, and analysts called Pyongyang's recent belligerence a bid to grab President Barack Obama's attention. Pyongyang "believes the Obama administration has not made North Korea a priority," said David Straub of Stanford University's Korean studies program.

Back home, the reporters' families pleaded for clemency. "All we can do is hope the North Korean government will show leniency," Ling's sister, TV journalist Lisa Ling, said in an emotional plea at a California vigil Wednesday night. "If at any point they committed a transgression, then our families are deeply, deeply sorry. We know the girls are sorry as well." She urged Washington and Pyongyang not to let politics dictate the reporters' fate. "Tensions are so heated, and the girls are essentially in the midst of this nuclear standoff," she said on CNN's "Larry King Live." Ling urged the governments to "try to communicate, to try and bring our situation to a resolution on humanitarian grounds — to separate the issues" (Lee, 2009).

State-run media have not defined the exact charges against them, but South Korean legal experts said conviction for "hostility" or espionage could mean five to 10 years in a labor camp. Choi said a ruling by the top court would be final. The circumstances of their arrest were hazy. The Current TV team had gone to the Chinese border city of Yanji to report on the trafficking of North Korean women, Lisa Ling said. "Too many sad stories," her younger sister posted to Twitter days before her arrest.

They were seized somewhere near the frozen Tumen River dividing North Korea and China while a cameraman and their guide managed to evade the North Korean guards. For weeks, there was little word about their well-being in separate quarters in one of the world's most isolated nations. Sweden's ambassador to North Korea has paid the women three visits each and brought back a letter from Laura Ling saying she "cried so much" at first but was biding her time with stretches and meditation. Lisa Ling said she got a surprise phone call last Tuesday from her "extremely scared" younger sister, asking for help. "My sister said that the only hope that she and Euna had to get released was if our government and North Korea's communicated directly," Lisa Ling said. "'I know that you've been trying to get other countries involved,' she said, 'but our only hope is if our countries talk.'"

The State Department has not divulged details about any negotiations for their freedom. "We continue to consult with the families. And there is no higher priority that we have than protection of American civilians abroad," spokesman P.J. Crowley said Wednesday in Washington. "And we, again, hope that North Korea will forgo this legal process and return them to the United States." In New York, dozens turned out in a drenching rain for a vigil led by Ling's cousin Angie Wang. Some held yellow chrysanthemums. "Nobody should be holding people for purely political gamesmanship purposes," said J.B. Miller, 44. Media groups also pressed for their release. "We urge that their fate not be linked to the ongoing security situation on the Korean Peninsula," Bob Dietz of the Committee to Protect Journalists said in a statement. "Euna Lee and Laura Ling were acting as journalists, not criminals, and should be released."

Roxana Saberi, an American journalist who spent four months in an Iranian prison before being released May 11 on a suspended sentence for spying, urged the women to "remain strong."

"If Laura and Euna's situation resembles anything like mine, I can imagine a little of what they might be wishing for: The presumption of innocence until proven guilty. A fair trial, with access to attorneys of their choice and the right to study what is claimed as evidence against them. More contact with their families, whom they probably worry are worrying about themselves!" (Lee, 2009).


Two US journalist transferred to Pyongyang for questioning, March 23, 2009, Reporters Without Borders.

North Korea will try 2 American Journalilsts for 'Hostile Act', March 31, 2002, "As in the Days of Hoah blog.

Where's The Boss While Current Journalists to Stand Trial?, March 30, 2009, Black&

Jean H. Lee, 2 US journalists on trial in North Korea, June 4, 2009, AP.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

China blocks Internet access and steps up security ahead of 20th anniversary of Tiananmen

by M. Ulric Killion

Reuters reported that ahead of the 20th anniversary of Tiananmen, Chinese security forces blanketed Tiananmen Square on Wednesday, which is one day after Twitter and Hotmail Internet services in China were blocked.

Roses are placed in front of the statue of the Goddess of Democracy during a 64-hour hunger strike by students at Times Square in Hong Kong June 2, 2009, two days before the 20th anniversary of the June 4 military crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. (REUTERS/Bobby Yip).

Microsoft’s Bing,, Hotmail, and other Internet services have been blocked for customers in China.

According to Microsoft director of public affairs Kevin Kutz, "We are reaching out to the government to understand this decision and find a way to move forward." Further Kutz said, "Microsoft is committed to helping advance the free flow of information, and is committed to encouraging transparency, due process and rule of law when it comes to Internet governance.”

People surf the Internet in Jinan, in eastern China's Shandong province.

Reporters Without Borders (RWB) said that Chinese Web users reported that access to the websites began being blocked inside China on Tuesday. RWB in a prepared statement said it “is outraged by the blockage of a dozen websites such as Twitter, YouTube, Bing, Flickr, Opera, Live, Wordpress and Blogger in China."

Further, according to RWB, "The Chinese government stops at nothing to silence what happened 20 years ago in Tiananmen Square," it said. "By blocking access to a dozen websites used daily by millions of Chinese citizens, the authorities have opted for censorship at any price rather than accept a debate about this event."

“China's foreign correspondents' association on Tuesday condemned moves by authorities in Beijing to block reporting in the run-up to the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown. The Foreign Correspondents' Club of China (FCCC) said it had received at least three reports of authorities blocking reporting at Tiananmen Square and intimidating journalists or their sources. The country's communist leadership sent soldiers to forcibly clear the square and surrounding areas on the night of June 3-4, 1989, ending seven weeks of protests calling for political reforms.”

This photo dated May 18, 1989 shows students from Beijing University as they stage a huge demonstration at Tiananmen Square as they start an unlimited hunger strike as the part of mass pro-democracy protest against the Chinese government. The US Congress called Tuesday on China to launch a UN-backed probe of its crackdown in Tiananmen Square 20 years ago and to free all political prisoners (AFP/File/Catherine Henriette).
Chris Lefkow, China blocks websites ahead of Tiananmen anniversary, June 2, 2009, AFP.
Ben Blanchard and Lucy Hornby, China ups security ahead of Tiananmen anniversary, June 2, 2009. Reuters.
Copyright © Protected - All Rights Reserved M. Ulric Killion, 2009.

Chinese Migrant Workers and the Economic Crisis

by M. Ulric Killion 

Earlier this year, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the Chinese government should ensure that it does not sacrifice the rights of about 150 million Chinese migrant workers as it prepares to cope with the ongoing economic crisis. Although during the past three decades migrant workers have served to spur economic growth, research studies conclude that migrant workers are the earliest casualties of economic downturns (HRW, 2009). According to Brad Adams, Asia director at HRW, "China's massive migrant worker population is already socially, economically, and legally marginalized and is uniquely vulnerable to the global slowdown's effects on China" (HRW, 2009).

Migrant workers wait for buses to transport them to construction sites in Beijing (© 2007 Kadir van Lohuizen/NOOR).

"A recent study by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences indicates that migrants are the front-line victims of the country's economic downturn through mass layoffs in the migrant-dominated export manufacturing sector. China's Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security has indicated that up to 10 million migrants lost their jobs in 2008 due to the financial crisis. A recent study by China's Tsinghua University suggests that up to 50 million migrant workers will lose their urban jobs in 2009 if the economic downturn continues. . . Human Rights Watch is particularly concerned that the economic crisis will amplify existing human rights violations linked to China's discriminatory household registration, or hukou, system. Migrants from the countryside have long been denied social welfare benefits available to residents with urban hukou, including state-sponsored retirement pensions and medical care. Although some municipalities have temporary urban hukou programs, the majority of migrant workers remain deprived of urban hukou-related rights and benefits" (HRW, 2009).

Beijing is taking measures to address some of the problems that associate with the hukou system. For instance, in January 2008, Ma Liqiang, the deputy secretary general of China's official National Development and Reform Commission, announced that the restrictions contained in the hukou system will be eliminated by 2020, while failing to offer a specific timetable. Moreover, in November 2008, "the Beijing municipal government reinforced the discriminatory nature of the urban hukou system by announcing a system that will provide employers annual subsidies of up to 10,000 yuan (US$1,470) for employing urban hukou-holding jobseekers. That system explicitly denies the same employment opportunities to non-hukou-holding migrant workers. This measure may not deter migration to Beijing by the rural poor, and does nothing to address the plight of unregistered migrants who still live there" (HRW, 2009).

Notwithstanding the crisis of migrant workers in general, a more compelling story unfolding is ongoing crisis of women migrant workers in Mainland China. As reported by Wang Zhuoqiong (2009), "A United Nations study has found that China's young women migrant workers have been hit hardest by the economic downturn."

Wang further reported, "The crisis has severely impacted the export-oriented hubs of China's coastal region, said Max Tunon, a consultant for the International Labour Organization. Millions of young women working in these factories have been laid off or had their hours and wages slashed," he said. After overcoming the initial challenges of moving to the city, young female migrants do not wish to return home. There are few employment opportunities at home and most young people are very reluctant to work on the land." An estimated 20 million migrants are looking for work, and women migrants have felt a greater impact on job stability, working hours, wages and benefits, the study found."

"Liu Bohong, deputy director-general of the Women's Studies Institute of China, said the financial crisis and subsequent loss of income has increased pressure on families with sometimes terrible consequences, such as a rise in domestic violence. Liu emphasized the need to further promote women's education and training and to boost government support in public services to minimize the uneven gender impact of the crisis. The research was conducted between January and February and involved 533 questionnaires in Hunan province and 686 in Fujian province. It is part of the International Labour Organization's gender equality campaign and was jointly conducted with the All-China Women's Federation (Wang, 2009).

"The key findings include an imbalance of skill levels between young male and female workers in job recruiting, an increasing number of migrants within the provinces and the development of more formal channels for job-seekers. But the formal channels offer many jobs for people with higher-level skills, and many women fall short of the requirements" (Wang, 2009).


China: Economic Crisis Increases Risks for Migrant Workers, Jan. 23, 2009, HRW.

Wang Zhuoqiong, Slowdown hits women workers, May 29, 2009, China Daily.

Copyright © Protected - All Rights Reserved M. Ulric Killion, 2009.