An Outsider Looking In:
Around the Hong Kong News Desk
by Chris Gelken
Sunday, March 25, 2001 -- HONG KONG (APJP) -- It is surely a bitter irony: how the 'freedom fighters' of 1999 have turned into the 'terrorists' of 2001.
Of course, I am talking about the ethnic Albanians who are now doing their utmost to destablise Macedonia and possibly set off another Balkan war. The Republic of Yugoslavia and its neighbours are still suffering the after effects of the NATO bombing campaign - conducted in the name of the very same ethnic Albanians who hope to establish a 'Greater Albania' where non-Moslems will be treated as second-class citizens.. as they were in Kosovo before Slobodan Milosevic revoked their semi-autonomous status.
It is sad to see the major networks effectively brushing this irony under the carpet. It is sometimes mentioned in passing - but the glib retorts of "This is a different situation" from such luminaries as Javier Solana and Chris Patten are taken at face value and the reporters move on to the next question.
It is not a different situation. NATO got it wrong in 1999 and they are simply too arrogant to admit it.
Another area where the West is getting it wrong is the Middle East. According to the United Nations charter it is quite legal for an occupied people to rise up against those that occupy. The United Nations acknowledges that Israel 'occupies' Palestinian territories - and yet the Security Council allows Israel to dictate terms when it comes to putting a force of observers on the ground in Gaza and the West Bank.
When Saddam Hussein told the West to keep its nose out of local affairs after the invasion of Kuwait, his cities were bombed. When Slobodan Milosevic told the West that Kosovo was an internal affair of Serbia, NATO bombed. When the Palestinians ask for an observer force to be put on the ground, the United States leads the charge to veto the proposal. We have an occupied people calling for international help, and they are ignored.
Let's be clear. I am no apologist for Hussein, Milosevic or Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat. Far from it. But I am also no apologist for the almost incomprehensible foreign policies of the Western powers. The problem, as I see it, is that often crucial questions are either not asked, or if they are, inadequate answers are accepted.
Take the foot and mouth disease outbreak in Britain. Should this disease cross the Atlantic it would devastate US agriculture. The disease is now obviously out of control in Britain, and this weekend a government vet is suggesting the establishment of 'fire walls' - the slaughter of all livestock within a two mile radius of infected farms. There is talk that by the time this is over, about half the livestock in Britain could have been slaughtered.
A colleague of mine in Britain told me last night about a BBC Newsnight report that revealed the British government had been in touch with lumber merchants to query the availability of timber for pyres to destroy the remains of slaughtered livestock. Interestingly, this request for information was made some two weeks before the first news of the outbreak was announced. Now, I ask you, isn't that one hell of a coincidence? Because that is what the British government are calling it - 'coincidence.' The ministry offered vague explanations that 'it may have been part of a regular updating of records by some junior official' - yet that junior official hasn't been named. The 'schedule' hasn't been made public either.
The fact remains that British agriculture was and is still reeling from the Mad Cow crisis - adding foot and mouth would have been a disaster. It is perfectly reasonable for 'conspiracy theorists' to suggest that in an effort to save the industry, the British government tried to keep this under wraps for as long as possible. And the fact remains that Mad Cow was dismissed as a problem until it was acknowledged as a problem. Urban myth or not?
And while we are on the subject of 'urban myths' - once again I would like to inform my colleagues in the media that the Chinese people do indeed have access to Western news reports. Okay, so it isn't in everyone's home, but the oft cited claim that the Chinese population are denied access to Western media is an urban myth. Anyone who has spent time in China will tell you that CNN is widely available in hotels, the BBC will also soon be available - again. In the southern province of Guangzhou, residents can receive Hong Kong television. Hotel lobbies, airport lounges and bars and restaurants where foreigners go to drink and eat are littered with dog-eared copies of Time and Newsweek.
Crossing the border or on arrival in Beijing visitors are not searched and then divested of their latest copy of the South China Morning Post. Just because something isn't actively promoted and considered a high priority, doesn't mean it isn't available if one is interested enough to find it. Internet service providers do not exhort potential customers to download their latest software so the thumbnail pictures on the porno sites will come up quicker and with more clarity!!
What rural China doesn't have are sophisticated satellite receivers and cable networks. But then, I had to laugh when my son told me that the small town of Oban in Scotland's Western Isles still doesn't have Channel 5! Is this a case of the British government censoring programs and denying residents the right to watch... or is it that the infrastructure isn't in place? You judge.
Rural China doesn't have a lot of things. According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, about two thirds of the country doesn't have a reliable clean water source. Building satellite receivers and laying cable so farmers can watch Survivor, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and American style 'wrestling' would, and probably should, come a distant second in the order of priorities.
Just out of interest, how many cable companies in rural America carry China Central Television?