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Tearing Up The Script In Tibet

The best laid plans…

The tightly scripted official tour of Tibet for a group of foreign journalists ran amok for 5 mins in Jokhang, Tibet’s holiest temple. Thirty young monks surrounded the tour party and shouted that there was no religious freedom in the region, that the government was lying about who was responsible for the riots that had broken out on March 10., that so-called worshipers in the temple had been shipped in and that paramilitary forces that had surrounded the monastery since the riots that started had withdrawn only shortly before the foreign journalists arrived.

The visiting journalists were then escorted away as security forces surrounded the monks, many distressed and weeping, according to this report by the FT’s Geoff Dyer, one of the journalists on the trip.

By any measure, it was a remarkable act of defiance, as effective as it was courageous.

Xinhua reported it thus:

A tour by overseas reporters to cover the aftermath of the Lhasa riot was interrupted by a group of lamas at the Jokhang Temple on Thursday morning. The tour, however, soon resumed.

More than a dozen lamas stormed into a briefing by a temple administrator to cause chaos.

An officer with the Information Office of China’s State Council, the organizer of the media tour, said the coverage of the reporters went on as scheduled.

Phew!

Xinhua subsequently reported that Chinese officials said none of the monks involved would face reprisals. It also quoted Tibet’s second ranking official Baema Chilain as saying: “What [the monks] said is not true. They were attempting to mislead the world’s opinion. The facts shouldn’t be distorted.”

This Bystander is reminded of a Polish proverb he once heard in the old Soviet Union: Only the future is certain; the past is always changing.

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Foreign Press Taken To Tibet

A group of Beijing-based foreign correspondents has been being escorted to Lhasa to report on the situation there, Xinhua reports. This 26-strong “international media delegation” includes representatives of the AP, the Financial Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Russian, Japanese and Taiwanese news agencies, al-Jazeera and the South China Morning Post. TV media such as CNN and BBC appear to be absent from the officially organized three-day trip. What will be interesting is not so much what the delegation reports as how they report it.

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Fact Checking Two Views Of Tibet

Xinhua annotates screen shots from Western TV and websites to show up reporting errors in their coverage of Tibet.

This follows Sunday’s apology by German TV station RTL for using a picture of Tibetan protestors in Katmandu in a report on the recent disturbances in Lhasa.

More Xinhua excoriation of the CNN, BBC and the Berliner Morgenpost here.

Pick at the little errors to unravel the greater truth.

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Bank Profits Trimmed By Subprime Losses

China’s banks are taking their lumps from losses on trading mortgage-related securities, even while the strong domestic economy is boosting profits.

Bank of China reports a larger than expected $1.3 billion of subprime writedowns while Industrial & Commercial Bank of China, the world’s largest bank by market capitalization, reported $400 million-worth. Bank of China says it has sold down its exposure to subprime mortgage-related mortgages to $5 billion from $9.5 billion in August. ICBC says it holds $1.2 billion of such securities, the same level as last June.

Both banks were announcing their 2007 results: net income up 65% at ICBC and 31% at Bank of China. The average for China’s 14 publicly traded banks is 70%.

That number will shrink substantially this year as the government turns the screw on bank lending as it tries to damp down inflation.

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Ma Wins Taiwan Presidency

Given the party leadership’s preoccupation with the pro-independence disturbances in the west, the election results to the east will be a relief of sorts.

Taiwan’s voters elected the Harvard-educated Ma Ying-jeou, the opposition Kuomintang party candidate who favors closer commercial and political ties with China, as president to succeed the strongly pro-independence Chen Shui-ban. Two referendums calling for the government to work for the island’s entry into the U.N. also failed.

Thanks to its sweeping victory in parliamentary elections in January, the Kuomintang also controls two thirds of the seats in the legislature. None of that will necessarily mean that Ma will drive many or even any rapid changes in the relationship between Beijing and Taipei, which Beijing still considers to be a renegade province — and certainly not while Beijing has unfinished business in the far west.

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China Cracks Down On Web Video Sites

The investigation started a long time before the recent troubles in Tibet, but the lesson will not be lost on web sites in China offering video that may not be to the authorities’ liking.

The State Administration of Radio, Film and Television has banned 25 sites, taken over five and warned a further 32 for violating the recently announced rules governing video web sites and requiring sites offering audio and video content to be licensed. The punishments followed a two month investigation that concluded today, according to Xinhua.

The violations were of the prohibition on “obscene, fear-inspiring or violent content or program tat might endanger nation security and interests, or for offering such services without the required qualifications and certificates.” Among those hit with a warning was tudou.com, one of China’s most popular video sharing sites.

Meanwhile, on Tibet directly and this Bystander’s theme of the past couple of days, this Xinhua headline says it all

Arrest warrants issued against 24 criminal suspects in Lhasa riot.

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Two Views Of Tibet

This Bystander noted earlier how Beijing’s clampdown on media coverage was polarizing views inside and outside of China about what is happening in Tibet. The FT‘s Richard McGregor and Jamil Anderlini have done the reporting to back up my assertion. This paragraph is telling:

One intellectual from Beijing, usually vehemently opposed to the party, said Tibetans had been “slaves” before China “liberated” them, an act repaid with ingratitude and violence. “How could Tibet be a country without China?” this person said. “They didn’t have anything to eat before they were liberated.”

Meanwhile the BBC is reporting that the last foreign journalist is being expelled from Lhasa.

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Fog Over Tibet. News Cut Off

Piecing together what is now happening in Tibet is difficult beyond the obvious fact that Lhasa is being heavily policed and the country in general garrisoned to damp down any re-combustion of last week’s violence.

The BBC reports house to house searches in Lhasa and that one of its correspondents in western China had seen long convoys of military vehicles heading across the mountains into Tibet, to add, presumably, to the large numbers of troops already there. Prime minister Web Jiaboa has made his first public comment on the subject, unilluminatingly accusing the Dalai Lama of masterminding the demonstrations, and defending the way they were dealt with.

With Tibet effectively closed to journalists, we are being reminded of the modern truth that if we don’t see something on television we don’t know its true. Worse, we are getting the black and white public stances of both sides, whereas the truth is inevitably grey. In any conflict there are usually three sides, the two antagonists and those on neither of their sides. Beijing Newspeak has a read-worthy post on that and the reporting by his former employer, Xinhua. EastSouthWestNorth shows how what little we do know can be read either way. Props, too, to Mutant Palm for trying to bridge the understanding gap with his Tibet Tweets posts and his evangelising of establishing direct contact with Chinese netizens.

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Managing The News Of Tibetan Dissent

With the trouble in Lhasa spreading to the parts of the former eastern provinces of Tibet that were incorporated into China after 1951, Beijing is facing its most serious dissent since Tiananmen Square in 1989.

It will be put down firmly, and as out of sight of the rest of the world as possible. Media coverage will be tightly controlled, with one message for domestic audiences (“us” Han under violent attack from “them” Tibetans) and another for the rest of the world (see, the Dalai Lama and his monks are far from non-political and peace loving).

TV footage and web video will be high value propaganda both inwards and outwards; so far the Great Firewall is holding fast. Chinese are seeing footage of monks burning cars and shops. No one anywhere is seeing the sorts of images of monks being cracked down in the way that happened in Burma last year.

The authorities will do all they can to prevent a defining image of defiance. There will be no equivalent this time of the lone man in the white shirt standing in the road bringing a line of tanks to a halt.

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CITIC Securities Reevaluating Bear Stearns Investment

If CITIC Securities, as it said on Saturday that it may, backs off from its proposed $1 billion investment in Bear Stearns, the troubled Wall Street investment bank will suffer another mighty blow.

CITIC Securities told Reuters it would be reevaluating the proposed deal in the light of the emergency funding to Bear from JP Morgan Chase and the U.S. Federal Reserve, and the sharp fall in Bear’s share price.

Hard hit by losses in trading mortgage related securities, Bear’s shares have dropped 72% since the two companies announced a cross shareholding plan last October to invest $1 billion in each other that would leave CITIC Securities holding 6% of Bear and the American firm with 2% of its Chinese partner. The two were also going to form a joint banking venture in Asia.

Whether CITIC Securities pulls the plug or just gets a much better price for its money is yet to be seen. For what it is worth, this Bystander’s view is that no Chinese institution would care to be seen in the eyes of the world at this point as being responsible for sending a well-known Wall Street name under.

Update: CITIC Securities said Mar. 18 that the deal was off following Bear Stearns sale to JP Morgan Chase, AP reports.

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