Beijing on business

It’s a strange time to be visiting China.

Having fuelled nationalism against Japan on the thorny issue of Diaoyu Islands*, the government here is back peddling like mad. Half of the english language newspaper is still about these oil-rich, uninhabited islands, but they now include multiple articles and “letters from readers” saying how demonstrating is futile. Fearing that the population will demonstrate against other things, the government-controlled media point out that a more effective way of expressing your anger about Japan’s occupation of the islands is through trade sanctions.

Most of my Chinese friends here are openly (to me anyway) speculating about what might happen next. One of the repercussions of having media so tightly controlled here is that nobody appears to trust official channels at all. This means that (unsubstantiated) gossip has much higher credibility than most other places in the world. People here are very concerned about the future, particularly while the final stages of the 10 yearly government reshuffle are being finalised. I regularly find myself in conversations where I am the most positive person about China.

Everyone I meet tells me about the daily demonstrations against the Japanese. The daily alerts I receive from our international travel advisors warn me to stay away from these demonstrations. According to these contacts, Japanese products are targeted on a regular basis. Restaurants are attacked and some diners do their patriotic duty by having a meal (and then walking out without paying). I note that some Nissans, Hondas and Toyotas have hidden their badges (as Japanese cars have been vandalised). Of course, these restaurants and cars are owned by Chinese, a point emphasised in the newspapers. It’s rather reminiscent of the ignorant attacks by a few Americans on Sikhs after 9/11.

Getting around in Beijing is more difficult than ever. Of course, traffic was always close to gridlock during peak times. The nature of these demonstrations however mean that roads are closed in sensitive areas making the traffic much worse than normal.

Taxis are always in short supply in Beijing. The government are reluctant to put up the price of fares (for fear that it emphasises high inflation) or allow time at a standstill to be counted within the fare. This means firstly that people don’t want to become taxi drivers and secondly – during the busiest times – some taxis lay up. The drivers take the view that they earn less in fares than it costs them in fuel.

This means that it is very difficult to get a taxi. My average wait over the last couple of days is 30 minutes (which means that i am late for every meeting – this blog being typed in taxi while I am late for a meeting). I will hire a car and driver next time I come. Several times this trip I have found myself lost in some part of Beijing that I don’t recognise vainly waving at anything that looks like a taxi. Last night I took a tuktuk (not sure what they are called here). This was a slightly more terrifying experience than elsewhere in the world.

Finally – in a rather disjointed blog posting – I thought I would share with you a product that I saw at the PTAC Expo. It “borrows” from both Google and Apple simultaneously.

Otherwise, it’s China as normal. Activity everywhere, pollution and indifference in equal measure.

Published – via VPN – from China.

*For those interested in the Chinese historical perspective on why these uninhabited islands belong to China, please read this article from China Daily here. Other interpretations are of course available.

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4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Melville on September 19, 2012 at 4:32 pm

    Interesting post as usual, Julian. I read the China Daily article with interest and, for what it is worth, agree with it. Strange time for Japan to act (US Presedential election year) as they would lack support if China acted with vigour. On the other hand it good to see jaw-jaw in preference to war-war – at the moment.

    Reply

  2. I’m a big fan of China Daily. It’s a well written newspaper that represents the official viewpoint of the China Government assertively and in an articulate manner.

    There is an argument that the islands should belong to Taiwan…but that just complicates matters further.

    Reply

  3. Update from Control Risk – our security advisors:-

    China: Protests over contested islands ease though potential for further unrest remains

    Protests in relation to the Japanese government’s recent purchase of three islands in the East China Sea (known as Diaoyu in China, Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyutai in Taiwan) eased on 19-20 September, though the situation remains unpredictable and there is a high potential for further disturbances in the coming days.

    The Chinese government will not allow protests to become unmanageable and widespread unrest is not expected. However, time spent in the vicinity of Japanese diplomatic missions should be minimised as these are likely to be the focus of any protests. It is also advisable, where practical, to keep away from identifiable Japanese businesses or commercial establishments to mitigate the risk of exposure to any potential unrest.

    The police have detained several people accused of rioting and vandalism in recent days and are clamping down on attempts to protest in the major cities such as Shanghai and the capital Beijing.

    Some Japanese businesses reopened on 19 September, after having temporarily closed following vandalism and arson attacks against some Japanese-branded factories, businesses and shops on 15-16 September in several cities, including Qingdao (Shandong province), Xi’an (Shaanxi province), Changsha (Hunan province) and Shenzhen (Guangdong province). Tensions remain high and further such violence is possible, particularly in locations where the security force presence is less pervasive.

    There have been reports of a small number of assaults ā€“ both physical and verbal ā€“ on Japanese nationals, though no serious injuries have been reported. Personnel of Japanese appearance or descent could be targets for harassment and abuse, though serious or widespread and sustained targeting of such personnel is not expected. In-country Japanese nationals are advised to minimise movement, maintain a low profile and exercise heightened situational awareness at all times

    .

    Reply

  4. China is also embroiled with many other countries in south east Asia for the same issue. The same issue is a hot topic for China and Philippines, and so local media here is abuzz with related news.

    Reply

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