Melinda Liu

Stories by Melinda Liu

  • The 'Buy China' Movement

    When Congress included a “Buy American” clause in the $787 billion stimulus package, mandating the use of U.S.-made iron and steel in stimulus-funded projects, critics decried it as dangerous protectionism. China in particular was displeased; its official news agency likened the clause to “poison.” Turns out two can play the protectionist game. Beijing’s recent decision to stick a “buy Chinese” clause into its own $586 billion stimulus package now has much of the West crying foul. On June 23, the U.S. and the EU complained to the World Trade Organization, alleging that Chinese export taxes of up to 70 percent on raw materials violate international trade regulations. Problem is, China never signed the WTO agreement banning discrimination against foreign suppliers....
  • China's Rising Economic Nationalism

    The mood in china appears to be reaching a tipping point, as its normally bland leaders abandon cautious diplo-speak under the pressures of the global financial crisis. First, they blamed American capitalism for the crisis and Premier Wen Jiabao publicly pressed Washington to ensure the safety of some $2 trillion in U.S. debt held by Beijing. Then Central Bank governor Zhou Xiaochuan called for replacing the greenback with a new reserve currency controlled by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), a move that would assure the long-term decline of the dollar. All this signals an increasingly assertive economic nationalism, and it is only the tip of the iceberg.Even harsher statements are coming from a rising group of nationalist intellectuals in China. One of the most prominent, Wang Xiaodong, says China should simply stop buying U.S. Treasuries and put more money into domestic infrastructure, defense and social security—a move that could quickly turn America's recession into a...
  • Beijing's Olympics Attractions Going Unused

    During the 2008 Olympics, international audiences oohed and aahed over Beijing's stunning new structures: the world-renowned Bird's Nest national stadium, the surreal China Central TV headquarters designed by Rem Koolhaas and the futuristic National Center for the Performing Arts. But now the city's architectural icons are plagued with problems.Seven months after the Olympics, visitors to the Bird's Nest are paying $7 to stare at a big, empty bowl. Tourist visits plummeted from 80,000 per day in October to 15,000 in December. The $450 million stadium costs $15 million annually to maintain, but the only major event announced for 2009 is an Aug. 8 performance of "Turandot," directed by Zhang Yimou, the man behind the Games' opening ceremonies. With dreams of wringing $30 million per year from the stadium, its managers now plan to convert part of it into a shopping mall.Then there's the $731 million CCTV headquarters complex, which had been due to open in May until a recent fire...
  • Quirky Confrontations Between China And US Navies

    The confrontation last week between a U.S. ship and five Chinese naval craft was just the latest of many low-grade military clashes in the South China Sea, the site of numerous territorial disputes. It was eerily similar to the "Hainan Island" incident in 2001, when a U.S. EP-3 surveillance plane and a Chinese F-8 jet collided above Hainan, killing China's Wang Wei. U.S. aviators later said Wang had been notorious for his "cowboy maneuvers"; once he flew so close that a U.S. EP-3 crew photographed him holding up a piece of paper with his e-mail address on it. Then-head of the U.S. Pacific Command Adm. Dennis Blair protested to Beijing. "It's not a normal practice to play bumper cars in the air," he said.But both sides could play the taunting game. Years before his death, Wang was instructed to intercept a U.S. surveillance plane and "force it away," according to the Chinese magazine Navy and Merchant Ships. Drawing close, Wang saw the U.S. crew decked out in Santa Claus hats and...
  • Chinese Bloggers Uncover The Truth

    The role of bloggers has been firmly established: they are self-appointed ombudsmen, documenting mistakes by media and government. But in China, where the Web is less censored than the mainstream media, Netizens have carved out an especially crucial role. Recently, a Shenzhen official resigned after a viral video showed him apparently fondling an 11-year-old girl. Another cadre got sacked after bloggers noticed his $15,000 Swiss watch.Then last month came the story—bogus, as it turned out—of a Chinese businessman's ex-mistress, who killed herself and injured him and four other mistresses when she drove them all off a cliff near Qingdao. Peninsula News reported that she wanted revenge after being "laid off" by the man, who could afford only one; to winnow the field, he'd asked all five to compete in a "talent contest." Tellingly, it wasn't the outrageous premise that made Netizens skeptical—it was the details, such as the $733 monthly allowance that each mistress allegedly received. ...
  • Chinese Officials "Go Naked" Before Fleeing

    The Chinese government has long been filled with crooked cadres who take the money and run. But as the nation's economy slows down, grassroots resentment toward official corruption is brewing. In particular, Chinese Netizens are buzzing about "naked officials": apparatchiks who connive to earn permanent resident status overseas by gradually stashing relatives and assets abroad. Once the noose begins to tighten back home, the unencumbered (or "naked") bureaucrats flee the country.Watchdogs believe that some corrupt cadres are already salivating over Beijing's $580 billion stimulus package. More graft will only exacerbate the recent uptick in antigovernment unrest: last month, thousands of Gansu rioters burned government offices and Chongqing taxi drivers torched police cars. Most alarming for Beijing was the startling surge of popular sympathy for convicted killer Yang Jia, who was executed last week for stabbing to death six police officers; Yang did it, he said, because he'd been...
  • Could China Play a Role in Afghanistan?

    Is Beijing, which is famously allergic to intervention, about to get involved in Afghanistan? It sounds crazy, yet there are intriguing signs. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown recently floated the notion at a talk at the Council on Foreign Relations, calling it a "possibility for the future."Chinese Foreign Ministry official Qin Gang quickly rebuffed the notion last week, saying that except for United Nations' peacekeeping operations, "China never sends troops abroad," and that "media reports about China sending troops to participate in Afghanistan are groundless."Yet the idea of greater Chinese involvement is not as outlandish as it might seem. To be sure, Beijing would balk at sending soldiers to a mission under Western command, like the NATO-run Afghan force. But the People's Liberation Army has become increasingly active in U.N. peacekeeping efforts in recent years. Beijing has deployed 10,000 troops—mainly from engineering units—to U.N. missions in Sudan and other war-torn...
  • Could the Fiscal Crisis Bring Down Wen Jiabao?

    Before it passes, the global economic crisis may topple its share of leaders. Will China's Prime Minister Wen Jiabao become a casualty? That's the speculation, thanks to an Oct. 14 article in the Hong Kong magazine Kaifang ("Open"). The piece suggested that Wen has become a target of party hard-liners unhappy with his pro-democracy leanings, citing as evidence recent public criticisms of "universal values"—code for the liberal reforms he supports. It also suggested that if China's economy hits the rocks, conservatives could make Wen "the scapegoat" and bring him down.Kaifang offered no proof of a power struggle, and Wen seems to retain President Hu Jintao's full backing. The P.M., known as "Grandpa," is also immensely popular with the masses. But that won't necessarily help him. The same moves that have won Wen points with the people—showing concern for the Sichuan earthquake and accepting responsibility for the tainted-milk scandal—have irked hard-liners, as have his calls for...
  • Chinese Dissident Fingered For Nobel Peace Prize

    The Nobel Foundation has been known to pick dark-horse candidates to drive home an ideological point (see Al Gore). How intriguing, then, that the Oslo-based International Peace Research Institute is fingering Chinese activist Hu Jia as a front runner for this year's Peace Prize.To hand China's first Peace Prize to a little-known dissident would be a rebuke to its leaders, who tout themselves as stewards of China's "peaceful rise" to great power status. With China in the global spotlight, the Nobel committee may decide the time's ripe to draw attention to Beijing's human-rights record and its failure to uphold pre-Olympic promises of greater civil freedoms.So why Hu? He's popular among European activists for a November 2007 Webcam address to EU parliamentarians—shortly before his arrest—that criticized Beijing's suppressive policies. Whether the Nobel committee risks antagonizing Beijing will be revealed on Oct. 10 in Oslo.
  • China Milk Scandal: When Saving Face Goes Sour

    Could a New Zealand dairy trader have done more to prevent China's milk scandal? At press time, Sanlu Group milk products contaminated with the toxic chemical melamine had killed four babies, sickened 53,000 and triggered import bans and recalls worldwide. But 43 percent of Sanlu is owned by New Zealand cooperative Fonterra, the world's biggest dairy trader, and Fonterra has three people on the seven-member Sanlu board. Still, Fonterra executives were in the dark about the mass poisoning until August—eight months after their Sanlu partners found out. Once in the loop, they failed to persuade Sanlu to go public for six weeks. "Fonterra," says Paul French, chief China analyst for the Shanghai-based consultancy Access Asia, "apparently believed all the … books in which foreign executives are taught not to let their Chinese partners get offended or 'lose face'."Indeed, Fonterra took pride in its "trust-based" relationship with Sanlu, which became a joint-venture partner in 2005. That...
  • The Legacy of Beijing's Olympic Games

    By now, it's clear that both Chinese and visitors alike reveled in the 2008 Games, even many skeptics. The merry national atmosphere is quite different from the mood before Aug. 8, when officials worried about polluted air, terror attacks, even the performance of high-profile athletes like hurdler Liu Xiang. Some of their fears came to pass: a lone attacker killed an American coach's family member, scattered protests did take place and Liu limped away gold-less after an injury.Still, the Olympics were undeniably a PR success. Beijing's critics warned of crackdowns, but travelers were greeted instead with the sight of citizens reacting to the Games with cheers and tears against a backdrop of stunning architecture. For domestic audiences, officials peddled a relaxed, humane image—President Hu Jintao sat in the audience at sporting events like a regular spectator—that's playing well at home. The Games will have many legacies, from Michael Phelps to Usain Bolt. But for Beijing, its soft...
  • Database for the Dead

    With 18,000 still missing after China's quake, Beijing is organizing a massive campaign to log corpses and establish a DNA database that will help survivors learn the fate of disappeared relatives.The work holds none of the glitz of America's "CSI" television series, which portrays forensics as a glamorous job. In Yingxiu, near the epicenter, DNA collectors wear gas masks and protective gear in order to prevent contamination from the bodies. They use basic tools, including what look like rusty wire-cutters, to pry away rubble. Nearby, bulldozers root through debris, and damaged buildings are blasted with dynamite to reveal the dead trapped underneath. It's a postapocalyptic scene, and a heartbreaking one: on a recent shift, three CSI police recovered a woman from the ruins of a shop. They sprayed disinfectant on her decomposing body, searched for documents that would identify her and removed a necklace that family members might recognize. Then they started on the task of taking...
  • China: The Power of Migrants

    For two and a half years, Sichuan native Yu Hongbin has worked in Shenzhen, the Chinese boomtown on the coast opposite Hong Kong, making chips for Nokia cell phones. It's a good life for an 18-year-old. Yu has pulled in nearly $200 a month—more than some Sichuan farmers make in a year—and in the past, he would blow it all on karaoke, hotpot restaurants and his gym membership. But on May 12 he was back in Sichuan washing clothes by a stream when the ground started bucking and houses crumbled. He scrambled to find his mother and came across her, dazed, near the town's "1,000-year-old tree," which locals believe was a talisman.Now Yu sits in a bus station, on his way back to Shenzhen. The best way to help his family, he says, is to keep on working. "But I'm not going to waste money like I did before," he says. "Now I'm going to send $140 a month back home to my folks. The earthquake made me regret I never sent them money before." Multiply Yu's sense of responsibility by 20 million to...
  • Healing Sichuan’s Psyche

    The last time China suffered a disaster on the magnitude of the recent Sichuan earthquake, its Maoist leaders spurned psychology as a "bourgeois" discipline. Survivors of the 1976 Tangshan quake, which killed some 255,000 people, were left to cope on their own with posttraumatic stress. But on May 12, Communist Party leaders ordered an unprecedented mobilization of mental-health workers alongside disaster-relief efforts. The need is great: as many as 80,000 killed, 5,500 orphaned and 5 million homeless. Reports say 600,000 citizens may need psychological help."Some survivors act tough, but they really are having problems," says Dr. Yuan Linfang, head of a crisis-counseling team. Among the reactions Yuan observed in students caught in a collapsing school: fear of returning to class, and of opening textbooks.Trained aides like Yuan are in short supply. In 2006 China had just 19,000 mental-health professionals and psychiatric treatment still carries a social stigma. Experts also say...