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    Saturday, July 11, 2009

    The bum's rush out of Kashgar

    Kashgar, China - I was in deep sleep when I heard someone ringing the doorbell of my room at the Tian Yuan Hotel. I looked at the clock, saw it was only 8 a.m. and rolled over to go back to sleep. Whoever it was could come back later. There was a “do not disturb” sign hanging in the door.

    The bell rang again, then a third time. If it was housekeeping, they obviously thought some sort of emergency cleaning needed to be done.

    Groggily, I put my glasses on and opened the door a crack. A short man in a red shirt peered back earnestly. He told me he was from the local government, and that I had to leave the city on an 11 a.m. flight. There were four other men in the hall, two of them in blue police uniforms.

    “I'm sorry, but the security situation is not good,” the man in red told me. “You must leave the city for your own safety.”

    I told him that I had a flight back to Urumqi the following morning. (I had been in the city for less than 24 hours, reporting on the local government's plan to demolish most of Kashgar's historic Old City.) The man in red seemed to know this already.

    “No, you must leave today,” he said firmly, shaking his head.

    Arrangements had been made for me to be on the 11 a.m. flight out.

    After awkwardly gobbling down my breakfast under the supervision of two police officers, I was taken to the lobby where Elizabeth Dalziel, a photographer with the Associated Press, was already waiting with her own security entourage. Together we were driven to the airport and instructed to book flights back to Urumqi.

    That's when it descended into farce. Elizabeth and I sat down and waited for the security men who were escorting us to buy us tickets and put us on a plane. That's how it goes in the movies after all.

    But the security guys did nothing for the sort. They stood at the other end of the ticket counter from us, expectantly us to buy our own way back to the provincial capital, Urumqi. (Why they thought we'd be “safer” in Urumqi – where 156 people died in riots this week – than Kashgar was never explained. The best answer I got was from the man in red, who said that while Kashgar appeared safe, that “it could change at any second.”) The 11 a.m. flight took off without us, and the standoff dragged on.

    The police instructed Elizabeth and I to buy tickets for the next flight out, just after 2 p.m. We called the Department of Foreign Affairs in Beijing, as well as the government media office in Urumqi, looking for clarification of our situation.

    Were we under arrest? If not, could we return to the city? Why hadn't we been put on a plane, as the man in red said we would be?

    Revealingly, the answers were different depending on which government department we called. Officials in Beijing had no idea we had been detained or why. The propaganda officials in Urumqi – who had made a show of being accommodating to the media this week, a clean break from a year ago when foreign journalists were completely barred from Tibet in the wake of riots there – told us that the officers in Kashgar had made a mistake and that we were free to go.

    We passed that on to the officers guarding us, who retorted that they had been ordered to take us to the airport, and that those orders hadn't changed. An official from the local government promised to come out and mediate the situation, but never showed up.

    “It's not possible to arrange interviews today,” she said. “You should leave.”

    Even if we wanted to, we couldn't have. After the 11 a.m. flight, commercial air traffic in and out of Kashgar was stopped, apparently so that a succession of military planes could land and offload more troops.

    Though Xinjiang is Chinese soil, both Urumqi and Kashgar have the feel of occupied cities this week.

    Elizabeth got frustrated and – noticing that our guards had long since stopped paying attention us – made a daring run into the city to photograph afternoon prayers at one of the city's many mosques.

    She was eventually found by police and brought back to the airport. Our fates were sealed, so rather than spend the night in Kashgar Airport, we gave up and bought tickets to the next flight out to Urumqi.

    What happened in Kashgar today that they didn't want the foreign media to see?

    To the best of my knowledge, nothing major. But with foreign journalists kicked out of the city, the Internet switched off and international calls blocked, we may never know for sure.

    Climate change and Japan: Lost in perspiration

    Tokyo, Monday, July 6, 2009 - As I sat facing the Foreign Minister of Japan in a boardroom adjacent to his downtown Tokyo office last week, I felt a bead of sweat form on my forehead. Trying to look as calm and sophisticated as possible, I reached up and dabbed at it with a tissue, but it was soon replaced by others.

    The more I thought about it – more specifically, the more I thought about trying not to sweat – the damper I got. Soon, my body was a rain forest.

    Was I nervous? Perhaps, though the interview could hardly be called highly charged, given that I'd been requested to submit the questions I would ask weeks ahead of time. Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone wasn't so much responding to my queries as he was reciting answers off a sheet that had been prepared for him by aides.

    It could have been the three-piece suit I was wearing. If I was ever waterboarded in Guantanamo Bay, my interrogators would quickly find out that one of the reasons I became a foreign correspondent was to avoid having to wear a suit and tie every day. My wife swears that my mood changes for the worse – and I start to sweat – as soon as I have that extra piece of cloth around my neck.

    But the biggest reason I was sweating is that it was 28 degrees inside the central Tokyo building that hosts Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

    Four years ago, as Japan (like nearly every other industrialized country) lagged behind the greenhouse gas emission reduction targets set out for it in the 1997 Kyoto Treaty, Environment Minister Yuriko Koike made a decision that lands somewhere between the visionary and the sadistic: Tokyo would slash energy use by decreeing that thermostats in government departments could never be set lower than 28 C.

    Businesses were urged to set the same standard and many did. By the end of the year the government had a genuine success in the fight against global warming to crow about. In 2005, the Cool Biz campaign, as it became known, was estimated to have resulted in a 460,000-tonne reduction in emissions of carbon dioxide, a number equivalent to that emitted by one million households in one month. The next year was even better: a 1.14 million-tonne reduction in carbon dioxides, equivalent to 2.5 million households for one month.

    Cool Biz also set off a sartorial revolution in Japan (one that no one bothered to inform your correspondent about) as instinctively formal businessmen and government officials were forced to ditch their jackets and ties or sweat to death. That said, at least two government officials I met last week had ties that they sheepishly pulled out of their pockets whenever the occasion demanded.

    All of which makes Japan's recent dithering over climate change a bit hard to fathom. Prime Minister Taro Aso enraged environmentalists last month by setting a new emissions-reduction target that many felt falls short of what Japan is capable of. The way Japan presented the new number – a 15 per cent cut over the next 11 years – sounded impressive enough, but put up against the Kyoto Treaty baseline of 1990 emission levels, it translates into only an 8 per cent cut from that point, or barely beyond the 6 per cent reduction that Japan and many other countries have already committed to back in 1997.

    When I asked Hirofumi Nakasone, the Foreign Minister, about the international reaction to his government's new targets, he politely retorted that Japan was still a leader in the climate-change fight and that what the world needed post-Kyoto was a new climate change pact that bound rapidly developing countries such as China and India (who got a pass in 1997) to make reductions as well. He mercifully avoided reminding me that Canada was recently named the country that has done the least to reduce emissions of any in the G-8 (Japan came fifth).

    Still, coming from the government that hosted Kyoto, Nakasone's point-the-finger-at-others defence had me wondering how serious Japan really is in 2009 about curbing carbon emissions.

    I'd hate to think I got all hot and sweaty for nothing.

    The ‘Anonymous Netizen’ declares war on Beijing

    Beijing, Thursday, June 25, 2009 - It has, until now, been a one-sided fight. For years, the censors employed by the Chinese government have launched wave after wave of attacks against China’s vibrant online community, blocking access to websites, shutting down discussions and sending police to deal in person with those who get too chirpy online for Beijing’s liking.

    The war on what are known as China’s “netizens” has escalated in recent months. First, it announced a sweeping crackdown on Internet pornography that also had the side benefit of shutting down websites better known for hosting dissident bloggers and lively political discussions. Popular sites such as YouTube, Blogspot and Wordpress were among the sites barred.

    Earlier this month, the Chinese government moved to block Twitter, and all its edgy Tweeting about the 20th anniversary of the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

    The net result is infuriating. Often, I find myself swearing at the computer screen as attempts to do simple research are blocked by the net nannies. Even blogs about my beloved Edmonton Oilers often fall on the wrong side of the Great Firewall of China. Instead of gossip about this weekend’s NHL draft, all I get is the familiar notice: “The network link was interrupted while negotiating a connection. Please try again.”

    Like many Internet-savvy Chinese, I can get around the blocks using a virtual private network. But many of China’s 298 million Internet users are believed to lack the know-how, or the funds, to circumnavigate the Great Firewall.

    Pressing its case – and perhaps seeking to close the VPN loophole – Beijing recently announced that all personal computers sold in the country after July 1 would include a creepily named software package known as Green Dam Youth Escort that would spare the censors some work by blocking a lot of websites itself. Beijing has since backed down somewhat, but you get the sense that the relative freedoms many Chinese enjoy online is something the government will continue to craft ways to restrict.

    This morning, the Chinese version of Google,, was blocked, again as part of the stated effort to crack down on Internet pornography. Google responded meekly by saying it would do what it could to comply with China’s new demands, which include that it prevent Chinese surfers from accessing foreign-based websites.

    Others were not so willing to take the latest assault lying down. Within hours of the Google block, an angry cry dubbed the “2009 Declaration of the Anonymous Netizens” began circulating on the Chinese Internet.

    Here it is, in a translation provided by . It you want to see the original page in Chinese, click here.

    2009 Declaration of the Anonymous Netizens

    To the Internet censors of China,

    We are the Anonymous Netizens. We have seen your moves on the Internet. You have deprived your netizens of the freedom of speech. You have come to see technology as your mortal enemy. You have clouded and distorted the truth in collaboration with Party mouthpieces. You have hired commentators to create the "public opinion" you wanted to see. All these are etched into our collective memory. More recently, you forced the installation of Green Dam on the entire population and smothered Google with vicious slander. It is now clear as day: what you want is the complete control and censorship of the Internet. We hereby declare that we, the Anonymous Netizens, are going to launch our attack worldwide on your censorship system starting on July 1st, 2009.

    For the freedom of the Internet, for the advancement of Internetization, and for our rights, we are going to acquaint your censorship machine with systematic sabotage and show you just how weak the claws of your censorship really are. We are going to mark you as the First Enemy of the Internet. This is not a single battle; it is but the beginning of a war. Play with your artificial public opinion to your heart's content, for you will soon be submerged in the sea of warring netizens. Your archaic means of propaganda, your epithets borrowed straight from the Cultural Revolution era, your utter ignorance of the Internet itself - these are the tolls of your death bell. You cannot evade us, for we are everywhere. Violence of the state cannot save you - for every one of us that falls, another ten rises. We are familiar with your intrigues. You label some of us as the "vicious few" and dismiss the rest of us as unknowing accomplices; that way you can divide and rule. Go ahead and do that. In fact, we encourage you to do that; the more accustomed you are to viewing your netizens this way, the deeper your self-deception.

    You are trying in vain to halt the wheels of history. Even with your technocratic reinforcements, you will not understand the Internet in the foreseeable future. We congratulate you on your adherence to your Cultural-Revolution style conspiracy theories in your dealings with dissent; for we too get nostalgic at times. We toast to your attempts to erect a Great Wall among your netizens, for such epic folly adds spice to any historical narrative. Still, there's something we feel obliged to tell you.

    NOBODY wants to topple your regime. We take no interest whatsoever in your archaic view of state power and your stale ideological teachings. You do not understand how your grand narrative dissipated in the face of Internetization. You do not understand why appealing to statism and nationalism no longer works. You cannot break free from your own ignorance of the Internet. Your regime is not our enemy. We are not affiliated in any way with any country or organization, and we are not waging this war on any country or organization, not even on you. YOU are waging this war on yourself. YOU are digging your own grave through corruption and antagonization. We are not interested in you, destined for the sewage of history. You cannot stop the Internetization of the human race. In fact, we won't bat an eyelid even if you decide to sever the transpacific information cables in order to obtain the total control you wanted. The harder you try to roll back history, the more you strain the already taut strings, and the more destructive their final release. You are accelerating your own fall. The sun of tomorrow does not shine on those who are fearing tomorrow itself.

    We are the Anonymous Netizens. We are the sum of the world's entire online population. We are coordinated. We are dominant. We are innumerable. For every one of us that falls, another ten joins. We are omnipresent. We are omnipotent. We are unstoppable. We have no weaknesses. We utilize every weakness. We are the humanity under every mask. We are the mirrors of conscience. We are created equal. We are born free. We are an army. We do not forgive. We do not forget.