Melinda Liu

Stories by Melinda Liu

  • What 'Mrs. Anthrax' Told Me

    Shortly before the Iraq war began in March 2003, I didn't believe Huda Salih Mahdi Ammash when she insisted, in an interview, that Saddam Hussein's regime was not developing biological weapons. Dubbed by Washington "Mrs. Anthrax" or "Chemical Sally," Ammash was then Iraq's most powerful woman. She'd been accused by U.S. investigators of heading a program, into the mid-'90s, that involved the attempted weaponization of anthrax, smallpox and botulin toxin.On Monday, her Baghdad lawyer confirmed that Ammash was one of around two dozen Saddam-era officials released from jail without charges. A U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad confirmed a number of so-called "high-value detainees" had been released because "they were not considered to be a security threat, and they were not wanted on charges under Iraqi law. So we no longer had any reason to continue detaining them."Ammash and another woman, Dr. Rihab Rashid Taha, a British-educated biological-weapons expert that American officials...
  • China's Katrina

    Bungling, delay, cover-up. When such missteps follow a major disaster, officials often have to resign. We saw it unfold in the United States after the killer hurricane Katrina. Now we're seeing heads roll in China, following the Nov. 13 chemical plant explosion that killed five people and spilled 100 tons of benzene-like carcinogens into the Songhua River.There are sackings, and then there are sackings. In China, who's getting the axe and how--bureaucratically speaking, that is--holds greater symbolic and political significance than in many other countries. Here, all eyes are focused on the fallout of the massive chemical spill that forced Harbin city's four million residents to go without running water for five days--and that now is slated to float by the Russian city of Khabarovsk this weekend.Much is at stake. Even Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, on an official visit to Paris, referred to the Harbin pollution in a lament over the high number of industrial accidents on the mainland,...
  • Qin Yaqing

    As Beijing's economy and global influence continue to grow, so does the relationship between China and the United States. When George W. Bush visited China recently, he asked for greater currency reforms, intellectual-property protection and political freedom. He left with a reported $4 billion Boeing deal to sell aircraft to China, but few Chinese concessions. Now all eyes are turning to the inaugural East Asian Summit in early December, during which representatives from 16 Asia-Pacific countries will discuss the establishment of an East Asian Community modeled after the European Union--but U.S. officials were not invited. NEWSWEEK's Melinda Liu spoke with Qin Yaqing, vice dean of China Foreign Affairs University and a leading scholar involved in the East Asian Community concept. Excerpts: ...
  • The Not-So-Great Wall of China

    Nobody in Zhang Rong's village in coastal China knows much about the danger of a bird-flu pandemic. The 37-year-old farmer has enough to worry about. A nearby business park wants to take over her mushroom farm. Neighbors are dying of untreated cancers that some believe came from eating pesticide-tainted produce. One tenth of the family's annual income is spent on medical expenses, including sending Zhang's two kids to a public hospital when they get sick. Much of that cash goes into so-called red envelopes--bribes--for doctors who otherwise prescribe expensive medicines in retaliation for not getting a "gift." Few of the 4,000 villagers have medical insurance. "The government doesn't pay for a thing," she gripes. Ask about bird flu and Zhang tosses out a chilling wish: "I hope bird flu ravages China--to prove to the leadership what's wrong with health care in the countryside."Zhang may be closer to getting her apocalyptic wish. Bird-flu jitters are spreading worldwide, as the tempo...
  • The Flimsy Wall of China

    There's hardly a better spawning ground for a bird-flu pandemic. If the virus makes the leap to human-to-human transmission, the odds are strong that it will happen in China. The place is home to 1.3 billion humans--three quarters of them still living on the farm--and more than 10 times that number of chickens, ducks and other domestic poultry. Those farmers keep 70 percent of the world's pigs, which can be walking petri dishes for mutating strains of flu. To top it all off, the public-health system is in ruins.Doctors in China could head off a pandemic--in theory, that is. Epidemiologists say the secret would be to spot the mutated disease before it infects more than 20 people, within three weeks of exposure. If those patients are quickly isolated and treated with antiviral drugs, "there's more than a 90 percent chance of stamping out that strain of the virus," says Dr. Julie Hall of the World Health Organization in Beijing. If things get past that point, the contagion has probably...
  • Line of Defense

    In the '90s, the Chongqing Special Steelworks was touted as a modern state-run enterprise, with fat profits and grand plans to expand. In fact, its managers were cooking the books to feign profitability. They couldn't pay back loans--or, eventually, the workers' salaries. After the company declared bankruptcy in July, its 15,000 workers began protesting. Some hung white banners--and a 1970s Chairman Mao portrait--out in public, demanding new jobs. On Oct. 7, more than 4,000 workers and relatives converged near the plant, blocking traffic. When more than 100 police pulled up, a melee erupted. Cops and unidentified civilians waded into the crowd swinging electric cattle prods. "Three protesters died, and more than 30 were wounded," one jittery eyewitness told NEWSWEEK last week, requesting anonymity because he feared for his safety. Another began weeping when she recalled the bloodshed, motioning at dozens of Chinese riot police who continued to mill about the protest site last week,...
  • Big Brother Is Talking

    Like many Chinese twenty-somethings, Lu Ruchao loves to surf the Internet. He often visits a local chat room to sample the neighborhood buzz. One day, Lu noticed that Netizens were complaining that local police often drove down the main street of Suquian with sirens blaring, disturbing half the city. Lu, himself a policeman, jumped into the e-fray. He tapped out a defense of the police, arguing that a cop car sounding its siren is responding to an emergency and shouldn't be criticized. But Lu isn't just any cop. He's one of China's estimated 30,000 to 40,000 e-police who collectively serve as an Orwellian Big Brother for the country's nearly 100 million Internet users. "We have to face knives and guns while on duty every day," Lu explained later to the Chinese publication Southern Weekend. "How can they criticize us?"Beijing's Web commissars have made a quantum leap in their efforts to tame the Internet. Much has been written already about Chinese censors' ability to monitor Net...
  • NORTH KOREA HOLD 'EM

    High-stakes diplomacy is not unlike "Celebrity Poker." In both there is a big stage, a rapt audience and swift reversals of fortune. And in diplomacy as in poker, the best players can sense when their opponents are bluffing, wavering--or holding a winning hand. That certainly seemed to be the game that Wu Dawei, China's chief negotiator, was playing last week during the six-party talks in Beijing over North Korea's nuclear-arms program.For two years the Americans were thought to control most of the chips. The Chinese hosts often fretted about American intransigence--Washington's blunt willingness to walk away if it did not get what it wanted. But this time a subtle shift in psychology occurred at the table. When Wu presented a draft accord on Sept. 16--the fifth the Chinese team had painstakingly drawn up--the U.S. reaction was typical: we can't accept this. The draft alluded to the delivery of a civilian light-water nuclear reactor as one of the rewards Pyongyang would get if it...
  • The Empire Strikes Back

    After George W. Bush greets visiting Chinese President Hu Jintao on the White House South Lawn this week, they'll sit down to discuss many things--trade cooperation and energy needs among them. But one thing they probably won't talk about is the end of the Sino-U.S. post-9/11 honeymoon. Four years ago, American and Chinese officials joined hands in the war against terrorism, and Beijing stood by stoically as American GIs and air bases proliferated in Central Asia. But now, even as both sides profess that the bilateral relationship is healthier than ever, Beijing is pushing back against American influence in Asia, both political and military. "The U.S. used the excuse of counterterrorism to get into Central Asia, and then it tried to lead the entire region," says Gao Heng, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing who is familiar with official thinking. "But now it's high time for the Americans to leave."Beijing is asserting itself chiefly by using multilateral...
  • THE TROUBLES OF A TRIAL

    He's as shameless as ever. The Arab news channel Al Arabiya aired a video clip of Saddam Hussein last week confidently asserting his rights before an Iraqi Special Tribunal judge. "Is this how the law works?" the jailed ex-dictator demanded. "The defendant doesn't see his lawyer until he is in court? And doesn't know there is a hearing until he gets there?" He said it indignantly, as if he had no memory of the thousands of Iraqis who were tortured and summarily killed during his reign. And yet the tribunal's biggest responsibility is to make sure this defendant gets an impeccably fair trial. The proceedings will have little point unless they show that the new government is nothing like the old one.The final verdict is practically a foregone conclusion. What can't be predicted is how the country will react. U.S. and Iraqi officials want the former leader's trial to be cathartic--a healing event for Iraq's people--and there's no doubt that most Iraqis are eager to see him face justice...
  • 'Help Me! I'm a Hostage.'

    Tipped off to "suspicious activity" around a house in the restive, Sunni-dominated Ghazaliya area of Baghdad, Iraqi soldiers from the army's Second Battalion, First Armored Brigade decided to mount a cordon-and-search operation Wednesday morning. They had no idea the routine raid would morph into a sensational hostage rescue, brigade commander Brig. Gen. Jaleel Khalaf Shewi tells NEWSWEEK.When a squad of soldiers knocked on the door, an Iraqi man answered--and panicked when he saw the soldiers' uniforms, according to Jaleel. Warily, some soldiers took up positions around the house while others entered the building. Inside, they saw several Iraqis--and an older man with a shaved head lying prone, his body entirely covered with a blanket."Who's this?" asked one soldier. "He's my father, and he's sick," answered one of the Iraqi men, according to Jaleel's account. But when the soldier pulled back the blanket, he saw that the older man, clad in a dun-colored traditional Arab robe called...
  • GAMES AND GRIEVANCES

    Wang Qishan may have imagined that he had foreseen every possible pitfall for the 2008 Olympics--but that was before the World Snooker Tournament came to town. As Beijing's mayor, he was shocked and embarrassed for his city by the boorish-ness of spectators at this year's China Open, the first world-championship snooker round ever held in the country. Snooker audiences are supposed to sit quietly and respect the players' concentration. Unfortunately, someone forgot to tell the crowd in Beijing. Cameras flashed. People jabbered on mobile phones. One memorable match was disrupted by loud snores. "It was a circus," one top player complained later. The horrified Wang called the risk of such an ill-bred display at the 2008 Games "a problem Beijing cannot afford to ignore."The torch won't reach the city until Aug. 8, 2008, but pre-event jitters are rising already. Slobs in the stands are the least of Beijing's fears. What really unnerves China's leaders is the thought of mass unrest on...
  • ASIA: FURIES UNLEASHED

    For China's top leaders, the unrest seemed like a recurring bad dream. Last Saturday 20,000 furious Chinese protesters shouting "Japanese pigs, come out!" rampaged through Shanghai, tossing stones and tomatoes at the Japanese Consulate, trashing shops and flipping over a Nissan van. Two Japanese were reported injured by an angry mob; smaller demonstrations broke out in Hangzhou and Tianjin. The previous week, thousands of unruly Chinese in Beijing had broken windows at the Japanese Embassy. Just hours afterward, China's powerful Politburo Standing Committee called an emergency damage-control meeting. President Hu Jintao warned against letting the unrest spread, to avoid giving protesters "a pretext to vent their dissatisfaction" over other issues, according to a high-level Chinese source. The mood of alarm evoked the Politburo strategy sessions back in 1989, added the source, when massive protests paralyzed Tiananmen Square for weeks. "They don't want to lose control."The immediate...
  • A MONSTER ON THE LOOSE

    If there was a script, this wasn't in it. China's president, Hu Jintao, convened an emergency session of the Politburo's powerful Standing Committee two weekends ago, just hours after anti-Japanese protests in the capital first turned violent. Thousands of marchers had converged on the Japanese Embassy, breaking windows and chanting "Kill the Japanese!" and "Come out, Japanese pigs!" Diplomacy aside, Hu's big worry was the threat of a new Tiananmen-style showdown. A well-informed Chinese source tells NEWSWEEK that in a jittery scene reminiscent of the leadership's 1989 war room, Hu warned against allowing the turmoil to spread. That, he said, would only give dissidents "a pretext to vent their dissatisfaction."His concern came too late. Unrest erupted in Guangzhou, Shanghai and other cities while police fought to maintain order. The public outcry was supposedly set off by advance reviews of a revisionist history textbook to be released in Japan this May. (Even Japan's leading...
  • THE MERCHANT MARINE

    The new port of Gwadar will be unveiled April 6 as the "Dubai of Pakistan," even if it lacks the theme-park glitz of the Gulf's fantasy city. The point, say Chinese officials, who bankrolled 80 percent of the $248 million project, is that this new deepwater cargo port is "strictly commercial." But hawks in Washington and New Delhi believe Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has given Beijing the nod to use Gwadar as a port of call for the Chinese Navy. "Gwadar's a strategic location, just 400 kilometers from the Strait of Hormuz," says William Triplett III, a Washington-based conservative analyst who warns Gwadar will become a Chinese naval base "on little cat feet."Alarm bells are ringing in Washington, where some see a pattern in Beijing's naval build-up, combined with a foreign-port building spree and efforts to secure maritime oil-transport routes. An internal report circulated among Pentagon officials late last year says Beijing is assembling a "string of pearls"--including...
  • Bottom Dollar

    THE GREENBACK'S FALL IS STOKING FEARS OF A GLOBAL CRISIS. BEHIND THE SLIDE: A WORLD ECONOMY WILDLY OUT OF BALANCE.
  • Migrants' Rights: Opening Up the System

    Thanks to economic reforms that began in Zhao Ziyang's time, an estimated 140 million rural-born migrants now live and work in Chinese cities, lending energy and cheap labor to China's economic boom. But their right to live in the city is still bedeviled by the rigid Maoist-era registration, or hukou , system that categorizes them as rural residents. They've often been treated as second-class citizens, and denied access to education, social welfare and other urban rights. Some migrants haven't received back wages for years.Now, jittery in the wake of Zhao's death, Beijing authorities are scrambling to keep migrant workers happy. Months ago authorities laid plans to pay migrant workers nearly $4 billion in back salaries before the Chinese New Year. (The holiday, which begins Feb. 9, is a traditional time for clearing debts and spending time with family.) In the past some migrants, unable to return home for lack of pay, have resorted to desperate protests--demonstrations, suicide,...
  • WORSE THAN WAR

    In the wake of the tsunami, Sippiah Paramu Tamilselvan and his colleagues are scrambling to manage a massive relief operation. Soldiers, medics and even psychological-trauma counselors swung into action with impressive efficiency after the quake-triggered waves struck Sri Lanka's northeastern coast. But this boyish 38-year-old calling the shots is far from your typical Asian official, and the operations under his control have little connection to the island nation's Sinhalese-dominated government. Far from it: Tamilselvan is a senior guerrilla figure, the combat-hardened leader of the political wing of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), or Tamil Tigers, which launched an armed rebellion against Colombo in 1983. "Two decades of war has created an entirely different magnitude of disaster here compared to elsewhere," he says from his headquarters in Kilinochchi, a hardscrabble town that functions as the LTTE capital.Now the Tigers' de facto administration in northeastern Sri...
  • SRI LANKA: GETTING RELIEF TO TIGER TERRITORY

    Not so long ago, you would have been courting death by trying to drive from Colombo to Kilinochchi. Now aid convoys are rolling all the way from the capital to the nerve center of Sri Lanka's rebel army, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Even so, the 250-mile journey is like a visit to another universe. A disintegrating highway leads through a gauntlet of Army emplacements as far as the Sri Lankan government's control extends. Behind the Tigers' lines, the landscape abruptly changes. The road threads its way through lush greenery and signs warning of land mines. Many houses are roofless ruins. They're miles inland from where the tsunami hit. This damage was done by the island's civil war.Will peace emerge from the coastal destruction? Although both sides say they hope so, reasons for skepticism abound. Decades of tit-for-tat ethnic cleansings and atrocities have deepened the hatred between Tamils in the northeast and the Sinhalese majority in the south. The LTTE has been...
  • SEEING THE FUTURE

    As a child, Chen Tianqiao's greatest dream was to fulfill his parents' expectations and become a government official. After graduation he joined a state-owned enterprise for four years--but then jumped into private business. Now he's one of China's most successful entrepreneurs. Chen's company, Shanda Interactive Entertainment, has become the biggest online-gaming firm in the world. The company's stock, which trades on NASDAQ, has doubled in the past six months. Shares owned by Chen and his relatives are now worth more than $1 billion, making him China's wealthiest person.That's hardly the end of the story. Online gaming has reached only a fraction of the potential audience in Asia, and it's only started to catch on in the West. Chen, 31, is leading the way. Back in 1999, when most new IT companies in China were copying Western dot-com businesses, Chen and a few friends came up with an original business model. A fee-per-minute gaming service, they reasoned, would be impervious to...
  • Runs Like a Camel

    Group think: China is a nation governed by committee. That approach may work for fine-tuning the world's hottest economy. But it has also muddled Beijing's strategic vision
  • GODS OF POLITICS

    At 15 the Dalai Lama--whom followers consider the reincarnated Buddha of compassion--became leader of both the Tibetan government and the Tibetan Buddhist faith. After a Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule, he fled to exile in India in 1959 and became a symbol of religious faith, winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. He spoke recently in Mumbai with NEWSWEEK's Melinda Liu and Sudip Mazumdar about religious and temporal leadership. Excerpts:NEWSWEEK: Did your spiritual and temporal roles ever clash?DALAI LAMA: No. If you're a religious leader you're less likely to act in a scandalous or corrupt manner.You never felt torn between the interests of government versus religion?Not during my time. During the time of the 10th Dalai Lama [Tsultrim Gyatso, 1816-37], there was a form of corporal punishment involving the amputation of limbs. He largely stopped the practice. However, I feel there is potential conflict, being head of a religious organization as well as head of government....
  • The Proxy War

    Corruption scandals are a battleground for jousting among the nation's top leadership
  • SCALING DOWN THE BIGGEST DREAMS

    From the Taj Mahal to the Great Wall, the Asian landscape is littered with monuments to imperial ambition and engineering. In recent decades, cities from Kuala Lumpur to Taipei have competed to construct the world's tallest building. But just when it seemed that Asia's "edifice complex" was reaching near-pathological proportions, it peaked. In the past year new leaders have been pulling their nations out of the race to build the biggest, longest and most expensive of everything.Moderation is now in vogue. When Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi took office a year ago, he postponed a $3.8 billion railway-building plan that was going to be one of Asia's biggest infrastructure projects. In India, newly elected Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recently called for rethinking a vast river-linking scheme promoted by his predecessor. And Beijing last month announced the cancellation of five out of 10 major venues for the 2008 Summer Olympics. Officials have quietly dropped a slogan...
  • SPACE VEGGIES

    The produce departments of the future may look like nothing on earth, and with good reason. Chinese scientists have been growing tomatoes the size of softballs, cucumbers as long as baseball bats and other outsize fruits and vegetables, using seeds that have been shot into space. The seeds are then exposed to seven types of extraterrestrial conditions, from zero gravity and cosmic radiation to subatomic particles. As these space veggies grow back on earth, they are selected for desirable traits--bulk, appearance or certain nutrients--then bred through successive generations to ensure that the mutations are consistent.Chinese scientists don't understand exactly how a trip into space alters the seeds' DNA and yields such effects, but it's not just size that changes. Tong Yichao, whose firm, the Beijing Flying Eagle Green Foods Group, has been sending seeds and seedlings aboard Chinese spacecraft since 1999, says it has grown space tomatoes with 27 percent more of the antioxidant beta...
  • BYE-BYE, BUSYBODY

    When Guang-Zhou resident Ma Yiyong, 57, went to renew his unemployment certificate last month, something extraordinary happened: he did so efficiently and discreetly, with a few keystrokes. "It used to be troublesome in the past," says Ma. "I would have to stand in line several times, and sometimes officials weren't at their desks. Now it's fast."China's romance with e-government is making life easier, but its biggest benefit may be in circumventing one of the last bastions of communism: the infamous neighborhood committees. These groups of local party members have served as the authorities' eyes and ears. They made it their business to know who was having marital problems, grumbling about the government or out of work. Citizens in Guangzhou, the capital of one of China's most prosperous provinces, can now apply for official documents, gripe about uncollected garbage or post their opinions about current affairs, all online.Government departments have also begun using similar...
  • WOES OF A DO-GOODER

    The Chinese government does not like being embarrassed. In April 2003 Dr. Jiang Yanyong became a Chinese folk hero after disclosing the true extent of Beijing's SARS epidemic and exposing a government cover-up. The retired Army surgeon, who is one of China's best-known antigovernment critics, surely saved lives with his alert; indeed, his name was even bandied about this month as a contender for the Nobel Peace Prize. But Jiang, 73, wasn't exactly rewarded for his effort. After a seven-week detention this summer, the whistle-blower remains under a loose form of house arrest--unable to leave his residential compound without permission. Three weeks ago Jiang was permitted to leave home and enjoy a meal in public with relatives and friends. It was his second outing in a matter of days. Ever since Hu Jintao assumed leadership of the military as well as the government during the Communist Party plenum in mid-September, Jiang (who remains an active member of the People's Liberation Army)...
  • SCALING DOWN

    From the Taj Mahal to the Great Wall, the Asian landscape is littered with monuments to imperial ambition and engineering. In recent decades cities from Kuala Lumpur to Taipei have competed to build the world's tallest building. But just when it seemed that Asia's "edifice complex" was reaching near-pathological proportions, it peaked. In the past year new leaders have been pulling their nations out of the race to build the tallest, biggest, longest and most expensive of everything.A new sense of moderation is ending the era of ego-driven megaprojects. When Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi took office a year ago, he postponed a $3.8 billion railway-building plan that was going to be one of Asia's biggest infrastructure projects. In India, newly elected Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recently called for a rethink of a vast river-linking scheme promoted by his predecessor. And Beijing last month announced the cancellation of five out of 10 major new venues for the 2008 Summer...
  • SEEDS OF INVENTION

    The only thing a Bachelor's Degree in Computer Science did for Amit Nanavati was make him overqualified for most of the available jobs in his hometown of New Delhi. So he did what many ambitious Indians did in the late 1980s: he went to the United States for graduate school. The move worked wonders on his career. As soon as he finished his Ph.D. at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge in 1996, a fast-rising start-up called Netscape snapped him up. Nanavati would have preferred to go back home to India, but figured he'd have an even tougher time marketing himself. He was mistaken. In the time it took him to get his degree, career prospects for engineers and scientists in India had brightened considerably. By 1998 he found himself back in New Delhi, as a researcher at IBM's new lab, where he's been ever since. "India is the right place and this is the right time," he says.These are indeed boom times for research in Asia. U.S. and European corporations, in an effort to get closer...