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Babylon & Beyond

Observations from Iraq, Iran,
Israel, the Arab world and beyond

Category: China

CHINA: Beijing authorities blocks Internet searches for 'Egypt'

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The unrest may be taking place thousands of miles away, but Chinese Internet censors felt it close enough to disable searches for "Egypt" in its Twitter-like services.

The blocking underscores Beijing’s continued concern over the Internet and its potential to access anti-government information and organize opposition to China’s ruling Communist Party. 

Protests have swept across cities in Egypt with the aim of ousting President Hosni Mubarak. The Egyptian government has since suspended Internet and cellphone service in the country.

China’s 457 million Internet users have been embracing microblogs, which act like Twitter by allowing people to write short posts and provide links instantaneously. Twitter is banned in China and accessible only through special software.

The number of micoblog users is believed to have more than tripled to 100 million last year and has attracted film stars and famous entrepreneurs. China’s leading Internet portals, such as Sohu.com and Sina.com, have been offering the service, which had been thought of as an example of growing free expression in an otherwise tightly controlled corner of China.

Last summer, the services were mysteriously shut down in what was believed to be a warning to the web portals to scrub their sites of politically sensitive topics. At the time, searches for posts about protests in southern China over the demise of Cantonese were disabled.

Chinese media coverage of the Egyptian crisis has been mostly downplayed, with little mention of the underlying causes for the revolt. In international sections, newspapers carried nearly identical reports provided by the state-controlled New China News Agency,  a common practice for politically sensitive issues.

Coverage, both online and in print, focused on the economic repercussions of the situation in Egypt, with the Egyptian pound falling against the dollar on Friday. No mention was made of Egypt’s rising prices or official corruption -- problems with which many Chinese are all too familiar.

Searches on Sina.com for "Egypt" returned a message saying, "According to relevant laws, statues and policies, the search results cannot be displayed." A microblogging site operated by Tencent showed no results.

--David Pierson in Beijing

Photo: People surf the Internet at a Beijing Internet cafe. Credit: Diego Azubel / European Pressphoto Agency

IRAN: Shooting for gold at 16th Asian Games in China

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The 16th Asian Games are underway in Guangzhou, China, and aside from an ongoing flap over the naming of the Persian Gulf, Iran is participating wholeheartedly, fielding nearly 400 athletes and winning 14 medals so far, the most for any Middle East country participating in the games.

On Wednesday, Iran won two gold medals for men's tae kwan do, its first gold in the Games since they began Nov. 12.

It also won a silver medal for women's 50-meter rifle three-position shooting. Wang Chengyi of China won the gold medal in the event. 

-- Los Angeles Times

Photo: Elaheh Ahmadi of Iran concentrates between rounds during the women's 50-meter three-position rifle shooting event at the 16th Asian Games in Guangzhou, China. She won the silver medal in the event. Credit: Wong Maye-E / Associated Press

IRAN: Row over Persian vs. Arabian Gulf at China games ruffles Tehran's feathers

Picture 1Iran views China as its key strategic partner and shield against harsh international scrutiny when it comes to its nuclear program. 

But it didn't take long for Iranians to raise hackles of protest after organizers of the 16th Asian Games held in Guangzhou, China, referred to the Persian Gulf, the stretch of water separating Iran from the Arabian Peninsula, as the "Arabian Gulf."

Irked Iranian officials began to send letters of protest to the offices of their Chinese counterparts over the weekend condemning what they called name "distortion."

Iran's ambassador to China, Mehdi Safari, told Iran's state-run Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) that a number of notes protesting the incident had been sent to the Chinese Foreign Ministry as well as to the organizers of the sports event, prompting an apology from both agencies to Iran.

Continue reading »

IRAN: Chinese activists to opposition: 'Go, Iranian friends! Go!'

Picture 23The governments of Iran and China have grown considerably closer in recent years as the two regional powerhouses find themselves with complementary economies and little love for Western-led attacks on their domestic and foreign policies.

But now it appears relations are warming from the bottom-up, which could pose a threat to both governments.

Chinese democracy activists have launched an online campaign known by its Twitter tag #CN4Iran, or "China for Iran," expressing solidarity with the Iranian opposition and condemning their own government's complicity in the crackdown.

Continue reading »

IRAN: Chinese-made armored anti-riot trucks, equipped with plows, may arrive in Tehran


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An opposition news website is reporting that Iran has imported high-tech armored anti-riot vehicles equipped with water cannons that can douse people with boiling water or teargas.

The U.S.-based Persian-language news website Rahesabz, or Green Path, posted a photograph of what it described as a photograph of two of the trucks arriving at the Iranian port city of Bandar Abbas in the south.

Iran-trucks3 The website said the vehicles were a rush order from their manufacturers in China, Dalian Eagle-Sky, according to the blogger Sohrebestan

(See a translation of his post in English at the blog Persian2English.)

With an alleged price of $650,000 a unit, the 25-ton trucks each hold 2,640 gallons of water, which can shoot hot or cold water at a distance of up 220 feet. 

They can also shoot tear gas, burning chemicals or paint stored in three 26-gallon containers.

It includes a plow, which can presumably demolish makeshift barriers placed on streets by protesters, or even the demonstrators themselves.

Iranian protesters torched police vehicles and motorcycles during anti-government riots last weekend, when police trucks allegedly ran over at least one demonstrator, as shown in the video below.

Iranian officials say the video footage was fake, doctored by the West to make Iran look bad.

Continue reading »

IRAN: Footage emerges from demonstrations across the country

Videos are surfacing on YouTube today of what appear to be mourners’ demonstrations in cities outside Iran’s capital including Ahvaz, Shiraz and Rasht.

This video, claiming to be from Rasht, shows marchers silently making their way down a street, some with their heads bowed and holding candles. A similar protest is posted and said to be held in Esfehan. On the 40th day since the death of Neda Agha-Soltan, demonstrators defied authorities and participated in protests for those killed during the post-election unrest.


-- Amber Smith and Naveed Mansoori in Los Angeles

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TURKEY: Government defends Chinese Uighur minority

Turkey-uighur When Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan criticized Israel’s actions in Gaza, he was aligning himself with his fellow Muslims.

Now he’s picking up the standard of the Uighurs in northwest China.

The Uighurs, who like  the Turks are an ethically Turkic and Sunni Muslim people, are the focus of riots in Xinjiang Province, sparking tensions with both the Chinese government and members of the Han Chinese ethnic group.

In response to ethnic violence as a result of the riots, Erdogan didn’t mince words: “These incidents in China are as if they are genocide…. We ask the Chinese government not to remain a spectator to these incidents. There is clearly a savagery here.”

The Turks have rushed to the defense of the Uighurs, while the Iranian government has remained silent, even alleging that the Uighurs were acting at the behest of the U.S. 

Iran has fashioned itself as a leader of Muslims worldwide, but the unrest following the Iranian elections may be keeping the government silent.

Continue reading »

IRAN: Are China's Muslims worthy of Islamic Republic's support?

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Although Iranian authorities were quick to condemn the killing of a Muslim Egyptian woman by an alleged racist in a German courtroom last week, allowing protesters to organize a demonstration and hurl eggs at the German Embassy in Tehran, they've been less than compassionate about scores of Muslims killed in western China.

"The United States is behind the riots in Xinjiang," said an analysis published by the official Islamic Republic News Agency, or IRNA. "Living conditions have improved for the Chinese Muslims. These riots have no religious aspect and they are just the outcome of a U.S. conspiracy. However, the Western media have exaggerated the events in Xinjiang."

The government's domestic critics have been outraged by its response. Already emboldened and angered by the marred reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, they have been quick to pounce. 

Continue reading »

IRAN: Despite sanctions, business as usual

Iransanctions_2 A South Korean firm announced Sunday that it had completed construction of a $2.1-billion natural-gas processing plant in Iran, the latest sign that years of Western efforts to isolate Iran economically were not not having a huge effect.

South Korea's GS Engineering & Construction Co., the country's No. 2 builder, said Sunday it had finished the plant in Assaluyeh, in southern Iran, according to South Korea's official Yonhap news agency.

The company began construction of the plant in 2003. It will be able to produce 19 million tons of natural gas a year.

The announcement comes a day after Iran announced it had signed a $3.2-billion deal with China for exploitation of the gigantic South Pars natural-gas field in the Persian Gulf.

China's vote of confidence in the Iranian energy market came, coincidentally,  just shortly after Chinese leader Wen Jiabao voiced worry about the solvency of the United States.

Continue reading »

IRAQ: Homeless in Baghdad

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It's bad enough to be homeless. It's worse to be homeless in a war-torn city such as Baghdad. But to be homeless and without even a country to claim you as a citizen? That is the apparent plight of a family living outside a five-star hotel in the Iraqi capital. As we wrote in today's story, Allia Abbis Ali Kassem Tibiti and her parents claim to be from Tibet and moved into their spot because the Chinese Embassy is inside the hotel across the street. They're hoping their presence will force the Chinese to grant them citizenship documents and let them leave Iraq.

Continue reading »

EGYPT: Welcome China

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Chinatown in Cairo? Perhaps, one day. China’s rising stature and economic power has Egyptians curious about learning Chinese.

Al Ahram weekly reports that the Chinese government is building a $3.75-million school in Egypt to teach Chinese language and history.

“The Chinese are not coming; they’re already here,” states the article, which notes that even traditional Ramadan lanterns hanging throughout Cairo were manufactured in China. “So pervasive have Chinese products and the Chinese people who make them become in Egypt that a Chinatown could well be built here in a few years.”

After Arabic, English is the second-most popular language in Egypt, but for many here, Chinese is the global language of tomorrow.

Since the end of colonialism, Egypt and much of the region, especially in the last eight years, have grown mistrustful and wary of the West. A glimpse eastward is intriguing.

“I would rather let my boy study Chinese, rather than any other common language,” Mohamed Abdel-Hamid, an Egyptian engineer, told the newspaper. “The future is now in China, its culture, industry, language and education.”

— Jeffrey Fleishman in Cairo

Photo: A group of Chinese students. Credit: United Nations

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