September 01, 2006
Class warfare is dead

In case you missed it, the spirit of Mao and his -ism is well and truly dead in today's Chinese Communist Party, according to the SCMP:

Leaders should eliminate the ideology of class struggle and not look on the masses as an enemy when dealing with the increasing number of conflicts between officials and citizens, a party school official said...In his article, Mr Wang said cadres dealing with mass gatherings should give up the ideology of "class struggle" - the friction between members or groups from different social classes. The concept was expanded by Mao Zedong , sparked off the Cultural Revolution, and was used as a powerful tool to eliminate those whose political views contradicted the government's...

Liu Xutao , a political scientist with the National School of Administration in Beijing, said the article was aimed at persuading grass-roots officials in rural areas to abandon the ideological relics of the Cultural Revolution.

"In rural areas, some officials still believe they reign supreme and take on the villagers as class-struggle targets when conflicts break out," Professor Liu said. "As building a harmonious society is the main theme of President Hu Jintao, it's necessary to dispel this wrong thinking."

Maoism's dead, long live...umm, whatever the CCP stand for these days.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 08:49
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May 24, 2006
Long term prediction of the day

Russia to lose Siberia to China. There's a bonus analogy included at the link.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 12:46
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May 12, 2006
China's ridiculous leftists

When you're at the losing end of an ideological battle, what's the best thing you can do? Why not turn your loss into a victory, simply by wishing it to be so? In today's edition of tortured logic, the SCMP reports:

Economic globalisation will help revive the international socialist movement on its path towards inevitable success over capitalism, according to a leading central government think-tank. But mainland analysts have questioned the conclusions in the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' Yellow Book on World Socialism, saying they represent only the self-contradictory views of a few leftist scholars.

Academy vice-president Li Shenming unveiled the book yesterday at a seminar on leftist thinking in Beijing, according to the academy's website. It marks the latest stand in a leftist backlash against China's economic reforms..."The international socialist movement is at its low point, but the advance of economic globalisation will provide the material foundation and social conditions for its revival," China News Service quoted the book as saying. "The world socialist movement has not only withstood the powerful impact of the sudden political change in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, but also revived and progressed. It is an invincible principle that socialist societies will grow from weak to prosperous and strong and eventually surpass and win over capitalism."

The book also takes aim at the United States, lashing out at its expansion of political, economic, military and diplomatic power."The new national security strategy in the US is likely to pose the biggest threat to China's economic security. China must be put on full alert to the realistic threats posed by the US' `soft war' offensive," it warned. Hu Xingdou , a Beijing-based political scientist, said the book's findings could be interpreted as China developing a new definition of socialism, different from the authoritarian Soviet system.

"It is true that the international socialist movement has been at a low ebb and there have been various understandings of the definition of socialism," he said.

Professor Hu said it would be right to say that socialism had revived itself in a different form, which allowed people more freedom and offered protection of their personal property.

Liu Junning , a former political researcher at the academy, was more critical of the book. "The findings showed the leftist academics who contributed to the book were confused themselves," Professor Liu said. "It is ridiculous and wishful to say that globalisation, a product of the capitalist market economy, can help China revive the international socialist movement. It is simply a way to boost their own morale."

There's a prize if anyone can work out how socialism is poised for a global revival and eventual triumph over capitalism thanks to globalisation. Most impressive is the section in bold - socialism being redefined to allow for people more freedom and private property. Extra prizes to entrants from North Korea and Cuba, who's examples of socialism give us all something to admire.

If globalisation (ie the free movement of people, goods, services and ideas between countries) leads to the "inevitable" success over capitalism, I'll move to North Korea.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 09:21
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April 12, 2006
Out with the old

Beijing has announced new criteria for selecting its next generation of provincial leaders, reports the SCMP:

...a notice was issued recently by the central leadership spelling out the requirements for the provincial leadership changes that will be completed in the first half of next year.

Future provincial leaders must have a high political standard, be professionally capable, have a good record in their personal life and have earned the trust of the public...Special emphasis would be placed on the candidates' record in public administration, combating corruption, promoting consensus and personal qualities such as honesty and modesty.

In particular, the appraisal of future leaders would not be based solely on their economic performance but would also look at areas such as promoting social harmony and achievements in protecting the environment.

All of which is noble and good, but makes one wonder what criteria they've been using previously.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 08:58
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April 11, 2006
China as a Patronage System

Despite the flak I took in promoting an article written by mainland born, U.S. based political science professor Minxin Pei (the last time about Taiwan), I shall do it again. This time, Dr. Pei writes a very readable editorial for the sometimes geographically challenged readership of the San Francisco Chronicle. He had some brave observations about why we should be pessimistic about political liberalization following on from economic liberalization:

To many observers, Beijing's tight grip on the Chinese economy means only that its reform process is incomplete. As China continues to open itself, they predict, state control will ease and market forces will clear away inefficient industries and clean up state institutions. The strong belief in gradual but inexorable economic liberalization often has a political corollary: that market forces will eventually produce civil liberties and political pluralism.

It's a comforting thought. Yet these optimistic visions tend to ignore the neo-Leninist regime's desperate need for unfettered access to economic spoils. Few authoritarian regimes can maintain power through coercion alone. Most mix coercion with patronage to secure support from key constituencies, such as the bureaucracy, the military and business interests. In other words, an authoritarian regime imperils its capacity for political control if it embraces full economic liberalization. Most authoritarian regimes know that much, and none better than Beijing.

Today, Beijing oversees a vast patronage system that secures the loyalty of supporters and allocates privileges to favored groups. The party appoints 81 percent of the chief executives of state-owned enterprises and 56 percent of all senior corporate executives.

I don't agree with all of his arguments, but they are a quick read and definitely worth absorbing.

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[boomerang] Posted by HK Dave at 08:04
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March 09, 2006
China's coming democracy

To paraphrase a certain Scottish explorer, it's democracy Jim, but not as we know it. As part of a massive re-organisation of officials, the central leadership is introducing new measures:

China is planning a massive reshuffle of local politicians, linking promotions to how well they adhere to the central leadership's efforts to address social imbalances, an official newspaper said. The moves may affect more than 100,000 officials in township, county, city and provincial posts ahead of a party congress next year that is likely to seal changes in the country's ruling circle under President Hu Jintao.

"The criteria for promotion will not [be based only on gross domestic product] growth and other political achievements, it will also [be based on] the level of popular satisfaction with their administration," the People's Daily, the Communist Party's mouthpiece, said Wednesday, citing comments by the party's organization chief, He Guoqiang. It said the decisions about promotions and demotions be made based on the "scientific outlook on development" - the party's catchphrase for balanced economic and social growth that places fresh emphasis on social equality, especially for poor farmers.

Making officials promotion prospects based on "popular satisfaction" begs the question how do you mark popular satisfaction? The ballot box, perhaps?

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 08:49
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March 07, 2006
Value for money bureaucrats

Some interesting factoids in today's SCMP about China's civil service:

The China Youth Daily yesterday quoted a survey as saying that just more than two-thirds of mainlanders believed Beijing should cut the number of civil servants and streamline the bureaucracy.

It quoted an economist as saying China had 39 civil servants for every US$1 million of gross domestic product, compared with 2.31 civil servants per US$1 million of GDP in the US.

Ren Yuling , a CPPCC delegate and an adviser to the State Council, told official media yesterday that the budget for running the government was 87 times bigger in 2003 than in 1978. In 2003, administrative expenses accounted for 19.03 per cent of total national expenditure, compared with Japan's 2.38 per cent and 9.9 per cent in the United States.

Hong Kong has about 155,000 civil servants and a GDP of US$181.6 billion, making the Big Lychee's ratio a lowly 0.85 civil servants per US$1 million of GDP. There you have it - proof our well paid civil servants are in fact world-beating, super-efficient machines.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 09:40
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Straight talking at the NPC

While we all thought the attendees at the NPC sat and listened to Premier Wen's Government Work Report passively, at least one delegate wasn't impressed. The SCMP reports:

A Hong Kong deputy to the National People's Congress has criticised the concept of building a "new socialist countryside" - as outlined in Premier Wen Jiabao's Government Work Report - as "unscientific".
"It is merely a political slogan and it forces experts from academic and planning sessions to support it," Victor Sit Fung-shuen said. "That's why I don't want to stay and listen after I have read all the reports. I am dissatisfied."...

Professor Sit also found fault with the policy of spending 50 per cent of China's gross domestic product on infrastructure, calling it an "act of inefficient economic investment". He said: "Only local officials get the benefits because they assign the projects to their relatives or friends and let local banks pay when the loans become bad debts." State-owned banks' bad debts came from the blind pursuit of building infrastructure, he said.

Give that man a medal.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 09:12
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February 27, 2006
"Socialist" China

Following up on the continue rise of the new Marxism in China, Wu Zhong in today's Standard looks at the socialist contradiction in the new China:

Despite China's sweeping reforms that have transformed a socialist command economy into a somewhat capitalist-style market, socialist ideology continues to manifest itself whenever there's a chance.
Absolutely read the whole article - it nicely skewers one Marxist academic and points out two recent examples of ideology trying to re-assert itself over reality. As the article concludes, concern about China's wealth gap are best addressed by alleviating poverty (i.e. raising the bottom up) rather than redistribution (i.e. dragging the top down). And one point that often gets missed. The rich getting richer doesn't mean the poor are getting poorer - the whole pie is getting bigger. In absolute terms, everyone is getting richer, but in relative terms some are getting richer faster than others.

As we say at family reunions, it's all relative.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 13:06
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February 23, 2006
The New Marxists

Tim Johnson at Knight Ridder reports on China's latest modernisation Marxism. The article rehashes the new emphasis by China's leadership on Marxism in a desperate search for a new ideology. It seems to be building on the work of the so-called "new leftists". The irony is the it is the Communist Party that is trying to get in touch with the ideology of its founding philosopher. An even greater irony is China has enjoyed boom times only since it ditched the policies of Mao, Lenin and Marx. The implication is that China's leadership is starting to fear that the economic boom that has given the party legitimacy in the past 25 years may not last forever, or that perhaps it isn't enough to retain the confidence of its people. This renewed emphasis on Marxism is quaint at the moment and is being manifested as think-tanks and a push to help the rural poor. But is the leadership desperate enough that such thought could eventually pervade its economic policies? Perhaps not yet, but one day it could be. If that happens the interests of the leadership will sharply diverge from the interests of the lead, with massive consequences.

This week also marks 50 years since Nikita Khrushchev's "secret speech", where he denounced some (but not all) of the evils of Stalin. China has never had such a speech, secret or otherwise. It is a poorer place for it.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 13:20
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February 14, 2006
A New Transparency in China

For Big Brother and China's KTVs, that is. A new law that will go into effect March 1st, stipulates that all discos and karaoke lounges must install surveillance equipment at all entrances, exits and public hallways. Copies of the tapes must be kept for 30 days.

In addition, all private rooms, a staple of the KTV industry (which is most often a front for prostitution) must have non-locking doors and a transparent window into the room from the public hallway.

It is ostensibly to address the fire that killed Chinese revellers on New Years' Day, but I don't think any sensible person believes that.

Oh, and it also tosses in as a rule that no officials can any longer have an interest (of the ownership variety, at least) in nightclubs of any kind.

I wonder how far this new rule will be enforced outside of Beijing's city limits (or even within them, for that matter?). The clean-up of the CCP's image appears to be underway. Let's see if they can find the janitors to do the job - on a regular basis.

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[boomerang] Posted by HK Dave at 17:52
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February 06, 2006
Killing chickens

No, this isn't a story about bird flu. Wu Zhong in today's Standard looks at an interesting development in Chinese administration: Beijing's forceful attempts to assert authority over provinces. Definitely worth a full read, but some key excerpts:

Beijing this year is setting out on a major and so far nearly impossible task: reining in local officials who dare to defy central government policies.So in the Year of the Dog, the Communist Party's disciplinary watchdogs and those of the central government are likely to become hounds that not only bark but bite. Their authority flows from China's first Civil Service Law, which went into effect from the start of this year and empowers them to punish and sack any official who disobeys the central government's authority. Given China's huge land mass, the problem of localism has existed throughout history, famously giving rise to the old adage that "the mountains are high and the emperor is far away."

Even Mao Zedong, with all his seeming omnipotence, would hardly have been able to weed out corrupt malpractices that were thousands of years old. In his historic 1972 meeting with US president Richard Nixon in his Zhongnanhai study, Mao said his influence hardly reached beyond Beijing, due to "passive resistance" in other regions.

The past two decades of dramatic economic reform have given the regional governments even greater autonomy to run their economies. Local officials have often simply ignored or eluded Beijing's dicta, in recent years becoming so bold that they have begun to defy Beijing's policies publicly...

China's classic tactic against those whom it wants to intimidate into line has long been known as killing the chicken to scare the monkeys. So it's quite likely that the new year is going to see some quaking bureaucrats in the dock, awaiting punishment, prison terms or even death sentences, to scare the rest of the monkeys back into line.

The estimate of 87,000 protests in 2005 equates to almost 240 incidents every day. These protests are typically about one of two issues: inadequate compensation for land reposession, and corrupt &/or incompetent local rule. Literally millions of people are involved in these protests and they represent the biggest potential threat to the continuing rule of the Communists. Can Beijing overturn history and bring the provinces and local administrations to heel? I doubt it, even for the CCP.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 09:51
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January 23, 2006
Modern Chinese Marxism

Time's at a premium at the moment, which is a shame because the revival of Marxism story continues apace, reports Pravda SCMP:

While Marxism is in decline throughout the world, China has taken the lead in the development of the communist ideology, according to a mainland theorist. Cheng Enfu , executive president of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' new Academy of Marxism, said Communist Party leaders had never been so keen to push Marxism forward...

Professor Cheng insisted that Marxist theory could still be applied to the problems China was facing in a market-oriented environment, adding that Japanese Marxist economists had been playing a crucial role in Tokyo's policymaking...

Professor Cheng said Beijing aimed to modernise Marxism by building a theoretical system with Chinese characteristics and style, adding that this would contribute to advance and modernise the ideology worldwide. He said China provided a favourable environment for further development and modernisation of Marxism. "Firstly, we have provided the world a new economic theory - what is now called the `socialist market economy'," Professor Cheng said. "Secondly, China has set a precedent by becoming the first to successfully build a socialist market economic system. And finally, we have advanced the Marxist theory of economics in many areas."

China's current economic system bears more than a passing resembelence to that beast known as capitalism...that's what everyone took "socialist market economy" to mean. I know the CCP has been trying to fill an ideological void since it essentially abandoned communism, but Marxism? I imagine Karl wouldn't be too impressed.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 08:08
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January 20, 2006
Raise the Red Marx

Yesterday I mentioned the curious rise of Marxism within the Chinese central bank. It seems this is just one small part of a broader push to revive Marxism within China...which seem incredibly strange given no-one outside North Korean believe Marxist economics works, and that outside of universities no-one believes in Marxist philosophy. The unlinkable SCMP reports:

After more than two decades of capitalist market reforms, Communist Party leaders have pledged "unlimited" funds for reviving Marxism on the mainland. Sources say the programme will also involve turning the country into the global centre for studying the ideology.

Economic reforms have seen the mainland grow richer by abandoning Karl Marx's economic ideas, but President and party general secretary Hu Jintao told a Politburo meeting in November that Marxism was still applicable to the mainland. Leaders are also keen to fill the ideological void that has emerged in a more prosperous China, and the Communist Party believes the answer lies in the ideology that gave birth to it...Beijing will summon 3,000 top Marxist theorists and academics from across the country to the capital to compile 100 to 150 Marxism textbooks, with each work requiring contributions from at least 20 to 30 scholars. Between 100 million and 200 million yuan has been earmarked for the programme, with more than 1 million yuan to be allocated to funding the compilation of each textbook. The project would also see a massive investment of human and financial resources go towards building more research institutes, training more theorists and producing more academic papers, the sources said.

Li Changchun , a member of the Politburo Standing Committee and the party's chief official in charge of ideology, told a meeting of propaganda officials and theorists on Monday that the leadership saw the project as instrumental to solving various issues facing the country and had given it "unlimited" support...All university students are required to attend Marxism classes. Secondary school graduates are also required to sit a national examination on Marxism before university enrolment.

And I thought China's space program was a waste of money.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 08:37
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January 12, 2006
China: Africa's New Colonizer?

An article in the Times of London provocatively covers Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing's visit to Africa to tie up various natural resource contracts, including a US$2.3 bn MOU with Nigeria to get access to one of its oilfields. To quote the article:

China now obtains about 28 per cent of its oil imports from Africa — mainly Angola, Sudan and Congo. Chinese companies have snapped up offshore blocks in Angola, built pipelines in Sudan and have begun prospecting in Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Chad.

Chinese interests are not limited to energy. One of the biggest Chinese mining operations on the continent is the Chambishi copper mine in Zambia. In South Africa, China-controlled ASA Metals Ltd said last week that it wanted to triple output of ferrochrome — an alloy used in stainless steel to deter corrosion — by 2008. And Chinese investors are seeking nickel deposits in such fragile nations as Burundi.

Chinese-funded enterprises in Africa increased by 77 in 2004 to 715. The new companies invested $135 million with plans for investment of $432 million, a Chinese official said.

Trade has soared. Two-way trade leapt 39 per cent in the first ten months of last year to £18 billion. Exports totalled $15.25 billion while imports reached $16.92 billion. Between 2002 and 2003, trade soared by 50 per cent to $18.5billion — the fastest growth China has seen with any region.

The numbers are impressive, but what really makes the article controversial is the final paragraphs:
Some African businessmen complain that China is flooding the continent with cheap goods and putting domestic manufacturers out of business.

To counter such criticisms, China ensures that its investments are accompanied by medical and other humanitarian aid, scholarships and generous construction projects. Chinese scholars bristle at suggestions that Beijing is mining the continent for resources needed to fuel the Chinese manufacturing machine.

He Wenping, of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said: “Western media says China is carrying out a ‘new colonialism’ in Africa. That is a deliberate distortion of mutually beneficial China-Africa co-operation. China has built large-scale industries and supplied badly needed skills and funds to African countries.”

I have to say that while some of the regimes that China cozies up to, like Burma, North Korea or Zimbabwe are very unsavory, what they are up to in Africa is generally no different from most Western powers. In general, Africa is hardly offering up compelling alternatives to Chinese goods, and this even with the high tariff barriers many of the African states maintain. Seems like alarmist journalism to me from the Times. What do you think?

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[boomerang] Posted by HK Dave at 11:05
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January 10, 2006
Zheng He Redux

We have all heard, ad nauseam, about how Zheng He (Cheng Ho) the Muslim Chinese eunuch admiral made a number of naval visits to Southeast Asia and various countries in the Indian Ocean. The blinkered view of these visits as entirely peaceful and altruistic have then been generalized and interpreted that Chinese foreign policy has always been entirely peaceful to its neighbors.

Fear not, though, I am not descending into one of my rants on the subject. An Indian defense analyst has written about a new gambit by China in Sino-Indian relations. India is keen to improve its relations with its Central Asian neighbors to the north and west (starting of course with Pakistan). China has certainly stolen a march on India in negotiating gas pipeline deals with Central Asian countries and Iran to keep itself well supplied with oil. In return for sharing the benefits of power projection in Central Asia, China apparently wants India to share power with it in the Indian Ocean.

A brief note, but an interesting perspective from outside our area...

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[boomerang] Posted by HK Dave at 16:21
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January 03, 2006
Control freaks

China's major problem is it is ruled by control freaks. The relentless need to remain in control will inevitably be the source of the CCP's fall, because human affairs are ultimately not even controllable by Communists.

There are several telling examples. Firstly today's (still unlinkable) SCMP reports on the government's back to the future attempt to close the rural/urban income gap, and finds the biggest problem is land reform:

The government is planning to bridge the widening income gap between urban and rural areas by introducing a raft of initiatives to invest more in the countryside over the next five years. Absent from the plans, however, were any moves to adjust land policies, though land disputes were seen as the main source of discontent behind the series of violent clashes in rural areas during the past year.

A new movement, entitled the "new socialist countryside", will be the focus of rural development during the 11th Five-Year Programme. A similar slogan, "building socialist rural areas", appeared in the 1950s, but was later dismissed as part of propaganda about building a utopian society. The latest campaign draws comparisons between the situation on the mainland and South Korea's experiences 30 years ago...

According to state media, Beijing's vision of a "new socialist countryside" consists of five components: production growth, affluence, rural civilisation, a clean environment and democracy in the management of local affairs. The vision may look like a holistic approach, but scholars are worried that it may turn into another white-elephant construction spree.

Likely problems include the usual: corruption, political point-scoring for provincial officials by wasting funds on "showcase" villages, increased financial strain on villages as local governments tax to spend. And the program largely misses the point - money alone isn't the solution to rural poverty. Proper land reform, well-deliniated land rights, open and honest courts that will defend the poor from developer and government land grabs and cops that don't shoot those defending their patches of earth are all vital. But the control freaks demand progress, and progress can only come with control. The true beauty of the capitalist market system is it works with a minimum of control, not a maximum of it.

Another example is China's banking sector. With many banks of various sizes swamped with bad debt, China is experimenting with taking in foreign capital in the sector. But now the dam wall of control has been slightly breached, you can expect a flood to soon follow. China is delicately trying to leverage foreign money and experience to resolve its financial system problems (bad debts, poor management and poor controls) but without giving up control. But foreigners are not going to give over huge sums of money, time and expertise without getting some say over what happens to it all. China's government will be expected to cede control in return for these things.

This leads to an interesting consideration - China's currency policy. If you view that policy through the prism of control, then China's reluctance to make changes to either the level of the yuan or to its capital account (allowing the free flow of capital into and out of China) makes sense, even though it defies economic wisdom. This is the dimension that is often missing from economic commentary on China's economic policies. Economics is better considered as "political economy", especially when dealing with a government such as China's where the control premium is so large it often outweighs economic logic. And this concept extends past the world of economics - much of China's actions can only be considered through an understanding of the relentless need for the CCP to retain control at all costs.

The CCP's problem is the reforms of the past 25 years have unleashed growth and social changes that are beyond even the best abilities of government's to control. China's government relies on brute force and technology to control the internet, only to find SMS and mobile phones outstripping their control. Information is difficult to control; economies are difficult to control; people are difficult to control. The best systems allow these forces to flow of their own accord, sometimes stepping in when they fail or lead to adverse results but otherwise leaving things to find their own equilibrium. Imposing solutions doesn't work because (and this may be a shock to many) some people do not know better than others.

Equilibriums are a balance of dynamic forces, sometimes assisted by catalysts. They are not brought about by control freaks wishing it is so.

Related reading

Mark Thoma links to an IHT article on rural China's ticking time bomb.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 10:18
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December 12, 2005
The Rising Body Count

The WTO protesters should have no doubts as to which side of the border they ought to be on. Reports now place the death toll from the riots in Dongzhou village near Shanwei City in Guangdong Province (where local security forces opened fire against demonstrators last week) at 20 people, up from 3 when the Chinese government issued a statement last week Tuesday.

Amnesty International made a statement that the deaths from the riots were the worst inflicted by the government on its own people since Tiananmen, and the first time since that incident that security forces have actually opened fire. Of course we have no way of knowing that - maybe a few of the mine disasters were mis-reported... The area was cordoned off to visitors, and trucks in the vicinity reverted to tried-and-true CCP tactics of blaring PA announcements of "Trust the Government". According to the Taipei Times:

Yesterday, government banners hung at the entrance of Dongzhou said, "Following the law is the responsibility and obligation of the people" and "Don't listen to rumors, don't let yourself be used."
But the fact that the government has detained the commander on the spot for making some bad decisions (he does not need to be formally charged for the next 3 weeks) does show that maybe something has changed since 1989. The Guangzhou Daily reported on the killings as a mistake that was the responsibility of the charged 'Gong An' commander.

The 170 villagers involved in the protests, as our readers will know, are far from alone in making their grievances known the their governments. The Independent of Britain had this interesting factoid:

Official government figures say that 3.76m people took part in at least 74,000 protests in 2004, but many more go unrecorded.
Local Hongkongers should be even more sympathetic when they find out the protests were over a new (highly-polluting) coal-fired power plant blowing smoke in our general direction. The cause of the protests though were not for environmental reasons, but rather because the government had issued compulsory purchase orders for land that the villagers regarded as derisory. Any questions about whether it's the farmers or the city-dwellers that are getting the short end of the stick in China, or why there are so many unregistered migrants in China's urban areas?

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[boomerang] Posted by HK Dave at 13:12
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December 06, 2005
Towards Full Employment in the PRC

Well, it's been a few days since my last post, so I thought I'd weigh in with a rather topical article I read about SMS monitoring in China in the International Herald Tribune. Apparently surveillance of China's text messages will be stepped up in the wake of increasing amounts of criminal or otherwise illegal messages sent to local consumers' phones. 107,000 illegal SMSs have been found out this year, and 9,700 accounts have been shut down. 44% of the messages were banking scams (I'll be impressed if the standard Nigerian dictator letter can be composed in an SMS), with the others ads for prostitutes, porn or illegal lotteries.

The government is also considering a filtration system that would allow the government to quickly access messages with "false political rumors" or "reactionary remarks" (would that be orthodox Marxist-Leninist ideology?).

But ultimately a human being is still going to have to read suspect messages, particularly from known or suspected dissidents. And here's a hint about why the title to this post is what it is - the number of text messages sent in 2004 (when 20% less accounts were probably in existence?)? 217.8 BILLION. And no, that is not some mistake, some Chinese mislabeling of 'wan' as 'million'.

How long does it take you to read a text message? How about a hundred of 'em?

Wanted: office space for the PSB.

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[boomerang] Posted by HK Dave at 21:37
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November 22, 2005
A Chinese View of 'Congagement'

A Chinese fellow at the China Reform Forum wrote an interesting PRC perspective on why the US should stop their dual-track policy of containment and engagement of China. His argument is that China poses no obvious threat to the US, and does not have the wherewithal to pose such a threat in the forseeable future. Because I have heard his point of view repeated by others, I'd like to discuss it in this forum.

I find his arguments fail to take seriously the fact that many Americans do regard China as a threat, despite evidence that it is far from the biggest contributor to the ballooning American trade deficit. Why the irrational fear? It is not just fear of an abstract growing trade gap - it is for their jobs, for their security in the Pacific, and most of all, for their way of life. How can they not when the author concludes thusly:

Sooner or later, the decline of US primacy is inevitable; history has taught us so. My advice is: Uncle Sam, watch the rapid development of globalization and multi-polarization. They will gradually bring to the world a new democratic international system which would welcome no primacy at all. Hence the United States might be the last primacy in human history and it really need not worry about the emergence of any potential challenger.
Chinese foreign policy, and perhaps Chinese in general, are viewed as being incredibly pragmatic in both foreign and domestic relations. Yet that last statement, which sounds very utopian, is becoming part of the Chinese message to the world as it brandishes its peaceful credentials.

In any case, Americans are far less likely than Europeans to agree with such statements. The American concept of self-reliance has always extended to its foreign policy, and the prospect of a happy multipolar world sits about as well with Americans as losing their sovereignty altogether. Naturally, China I am sure feels the same way when America lectures it on how to run itself. Certainly the North Koreans resented it on China's behalf, calling them 'relevations of fascist hysteria.'

For how long, I wonder, can China and America talk at cross purposes past one another? And for how long can people like us not be forced to take sides?

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[boomerang] Posted by HK Dave at 00:49
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November 18, 2005
It's not easy being Beijing

What's the point in being the rulers of an authoritarian society if even your own cadres won't listen to you? The SCMP:

Steps must be taken to strengthen central government power because Beijing's policies and decrees are increasingly being ignored by local authorities, a state-run newspaper warned yesterday. In a signed article headlined "Why the central government's decrees cannot reach outside Zhongnanhai", the China Youth Daily said action had to be taken to promote the central government's legal authority and to stop widespread disregard for its policies...In theory, the mainland is one of few highly centralised places in the world. But in practice, regionalism has run wild following two decades of market-oriented reform, analysts say...another example was local-level distortion or dismissal of the central government's macroeconomic policies.

But it said the most obvious example was the widespread failure of local governments to follow central government orders to improve safety in coal mines and to close unsafe operations.

Analysts have suggested that economic growth and its accompanying disparities among mainland regions - along with diversification of political, cultural, and social life - have driven the country's political decentralisation.

Mo Jihong, a constitutional law expert with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' Institute of Law, said the article could mean the central government would get tough on regionalism...promoting the rule of law and judicial independence were the solutions to widespread malpractices...The China Youth Daily article cited several reasons behind the widespread malpractices, but added that the most fundamental one was the backward nature of the legal system.

The only other problem is trying to fight hundreds or even thousands of years of culture and political history. Today's system effectively micmicks the "tribute" system of imperial times. Nationalisation and centralisation is a relatively novel concept - Mao tried it with disasterous effects. Since Mao's death the country has largely reverted to provincial and regional power bases with lip-service paid to Beijing as necessary.

Anyway, hasn't Beijing heard of subsidiarity: the idea that matters should be handled by the smallest (or, the lowest) competent authority. Oh hang on, it says competent.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 18:03
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November 10, 2005
Hu's Favorite Tune: Imagine

Hu Jintao recently made a speech on the floor of the United Nations General Assembly that sounded suspiciously like John Lennon's most famous solo song, Imagine. Just compare the speech to the song:

HU: Eradicating the current unfair world economic order are preconditions to the world's balanced development, and in turn, harmony.

LENNON: Imagine no possessions, I wonder if you can, no need for greed or hunger, a brotherhood of Man, imagine all the people, sharing all the world...
Yes, he speaks of tolerance, of the world living in peace and harmony, which he said was a 'traditional' Chinese characteristic. While Lennon's Marxist ideologies must bring on nostalgia in Mr. Hu, I'm sure his favorite line in the song is: "...and no religions too."

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November 08, 2005
Down and out in Shenzhen

I'm off to Shenzhen on Friday, which could be interesting in light of today's SCMP story. It's got the typical Chinese mix: unpaid workers, riot police, a corrupt and bankrupt company, and a press crackdown:

Riot police came to the defence of the mayor of Shenzhen after a meeting with former PLA engineers over compensation ended with the workers trying to stop him from leaving. Mayor Xu Zongheng held the urgent meeting last night at a local school in Futian district with more than 3,000 workers of a state-owned enterprise. The workers - most of them former members of the People's Liberation Army's engineer corps - were angry about the compensation they received during the latest state-owned enterprise reform. They also demanded the authorities release two colleagues arrested last week for arguing with government officials.

The mayor promised to revise the compensation scheme and pleaded with the workers to call off their protest. He also said the new company would not sack any of those involved in the protests in the next three years. But the workers were not satisfied. They booed the mayor when he left the school and tried to block his car. Riot police were rushed in to disperse the crowd. Several hundred workers then marched to the nearby police station and shouted slogans demanding the release of the two arrested workers...

The incident was hugely embarrassing to the Shenzhen government, which had tried to clamp down on coverage of the dispute. Several Hong Kong reporters were detained on Sunday for covering the protest and were not released until 3am yesterday.

...the construction company was badly managed and riddled with corruption. The Shenzhen government decided to turn it into a private business last year. Mr Li said auditors sent in to examine the company's books found it on the brink of bankruptcy and much of its money was missing. He said the company's senior management disappeared, leaving behind huge debts.

Photo below the jump, my emphasis in the story. The instinct for Chinese governments remains to clampdown, to supress, to cover-up. But the story still got out and in this era of mobile phones and the internet, supression won't always work. Even if you're the mayor of Shenzhen.


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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 09:00
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» CSR Asia - Corporate Social Responsibility in Asia links with: PLA employees protest over compensation

October 19, 2005
Socialist political democracy

This should be good. The People's Daily reports a new white paper from the Information Office of China's State Council, titled Building of Political Democracy in China. With a straight face, we're told about the virtues of "socialist political democracy":

In building socialist political democracy, China has always adhered to the basic principle that the Marxist theory of democracy be combined with the reality of China...In the process, China has also borrowed from the useful achievements of the political civilization of mankind, including Western democracy, and assimilated the democratic elements of from China's traditional culture and institutional civilization.

Therefore, China's socialist political democracy shows distinctive Chinese characteristics.

It certainly is distinctive. Let's have a look at some of the characteristics of this distinctive democracy:
-- China's democracy is a people's democracy under the leadership of the Communist Party of China (CPC).

-- China's democracy is a democracy in which the overwhelming majority of the people act as masters of State affairs.

-- China's democracy is a democracy guaranteed by the people's democratic dictatorship.

-- China's democracy is a democracy with democratic centralism as the basic organizational principle and mode of operation.

The white paper says the CPC's leading status was established gradually in the protracted struggle and practice of the Chinese people in pursuing national independence, prosperity and a happy life.

It was a choice made by history and by the people.

If you're still with me, there's also the white paper's plan for the future improvement of this wonderful system:
improve the socialist democratic system, strengthen and improve the socialist legal system, reform and improve the methods of leadership and rule of the CPC, reform and improve the government's decision-making mechanism.

The white paper also stresses the importance of the reform of the system of administrative management, the reform of the judicial system, the reform of the cadre and personnel system, and the restraint and supervision over the power.

Does it make sense? Is it self-contradictory? Is it worth the price of the paper it's written on?

Ask the people of Taishi.

Update (10/21)

The Useless Tree reflects on "authoritarian democracy" and the umbrage Confucius would have taken..

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 19:24
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» Winds of Change.NET links with: China, democracy and a place called Taishi

October 18, 2005
Gnome unknowns

Donald Rumsfeld is in China today and the Christian Sciene Monitor has a great article on the visit and China's secretive military. I was going to cut and paste some key parts and found myself with the whole article, it's that good. Go read it and come back.

There are several interesting points in the article. Firstly this: "The US is no longer willing to trade high-tech military briefings ... for a dog and pony show," says one US official. "I think the Chinese now acknowledge that message." This is a sign of growing maturity and even potentially trust between the two sides. But the key remains "transparency", that is a greater understanding to avoid potentially massive problems later:

Many US strategists, including Admiral Fallon, argue that a military clash with China is not inevitable, despite the fact that the two forces are eyeing each other with greater wariness. But "transparency" has grown in importance for US generals and admirals, as well as pilots and submarine commanders, because the margin for mistakes in a "Taiwan scenario" - the hottest flashpoint - is getting smaller. China's main military modernization is designed to fight an offensive battle to capture Taiwan.

Without transparency, some military operations chiefs say, it is harder to know when one side or the other is bluffing, especially amid tensions. "Western forces have a hard time understanding Asian forces, how they think and act," says Michael Boera, the wing commander of the 36th Air Expeditionary Wing in Guam. "It is a different culture, and we need to guard against misunderstandings that we aren't ready for."

But trust is a two-way street and the article's (natural) implication is it is time for the Chinese to put in the hard yards in this trust and understanding game. And a game it is, as the concluding paragraphs demonstrate:
A central reason China has not always been willing to be transparent or reciprocal is that many of their capabilities and operations have been crude, analysts say. At one point, an elderly Admiral Rickover, father of the nuclear submarine, visited a Chinese base and made disparaging comments, deeply hurting the feelings of his host.

Not showing under-par bases or military hardware may be a strategic choice by China, some analysts say, as it can mislead an opponent as to strengths and weaknesses.

Donald Rumsfeld will be subjected to a Chinese shock and awe program during his visit. The Americans are rightly worried mostly about the potential for a Taiwan invasion and China's deliberate ambiguity in its intentions.

The heartening thing is the two sides are still engaged and talking. On the American side there are many both in and out of the military who do not think a military confrontation is inevitable, and the same is likely true of the Chinese side (although their thinking is obviously not publised or reported). The world has a vested interest in making sure these "moderates" are the sides that win their respective internal "wars" on their views of their potential partner or adversary.

Welcome to China, Donald Rumsfeld.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 11:51
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» Live From The FDNF links with: Rumsfeld And China's Secretive Military

October 11, 2005
Super Girls Rock Beijing, But Not Establisment

After a recent cover picture in Time Asia, a wildly successful concert in Shanghai, and bestowed the honor of "Iconoclast" Li Yuchun and her underling Super Girls held their most recent concert of their mainland tour in Beijing on Sunday to a loud and seriously excited crowd. It seems there is little that can stop them now. Hell, Li Yuchun might get an island in Antarctica named after her.

Indeed the Super Girls are showing real sophistication. Not to be labelled mere teeny boppers, the Super Girls held an auction last week to sell some of their clothes they wore on their show and front row tickets for the Beijing gig. The auction raised over 300,000 RMB for a local charity to send underprivileged kids to university. Certainly these girls know how to please their constituents.

All decked out in white on Sunday night, the Super Girls showed they weren't all innocent baring a lot of Super skin for their debut in the capital. Li Yuchun, often ridiculed for looking and sounding confusingly androgynous even hopped in on the scandalous action, wearing and then taking off a short black skirt mid performance. Alas, all of you 'Chun Chun' fans, the skirt was worn over her pants. Glow sticks were the hot accessory and there was a spontaneous demonstration of future Olympic javelin hopefuls as the show neared its end and thousands of fans launched their 2 kuai sticks onto the hundreds of police officers standing shoulder to shoulder on the field making sure no one got out of line.

Is this the first wiff of democratic reform in China? Most competent people would say no, but that hasn't stopped plenty of journalists from speculating. The TV station that produced Super Girls was so nervous of this implication that they called the SMS votes "messages of support". On the other hand, does Li Yuchun's gender bending, confident persona empower young girls all over the provinces? This blogger thinks this theory is a more likely thesis and a fresh break from the pointless daintiness of most Chinese pop stars today that is outdated in the new China.

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[boomerang] Posted by Austin at 19:14
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» Austin Arensberg links with: Cross-Posting and Asiapundit’s Post on the Guardian Debacle

Taishi and the backlash

The Guardian has now confirmed that the stories of Representative Lu Banglie's death were greatly exaggerated. Lu was severely beaten and then carried to a nearby hospital before being driven back to his home city of Zhijiang in Hubei Province. This occurred some time after Benjamin Joffe-Walt, the Guardian's man on the scene, had already been taken away, and was apparently in some panic.

Chinese journalists are already criticizing Joffe-Walt, accusing him of naivete, wilful exaggeration and even outright lies. One blogger/journalist says that "lies cannot create justice", and that the Guardian newspaper is "continuing to back up the fantasies of Benjamin Joffe-Walt".

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[boomerang] Posted by Running Dog at 12:25
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» Austin Arensberg links with: Foreign Journalist Gets a Pass, Chinese Fixer/Activist is Beaten in Taishi
» Bingfeng Teahouse links with: key points of the Benjamin-report debate
» peking-duck links with: A Coward in Taishi and the Hypocrites
» GZ Expat, Part II links with: Frightening...update

October 10, 2005
Things are falling apart dept.

The magnificent ESWN has has translated an article about the "centrifugal" and "centripetal" pressures now tearing China apart, and suggests that local authorities are now in a position to defy the leadership of Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao. After years of jockeying and alliance-building by the power-hungry Jiang Zemin, the local authorities hold considerable positions of influence, and the new boys are still dealing, among other things, with entrenched Jiang supporters in both Shanghai and Guangdong.

Meanwhile, another website, erm, particularly dear to my heart notes that the leadership are increasingly reluctant to throw their full force against the various protection rackets that pass for local governments these days, lest the entire edifice of power come crashing down. These are parlous moments for the Party.

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[boomerang] Posted by Running Dog at 19:50
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October 06, 2005
Sunny side down

It's not easy being optimistic about China's future.

First the crushing fallout over Taishi continues, says the SCMP:

Guangdong police have formally arrested a rights activist after holding him in custody for three weeks for advising Taishi villagers during their fight to oust the village chief, according to a lawyer who visited him recently...Mr Yang was detained for "disturbing social stability by mass gathering" on September 13 - a day after more than 1,000 armed police stormed the Taishi government office and took away dozens of villagers. The villagers were demanding the removal of village head Chen Jinshen after alleging that he had misused village funds.

Villagers in Taishi have also lost their freedom since the riot on September 12. They are not allowed to talk with outsiders and the number of villagers still detained by the police remains unclear.

Meanwhile a social call by a professor and a lawyer on a noted activist finished up with knuckle sandwiches. Again the SCMP:
A Beijing law lecturer and a lawyer paying a social visit to a blind activist under house arrest in Shandong were escorted back to the capital after being beaten by thugs on Tuesday and interrogated until early yesterday. But Xu Zhiyong , 32, from the Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications, and Li Fangping , 30, a lawyer in a private practice, said they would not be deterred by the attack, which came as they attempted to visit Chen Guangcheng , an opponent of violent, government-backed birth-control measures in Linyi city.

"It was a government-planned action, but the barbarous act will not intimidate us," Mr Xu said from Beijing yesterday...On Tuesday morning, the pair - along with dozens of villagers - arrived outside Mr Chen's home but were denied access. Mr Chen hurried from his house and suffered injuries to his mouth and legs when he clashed with guards. He met the pair for a minute before being pushed back into his house.

Mr Xu and Mr Li were invited to lunch on Tuesday by county officials. They told the officials Mr Chen would "talk less" about local abuses if he was released, but they refused to listen. A few hours later, when the pair were on the way back to Mr Chen's home, they were attacked by up to 30 thugs.

The men tried to report the assault to nearby policemen, who turned their backs on them. Mr Xu and Mr Li were kicked and pushed into a gutter before police arrived and took them - but not the attackers - to a police station, where they were accused of "attacking people". They were interrogated until 3am and escorted back to Beijing by three county policemen yesterday afternoon, after they again tried to visit Mr Chen in the morning.

Mr Chen, who has helped several villagers fighting forced abortion and sterilisation take their cases to court, was "kidnapped" by Shandong police in Beijing last month and put under house arrest.

Linyi city made international headlines in July when Mr Chen helped Washington Post journalists report on the local birth-control programme. Last month, National Population and Family Planning Commission spokesman Yu Xuejun told Xinhua it would investigate the "reported illegal family planning practices" in Shandong.

But the final sucker punch is the most subtle. I am a great believer that consistent, open and honest rule of law is a key to freedom. Rule of law has three important aspects: legislation (by a parliament with elected representatives), enforcement (by police that are not corrupt and closely monitored) and the justice system (again sans corruption, with timely and fair decisions and clear checks and balances). However China's court system is buckling under the strain of an explosion in lawsuits, increased workloads and a falling number of lowly paid judges. We can prattle on about freedom and democracy all we like, but the details matter as much as the broad brushstrokes. The SCMP on China's rickety court system:

Beijing's Chaoyang District Court is one of the busiest lower-level courts in the capital. Last year it took on a record 46,000 lawsuits, but that record looks certain to be overtaken this year, with the court having accepted about 31,000 cases in the first half of the year alone.

The court has 177 judges who each preside over an average of seven hearings a day, according to the People's Court Daily, which quoted one of the court's judges as saying that she still had more than 100 cases to assess and her court roster was fully booked for the coming month.

Chaoyang judges routinely work overtime and their caseload is climbing year by year, according to Mao Li , director of the court's research office.

A People's Court Daily reporter says the load on the legal system is obvious inside the court. "You can immediately feel the tense atmosphere when you step inside the court building," the reporter said. "There are always long queues in the registration hall. Parties in the suits have to wait outside the courtrooms for a long time for their turn because each courtroom has about five different cases every day on average."

Further south, in Guangzhou, the situation has become so acute that the city has had to "borrow" judges from other areas to cope with the "crazy" caseload, the Guangzhou Daily reports. In the past decade and a half, the number of lawsuits accepted by the city's system has risen from about 23,400 in 1990 to more than 160,000 last year.

But the number of judges has declined slightly over the past few years. "The mad increase in lawsuit cases and decline in the number of judges has led to a severe deficiency in judicial power," a Guangzhou judge said. "Working overtime is a common practice for Guangzhou judges."

In the relatively prosperous city of Shenzhen, the intermediate court has sought to counter the increase in cases by implementing a collective overtime plan for its arbitrators since 2000, a move that could be defined as illegal under national law.

From last month, city judges have had to work overtime every Tuesday and Thursday night, and should work every Saturday. According to the "Shenzhen 2004 Court Work Report", the workload of Shenzhen judges has doubled in the past five years.

The report also said 75 judges had asked to quit during that period because of the "extraordinary work pressure". At the national level, the number of cases accepted has risen steadily every year while the country's judicial ranks have thinned. Mainland courts accepted 7.87 million lawsuits last year, compared with 5.68 million in 2003 and 5.35 million in 2000.

Supreme People's Court president Xiao Yang told a meeting of the National People's Congress Standing Committee that the number of judges had declined by 13 per cent between 2000 and last year.

The state does not release data on the number of judges, but there were thought to be about 280,000 in early 2000.

Wang Xuetang , a judge and researcher from Shandong , has been studying China's court system for more than 10 years and says economic development and social change have been the critical factors behind the shortage. Judge Wang said there had been an explosion in the number of disputes because respect for social institutions was not well established in Chinese society. He said members of the public were also more aware of their legal rights - and therefore more willing to file cases - and judges were now expected to meet higher standard.

In the past, China's judges were mainly either retired army personnel or court cadres who had worked their way up to judicial positions. But for the past three years, the mainland has had unified judicial exams which all judges, prosecutors and lawyers have to pass in order to practice.

"The unified examination became a barrier for judge recruitment in underdeveloped areas where the quality of judicial personnel is relatively low," Judge Wang said, while admitting the exams were a significant step forward in terms of national reform.

For example, about 340 judicial staff from Qinghai sat the exams in 2002 when the system was implemented, but only eight passed. Poor pay had also made work on the bench less attractive. Judge Wang said his annual income was only about 30,000 yuan, which is about the same as an ordinary government worker and much less than a lawyer. "Judges should be better paid because they engage in creative work and face heavy workloads and great pressure," he said.

But Peking University Law School professor He Weifang disputed the claims that China did not have enough judges, saying the "shortage" was an illusion created by defects in the judicial system. "The proportion of judges in terms of population numbers in China is much higher than in many western countries," Professor He said.

He said one of the main problems was that many judges were doing work that should be outside their range of responsibilities. "Many basic-level courts are required by the local government to oversee investment invitations, family planning, tax collection and so on," Professor He said. Professor He said an ambiguous division of labour inside the courts forced judges to waste time on paperwork that would be done by assistants in other countries.

"Only about two-thirds of existing judges are really doing judges' work," he said. "The judges also have to spend much energy and time balancing different interest groups who can exert pressure on justice. It is useless to increase the number of judges in this case."

Professor He said corruption had dragged down the reputation of the country's judges and turned people away from the profession. "Prestige and independence are more important than salary for a judge," he said, adding that it would be a more popular career choice if judges' authority and reputation could be guaranteed.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 10:17
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October 01, 2005
The Chinese are revolting

The Economist writes about the growing number of "mass incidents" in China (no sub. req'd.). The article charts the explosion (pardon the pun) in riots and unrest in recent times on the back of growing wealth. It supports the thesis that as people have more personal possessions to defend, they will demand a greater say in how their lives are governed. The article is so good (dare I use the words must read? Yes, I dare) I've reproduce the whole thing below the jump, with some key parts highlighted:

THE Chinese government is getting increasingly twitchy about what officials say is a rapid growth in the number and scale of public protests. In its latest bid to quash them, this week it announced a sweeping ban on internet material that incites “illegal demonstrations”. Does China face serious instability? Probably not, for now at least. But in the longer term there are reasons to worry.

Quashing unrest has ever been a priority for the Communist Party. But over the past year or so it has put even more emphasis on tackling “mass incidents” as it calls the protests. These include a wide range of activity, from quiet sit-ins by a handful of people to all-in riots involving thousands. Almost always, they are sparked by local grievances, rather than antipathy to the party's rule. Yet China's most senior police official, Zhou Yongkang, has said that “actively preventing and properly handling” mass incidents was the main task for his Ministry of Public Security this year.

According to Mr Zhou, there were some 74,000 protests last year, involving more than 3.7m people; up from 10,000 in 1994 and 58,000 in 2003. Sun Liping, a Chinese academic, has calculated that demonstrations involving more than 100 people occurred in 337 cities and 1,955 counties in the first 10 months of last year. This amounted to between 120 and 250 such protests daily in urban areas, and 90 to 160 in villages. These figures are likely to be conservative. Chinese officials often try to cover up disturbances in their areas to avoid trouble with their superiors.

Under Mr Zhou's orders, police forces around the country this year have been merging existing anti-riot and counter-terrorist units into new “special police” tasked with responding rapidly to any mass protests that turn “highly confrontational”. Police officials say the existing units were too sluggish, too poorly trained and ill-coordinated to handle the upsurge in disturbances. The special police are to form small “assault squads” to tackle incidents involving violence or terrorism.

Only a few years ago, news of specific incidents seldom filtered out to foreign journalists. Now, thanks partly to a freer flow of information helped by the internet, by mobile telephony and, more rarely, by a slightly less constrained domestic press, hardly a week goes by without some protest coming to light. In June, thousands of people rioted in the town of Chizhou, in the eastern province of Anhui, after an altercation between a wealthy businessman and a cyclist over a minor traffic accident. In August, hundreds clashed with police in a land-related dispute that still simmers in the village of Taishi, in the southern province of Guangdong. Last month, the police in Shanghai detained dozens of people protesting against being evicted from their homes.

In some ways, this unrest makes China look a lot more like a normal developing country than the rigidly controlled system it was until the early 1990s. It is becoming increasingly common to encounter small-scale protests in Chinese cities that only a few years ago would have horrified order-obsessed cadres. An apartment block near your correspondent's home in Beijing has for weeks been scrawled with slogans protesting against the adjacent construction of a petrol station. “We want human rights,” says one. Residents say the police have not interfered, save to warn them not to protest during a big political gathering in the city.

Chinese officials often say that greater social unrest is normal in developing countries with a per capita GDP between $1,000 and $3,000. China's GDP per head surpassed $1,000 in 2003. But this appears to be little consolation. In August last year, President Hu Jintao appointed a high-level team, headed by Mr Zhou, to supervise the handling of protests and petitions. Official sources say Mr Hu dwelt on protests in a speech to party leaders in September 2004 and at the party's annual economic planning meeting in December. Late last year the party issued a document to senior officials telling them how to deal with unrest.

According to these sources, Mr Zhou's speeches are laced with warnings that political dissidents might try to manipulate local protests to put pressure on the party itself. This fear explains why the party has further squeezed non-governmental groups and dissidents in recent months. China Development Brief, a newsletter on Chinese civil society developments, reported that in recent weeks China's secret police had been interviewing staff of Chinese NGOs that receive foreign funding, as well as Chinese staff of foreign NGOs in China, about the purpose of their work. The government has suspended the registration of new international NGOs pending the outcome of these inquiries.

The party's dilemma is that much of the unrest is a product of the rapid economic growth that it is so keen to maintain. The outlook of many urban Chinese has changed profoundly since the 1990s as a result of the privatisation of hitherto heavily state-subsidised housing. Anxious to protect their new assets, property owners have increasingly clashed with developers, and their government backers, who have been trying to cash in on the resulting boom by erecting shopping malls and luxury housing. The expansion of cities has fuelled clashes with peasants whose land is needed for construction.

Some argue that these mostly isolated protests, if handled sensitively, could help China maintain overall stability by providing people with a way of venting frustrations. But Mao Shoulong, at Renmin University of China in Beijing, says the unrest is a sign that China lacks channels for people to air discontent in a more orderly fashion. Widespread corruption and an increasingly conspicuous wealth gap fuel a contempt for officialdom that can easily erupt into the kind of class-based rioting that occurred in Anhui in June.

And should the economy falter, urban China could be faced with the twin dangers of an angry middle class saddled with big mortgage commitments and declining property prices (a problem China has not yet had to face), as well as a big increase in the number of unemployed, who, along with unpaid pensioners, are the main participants in protests in those parts of the country left behind by the current boom. Widespread middle-class discontent, combined with blue-collar dissatisfaction, would be a much bigger threat to stability than China now faces.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 22:41
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» Newsgator Herald links with: A Voice should be heard and taken note of

September 30, 2005
Happy birthday, Xinjiang and China

It's a happy 50th birthday to the Xinjiang Urgur Autonomous Region (motto: the autonomy you have when you're not really autonomous).

To celebrate the People's Daily discusses Prosperous, stable Xinjiang - a pleasant surprise to foreigners. It appears progress and happiness, in the words of fluent Chinese speaker and American student Pam Ariand, is a warm bun: "Hamburgers were never seen here several years ago, but now you can easily find outlets of Kentucky fried chicken, pizza and many other western foods in Xinjiang."

Martyn at TPD has an excellent potted history in just four paragaphs - Xinjiang 50th anniversary: occupation or liberation? Make sure you read the comments at that link as well to hear the opinion of those who have lived there.

While on anniversaries, a very happy 56th birthday to the New China. Follow the link to read the pain of a 7 year old girl's history lessons, numerous counts of foreign aggression and surprisingly little mention of the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution and other weird political movements.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 18:36
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» The Jawa Report links with: U.S. Warns of Islamic Terror Threat in China
» The Jawa Report links with: U.S. Warns of Islamic Terror Threat in China
» The White Peril 白禍 links with: You haven't aged a bit

September 29, 2005
The people's Confucius

Everything old is new again. Confucius is quickly regaining his place amongst China's pantheon of heroes. Yesterday in Shandong there was a major celebration of Confucius's birthday in Qufu. The China Daily waxes lyrically, saying Confucius soundbites offer wisdom and laughter and stating Confucius probably ties with Shakespeare for the title of most quoted human ever and noting he scooped a guy called Matthew: Most Confucius aphorisms can easily cross boundaries of age, culture and religion. Actually parallels exist: "Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you." This echoes the Golden Rule from Matthew 7:12: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

For a long time the Communists had trouble with Confucius. The China Daily puts it delicately:

However, not every citation from the sage sounds palatable to the modern ear. Confucian overemphasis on filial piety and respect for authority was criticized during the May 4 Movement in 1919 as hampering social progress. In the early 1970s, Confucius became the target of character assassination as part of a weird political movement.
"Weird political movement" - what a great phase. I wonder if that will become part of the Party's official history.

Like all things in politics, the key question is why now? The answer is between the lines of a piece in the People's Daily titled Enlightenment drawn from global worship of Confucius:

...The world today is not in peace, this is mainly because of hegemony and terrorism...Confucius said, "A gentleman gets along with others, but does not necessarily agree with them; a base man agrees with others, but does not coexist with them harmoniously".
In case it's too subtle for you, I'll help you: U.S.A.
...Fifty years ago, the Chinese government, together with India and Burma (Myanmar), initiated the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence for handling international relations, and thus made major contribution to world peace.

The "one country, two systems" principle advanced by Deng Xiaoping has successfully solved the problem of the return of Hong Kong and Macao to the embrace of the motherland and it embodies China's traditional spirit of "harmony without uniformity", thus providing the world with a typical example for solving similar problems.

In case it's too subtle for you, I'll help you: Taiwan

Confucianism advocates benevolence: "One who, destining to develop himself, develops others and in destining to sustain himself, sustains others", "Don't do to others what you don't want others to do to you", and one should get along well with all peace-loving people. Refraining from seeking hegemony is a fine tradition of Confucianism.
China's present peaceful rise is precisely an inheritance of the fine tradition. China's peaceful development will not constitute a threat to the surrounding countries. As Chinese President Hu Jintao said in his speech delivered at the summit marking the 60th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations on September 15: We should "adhere to the spirit of tolerance, jointly build a harmonious world. Difference in history, culture, social system and development pattern should not become obstacle to exchanges among various countries, still less should it be a reason for mutual antagonism". This actually is an emphasis on "harmony without uniformity".
That last paragraph is for everyone, with an emphasis on the U.S.A.

So the why is simple: Confucius hasn't changed, but the Communist Party has. "Harmony without uniformity" is the antithesis of the CCP's history.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 11:14
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September 27, 2005
Non-party party members

The People's Daily waxes on the Communist Party's rural election reforms:

Election of secretary of village committee of the CPC will no longer an internal affair of the Communist Party of China (CPC), as non-Party people have been allowed to attend CPC's grassroots election...In past decades, secretaries of all levels of CPC committees were elected merely by Party members and they were the top leaders of their administrative regions. But normally in one village, there were only dozens of Party members out of over 10,000 non-Party people. How could guarantee that the secretary elected by dozens of Party members could reflect the common will of all villagers?
That's an excellent question. Indeed extending that logic has profound consequences. How can you guarantee the provincial or national secretaries and officials elected by thousands of Party members reflect the common will of all?

There's an answer of sorts in the same article.

"...allowing non-Party people to participate in CPC's grassroots election will consolidate CPC's ruling foundation," said Ding Junping, head of the public administrative college under the Wuhan University...

...more than 20 provinces have admitted non-Party people to CPC's grassroots election on trial.

The professor is saying that these non-Party elected officials are de facto Party members, because they've been elected to their posts. Co-opting these officials is the only way the Party will be able to maintain its grip on power. Villagers will quickly realise the discrepency between being able to vote for their village leaders but not for their county or provincial or even national leaders. While village government is the one with most immediate impact on their lives, the likelihood of growing frustration with the ever-growing income gap with their urban cousins will one day spill over to frustration with Government at higher levels.

Another reason the CCP's primary focus is on rural development and closing the income gap.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 10:26
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June 29, 2005
Post Communist China

Plenty of debate China focusses on the Communist Party (CCP) and its (mis)-rule. The question is not if the CCP will fall, but when. But that question implies another which is seldom addressed by the China punditry - what next? Should the CCP fall, what kind of Government will emerge? While most hope for a democracy, is that likely? Is that even desirable? What kind of support will a post-CCP China need and will it get it?

One clear lesson from the Iraq war, regardless of its merits, is the need to look beyond the change you desire to what comes after. That is the debate we need to start today. I welcome your thougts on the topic. Naturally I have mine...

The key to the answer is how the transition happens. What comes next depends on what happened before. If the CCP implodes under the weight of its own contradictions the evolution to a new system of government will differ significantly from that which comes about through a popular uprising. If a popular uprising is violent or peaceful is another key difference. China's changes of government have tended to come about through violent overthrow. A peaceful transition will be a novelty. The influence of other countries, in particular China's significant neighbours (Japan, Korea) and America, will be crucial in the transition. It is impossible to say how each country would re-act, but here's hoping they have each at least considered the possibilities.

Can democracy work for China? It has been often cited that China (excluding Taiwan) has never had universal suffrage. On the other hand India provides an example of a massive and diverse country that successfully runs election after election. Yet many argue that India's democracy has hampered it in its race for growth compared to China. To some extent that must be true, because totalitarian governments can make decisions without heed to the short term interests of the voters (although that assumes such dictatorships are enlightened enough to have their population's longer term interests at heart).

A lack of democratic tradition can mean a country that rapidly changes to a market liberal democracy can just as quickly slide back into a more murky and bastardised version of the same. To wit, Russia. The countries of Eastern Europe have more successfully made the transition. But Russia is the closest, albeit imperfect, forerunner of China's past and future. A vast country nominally ruled from a dominating centre but with strong regions, Russia and China have both historically been "top-down" rather than "bottom-up" countries.

How do you ensure a democratic China emerges? There has to be external support for the crucial elements such as rule of law and universal suffrage. But far more importantly there has to be popular legitimacy. The people of China have to want a democratic system. It is not clear to me that that is the case. A crucial part of the longer term planning for a democratic China needs to be direct communication with the Chinese people to explain and re-enforce the democratic ideal.

But the planning cannot stop there. The reality is any successor democracy in China will be an imperfect one. The key becomes prioritising. Which parts of a liberal democracy are more important to get right? Should it be getting the economy in order? Installing a government elected by universal suffrage? Implementing and consistently enforcing laws and regulations? Eliminating corruption and graft? In an ideal world all of these and more would be addressed simultaneously. But that's not going to happen in practice. Who decides the priorities and how?

This is the dilemma of the Bush Doctrine of bringing democracy to the world. What happens when democracies elect your enemies, such as in Iran? Such a scenario isn't difficult to imagine for China. Should the CCP be toppled, a nationalist party would be expected to dominate any successor government (and I'm not talking about the KMT marching trimuphantly back across the straits...necessarily). The result could be a more nationalist, insular and beligerent China rather than a more benign one most expect. In short, democracy is a double edged sword.

Turning to another issue: if not democracy, then what are the alternatives? Unfortunately the most likely is the CCP gets replaced with a similar entity. Perhaps not the same ideology (although what does ideology matter to today's CCP), but the same format: central government that is nominally kow-towed to by the regions but in reality is largely subservient to them. Much of China's history has been one of pledging alliegence to a distant emperor, paying the usual tributes but otherwise running the place how you like. Without significant action the same is likely to be true in the future.

My conclusion is simple: as much as the China punditry wishes for it, an eventual Chinese democracy is no sure thing. Far from it. It is one thing to document the evils of the CCP and hope for its demise. It is quite another to plan for a post-CCP future. But it is an urgent task that needs to begin now.

Any ideas?

Other reading

Naturally Joe Katzman (if you're not reading Winds of Change, what's wrong with you?) has several important additional links and thoughts. His final question:

Once the problem is framed in terms of requisite variety, could it be possible to have a non-Democratic China Post-CPC, that nonetheless takes steps in the right direction and so sets the stage for coping now and positive change later? What could that look like?
An interesting "what if" would be to ask what if the KMT survived the civil war and war against Japan and was still ruling the Mainland? Would something along the lines of modern Taiwan have evolved across the entire country, not to mention the 70-odd million lives that would have been spared Mao's meglomania? Joe's question suggests a kind of Pinochet Chile writ large. David's comments also makes sense to me: that China will require "a corporatist authoritarian structure rather than a pluralistic democracy".

To repeat my main theme: most China pundits hope for a fall of the CCP and a liberal democracy for China. My question is whether that is realilstic or even feasible? And most importantly, how do we make it realistic and feasible?

Pundita replies

Pundita replies with What China can learn from India. She discusses the grassroots attempts at democracy already going on in Chinese villages and expects China to modernise via democracy. The problem with the village democracy experiment is it is largely meaningless - most local village chiefs hold next to no real power, answering to township or county cadres. The experiment smacks of token-ism. However her point on a Chinese style democracy is a telling one. There's no monopoly on a democratic model. I'm just not sure China will get to that point.

Daily Demarche

Dr. Demarche takes the idea one step further, asking how would the US and the world react should the CCP be overthrown.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 14:56
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» Winds of Change.NET links with: Post-Communist China
» GZ Expat, Part II links with: What next?
» The Jawa Report links with: Wednesday's Blast Around the Blogosphere (UPDATED: Awesom-O Edtion)

June 24, 2005
Response to China's new left

As I expected my piece on China's new left (deliberately not capitalised) provoked mixed reactions. I hope to compose a rebuttal of the comments made both here and at Richard's either today or tomorrow. My full response is below the fold.

I recommend this collection of other reading on the same topic:

* Richard's original post: China's New Left seeks to rein in market reforms and his summons to his minions to denounce debate the issue.
* Richard Willmsen's well-considered thoughts on China's New Left, who concludes the new left are mere window dressing for the CCP leadership.
* Asiapundit's original comments on china's new left are on the same wavelength as me.
* The excellent Zenpundit asks will China's new left be a force to reckon with? A short but incisive piece.
* Imagethief rightly says the point isn't income gap - it's opportunity.
* Manuel L. Quezon III article New Left movement emerging in China could challenge United States (found via his blog).
* Adam Morris joins the fray: The New Left. Not "new" but very "left".

Your thoughts and comments are welcome. Now read on for my response...

The first part of my response is to cover the ground the vast majority share. None of us are fans of the CCP in its totality. We all want to see a successful and vibrant China will the spoils widely shared. Today's China is a far from perfect place, economically and politically. On that we can all agree.

I will again recommend you read Hayek's Road to Serfdom. Other relevant readings are China's (Uneven) Progress Against Poverty and Edward Kaplan's China Economic History (thank you for the pointers).

Amongst all the critiques I've still yet to have anyone spell out precisely what new left thinking actually is. Richard agrees with Martyn on this:

The ideas of the New Left are a natural and welcome consequence of, and progression from today's system where the political and economic elite pillage the nation's wealth, while tightly controlling society with an iron grip, fire rockets up into the air and allow anti-Japan riots in the name of patriotism and social stability.
That implies the new left is a guise for socialism as a successor to the current system. It is just a touch ironic that the successor to the failure of central planning and Communism is socialism. Marx would be turning in his grave at this inversion in the progression of revolutionary change. If my characterization of the new left is wrong, please direct me to a clear and lucid exposition of their philosophy. Until then it very much seems the new left is the old left reheated, like those supermarket products proclaiming themselves "new and improved".

Let's be honest. No country or economic system truly afford equality. Richard compares me to Ayn Rand when I say that people are different. Guilty as charged. Again if anyone can point me to research showing we are all exactly the same, I'd be much obliged. Until clones walk the Earth, we are blessed in our vast diversity. As an aside, it is ironic that those most devoted to the concept of diversity and celebrating differences also work so actively to minimize those differences. Equality is a chimera, an impossible dream that is dangerous to pursue. Why dangerous? Because the sacrifices made in its name do not justify the result. The ends do not justify the means. Very simply, unequal does not mean unfair.

Some took exception to my pie analogy. Martyn laments China's share of world GDP has gone from 1% to 5% in the last 30 years. During a period of unprecedented global economic prosperity, China outpaced the world to such an extent it has increased its share of world GDP by 5 times! I'm not a shill for the CCP but whether it was because or in spite of them (more on that soon), since Deng took the helm the country and its people have been the beneficiaries of what can only be described as a miracle. Martyn, forgive me but I'm popping the bubbly and thankfully there's several hundred million people just over the border able to afford the same. Martyn also falls into a common trap:

According to the IMF figures 2003, out of 179 countries, China's annual GDP was US$1,087 per person or 110th in the world. That's less than half the average per capita global GDP.
In economics there is a concept called purchasing power parity. In English it means a dollar in one country is not the same as a dollar in another. Quite simply you get more bang for your buck in China than you do in the United States. The latest estimate is China's PPP per capita GDP is US$5,600 (from the CIA's China factbook). I've written extensively about this and other China's economic issues elsewhere on the site.

Richard's turn. Let me quote from his comment:

If you think this [his agreement with the new left] makes me a communist sympathizer, what can I say? Their argument resonates with me, meaning I agree that many of the impoverished and exploited Chinese deserve better and need help.
I always suspected, but now we have proof! Richard is, at least in this case, a Commie! Even worse, he compares me to Ayn Rand and then agrees with my sentiment! Richard, you're one confused fellow.

More seriously, Richard's original post was honest is seeing through the empty rhetoric of the new left. If I did not make that clear in my original post, I will do so now. But it doesn't wash. In the very same comment Richard excerpts Martyn's thoughts that the new left are the natural progression and great white hope. For a group that don't stand for anything, that's quite a statement.

Who's responsible for the China economic boom? I will read the book Richard recommends. But even if you say that all Deng did was undo the excesses of Maoism (and he did far more than that), it was a crucial and massive step for the country at that time. Deng's famous Southern tour is the second biggest travel event in modern Chinese history. I don't have the time or energy to devote to this topic, but either by providence or good planning (or both) the CCP have been the stewards of China's economic miracle. I highly recommend a read of ZenPundit's short piece on this topic:

the " correct line" on China's economy was decided in the contest for power between Hu Yaobang and Deng Xiaoping after the fall of the Gang of Four. Then subsequently reaffirmed in the adoption of Deng's " Four Modernizations" and the aftermath of Tiannamen in 1989 when elderly Maoist senior statesmen limited their crackdown to political dissent and did not try to reverse economic liberalization.
I will look into this more in a future post.

Naturally there are valid points being made. China's current system is not perfect. There is plenty of corruption, nepotism, guanxi, onerous government officials and more. Richard hits the nail on the head:

in China there needs to be protection against corrupt and venal officials who know that the poor and disenfranchised are easy targets for highway robbery. And in this regard, I believe the New Leftists are correct. Sometimes people with no representation need help.
If only he had omitted that middle sentence, I'd agree. The problem with China's system is the lack of participation, of redress, of protection of property rights - in sum, a lack of rule of law. This is the point Chris drove at in suggesting the new leftists look to de Soto. But the new leftists don't offer any solution to this.

While on the badness of the corruption of China's system, David's incisive comment bears repeating in spades:

Jean Oi had made some interesting arguments about the kleptocracy, corruption and nepotism in China. She raised the possibility that far from impeding growth in China, the initiative of well-placed cadres sitting astraddle both quasi-state, quasi-private assets appropriating them for their own needs may actually have assisted GDP growth.
The argument is this: corruption, or 'bureaucratic deviance' provided the requisite level of fixed capital formation to create enterprises with economies of scale. Without high levels of fixed capital investment, China would still be a backwards agrarian seems that the United States in the late 19th century, in the age of the robber Railway barons, corruption, insider trading, nepotism and 'guanxi networks' were also indeed the way America got enough capital together to generate sufficient 'steam' for the economic locomotive of the American economy to really get going.

Obviously, in large developing nations depending largely upon domestic capital investment (i.e. including Korea, Taiwan and Japan but ruling out Singapore and Hong Kong) this perhaps may be a necessary but insufficient condition. Nigeria, Burma ad the Philippines are examples of this. It requires that the government have some limits on the scale of the corruption, enough to maintain a self-sustaining mechanism...

While it is true that China today is seeing a rising inequality between rich and poor, much like America did in the late 19th century (and as your interlocutors say, since the Reagan-Bush era), overall the country is becoming a more prosperous place...that overall the growth that China has undertaken over the past quarter century has benefited the largest number of people and has taken more people out of poverty than any other regime in history, and we should be lauding this achievement rather than denigrating the scale of difference between the village hut and the millionaire's skyscraper.

Smart fellow. Do his tour. Tom notes the growing inequality in America since the Reagan era. A quick reminder: Bill Clinton was President for 8 years between the two Bushes (and I dare say that's not the only time Bill's been between two bushes).

The other Richard suggests the new left is using European social democrats as a model. He's right which is why the new left are wrong. The formerly great social democratic economies of Europe are now laggards. It is no co-incidence that when Eastern Europe was faced with a choice between social democrats or a more Anglo-Saxon model, they chose and have had great success with the latter. I fully agree with his conclusions:

I don't think that China's New Left are in any way insincere about their project of bringing social justice to China. But I think they're misguided and possibly naive about the organization they are members of. Unfortunately I think their efforts only go to provide window dressing for the Party leadership - it enables them to say 'Look! We have open debate inside the Party! No need for dissidents! Don't you see how wrong Wei Jingsheng and all those other foreign agents were? China is marching straight down the road to democracy all by itself and we don't need any advice or criticism from outside!'
The new left are fig-leaves for more sinister forces who seek to reverse the gains made by China's market based economy in the past 25 years. They represent a dangerous combination of nostalgia and social engineering. Think that's overly dramatic? Any system that strives for equality must forcibly take from some to give to others. It is one thing to provide support for the poor and destitute (a point Hayek makes). It is quite another to go from a safety net to a blanket. ZenPundit notes the political dimension:
But these inchoate anticapitalist forces may try to outflank Party centrists on issues of nationalism, particularly on Taiwan and Sino-American relations and thus acquire a larger constituency for their economic policies while driving the centrists toward a harder line. They bear watching.
So the new left are both empty and dangerous. The last word goes to Adam Morris in commenting on Imagethief's important additional point:
I appreciated Simon's point that (paraphrasing) "it doesn't matter who has the bigger pie as long as it's getting bigger" but thought that there was something missing in that equation. I'm glad you pointed out it was unequal opportunity.
That is a telling point that was missing from my original post. I'm glad it was made. The same point applies in America and elsewhere. A governments' role is in creating and giving access to opportunity and then letting people get on with it on their own.

Let me conclude on a positive note. The path for continued economic success for China is based on two simple truths:

1. Strengthening of rule of law and property rights.
2. The expansion of and increased access to opportunities.

Call it my New Rightist manifesto.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 15:46
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» asiapundit links with: late saturday links

June 22, 2005
China's new left

The other day Richard had a post titled China's New Left seeks to rein in market reforms. It links to an article called China's inequities energize New Left, which is a more balanced view of this group. I've posted a comment on his thread (reproduced below the fold) which has some additional ideas not mentioned in this main post. Let's look at this in greater depth and please feel free to join in.

When looking at an issue, it's important to look at what the terms mean. So what does New Left mean?

...a loose coalition of academics who challenge China's market reforms with a simple message: China's failed 20th century experiment with communism cannot be undone in the 21st century by embracing 19th century-style laissez-faire capitalism....the New Left's adherents don't offer a coherent set of alternate policies.
The group is defined by what they oppose rather than what they stand for, the death knell of any political group.

The 'New Left' are worried about China's growing income gap but without any solutions. Is the income gap worth worrying about? No, with a but. If you think of an economy as a pie, it doesn't matter if the allocation of the pie is uneven, so long as the pie itself is growing. Is that true in China's case? Clearly the answer is yes. Witness the massive rise in living standards for literally hundreds of millions of Chinese citizens. It is the most rapid poverty allieviation in history. Yes, there is still plenty of crushing poverty in China. But it is decreasing at a rapid rate, not thanks to trendy pop concerts or dollops of foreign aid, but thanks to a quasi-capitalist economic system.

China's system is far from perfect. Cronyism and nepotism are rife. Government interference and direction in enterprise is rampant. Rule of law (in both enforcement and courts) is patchy at best. Unsurprisingly this has been China's economic way for much of its history (by the way, has there been any definitive economic history of China - if so can someone point me to it). But in terms of results, the current one is working, and working in spades. The 'New Left' alternative isn't even an alternative:

critics of the New Left, such as Professor Shi Yinhong, director of the Center for American Studies at the People's University in Beijing, say the group has no real alternative to the current global economic system.
Richard cannot help but have a go at America's economic system while he's citing this article.
What the New Left is saying resonates with me. Jiang is most responsible for today's wasteland of corruption that fouls so much of the country, resulting in a nation of obscenely rich cowboys riding roughshod over the people. Now, we have this situation in America, too, especially under our current regime, where might (i.e., money) makes right. But we do have controls for reining it in, as we saw when some of the more repellent aspects of the "Patriot Act" were rejected last week. And we're sending the Tyco robber barons to jail where they belong. I think wherever you have capitalism, you're going to have this situation to some extent; the owner-worker model lies at the heart of capitalism, making it, as they say, the world's worst economic system except for every other system.
America is the world's largest, richest and most successful economy of all time. There are plenty of Chinese citizens who would gladly have American style income equality in return for something like American living standards. Richard's right in one respect: inequality is a key part of the capitalist system. That's because people are all different. Shocking, I know. Just like we cannot all be gold medal hurdlers, we cannot all be wealthy tycoons.

To Richard's credit he notes the vacuousness of the 'New Left':

If the New Left's strategy and tactics were a bit less amorphous I'd be more optimistic. Right now, it sounds like a lot of ideas without much of an action plan.
Sounds a lot like the Democrats.

Update For more comments and my response to the comments below please check my response on China's new left.

My original comment to Richard's post:

Let's do a simple comparison. China's swing from Communism to its current quasi-capitalism has seen several hundred million people lifted out of poverty in the space of a few decades, the fastest rise in history and far more effective than any number of trendy pop concerts. The current system is being compared to "19th century laissez-faire economics" but with no basis in fact. A consequence of capitalism is some do better than others. Here's a newsflash for you: that's because some people ARE better than others...some in art, some in music, some in tennis, some in commerce. It's called being human. The problem with Communism is it doesn't work because we are not all the same. Likewise efforts at artificially dealing with income inequality. If you force equality you simply drag 50% of the population down to the average in order to drag the other 50% up to it. Is that fair? I suppose it depends which side of average you fancy yourself. And if forcing equality sounds like a good idea, I suggest you read Hayek's Road to Serfdom and come back to me.

What are we talking about here? The article Richard sites says:

the New Left's adherents don't offer a coherent set of alternate policies. Some are hard-liners, who say they rue the violence of the Maoist years, but remain enchanted with the sociopolitical initiatives of that period, such as collectivization.
This is what you're all praising and lionising? A slogan in search of an ideology? A yearning for collectivization, the system that lead to massive famine?

If someone can define New Left for me, we can start a proper debate. In the meantime let's call these people what they really are: reheated nostalgic Communists. Or from the article:

The degree to which the New Left's rhetoric meshes with that of the government's indicates that President Hu Jintao and his team are tacitly supporting the New Left.
Read it again. And again.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 19:15
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» The Peking Duck links with: New Leftists debate over at Simon's World

May 25, 2005
The end of ideology

Most people profess a love of freedom and modern history has given us many countries that have been made "free", from those of Eastern Europe to Ukraine. The implicit assumption is that capitalist democracy is the ultimate aim. Through a Darwinian survival of the fittest process, capitalist democracy has become the sole surviving (and most successful) political economic system. Note an important distinction here - all the talk of "clash of civilisations" between the West (read capitalist democracies) and Islam is a discussion of values, not political economy. While Islam has some economic impact and principles even Iran and Saudi Arabia do not have Islam-onomics. With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War, the last true battle between different political economic systems ended in a decisive win for capitalist democracy.

The proof is in the counter-examples. Look at North Korea or Cuba - both are still clinging to classic Communist principles. On the other hand China has borrowed the capitalist element while doggedly resisting the democracy side - an experiment in capitalist dictatorship, as did Chile under Pinochet.

It seems clear to me that capitalist democracy has won the ideology evolution race - it is the distillation of thousands of years of human thought and history. It's not perfect but it's far better than any of the alternatives. Indeed it is hard to postulate what the realistic alternatives might be.

I'm interested in other thoughts or discussion.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 13:20
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April 27, 2005
Enough Is Enough

After Nanjing, the PRC government continues to put the brakes on anti-Japanese demonstrations, arresting 42 protesters for acts of violence in the 16 April Shanghai rally.

In fact, the state media in Shanghai has been acting in curious ways, leading up to today's operation. Whether what the police is doing complements or conflicts with what the newspapers are doing is anyone's guess.

In a related story, the China Federation for Defending Diaoyutai Islands have announced that they will not apply for a rally on 4 May, in light of “the big picture” as the Hu and Koizumi governments seek diplomatic means out of the current impasse.

See the extended entry for translations of the news articles.


Reuters (Shanghai): Chinese state media reported on Tuesday that police have arrested 42 participants of the anti-Japanese demonstration in Shanghai [on 16 April], and will charge 16 for damage of property.

The arrest operation shows that China is trying to restrain re-enactments of violent resistance, as previous anti-Japanese protests have sent Sino-Japanese relations to their lowest point in decades.

According to the Shanghai Morning News, the 16 “violators of the law” are charged with “taking advantage of the situation to throw rocks and damage shop.” Behaviour of damaging shops and looting seriously disrupt social order, and harm the image of Shanghai city.

The newspaper also reports that Shanghai police is encouraging those who acted illegally during the protests to give themselves up, and others who know of such activities should provide information to the authorities.

State media reported on Monday that police arrested a netizen for attempting to organize an anti-Japanese demonstration for May Day. The Communist Party has already began a widespread campaign to encourage citizens not to “hate Japan,” and has now followed up with the arrest operation.

Media reported on Tuesday that Chinese foreign minister Li Zhaoxing will participate in next week's Asia-Europe conference, but it is not clear whether he will privately meet with Japanese officials.

Ming Pao: Tong Zhen, head of the China Federation for Defending Diaoyutai Islands, informed Ming Pao yesterday that when President Hu Jintao gave “five propositions” on Sino-Japanese relations in his meeting yesterday with Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi, it was “our first showing of the cards in years, and established national pride.” In light of the big picture, and to “give the Koizumi government of Japan a chance,” the CFDD and he will postpone plans to apply for a demonstration on the 86th anniversary of the May Fourth Movement.

When we interviewed Tong on Friday (22 April), he said that to reflect Chinese popular opinion, the CFDD and he plan to, either in the name of a group or individually, apply legally for a rally on 4 May. However, when we interviewed Tong again yesterday by phone, he says that he has decided to postpone plans for applyng for the rally, because when Hu gave five propositions when meeting Koizumi, he “considered the big picture, and defended the Chinese position and principles, representing the feelings of the Chinese people, including Diaoyutai-defending patriots.”

Tong says that the CFDD and he will postpone the application also to give the Koizumi government a chance to rectify their mistakes. “The members of the CFDD are well aware of the big picture, and we can express our patriotic hopes in many ways. We will all work well at our jobs, and give much energy to vitalize China.”

Zhong Guohua, Ming Pao Beijing correspondent

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[boomerang] Posted by Kelvin at 02:03
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April 26, 2005
Hu's History and China's Future

Enzo posted earlier on how Hu Jintao is anything but a reformer. But how did the leader of China become so seemingly out of sync with the global trend towards openness and liberalization? History gives an answer. For example, Philip Pan reports on how Hu uses his words:

The party's reformist wing has been especially alarmed by Hu's penchant for using hard-line rhetoric from the Cultural Revolution, the devastating political movement that rocked China in the decade before Mao's death in 1976. Hu joined the party as a college student shortly before the movement began and spent much of it as a low-level official in one of the country's poorest provinces.

Wikipedia has this to say about the “Fourth Generation” in the CCP leadership:

fourth generation - Hu Jintao, Wen Jiabao, Zeng Qinghong. These were promoted to top leadership at the 16th Party Congress and are expected to remain in power until the 18th party congress in 2012. Most of them were engineers whose educations were disrupted by the Cultural Revolution and unlike both their predecessors and successors have spent very little time overseas.

In such context, a lot of perplexing questions find their answers. Growing in the shadow of the chaos of the Cultural Revolution would certainly make someone very aware of the possible calamity of the loss of state control. For someone like Hu, political liberalization can very well lead down the path back to the Red Guards. While Enzo is correct in pointing out that Communist regimes don't do reform well (if at all), context is important in figuring out why exactly didn't the “Third Generation” oppress with such ferocity.

And yet, in an ironic twist, hints are showing that the atmosphere of the Cultural Revolution that Hu et al. fear so much is re-appearing. While the recent anti-Japanese demonstrations have nowhere near the insanity of the Red Guards, there is an eerie resemblance. And there's no debating that the CCP has done its part in promoting said demonstrations. The apparent lack of diplomatic dexterity that the 3Gs had mastered so well in recent months are also the direct results of the lack of international experience amongst the 4Gs. A lack of understanding in international relations was also a notable characteristic of the Cultural Revolution, although the results were somewhat different (self-withdrawal in the 1960s-70s, clumsy attempts at aggrandization in the 2000s).

Mao's long shadow extends further than anyone can imagine.

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[boomerang] Posted by Kelvin at 04:52
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April 25, 2005
Beijing wall and other thoughts

- Yesterday Philip Pan explained very well which kind of reformer Hu Jintao is.

More than two years after taking office amid uncertainty about his political views, Chinese President Hu Jintao is emerging as an unyielding leader determined to preserve the Communist Party's monopoly on power and willing to impose new limits on speech and other civil liberties to do it, according to party officials, journalists and analysts.

Hu sealed his reputation after taking control of the military at a meeting of the party's ruling elite in September, a final step in his long climb to power. On the last day of the conclave, in his first major address to the 300-plus member Central Committee as the nation's undisputed new leader, Hu warned that "hostile forces" were trying to undermine the party by "using the banner of political reform to promote Western bourgeois parliamentary democracy, human rights and freedom of the press," according to a person given excerpts of the speech.
Hu said China's enemies had not abandoned their "strategic plot to Westernize and split China." He blamed the fall of the Soviet Union on policies of "openness and pluralism" and on the efforts of "international monopoly capital with the United States as its leader." And in blunt language that party veterans said recalled Mao Zedong's destructive Cultural Revolution, he urged the leadership to be alert to the danger of subversive thinking.

No surprise here. As history teaches, communist regimes are not reformable: where Party in power, no real changes; where real changes, no Party in power. A comment in TPD blog pointed out: As the saying in communist circles go. It is better to be an Andropov than a Gorbachev. Right. In communist perspective, Gorbachev's performance was a failure: he wanted to keep USSR alive, he was USSR gravedigger. Hu - like his predecessors - knows that lesson. But... there's a but. You can call it the paradox of authoritarian rulers: if you open, you lose; if you don't... you lose as well. The point is that dictatorial regimes are not only against people but also against the course of history: you can try to delay the moment but - sooner or later - events will prevail. 1989 Tiananmen was a powerful reminder: only a massacre stopped the change in China as in Eastern Europe communism broke up.
To be clear: I'm not among those who think that chinese regime is now on the verge of collapse. Pragmatism in economy, if anything, has given CCP a breath of air (still, it's a double-edge sword). But I also believe that it's only a matter of time: it could be a financial shock, the birth of an underground but organized opposition movement, a thoughtless mistake in foreign policy... I don't know what's more likely to happen but certainly one day we'll see the fall of Beijing wall.

- Racism in China? Andrés Gentry reports. Racism and nationalism often walk together.

- Insightful post by Coming Anarchy about Nepal: a scary situation (euphemism). See also Radio Free Nepal. Alex Perry went there and interviewed the Maoist leader.

- Train accident in Japan: the deadliest in forty years. Sad.

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[boomerang] Posted by Enzo at 22:38
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April 21, 2005
China's other riots (Updated April 18th)

Note: This is expanding on previous coverage. The original post and earlier updates are below the fold, in chronological order. The Japan/China riots are covered in another post.

Update April 18th

* ACB retells the story of Hankantou. Comprehensive coverage of the causes of these riots.

Yesterday's Daily Linklets mentioned a 30,000 person riot near Dongyang with a report by The Guardian. Today the SCMP has a full report on the village of Huaxi where the riots took place. The villagers are proudly displaying their spoils of war:


I've reproduced the full SCMP article below the fold or you can read another account in The Times. The end result is the same: the villagers are running Huaxi and have kicked the Government out. Rebellion against the rapid pace of development? A fight back by peasants against corruption and greed? Displaced farmers fighting against unjust land grabs and inadequate compensation?

Or the thin edge of a very, very big wedge?

The current Japan/China tensions may in part be orchestrated by the government. But these spontaneous outbursts are a different beast. Interestingly at the moment the Chinese Government doesn't seem sure how to handle either.

Other reading

* Brothers Judd.
* Mutant Frog.
* ACB has plenty more background and information and ponders the domino effect and potential implications.

Updated 14th April

* Publius Pundit summarises the thoughts of Thomas Lifson and Luis Ramirez on growing unrest in China. It re-iterates my point that this riot is far more significant that the anti-Japan ones. The timing may be more than co-incidental. Richard isn't impressed by the post and notes there's no sign of a crack in the CCP's rule. That said for a "member of the reality based community" his criticism of The China Project (mentioned below) doesn't wash. Geroge W. Bush's attitude to Taiwan is the key factor in cross-strait relations. You might not like the man, but his attitude is crucial. That said would have applied if John Kerry was Prez.
* Daily Demarche is also summarising various recent events in China as part of the China project, orginally explained here.
* Praktike summed it nicely: Too much China, not enough time. There's always a lot going on with China, but at the moment it seems a particularly "eventful" time.

In riot village, the government is on the run

Didi Kirsten Tatlow

Huaxi is a village in mutiny. Instead of going to work or school on Monday morning, thousands of people milled around its broad, paved streets and - despite the steady rain - the atmosphere was upbeat, even jubilant.
Huaxi has the government on the run.

More than 1,000 police and officials, who arrived before dawn on Sunday to tear down road blocks erected by villagers, instead found themselves involved in a pitched battle.

The police fled.

As I walk towards the middle school at the edge of town, the crowd thickens. Broken bricks and sticks litter the ground.

Inside the school compound, 14 cars lie upside down, windows smashed, interiors ripped up, number plates bent.

A police uniform is draped over one car - a trophy.

On the other side of the large school yard lie dozens of buses. Their tyres have been slashed, and windows smashed. Some have been heaved on their sides.

The trouble in this verdant, hilly part of Zhejiang province , two hours south of the provincial capital of Hangzhou , started in 2001 when local officials handed 66 hectares of land to 13 private and state-owned chemical plants. Wang Weikang , 58, who still farms 933 square metres of land, said villagers didn't know what was happening when they suddenly discovered the land they farmed belonged to someone else.

Villagers say the village committee signed a contract with nearby Dongyang city behind their backs. Dongyang government spokesman Chen Qixian said the deal was lawful, since the village committee had the right to represent villagers.

Mainland farmers do not own their land, instead farming it on 30-year contracts from the government, so no-one had to ask the farmers individually.

The plants were built in 2002 and then, said Mr Wang and other villagers, the sicknesses started.

"Lots of people started falling ill. Some days our eyes would sting ... from the gas from the plants. Babies were born dead or malformed. Nine in the past year alone," he said.

Villagers said the chemical plants polluted the village's water supply. "It had become the colour of soy sauce," said one.

Huaxi's river, the Huashui, runs a strange caramel colour, though the main eyesore are the heaps of plastic bags that cling to its edges.

"We want our land back. We don't want compensation. We want vegetables to grow again and the water to run clean," said Mr Wang.

Opposition to the plants grew.

Unable to get the attention of local officials, villagers went to Beijing to petition the central government - also without success.

Then in March, Dongyang Mayor Tan Yong barred them from a meet-the-public forum.

To stop shipments from the plants, villagers threw up road blocks on March 24 and built straw shelters.

One leader, Wang Zhongfa, was arrested for allegedly inciting the overthrow of the government. That inflamed tempers further. Many of those manning the shelters were members of the Huaxi old people's association, one of the main groups opposed to the chemical plant.

On Monday, many of them sat in one remaining shelter, which they had decorated with trophies from Sunday's battle: police uniforms, riot shields, an ID card, empty tear gas canisters and machetes.

Villagers say when the police - numbering 3,000, they say - arrived, they also brought cattle prods. Wang Xiaomei , 70, said: "Those police. They were worse than the Japanese".

Early on Sunday, rumours started spreading that two elderly women had died when police tried to storm the village and angry villagers poured out of their homes, driving police into the school yard. The police barricaded the gate, but villagers bashed down the brick school wall.

They stoned police. Hand-to-hand combat ensued.

Mr Chen, the Dongyang official who was at the scene, said 36 people, 33 of them police or officials, had been admitted to hospital. "Five of the injured are in serious condition," he said.

But Mr Chen denied anyone had died, and villagers were unable to provide any details of the deaths. "Please believe me. There's no way the government could be covering it up," said Mr Chen.

Yet the government is spooked.

On the way out of town, a siren started up behind us and a tannoy barked: "Pull over!"

I was detained by police, my notes destroyed and pictures wiped from my camera. I have to sign a confession - I broke the relevant reporting regulations of the People's Republic of China by going to Huaxi without asking for permission.

Officials say they generally get a month or two's notice from foreign journalists. Enough time to miss the story, they agree.

Mr Chen said local officials might have stolen money intended for villagers.

He said the situation turned nasty after an influential member of the village committee was unable to persuade a hard-nosed plant boss to pay more for the land.

"Also we are unable to control the factories 24 hours a day. It may be that sometimes they discharge pollutants illegally," he said.

Mr Chen said the government would arrest corrupt local officials if any wrongdoing was confirmed.

But for now, the villagers are in charge of Huaxi and the government is on the run.

April 15th reading

* Echoes has links to several reports on the riot, and notes the WaPo reports the chemical factories that sparked the riots have been closed.

Didi Tatlow's SCMP article on her detention

Normally, when journalists sit down to write their stories, they look at their notes. But I did not have any. They were confiscated by officials on Monday in Dongyang city , Zhejiang province , when I was detained on the way back from reporting a mass riot in nearby Huaxi village.

"Please understand that we have to do this," said Zhang Fahao, director of the local foreign affairs office, my chief captor for six hours that evening. "I'm very sorry. But you broke the law."

Today, an uneasy calm has settled over Huaxi, after up to 30,000 villagers rioted last Sunday against police and cadres who came to tear down roadblocks stopping business at 13 hated chemical plants. Villagers say the plants are making them sick and poisoning the environment.

The riot was big, even by mainland standards. In recent years localised uprisings, especially in rural areas, have become a major issue. Thousands occur each year, and at least a dozen major ones broke out in the last three months of last year alone.

The reasons are almost always the same: government corruption, police abuse and a lack of access to justice.

By the end of the week, the situation had calmed. "Things are quiet now," said one villager by telephone.

Worried for his safety, he did not want his full name to be used. "But I'm not optimistic that this is going to be settled to the villagers' advantage," he said.

"The plants make too much money for the local government. Maybe we need to start demanding they move the village, and leave the plants here."

It would be an innovative solution to what appears an intractable problem in this green corner of Zhejiang. Villagers say the plants, built in 2002 - after local officials handed their farmland over to Dongyang officials without consultation - were constructed illegally.

A development of that scale must be approved by the State Council. But, citing documents from Dongyang's land commission, villagers say the application was not made. The State Council could not be reached for comment.

Dongyang officials are adamant that despite the violent conflict, the plants will not be moved. "That is impossible now," said Chen Qixian , a Dongyang government spokesman.

A week ago, I was driving out of Huaxi on my way back to Hangzhou , the provincial capital, with the story - literally - in the bag. Villagers had been happy to tell their tale, though their accents were hard to follow.

Huaxi was in an uproar, villagers proudly showing off trashed police and officials' cars, buses, ripped police uniforms and red armbands. It had been a melee of epic proportions.

"We got them on the run," they said. "We are like the heroes in The Water Margin", China's famous 14th century novel in which the righteous and downtrodden fight corrupt officials of all kinds.

But I knew that I could not stay long without attracting attention - someone was bound to call the Dongyang police.

Towards the end of my two-hour stay in the village, a couple of black cars pulled up and several young men got out and stared hard at me. Their sour expressions contrasted sharply with the villagers' joy; it was time to leave. I hurried back to the car and we left town.

About 10 minutes down the road, my driver checked his side-view mirror. "We're being followed," he said. A police siren whined and, over a loudspeaker, we were ordered to pull over.

A policeman stuck his head into the window and gave us a giant grin, setting the tone for what was to become a surreal detention where we were handled with kid gloves - although threat was never far from the surface.

"Please come with me," he said to the driver. They conferred in the police car for 10 minutes. Then the driver came back. "We have to go to Dongyang city," he said.

At Dongyang's best hotel, the Splendid Plaza, a cohort of officials was waiting for me and my three companions, two other foreign journalists I had asked along - knowing there was safety in numbers - and a Chinese assistant.

"Please have dinner with us," they said, smiling and smiling. "We would prefer to continue our journey to Hangzhou," we said. "That won't be possible," said Mr Zhang, the foreign affairs director.

We were shown into a large, red-carpeted room. The men were served tea, the women hot water. About eight officials sat around the dining table, though their numbers changed as they came and went, fielding urgent phone calls on their mobiles. Only Mr Zhang and Mr Chen, the government spokesman, were introduced.

The first of a score of excellent dishes arrived. This was a banquet. "We did that for you because you are foreigners," explained Mr Zhang, smiling. "Can you use chopsticks?"

The questioning began, too. Interspersed with commands to toast each other, the officials asked the questions we knew we could not evade: "Where were you? What were you doing in Huaxi? Had you applied for permission to come to Dongyang?"

Dinner dragged on, and at about 8pm - we were picked up at 6pm - Mr Zhang's assistant put the knife in. With a smile. "We must destroy your reporting notes, and you must give us your pictures.

"Also, we will interview you separately and you must sign a confession that you have broken the law."

Chinese regulations governing the activities of reporters are strict. Non-mainland journalists must apply for permission to travel anywhere outside of Beijing.

In practice, many do not, as the system is slow and designed to make reporting virtually impossible.

It is a key mechanism in the government's efforts to stop a clearer picture of the mainland circulating abroad.

We complied, but registered our protest, telling the officials that our notes were actually the property of our employers. We signed a two-page confession that we had violated Chinese reporting regulations.

Memory cards in digital cameras were wiped clean. They insisted on swapping the empty cards for new ones, to make sure the pictures could not be reconstructed.

Finally, at 11.30pm, we insisted on going. "We have co-operated with you," we said. "Now let us return to Hangzhou."

They argued we should stay the night in Dongyang, and, bizarrely, go out tomorrow and "play" in the city.

After much to-ing and fro-ing, we won, and returned to Hangzhou in the early hours of Tuesday.

Our detention had been a golden cage - but a cage nonetheless.

When I first posted on the Huanxi riots I used Didi Tatlow's SCMP article as a reference. She has now followed up with what happened to her in covering the riots: she had her notes confiscated, she was arrested for several hours and even treated to dinner. She considered it a "golden cage - but a cage nonetheless". I've reproduced the full article below. Only last Thursday ACB discussed the suppression of foregin journalists in China.

Interestingly there were also protests staged by several thousand PLA retirees late last week, angry over poor pensions and social security benefits for ex-soldiers. Also Sunday's SCMP:

The number of protests in China is growing fast. Three million people took part in 58,000 demonstrations in 2003, a 15 per cent increase on the previous year, according to Outlook Weekly magazine, a Communist Party mouthpiece.

Virtually none of these was legal - the Communist Party bans virtually all public protest. Nearly all were localised disputes about official corruption, police abuse or conflict over land use, making the anti-Japan protests highly unusual and giving the impression they are officially condoned.

As I said elesewhere, forget about the China/Japan riots. This is where the real action is.

* Richard looks at the riot's aftermath and ponders if this is a storm in a teacup or the start of something bigger.
* Here's an old article declaring Huaxi "China's richest village". Bet it won't be featuring again anytime soon.
* ESWN has photos and a translation of a first hand account of the Huaxi riots, China's newest tourism hotspot.
* Lisa notes an interesting comment by Joseph Wang saying this is not the beginning of the end of the CCP: The basic understanding is that the demonstrators can demonstrate provided that they don't cross red lines such as calling for the overthrow of the Communist Party or any fundamental political change...People are pushing the limits, the government is responding. It's a slow, messy process but over time, something like civil society is developing.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 07:20
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April 20, 2005
Japan/China tensions (Updated April 20th)

Note: I am adding to previous coverage, starting from the Update below. The previous coverage is below the fold, in chronological order. The Huanxi riots are covered in another post.

Update April 20th

* Winston Marshall has a typically thorough look at Asian nationalism - he's optimistic that economic reality will force a reconciliation but not solve the longer term problems.
* Larry Kudlow also examines the China mess, saying America's China policies aren't helping the current tensions (via IP)
* Scott Kirwin says the onus is on China to reign things in.
* Some important upcoming dates to watch in this dispute.
* Thomas Barnett says the lack of US interest in the dispute is a problem and the solution is in Japan's hands. He also says:

Everyone knows the outcome: China will get big, Japan will align its stars increasingly with Beijing in the region, and the US will have to go along with that. But everyone is working against that outcome now in an almost knee-jerk fashion.
Read the whole thing.
* Another first hand account with pictures from Mitch in Shanghai.
* Spike notes an interesting piece of hypocrisy over the Japan textbooks and attitudes to Nazi insignia.
* A Japanese apology could be the last thing China actuallly wants.
* Fons says there will be more no more demonstrations tolerated and that Shanghai's government was sending out mixed signals.
* Many in Japan are blaming the Japanese PM for the troubles.


Previous coverage of the anti-Japan riots: April 11th and April 12th.

My own thoughts: There is a clear disconnect in understanding on both sides. Many Japanese cannot understand the depth of feeling by China. Most Chinese cannot understand why Japan continues to provoke. The way forward is better communication and understanding. The reality of the growing economic ties between the two countries is this understanding will come. As Chinese and Japanese businesses deal together, as Chinese work for Japanese bosses in factories in China, as Chinese provincial and local governments deal with Japanese business, as Chinese tourists travel to Japan and Chinese business venture into the Japanese market. When people start dealing with people, rather than abstract concepts, barriers tend to fall quickly.

The Chinese riots also reflect a major domestic political change. The Chinese Communist Party has long ceased to be a party of Communism. It has instead switched to becoming a party of nationalism. It suits to use such occassions as an outlet to allow people to vent. It would much rather than anger is directed externally than people look inwardly and discuss Government failings, such as the riots in Dongyang (more on them in another post). The problem is China will find it hard to contain the emotions unleashed and that will be to its detriment.

China and Japan are both rising global powers. They are both grappling with China's economic rise but also with their emergence as global rather than only regional players. Sometimes that requires setting aside self-interest for a broader global good. It's an issue the United States constantly grapples with. This time China has a chance to assume the mantle of world statesman and deal with this situation. It makes good sense for Japan to join the UN Security Council. In the longer term it will be to China's benefit to have Japan there. To do that China's Government will have to look far further ahead than they have until now and show a willingness to challenege the Chinese public's perceptions rather than pander to them. At the same time some understanding and political nous for Japan would not go astray. Japan knows the reaction it gets from history texts and shrine visits. It might not understand them but it can deal with them by showing sensitivity.

The major issues here seem insolvable. But what's needed is some hard-headed pragmatism. An agreement to disagree but to work together to avoid such flare-ups would be a start. Actually meaning it would be better. Otherwise everyone in East Asia is a loser.

Other reading 13th April

* Curzon restates his argument why none of the fuss makes sense. Read the whole thing and the excellent comments for an overview of why this is a storm in a teacup from the Japanese side. I don't agree with some of his points but I do agree that it seems unlikely that any form of Japanese contrition will satisfy the Chinese public.
* Foreign Dispatches echoes Curzon's points and notes the intensity of anti-Japanese feeling is increasing with the passage of time.
* China, Japan and South Korea are holding a meeting of senior official on greater regional co-operation. I imagine there is plenty else being discussed. The meeting is slated for April 17th, which Asian Gazette points out is also the anniversary of the end of the first Sino-Japanese war. They also discuss Japan's nuclear potential.
* Joe Jones notes Taiwan is worried about the impact of the riots and the sidestep by China's Foreign Ministry over an apology to Japan over the riots.
* Tanuki Ramble says China is being hypocritical in talking about the past and posts a comparison with Tibet.
* In Korea the dispute with Japan is being played out in the corner of TV screens and in train stations.
* ESWN has a comprehensive post (linked yesterday but it bears relinking) outlining the roots of anti-Japanese feeling in China.
* A chronology of Japan's apologies to Korea.
* Sean has more on Japan's efforts to both inflame and defuse the situation.
* Sometimes the best thing to do is keep your mouth shut: “In Korea, the comfort women are now regularly putting on a performance in front of the Japanese embassy. I’ve heard, however, that they aren’t really comfort women, but North Korean agents." - Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform vice chairman Fujioka Mobukatsu.
* (15:07) ESWN this time looks at the falsification of history in China and translates an article with this conclusion:

Why are the many Chinese historians who are angrily challenging and criticizing the new Japanese history school books not also angrily challenging and openly criticizing the historical lies made up by the Chinese Communists? Worse yet, most of those Chinese historians who are criticizing the Japanese lies had been participants in the vast project of the ideological departments to create these historical lies.

Under these circumstances, you would have to suppose that the Chinese Communists will only lie to fool its own people, while they will respect the historical facts when they speak to the outside world about the Sino-Japanese War. But based upon its consistent record of lying, it is impossible to get anyone to believe that. How can anyone believe that a political regime which lies to its own nationals every day and its official historians will be honest with the outside world?

* China's chatroom warriors have been busy, manipulating a CNN poll on the issue with precise instructions. They must have finished up their work in Zimbabwe early.
* (18:02) Andres puts together an impressive piece that should be read in full, titled 0.3% and the free society. His conclusion:
It does no one any good, least of all China, for any of us to engage in apologetics for an unfree society that exhibits the unhealthy and even dangerous characteristics shown all too vividly these past couple of weeks. Continued indulgence of this lack of freedom is no virtue, criticism of the problems this lack causes is no vice. Unfree societies are dangerous to themselves and to their neighbors. Anti-Japanese riots cannot continue forever: as a social topic this will pass and others will appear. However, the problems associated with an unfree society will still be here and that is the real issue.
Amongst other gems he also notes a point about both these protests and the ones after the Belegrade Embassy bombing in 1999: the students used the protests to test how far they could push the government and if the government proved weak in their response then the topic of the protests would turn domestic. That dovetails with the Huaxi riots, but now it's not just students testing the boundaries and the internet and mobile phones are playing a far bigger role.
* Andres also pointed out a tangentially related piece by Running Dog on being sorry in China.

Update April 14th

* Yesterday (see below) I said Japan could go some way to cooling tensions by becoming more sensitive to the potential impact of actions. So awarding drilling rights in a contentious part of the East China Sea is not a smart move. On the other hand a joint history study is a smart move.
* Kim Jong Il joins in on the textbook controversy.
* Proving China has no monopoly on crazy loons, China's consulate in Osaka recevied a threatening letter with bullet casings.
* Good Asia Times article: China's fury doesn't wash, but why the froth?
* Gaijin Biker finds another point over which Japan and China can find common ground...Israel.
* Thoughts on the nationalism virus hitting Korea, China and Japan.
* Leylop says no to anti-Japan (via T-Salon)
* Betelnut has a three piece essay on China and history: On the uses of History; Facing up to history; the CCP and history. In summary it is about China's use of history to attack Japan while ignoring its own.
* Andrea notes a protest due in Xiamen this weekend; Fons notes the same in Shanghai, and Danwei also has heard of the Shanghai gathering. Jeremy also reports on a planned Shenzhen march. There is a protest due in Hong Kong this weekend as well. If China wants to put a lid on this thing, it will need to stop these marches this weekend.

April 15th coverage

There's an interesting contrast between East Asia and Europe. Germany was able to face up to and sufficiently atone for its actions in WW2 and in return the rest of Europe and the United States responded by banding together and working for a better future. The past was not forgotten but it was not dwelt on either. The result? A Europe now so united it has created the EU and has the euro. Whatever else you think of the EU (and I'm no fan of much of it) it represents a united Europe, something currently impossible in East Asia. Interestingly China is backing Germany and India's attempts at UNSC seats. Along with Brazil the four countries have a pact to push for a seat together. An impasse seems likely, although there are hints that Germany can provide a knife to cut the Gordian Knot by jointly apologising with Japan, providing a face-saving solution and allowing the reform of the UNSC.

East Asia is instead constantly dwelling on the past at the expense of looking to the future. If you are always looking in the rear view mirror you cannot see the road ahead. The past matters. The future matters more.

Other reading April 15th

* Planned protests (repeated from yesterday): Andrea notes a protest due in Xiamen this weekend; Fons notes the same in Shanghai, and Danwei also has heard of the Shanghai gathering. Jeremy also reports on a planned Shenzhen march. Dan Washburn has the detailed instructions on this weekend's protests in Shanghai including the route, what to throw and how to get there. Interestingly it includes how to disseminate the information and a very interesting "Important" section. There is a protest due in Hong Kong this weekend as well. If China wants to put a lid on this thing, it will need to stop these marches this weekend.

The SCMP notes Shanghai public security authorities have not approved anti-Japan marches for this weekend. Could this be the beginning of the end? Plenty of websites, IMs and SMS messages are spreading the word about this weekend's events. Is China realising the subversive nature of modern communications might not always suit its purpose?

The American Consulate in Shanghai has posted another warning about this weekend's possible demonstrations.
* I still think the events in Huanxi matter more than this dust-up.
* Several Japanese web-sites came under cyber attack.
* Gregory Clark says the right analogy is with Germany after WW1, not WW2 and wonders why Japan's right is more anti-West than anti-China.
* Amy has been involved in an interesting email debate.
* The Wall St Journal agrees with me.
* Japan isn't the only one with textbook trouble. Nomad notes a South Korean exam question Americans would find interesting.
* Some are drawing a connection between the Huanxi riots and the anti-Japan ones. The same article agrees with my statement that no apology from Japan is likely to ever be deemed enough in the eyes of many in China.
* Curzon follows Japan's netizens thoughts on the merits and problems with the Japanese textbook in question, excerpting several Japan Amazon reader reviews.
* ESWN translates some Hong Kong and Chinese views on the matter sparked by two provactive articles.

From The Standard, a cartoon that perfectly sums up the situation:


Update April 17th/18th

* China clamped down hard on activists in Beijing, preventing large protests there. But Shanghai saw large protests. Dan Washburn has first hand reports, photos and video. There were reports of protests in around a dozen Chinese cities and the Japanese Foreign Minister's visit to China did little to ease tensions. China refused to apologise to Japan over the "spontaneous" protests. Elton John was right.
* Tom has accounts from Hong Kong and Shenzhen's protests. Fumier estimates more reporters than protesters in Hong Kong, with many of the rest trying to get into Sogo and Japanese restaurants.
* Fons has a comprehensive first hand account of the Shanghai protests. He also notes the continuing silence by the mainland media, following orders from the top. SE Asian Expat has several more first hand photos.
* Photojournalist Philippe Roy has an excellent set of photos from the protests.
* Running Dog is back from holidays just in time. First hand account of the Carnival of Hate and a more reflective piece pointing out that not far below the surface of these protests is a disgusting undercurrent of xenophobia. It was only a month ago it was Condi Rice.
* Chris Myrick was there and recounts his experience and has more than 100 photos of the event. Ian Hamet also has a first hand account of the protests (via IP who also has some photos). He also has thoughts on the implications of the protest. Tom isn't impressed by Ian or his coverage. Updated: Ian responds to Tom's "hissy fit". Powerline links to a couple of wire reports, noting it hasn't been getting much play in the US and stating it's chiefly over Japan's UN Security Council bid. Shouldn't bloggers check out some blogs to get a feel for the issues, especially if it's not getting much coverage by mainstream media in the US?
* Andres Gentry's first person account of the Shanghai protest and he has photos too.
* More reaction (again via IP): Brian Dunn agrees with my view the Communists are becoming nationalists (an irony if ever there was one, especially with the planned visit by the KMT's chairman to sign a "civil war accord" with the CCP). Mudville Gazette notes several other China stories (EU embargo, Japan constitutional changes) and wonders if they are somehow linked to the protest. For mine that's mixing several issues into one giant plot - the EU backed down thanks to US pressure and the anti-secession law.
* Amy takes a look at the actual changes being made in the Japanese texts. ESWN translates a Chinese blogger who has done the same and concludes the best result will be a consensus on this piece of history. He also looks at how history is taught in Hong Kong.
* ESWN notes that even "non-indoctrinated" Hong Kongers have very negative feelings about Japan from this saga. It should be noted that Hong Kong was in fact the start of several anti-Japanese organisations, such as the Diaoyu Islands group. In that sense Hong Kong has been leading the fashion. Reports and coverage of the Hong Kong protests.
* ESWN ponders if the protests are being stage managed or are pontaneous. Given the conflicting signals, ESWN points out the third and most likely explanation: the paranoia theory. Well worth a read because his theory explains far more than just the recent actions and indeed can be seen as a general theory behind much of what the CCP do.
* Jodi notes the contrasting methods of protest between Japan and China.
* Muninn provides a comprehensive listing of Japan's apologies to China.
* Sean wonders what these protests mean for the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the 2010 Shanghai World Expo.
* Cicero questions China's claim to moral supremacy over Japan and notes something I pointed out earlier - the use of mobile phones as a key organising and controlling element in these protests. The broader and more interesting points is how far are China's authorities going to allow unauthorised or semi-official protests to go on for? Because the next one might be on a domestic issue rather than a foreign one. Also see the bottom of this post for a pictoral representation of the same idea.
* Joe Jones notes a small protest in Philadelphia's Chinatown.
* Richard wonders if the exercise has been worth it for China.
* Muninn has an excellent essay titled textbook feedback loop and masochistic history which includes this observation: There is NO such thing as apolitical history, NO such thing as doing a history of “just the facts” and completely impossible to exempt oneself from the present when we look at the past. He argues for everyone, including bloggers, to take this opportunity to explore the contradictions of national history itself, rather than fling accusations of hypocrisy at the Chinese or barrages of hateful insult at the growing historical revisionism in Japan. Good advice. Yet again it seems moderation is being drowned out by shrill extremism.
* Quizas has an excellent look at the role of students in the current demonstrations. The conclusion:

It's entirely possible that the students protesting Japan today want to draw upon the lessons of [Dowager Empress] Cixi and encourage the government to be bellicose even at the cost of development. And considering how important Japanese trade and investment is for China, the students are paradoxically calling for their leaders to command a weaker "stronger" China.
It seems to me some of the best analysis and thinking on the current situation is coming from bloggers rather than the op-ed pages of the papers.
* Fons has some practical advice on dealing with the anti-Japan riots for those in business in China.
* Muninn has some translations from Japanese newspapers editorials on the riots.
* Vodkapundit says China has "found its Jews".
* Belgravia Dispatch argues China's current prosperity is a time to face up to its own past to head off potential trouble down the track.
* Oranckay has links to more pictures from the Shanghai protest.
* Todd Crowell dicusses the lessons of history: ...China and Japan have been rivals for the better part of the last thousand years. It should not be surprising that they are still jockeying for primacy in the region. The two countries are still influenced by their common Confucian culture. In Confucian terms, somebody has to be “big brother” and the other “little brother.”

Update April 19th

* Fons has seen a report that estimates up to half the protesters in Shanghai were cops! He also adds to the idea the Government had a hand in events with his observations on riot control.
* An English editorial by Ming Pao which is frankly terrifying (via ESWN)
* Kofi Annan is pushing for talks between China and Japan. There are hopes Koizumi and Hu will meet on the sidelines of the Asia-Africa summit in Jakarta this week but given the Japanese Foreign Minister achieved nothing in the 2 days he was in Beijing, it seems unlikely any resolution is near.
* Another first hand account of the Shanghai protests by Chinawords.
* Art Chrenkoff weighs in with his thoughts on what all the current China/Japan tensions mean.
* Andrea has covered various Chinese blogger's reactions to the protests.
* Tom thinks it is inflation the CCP is worried about diverting attention from.
* Joi Ito weighs in and sympathises with China's issues. He says:

I'm not trying to trivialize the issues that are being protested by the Chinese, but if they are trying to cause change in Japan, maybe some of them can try to talk to their allies in Japan like me instead of trying to force or scare into submission their enemy. A reasonable bridge building effort between activists and experts on both sides to try to address the issues through tactical maneuvers might be useful.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 07:44
Permalink | Speak Up (8)

October 27, 2004
(Chinese) Food for thought

Before diving into the meat of this post, I'd like to mention a new blog focussed on China matters: Fabian's Hammer. On the Asian blogroll and interesting posts such as questioning Chinese nationalism and its implications.

Which segues nicely into the thought-provoking post by Joe at Winds of Change on the same question: China's growing nationalist movement. This is a follow up from Joe's post on neo-fascism and China's future and was sparked by the same Globe and Mail article that Fabian discussed above: China Nationalist Fervour Runs Amok. As an aside, kudos to the Globe and Mail for such an extensive and intelligent series of articles on China.

Joe poses a set of questions about the potential for nationalism and fascism to overrun China and what that might mean. I strongly recommend you read the post and follow the interesting set of links Joe has compiled.

Before I add my $0.02 to the pile I'd note it is important to keep China's history and culture in mind, rather than viewing it through a "Western" mindset. China for literally hundreds or even thousands of years was a feudal kingdom but with key differences to what would be viewed as fascist today. For example the national civil service examination system usually prevented wealthy and powerful families from cementing their influence and allowed for a merit based system of promotion, regardless of wealth and station. Also while it may not seem like it, in fact the current rulers of China are similar in format and nature to China's historical political structure. It was the unsettled years at the end of the Qing dynasty and the establishment of the Nationalist Government that were the aberration in Chinese history, not the current system. Another mitigating factor against the rise of fascism is China's vastness. While reasonably (albeit not totally) homogenous in race, China is a massive country with wide differences between regions. What appears to be strong central rule is actually more like an overall co-ordinating body that the various provinces report and pay tribute to, again like China of old. China's provincial and local governments remain strong and tolerant of central rule only so long as it benefits the regions in turn. The imposition of a structure akin to World War 2 fascist states such as Germany or Italy would simply not work in China.

China is a proud country with a long history. Like many countries with a great deal of homogeniety, racism and nationalism is commonplace. This is because there is little sense of "other". For example Hong Kong recently introduced anti-discrimination laws that are discriminatory. Indeed even that law is progress compared to the blatant and open racism that occurs in mainland China against non-Han Chinese. In fact there have been articles in Chinese papers arguing racism can be legitimate. This naturally leads to a fierce nationalism that explains, for example, why China's population is firmly behind in the leadership in aggressively dealing with Taiwan. The same fierce nationalism true of other Asian countries, for example Japan. Combined with Asia's difficult history (not just modern, either) you can begin to understand the competing forces at play in the region, as shown lately in the Japanese push for a UN Security Council seat. Nationalism is nothing new, especially in China. It is, in fact, a thousand year old force that has been vital in seeing China become a nation despite a turbulent history. Is it growing worse? Not as far as I can tell. So long as the Taiwan issue burns so brightly that will remain the main outlet for Chinese nationalist fervour. If (when?) Taiwan and China reach a settlement under some kind of reunion, then it may be time to worry about China's further nationalist aims. But in such a huge country that is safely content with its existing boundaries, the only extension of further nationalism will be to turn China into another superpower.

The China as superpower debate is often bandied about without reliance on the facts. Jacques Chirac as recently as a few weeks ago was in China, showing French arms and quietly bandying the idea of Europe and China emerging as counterweights to US "hegemony" (I hate that word). It may one day happen that China will rival the USA. But that day is a long way into the future. Militarily and economically China is a long way from catching up to anything near the USA's levels. China's leadership knows it, even if they don't actively talk the idea down. It flatters China's place in the world, but it is an emerging global power, but nothing more. The recent G8 meeting and China's attendance are testimony to that.

There are good reasons to think that China's populace would not put up with damaging nationalism. For example the growing middle class know their future is tied to greater integration and trade with the world, not retreat from it. China's deliberate merchantilism ties China's fate intimiately with the USA's, at least economically. China holds the second highest amount of US dollars as reserves in the world, after Japan: something like US$450 billion. This is invested in US Treasuries and the like; China has no interest in seeing this money being blown away by its own moves. The only issue that has the potential to force China beyond its own economic interests is Taiwan, which can be viewed as an internal Chinese issue. As an extension of nationalism it would come at great economic cost - a price the country might be prepared to pay, but a cost nonetheless.

The difference between Chinese nationalism and those of European countries in the leadup to WW2 is whereas those countries were trying to recapture past political and economic glories, China is attaining this glory in a global sense for the first time. It is coming off a much lower base and has a huge amount to go before it ever rivals Western levels.

China has constraints on its growth that Joe alludes to in his posting. The potential remains for China to become more assertive on the global stage, especially to defend its energy security and economic growth. Already the world is seeing some of the results of China's growth in higher commodity and oil prices. China's environment is a mess and the rapid depletion of water tables, droughts and over-cultivation are all problems the country is dealing with. The rapid migration from country to city and the large and growing gaps in wealth between these two are large factors in China's future. But again all of these are internal domestic issues, not factors that will drive a sense of nationalism. Now that China has adopted a path of market economics (after a fashion) it will continue to grow and catch up to the rest of the world, even though as Joe mentiosn there are no doubt going to be hiccups on the way. But to put the gap into perspective, even if China outgrows America by 6% on average every year, it will take 176 years to catch up in terms of GDP. At the same time America will not stand still, waiting for China to catch up in military and political terms. That will continue to remain a check on any growing Chinese ambitions.

Joe also asks if the CCP is keeping the nationalist movement on a leash to use to its own ends. To me this is muddled thinking (with all due respect). China's Communist Party is a nationalist movement and has been since its founding. Now that to a large extent Communism has been dismantled in China you can argue that it is only a nationalist movement that serves to unify a wide and varying country.

Originally Joe postulated:

...I was asked about threats to the future peace and stability of the world. Islamofascism was #1, of course, but I also spent a bit of time explaining my worries about one possible future for China: a future of state capitalism under dictatorial control, a strong need for external resources to fuel that economy, carefully fostered xenophobia, a legacy of belief in the racial superiority of Chinese peoples, a major demographic problem in an excess of young males, and the meme that China is being cheated of its rightful place in the world. Germany's history in the 20th century teaches us what this combination portends.
Until his final sentence he hits the key issues facing China in the years ahead. Where I disagree is that the lessons of Germany can tell us what is in store for China. China is unlike any Western country and its future will not be an imitation of modern Western history. I for one don't see Chinese nationalism as a dangerous element in the world in the years ahead, with the notable exception of Taiwan. But Joe has posted a set of interesting questions that deserve consideration and debate.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 16:22
Permalink | Speak Up (2)