Melinda Liu

Stories by Melinda Liu

  • An Afghan Defector's Story

    Even a secret terror network needs a means of transportation. Major Mohammad, an Afghan helicopter pilot, says that up to a few weeks ago he flew foreign terrorists and "holy warriors" in and out of the Kandahar region of Afghanistan in his 24-seat Mi-8T chopper. For half a decade his passengers included Arabs, Chechens, Uzbeks, Pakistanis and Tajiks--and occasionally Taliban leaders like Mullah Mohammed Omar. He was strictly forbidden to talk with them. Still, Mohammad (not his real name) knew they were headed for Taliban and Al Qaeda training facilities. He told NEWSWEEK last week that the Taliban and Osama bin Laden were linked "like head and body, all riding around in black cars and not allowing anyone to talk to them."By Mohammad's account, much has changed since it became clear the United States would attack. Al Qaeda's nerve center in Afghanistan is in disarray, suggesting that if the terror network is to continue to be a threat, it may be up to its "sleeper" cells worldwide....
  • 'I'm Sick And Tired Of Bloodshed'

    Legendary Afghan commander Abdul Haq, who was killed by a Taliban executioner last week, had seen his share of danger. Haq had been wounded more than a dozen times in battles against Soviet invaders, and lost his right foot after stepping on a land mine in 1987. Three years ago, his wife, 11-year-old son and a bodyguard died at the hands of mysterious assassins. He had been the most Western-friendly of Afghanistan's "Magnificent Seven"--the seven original mujahedin leaders who fought the Russians from 1979 to 1989. For much of the past decade he had lived in exile in Dubai. But when the Pakistan government reversed its pro-Taliban policies and threw its support behind the U.S.-led anti-terrorist coalition, Haq quickly came home to Peshawar to prepare for a regime change in Kabul.Little more than a week before his ill-fated "peace mission" into Afghanistan, which ended in his capture and death, Haq spoke to NEWSWEEK's Melinda Liu at his home. Excerpts:Abdul Haq: After the mujahedin...
  • Holy War On The Web

    The Muslim militants engaged in a blood feud with Christians in Indonesia's fabled Spice Islands arm themselves with spears and machetes. But their leaders are literate, media-savvy--and wired. The Laskar Jihad, a Java-based group that claims to have raised 15,000 fighters across Indonesia, has also put together an impressive media operation that includes daily, weekly, biweekly and monthly publications, as well as a radio network and Web site. Leaders claim that they receive up to 2,500 hits a day from surfers looking to chat with like-minded Muslims, send donations or download nifty mujahedin screensavers with a logo of two crossed scimitars and the motto ready to die.Such details may sound amusing--more of the trivia that thrives in the undiscriminating chaos of the Web--but few people are laughing anymore. Many of the young men who make up the bulk of Islamic militants also fit into the demographic that tends to be the most wired globally. Most Laskar Jihad members are between...
  • China: Trouble In Shangri-La

    The weary Tibetan monks were panhandling a long way from home. In desolate Qinghai province several weeks ago, they sadly displayed ID cards and photographs from the Buddhist community at Sertar in Sichuan province, a 35-hour bus ride away. They had fled the enclave in mid-July following a crackdown in which Chinese authorities demolished more than 1,000 dwellings in a bid to drive devotees away. "We have no school, no homes and no money. I don't know what we're going to do," one tired-looking monk dressed in ragged maroon robes told NEWSWEEK.When George W. Bush visits China next month, he'll be a long way from Sertar, too. But events there will be on the minds of some U.S. officials traveling with the president; Washington hopes to raise the issue at bilateral human-rights discussions that may resume later this month. Chinese authorities are expected to continue demolition until October, and in early August, NEWSWEEK has learned, a bomb exploded outside local government offices in...
  • Second Wives Club

    On the low-quality videotape, Li Ping glides into the Macau casino as if she owns the joint. The brassy, bejeweled 45-year-old and her lover, Chinese Parliament Vice Chairman Cheng Kejie, were in fact habitues at the tables, often gambling away thousands of dollars in a single evening. Unfortunately, that money was bilked from the Chinese state. And after the couple's last Macau gambling spree was secretly videotaped in 1999, mainland authorities came down hard on the high-rollers from Guangxi province. Cheng was executed for bribery in September; his "evil concubine" Li, as she was dubbed, is now serving a life sentence. The illicit couple have become poster children in Beijing's anti-corruption drive, which prominently features photos of Cheng, handcuffed and bearing a sign that reads "corrupt and degenerate."For centuries in feudal China, concubines stood as symbols of wealth and status. The communists decried the practice of keeping er nai ("second wives") as a bourgeois...
  • All That Glitters...

    China has learned its lesson well. Eight years ago, the last time it tried to host the Olympic Games, officials got all huffy when they were asked about their country's blighted human-rights record. To no one's great surprise, Beijing lost the 2000 Games to Sydney. This time Beijing has only one kind of face to show to the world: sunny. It has hired top Western PR specialists and paid U.S. Olympic filmmaker Bud Greenspan to help make a "documentary" that's supposed to clinch China's bid when the International Olympic Committee meets in Moscow this Friday. Smilingly, Beijing has tried to address every concern, meet every objection. When Olympic officials--always picky--objected to Tiananmen Square as an "inappropriate" venue for beach volleyball, authorities quickly offered other options. To court the Western highbrow vote, Beijing staged a lavish performance last month by the Three Tenors, with a live audience of 30,000 people, inside the fabled Forbidden City. After the show and a...
  • The Beijing Swing

    Beijing is not pretty. the polluted air burns your eyes, but it's less painful than much of the city's architecture. The old temples and palaces seem lost and out of place. Most of them are practically eclipsed by the neon razzle- dazzle of gaudy tourist hotels, the over-bearing bulk of Mao Zedong's totalitarian public edifices and the glassy anonymity of corporate office towers. All around the city, entire neighborhoods have been bulldozed and repopulated by ubiquitous construction cranes. Westerners tend to dislike the place on sight. They prefer to think of Shanghai as the face of China's future.They're wrong. Hypermodern Shanghai is very good at one thing: business. For many ordinary Chinese, the true variety and chaos of the People's Republic is most concentrated in Beijing. People swarm here from all over the country, legally or not, lured by the opportunities, the possibilities and the sense of cultural ferment. "Beijing has students, artists, officials, executives,...
  • No Justice, No Peace

    You'd think an authoritarian state would have no problem collecting taxes. But for three years the remote Chinese village of Yuntang refused to pay. Fed up with arbitrary taxes and alleging embezzlement by local officials, the 1,400 villagers erected a barrier across the only road. Last April authorities finally cracked down. More than 600 People's Armed Police entered Yuntang, and when villagers resisted, the police opened fire on the unarmed farmers, killing two and wounding 20.These are bad times for tax collectors in the Middle Kingdom. Beijing is trying to recentralize power to pull in revenue--partly because regional authorities have been extracting fees willy-nilly from the rural population, calling them "taxes." But peasant incomes have been dropping due to falling grain prices. The result: peasants are up in arms--sometimes literally--against arbitrary fees while the central government loses revenue. And virtually all the unauthorized local "taxes" wind up in the pockets of...
  • Mountain Maoists

    Deep in Nepal's mountainous countryside, kilometers from the nearest dirt road, locals in the village of Lung are gearing up for the next proletarian revolution. Two weeks ago thousands of locals gathered to hear underground Maoist cadres and guerrillas give old-style communist speeches and recruit new supporters. Anti-fascist slogans adorned mud-and-thatch huts. Farmers in western Pyuthan district hiked for hours to attend the rally.Lung, about 300 kilometers west of Katmandu, lacks running water, electricity and phone service. But there is no shortage of 50-year-old political ideology. Maoist rants are considered old-think in neighboring China. With some consternation, Beijing officials have stressed that they have nothing to do with Nepal's Maoists. But don't tell that to the villagers in Lung. The rally seemed straight out of Mao Zedong's Long March--complete with the traditional musical instruments (such as bulbous drums and curved trumpets) and song-and-dance troupes. "Do the...
  • Nepal's Maoist Threat

    The CIA did it, with help from Indian spies and other outsiders. That was the message spread last week by Nepal's Maoist insurgents to explain the massacre of the country's royal family on June 1. Eyewitnesses told a different story: that the king, queen and other royals had been slaughtered in a drunken rage by the crown prince, who then shot himself in the head, sank into a coma, was proclaimed king and finally died. That version of events was so bizarre that many Nepalese were inclined to believe conspiracy theories. And that was a stroke of luck for the Maoist rebels eager to take advantage of a weakened monarchy.With the country slipping toward chaos, Maoist leaders met secretly in Katmandu to plan their strategy. "They are gathering in the capital," reported a local businessman, one of many paying protection money to the insurgents. "They believe they could have a chance to take the country if they play their cards right." In fact, an immediate Maoist takeover of the world's...
  • A Blessing For China

    China and the Roman Catholic Church: seldom if ever has history produced a more irreconcilable clash of culture and politics. Roman Catholics have been part of China's political life since the early 1600s, when Jesuit Matteo Ricci entranced Emperor Wan Li with gifts of prisms, maps and clocks. But after the 1949 communist victory, Mao Zedong cut his country's ties to Rome. An official, "patriotic" Catholic Church was started, which rejected papal authority. The Vatican's anti-communist envoy was expelled from Beijing and fled to Taiwan.After 1958 official Catholics began ordaining their own bishops without Vatican approval. Vatican loyalists countered by holding underground services of their own, starting a bitter rivalry between the two factions. One of the prickliest issues is whether Beijing or the pope has ultimate authority to ordain bishops, control finances, allow abortions and decide other key church matters. Relations between China and the Vatican hit a low point last year...
  • Keeping The Faith

    In the isolated mountain village of Cizhong, perched above the banks of the Mekong River in Yunnan province, a breathtakingly elegant European-style cathedral rises above the countryside, the legacy of Catholic priests who arrived in the region in 1866. A few families still brew red wine from wild grapes, a skill taught to the locals by French priests. Two thirds of the population is Catholic--about 600 people. Cizhong has no official priest in residence. So the congregation eagerly awaits visits by traveling Catholic fathers--and sometimes postpones the observance of holy days, such as Christmas, until one arrives. "Normally we hold our own services, our own baptisms," says a 75-year-old villager named Ho Zhixiang, the senior layperson. "When a Catholic is about to pass away, sometimes people call me to come to their side."That the villagers have kept the faith is not the only remarkable fact about this outpost. They also happen to be ethnic Tibetans, who are usually raised as...
  • Indonesia: Why The World Should Worry

    The first point to remember about Indonesia is this: it's an important country-and it's going to be very messy for a very long time. ...
  • Blowing The Whistle

    Standing trial in Hong Kong is a disorienting experience for 48-year-old Cheng Sui-wa. He cannot understand English, so he leans forward awkwardly to catch the whispers of his Mandarin interpreter. Both his defense attorney and the public prosecutor are thickset Australian barristers who wear yellowing horsehair wigs. Charged with instigating a more than U.S.$ 14 million fraud using bogus letters of credit, Cheng has argued in an earlier trial that he cannot be held responsible for his actions because he was acting at the behest of his former employer, the People's Liberation Army. And that in itself might be the strangest thing about his case. ...
  • Look Who's Talking

    The war of words that has raged between Beijing and Washington over the past few weeks hasn't always been a matter of diplomatic nuance. "The United States would be foolish to send GIs to China just to die," warned one irate Chinese Netizen after U.S. President George W. Bush pledged to do "whatever it took" to defend Taiwan in the event of a mainland attack. "I strongly protest that the government can't do anything but strongly protest," complained another. A third blasted the American president as "Bu-sh-t." By now, similar rants in Chinese Internet chat rooms have become de rigueur in every foreign-policy crisis involving the People's Republic. As much as fire-breathing American legislators and stern Chinese generals, they have become a critical voice in Sino-U.S. relations. ...
  • The Littlest Outlaws

    In case anyone from the government asks, Wang the grocer has only one child, just as the law allows. That's what he told the census takers who canvassed his neighborhood on the outskirts of Beijing last November. "Why invite trouble?" says Wang, 35--the proud father of three children, all daughters. The oldest, 12, is properly registered with the authorities and living with her grandmother back home in Shandong province. The two others, 8 and 7, were born in the crowded anonymity of Beijing. On paper they don't exist. ...
  • Beijing's Next Big Battle

    Only a month ago, things were going well for President Jiang Zemin. His suave foreign-policy guru, Deputy Minister Qian Qichen, had just completed a successful trip to Washington. It was no easy feat. Hard-liners on both sides of the Pacific were working to sabotage Jiang's moderate overtures to the new American president. The hawks in Beijing had detained two U.S.-based ethnic Chinese scholars in February. The hawks in Washington leaked word of the detentions--and of the recent defection by a high-ranking Chinese colonel--to embarrass Beijing in the middle of Qian's visit. Still the trip went forward, and Qian won promises of a U.S.-China summit in the fall with the man the Chinese call "Little Bush." ...
  • A Crash In The Clouds

    Aside from pilots' wings, the two men had as little in common as their two countries. Lt. Shane Osborn of Norfolk, Neb., flew a slow, propeller-driven EP-3E, a kind of lumbering airborne tape recorder designed to suck up electronic signals--radio and radar transmissions, missile telemetry, phone calls--that might one day help the United States fight a war against China. Wang Wei, 33, was a fighter pilot, a Chinese "top gun" whose F-8 jet scrambled to intercept intruders--usually American spy planes like the EP-3E flown by Osborn. Flying spy planes is boring, unglamorous work, interspersed with moments of danger (of the 200 American airmen killed during the cold war, most were on reconnaissance missions). The pilots of spy planes are often lowly lieutenants like Osborn, who is 26 years old. Their main duty is to stay on course for hours on end. To break the tedium, the crews of American spy planes sometimes clown around. When Chinese fighters intercepted an EP-3E in the winter of...
  • Generation Superpower

    Sun Xiaojing has a map of the United States taped to the ceiling above the upper bunk bed in her Beijing University dormitory room. Seventeen red dots on the map mark the graduate schools to which the 25-year-old has applied. The same day that a crippled U.S. spy plane landed on Hainan Island after colliding with a Chinese fighter jet, triggering a tense diplomatic standoff, Sun was accepted to the University of California at Berkeley. "My decision to study in the United States has nothing to do with politics. It is my individual choice, regardless of the relations between the U.S. and China," she says, smiling and holding up her precious acceptance letter. ...
  • 'This Is War'

    The messages are strident and unequivocal. "All Chinese must stand up and fight against Americans," declares one participant in Beijing University's online bulletin board. "[T]his time we've already got some Americans in our hands. Let's kill some of them and brainwash the others." ...
  • The Mark Of Zorro

    Zhu Wenguang knew he had to tread carefully. He was a controversial police guard from a far-off province, trying to persuade a roomful of country cops to support his idiosyncratic crusade. He had traveled more than 1,000 kilometers from his native Sichuan to Inner Mongolia to track down a local woman who had been shipped up north and sold to a farmer. Zhu offered the cops smokes. He invited them to a meal. He agreed to rent a minibus at his own expense. But it was nearing sundown on a wintry March day, and he knew the public-security officials he was cajoling wanted to go home rather than raid a nearby backwater called Cowskin Village. ...
  • The Confucian Solution

    Like many Arab countries, China does not disguise its schizophrenia about the Internet. On the one hand, the state's cyber commissars nail citizens for posting comments like "Down with the Communist Party!" (Two weeks ago, a high-school teacher was sentenced to two years in jail for making that remark online.) Yet at the same time, China has rushed to embrace the IT revolution, certain that the nation's development and place in the world depend upon wiring the Middle Kingdom. That has led to two distinct pictures of China's e-future. One envisions an online Big Brother that zaps free speech with frightening high-tech efficiency, even if it means keeping the world's most populous nation on the wrong side of the digital divide. The other predicts that the regime will ultimately have to throw up its hands and allow mainland Net users to access and disseminate whatever information they want--just like their American counterparts. What analysts are now beginning to acknowledge, though,...
  • A Vigilante's Justice

    Taking the law into one's own hands can be a dangerous business in China. Last spring, 38-year-old Sichuan native Huang Qi was a minor celebrity. The Web site he had founded to run photos and data about missing persons--including women sold as brides by underworld syndicates--was drawing a million users a month. State-run China Central Television had decided to profile Huang. Yet only days after he was filmed last June--and weeks before the program was broadcast--Huang went missing himself. Authorities have held him in detention, forbidden from seeing anyone except his lawyer, ever since. He now faces trial on charges of "agitating to overthrow the government" and "propagating separatist activities." In an especially Kafkaesque touch, Huang is also accused of revealing state secrets--whose contents have not been revealed to his own lawyer. ...
  • China: Bearing Gifts For Bush

    There is never a good time to be a Chinese political prisoner. But the best time is leading up to a U.S. presidential visit. Chinese officials want to display a kinder, gentler police state when George W. Bush calls on President Jiang Zemin in October. There will likely be the usual release of prisoners before the summit, which was announced last week. But Communist Party leaders, who are also bidding to host the 2008 Olympics, are mulling other image-building moves. They've opened talks with U.N. experts about abolishing China's notorious "re-education camps" and requiring court action before police detain citizens. One exception to Beijing's generous mood: the Falun Gong religious group, which Jiang is said to be obsessed with stamping out entirely. ...
  • The Wheels Of Justice

    When the United States sponsors a resolution condemning China at the meeting of the United Nations commission on human rights that opens in Geneva this week, not much is going to happen. Washington has never been able to muster enough support to pass such motions, and this year the chances are even slimmer. The 53-member commission now includes such prickly countries as Libya, Vietnam, Cuba, Syria and Saudi Arabia. "Five of the members have the worst possible scars on their human-rights records," says John Kamm, an activist who works to free Chinese political prisoners. "And China isn't even one of them." ...
  • Searching For Shangri-La

    Shangri-La. Just say the word, and it conjures visions of a snowcapped paradise. As a geographic place, Shangri-La never actually existed; it was the setting of James Hilton's 1933 fictional bestseller "Lost Horizon," which was made into an Oscar-winning movie. The film fixed Shangri-La in the Western imagination as a magical place whose denizens lived for centuries--immersed in classical music and back issues of The Times of London--at a secret Tibetan monastery run by a Roman Catholic priest. Writing at a time when war was about to erupt in Asia and Europe, "Hilton tapped into a vision of Tibet as a place where all fantasies could be found," says Donald Lopez, author of "Prisoners of Shangri-La." "The Chinese communist advance into Tibet [in the 1950s] then triggered a sense of loss for a onetime utopia." ...
  • Making The Trains Run

    Dams are not the only massive infrastructure projects beloved by Beijing. China's leadership has hatched several grand schemes: a pipeline to move fresh water from southern China to the north, the highest railway in the world--to Tibet, a plan to ship 100,000 people from an arid wasteland to the Yellow River. Partly this reflects the impatience of a nation barreling toward the developed world. ...
  • Dereliction Of Duty

    After a massive explosion blew apart a primary school in Jiangxi province last Tuesday, killing 38 children and four teachers, parents reported seeing the tiny hands of the corpses still clutching fuses. The kids, they say, had been forced to assemble fireworks illegally to make enough money to fund their school. "We have been protesting to the local authorities for the past two years, but the complaints were ignored at higher levels," says villager Ding Mingxing, who lost his 9-year-old son in the blast. Beijing had a different explanation. Prime Minister Zhu Rongji insisted the destruction had been caused by a deranged local nicknamed "Psycho," who had walked into a classroom with two sacks full of explosives and detonated them. ...
  • The Bloody Birth Of A 'Messy State'

    Terrified, the victims hid in the jungle. At long last the police came, announcing over loudspeakers that it was safe to come out. So some 300 Madurese--Muslims whose families had settled in Borneo over the last four decades--emerged from the bush. That was the worst mistake many of them would ever make. This was Indonesia, where neither police nor the Army can hold the line any longer against the forces of chaos and savagery. The Madurese were met by a large crowd of machete-swinging Dayaks--an indigenous people whose ancestors were animists and cannibals. The handful of police ran away, and the Dayaks descended. They beheaded some of the Madurese and ripped open chests to tear out and eat still-beating hearts. "They were like wild pigs," one shocked witness, Tuguh Ernawan, told NEWSWEEK after the incident last week. "I saw a beautiful young woman die. They stabbed her with a spear in the side, then cut off her head and took out her heart." ...
  • Crouching Tiger Shooting Star

    Zhang Ziyi never dreamed she'd spend her 21st birthday in a Las Vegas casino. But then, the Chinese actress probably didn't imagine she'd be costarring with Jackie Chan in an American action film, either. Or, for that matter, deciding what to wear to the Oscars next month. Nonetheless, those are the circumstances she found herself in two weeks ago. During a break from filming inside the Desert Inn casino, the cast and crew of "Rush Hour 2" burst out singing "Happy Birthday" to Zhang, who plays a high-kicking, crimson-fingernailed villain. Chan gave her a necklace; director Brett Ratner gave her heart-shaped Cartier diamond earrings. "Jackie and I competed to outdo each other," he jokes. "I told Ziyi, 'I'll put you in my next movie.' Then Jackie said, 'I'll put you in my next three movies'."They're not the only ones clamoring for Zhang. Ever since she starred in Zhang Yimou's "The Road Home" three years ago, the glossy-haired actress with the warm smile and the dancer's physique has...