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Update on Urumchi

It’s getting very ugly in Xinjiang. The violent riots by ethnic Uighurs have now been followed by vigilante mobs of Han Chinese, chanting “We want revenge for our dead.” Urumchi is now under martial law. The death toll is at 156 and rising; no one has a clear breakdown on how many deaths were caused by police and how many by the rioters. 1400 people have been arrested. The UK’s Telegraph newspaper has a correspondent on the ground, who is reporting that fresh demonstrations have started after the police subdued the activity on Sunday.

Al-Jazeera English has been reporting live from Xinjiang and putting their reports on YouTube. Their correspondent, Melissa Chan, has been on Twitter live from Xinjiang. As the New York Times reports, Twitter has been blocked by the Chinese government, but she is texting a friend who posts for her via proxy. The internet has been blocked completely in some parts of Xinjiang. For additional live tweeting from Xinjiang, you can follow Austin Ramzy reporting for and Malcolm Moore with the Daily Telegraph.

It’s still hard to identify the cause of the violence. The Chinese government continues to blame violent separatists, and it has accused exiled Uyghur leader Rebiya Kadeer of masterminding the violence. Kadeer issued a statement today condemning both the Chinese government and “the violent actions of a number of Uyghur demonstrators that have been reported.” BBC reports that the violence was triggered by “a brawl between Uighurs and Han Chinese several weeks earlier in a toy factory thousands of miles away in Guandong province.” The follow-up protests seem to be women angry about the imprisonment of their sons and spouses.

Sky News has some dramatic footage.

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North Korea and Burma – Sharing Nukes?

Well, this certainly scares me. North Korea and Burma are growing increasingly close. The two countries re-established diplomatic relations in 2007, and they’ve been growing closer ever since. According to the Bangkok Post, a high-level military delegation from North Korea was in Rangoon in November 2008, where they signed a memorandum of understanding on military cooperation. There are reports from the Democratic Voice of Burma news service that North Korean advisors are supporting construction of a network of underground tunnels throughout Burma. According to DVB, the tunnels are large enough to drive trucks through, constructed to withstand attacks, and intended to house munitions factories.

The fear is, of course, that North Korea is exporting weapons to Burma. Especially nuclear weapons. That is not an unfounded fear. According to the US Treasury, North Korea has already exported weaponry to several Middle Eastern and African states, including Syria, as well as Taiwan and Iran. And the missile tests that took place on the fourth remind us that North Korea remains committed to proving its military prowess to the world.

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Rioting in Urumqi

I'm seeing reports on Twitter on riots in Urumqi (Urumchi), Western China. Urumqi is the capital of Xinjiang, a Muslim-majority region populated by the Uighur ethnic group. It’s been the center of a long-term campaign by the Beijing government to fully integrate the region into China. This has included a policy of moving Han-origin Chinese families into the region to change its ethnic balance and suppression of Uighur language and Islamic practice.

 I can’t find any reference to the riots in the mainstream media (A Reuters article is now up), but Twitter is alive with reports of the riots. You can find photos of the riots, YouTube video, and a stream of English and Chinese language discussion of the violence.

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Ban Ki Moon saying useful things in the New York Times

I have an embarrassing crush on Ban Ki Moon. You really can’t blame me. He raps! He married his high school sweetheart!

His op-ed in the New York Times tomorrow just made it worse. In it, he announces the launch of the Global Impact and Vulnerability Alert System:

 “We know the big picture: countries with low financial reserves; countries that face shrinking foreign investment, remittances and aid; countries where demand for exports has fallen. But we need a sharper lens with finer resolution.

 I am marshalling the resources of the United Nations to monitor the impact of the crisis in real-time.”

Ban then calls on donor countries to maintain their support for international aid, pointing out that we already have evidence for what works in international development. He finishes with a call for the reform of international institutions, and an argument for multilateralism.

“Challenges are linked. Our solutions must be, too.”

Other than the Global Impact and Vulnerability System, he’s not saying anything new here. But it’s all things that need to be said. It would border on disaster to reduce foreign aid right now, and we are marshalling institutions created in response to the second world war to respond to a global financial crisis of unprecedented shape.

 On the new alert system - I can’t find any additional information beyond a reference from UNDP and a blog post from iRevolution. UNDP says “The UN system is also working with other development partners to establish a ‘Global Impact and Vulnerability Alert System’, to track the impact of global crises on the most vulnerable, and to provide decision makers with evidence which can guide specific, rapid, and appropriate responses to countries suffering from the crisis.” iRevolution cites an unnamed UN report which also mentions tracking real-time data to support effective decision-making by leaders.

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Poverty tourism is getting a lot of attention lately

Poverty tourism is getting a lot of attention lately. It’s not a new idea; we’ve been seeing slum tours for a decade now. People have a natural desire to see how the other half lives, and these tours make it happen in a safe and easy way. Opinion has always been mixed on where it’s exploitation, a lesson in empathy, or irrelevant.

 A recent article Huffington Post, a truly breathtaking rant from Senegalese entrepreneur Magatte Wade, has brought poverty tours back to prominence and controversy. She thinks that the Millennium Villages Project – an experimental program developed by development economist Jeffery Sachs - is ill-conceived and that the tourism there treats Africans like zoo animals:

 “…American professors spending tens of millions of dollars telling villagers how they should live their lives, so that American tourists can go and watch the new feature at the zoo in which the African natives are doing just as they are told by the American experts -- with the careful warning to the tourists not to contaminate the zoo display by feeding the animals…”

 This was followed by several posts on Bill Easterly’s Aid Watch blog, where the tour operator responded to Wade’s criticism. The tour operator pointed out, among other things, that the brochure language that Wade was angry about had been written by inhabitants of the village in question, not by outsiders. That does put a damper on the zoo animals argument.

 Today, the Christian Science Monitor weighed in, with a slightly broader look at poverty tourism as a whole. They quote Josh Ruxin, of the Millennium Villages Project, who argues that having visitors arrive as an organized tour alters the power balance in a positive way. “Tourism shows, 'This community has value, for which we will be paid.' It's a totally different way of thinking...”

My own take: I agree with Josh Ruxin. Shifting modes from gawking guests to paying tourists makes it clear to host communities that they possess things of value. Tourists in poor places are inevitable; well-meaning people want to learn about the lives of the poor, and the less thoughtful just want to gawk. Corralling those visitors into a tour uses their energy in a useful way.