"It's disappointing, because we've been asking for it for quite some time, and they still won't give it to us," Travel Industry Council executive director Joseph Tung Ya-chung told the Post last week. "We behave well, never cause trouble and spend handsomely, so why do they give it to Taiwan and not Hong Kong?"
On Oct. 2, Homeland Security announced self-governing Taiwan will join 36 other countries whose nationals may visit the United States without a visa for 90 days, The Associated Press reported. China is not among these countries, but Hong Kong has lobbied for many years to be granted the visa-free status, according to the Post.
A senior State Department official told the AP that including Taiwan in the visa waiver program was consistent with the U.S. commitment to "robust, unofficial relations" with the island.
Richard Vuylsteke, the president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong told the Post that the chamber had been lobbying the U.S. State and Homeland Security departments for more than five years.
"All of the reasons Taiwan was approved... Hong Kong is also very strong in," he told the Post. "My private speculation is they don't know how to handle mainland Chinese with [Hong Kong] resident status."
In Taiwan's case, waiving the visa requirements is also viewed as a response to the island lifting import restrictions on U.S. beef, the AP reported, as well as a reaction to President Ma Ying-jeou's easing tensions with China.
China's first aircraft carrier is decorated with colored flags at a shipyard in Dalian in northeast China's Liaoning province Monday.
By Ed Flanagan, NBC News
China brought its first aircraft carrier into service Tuesday, raising the country’s military capability amid heightened tensions with its regional neighbors.
Christened Liaoning -- after the port where the carrier was significantly overhauled after being bought from Ukraine -- this new addition to China’s navy is not large compared to America’s super carriers, but could still potentially have an impact on territorial disputes in the region.
The rest of China’s state media also played up the significance of the Liaoning, with the China News Service writing that the Liaoning would have “far-reaching influence on protecting China’s territory, safety and development and to make the world more peaceful.”
The commissioning of the ship is a huge display of national prestige, elevating China to the nine-nation club of carrier-equipped navies.
Presided over by President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao, the unveiling of the Liaoning also comes just before a once-a-decade leadership change in China, during which a new generation of top leaders will be introduced.
China's Ministry of Defense welcomed the new ship, declaring that it would "raise the overall operational strength of the Chinese navy" and help Beijing to "effectively protect national sovereignty, security and development interests."
Japanese coast guard ships shoot water cannon at Taiwanese fishing boats in the East China Sea in a territorial dispute. NBCNews.com's Dara Brown reports.
The ship’s full capabilities remain unknown at this point, but the size of the Liaoning and China’s relative lack of technical experience with carrier operations suggests that it will serve more as a training vessel then a deployable ship for combat operations.
The carrier can reportedly hold a compliment of 30 fixed-wing fighters compared to the much larger American Nimitz class carriers than can carry around 90 aircraft.
China’s normally nationalistic newspaper, Global Times, warned yesterday that the Liaoning “does not have the capacity to handle its tasks as it needs more adaptation to enhance its fighting capacity.”
While the protests have subsided, tensions have remained heightened. Just this week, China’s Vice Foreign Minister, Z|hang Zhijun told his Japanese counterpart, "China will never tolerate any bilateral actions by Japan that harm Chinese territorial sovereignty… Japan must banish illusions, undertake searching reflection and use concrete actions to amend its errors, returning to the consensus and understandings reached between our two countries' leaders."
The odds of war breaking out between the two largest Asian economies remain remote, but there have been clashes in the waters around the Diaoyu islands, with Chinese and now Taiwanese fishing ships entering the island chain’s territorial waters, a move the Japanese view as an intrusion on their territory.
Though the Liaoning was formally named Tuesday, the carrier has actually been decades in the making. The ship was built at a Ukrainian shipyard in 1988 and dubbed the Varyag. It was purchased a decade later by China and retrofitted.
Reports early Monday from China suggest that a mass disturbance or riots may have broken out at a Foxconn factory in the Chinese city of Taiyuan.
It is still unclear what exactly happened, but posts on China’s popular twitter-like service, Weibo, from users in the area show photographs and video of large numbers of police in and around the factory – many in riot gear – blocking off throngs of people.
Other photos show debris strewn around the Foxconn compound and in one case, an overturned guard tower.
Censors in China have reportedly already started deleting pictures from the scene.
This is not the first time that Foxconn has had problems with its Taiyuan facility, which is reportedly responsible for the fabrication of the back plate of the immensely popular new iPhone 5. In March, strikes broke out there after workers did not receive a pay raise they had reportedly been promised.
Meanwhile, Foxconn’s Chengdu plant in Sichuan province also has dealt with riots. In June, scores of Foxconn workers there got into a fight with a local restaurant owner that had to be broken up by police.
Foxconn is the Taiwanese electronics manufacturer responsible for much of the current production and assembly of Apple’s popular line of products as well as a wide variety of popular tech toys ranging from laptops to gaming consoles.
But Foxconn has been under fire for years for its tough working conditions, including long hours, low wages and strict rules on representation. The company has also dealt with a string of suicides at its plants across China, which led to the company in 2010 installing anti-jump nets to prevent more suicide attempts.
The company has taken steps to improve working conditions in its factories by reducing work hours and raising wages for its front-line workers.
Still, perhaps wary of the continued negative publicity that has plagued one of its primary manufacturers over the years, Apple recently took steps to diversify its portfolio of producers, recently awarding much of the manufacturing of its new iteration of the iPad to another Taiwanese company, Pegatron.
PORTLAND, Ore. -- A vivid mural in an Oregon town that depicts a Tibetan monk's immolation and promotes independence for Taiwan has created a dust-up with China, whose consular officials have asked the city to take "effective measures" to stop such advocacy.
The mayor of the town of Corvallis, where a Taiwanese-American businessman installed the downtown mural to express his political views, responded by telling consular officials free speech laws barred the town from taking any action.
The status of Taiwan and the human rights situation in Tibet is a contentious political issue for China, which considers Taiwan a breakaway province to be eventually unified with the mainland.
Tensions over Tibet are at their highest in years after a spate of protests over Chinese rule and self-immolations by Tibetan activists, which have prompted a Chinese security crackdown.
"There is only one China in the world, and both Tibet and Taiwan are parts of China. It is a fact recognized by the U.S. and most other countries in the world," read an August 8 letter to Corvallis city leaders from China's Consulate in San Francisco.
"To avoid our precious friendship from being tainted by so-called 'Tibet Independence' and 'Taiwan Independence,' we sincerely hope you can understand our concerns and adopt effective measures to stop the activities advocating 'Tibet Independence' and 'Taiwan Independence' in Corvallis," it added.
'Freedom of artistic expression' The brightly colored mural, painted last month, runs 100 feet long and about 10 feet high along the top of a building at a busy intersection owned by businessman David Lin, who came to America from Taiwan in the 1970s.
The mural shows the immolation of a Tibetan monk against a bright yellow background and depicts a Tibetan monk being beaten by Chinese police, in addition to what the Corvallis Gazette-Times described as "images of Taiwan as a bulwark of freedom."
Lin, 65, told Reuters he had long been concerned about China's role in Taiwan and Tibet, and commissioned the mural because: "I feel that somebody has to stand up and do something."
Lin told the Corvallis Gazette-Times that he was "under a lot of pressure to take down the mural," saying his family and friends were concerned about possibly being arrested if they go to China.
Still, he did not plan to remove it. "I'll just keep it the same. ... I've got to live my life, that's all."
"I responded to them that I was sorry to learn the art work caused concern," Corvallis Mayor Julie Manning said, adding that she told Chinese officials in a written response that the U.S. Constitution guarantees freedom of speech, "and this includes freedom of artistic expression."
The Chinese consulate then sent representatives to Corvallis to express concern in person on September 4. Vice Consul Zhang Hao and Deputy Consul General Song Ruan met with Manning and City Manager Jim Patterson. That meeting did not include any demands.
Corvallis, about 80 miles south of Portland, has a population of about 54,500 people. It is home to Oregon State University, which Patterson said has an estimated 1,600 Chinese students.
The Chinese consulate in San Francisco did not respond to an email request for comment and could not be reached by phone.
NMA is owned by Next Media Limited, Hong Kong’s largest publicly-owned Chinese-language media company, which publishes Next Magazine and Apple Daily, a popular Hong Kong newspaper that has a separate Taiwan edition.
The animation group, however, is based in Taipei. So top of the agenda during a recent weekend trip to Taiwan was—after feasting on local fare, of course — a visit to its office and studio.
NMA came to widespread international attention in late 2009 with its report on the Woods scandal, which went viral, garnering 6 million hits and still counting.
Yet it took several more months of trial and error before NMA’s animated videos became consistent hits online. Some early hiccups included behind-the-scenes at the White House featuring a voiceover actor depicting President Barack Obama.
“They were all dialogue driven,” recalled Michael Logan, the Content and Business Development manager at Next Media Animation. “That was the format we tried early on, and we found it didn’t work.”
But a quick succession of triumphs followed, including one about allegations by a hotel masseuse that former Vice-President Al Gore had groped her during a stay in 2006 and a biting look at the roll-out of the iPhone 4, with Steve Jobs as Darth Vader and a cheeky nod at the spate of suicides at Foxconn. One of our personal early favorites was an unflinching take on the late night talk show dispute involving NBC, Jay Leno, and Conan O’Brien.
A bi-cultural outlook The NMA team comprises some 300 people in Taipei and a handful more in New York—all of whom are responsible for producing some 210 minutes of animation every week for the Hong Kong and Taiwan editions of Apple Daily and Next Media TV, also based in Taipei.
Logan helps to helm the international team. The eight editorial staff members in Taipei are a mix of Taiwanese who have spent time in the U.S. and, in one instance, South Africa, and Westerners who all have some degree of fluency in Chinese and have experience working in Greater China. Four more work in the New York office, which also includes native Taiwanese. Most are former journalists.
In fact, when they aren’t all busy brainstorming on how to lampoon the latest tabloid celebrity—the international team functions much like a news agency such as Reuters or Associated Press by providing straightforward animation reports on hard news.
“Someone in Germany can come to our website and pull down [a 30-second package that we’ve produced] and use it for their publication,” explained Logan, an American with a multimedia background and a Columbia journalism graduate school degree.
But what they’re increasingly well-known for is their edginess.
Like its media cousin, Apple Daily (which has been banned in mainland China for years), NMA doesn’t shy away from tackling material politically sensitive to Beijing.
The team covered the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo and has been contemplating “doing something on Ai Weiwei,” a high-profile Chinese artist who hasn’t been seen or heard from since he was detained on April 3.
“With stuff like that, it’s about striking the right tone,” said Logan. “[Ai’s detention] is such an important topic that we don’t want to take it too lightly.”
Everything else, however, they do thumb their noses at—an approach that given their popularity seems to be succeeding.
“Certain themes work well on the Internet,” said Logan, outlining narratives that portray a sense of affronted justice; are celebrity-driven (“I call it celebrity plus misery”) and are not already captured on video; or employ their newest experimental format, like the rap battle.
“We’re working on one about Obama versus Gadhafi,” he continued. “We’re still trying to figure out who will voice Gadhafi.”
A rapid turnaround A defining feature of NMA’s work is the visual humor, which is Taiwanese; much of the creative input comes from the storyboard artists, who are predominantly from Taiwan.
They’re also the production linchpin. Although the writers come up with the initial ideas, they talk through the concept with the storyboard artists. (Every script is bilingual, written first in English and then translated into Chinese.)
NMA employs 300 staff in Taipei.
In the meantime, the artists have only half an hour to come up with the storyboard, and everything follows on from that critical step: the animation, the modelling, the motion capture, the music and sound effects, and the final editing.
An entire production cycle takes about three hours although in a pinch they can turn a story around in 90 minutes.
Part of what enables NMA to produce their spots so quickly is a constantly growing database of models, an invaluable resource for the animation. The team also uses motion capture, which can be expensive but time-saving.
NMA has two studios used for motion capture. One is equipped with 30 4-million pixel cameras and the other with 30 16-million pixel cameras, according to Thomas Tong, the head of NMA’s motion capture department.
All of this enables NMA to churn out two to three satire pieces a day every week.
“Speed is very important, and timing is key,” said Logan, who cited the example of Casey the Punisher, a 16-year-old Australian who struck back at a school bully. Within 24 hours of the story surfacing, NMA had produced an animation that’s still getting hits.
Driving traffic to the boob tube “It used to be that they said, if you’re not on TV, you don’t exist,” observed Logan. “For online video, if you’re not on YouTube, you don’t exist.”
NMA posts all of its satire pieces on its website as well as YouTube. Most of its audience is American; in fact, 46 percent is in the U.S., followed by Australia, Taiwan, the United Kingdom, and Canada.
And satire is what NMA hopes will get it a bigger profile on a more old-fashioned medium: mainstream television.
“Our online presence is what got us noticed and is what is getting us contract work,” said Logan. “Success for us is to have a permanent, lasting presence on TV as well.”
After doing contract work for the Cartoon Network and BBC’s Newsnight program, NMA has signed a deal with Spike TV, a division of MTV Networks. Early last month, it produced a 30-minute special for the cable channel called, “Charlie Sheen’s ‘Winningest’ Moments.” Consisting of 13 animated segments, the show drew 700,000 viewers—pretty respectable for cable.
“We’re excited about doing the next one,” said Logan.
In the meantime, the team continues to be hard at work, dreaming up with ways to entertain and inform.
The Chinese president’s first state visit with full diplomatic honors is being put under a microscope since it comes as the two nations are at a crossroads on a slew of sensitive issues ranging from currency valuation to human rights to regional security.
After a patchy 2010 in which Sino-U.S. relations were rocked by U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, allegations of currency manipulation of the yuan by China and the detention of Nobel Prize winner, Liu Xiaobo, both sides are eager to strike a conciliatory tone to show that their relationship is still strong and productive.
However, the desire for a successful visit has not stopped each side from posturing, as both try to control the message on an increasingly convoluted range of issues.
At the cabinet/minister level, the verbal barbs started up last week with a speech by Secretary of Treasury Timothy Geithner. He called on China again to allow the undervalued renminbi to rise and to curb intellectual property violations. Taking a similar tack on intellectual property, Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke warned of shifts in “global stability” due to trade imbalances and a lack of transparency in Chinese governmental decisions.
Unperturbed, Chinese finance ministers responded with concern over U.S. monetary policy and suggested that the undervalued renminbi is more a product of a weaker U.S. dollar and strong Chinese manufacturing competitiveness. At a press briefing last week in Beijing, Vice-Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai went further and stated that this week his government is seeking a “positive statement” on the security of China’s assets in America.
As CNBC noted: “China has amassed the world's biggest stockpile of foreign exchange reserves at $2.85 trillion, an estimated two-thirds of which is invested in U.S. assets.”
Meanwhile at the business level, Silicon Valley businesses – the tech-hub that is generating much of the innovation desired by Beijing – aired its grievances this week, arguing that bureaucratic hurdles in China has limited their growth opportunities.
U.S. companies have said their attempts to compete on the mainland have been thwarted by procurement policies that favor domestic companies and their “indigenous innovation,” as well as required technology swaps and partnerships with domestic companies as pre-conditions for entry into the China market.
At the grassroots level, human rights advocates representing a range of issues from Tibetan freedom to the Taiwan issue have called for protests during Hu’s visit. President Obama himself met five human rights advocates last week in a bid to learn more about the conditions in China. (Hu’s April 2006 visit to the White House was marred by protestors from the Falun Gong spiritual movement, which is banned in China).
Not to be out done, Hu delivered a withering critique of American fiscal policy, saying that the international currency system in which the U.S. dollar remains the primary reserve currency is a “product of the past.”
It was also announced late last week that China’s State Council Information Office would be running advertisements on American television during Hu’s visit. The ads are designed to show the softer side of China with the help of celebrities like Jacky Chan, Yao Ming and Chinese astronaut, Yang Liwei.
All of this should lead to a busy week of China coverage we haven’t seen since the halcyon days of last year’s “Why do great nations fail?” political ad.
We wrote a couple of days ago that there hasn’t been much popular fascination in China with the U.S. diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks.
But there does appear to be gathering interest in forthcoming documents.
As some folks have noted, the WikiLeaks site showed there are China-related cables dated June 3, 1989, and June 5, 1989. These could shed new light on the Tiananmen Square protests that were violently crushed by the People’s Liberation Army 21 years ago – revelations that Beijing’s leadership will not welcome over an incident that’s still not up for public discussion.
It’s also believed that in the coming days another release of cables will include “secret memos exchanged between Taiwanese and U.S. diplomatic officials, perhaps giving the public a firsthand look at the fragile relationship,” reported the Taipei Times.
Tiananmen Square and Taiwan comprise two of the three highly-sensitive T’s in China; Tibet is the third.
At another regularly scheduled press briefing today, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson again refused to comment on the leaked cables, only referring to the contents as “absurd” and “ridiculous.”
An editorial published Wednesday in the state-run Global Times newspaper went even further, suggesting the WikiLeaks cables are all part of a ploy to destabilize China: “Is there some understanding between the Web site and the U.S. government? It may be worth asking. And what does it mean to other countries that are on the radar screen of WikiLeaks?”
In a sharp piece, ChinaGeeks’ C. Custer argues that the Global Times editorial might be part of a preemptive strike for those cables still to come – which might be more directly damaging to Beijing:
“[B]y tying Wikilinks [sic] into their ongoing narrative about Western imperialism, U.S. aggression, and anti-China forces, they’re assuring whatever they can’t scrub – and whatever leaks through in the future – is discredited.”
But there’s a strong possibility this line might be more than just government spin.
Analysts here in recent months have been talking about the ascendancy of the Chinese military point of view within the leadership – one that is rooted in old-school suspicions about the U.S. and its “encirclement policy” vis-à-vis a rising China.