Tag Archives: senkaku

Welcome to Shenzhen – where the pollution comes from

20 Sep

Shenzhen skylineI had the honour of a few days in Shenzhen this week. For those of you who don’t know, Shenzhen is Hong Kong’s younger brother across the border in mainland China, about an hour’s MTR ride away. He doesn’t suffer fools gladly, he’s brash, dirty, full of money he doesn’t know what to do with but on the plus side has a very clean and efficient metro system. That last one was just about the city.

Shenzhen is the product of former Communist Party supreme leader Deng Xiaoping’s vision to liberalise a country brought to its knees by his boss for so many years, Mao Zedong. Deng’s idea was to set up Special Economic Zones which would act as a kind of canary down the mine and see if the Communist state could pull off the immense balancing act of maintaining its totalitarian rule while allowing capitalism to thrive. In just 30 years the small village on the Pearl River Delta grew to a city of 14 million. Yeah, you could probably say it worked.

Except, arriving in Shenzhen from Hong Kong, it definitely hasn’t. It’s provides a horrifying insight into the kind of cities dotted all over the People’s Republic – all mouth and no trousers. So bereft of any cultural history it makes Hong Kong look like Kyoto. Actually, it make Vegas look like Kyoto.

What it does have, however, is shitloads of fake stuff. From knock off iPhones to Gucci handbags, it can be a shopper’s paradise, which is ironic considering most mainland Chinese come to Hong Kong to shop for their label goods because of the lower tax there. That’s legit stuff though, this is most definitely tat with a capital T. Just don’t expect much of it to last.

Don’t go to Shenzhen either for a gourmet experience of the ‘real China’. The restaurants I ventured in – and I went to some pretty swank ones – were universally dreadful. All of them smelled very strongly of fetid antisceptic wash and stale smoke, food arrived barely warm and just not right. Maybe I am too programmed into Hong Kong’s niceties. Or perhaps I was immediately put off the place by getting embroiled in the middle of a massive anti-Japan protest as soon as I stepped of the metro.

I’ll give the Chinese something, though, they know how to run a police force. This lot made Judge Dredd look like that bender from Allo Allo. All kitted out in the latest riot gear – I would have taken a few pictures but was quite frankly terrified. So, in recap, if you want to find out why you can’t see from one side of Victoria harbour in Hong Kong to the other if the wind’s blowing the wrong way, take a trip to Shenzhen. If not, well…

China vs Japan – which is better? There’s only one way to find out…

25 Aug

japan imperial flagYou might have heard recently about a bit of diplomatic aggro between China and Japan. I say a bit. I mean what may in 20 years’ time be referred to as “the origins of World War Three”. As with most disputes in Asia Pacific, it revolves around a disputed set of rocks. Literally little more than jagged stubs of nothingness poking wilfully out of the deep, shouting “claim me, if you DARE!”.

Now, you might hear a lot of nationalistic posturing on both sides about their rightful claims, but here’s the deal. I can pronounce the islands in Japanese – Senkaku, since you ask – while I have more difficulty, as with most words, with the Chinese Diaoyu. This, in my book, means Japan wins by default – if half the planet can’t pronounce the pesky name then you forfeit sovereignty rights … is the new rule I’ve just made up.

Ironically in this instance, and for about the first time in such disputes, I think China probably has the more valid claim. If you look on the map, the disputed lands are bloody miles away from Japan – Taiwan has a pretty valid claim on them too, but definitely not Japan. I say ironically because China claims just about everything in the South and East China Sea because it has an old map with all of these islands, atolls, reefs and sandbanks depicted as belonging to the Middle Kingdom.  Not very convincing if you ask me but who’s going to argue with China? Well, Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Japan, now that there are signs that there could be precious minerals or even gas and oil under the crabby bits of rock.

As tensions mounted over the Senkaku dispute, a boat full of Chinese and Taiwanese activists sailed off from Hong Kong to plant the Chinese (and Taiwanese) flags on them. Now I found this propaganda stunt particularly, err, fishy given that Hong Kongers in my experience do not consider themselves to be a part of that whole Chinese territorial posturing nonsense. Yes, they may feel ethnically aligned to their cousins across the border, but when it comes to geopolitical matters, they would rather remain aloof of China’s insatiable land grab. They are happy in their difference from the PRC because it means they can hang on to things – rule of law, press freedom, financial independence, freedom of speech etc etc – that mainland Chinese can only dream of.

The whole thing smacked of a Communist-sponsored PR stunt – making sure the activists came from Hong Kong to distance the act itself from the PRC, but still showing Japan that the government has popular support for its territorial stance.

Anyway, long story short, no-one in this or any of the Asian maritime squabbles that have erupted over the past few months have particularly covered themselves in glory. What there needs to be is some kind of international arbitration in all this, some kind of union of nations which could decide on who gets what. A United Nations, if you will. Oh, wait a minute. There is.