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China Blocks Hong Kong Lawmakers in a Reminder of Who is In Charge

Cheng Chung-tai speaks to supporters in Hong Kong elections

Hong Kong is reminded that the freedoms it enjoys are ultimately at the whim of Beijing.

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” is an 18th Century trumpet call for free speech, one often repeated by parliamentarians around the world… but never in China.

The message from Beijing to its unruly territory 2,000km (1,350 miles) south is, by contrast, “we disapprove of what you say and we hereby decree that you have no right to say it”.

China has now spoken on the question of whether elected members of Hong Kong’s legislature can use that public platform to campaign for ideas offensive to China and the answer is a resounding no. In a unanimous decision by a panel of the Communist Party-controlled national parliament, Hong Kong has been reminded that the freedoms it enjoys are ultimately at the whim of Beijing.

Today’s “interpretation” of Hong Kong’s mini-constitution is one of the most significant interventions in Hong Kong’s legal system in two decades of Chinese rule. It is the first time China’s parliament, without the request of either the Hong Kong government or Court of Final Appeal, has interpreted the mini-constitution at a time when the issue is under active consideration in a Hong Kong court.

Newly elected lawmaker Yau Wai-ching displays a banner before taking oath at the Legislative Council in Hong Kong, China October 12, 2016.

Newly elected lawmaker Yau Wai-ching displays a banner before taking oath at the Legislative Council in Hong Kong, China October 12, 2016. Yau Wai-Ching had used her oath-taking attempts to insult China. – Reuters

Why didn’t China’s politicians wait till after a court ruling on whether two legislators might be allowed to retake their oaths? Li Fei, the chairman of the Basic Law Committee of China’s parliament, made the logic clear when he said the Chinese government “is determined to firmly confront the pro-independence forces without any ambiguity”.

The interpretation is a highly confrontational move which plunges Hong Kong into a new phase of its long running political and constitutional crisis. But Beijing’s move comes in response to an equally confrontational move from the other side.

[Read the full story here, at BBC News]

The two lawmakers, Sixtus Leung and Yau Wai-ching, who used their swearing-in ceremony to insult China and talk of a “Hong Kong nation” should have known that a Chinese government so sensitive to questions of national pride and dignity would feel it had no choice but to act.

Legislative Councillors-elect Yau Wai-ching (L) and Sixtus Leung (R) are seen as thousands of people march through the streets of Hong Kong to protest against the Legislative Council oath-taking interpretation of the city's Basic Law, or mini-constitution, by the Chinese authorities in Beijing, Hong Kong, China, 6 November 2016

Ms Yau (left) and Sixtus Leung (right) have refused to pledge allegiance to Beijing

It was no surprise when China’s parliament said their words and actions had “posed a grave threat to national sovereignty and security”, with Li Fei adding: “The central government’s attitude is absolute. There will be no leniency.”

A price worth paying

The scope of Monday’s interpretation will raise inevitable questions about whether China is interpreting Hong Kong law, which is allowed, or re-writing it, which is not. And apart from disqualifying the two young legislators at the heart of the crisis, it will raise a raft of questions about the way in which some of the other newly elected young democracy activists took their oaths.

A man yells during pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong

The democracy activists could now capitalise on anger in Hong Kong – AFP

For example, does reciting the oath in slow motion or using eccentric intonation contravene the interpretation’s insistence on “genuine” sincerity and solemnity? Who will decide? And if Beijing doesn’t like the decision of a Hong Kong court, what will it do next? For that matter, where does Beijing’s intervention leave the ongoing review of the oath taking question in Hong Kong’s courts? Read the rest of this entry »

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Mark Zuckerberg’s Long March to China

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The Chinese government likes to control social media and what people do with it—but Facebook looks willing to launch in China anyway.

Emily Parker writes: For U.S. Internet businesses, China is the land of moral defeat. Many people hoped that Western technology companies would loosen China’s control over information. Instead, those companies have willingly participated in efforts to censor citizens’ speech. Yahoo gave Chinese authorities information about democracy activists, landing them in jail. Microsoft shut down the blog of prominent media-freedom activist Michael Anti. Google censored search results that were politically sensitive in China. In 2006, those three companies came before Congress and were accused by a subcommittee chairman of “sickening collaboration” with the Chinese government. Google shut down its mainland Chinese search engine in 2010, publicly complaining about censorship and cybersecurity.

“The number of Chinese Internet users has surged to some 700 million, and they represent a valuable untapped resource for American companies with saturated, highly competitive home markets. But the Communist Party’s attempts to control information have also grown more intense.”

Facebook has been blocked in China since 2009, and its Instagram photo-sharing service was blocked in 2014. I once thought that it would be disastrous or impossible for the social network to try a Chinese adventure of its own, and some China experts still believe that to be true. But a Facebook launch in China now looks probable.

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Facebook’s founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, has signaled to Beijing that he’s willing to do what it takes to get into the country. People who know the company well think it will happen. “It’s not an if, it’s a when,” says Tim Sparapani, who was Facebook’s first director of public policy and is now principal at SPQR Strategies, a consulting firm. Facebook declined to comment for this article, but Zuckerberg said last year: “You can’t have a mission to want to connect everyone in the world and leave out the biggest country.”

[Read the full story here, at MIT – technologyreview.com]

A decade after Google’s hopeful but ill-fated entry into China, U.S. Internet companies may see the Chinese market as even more tantalizing—yet impenetrable. The number of Chinese Internet users has surged to some 700 million, and they represent a valuable untapped resource for American companies with saturated, highly competitive home markets. But the Communist Party’s attempts to control information have also grown more intense. In addition to the “Great Firewall” that blocks access to foreign websites, legions of human censors, many employed at Internet companies, police domestic blogs and social networks. And a U.S. company would now have to compete with China’s own Internet giants. WeChat, a messaging app from the behemoth Tencent, has hundreds of millions of users.

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Zuckerberg clearly thinks China is worth the trouble, even if that means leaving some “Western values” at the door. Earlier this year, he traveled to Beijing and had a high-profile meeting with China’s propaganda chief, Liu Yunshan. Chinese state media reported that Facebook’s founder praised China’s Internet progress and pledged to work with the government to create a better cyberspace. Liu highlighted the notion of Internet governance “with Chinese characteristics.” The translation was clear: a Chinese version of Facebook would definitely be censored. This year’s trip was something of a sequel. In 2014, he hosted Lu Wei, minister of the Cyberspace Administration of China, at Facebook’s offices. President Xi Jinping’s book The Governance of China just happened to be on ­Zuckerberg’s desk.

[Read the full text here, at MIT – technologyreview.com]

This courtship hasn’t been without some awkward moments. When ­Zuckerberg posted a photo of himself cheerfully jogging through the polluted haze of Tiananmen Squarethis year, he was mocked on Chinese social media. But overall he has made the right moves, says Cheng Li, director of the John L. Thornton China Center at the Brookings Institution. “Chinese leaders pay a lot of attention to personal relationships,” he says. “They think Mark ­Zuckerberg is a friend of China. He’s successful. He’s very China-friendly. He has a Chinese wife. He speaks Chinese. So what else do you want?”

At your service

Facebook will still have to overcome Beijing’s suspicions that American Internet companies could destabilize the Communist Party’s rule. Media outlets that described the Arab Spring as the “Facebook Revolution” didn’t do the company any favors. And documents leaked by the former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden fueled Chinese suspicions that American technology companies had “back doors” for U.S. government surveillance. Read the rest of this entry »


Hong Kong’s Election is Proof that ‘One Country, Two Systems’ is Alive and Well

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Ilaria Maria Sala writes: The bizarre “One Country, Two Systems” formula under which Hong Kong has been ruled since its handover to Beijing in 1997 has been declared dead many times—but last Sunday’s elections may just have proven its remarkable resilience.

“In many ways, the combination of Hong Kong with China has been like a marriage between two near-strangers, one of whom was brought to the altar without being asked their opinion, and where the power balance is fatally skewed.”

Invented by China’s former paramount leader Deng Xiaoping for China to govern Hong Kong, it was a bold and imperial idea. By allowing Hong Kong to retain its partially democratic system and freedom of expression, it would let the far away “province” govern itself, as long it remained loyal to the center.

“Leaders in Beijing are obsessed with control, and national identity in China is increasingly defined as supporting the Communist Party.”

The current Chinese government has more desire to control and more technology to do so than Deng or the emperors used to, but Hong Kongers are nevertheless guaranteed the right to vote in partial elections, freedom of speech and press, and an independent judiciary, rights citizens on the mainland only wish for.

Exclusive: punditfromanotherplanet Hong Kong Bureau

Exclusive: punditfromanotherplanet Hong Kong Bureau

“The sudden, unlawful arrest of dissidents is no surprise in China, but nothing of the kind had ever happened in Hong Kong.”

In many ways, the combination of Hong Kong with China has been like a marriage between two near-strangers, one of whom was brought to the altar without being asked their opinion, and where the power balance is fatally skewed. Hong Kong, with its long-held democratic aspirations and millions of residents who had fled Communist rule on the mainland, was never going to be an easy addition to China. Leaders in Beijing are obsessed with control, and national identity in China is increasingly defined as supporting the Communist Party.

[Read the full story here, at Quartz]

Unsurprisingly, “One Country Two Systems” has been under severe stress in recent years. Read the rest of this entry »


Analysis: China’s Aggression Requires a More Forceful American Response

Beijing’s New World Order

Like wedding anniversaries, state visits by foreign leaders are occasions to celebrate the positive, and that’s what the Obama Administration will stress as Chinese President Xi Jinping tours the U.S. this week. Get ready for an announcement about arms-control in cyberspace, a progress report on a bilateral investment treaty, and bromides about mutual friendship.

“Under Mr. Xi, Beijing sees itself as a strategic rival rather than a partner. Its foreign policy is increasingly aggressive, sometimes lawless, a reality that’s become clear even to the Obama Administration.”

These columns have rooted for China’s emergence as a major U.S. trading partner and responsible global power since Deng Xiaoping became the first Chinese Communist leader to visit the U.S. in 1979. And we’ve had more than a few occasions to score China-bashers in Washington, whether over protectionist steel tariffs or allegations of Beijing’s “currency manipulation.”

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“China’s lawlessness is most obvious at sea and in cyberspace. Since 2010 Chinese leaders have claimed ‘indisputable sovereignty’ over most of the South China Sea, covering an area more than twice the Gulf of Mexico and among the world’s most heavily trafficked commercial waterways.”

But it is now impossible to ignore that China is attempting to redefine its relationship to America and the rules of world order. Under Mr. Xi, Beijing sees itself as a strategic rival rather than a partner. Its foreign policy is increasingly aggressive, sometimes lawless, a reality that’s become clear even to the Obama Administration. The U.S. needs to show that it will resist this behavior—even as it seeks to steer China’s leadership back toward global norms.

[Read the full story here, at WSJ]

China’s lawlessness is most obvious at sea and in cyberspace. Since 2010 Chinese leaders have claimed “indisputable sovereignty” over most of the South China Sea, covering an area more than twice the Gulf of Mexico and among the world’s most heavily trafficked commercial waterways. The dubious basis for this claim is a dotted-line on a 1947 Chinese Nationalist map—the same Nationalists Mao Zedong exiled to Taiwan in 1949.

Beijing’s leaders have used this map to assert maritime claims against Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia. They also make claims against Japan. Their aggressive island-building, which has created 2,900 acres of new land, is the most visible example. Read the rest of this entry »


China’s Xi Jingping is Trying to Combine the Invisible Hand of the Market with the Visible Hand of the Party-State

Workers repaint the Chinese Communist party flag in Jiaxing

Xi Jinping’s China is the greatest political experiment on Earth

Timothy Garton Ash writes: Can Xi do it? This is the biggest political question in the world today. “Yes, Xi can,” some tell me in Beijing. “No, he can’t,” say others. The wise know that nobody knows.

There is a great debate going on in Washington about whether the US should change its China policy in response to Beijing’s more assertive stance under President Xi Jinping. This includes the reported stationing of artillery on the extraordinary artificial islands it is building on underwater reefs in the South China Sea. It also matters to everyone everywhere whether China can sustain its economic growth as it exhausts its ready supplies of cheap labour, avoiding the traps into which some middle-income economies have stumbled. Yet even more than in other countries, the future of China’s foreign policy and its economy depend on the quality of decision-making produced by the political system. It’s the politics, stupid.

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“My greatest concern flows not from the moral dictates of liberal democracy as personal preference, although it would be dishonourable to pretend that those don’t matter, but from the insights of political analysis that lead us to liberal democracy.”

By now it is relatively clear what Xi is aiming to do. He is trying to steer a complex economy and society through difficult times by top-down changes, led and controlled by a purged, disciplined and reinvigorated Leninist party. He is doing this in unprecedented conditions for such a party, consciously trying to combine the “invisible hand” of the market with the “visible hand” of the party-state.

James-Madison

“Insights such as this: ‘If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.’”

— James Madison, federalist paper No 51

The “great helmsman” Mao Zedong is clearly one inspiration, but the pragmatic reformer Deng Xiaoping is another. “To reignite a nation, Xi carries Deng’s torch,” declared a commentary from the official news agency Xinhua.

china-photo-reuters

Photo: Reuters

Much of the reignition has so far been about establishing control over the party, state, military and what there is of civil society, after the Bo Xilai affair made apparent the internal crisis of party rule.

“Yes, dear comrades, it might be true, even though it was an American who said it.”

Yet, as a hereditary communist, the president may genuinely believe enlightened, skilful authoritarian rulers can handle things best: Lenin’s wager, but also, in different variations, Plato’s and Confucius’s.

The sinologist Ryan Mitchell notes that in a 1948 article, a veteran Chinese communist called Xi Zhongxun was quoted as saying “the most lovable qualities of us Communist party folks are devotion and sincerity”. Speaking to party members in 2013, his son, Xi Jinping, said that “leading cadres must treat the masses with devotion and sincerity”.

Featured Image -- 61042

“A communist regime in crisis would probably find it impossible to resist the temptation of playing the nationalist card more aggressively somewhere in its neighbourhood, building on decades of indoctrination, a selective interpretation of the recent past and a narrative of 150 years of national humiliation.”

This experiment is life-changing for the thousands of purged officials, who have disappeared into the tender embrace of the relevant party and state organs. (Being a senior Fifa official is light entertainment by comparison, even if some may miss their five-star Swiss breakfasts.)

TOPSHOTS-HONGKONG-CHINA-POLITICS-DEMOCRACY

“It’s not just the inconvenience of finding it difficult to access Gmail, Google docs and so much else on the internet. More seriously, I noticed a real nervousness among intellectuals who a few years ago were so outspoken; a sense that the boundaries of what can be said publicly are narrowing all the time.”

It is also extremely uncomfortable for those Chinese who believe in free and critical debate, independent civic initiatives and non-governmental organisations. Here I found a striking contrast with earlier visits to Beijing. Read the rest of this entry »


Revealed: Deng Xiaoping and the KKK Plot

Xiaoping

By Lucy Hornby… Read it here at FT.com


Want Your City State to Become a Capitalist Success Story? Ban Spitting

Photo dated 19 December 1984 shows senior Chinese

It may be hard to measure just how much Singapore’s famed spitting crackdown helped – but it certainly didn’t hurt.

The governing philosophy of Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew contained multitudes: a belief in the enriching power of the free market; a development agenda implemented by a strong central government at the expense of personal freedoms. Alongside these well-known themes, however, there was also this: absolutely never, under any circumstances, would there be public spitting in the Lion City.

“Many of the biggest admirers of Singapore’s rise have since followed in its footsteps and stepped up anti-spitting measures. In 2003, in the wake of the regional SARS outbreak, Hong Kong announced a “no-tolerance” policy, tripling the penalty for spitting to $300.”

In Singapore, anyone caught expectorating can be hit with a hefty fine of up to $1,000 and $5,000 for repeat offenders. That law is part of a raft of legislation that Lee put in place — on gum chewing, bird feeding, and flushing public toilets — that 51z84gsE3EL._SL250_reached deep into citizens’ daily lives and that remain a part of Singapore’s legal code today.

[Order Lee Kuan Yew’s book “From Third World to First: The Singapore Story – 1965-2000” from Amazon.com]

Lee’s strictures on spitting were designed to curb a habit fairly thoroughly ingrained in traditional Chinese culture. Here, for example, Deng Xiaoping meets with Margaret Thatcher with a spittoon in the foreground. The Chinese reformer was a lifelong spitter.

In the West, Singapore’s laws on personal behavior are seen as quirky eccentricities at best (that happen to be great listicle fodder: “If You Think the Soda Ban Is Bad, Check Out all the Things That Are Illegal In Singapore”) and the mark of an invasive nanny state at worst. These laws, however, are rarely considered as a component of Singapore’s much admired economic growth – but maybe they should be.

“The Shenzhen ban comes at a time when the politics of spitting as a dividing line between the ‘civilized’ and ‘uncivilized’ world have grown increasingly fraught, given the growing clout of mainland China, a country of rampant spitters.”

Spitting has long been against the law in Singapore, a vestige from the days when, as the New York Times put it in 2003, “British colonialists tried in vain to quell what the port’s Chinese immigrants once considered as natural as breathing.” The city-state didn’t begin enforcing laws on the behavior until 1984. But when Singapore did decide to crack down, it meant it: The government fined 128 people for spitting that first year and another 139 in 1985. Read the rest of this entry »


[VIDEO] Internet Power! China’s Internet Censors Now Have Their Own Theme Song

cyberspace-spirit

‘Like a beam of incorruptible sunlight, touching our hearts’

Josh Chin and Chun Han Wong report: When China is truly proud of something, it writes a song. During the Cultural Revolution, the oil workers who helped turn China into a crude exporter got their own song. More recently, China’s aircraft carrier and the relationship between Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife have been lauded with jingles.

This week, China’s Internet censors got their own musical tribute — or, rather, they wrote one for themselves.

According to a report posted Thursday to the website of the state-run China Youth Daily, the Cyberspace Administration of China choral group this week unveiled a new song, “Cyberspace Spirit,” glorifying the cleanliness and clarity of China’s uniquely managed Internet.

The song, an orchestral march built around a chorus that proclaims China’s ambition to become an “Internet power,” opens with lyrics describing celestial bodies keeping careful watch over the sky. From there, the lyrics conjure more vivid imagery, comparing the Internet to “a beam of incorruptible sunlight” that unites “the powers of life from all creation.”

The Cyberspace Administration of China is the government agency in charge of managing the country’s Internet, including the complex filtering system known as the Great Firewall.

Recently, the government has grown bolder in advocating China’s brand of Internet management. In November, it hosted a World Internet Conference in the eastern canal town of Wuzhen, where Lu Wei, the minister in charge of CAC, promoted the need for rules on the Internet. A few months later, another official surprised some by openly praising China’s censorship system for helping foster Chinese tech companies….(read more)

Below is China Real Time’s rough translation of the lyrics:

在这片天空日月忠诚的守望 Keeping faithful watch under this sky, the Sun and the Moon

为日出东方使命担当 Undertaking this mission for the break of dawn [in the East]

创新每个日子拥抱着清朗 Creating, embracing everyday clarity and brightness

像一束廉洁阳光感动在心上 Like a beam of incorruptible sunlight, touching our hearts

团结万物生长的力量 Uniting the powers of life from all creation

奉献地球村成为最美的风光 Offerings to the global village become the most beautiful of scenery

网络强国 网在哪光荣梦想在哪 Internet Power! The Web is where glorious dreams are

网络强国 从遥远的宇宙到思念的家 Internet Power! From the distant cosmos to the home we long for

网络强国 告诉世界中国梦在崛起大中华 Internet Power! Tell the world that the China Dream is lifting Greater China to prominence

网络强国 一个我在世界代表着国家 Internet Power! One self represents the nation to the world

在这个世界百川忠诚寻归海洋 In this world, all rivers loyally seek to return to the sea

担当中华文明的丈量 Bearing the measure of Chinese civilization

五千年沉淀点亮创新思想 5,000 years settle and give light to creative new thinking

廉洁就是一个民族清澈荡漾 Incorruptibility is the clear rippling of a nation

我们团结在天地中央 We unite at the center of Heaven and Earth Read the rest of this entry »


China Exerts Pressure on Foreign News Outlets

china-media-censorship

Beijing Officials Pressure International Media

 writes: China pressured international media outlets to censor their news coverage last year in addition to cracking down on domestic journalists, according to a new report.

 “Chinese embassy officials in Paris, Berlin, and London lodged direct complaints with senior editors, in an apparent effort to pressure them into restraining their reporters in Beijing. The Tokyo headquarters of Japanese media have received similar visits.”

Conditions for both domestic journalists and foreign correspondents in China have worsened considerably under President Xi . Journalists surveyed last year said they were increasingly subjected to harassment by authorities, sometimes violent in nature, as well as to visa delays and cyber attacks. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), which released its annual report on press freedoms in China on Monday, said intimidation from officials in Beijing has now extended to foreign outlets.

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Chinese embassy officials in Paris, Berlin, London, and Tokyo all reportedly pressured editors at publications based in those cities to alter their coverage and exert more control over their reporters in Beijing.

’For activists, the internet is like dancing in shackles’

— Su Yutong

One Chinese blogger, Su Yutong, was fired from the German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle last August after she alleged that directors at the outlet met with the Chinese ambassador and then told their Chinese-language staff to tone down its coverage. A Deutsche Welle spokesman said at the time that Su was terminated because “she tweeted about internal issues” in a manner that “no company in the world would tolerate.”

Frank Sieren, Beijing-based communist and media consultant

Frank Sieren, Beijing-based communist and media consultant

Deutsche Welle gave more prominence last year to columnists such as Frank Sieren, a Beijing-based media consultant who has business interests in the country and is known to be sympathetic to its leadership. The broadcaster has been criticized in the past for coverage that was overly supportive of the Chinese Communist Party.

IFJ specifically named three other overseas news services that were targeted by the Chinese government.

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“At least three media companies—namely France 24, ARD TV (Germany), and the Financial Times—came under unusual Chinese government pressure after publishing news reports that angered the Chinese authorities,” the report said. “Chinese embassy officials in Paris, Berlin, and London lodged direct complaints with senior editors, in an apparent effort to pressure them into restraining their reporters in Beijing. The Tokyo headquarters of Japanese media have received similar visits.”

IFJ also condemned the repression of journalists covering Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests last fall. At least 39 reporters were harassed, detained, or assaulted by the city’s police or by demonstrators opposed to the pro-democracy movement…(read more)

Washington Free Beacon

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Chinese blogger Su Yutong

From HumanRightsWatchinChina:

The following is a blog post written by a Chinese journalist Su Yutong about her experience and feeling of being an activist calling for social change in China. Although to be an activist even on the Internet is like “dancing in shackles” in China, clearly people will not stop, just as what we have seen in the most recent days. Many people have been actively posting, forwarding and translating related information, raising more international awareness of Guangcheng’s case.  Su said in her writing, “To the Chinese people, danger comes not from action, but from silence and submission. Rights activists such as Hu Jia and Chen Guangcheng have demonstrated this to us with their courage and action, and I would like to learn from them.”

When I was in China, I was a journalist. But, after four years, I decided to resign as the Chinese authorities did not allow us to report the truth. I then started to work in an criticalNGO, doing research on social issues.

[Li Peng Diary: The Critical Moments is available at Amazon]

My concerns included the situation of victims of contaminated water sources, people who contracted HIV/AIDS through blood transfusion, as well as assisting vulnerable groups in defending their rights.

I was one of the more active internet activists, giving my views on public affairs, disseminating information and organizing activities.

From 2005, I was “invited for tea”, and for “chats”, kept under surveillance and periodically placed under house arrest in China.

In 2010, I distributed “Li Peng’s Diary”, a book forbidden by the authorities, and had my home raided and property confiscated by the police. With the help of international NGOs and friends, I managed to go into exile and now live in Germany.

Photo courtesy of Su Yutong

Photo courtesy of Su Yutong

For many bloggers in China, the most common and typical situation you face on a daily basis is all your content is suddenly deleted. In worse situations, sites will block opinions that are deemed to be “sensitive”.

I was an early internet activist. I organized a protest against the Vice Minister Wu Hao of the Yunnan Provincial Propaganda Department, in solidarity with human rights lawyer Ni Yulan; commemorative activities in relation to the Tiananmen crackdown and actions of solidarity with other activists. Read the rest of this entry »


Crackdown: Chinese Communist Party Warns Officials: ‘Calligraphy Isn’t for Amateurs’

ashamed-chinese-officials

Doing calligraphy, along with playing badminton, is a one of the few hobbies government officials in China admit to having

James T. Areddy and Lilian Lin report: Officials should put down their calligraphy brushes and stick to governing.

calligraphy

“The problem today, according to the editorial, comes when officials promote their squiggles as valuable works of art.”

A new warning to officials about their calligraphy is the latest anti-corruption guideline from the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection.

calligraphy-brushes

“Officials should put down their calligraphy brushes and stick to governing.”

Wang Qishan, the Politburo Standing Committee member who heads the party’s anti-graft commission, hit out at the traditional craft during a plenary meeting of the organization last week in Beijing, and the message was backed up by an editorial from the agency posted on Tuesday to its website.

Central Commission for Discipline Inspection

Central Commission for Discipline Inspection

Officials shouldn’t “grab meat from the plates of artists,” the editorial said.

Doing calligraphy, along with playing badminton, is a one of the few hobbies government officials in China tend to admit to having. State leaders often pen well-wishes in calligraphy when they drop into companies around the country, creating valuable mementos that tend to get BN-GN087_callig_E_20150120025827displayed in prominent spots in the companies.

 “As you have promised to make contribution to the party and to the country, why are you greedy for an unnecessary title for unjustified interests?”

Officials can be forgiven for thinking it’s OK to strive for recognition in calligraphy, an art form associated with erudition and wisdom. Chinese leaders from Qing dynasty emperor Qianlong to Mao Zedong have been celebrated for their ability to put brush to paper, though there is some debate as to whether the latter’s distinctive style deserved the praise the Communist Party has lavished upon it ever since.

The problem today, according to the editorial, comes when officials promote their squiggles as valuable works of art. Read the rest of this entry »


Stop Obsessing About Inequality. It’s Actually Decreasing Around the World

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Many Americans point to globalization as a bogeyman, robbing our country of good jobs and resources. But really, the phenomenon has ushered a period of unprecedented prosperity in many poor countries.

imrs.phpMarian L. Tupy writes: Is inequality increasing or decreasing? The answer depends on our point of reference.

In America, the income gap between the top 1 percent and the rest has grown. But if we look not at America, but the world, inequality is shrinking. We are witnessing, in the words of the World Bank’s Branko Milanovic, “the first decline in global inequality between world citizens since the Industrial Revolution.”

For most of human history, incomes were more equal, but terribly low. Two thousand years ago, GDP per person in the most advanced parts of the world hovered around $3.50 per day. That was the global average 1,800 years later.

Ask AP

But by the early 19th century, a pronounced income gap emerged between the West and the rest. Take the United States. In 1820, the U.S. was 1.9 times richer than the global average. The income gap grew to 4.1 in 1960 and reached its maximum level of 4.8 in 1999. By 2010, it had shrunk by 19 percent to 3.9.

That narrowing is not a function of declining Western incomes. During the Great Recession, for example, U.S. GDP per capita decreased by 4.8 percent between 2007 and 2009. It rebounded by 5.7 percent over the next 4 years and stands at an all-time high today. Rather, the narrowing of the income gap is a result of growing incomes in the rest of the world.

Consider the spectacular rise of Asia. In 1960, the U.S. was 11 times richer than Asia. Today, America is only 4.8 times richer than Asia.

mao-propaganda

To understand why, let’s look at China.

Between 1958 and 1961, Mao Zedong attempted to transform China’s largely agricultural economy into an industrial one through the “Great Leap Forward.” His stated goal was to overtake UK’s industrial production in 15 years. Industrialization, which included building of factories at home as well as large-scale purchases of machinery abroad, was to be paid for by food produced on collective farms. Read the rest of this entry »


Beijing Sees the U.S. President as a Weak Leader in the Autumn of his Presidency

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China is no refuge from Obama’s woes

Edward Luce writes: Second-term US presidents traditionally seek solace on the global stage. Barack Obama is no exception. Following last week’s drubbing in the US midterm elections, he lands in China on Monday for a summit with Xi Jinping. He is unlikely to find Beijing more pliable than Washington DC. As time goes china-chesson, it becomes ever harder to separate his domestic weakness from his global standing. Even the tone is spreading. “US society has grown tired of [Obama’s] banality,” China’s semi-official Global Times said last week.

“It is a fair guess that China would be more assertive whoever was in the White House. Its aim is to become a global power.”

Mr Xi is too polite to put it like that. Yet there is no mistaking which of the two is on the way up. In his first year in office, Mr Obama offered Beijing a “G2” partnership to tackle the world’s big problems. China spurned him. Mr Obama then unveiled his “pivot to Asia”. China saw it as US containment and reacted accordingly. Its defence spending today is almost double in real terms what it was when Mr Obama first visited China in 2009. Over the same period, the US military budget has barely kept pace with inflation.

Will a weakened Mr Obama have better luck with China? The answer is not necessarily “no”.

“This is where his domestic weakness really bites. Little headway has been made in the Pacific talks because Congress has refused to give Mr Obama fast-track negotiating authority. That was with the Democrats in charge.”

With the exception of North Korea, China’s neighbours are clamouring for a stronger US presence in the region. As the quip goes, Mr Xi talks like Deng Xiaoping – who opened China to the world – but acts like Mao Zedong, the imperial strongman. Countries that were once wary of military ties with the US, such as Vietnam, India and the Philippines, are now openly courting it. Mr Obama’s pivot means 60 per cent of America’s military resources will be deployed in the Pacific – against the old 50:50 split with the Atlantic. Read the rest of this entry »


China and Taiwan: Beijing’s Hong Kong Blunder Derails ‘One China’ Dream

HT-thatcher-in-china

A Model to Bring Back Taiwan Into Beijing’s Fold Turns Into a Negative Example

HONG KONG — Andrew Browne writes: For modern Chinese leaders, no mission carries more patriotic importance than realizing the dream of “One China.”

“As prospects for political accommodation between China and Taiwan evaporate, expect tensions to increase.”

Deng Xiaoping saw Hong Kong as an opportunity to win over hearts and minds in Taiwan, the greatest and most elusive part of that vision. Freewheeling Hong Kong was the opportunity to show a model that could work: “One Country, Two Systems.”

Photo: Pundit Planet Hong Kong Bureau

Photo: Pundit Planet Hong Kong Bureau

If China could take over and preserve Hong Kong’s existing capitalist system and way of life, the thinking went, it would demonstrate to Taiwan “compatriots” that their future, too, would be secure under Communist rule.

President Xi Jinping is now watching as prospects of Taiwan returning to the embrace of the motherland recede into a far distant future, as parts of Hong Kong remain paralyzed by pro-democracy protests.

“By Beijing’s own calculation, Hong Kong was the key to bringing Taiwan back into the fold.”

Although it isn’t apparent from the rhetoric coming out of Beijing, one of the most significant outcomes of the rallies in Hong Kong over the past weeks has been to further diminish whatever was left of the hope that China could achieve the reunification of Taiwan and its 23 million people.

Photo: Pundit Planet Hong Kong Bureau

Photo: Pundit Planet Hong Kong Bureau

The implications of this may not be felt immediately, but they could be far-reaching over time. Behind Beijing’s stated wish for “peaceful reunification” is the threat to use force if necessary. That keeps the Taiwan Strait as a potential flash point for conflict between China and the U.S., Taiwan’s main arms supplier and international supporter.

“Now, Mr. Xi confronts simultaneous challenges from two sets of students in Taiwan and Hong Kong…”

As prospects for political accommodation between China and Taiwan evaporate, expect tensions to increase.

By Beijing’s own calculation, Hong Kong was the key to bringing Taiwan back into the fold.

Photo: Pundit Planet Hong Kong Bureau

Photo: Pundit Planet Hong Kong Bureau

Its return was relatively straightforward: It fell back into China’s arms because a British lease over the main part of its territory expired in 1997. Taiwan, a self-governing island, would have to be persuaded through powerful example.

“Worse, the groups are finding common cause: Leaders of the Sunflower Movement have been sharing street tactics and negotiating skills with those running the Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong.”

For a while it looked promising, but for many Taiwanese, Hong Kong is now a negative example—proof that China won’t tolerate genuine democracy, can’t be trusted to deliver on its promises of autonomy and lacks the flexibility needed to manage a sophisticated population and their political aspirations.

Taiwan has even more to lose since it is an independent country in all but name, with an already-flourishing democracy.

Photo: Pundit Planet Hong Kong Bureau

Photo: Pundit Planet Hong Kong Bureau

“Hong Kong Today, Taiwan Tomorrow,” has become a slogan of the student-led Sunflower Movement in Taiwan, which engulfed Taipei in protests earlier this year against a proposed free-trade agreement with Beijing. Opponents argue the arrangement would make the island dangerously vulnerable to economic coercion from the mainland. Read the rest of this entry »


Keep Hong Kong’s Window Open

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Journalists covering the protests include some who have been expelled from China amid crackdowns

renocol_GordonCrovitzOct. 5, 2014 5:03 p.m. ET, L. Gordon Crovitz writes: Information has been the main currency of Hong Kong since colonial days, when word reached mainland Chinese that if they escaped to “touch base” in Hong Kong, they would get refuge under British rule. Hong Kong became Asia’s first global city thanks to hardworking immigrants who made the most of their open trade, English legal system and free speech.

“By breaking the promise that Hong Kong can select its own government, China’s current rulers are violating clear obligations.”

Hong Kong protesters are driven by hope that a leader selected by Hong Kong voters—as Beijing promised for 2017 before it reneged—can protect their way of life. But as the Communist Party narrows freedoms on the mainland, Deng Xiaoping ’s “one country, two systems” formulation for the 1997 handover entails a widening gap between life in Hong Kong and the rest of China. Without a government to represent them, Hong Kong people had no better choice than to take to the streets.

Exclusive: punditfromanotherplanet Hong Kong Bureau

Exclusive: punditfromanotherplanet Hong Kong Bureau

“This year has seen unprecedented physical attacks on journalists in Hong Kong, presumably at Beijing’s behest. China extorted advertising boycotts of pro-democracy publishers in Hong Kong. It forced critical bloggers to close down.”

Mainland China is in an era of brutal suppression. Beijing jails reformers, controls journalists and employs hundreds of thousands of censors on social media. Twitter Facebook , YouTube and many global news sites are blocked. Instagram was closed down after mainlanders shared photos of Hong Kong people using umbrellas against pepper spray and tear gas.

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“Hong Kong’s fate is to be the world’s window on an unpredictable China. “

As a financial capital, Hong Kong cannot survive without open access to information. It has more newspapers than any other city in the world. It’s been a window on China since the communist revolution. An unintended consequence of Beijing’s recent crackdown is that expelled foreign journalists now operate from Hong Kong, delivering news of the protests.

Exclusive: punditfromanotherplanet Hong Kong Bureau

Exclusive: punditfromanotherplanet Hong Kong Bureau

Google searches from China are routed to Hong Kong servers so that results can be delivered uncensored

The Wall Street Journal’s first overseas edition was launched in Hong Kong in 1976. A running joke among Journal opinion writers is that it’s the only place in the world where our free-market, free-people beliefs are mainstream. Google searches from China are routed to Hong Kong servers so that results can be delivered uncensored. Read the rest of this entry »


Hong Kong Democracy Protests: Open Letter From Former U.S. Consuls General to Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-yin

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Three former U.S. consuls general wrote an open letter to Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying. They say the government’s proposal for Hong Kong’s electoral future—in which candidates running for chief executive would be pre-screened by a nominating committee friendly toward Beijing—is in defiance of the city’s Basic Law.

Full text below:

 To the Honorable C.Y. Leung

  Hong Kong, China

 We are writing to you based on decades of inestimable interest and admiration for Hong Kong. We have loved the city, admired its citizens and promoted its vital role for business, culture and commerce for Asia and for China. Over the years, we’ve seen the buildings get taller and the harbour get smaller, and lived the exciting energy of one of the world’s greatest cities. We have seen the benefits of Hong Kong’s free markets, rule of law, civil discourse and people for China and the region. While we are Americans and write to you in our private capacity, we suggest that our views reflect the sentiments of the millions of traders, bankers, lawyers, sales teams, accountants, creative artists, film producers, bartenders and ordinary foreigners who have made Hong Kong their home at one moment or another in their lives.

  We ask you, as the one person in your role as Chief Executive who can do so, to move to the forefront of efforts to settle the current dispute peacefully according to the terms of the Basic Law, the foundation of Hong Kong’s governance and status. The Basic Law embodies the ideas of peaceful evolution, self-administration and one country/two systems of Deng Xiaoping. Article 45 of the Basic Law says: “the ultimate aim is the selection of the Chief Executive by universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures.”

  The proposal currently on the table –that a committee like the ones who have chosen the Chief Executives so far should continue for an undefined period to choose two or three candidates under the guidance of Beijing—clearly fails to advance Hong Kong’s system toward being more broadly representative or democratic, and in tightening the nominating committee rules would seem actually to retreat from those goals. Read the rest of this entry »


China Dramatizes Similarities Between Xi Jinping and Deng Xiaoping for Anniversary

Xi-Xao

China’s state propaganda machine is seizing Friday’s 110th anniversary of Deng Xiaoping‘s birth to highlight similarities between President Xi Jinping and the paramount leader who set the country on the road to economic prosperity while crushing dissent.
A heavyweight official biography of Deng was published this week, and Chinese television viewers are being regaled with a 48-episodeChinese leader Xi Jinping dramatisation of his life, broadcast nationwide in primetime.

“The contribution by Comrade Deng Xiaoping not only changed the historic destiny of the Chinese people but also changed the course of the world’s history.”

— President Xi Jinping

But the series only covers the eight years up to 1984, avoiding much of the tumult of the Cultural Revolution and, crucially, stopping five years before he ordered the deadly crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989.

“Xi is essentially trying to get back to the Deng spirit of being reformist on the economy and orthodox on the politics.”

— John Delury, an expert on modern Chinese history at Yonsei University in Seoul

State and Communist Party media have carried lengthy articles on Deng, lauded as the “chief architect of China’s reform and opening-up”, and compared him to Xi. Read the rest of this entry »


China Faces its Own ‘War on Terror’

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Victor Zhikai Gao is director of China National Association of International Studies. He was a former employee of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and served as English interpreter for Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s.

For CNNVictor Gao writes: For many decades, unlike their counterparts in many Western countries, Chinese police did not carry guns. Even the armed police in China, charged mainly with guarding foreign embassies, government buildings and important facilities, would normally only carry unloaded guns, keeping the bullets separate.

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A police officer firing a gun was a rarity, because China was a safe country.

Recently, however, a major shift is occurring that is significantly changing the landscape, as China faces its own “war on terror.”

With the war in Afghanistan winding down, there has been an intensification of terrorist attacks in China. Most bear the same tell-tale fingerprints. They originate from China’s Xinjiang Autonomous Region, which borders Afghanistan, and are perpetuated by extremists from China’s Uyghur minority, a mainly Turkic-speaking Muslim population.

China train station attack

They aim to indiscriminately kill innocent, unarmed people in public places, demonstrating a complete disregard for human life. Read the rest of this entry »


120th Anniversary: Chinese Strategists Reflect on the First Sino-Japanese War

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A collection of essays on the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95 has obvious implications for modern China.

For The Diplomat, Shannon Tiezzi writes;  China is gearing up for the 120th anniversary of the First Sino-Japanese War, which began in 1894 and ended with China’s defeat in 1895. The war was a devastating blow to China’s then-rulers, the Qing dynasty, as China had always considered Japan a ‘little brother’ rather than a serious competitor. The war is often seen as the defining point when power in East Asia shifted from China to Japan, as Tokyo claimed control of the Chinese territories of Taiwan and the Liaodong Peninsula (site of the port city of Dalian) as well as Korea (which changed from being a Chinese vassal to an officially independent state under Japanese influence).

” The war was a devastating blow to China’s then-rulers, the Qing dynasty, as China had always considered Japan a ‘little brother’ rather than a serious competitor.”

To commemorate the 120th anniversary of the war, Xinhua published a special supplement to its Reference News newspaper. The supplement consisted of 30 articles by members of the People’s Liberation Army “analyzing what China can learn from its defeat” in the Sino-Japanese war. Summing up the articles, Xinhuasaid that “the roots of China’s defeat lay not on military reasons, but the outdated and corrupt state system, as well as the ignorance of maritime strategy.” This conclusion has obvious modern-day applications, as China’s leadership is currently emphasizing both reform and a new focus on China’s navy.

“Japan’s victory proved that its westernization drive, the Meiji Restoration, was the right path, despite its militarist tendency.”

The PLA authors laid the bulk of the blame for China’s defeat on the Qing dynasty’s failure to effectively modernize. “Japan’s victory proved that its westernization drive, the Meiji Restoration, was the right path, despite its militarist tendency,” Xinhua summarized. Political commissar of China’s National Defense University Liu Yazhou compared Japan’s reforms to China’s: “One made reforms from its mind, while another only made changes on the surface.”

Though these comments are referencing a conflict from 120 years ago, it’s easy to see the relevance for today. Xi Jinping is trying to spearhead China’s most ambitious reform package since the days of Deng Xiaoping, including not only difficult economic rebalancing but also an overhaul of the way China’s bureaucracy (both civilian and military) is organized. In other words, China still needs to finish the modernization project that the Qing half-heartedly began in the 19th century. Westernization (what today China would call modernization) remains “the right path.” Read the rest of this entry »


Now Wanted: Girl Babies in China

AFP Photo/Peter Parks

AFP Photo/Peter Parks

Tiffanie Wen writes:  According to the updated version of China’s new one-child policy,  formalized by the country’s top legislative committee in the final days of 2013, couples in which one parent is an only child are now permitted to have a second child. Rural couples whose first child is a girl are also entitled to a second, presumably so they can try for a much-coveted boy, which is particularly important in areas where men are needed to do the heavy lifting.

It’s easy to conceptualize this second part of the policy as indicative of China’s famous patriarchal system and history of infanticide and abandonment in favor of baby boys, responsible for millions of “lost girls” and an unbalanced sex ratio that will leave an estimated 30 million adult Chinese men unmarried by 2020.

Thankfully, the story is not so simple. According to experts on Chinese society and family planning, the value of women in China has actually been increasing as a consequence—surprisingly enough—of the oppressive one-child policy introduced in 1978 and enacted in 1979.

Read the rest of this entry »


Want to Understand How China is Doing? Don’t Look at GDP

 Why the classic benchmark statistic is unsuitable to describing the world’s second-largest economy.

Carlos Barria/Reuters

Carlos Barria/Reuters

For over a quarter century, the one figure that dominated discussion of China’s economy was this: eight percent. Beginning in 1982, when leader Deng Xiaoping established the percentage as necessary to quadruple the size of the country’s GDP by 2000, China has seldom failed to achieve it—even in 2009, when the world was enduring the worst downturn since the Great Depression. The eight-percent figure became so entrenched that it acquired an almost Talmudic significance, causing speculation that if the economy didn’t grow by that amount, social instability would surely follow. (The fact that the number eight is considered lucky in Chinese culture only added to the mystique.)

These days are now over. China’s GDP has failed to reach the benchmark for six successive quarters, checking in at 7.5 percent for the second quarter of 2013. Though this growth is still robust by global standards, the sub-eight percent figure has raised concerns that a Chinese  “slowdown” is now permanent—and will have serious consequences for the rest of the world. Read the rest of this entry »


Bo Xilai found guilty on all charges, sentenced to life in prison

Beijing (CNN) — A court in eastern China sentenced Bo Xilai — the former rising star of the ruling Communist Party who fell from power amid a scandal involving murder, betrayal and financial skullduggery — to life in prison Sunday.

Bo received the life sentence for bribe-taking, as well as 15 years for embezzlement and seven years for abuse of power. Read the rest of this entry »


China at the liberation: A new history lays bare the violent heart of Mao’s revolution

The Tragedy of Liberation: A History of the Chinese Revolution, 1945-57. By Frank Dikotter. Bloomsbury; 400 pages; $30 and £25. Buy from Amazon.comAmazon.co.uk

The first years of the People’s Republic under Mao Zedong were a golden age, according to Chinese Communists and many in the West. After all, “liberation” in 1949 brought to an end a period encompassing two brutal and overlapping wars: Japan’s invasion and occupation of China and the Chinese civil war with the Nationalists. A decade later, China was charging into the Mao-made Utopian catastrophe of the Great Leap Forward, in which tens of millions were worked or starved to death, and the horrors of the Cultural Revolution were still to come. According to this view, the years from the republic’s founding to, roughly, the so-called Hundred Flowers Campaign in 1956 were constructive, even benign in a paternalistic way. The party took a chaotic state in hand, and out of a shattered citizenry forged a “New China”. Read the rest of this entry »