Melinda Liu

Stories by Melinda Liu

  • China Races to Avoid Olympic-Size Food Scare

    It was a harsh penalty even by the standards of China, which executes more criminals every year than any place else in the world. The former head of the State Food and Drug Administration was put to death last week. His crime: approving untested medicines in exchange for $850,000 in bribes. At least 10 deaths have been blamed on bogus antibiotics that were OK'd during his tenure. But his offense went far beyond that—an SFDA spokeswoman said Zheng Xiaoyu had brought "shame" on the agency.Shame has always been a dreaded force in China—and now it has Beijing's leaders scrambling to save face amid the country's multiplying food-, drug- and product-safety scandals. In centuries past, the Chinese emperor's No. 1 responsibility was to guarantee that his subjects were adequately fed. Only then did he earn the "mandate of heaven" that justified his reign. And this in essence has been the Communist Party's bargain with China since the days of Deng Xiaoping: in return for accepting a sometimes...
  • Q&A: China's Top Consumer Advocate

    Wang Hai's mobile phone keeps buzzing with calls from clients. He's China's most famous crusader against fraudulent, shoddy and dangerous goods. The business consultant targets counterfeiters, helps duped consumers and protects whistle-blowers, many of whom face harassment or worse. "A good system for guaranteeing quality control simply doesn't exist in China," says Wang, who's been on the consumer-rights warpath for more than a decade. "Even confidential informants who report to authorities about someone selling fraudulent goods can wind up dead, under suspicious circumstances."All of that ensures Wang is extremely busy these days. Over the past few months, a number of dramatic product-safety scandals have rocked China—and horrified the world. The U.S. media have exposed one badly made Chinese export after another, from poisonous pet food to toxic toothpaste to tires so poorly made they litter American highways with shredded treads. These revelations have raised serious questions...
  • Last Word: Hoshyar Zebari

    Baghdad was already feeling the heat of an increase in suicide blasts and roadside bombs, mortar attacks on the Green Zone, and U.S. pressure to meet its "benchmarks" of progress by September. Amid all this, rumors abound in Baghdad of coup plots, which Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has fueled by accusing political rivals—aides say he means former P.M. Ayad Allawi—of "conspiring" against the government with the help of "foreign intelligence." (Allawi has denied any connection to a coup plot.) Few in Maliki's government see more of the internal challenges that the prime minister faces than Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, a Kurd who has managed to retain his post since being appointed to the interim government in June 2004. NEWSWEEK's Melinda Liu and Larry Kaplow spoke to Zebari. Excerpts: ...
  • Of Coups and Conspiracies

    As if Nouri al-Maliki didn't have enough to worry about. Aside from rising violence and his government's laggardly progress on a slew of political and legislative benchmarks set by the U.S., the Iraqi prime minister also seems increasingly consumed by fears of coups and conspiracies. Iraqi media reported this week that Maliki once again accused certain Iraqi politicians of "conspiring" against the government with the help of "foreign intelligence." And Al-Hayat newspaper reported that Iraqi security officials had detained a number of tribal chiefs and former Iraqi Army officers in Dhi Qar province "for their proven links to the intelligence services of an Arab state . . . and for supplying moral, material and logistical support for armed groups that operate in southern Iraq." ...
  • Iraq: New U.S. Ambassador May Be Best Hope

    Two months into his most recent Baghdad posting (his third in nearly 30 years), Ryan Crocker still hasn't opened all his airfreight crates. "I've been a little pressed," he dryly explains to NEWSWEEK. When he finally unpacks, though, the U.S. ambassador will take out a battered calendar from 24 years ago and hang it in his office. It was on his office wall in Beirut when a suicide truck bomb destroyed the U.S. Embassy there on April 18, 1983, killing 64 people. Slammed against a wall but not seriously hurt, the young diplomat immediately began clawing barehanded through the rubble, searching for his colleagues. The calendar has traveled with him ever since, bearing the scars of that day: "a little bit of glass, a little bit of blood, a little bit of spilled coffee." His voice gets quieter: "It reminds me of my responsibilities to the mission. And that in diplomacy, as in the military, you're playing for keeps."Crocker needs no reminders. That is why he and his military counterpart,...
  • The Tribes of Iraq: America's New Allies

    Pungent smoke floats through the chandeliers of the tribal chief's reception room. At his home in Ramadi, capital of Anbar province and a onetime Iraqi insurgent stronghold, Sheik Shakir Saoud Aasi is enjoying after-dinner cigars with his guest of honor, battalion commander Lt. Col. Craig Kozeniesky of the 2/5 Marines. Around the room, Marines and Iraqi tribesmen and police are sitting together, swapping jokes and stories. Some of these Iraqis were probably shooting at Americans less than a year ago. Now they and the Marines are fighting side by side against Al Qaeda. "We are not just friends but also brothers," the sheik tells Kozeniesky. "This is a new beginning for both of us." Kozeniesky can only agree: "Things have changed dramatically." A 5-year-old Iraqi boy in traditional robes and headdress is racing around the room and vaulting into U.S. troops' laps. What does he want to be when he grows up? He proudly announces: "American general named Steve!"The Pentagon is praying that...
  • High-Tech Hunt for Hostages

    Two high-profile abduction incidents in Iraq recently--three soldiers near Mahmoudiya last month and five British civilians in Baghdad this week--have focused attention on the U.S.-led Coalition's search and rescue operations. The Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC) at an air base in Southwest Asia--the nerve center for U.S. Central Command air ops--utilizes full-motion video captured by aerial drones and internal chat rooms showing communications at various command levels to help support the recovery of missing personnel. Although for security reasons he declined to disclose details of ongoing operations, CAOC's Col. Gary Crowder spoke on the phone with NEWSWEEK's Melinda Liu about the use of air assets in such efforts. Excerpts:NEWSWEEK: Tell me about important innovations in your work.Gary Crowder: First let me explain how personnel recovery efforts are organized. Each service branch is responsible for its own people. But each component does not necessarily hav...
  • A Somber Return

     A familiar blast of hot air hit me as I stepped off the plane in Baghdad. It seemed for a moment as if I'd never left Iraq. The arid, dusty wind that sucks your lungs dry. The cumbersome (or reassuring?) weight of body armor while riding into town from the airport along roads littered with debris from IED blasts. But many things have changed since 2005, the last time I worked in Iraq. The old, familiar Humvee has morphed into a demented, humpbacked narwhal on wheels, surmounted by an elaborate super-structure enveloping the gunner on the roof. Protruding out front is a device that looks like a square ping-pong paddle with a long, attenuated handle. Called a WARLOCK, it emits electronic countermeasures to block signals that can trigger IEDs.The Green Zone is a lot less green (meaning a lot less secure) these days. Inside this fortified enclave, rocket attacks killed four foreign contractors late last week. It was the third straight day of rocket or mortar attacks on the Green...
  • The Olympic Effect

    Late in march, the actress Mia Farrow wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal calling for a boycott of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. Denouncing China for its support of the murderous Sudanese government (which happens to be China's sixth largest oil supplier), she dubbed the upcoming Games the "Genocide Olympics."Beijing, which has been wary of Hollywood's PR power ever since Richard Gere and others began campaigning for Tibet's independence years ago, quickly kicked into damage-control overdrive. Even as the state-run China Daily complained that it was an "insult to the Olympic spirit to wantonly blame China for the Darfur crisis," Beijing sent a special envoy, Zhao Jun, to Khartoum to press the regime there to accept U.N. peacekeepers; Sudan duly agreed to such a force on April 16.As the episode showed, the upcoming Olympics and the international spotlight being shone on China are proving a potent catalyst for change. Beijing seems to be growing more vulnerable to...
  • China's Roadside Eats

    Spring has sprung. The hills north of Beijing are alive with ... the sound of noisy restaurant attendants, some waving red banners, standing at the side of the road shouting, "Stop here for a delicious meal!" at the throngs of city dwellers zooming by in their cars.Chinese are hitting the road in record numbers. Car ownership more than tripled between 2000 and 2006, and China is now the world's second largest auto market after the United States. This love affair is spawning booming new auto-service industries, from vehicle accessories to roadside eateries. For better or worse, China is beginning to look—and taste—a lot like America in the 1950s. McDonald's and KFC (known for its Kentucky Fried Chicken outlets all over the country) plan to open 25 drive-through restaurants in China; both began testing the waters with drive-ins in Beijing and elsewhere in 2005.McDonald's has entered into a strategic alliance with Sinopec, China's biggest oil producer and marketer, to open drive...
  • Beijing Invokes FDR's New Deal

    What a difference a mere $1.41 can make. To most residents of affluent countries, the figure is minuscule, small change. The same goes for most middle-class residents of China's booming cities. But for rural Chinese farmers, whose $460 average income is less than a third what China's city dwellers earn, it's a very different story. One dollar and forty-one cents drove 20,000 residents of Zhushan Village in Hunan province into the streets last Monday, to violently protest a rise of that amount in bus fares; $1.41 meant life or death to one student, who was reportedly killed in the clash with 1,500 baton-wielding police. Several dozen more protesters were injured. As600 cops continued to patrol Zhushan last Wednesday, a farmer named Sun, who requested anonymity to avoid trouble with authorities, explained why she and others had risked their lives over so small a sum. Their village is remote and desperately poor, she said. "Some men go and work in construction in town, earning just $64...
  • Liu: Let 500 Olympic Flowers Bloom

    Preparing for the 2008 Games, Beijing horticulturists are breeding and pruning up a storm—and even shooting flower seeds into space.
  • The Last Word: Alex Leong

    Hong Kong has an election coming up for its next Chief Executive on March 25. The choice won't go to the people, however; the only voters will be 800 bureaucrats and functionaries vetted by Beijing. Yet defying all odds, Alan Leong Kam-kit has managed to get on the ballot as a pro-democracy candidate. Not only that: if he somehow manages to defeat the incumbent Donald Tsang, Leong vows to bring universal suffrage to Hong Kong residents within five years. During a telephone interview last week, Leong talked with NEWSWEEK's Melinda Liu about his quixotic race and whether Beijing should trust Hong Kong's residents with free elections. Excerpts: ...
  • The Usual Suspects?

    Sometimes in China you read about the funeral before you much know about the violence that led up to it.  Last week’s media reports of the emotional memorial ceremony for 21-year-old Chinese policeman Huang Qiang was, for some of us, the first clue that something unusual had erupted in Xinjiang, China’s “Wild West,” where 8.5 million Muslims—most of them Turkic-speaking Uighurs—comprise three-fifths of the population.  Newspaper photos showed dozens of Chinese police—some bowing deeply, some apparently weeping—gathered before Huang’s bier, which was draped with the Chinese national flag.Huang was killed, and another policeman injured, when authorities raided what they called a terrorist training camp in western Xinjiang on Jan. 5. Chinese media reported that public security personnel killed 18 and arrested 17 "terrorists" of the "Eastern Turkestan Islamic Movement" (ETIM), seizing 22 homemade antitank grenades and the makings of more than 1,500 more. Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu...
  • Beijing Starts to Feel The 'Olympic Effect'

    Once every decade or two, in the life of a great nation, celestial bodies align just right and set the stage for change. For the People's Republic of China, which has already achieved a stunning rags-to-riches transformation, 2007 promises to be such a year.The biggest catalyst for the country's extreme makeover, of course, is the looming 2008 Summer Olympics. Over the past few years Beijing's race to erect prestigious Olympic venues and create a "Chinese-style Manhattan" scarred the Chinese capital with vast, yawning construction sites. Now many are morphing into glittering, cutting-edge architectural gems. Yet the "Olympic effect" is more than a physical face-lift. Preparing for the Games has become a nationwide exercise in soul-searching and self-improvement, too. "People are learning how to behave in the eyes of the international community," says Xing Yue of the International Studies Institute at Tsing-hua University, where she reports that students have begun signing up as...
  • The Paulson Push in China

    In imperial times, visiting foreign plenipotentiaries were compelled to kowtow--touch their foreheads to the ground--in front of the Chinese emperor. The weaker the Chinese government, the more it insisted on such groveling. Beijing's mandarins don't make such demands anymore, but they do tend to mark their "red lines" up front. So it was when China's steely Deputy Prime Minister Wu Yi hosted U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and half the U.S. cabinet last week. As a PowerPoint presentation flashed images illustrating 5,000 years of Chinese history, Beijing's most powerful female official didn't mince her words: "We have had the genuine feeling that some American friends are not only having limited knowledge of, but harboring much misunderstanding about, the reality in China." She said her government wanted the world to know China's development "is an opportunity instead of a threat."Her main audience wasn't just Paulson and his "dream team" of top U.S. officials. The real...
  • The Olympic Effect

    International media will soon feel the “Olympic effect.” Almost as soon as Beijing won its bid to host the 2008 Summer Games, it was clear the Olympic phenomenon would be felt in China far beyond the realm of sports. After years of frenetic preparation and construction of Olympic sites, Beijing residents already have seen their city transformed, their sense of national pride burnished, their connection with the outside world enhanced.Now, with the unveiling of new regulations Friday, visiting international media will have greater freedom to travel and report during the 2008 Olympics and the run-up to the Games, from Jan. 1, 2007, to Oct. 17, 2008. The most important aspect of the nine-point regulations is article 6, which states that “to interview organizations or individuals in China, foreign journalists need only to obtain their prior consent.”This article supersedes—for the period of its validity—some of the most stringent restrictions that have bedeviled foreign journalists in...
  • A Worried World

    The Democrats' victory in last week's U.S. midterm elections thrilled many Europeans eager for George W. Bush to get his comeuppance. But not every nation is celebrating. Led by incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the Dems are notoriously tough on human rights, trade and environmental issues. "Every one of our trading partners should be concerned," says Daniel Griswold, director of the Washington-based Cato Institute Center for Trade Policy Studies.China, in particular. During the last Democrat-dominated Congress, Pelosi was a vocal critic of Beijing's human-rights record; expect nothing less this time around. Then there's trade. New York Rep. Charles Rangel—likely to become the next chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, which oversees trade agreements—has already called for tougher measures against Beijing.Russia will also come under the human-rights microscope. Even allies like India may have reason to worry. The country's burgeoning info-tech industry will likely be a...
  • Pragmatism or Principle?

    The last time U.S. Democrats dominated Congress, a dozen years ago, China was still recovering from the traumatic 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square. Although the economy was growing at an impressive rate, China was still a net exporter of oil, and Beijing authorities were diplomatic introverts on the international stage. Nancy Pelosi, in those days merely a member of the rank-and-file in the U.S. Congress, was one of China’s most vocal critics. She blasted Beijing for its human-rights record, opposed giving China most-favored-nation trading status for a decade and argued against allowing Beijing to host the 2000 Summer Olympics. In 1991, she and two congressional colleagues held a demonstration in Tiananmen Square, unfurling a banner reading: “To those who died for democracy.”China is now a much different country, assertive in its foreign policy and increasingly comfortable with showing its clout. Has Pelosi, now poised to become the influential...
  • China's Reaction: Tightening the Screws

    Once upon a time Beijing officials and scholars would have scoffed at the idea of effecting Chinese-style regime change in Pyongyang. But in the wake of Kim's nuke test, an unprecedented debate has broken out over Beijing's North Korea policies. Last Friday four major Chinese banks stopped making financial transfers to North Korea--a tactic that could quickly pinch a weak economy that relies on China as a link to the international financial system. And this year China has reduced food exports to Pyongyang by two thirds. "I've never seen the Chinese leadership so resolved to be tougher towards North Korea," says Zhu Feng, head of Peking University's international-security program.Among some close advisers to the government, the idea of a Beijing-friendly palace coup has gained new currency. China certainly has the means: it provides 11,000 barrels of oil to North Korea every day , accounting for more than 70 percent of Pyongyang's total energy supply. Beijing stopped oil deliveries...
  • Bigger Isn't Always Better

    Kim Jong Il's big bang may not have been so big after all. North Korea's nuclear detonation sent enormous diplomatic shock waves through international capitals, to be sure, and governments are still scrambling to respond. But technical experts from Beijing to the Beltway observe that it was small by traditional standards and could have been a failure, or at least less than an unalloyed success. The explosive yield of Pyongyang's test apparently was little more than half a kiloton, just a fraction of the explosive yield range that wanna-be nuclear powers historically have aspired to. No first-time test by any of the seven previous declared nuclear powers is thought to have been less than nine kilotons.North Korean authorities expected to conduct a nuclear test in the four-kiloton range, and told Chinese counterparts so in a 20-minute warning before the imminent detonation, according to Washington reports quoting an unnamed U.S. official. But American experts say what actually took...
  • China's Dilemma

    North Korea's apparently successful nuclear test has sent shock waves through international capitals and promises to alter the security landscape of North Asia in alarming ways. But it creates an especially difficult diplomatic challenge to China and Chinese leader Hu Jintao.Long seen as Pyongyang's most important ally and the only country with enough leverage to influence Kim Jong Il's behavior, the Chinese President had engaged in an extraordinary flurry of diplomacy since Pyongyang announced its intention to go nuclear a week ago. On Sunday Beijing took the unusual step of hosting Japan's new Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, on an official visit to Beijing. Hu met Abe for a top-level summit that thawed a half-decade of chilly Sino-Japanese relations. And the rapprochement took place amidst surprisingly positive atmospherics, with both Chinese and Japanese officials heralding a turning point for the better in their ties. Clearly, the urgency of the North Korean threat had been a...
  • Corruption Probes: Life ... At Club Fed

    In the countryside outside Beijing, what looks like a luxury guesthouse is rising amid fruit orchards, replete with a fitness center and individual villas. Of course, the construction site also features high walls and security guards--lots of guards. NEWSWEEK has learned that the compound, near the district of Pinggu, is actually going to be a five-star detention facility capable of housing dozens of senior cadres under kid-glove "hotel arrest" while they undergo investigation for wrongdoing. Call it China's equivalent of "Club Fed."With one key difference. Shanghai's disgraced party secretary Chen Liangyu, who was purged from the Politburo last week, and the hundreds of other cadres caught up in anti-corruption probes across the country have not been officially charged with crimes in the Western sense. Instead, they're being confined and interrogated by the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) Discipline and Inspection Commission. In a press conference last week, commission head Gan...
  • Nuke Jitters

    North Asia's diplomatic landscape could be about to look wildly different. It's about something more than North Korea's imminent threat to detonate its first known nuclear test device—perhaps as soon as Sunday, Oct. 8, the anniversary of Kim Jong Il's ascension to leadership of the ruling Workers Party in 1997. There's another force, far more quiet, that could turn the region upside down. Hu Jintao is finally making his big move.After watching his performance as China's president since early 2003, most outsiders—and even many Chinese—had dismissed him as weak and indecisive, beholden to the policies and the Politburo he inherited from his predecessor in the post, Jiang Zemin. But two weeks ago Hu suddenly began shaking things up. First he axed one of his biggest adversaries on the Politburo, Shanghai party secretary (and senior Jiang loyalist) Chen Liangyu, in the highest-level purge in 11 years. Chen's removal has set off a major political housecleaning: several other Hu rivals and...
  • Online: A Virtual Gold Rush

    With his longish hair, casual polo shirt and baggy shorts, Li Zhi looks like the entrepreneurial boss of a small-town computer company, which is what he used to be. Now the thirtysomething Li runs an unusual sweatshop in the Hubei-province city of Wuxue, the kind of place where a farmer might buy a computer in town and transport it home by donkey cart. Wuxue also has high-speed Internet access and hundreds of residents playing the popular online role-playing game called World of Warcraft. Some 200 of them work for bosses such as Li, single-mindedly playing Warcraft to collect in-game currency and trade it for real-world cash. Li's so-called gold-farming operation is modest, but profitable.If you think Chinese have an image problem in real life, take a look at the virtual world. World of Warcraft is a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game, or MMOG, that boasts more than 7 million players worldwide--with some 5 million reportedly in China. The game--which has been called an...
  • Silent Games

    For a while many foreign correspondents thought authorities were “killing the chicken to scare the monkey.” That’s a Chinese proverb meaning one target is attacked in order to intimidate another. When we saw our Chinese contacts harassed, detained, physically assaulted and sentenced to prison over the past year, it was tempting to assume they’d been “soft targets” for a regime intent on warning us, the international media, to stop sticking our noses into sensitive topics.But we were being naive. Beijing’s goals are far more sweeping than the chicken-and-monkey metaphor could encompass. Today’s targets are not just domestic media and foreign correspondents, not just our Chinese sources and local assistants. Less than two years before Beijing hosts the 2008 Summer Olympics, authorities are in the midst of a concerted—and disturbing—effort to slam stricter controls on what Chinese know and how they know it. The aim of the recent crackdown is not only to silence individual ...
  • Tibet Rides the Rails

    Lhasa is not quite hot enough to have its own stock exchange, not yet. But on the trading floor of the Tibet Securities Company, a large hall where share prices from the Shanghai and Shenzhen stock exchanges roll across giant screens, the action has been heavy since Beijing's much touted railway to Tibet neared completion. Between mid-May and July 1--when the Qinghai-Tibet rail line was inaugurated--trading volume jumped from $1.25 million to nearly $2 million a day. "Business shot up because of the opening of the railway," says director Wang Deqiang. "And now, more and more people are opening new accounts."What a difference a train makes. The new line has cut transport costs by a third and is expected to bring 4,000 additional visitors to Lhasa each day. That's a shot in the arm for tourism and restaurants; in 2004, Park Hyatt contracted to build Lhasa's first five-star hotel, and a $1,000-a-day luxury train service is slated to start by 2008. But the more subtle effects are what...