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Tower Hamlets Council leader sees Beijing with blinkers on

Martin Slavin writes;

The East London Advertiser for September 28 2006 has an article titled ‘Peeking at Beijing’. It describes, by quoting the diary of Tower Hamlets Council leader Denise Jones, the four-day trip undertaken by a Council delegation to see the progress of the Olympics development programme for 2008.

Denise writes, “…the amazing thing is the speed at which it being planned and the speed at which it is being built. In 2002, most of the area was occupied by industrial buildings – all of which have been moved to the outskirts of the capital. The revised plan, for the new commercial district with residential neighbourhoods around its edges, with four new schools, four new parks and two new underground train lines, all planned to be finished by 2012”

On Day 4 she writes, “ We learned the Chinese are keen to be seen as a modern nation and that they are looking to links with the western world to achieve this. …We learned that they place extremely high value on the cultural and creative industries, and they see cultural opportunities as central to the long term success of their economy. We also learned they can do things on such a large scale because – rather uncomfortably for us – they have immense power….”

I wonder at her discomfort after she reads these recent reports. MS

Now, as China steamrollers its way to modernity, it is as if a lid has been lifted off a pot of constructive energy that has been simmering for nearly half a century. The destruction of hutongs [small, human scale courtyards and lanes] has been taking place for a number of years, but since Beijing was awarded the Olympics, the rate at which they are now being cleared has increased exponentially. For thousands of Beijing's residents, this "urban makeover" is coming at an incredible cost. According to UNESCO, in the past three years a third of the 62sq.km area that makes up the central part of the old city has now been destroyed. This has displaced close to 580,000 people – one and a half times the total population of Washington D.C.

Sean Gallagher 12 - 6 – 2006;
http://www.opendemocracy.net/arts-photography/hutong_destruction_3632.jsp

Thousands Left Without Access to Education in Beijing Pre-Olympic Clean-Up,
Human Rights Watch, New York, September 25, 2006

Over the past two weeks, Beijing municipal authorities have shut down more than 50 schools for children of migrant workers, Human Rights Watch said today. The schools’ closure – part of a campaign to close all unregistered schools for migrants by the end of September – threatens to leave tens of thousands of children without access to education, in violation of several of Beijing’s obligations under international law. officials discussed expelling a million migrant laborers from Beijing for the duration of the Olympic Games.

On July 12, 2006, the Beijing Municipality issued the “Notice of the General Office of the Beijing Municipality People’s Government on the Work of Strengthening the Safety of Non-Approved Migrant Population Self-Schools.” That document set a deadline of September 30 for the “clean up and rectification” of all unregistered schools through “dispersion, standardization and closure.” According to the document, 239 unregistered migrant schools in Beijing provide education to more than 90,000 children.

In some cases, the Beijing authorities have dispatched large numbers of police to close particularly popular schools. On August 29, more than 90 policemen forced the evacuation of the Weimenkou school of Shijingshan district. Petitions to the Beijing Commission on Education, signed by hundreds of parents in support of certain schools and denouncing the brutality of the closures, remain unanswered.

“The reason self-run migrant schools exist is precisely because the government has failed to provide free and compulsory education for all as it is obligated under domestic and international law,” said Sophie Richardson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division. “Before closing down the only education to which migrant children have access, the government should guarantee their ability to enroll in state-run schools".

More at;
http://hrw.org/english/docs/2006/09/26/china14263.htm

Beijing’s Olympic press freedom pledge could be shortlived, Gulf Times, Charles Whelan, 11 9 2006,

BEIJING: Foreign correspondents in China are welcoming assurances from top officials here that reporting restrictions in the communist state will be eased ahead of the 2008 Olympics.
"We welcome these commitments and we really hope they are borne out,' said Melinda Liu, the president of Beijing's Foreign Correspondents' Club.
"Our concern is that there is still a huge gap between what they are saying will happen in 2008 and the reality we now are facing."
That reality was brought home to Italian sports journalist Francesco Liello last month.
Liello, correspondent for La Gazzetta Dello Sport, left the Chinese capital on a trip to cover a doping scandal at a sports school in northeastern Liaoning province that had been widely covered in the Chinese media.
Once there he found a deserted school and an empty sports field. Police turned up and detained him for several hours, forced him to delete photographs from his digital camera and sign a confession admitting he had broken the law, said Liu.
Most veteran journalists here have tales of harassment including detention, strip searches, beatings, and loss of notes and equipment.

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