Chinese official’s isle visit a respite from tensions
When she welcomes the governor of China's Guangdong province to Hawaii, Gov. Linda Lingle says any discussion of politics is likely to be set aside.
Gov. Huang Huahua arrives in the islands today for activities to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the sister state-province relationship between Hawaii and Guangdong. Both sides also marked the occasion during Lingle's summer goodwill trip to China.
"Usually when we're together we talk about the history here in Hawaii and the relationship between the people here and in his province," Lingle said. "It's really about the cultural and business exchanges. I rarely talk about political matters."
But Huang's visit comes at a time of rising political tension in Taishi, a village of about 2,700 just south of the province's industrial center of Guangzhou, where the Hawaii delegation traveled in June.
The Taishi conflict began in July after residents started a movement to recall Mayor Chen Jingshen, accusing him of corruption. A recall vote was canceled last week after local government officials reportedly displayed a counter-petition signed by some residents calling for the village chief to stay in office.
Over the weekend, a democracy activist reportedly was pulled from a taxi and beaten by thugs as he was accompanying a British newspaper reporter into the village. Lu Banglie said yesterday his injuries were not severe, but he accused the mayor of masterminding a campaign of violence and intimidation against residents seeking to oust him.
The attack on Lu came a day after a French reporter and one working for the Hong Kong newspaper South China Morning Post were shoved around as they attempted to enter the village to report on the situation.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan said an assistant looked into the reports on Lu's beating, but he did not say whether a formal investigation, or any other government action, would take place. Kong said the other two reporters had not followed China's strict but spottily enforced rules requiring foreign correspondents to apply in advance for all coverage.
Christopher McNally, a research fellow at the East-West Center and a specialist in Chinese politics, said he does not expect Huang to comment on the Taishi situation during his visit.
"This is kind of taboo for them," McNally said. "The Chinese are really grappling with trying to improve grass roots government and there's still a lot of problems. This is still a very centralized and a very unitary state. In many cases, the government is extremely scared of thing like Taishi getting out of hand."
Recent months have seen a dramatic increase in reports of rural protests fed by anger over corruption, land seizures and an increasing wealth gap that government scholars say now threatens social stability. Communist Party leaders say they're concerned and want disputes handled peacefully, but the central government has been reluctant to exert pressure on local authorities with whom they share a deep distrust of greater political openness and accountability.
McNally, like Lingle, said he expects Huang's visit to focus on cultural exchange and potential business opportunities. He does not expect the Taishi situation to have any effect on potential investment in the region.
"Guangzhou is actually the third most important city in all of China," McNally said, "yet not too many people are familiar with it."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.