Friday, September 19, 2008

Senior Chinese officer urges military efforts to cope with security threats

China's top military officer Guo Boxiong on Thursday called for more efforts to enhance the country's military capacity to cope with security threats.

Priority should be given to upgrade the military capacity to fight an information-based, high-tech regional war and efforts should be made to enable troops to tackle various security threats, said the vice chairman of the Central Military Commission.

"More drills should be carried out under a complicated electromagnetic environment," he said during an inspection tour to the country's northern Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, where troops from the Beijing Military Area Command were undertaking a drill.

He also urged the troops to realize the importance of non-military missions and improve their mobility during those tasks.


Go private call stirs controversy

Government officials in Weinan, Shaanxi province, are being encouraged to take a second job and use their business know-how to help drive the city's private sector, the Weinan Daily reported on Wednesday.

"But the jobs must have no direct links to the officials' government roles," Xu Xinrong, the city's mayor, said.

Speaking to officials at a conference on Tuesday, Xu said the local government will do all it can to aid the development of the private sector.

"We encourage all public servants to get involved with or invest in legal private enterprises," he said.

"We will support them if they choose to resign and set up their own businesses, and will also allow them to stay in government and take a second, part-time job with a private company."

According to official figures, there are 144,900 private firms in Weinan, but most are small in scale and generally uncompetitive.

Last year, the private sector contributed 30 percent of the city's GDP, far below the provincial average of 47 percent.

"The small scale of our private sector is one of the principal reasons for Weinan's underdeveloped economy," Xu said.

Despite the mayor's encouraging words, several officials said they appeared to conflict with the law on civil servants.

Article 42 of the law stipulates that a civil servant must be granted approval by the relevant authority before taking a part-time job outside his office, and cannot receive any payment for that work.

Similarly, Article 53 states that civil servants cannot engage in profit-making activities with any firm, or hold a position in such a firm.

Liu Anli, a retired Weinan official, said Xu's suggestion could pave the way to corruption by allowing officials to join private companies and use their influence to boost profits.

"It's an easy way for them to make money," he said.

"If the policy is supposed to stimulate entrepreneurship, the officials should have to resign first," he said.

An official with the city government in charge of drafting policy proposals, who refused to give his name, disagreed.

"I don't think the mayor's speech conflicts with the law," he said.

The mayor stressed that the second job must have nothing to do with the official's government work, or circles of influence and power, he said.

However, Zhang Baotong, director of the Shaanxi provincial economic development research institute, said it would be extremely difficult to know if an official was using his power to profit.

Far more detailed and more stringent measures need to be drafted and implemented before the scheme can be introduced, he said.

Source: China Daily

Director Zhang ready to relax

He might have directed several blockbusters, but none of them was as demanding as producing the opening and closing ceremonies for the Beijing Olympics and Paralympics, movie director Zhang Yimou said earlier this week.

"I have never used so many people or gone to so much trouble when making a film," the 57-year-old told the Xinhua News Agency ahead of Wednesday's closing ceremony for the Paralympic Games at the Bird's Nest.

"The ceremonies are grand cultural events, and entail a daunting amount of coordination with other artists, technicians and officials," he said.

"It was very time- and energy-consuming, but a rare and rewarding experience."

He is now looking forward to a good rest, he said.

Among Zhang's collaborators on the four performances were Zhang Jigang, choreographer of the Thousand-hand Bodhisattva Dance, and fireworks expert Cai Guoqiang.

The team spent years developing, designing and perfecting their performances, Zhang Yimou said.

"People want to see something they've never seen before, so it was extremely challenging.

"The use of water at the Athens Olympic opening ceremony, for instance, was a brilliant stunt, and that put us under pressure to be equally stunning," he said.

The team spent many long nights discussing and arguing over which of the myriad sporting and cultural elements to include, Zhang said.

The end results were worth the effort, though, Zhang said.

Elements such as the drumbeat countdown to the opening of the Olympics and the jade plate at the opening of the Paralympics spoke the language of artistic expression, he said.

"We had to abide by certain procedures stipulated by the Games' supervising bodies," he said.

"But we were able to present all the mandatory elements in our own way."

More than 40,000 people participated in the four ceremonies, thousands of costumes were made, and every cosmetician had to make up about 180 performers in just hours, he said.

Through it all, the emphasis was always on producing a quality show, he said.

"Beijing won't host another Paralympics in the near future," Zhang said.

"So we wanted every moment of this one to be memorable.

"Being so involved with one of the world's best sports events was something truly memorable," he said.

"It will influence my life and work in the future."

Source: China Daily/Xinhua

Beijing's volunteer stations to remain

The 550 volunteer service stations will remain in Beijing as an important legacy of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, an official said on Wednesday.

The stations will continue to provide information to the public during holidays, Liu Jian, director of the volunteer department of the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games of the 29th Olympiad , said.

The Capital Museum, Beijing Zoo, Beijing Planetarium and the Xinhua Department Store have already approached the China Communist Youth League Beijing Committee, which is in charge of management of the stations, to offer volunteers in the future, Beijing News reported.

The stations will also be moved to other areas such as school campuses, communities and tourist attractions to provide help and advice, the newspaper quoted the committee as saying.

Statistics show 100,000 volunteers were stationed at the various venues of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, 400,000 in the city, and more than 1 million were designated social volunteers.

The city volunteers were stationed at 12 sq m "blue cubes" decorated with the Olympic and Paralympic Games logos.

The sites were open from 9 am to 5 pm each day.

Some were also assigned to subway entrances and bus stations across the city to help overseas visitors.

The social volunteers mainly offered services to the local communities.

More than 920,000 people had applied for the 400,000 Games' volunteer positions.

Volunteers have become a standard feature of the Olympics over the past few decades. Working for no pay, travel or accommodation expenses, they have helped keep costs down.

Source: China Daily/ Xinhua

Sportswear tops fashion podium

With the Olympics and Paralympics now over, people across Beijing are heading to the city's main shopping areas in search of stylish mementos.

Last week, Canadian Drew Graham went to Sanlitun hoping to buy a replica of the suits worn by Chinese athletes at the medal ceremonies.

"I wanted the Chinese suit because the jacket is so beautiful," he said.

Unfortunately for him, thousands of other people had had the same idea and the suits were all sold out.

Another fan looking for a souvenir was Shan Pingping.

"I felt very proud of the Beijing Olympics," she said.

"After watching the events on TV, I've absolutely fallen in love with sports," she said.

After browsing through the various products, Shan bought a black weightlifting T-shirt for her son and a white one for her aunt.

In the wake of the Games, sportswear with an Olympic theme has become the in thing for Beijing's trendy youngsters, and the global sports brands are cashing in.

An anonymous sales assistant at the Adidas megastore in Sanlitun said some Olympic T-shirts sell out almost as soon as they are put on the shelves.

"Foreign buyers, in particular, want the Olympic designs, and they are buying in bulk," she said.

As for the suit Graham had been looking for, "they sold out just days after they arrived and we've no idea when the next lot will come," she said.

For many people, however, just dressing like their favorite sports stars is not enough: they also want to get fit, and are heading to the city's gyms.

Making sure it did not miss out on the craze, fitness firm Hosa opened a new gym in the Chaoyang district at the end of last month and immediately increased its membership fees.

Li Xueyi, an executive with the firm, was open about the company's profiteering tactics.

"After watching the Olympics, people were motivated to get fit, we raised our membership fee."

Gao Ruigang, a coach at the Lanqi swimming club in Beijing, said: "The Olympics has really boosted our business."

Following a promotional campaign, the number of memberships rose by 50 percent, he said.

Source: China Daily

Call for more clarity on guide dog issue

Paralympic torchbearer Ping Yali was helped by her guide dog Lucky at the opening ceremony of the Games, but he faithful friend might not be able to give her the help she needs for much longer.

Temporary certificates issued by the authorities allowed guide dogs to be taken to all public places during the Olympic and Paralympic Games, but the certificates expire tomorrow. Ping is worried her freedom of movement will be curtailed.

"Guide dogs are the eyes of the blind. They help us to get about and integrate with the society," Ping said.

Only six blind people in China have guide dogs, and Ping hopes the numbers will be increased following the Paralympics.

Ping was allowed a dog because of her success at the 1984 New York Paralympics, where she won the long jump competition.

During her first encounter with Lucky, the dog helped her negotiate the stairs leading to her flat - one of the most challenging tasks for a blind person.

"I burst into tears," she said. "Lucky has reduced the risk of injuring myself when I go out."

The golden retriever was trained at China's only guide dog center at Dalian Medical Science University, Liaoning province.

Ping received Lucky last December.

The pair go out in the mornings for walks and shopping.

"I am impressed when people pat Lucky. They truly like him," Ping said.

But Lucky cannot accompany his mistress everywhere. The dog is usually turned away by taxis, buses and the subway.

Lucky stands taller than Beijing's current pet standard of 35 cm. He is 80 cm tall.

An amendment to the Law on the Protection of Disabled Persons in April, granted the blind the right to take guide dogs to public places, provided they obeyed the "relevant regulations".

Just what "relevant regulations" means is unclear to Wang Jingyu, the director of China's Guide Dog Training Center.

"It is too vague. Detailed rules are needed to help its implementation," Wang said.

The government should allow guide dogs in all public places and give more financial support to the training of such dogs, he said.

The China Disabled Persons' Federation estimates there are 12 million people suffering from some form of visual impairment in the country, but there are only 20 guide dogs currently receiving training in Dalian.

"Not every blind person needs a guide dog, but if they need one, they should be given the choice," Wang said.

The cost to train a guide dog is more than 100,000 yuan . Golden retrievers, Labradors and German sherpherds make the best guide dogs.

"They are trained not to be afraid of sounds, fire, or traffic," Wang said. "They are calm and not intrusive." China's Guide Dog Training Center was established in May 2006.

The facility operates on a small government grant along with company and private donations. It employs 17 people, most are young female university graduates. Wang said the future of the center is uncertain.

"The Chinese people now know guide dogs are not pets. They are working animals just like police dogs," Ping said.

"Guide dogs are intelligent and friendly. They do not cause any safety issues."

Source: China Daily/ Xinhua

Regulators seek banks' foreign investment details

Financial regulators have asked China's financial institutions to submit detailed records of their investments in the U. S. and European financial assets to ascertain the full extent of their exposure to the U.S. financial crisis.

The China Banking Regulatory Commission, China Insurance Regulatory Commission and the China Securities Regulatory Commission reportedly made the request to financial institutions under their supervision.

At least six Chinese commercial banks have reportedly disclosed their holdings of bonds issued by U.S. investment bank Lehman Brothers, which has filed for bankruptcy protection.

Industrial and Commercial Bank of China has said it holds 151 million U.S. dollars in bonds issued by or linked to Lehman. China's largest State-controlled commercial bank in terms of assets is known to have the highest exposure to securities associated with Lehman.

On Tuesday, China Merchants Bank said in a statement to the Shanghai stock exchange that it holds 70 million dollars worth of Lehman bonds, out of which 60 million dollars is senior debt and the rest subordinate bonds.

A day later, Bank of China said it holds Lehman bonds worth 75.62 million dollars, and has lent out 53.2 million dollars to Lehman and its subsidiaries.

The three other commercial banks that have reportedly invested in Lehman-related assets are China Construction Bank, Bank of Communications, and Industrial Bank Co.

The only known Chinese insurer holding substantial foreign assets is Ping An, which has a 4.18 percent stake in Fortis, one of the largest European insurance conglomerates.

Source: China Daily