Global News Blog
Then the Communist Party mouthpiece suggested that the Chinese shouldn’t compete with United States because Westerners have bigger chests and heads.
This type of coverage a day after the London Olympics closing ceremonies fails to mention what the world saw throughout much of the Games: China was leading the US team early in the Games in what would have been a first-ever blowout for the country fixed on besting the world’s best in every department.
But it lost that lead in later matches. That detail, however, appeared to be lost on the country’s official media. Instead, hints of angst show in stories such as the one comparing athlete physiques.
The question among propagandists in Beijing was probably something like, how can we use the Chinese team’s Olympic performance to whip up patriotism without misstating facts about the medal count?
China looks to its performance in the Olympics, as well as its space launches and its Antarctic expeditions, to tell its public via the tightly controlled media that their nation is doing well internationally. Otherwise the public might lose confidence in China over the wealth gap, inflation, and other slow spots in its march to become a first-world country.
The same country hopes not to upset other world powers, particularly the United States. The two sides distrust each other’s strength and competing political systems but need each other economically.
Another newspaper, the state-run, English-language China Daily newspaper reports that the United States came in first but omits China’s tally from its lead Olympic story. China Daily’s Monday coverage also pointed out that “China was stripped of the gold medal” in women's team sprint track cycling and that the team had said it would appeal to the International Olympic Committee.
The US team bagged 104 medals compared to China’s 88. The US took 46 golds compared with China's 38.
A summary of the Games by the official Xinhua News Agency explains tersely that China’s 38 gold medals received “the highest praise from overseas.”
Like the media, even China’s often racy microblogs were restrained from any bellyaching about the Olympics results. But some Sina Weibo blog contributors took aim at particular athletes, such as a Korean modern pentathlon racer who lost points when his horse lost control. Chinese fans typically root against South Koreans, who they say are too intense and often inclined to cheat.
Beijing’s Global Times newspaper took a dare in casting China’s post-game dilemma:
“The country could pretend to be stupid and sell itself short, but if we think we’re too cool, that might be worse,” the popular Beijing commuter paper said. “The Olympics is a real mirror, not a fake one, on one aspect of the world.”
The "teddy bear war" is heating up.
Belarussian leader Alexander Lukashenko has ordered his law enforcement officials to get to the bottom of the intrusion into his country's airspace last month by a small private aircraft that dropped 879 teddy bears, each on its own individual parachute and bearing a pro-democracy messages such as "we support the Belarussian struggle for free speech."
The stunt was apparently carried out by two Swedes, Tomas Mazetti and Hannah Frey, who said they learned to fly and piloted the plane from Lithuania into Belarussian airspace as their own personal effort to dramatize the struggle for human rights in Belarus.
In an interview with Foreign Policy, Mr. Mazetti and Ms. Frey explained why teddy bears:
TM: There are few examples in history of forcing a dictator to step down through money or weapons alone, and of course one should protest his actions. But a campaign using teddy bears has been received warmly in Belarus, and many people think that it's very funny.
HF: The idea to use the teddy-bear grams was not ours. It originated with an opposition group in Belarus called Speak the Truth. They used teddy bears to spread their message. After we decided to carry out some sort of protest, we saw what they had done, and that's how we arrived at using the teddy bears.
Mr. Lukashenko denied the whole episode until late July, when he sacked two top generals – the head of air defense and the chief of border guards – who are accused of failing to defend the country. Last week, Belarus expelled the Swedish ambassador to Minsk, Stefan Eriksson, without mentioning the teddy bear incident. Later, police arrested two local men, Anton Suryapin and Sergei Basharimov, who face rather serious charges of complicity in the "illegal intrusion" by the Swedish plane.
News reports suggest that Mr. Suryapin, a blogger, may be guilty of little more than posting photos of the teddy bears on his website while Mr. Basharimov, a real estate agent, may have offered to rent an apartment to the two Swedes earlier this year.
Today in a Minsk courtroom two journalists, Irina Kozlik and Yulia Doroshkevich, were convicted and fined the equivalent of several hundred dollars each on the lesser charge of "violating the law on protests" by posing for photographs with some of the teddy bears.
The Swedish embassy has been given until Aug. 30 to remove all its diplomats from Minsk. Apparently undeterred, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt Tweeted yesterday that "we remain strongly committed to the freedom of Belarus and all its citizens. They deserve the freedoms and the rights of the rest of Europe."
But now the Belarussian KGB security service is demanding that representatives of the Swedish advertising agency Studio Total, of which Mr. Mazetti and Ms. Frey are employees, come in for questioning. "We want to have an objective, comprehensive investigation of the case, and an explanation of all aspects of the intrusion into Belarussian airspace," a KGB spokesperson told journalists yesterday.
European Union ambassadors are set to hold an emergency meeting tomorrow to discuss how to respond. Belarus is already subject to sweeping EU sanctions over its ongoing crackdown on political freedoms in the wake of 2010 presidential elections which opponents claimed were rigged in Lukashenko's favor.
The day after Gabby Douglas won the gold medal in the individual all-around gymnastics competition Fox News debated the question whether the 2012 Olympics US athletes were patriotic enough. David Webb, syndicated radio show host and spokesperson for the National Tea Party Federation complained about the lack of publicly expressed patriotism.
I don't think America has anything to worry about. Every day at the Olympics, athletes, viewers, and journalists show plenty of patriotism. Maybe Mr. Webb missed the endless athletes marveling about their country in post-win interviews, Ryan Lochte wearing a stars-and-stripes grill during his medal ceremony, or Serena Williams dancing on the court at Wimbledon.
Not being an American, waving the flag at basically everything still bewilders me. And it stands in sharp contrast to my home country of Germany, where for historical reasons waving the flag still can engender deeply complex emotions.
The 2006 World Cup, hosted by Germany, changed attitudes in the country about the merits of waving the flag, something that had been considered shameful since the end of World War II. Amid the fervor of the World Cup, people started hanging flags outside their apartment windows or displaying them in their cars to show support for the German team. Lots of discussion followed about whether this was appropriate.
By the time the European Football Championship rolled around, hosted this year in Poland and Ukraine, it was no longer a big deal waving flags for the German team. Nonetheless, German athletes are still hesitant to refer to national pride and “bringing home gold to Germany.”
Which is why Thomas Bach, president of the German Olympic Sports Confederation, called for more German patriotism in an interview ahead of London 2012, stating that athletes should not be ashamed of their successes. Polls back him up, showing that German society might be ready for a little more publicly displayed national pride. In a poll conducted in November 2011 by a monthly Protestant magazine, almost half of respondents, young adults between 14 and 29, said they identify as German, not European or as a global citizen.
A halfway approach may be called for. I wouldn't advocate that a German wear a black, red, and gold grill during the medal ceremony. But athletes shouldn't be ashamed of being a proud part of their nation’s Olympic team and saying so publicly. If that is expressed by female athletes wearing "patriotic" nail designs, in the end, they're just having some fashion fun rather than making a heavy political statement. Or just watch discus champion Robert Harting, who tore off his shirt in celebration of "bringing home the gold" for Germany today.
It would appear that July was a good month for the cause of international justice.
A glowering Thomas Lubanga Dyilo entered the pages of history in early July when he became the first person to be sentenced to prison by the International Criminal Court in The Hague. The Congolese warlord’s earlier conviction by the ICC was the first time in legal history that recruiting children into armed conflict was found to be a war crime. Score one for universal justice transcending borders and for expanding definitions of war crimes.
Meanwhile, the International Court of Justice — an institution separate from the ICC — on July 20 ordered that a 1984 treaty obligated Senegal to either prosecute former Chad dictator Hissène Habré for torture, murder, and other charges or extradite him to another country. Score one for the respect of state sovereignty, of treaty law and of universal human rights. And just Tuesday, the ICC for the first time ordered that the victims of Mr. Lubanga's crimes were entitled to reparations: monetary payments for their suffering.
So where are we on the long arc of the moral universe? Sixty-seven years after Nuremberg has it finally, conclusively, bent toward justice? Have the Auschwitzes, Khmer Rouges, Srebrenicas, and Rwandas finally been remanded to a dusty back shelf in a library?
The ICC’s first sentence coincided with its anniversary. The court opened its doors 10 years ago last month, empowered by treaty to prosecute genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and eventually crimes of aggression. It was a great leap forward for the notion of universal justice: that some crimes are so heinous that their outrageousness transcends borders, language and culture. It’s the idea that some crimes are so unspeakably evil that their punishment must shatter the three-century-old bedrock of international relations: that only a nation has supreme authority over the crimes of its citizens.
This is what the nations that negotiated the Rome Treaty establishing the ICC agreed to. Today, 121 of the world’s 194 countries are signatories.
What is more noteworthy is what the court has not done and what it cannot do. And may never do.
The ICC as a creature
For all its noble intentions, the ICC is a political creature, the Rome Treaty is the product of intense negotiation and compromise. First and foremost, the court and its legacy are closely tied to the politics of the preeminent organization charged with safeguarding international peace and security: the United Nations Security Council.
Three of its five veto-wielding members — the United States, Russia, and China — have refused to join the court, yet the Rome Treaty gives the Security Council powerful authority over the court’s decisions whether to investigate a criminal suspect or not.
Scratch your head at this arrangement while considering a further complication: The United States, Russia, and China have been opposed to the court. In Russia and China's case, you could fault them for many things, but inconsistency is not one of them. Washington, however, after years of actively trying to undermine the court, has now made it a vital part of its policy tool box. David Scheffer, the former US ambassador who helped negotiate the court’s existence, says for all intents and purposes the US is a de facto member of the court. Exhibits A and B are the two instances in which the Security Council voted for the ICC to open an investigation, Sudan (with the US abstaining) and Libya (with US backing).
Bias by the court?
Then there are the politics of the court itself, which have been defined — or damaged, depending on your point of view — by its most visible employee: Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the swaggering Argentine lawyer who just ended his term as its first prosecutor.
Under Mr. Moreno-Ocampo, the court investigated seven “situations”— two from Security Council referrals, three based on referrals from member countries, and two based on his own discretion. All seven are situated in Africa, which has led to charges of bias by the court. In fact, the court may may simply need to justify its existence: prosecute the easier cases and prove itself to the nations that pay its bills.
But Moreno-Ocampo’s modus operandi hasn’t won him hordes of allies: his indictment of the Sudanese president, for example, has been criticized as half-baked, and has been ignored by countries the Sudanese president has traveled to. The prosecutor’s brash style didn’t win him friends either, and ICC judges reprimanded him repeatedly, all but telling him to stop letting his mouth run wild.
The built-in checks means that the ICC is beholden to its member nations and subject to Security Council meddling, while at the same time having to prove it can administer independent, impartial justice. As University of Chicago law professor Eric Posner wrote in recent op-ed: “the ICC must constantly convince governments to support it while at the same time avoiding the impression that it is a tool of governments. For all the talk of the ‘global rule of law,’ this is an intensely political process and essentially contradictory.”
The other cases
Then there are the cases that the court is not investigating. If you’re a protectorate or client state of a Security Council member, chances are that the ICC prosecutor isn’t going to be jumping out of his or her chair to open a full-blown criminal investigation. Why Libya and not Bashar al-Assad and Syria’s bloody maelstrom? Ask Moscow. Why Cote d’Ivoire but not Mahinda Rajapaksa and the brutal ending to Sri Lanka’s civil war? Ask Beijing. Why Kenya but not the violent suppression of protests in Yemen or Bahrain by those governments? Ask Washington.
To be fair, it’s worth noting that central to the ICC’s mandate is a concept called "complementarity." That’s the idea that the ICC is the court of last resort, that nations should get first dibs on prosecuting their own war crime suspects. If they don’t, or can’t, the suspects should be extradited to a country that can.
That’s why the ICJ’s ruling on Hissène Habré is heartening. It’s an open question whether Senegal will be able to run a credible trial, but they’ve pledged they will. If it does happen, it would be the first time that a dictator accused of crimes in one country is tried in another country’s courts. The ICJ ruling also reinforces a landmark human rights treaty — the 1984 Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment — and the idea that treaties, once signed, can’t be ignored for political expediency.
But political expediency remains the order of the day, particularly for the Security Council’s Obstinate Three, and most notably, for the United States. When it works for Washington, international justice dispensed impartially is a cause to be embraced. When it doesn’t fit with the goals of American exceptionalism, it should be ignored, if not undermined. Political expediency yields selective justice.
Charles Taylor and Ratko Mladic
There’s cause for optimism no doubt, particularly if you look at other cases from the past year: the conviction of former Liberian leader Charles Taylor by a special “internationalized” court for Sierra Leone; the ongoing trial of Ratko Mladic, the alleged mastermind of the Srebrenica massacre, at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
But whether the lessons of these trials will be absorbed by would-be murderous dictators — that impunity for crimes of atrocities is a notion from the past— will depend on the expectation that all nations large and small, rich and poor, should be equal under the law and that credible justice is as important as justice itself.
The arc of the moral universe does not bend toward selective justice.
In short, Beijing summoned a senior US diplomat Aug. 4, after Washington criticized a new city and military garrison that China set up in a widely contested ocean area stretching 3.5 million kilometers (1.4 million miles), from Taiwan to Singapore.
A US Department of State spokesman said Aug. 3 that China's new Sansha City and companion military base in the tiny Paracel Islands “run counter to collaborative diplomatic efforts to resolve differences and risk further escalating tensions in the region.”
China lashed back with a stern statement on its foreign-ministry website: “The US state department’s so-called statement on the South China Sea issue disregards reality, confuses right and wrong, and sends a seriously wrong signal.”
The ministry had to vent because that’s about all it can do to stick up for China’s expanding claim to the disputed ocean without risking a harsher US reaction, including not-so-subtle support for Southeast Asian nations that also claim the sea.
What appears to be the worst spat between the US and China over the South China Sea shows Beijing’s nervousness about the US getting involved in an Asian territorial dispute with so much at stake for China: seafood, oil, and natural gas. But China seems to realize it’s best not to match its fiery words with actual fire.
Despite mutual suspicion of each side’s weight on the world stage and competing political systems, the two usually cooperate because they need each other as trade partners. But US criticism of Beijing’s latest move in the South China Sea, which China and five other governments claim and plumb for critical natural resources, hits too close to some of China's vital interests.
Because competing claimants Taiwan and Vietnam have already staked a claim to other disputed islets, China likely thought it could do the same without a backlash, especially since founding a city involved no real conflict.
The US wants the six competing South China Sea claimants – which also include Brunei, Malaysia, and the Philippines – to get along so that none block its shipping lanes. About half the world’s commercial shipping uses the South China Sea, and Washington depends on the lanes to pass military vessels.
The US has urged cooperation and that China join other claimants in working out a solution to the sovereignty dispute as they aggressively trawl for fish and probe for oil.
“The State Department at least wanted to fire a warning shot to all parties to not make the situation worse," says Alexander Huang, strategic studies professor at Tamkang University in Taiwan. It was as if the US was saying "Don’t do anything stupid," he adds.
But China is not likely to follow up on its angry words and temporarily cancel broader Sino-US dialogue – as it did after Washington showed support for the Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of the Tibetan government in exile, or when it talked with China's political rival Taiwan about arms sales.
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It is in China's interest to use strong language, especially as Politburo leaders in Beijing posture ahead of a leadership reshuffle this year to show its power, but it wants to avoid real conflict that could upset other nations and reel the US into the dispute. In April, when China pressed down on the disputed Scarborough Shoal near the Philippines' Luzon Island, the US held joint military exercises with the Philippines.
Analysts have said Washington tacitly sides with the smaller claimants, not China, although it officially doesn’t take sides.
“[China] will not do anything stupid,” Mr. Huang says. “I don’t think China will pick a fight in the next 12 months.”
If you've been checking out the gold medal count recently, chances are you've noticed the sky blue flag with the yellow sun and bird hovering at the No. 8 slot. That would belong to Kazakhstan, the ninth largest country in the world, and one of the least populated countries at around 15 million people. This year has been its best-ever Olympic Games.
With six gold medals and a bronze under its belt and five days left in the 2012 Olympics, Kazakhstan is placed eighth, ahead of Germany and Australia for gold medals. In terms of gold medals per capita, Kazakhstan ranks fifth worldwide. Not bad for a country that only began to compete in the Olympics in 1994, two years after it became independent.
No doubt decades of Soviet rule influenced not only architecture, education, and government in Kazakhstan, but also its effective approach to sports training.
So what, exactly, is Kazakhstan medaling in?
The horsemeat advantage
Ilya Ilin took the gold and broke a new world record for the men's 94 kilogram weightlifting class when he hefted 418 kilograms, 12 kilos more than he lifted in Beijing when he won gold for total lifted. The 24-year-old two-time Olympic champion attributes his success to kazy – horsemeat sausage.
Svetlana Podobedova, who left her home country, Russia, after she was cut from the national weightlifting team for doping in 2007, narrowly beat Russia's weightlifter in the 75 kilogram class.
Maiya Maneza won the women's 63 kilogram weightlifting class. At age 26, she set a new Olympic record of 245 kg when she added a 135 kg clean and jerk to her 110 kg snatch. (She took gold medals in the 2010 Asian Games, the 2010 World Weightlifting Championships, and the 2009 World Weightlifting Championships).
Teenager Zulfiya Chinshanlo won the women's 53 kilogram division with a new world record, lifting 226 kg. That was Kazhakstan's second gold of the 2012 Olympic Games.
On the sidelines, a small birther controversy has erupted. There are mixed reports on where exactly Maneza and Chinshanlo were born. Some claim that they were born in China or Kyrgyzstan. The Central Asian nation has responded pretty quickly and adamantly to reports that Maneza and Chinshanlo were born and raised in China.
President Nursultan Nazarbayev rewarded the pair with $250,000 each and hailed their wins as "proud glories" from "outstanding daughters of our nation."
Running and cycling, too
The Central Asian nation has topped the charts in other sports too.
Olga Rypakova picked up a track-and-field gold for Kazakhstan in the women's triple jump. It's a unique event that combines a hop, a step, and a flying leap. The 27-year-old's 14.98-meter effort was enough to surpass the favorite, Olha Saladuha of Ukraine.
And 38-year-old Alexandre Vinokourov cycled past Colombia's Rigoberto Uran in the final stages of the men's road race to take the gold, leaving Norway's Alexander Kristoff finishing third on July 28. Kazakhstan and Mr. Vinokourov are no strangers to cycling: Among the athlete's accomplishments are four stage wins of the Tour de France, two bronze medals at the World Championships, a silver at the 2000 Summer Olympics, and the fact that he has been a known challenger to Lance Armstrong in the past.
Happy with his time of 5:45:57, he then announced he was considering retiring.
But Kazakhstan won't likely be retiring from racking up the medals any time soon. Watch the upcoming boxing and wrestling matches for more of the shiny stuff, as Kazakhstan bests its 2008 Beijing performance. (Already, Danyal Gajiyev has taken bronze in the men's 84kg Greco-Roman wrestling category.)
Kazakhstan came home from Beijing with two golds (boxing and weightlifting), four silvers (judo, weightlifting, and wrestling), and seven bronze medals (boxing, judo, taekwondo, weightlifting, and wrestling) to finish 29th overall.
Aiming for gold, Team USA finished at a frustrating fifth place in men’s gymnastics after struggling in several routines. Morning news in the States was full of questions how that was even possible.
But as I watched the analysis, I kept wondering: Which country got the gold medal? Fifteen minutes on CNN – no word on that.
Focusing on the national team at the Olympics is the smart move in any country. That’s what viewers are most interested in. In Germany, everyone heard everything about the men’s gymnastics team seventh place performance. But journalists overseas don’t forget to mention the medalists who don’t come from their own country. So they learned that China won the event, followed by Japan and Great Britain.
Watching NBC two nights in a row, I can hardly remember any coverage of a discipline that US athletes had no chance of winning. Sure, competitions promising a national medal come first – that is true for the US as well as Germany, where there's huge coverage of swimming, equestrian, or rowing. But stories do not just revolve around Germany’s athletes. There is this 15-year-old swimmer from Lithuania? Sure, cover it. And what about that funny-looking guy who is London’s mayor?
German viewers just get the broader picture. They learn about their nation’s athletes, but once the specific competition is over, people turn off the TV with the big picture, too – from the weirdest, funniest, most unlikely athlete to the big win in the 100-meter men’s final.
"Sponsor of moms"
What you would be missing, of course, in German coverage, would be the highly detailed home stories on the athletes and their families. Getting a closer look at the personality behind the athlete is nice. But in the end it should be about the sport, not the high school sweetheart. Let’s leave that for the cheesy patriotic commercial like those from P &G, the “proud sponsor of moms.” At least there you can tune out if you want – without really missing a thing.
It’s almost impossible to talk to the US military in Afghanistan without someone mentioning that the effort here is increasingly Afghan led. This is, after all, their country, say US soldiers, so it only makes sense that they take the wheel and the US slides into the backseat.
As a reporter working in Afghanistan, I’ve listened to the US military say this for years now. Despite Afghans being given much more authority recently, I’ve still often wondered just how much control Afghans have over their own country. While reporting in Kandahar recently, I received a reminder that “Afghan-led” is often more mantra than an actual practice.
For several years now, I’ve known the district governor of Kandahar’s Arghandab district. I first met him about two years ago, shortly after he took over when his predecessor was assassinated and security seemed to be at an all time low. Since then, whenever I travel to Kandahar I try to pay him a visit.
His office is situated on a compound that is divided between the Afghan district center and a US military base. To enter the district government office, you must first pass through a US checkpoint. After that, another checkpoint divides the US side from the Afghan side.
As I’ve known the district governor for some time, I called him directly to arrange the meeting. Given that he’s an independent politician who is supposed to take his directives from the Afghan government, not the Americans, I didn’t think to bother scheduling an appointment via the Americans he shares a base with. In all my visits this had never been a requirement.
When I arrived at the main gate of the base, the American soldiers there told me that I’d need to check with their commander at the inner checkpoint before they could allow me to bring in my audio recorder. In a country where reporters often aren’t allowed to bring their own pens to press conferences, this didn’t strike me as unreasonable.
At the next checkpoint, however, I was ushered on to the US side of the base where a senior ranking sergeant asked why I needed the recorder. I explained that I was a journalist who’d come to interview the district governor in a meeting independent of anything to do with the US military. He then informed me that he’d have to verify with his unit’s top commanders before he could allow me to meet with the district governor.
Then began an almost 90 minute waiting period where I was asked to sit just inside the checkpoint.
At one point, the sergeant told me his commanders had denied me my meeting because I hadn’t arranged my meeting through them. When I asked why they were even involved with an independent meeting scheduled directly with the district governor, they told me that if I didn’t want them involved I shouldn’t have come to their side of the base. They ignored my protests when I said the guards forced me to come to their side of the base to get permission to bring my audio recorder to the district governor’s office.
At no point did anyone walk the short distance to the district governor’s office to ask if he was in fact expecting me, nor could I call him because the guards had taken my cellphone and my interpreter was already waiting in the district governor’s office.
After about 90 minutes, and without any real explanation as to the delay, I was eventually allowed to have my meeting with the governor.
Just why they held me for more than an hour and seemed to deny my meeting with the district governor remains unclear. The only reason I was offered is that I hadn’t scheduled the meeting through the US military.
While my experience was an isolated incident, with such a focus on making the NATO effort here "Afghan led," it's hard to imagine behavior from the US military that could undercut this idea more than what I experienced trying to meet with the district governor. What message are they sending to both Afghan politicians and a reporter when American soldiers control a local politician's schedule? Whatever they're trying to communicate, it certainly does not convey their confidence in an Afghan-led Afghanistan.
Official Chinese media just announced the founding of a city that spans a series of tiny coral reefs, some often submerged. Chinese leaders can’t quite replicate the glass towers of Shanghai or the city walls of Beijing there. But that’s not the point.
China’s establishment of Sansha City in the disputed, resource-rich South China Sea shows the nation’s commitment to edge out five other claimants to most or all of the ocean area in a tense sovereignty dispute and keep the United States at bay – all without using military force.
Its city springs from the coral at a tense juncture in the stubborn 30-year-old sovereignty dispute over the sea as oil drilling takes off and China and the Philippines warily back away from this April’s standoff at Scarborough Shoal near Luzon Island.
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The other claimant governments have little choice but to accept the not-so-hidden meaning behind Sansha. The city sits on Yongxing, one of the disputed Paracel Islands. China says the city government will oversee administration of the land and water of three archipelagos within the 200-some contested atolls in the wider South China Sea. That means: Oher countries, keep out.
The city approved by Beijing in June has a mayor and a municipal people’s congress, the official Xinhua News Agency said in a report on Tuesday. Yongxing already supports a Chinese military and civilian airport. A garrison under the People’s Liberation Army will police the new city.
But China christened the city not to start a fight, just to let the other countries know to respect its claims to the ocean packed with fish, privy to half the world’s commercial shipping traffic and home to vast undersea oil reserves. China looks to those resources as its economy grows and its 1.35 billion people get wealthier.
“Beijing’s strategy is to do more, say less,” says Raymond Wu, managing director of e-telligence, a Taipei-based political risk consultancy. “But it wants to send a number of messages. It wants to build the city to assert that it holds the rights to those islands.”
Other claimant countries, already miffed that Beijing declined to sign a South China Sea code of conduct at the East Asia Summit in Cambodia earlier this month, may follow China’s lead by raising their own actual presence in the 3.5 million square-kilometer (1.4 million square-mile) sea area.
Taiwan, for example, is studying plans to add military in the Dongsha Islands, which are not disputed but put the often quiet claimant closer to the fire. The more stuff at sea, the higher the risk of a hostile collision between claimants.
China’s new city also elbows aside US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has irked China this month by urging it to get along better with smaller claimants. The United States, though on the other side of the world, uses the sea for ship traffic and doesn’t want China, the world’s rising superpower, to get too tight a grip. China, naturally, wants its rival superpower out of the region.
Sansha’s newly appointed Mayor Xiao Jie calls his mission “a challenge and test for me.” That would be putting it mildly.
Ever since the unnamed woman was first spotted with Kim at a July 5 concert, speculation has been rampant that she might be either his spouse or younger sister. But today, North Korean media finally reported that her name was Ri Sol-ju, and she was his wife when the woman and Kim attended a ceremony to mark the completion of an amusement park in an islet in Pyongyang.
Many analysts say that one of Kim’s major weaknesses is that he succeeded his father as leader of North Korea at too early an age; he is believed to only be in his late 20s. And some experts say the North’s admission that Ms. Ri is Kim’s wife is aimed at dispelling doubts about his maturity and experience. They say that by portraying Kim as a married man, Pyongyang hopes the North Korean people, as well as the entire world, will stop seeing him as a youthful, untested leader.
All of that makes sense, but why has the North waited so long to make its announcement about Kim’s marital status?
The answer may be as simple as “it was too risky.”
Kim’s grandfather, Kim Il-sung, the founder and first leader of North Korea, pulled off the first Communist hereditary power succession in modern times by installing his son Kim Jong-il as the second leader of North Korea. There was great doubt in people’s minds, including the minds of those in power in the North Korean regime, as to whether this would be possible to pull this off again.
Then, when Kim Jong-il was ready to pass power onto a successor, he managed to pull off another hereditary power succession, something that no one else was doing in the modern age. But it sparked demonstrations within North Korea and was considered a politically risky thing to do. In fact, two days before big celebrations were set for Kim Jong-il's last birthday, demonstrations broke out near the Chinese border, according to South Korea's Chosun Ilbo newspaper.
The paper cited a North Korea source who said Kim Jong-un was “viewed as bloodthirsty and mad.” The source also said, “Almost everyone thinks he was behind the military attacks against ROKS Cheonan and an island under South Korean control, which led to restrictions on humanitarian aid from the South. This has further worsened standards of living in the North. North Koreans are ready to do just about anything to stop the succession.”
In addition, there were reports of public burnings inside North Korea of photos of members of the Kim Jong-il family prompted by Kim Jong-il’s announcement that Kim Jong-un would be succeeding him as the next North Korean leader.
Under that light, Kim Jong-un wanted to keep his wife a secret until his hold on power was complete, say observers. If Kim Jong-un showed he had a wife, it might signal the prospect of yet another family dynasty, and the regime worried that people of North Korea might catch on and revolt. He’s essentially been hiding his woman from the public eye since he was named North Korea’s leader upon his dad’s death in December.
But when he sacked his army chief Ri Yong-ho last week and was finally installed as marshal, North Korea’s highest military position, his role as leader was finally solidified.
Now that his power has been consolidated and he is truly the supreme leader of North Korea, he can afford to tell the world and his people that he has a wife who will one day bear him a son who he can name as the next leader of North Korea – whether North Koreans and the global community like it or not.