Erenlai - Displaying items by tag: South Korea
Wednesday, 06 October 2010 18:13

An Expo-lent Australian Adventure

In early September I spent a day at the Shanghai Expo.  Bracing myself for crowds of up to 300,000 jostling queue-jumpers, I was relieved that the venue was not too packed. Most pavilions (especially later in the day) did not require any considerable time lining up.  The vast number of unused crowd barriers snaking around entrances that I bypassed at various stages of the day were testament to just how bad the queues might have been.  That said, there were still a hell of a lot of people there.

Arriving a little too late to snap up the special tickets required for China’s gargantuan pavilion (a great design actually, and one that I hope primary school kids around the world can mimic with Paddle Pop sticks), I had to settle for some of the less grandiose pavilions.

The South Korea pavilion had a great mix of 3D and interactive technology, all set to an infectious K-Pop soundtrack.  The hosts remained unflinchingly gracious in the face of relentless questioning (“Are you really Korean? REALLY? But how can you possibly speak such good Chinese?”), even managing to diffuse a vicious brawl between two frazzled and possibly queued-out ladies in the theatrette.

The India pavilion offered a snapshot of Indian civilisation from ancient times through to the recent period of economic development, but my lasting memory was of the handicraft bazaar and the tantalising smells from the curry kitchen that seduced guests meandering around the venue.

The Singapore pavilion was slick, if somewhat forgettable, and the Denmark pavilion had the actual Little Mermaid statue, shipped all the way over to China, and some bikes for visitors to cruise around on.

All good stuff but in spite of the smorgasbord of global morsels that were at my finger tips, the one pavilion I really itched to visit was that of the land of my birth – Australia.  Not just to reconnect, but to see how Australia had decided to pitch itself to what former Prime Minster Kevin Rudd famously called it’s “true friend (zhēngyǒu)”.

pf_shanghai_expo_1Upon arriving at the giant undulating pavilion, which looks a bit like a corrugated tin off-cut left to rust in a paddock, I was able to breeze in through the door, unhindered by any queue. Here I was greeted by a friendly Akubra-clad avuncular type with “G’day! When watching the movie, you might wanna sit at the back so you can see the subtitles”.  Thanks for the tip, mate.

Spiralling up a ramp around the inside of the pavilion I was treated to a potted history of Australia in series of cute dioramas. Unsurprisingly, there was an emphasis on the relationship between Australia and China.  If you were looking for any information about Aboriginal Australians, you had to wait for the last section, where the landmark 2008 apology to ‘the stolen generations’ was highlighted.

Australia’s first inhabitants were excluded from the diorama of when the English landed in Australia.  Instead of Aboriginals, as are normally included in such stylised versions of this event, the pompous-looking Englishmen were confronted with a stick-waving Koala and a stern Kangaroo with crossed arms.  Crikey!  Look at claws on that one!

While there were brief explanations of the diorama scenes, no one really seemed to be paying much attention to them. Unlike the other more hi-tech pavilions I visited, there were certainly no snazzy gizmos here to keep the punters entertained.  The crowd hurriedly snapped photos of each of the dioramas and then barrelled on up the ramp, to where though, no one seemed to know.

pf_shanghai_expo_3As it turned out, at the top of the ramp was the theatrette, where we were rounded up like cattle (how very Australian).  Once in the proverbial cattle yard, some burly Aussie bloke did his best to keep us placated until the next screening, cracking jokes in Chinese and exhorting us to be orderly “for your own safety”.  I found this guy to be pretty funny, but the people around me seemed mainly to be sniggering at his pronunciation.  Perhaps something was lost in translation.  I’m not sure how well the average Chinese person understands the Australian sense of humour.  Some didn’t seem to understand his safety instructions either, with a couple of people trying to push through the queue, even though there was a closed door at the end of it and we had been told that there were enough seats in the theatre for everyone.  The queues at the Expo were generally much more orderly than I expected based on my previous experiences lining up at various Chinese train stations and tourist venues. Nevertheless, some people still found the need to fruitlessly try to push through, only succeeding in pissing everyone else off. I’m surprised that I didn’t see more fights on the day.

The Australian movie was passable, but nowhere near the level of South Korea’s all singing, all dancing, roller coaster ride. Not that the crowd, many of whom were quite young, cared.  They all seemed very happy to be there.  The spritely attendant even managed to cajole them into chanting a mangled version of the dire Sydney Olympics-era chant “Aussie! Aussie! Aussie!”.

My favourite image from the movie was towards the beginning. Just after the characters had been introduced and the audience subjected to a montage of dodgy computer graphics, the side of an open-cut mine was spectacularly blown up.  This led in to a sequence of heavy machinery carting rocks out of the ground and onto the marketplace.  The market of course, as Australia’s recent recession-proof prosperity might testify to, is China.  What better symbol to represent Australia and China’s current relationship.  I loved it.

After the movie, we were herded down the ramp, out of the theatre and into the gift shop.  There was also some dinky-di Aussie tucker – meat pies, fish and chips, beer and other imported delicacies.  Despite my strong urge for a pie and sauce, it was all a bit pricey for me, so I skedaddled out the door and to find something a bit cheaper and possibly more tasty.

pf_shanghai_expo_4Judging by the chirpy crowds hanging around in the foyer and checking out the tacky merchandise for sale, I think the organisers had a done a good job.  The primarily Chinese guests seemed happy.  However, the Australian government wants to do more than just flog off a couple of overpriced fluffy kangaroos and tinnies of VB.  The real impact of the pavilion will be felt in the years to come, as Chinese students head to Australian universities or Chinese and Australian companies enter into business deals.

While appearing to be solid, Australia's relationship with China is not without hiccups. The level of China-awareness among the Australian public is low and at times paranoid.  My only lasting memory of China from my childhood education is of the prospectors who came out to Australia in the Gold Rush of the 1850s.  A reciprocal Chinese pavilion in downtown Sydney or Melbourne might help raise the general level of awareness of our looming northern neighbour.  You wouldn't get the full story on China, that's for sure, but at least it would be a start.  However, it is not only the Chinese government that emphasises some aspects of the country at the expense of others in order to paint an attractive picture.

Staging the Australian Expo pavilion in China means pitching the message to a Chinese audience.  If the 2010 Expo was being held in Australia, the pavilion would undoubtedly be significantly different. Australians can be very sensitive about how the nation broadcasts itself to foreign nations.  Witness the  domestic controversy generated by each new iteration of advertisements selling our wide brown land to the global tourist market.  Some Australians wish to entice foreigners with our cosmpolitan metropolises and sophisticated urban lifestyle, while others think that the beaches/bikinis/kangaroos/koalas model sells the nation best.  Given this unfortunate and out-dated dichotomy, those Australians affected by the dreaded  ‘cultural cringe’ would be best served by staying well away from the Australia pavilion.  Do yourself a favour and go to the South Korea pavilion instead.

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Wednesday, 28 July 2010 22:04

The new frontier in abolishing the death penalty

In the second half of the 20th century, there were many changes in death penalty policy worldwide. After the end of World War II and its atrocities, an abolitionist movement started in Western Europe. The first countries to abolish were Italy, Austria and Germany. They were later followed by Great Britain, Spain and France. After the last major power in Western Europe had abolished the death penalty, in 1981, the issue shifted from a question of criminal justice to a question of human rights and limits on government.

Since then, the number, scope and implementation strategies of international human rights treaties and conventions has increased. Among those treaties and conventions lies the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, which prohibits the use of capital punishment, and the UN moratorium on death penalty, a nonbinding resolution reached in 2007 which calls for a general suspension of the death penalty. In addition to these resolutions, INGOs such as Amnesty International have been launching worldwide campaigns to abolish capital punishment.

In 2009, 95 countries had abolished the death penalty, while only 18 of the 58 retentionist countries are known to have carried out executions in the same year. However, despite a decline in Asia’s overall number of executions, the continent still accounted for 90 percent of the world’s execution in 2009, the majority having been carried out in China, although Bangladesh, Japan, North Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam also carried out executions.

Nevertheless, there are many reasons to believe that Asia is the new frontier in the movement to abolish the death penalty. First, many countries are already abolitionist or de facto abolitionist. In 1989, Cambodia abolished death penalty, and then Macao, Hong Kong and more recently the Philippines followed suit, while South Korea has not carried out an execution since December 1997. Second, there is ambivalence in other Asian countries that still practice death penalty, as is the case in Taiwan.

In 1987 the Republic of China (Taiwan) emerged from 40 years of an oppressive regime under martial law, where people could be punished by death, secretly and on a whim. As Chiang Ching-Kuo opened up the country economically and began the democratisation process, Taiwan's institutions were still partly in the hands of the system which had allowed for the White Terror and other miscarriages of social justice. A key component of the democratisation process is transitional justice. The term refers to a complete set of policies in order to transform a society and overcome its past of human rights abuses, authoritarianism and societal traumas to a peaceful and more certain future. For some, this 'transition' is still in progress today.

After some controversial cases during the 1990s such as the Hsichih trio case, the number of executions carried out in Taiwan decreased and a change of attitude towards the death penalty began to emerge. Between 2006 and 2009, no executions were carried out, and Taiwan seemed to be moving gradually toward abolition…

In March 2010, a controversy emerged over the death penalty issue when former Minister of Justice Wang Ching-feng (王清峰) announced her position in favour of abolishing the death penalty adding that she would not step down over the row about enforcing death penalty. Her announcement led to public protests led by victims’ relatives, such as Pai Ping-Ping, a media personality whose daughter was kidnapped and murdered in 1997. On March 11th, Wang Ching-feng resigned after the Presidential Office stated that the death penalties handed down must be carried out and that any suspension of executions must follow the law.

On April 30th 2010, executions in Taiwan were resumed after a 4-year moratorium on the death penalty, as four men were executed by shooting. Human rights organizations as well as representatives of the international community deplored the executions and asked for the immediate reestablishment of a moratorium.

(Image by Ash Ka)

 

 


Thursday, 01 July 2010 00:00

The sinking of the Cheonan

North Korea’s recent sinking of the South Korean navy vessel ‘The Cheonan’ has generated a lot of buzz and I'm going to jump on the bandwagon. I got wind of an article by Ruediger Frank, a well-known Pyongyang watcher. He proposes the idea that someone in the chain of command ordered the attack on the Cheonan without first gaining permission from the proper authorities.  The notion that someone other than the Dear Leader (Kim Jong-il) ordered the attack has crossed my mind. With this possibility there are a few things to take into consideration.

There are three domestic powers in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea: The Party, the Family, and the military. The phasing out of Juche (self-reliance) rhetoric in favor of Seong-gun Jeong-chi (military-first politics) has been underway since the mid-nineties. This put the Party on the backburner as the main power broker and the military filled the void. Where ideology and economy fail, the barrel of a gun becomes the most reliable source of power. Most NoKo observers will agree that Kim was obliged to seek support in the military following the death of his father. As a result, Kim is obligated to work closely with the military in coordinating most matters of state.

 

Konrad_Mathesius_Korea_Revolutionary_Martyrs_Cemetery

What concerns me is the intensity with which some people have been indoctrinated into the ideology of the State. Like any system, there is a broad spectrum of loyalty and conviction among the people. Those people who had less against the State raised voices of rebuke when Kim agreed to dismantle the nuclear facilities last year. People were disappointed that he had shown deference to America's wishes; that he had doubled back on a hybrid ideology of self-reliant militaristic brinkmanship. It goes without saying that those in the military - their careers bolstered by an atmosphere of constant tension between North and South - are scattered similarly along the ideological spectrum; so much in some cases, that an act of insubordination wouldn't be all too surprising were the domestic situation bad enough. A vigilante attempt from below to put a regime, viewed as playing too soft, on the spot. The alternative is that they are trying to provoke a country-crushing retaliation from the South, going out in a blaze of glory in a final fight for the mother land... but I'll leave that scenario to Hollywood.

 

 

In the past I've been concerned about the lack of effort the State has put into building the image of Kim's son. In time, however, I've come to realize that it doesn't really matter what the people think of the leader as he will only be a mouthpiece of the military. I highly doubt that the rogue elements in the chain of command are keen to launch an all-out coup, but it's likely that they are dissatisfied with the state of things and want to shake it up a bit, hence the attack on the Cheonan. Kim gives them a face, and the military gives him support. It's a mutual relationship and neither is going to profit from the destruction of the regime.

 

Konrad_Mathesius_Korean_propaganda1

Despite all the hype, what we need to keep in mind is that people have been predicting the downfall of the North for over half a century: if not from the people rising up in a blaze of democracy, then the inevitable crumbling of a failed economy or perestroika. As long as the army is fed and as long as Pyongyang is fed, the North exhibits enormous staying power. You cannot fight when you're hungry and with a lack of institutions that facilitate communication, any attempts at a revolution are dead in the water. Add to that the fact that people would probably go after each other (get to the armory-find the party cadres… aaah… that feels good) before any foreign powers could get into the action, escalation to all out war is in no one's interest.

 

 
The NoKos are betting that attack on the Cheonan will not escalate out of control. It will, however, get everyone's attention both domestically and internationally. It's not entirely unlikely that Kim knew about the attack either. Regardless of the supposed pressure from lower echelons, he'll be in the spotlight again. Nothing's going to change if you don't get things moving first. As usual, we can only guess what domestic amendments in policy the powers that be are looking to implement. Albeit the most frustrating option, our best choice is to listen up and engage the North.
 

Photos by K. Mathesius

 


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