Monday, February 28, 2011

Control values? Control the media!

In three European countries citizens are deeply at odds with their leaders, and public opinion in these countries is shaped in different ways. The media play an important role in it.
  • In France, a country with a history of very complicated state affairs (Clearstream, Dreyfus, Bettencourt), the foreign minister lost her job over something as simple as flying in a plane that belongs to a friend of dictator Ben Ali's. (And a controversial statement on the repression of protesters.)
  • In Germany, the defense minister is under heavy fire for plagiarism in his PhD thesis. But a whopping 68% of the population still support him.
  • And in Italy, thousands of Italian protesters all across Europe joined demonstrations against their prime minister on 13 February. Yet, many Italians, in particular elderly women, still support the prime minister. Of those who demonstrate against him, quite a few believe that he will somehow manage to remain in power after all.
  • in France you don't get away with stuff unless you control the public sphere (Sarkozy does. MAM didn't)
  • in Germany you get away with quite a lot as long as you control the public sphere (Guttenberg receives favorable coverage from BILD)
  • in Italy you get away with everything because you own the public sphere. And those defying you are either retarded or criminal
It strikes me how public opinion in these societies, all of them rather critical of politics and of political elites, would be so volatile depending on the way in which the media cover these affairs. It strikes me in particular because it touches values as well.
  • France is gloating because a morally correct politician who didn't do anything "illegal or improper", is no longer "chef de la diplomatie française".
  • Über-correct Germany has a new debate about the acceptability of cheating.
  • And Italy spends more time debating "bunga bunga" than fighting unemployment.
Values are shaped because of media coverage. And coverage is dependent on political influence over the media.

I find that worrying.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

China and EU start into Year of Youth

Today was the official launch of the EU-China Year of Youth in Beijing. 40 days after the European launch event in Brussels, 200 young people from China and the EU met in Beijing to kick off what will hopefully be a year of fruitful exchanges. They discussed potential EU-China cooperation projects, ranging from environmental protection to world heritage and intellectual property.

The cooperation is managed by the European Youth Forum (YFJ) on the European and the All-China Youth Federation (ACYF) on the Chinese side. Both have launched websites on the year of exchanges (China, EU) and an array of events and conferences is being planned in the EU and in China.

On the European side, the French are the most active organizers. They are trying to export the French language to China via a blogging competition (offline!) and a film festival for young Chinese. Second are the Germans with events on sport and social development.

But before you believe that the EU is relegated to being a spectator in culture, there are also some political EU-China Youth Events. Tomorrow marks the beginning of a a China photo exhibition in the European capital (I will try to cover it), other events include the European Youth Week or an EU-China Youth Culture Week. And also in China, some interesting things are taking place, such as the Shenzhen Universiade in August (college olympics).

Who knows, maybe we can even increase links between European and Chinese bloggers. China has a growing blogosphere (see English coverage here, here, here, here and here) and more conversation can certainly reduce a lot of cultural prejudices.

Launch video of the EU-China Year of Youth 2011

Sunday, February 20, 2011

For a strong EU condemnation of the murder in Libya

During the Tiananmen Square massacre in China in early June 1989, the Chinese army charged into a group of 100,000 protesters gathered in the center of Beijing - between 400 and 3000 protesters were killed, according to different statistics. Others estimate that more than 3000 protesters lost their lives.
The European Community issued a statement on June 6th (not available) and strongly condemned the "brutal repression taking place in China" at the European Council meeting on 26./27. June 1989 in Madrid:
"The European Council requests the Chinese authorities to respect human rights and to take into account the hopes for freedom and democracy deeply felt by the population [...] In the present circumstances, the European Council thinks it necessary to adopt the following measures:
  • raising of the issue of human rights in China in the appropriate international fora; asking for the admittance of independent observers to attend the trials and to visit the prisons
  • interruption by the Member States of the Community of military cooperation and an embargo on trade in arms with China
  • suspension of bilateral ministerial and high level contacts
  • postponement by the Community and its Member States of new cooperation projects,
  • reduction of programs of cultural, scientific and technical cooperation to only those activities that might maintain a meaning in the present circumstances"
  • During the last few days, more than 100 protesters have died in Libya, maybe even more than 200. Allegedly, snipers fired into the crowd, intentionally killing individual demonstrators. A tank intentionally crushed two demonstrators to death in their car. Facebook and Twitter have been blocked, international reporters are forbidden to report from Libya. Onlookers fear the worst.

    For the European Union, Libya has an important role as a watchdog. Gaddafi makes sure that the number of migrants flowing into the EU remains low. Esther Saoub, German correspondent in Cairo, believes that the EU will remain silent for some time in view of the protests in Libya: "Should the courageous demonstrators, who have these days dared to raise their voice, hope for support from Europe, their hope is probably in vain. Of course, Muammar Al Gaddafi is not popular with anybody in Europe save his friend Silvio Berlusconi, but since when are door guards ever popular? Still, nobody would have the idea to organize entry into an elite disco through grassroots democracy. Why should the EU be the first to have this idea?" (My translation)

    Given the situation, the EU should be as courageous towards Libya as it has been towards China in 1989. So far, nothing has been issued by the High Representative yet, neither on the pages of the EEAS, nor via Twitter. There is nothing that excuses the intentional murder of citizens, and there is nothing that excuses a cowardly EU statement on this murder. After the events in Egypt and the sudden love of EU politicians for human rights once Mubarak had fallen, everything but a strong condemnation of the murder in Libya would be hypocrisy. And it would show how much less important human rights are to us today than they were in 1989. Be courageous, Cathy Ashton.

    Update (20/02/11, 6:25 p.m.): Cathy Ashton has just issued two statements. One on the elections in Uganda, one on women's shelters in Afghanistan...
    Update (21/02/11, 12:30 a.m.): The declaration on Libya is out. "Extremely concerned", "We condemn the repression against peaceful demonstrators", "immediately refrain from further use of violence", "human rights [...] must be respected and protected", "immediately cease the blocking of public access to the internet and mobile phone networks", "legitimate aspirations and demands of the people for reform" - it's about as courageous as the Tiananmen declaration. An international conference on North Africa is to follow. Will economic sanctions be employed?
    Update (21/02/11, 9.30 a.m.): Also read reactions to Ashton's declaration here and here.
    Update (22/02/11, 8.34 p.m.): EU suspends negotiations on EU-Libya Framework Agreement. 

    Tuesday, February 15, 2011

    E.on's doublespeak

    A company isn't just your average food or service provider. A company with a good marketing strategy wants to get into your heart. And stay in your heart.

    When I was working in market research, I did surveys on energy providers. One of the questions that I asked interviewees: "On a scale between 0 and 10, to what extent do you consider XYZ an attractive energy provider?"

    One energy provider just went from 8 to 2 on my scale. E.on used to be an attractive energy provider, active beyond the provision of electricity and gas. It integrated local communities into saving schemes and participated in the DESERTEC project in Northern Africa.

    But last year, the Düsseldorf-based company funded climate change deniers in the US election campaign, and this year they are paying people to spy on environmental campaigners in the UK.

    Not a smart move. E.on wants to be more than an energy provider, and it will be judged on that. Such a series of faux pas tarnishes the shiny image of the enterprise. It had better not get caught red-handed again.

    Wednesday, February 9, 2011

    Jon Huntsman - US Ambassador in China to run against Obama?

    He's fluent in Mandarin, one of his adopted daughters was born in China and he communicates across cultural faultlines with elegance. After Barack Obama built a bridge between Caucasian Americans and African Americans, Jon Huntsman may build bridges between America and China. The US Ambassador to China handed in his resignation at the beginning of February - everybody expects the former Republican governor of Utah to take up the fight against Barack Obama in 2012.

    Huntsman is described by commentators as an inspiring, charismatic and intelligent person, leaving interlocutors "slightly glassy-eyed at the memory of their encounter". In comparing Huntsman to charismatic Bill Clinton, a British businessman says that “Clinton ... was just addicted to people, like a vampire he consumed them for his own benefit. I’d put Huntsman on a higher plane than that ... it’s Huntsman’s ability to make you feel like he’s always slightly off-script, a little bit close to the edge: a joke here, a side reference there, that makes you feel he’s incapable of being evasive and not phased by anything.” The US ambassador is known for thinking outside the box and would sometimes arrive at meetings with the Chinese Foreign Ministry on his bicycle.

    Of course, Huntsman's progressive and unconventional thinking makes him a difficult choice for the Republican Party. Orville Schell, Director of the Asia Society’s Center on U.S.-China Relations says that "given the acid political environment in Washington and the emphatically anti-intellectual attitude of all too many Republicans, one is left to wonder how long a man of Huntsman’s intelligence and international experience will be able to [remain an untarnished and energized candidate]". Besides, 17 other Republican politicians are mentioned as potential candidates for the presidential bid as well.

    For Europe, one of the most important questions is how far Huntsman could change the Republican Party. In a very interesting post, American author James McGregor estimates that Huntsman will have to "McCainize", to move far to the right to win the Republican bid. Where will it take him? You may remember that Republicans and Democrats alike based a considerable part of their last election campaign on China bashing. Will the Republicans now accept a mind as open as Jon Huntsman? And are they going to accept a candidate who worked for the Obama administration?

    I guess before Huntsman can close any cultural gaps to China, he has to close a pretty big gap within his own party.