China: government and governance 2010 – 2015

Written by  //  November 16, 2015  //  China, Government & Governance  //  3 Comments

16 November
China rebukes west over stance on terror
(FT) Condolences sent to Paris amid ‘opportunistic’ call for foreign help to defeat Uighur separatists
After Paris, China calls for world’s support in Xinjiang
(Reuters) – China has appealed for international help in the battle it says it is waging against Islamist militants in its far western region of Xinjiang, as Beijing seeks Western support for its own “war on terror” in the wake of the Paris attacks.
Hundreds of people have died in unrest in Xinjiang, home to the mostly Muslim Uighur people, and other parts of China over the past three years or so.
Beijing has blamed much of the violence on Islamist militants, led by the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), a group it says has ties to al Qaeda and wants to establish an independent state called East Turkestan. [Why is there tension between China and the Uighurs?]
2 November
China detains ‘Kamikaze Squad’ tycoon
Hedge fund manager targeted amid widening stock market crackdown
Is China the Next Mexico?
The Chinese Communist Party Is Looking to Russia for Lessons on How to Retain Power. It’s the Wrong Example
(Zócalo Public Square) Of course, it is hard to compare anywhere else to China given the sheer scale of the People’s Republic and its transformation. And yet, much like Mexico in the 1990s, China has long been ruled by a one-party dictatorship that has outgrown its ideological purity (all lip service aside) in favor of a widely acclaimed technocratic pragmatism. If there is a social contract in China, it boils down to the government telling its people: You all pretend to be communists, and so will we; but we’ll actually allow you to become wealthier by not being real communists, so long as you don’t rock the boat and play along.
It’s all very reminiscent of Mexico’s seven-decade rule by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa called the PRI’s run “the perfect dictatorship” because of the regime’s institutionalized nature, which transcended any one individual leader and its original revolutionary ideology, and ensured a peaceful succession of a new president every six years, or “sexenio.”
And like China in recent years, Mexico in the early 1990s was widely praised for having a highly capable team of technocrats running its economic policymaking and promising growth, stability, and a rising standard of living.
Lost in all the rosy pronouncements about Mexico’s economy was any serious analysis of how people’s rising living standards and expectations would affect their nation’s political evolution. Indeed, there was very little acknowledgment that there may be a political and democratic evolution—as opposed to a merely economic one.
31 October
The Quartz weekend round-up: As of this week, China’s infamous one-child policy is gone. But its paternalistic family-planning policies remain, in the form of a “two-child policy.”
This makes no sense. There are no signs of the resource-straining baby boom that family planning officials have long prophesied. In the many areas where the one-child policy was already lifted, far fewer couples than expected are planning on having a second child. What tiny fraction would be entertaining a third?
Plus, China needs those extra babies. It’s getting older way faster than it’s getting richer, making the country likely to languish in the dreaded middle-income trap. On top of that, China desperately needs more girl children to begin closing its yawning gender gap.
Received wisdom holds the one-child policy responsible for these problems. It isn’t (though it did exacerbate them). The fertility rate began dropping in the 1970s, years before the one-child policy. A preference for sons—due to cultural traditions, labor practices, and old-age security—likely caused the gender gap, as Elizabeth Remick and Charis Loh argue (paywall).
Since the one-child policy didn’t create these problems, scrapping it won’t fix them. Instead, bulking up social welfare would help wean China’s poor rural residents off their reliance on sons for support in old age (which may explain why the government just announced plans for a universal pension). Better leave policies and education reform would encourage couples to have more children. So too, of course, would letting them have as many as they want.
So why institute a two-child policy when it could have ditched the policy altogether? For 35 years, the state has loomed over the lives of its people, controlling uteruses and re-rigging family trees. Letting them plan their families would imply new personal freedoms—and those clearly still don’t jibe with the Communist Party’s vision.—Gwynn Guilford
5 October
China’s Nightmarish Citizen Scores Are a Warning For Americans [and Canadians?]
(ACLU) China is launching a comprehensive “credit score” system, and the more I learn about it, the more nightmarish it seems. China appears to be leveraging all the tools of the information age—electronic purchasing data, social networks, algorithmic sorting—to construct the ultimate tool of social control.
— Everybody is measured by a score between 350 and 950, which is linked to their national identity card. While currently supposedly voluntary, the government has announced that it will be mandatory by 2020.

— The system is run by two companies, Alibaba and Tencent, which run all the social networks in China and therefore have access to a vast amount of data about people’s social ties and activities and what they say.
— In addition to measuring your ability to pay, as in the United States, the scores serve as a measure of political compliance. Among the things that will hurt a citizen’s score are posting political opinions without prior permission, or posting information that the regime does not like …
It will hurt your score not only if you do these things, but if any of your friends do them. Imagine the social pressure against disobedience or dissent that this will create.
28 August
We should worry about China’s politics not the economics
In all the noise and debate, the stock market crash raises three big questions
(Financial Times)  For years, we have been told that one of China’s great advantages is that its authoritarian government is better able to make and implement decisions and steer economic change than our feeble, navel-gazing democracies. What we are watching is a test of whether there is any truth in this claim beyond simply the ability to sweep people out of the way when new high-speed railway lines or airports are to be built. It is eight years since Wen Jiabao, then prime minister, made a much-noted and admired speech at the National People’s Congress saying that Chinese growth was “unstable, unbalanced, unco-ordinated and unsustainable”. Supposedly this, and associated initiatives to clean up the country’s environment, was to herald a new phase of reform, a new transition away from investment-intensive, dirty growth towards a cleaner, more high-tech and consumer-led variety.
Yet precious little has happened. Chinese air and water are dirtier than ever, and if anyone thought environmental controls had been tightened at all, the explosions of hazardous chemicals earlier this month in the centre of Tianjin, claiming more than 120 lives, should have disabused them. In the economy, investment has indeed been fading away as a motor for growth, which means that arithmetically consumption looks more important than it did. but this is just a statistical artefact: other sources of growth have not been emerging to take investment’s place. …
During such transitions, reforms need to be made that hurt some powerful interest groups and may cause a rise in unemployment, so political leaders need to mediate between such interests while maintaining public trust and social cohesion.
In Japan, this was handled by a democracy. In China, it is being handled by a Communist party that for the past two years has also been trying to tighten its political control of the country. So far, the verdict would have to be that an authoritarian regime is faring badly at achieving these economic reforms or, to put it another way, at reconciling its own often competing objectives.
The second big political question arises from this. If the stock market crash does have any real domestic consequence, it will come from the anger of retail investors at their losses. That may prove a minor factor, but add it to anger at man-made disasters such as that in Tianjin, and quite possibly at rising unemployment, and you have the potential for a considerable public backlash of the sort that Communist party leaders have always worried about.
… the third big political question, which is about how economic stress might affect China’s behaviour towards its neighbours in east and Southeast Asia.
This may well be the biggest reason to worry. Asian countries that have done well out of trade with China in the past 20 years are already suffering from a decline in that trade. There may be other sources of financial and economic contagion to come, as there were during the east Asian financial crisis of 1997-98. But the worst contagion would be if in response to economic stress the Chinese government, or perhaps just the Chinese military, were to ratchet up nationalism and escalate the territorial disputes the country has with Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines and others, in the East China Sea and South China Sea.
25 August
China’s Complexity Problem
Stephen S. Roach asks whether the country’s leaders are juggling too many policy objectives.
(Project Syndicate) There are many moving parts in China’s daunting transition to what its leaders call a moderately well-off society. Tectonic shifts are occurring simultaneously on several fronts – the economy, financial markets, geopolitical strategy, and social policy. The ultimate test may well lie in managing the exceedingly complex interplay among these developments. Is China’s leadership up to the task, or has it bitten off too much at once?
Reuters makes it official: China, one of the main engines of the world economy, has overtaken Greece at the top of the worry list of global investors. However the comentariat has challenged an early assumption that the devaluation was some sort of plot to undermine the global economy.  The Financial Times suggests that the turmoil “ has also shaken the ruling Communist party and left Li Keqiang, the prime minister, fighting for his political future” (Li’s future questioned amid China turmoil)
22 August
Fading Economy and Graft Crackdown Rattle China’s Leaders
By MICHAEL FORSYTHE and JONATHAN ANSFIELD
(NYT) [the downfall of Zhou Benshun, who was ousted last month as party chief of Hebei Province] — he is the first sitting provincial party chief to be purged by Mr. Xi — underscores the uncertainty that permeates the Communist elite as they contend with two unnerving developments beyond their control: an economic slowdown that appears to be worse than officials had anticipated and that could mark the end of China’s era of fast growth, and a campaign against official corruption that has continued longer and reached higher than most had expected. …
Mr. Xi has pledged sweeping market-oriented reforms to overhaul the Chinese economy for long-term growth, including plans to weaken monopolies enjoyed by state enterprises, to wean the economy from its dependence on inefficient state-directed investment, and to liberalize the nation’s financial markets, with the aim of making the country’s currency, the renminbi, a strong competitor to the dollar on world markets.
But there has been little progress toward these goals, and as growth has begun to stall, the government has adopted measures that run counter to Mr. Xi’s call to allow market forces to play the “decisive role” in the economy, including aggressive intervention to prop up the stock market last month and policies encouraging state banks to lend money.
Behind the scramble is a deep-rooted anxiety within the leadership about possible social instability if the age of supercharged growth in China ends. China’s gross domestic product grew more than 26-fold in the 37 years since the country began to open up its economy, bolstering the party’s authoritarian rule and lifting more than 600 million people out of poverty.
Some have asked whether the party leadership and its technocrat advisers are up to the task of managing a slowing economy after decades of experience with one that has only soared, fueled in large part by mass migration from the countryside to the cities. Even neutral observers warn that Mr. Xi may be promising too much. …
Mr. Xi’s penchant for putting himself in charge of policy-setting committees — called “leading small groups” by the Chinese — has upended the way China usually shapes economic policy. It may also have contributed to recent missteps and led to more abrupt, ad hoc policy shifts. Mr. Xi chairs at least six such committees, including one on finance and economics and a new one on restructuring the economy.
But these committees under Mr. Xi have not fully succeeded in taking control of economic policy … and that has resulted at times in bureaucratic confusion.
That may have been the case this month, when China’s central bank altered the way it sets the trading range for the renminbi and made it more responsive to domestic and global currency markets. The move was welcomed by the International Monetary Fund and may help the renminbi win inclusion in the fund’s basket of global reserve currencies.
But it also spooked investors around the world who interpreted the 4.4-percent devaluation that resulted as a desperate bid to help China’s flagging export sector by a government more worried than it is letting on.
21 August
China’s deadly Tianjin explosions show the limits of Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption drive
(Quartz) The deadly explosions that took place at a warehouse storing dangerous chemicals in Tianjin last week killed over a hundred people, cost billions of dollars, and have raised serious questions about China’s industrial safety and emergency preparedness. Local land and waterways may be polluted for years to come.
Even as the government censors online “rumors” and legitimate press reports, Chinese media, including state-run outlets, have launched in-depth investigations into Ruihai International Logistics, the company that owned the warehouse and specializes in storing highly toxic chemicals. These reports point to strong political connections between the company and government officials, indicating corruption played a huge role in the company’s growth and operations.Xi Jinping’s far-reaching anti-corruption drive has ensnared top party officials, curbed massive bribes and reached deep into industries from oil to media to railways over the past two years. But as the Tianjin blasts show, in some places business in China is still being done exactly the same way it was before he took office—the powerfully-connected get special treatment that benefits them, and the rest of the country pays.
19 August
China explosions: Warehouse executives used connections to get permit, state media say
(CBC) Chinese state media on Wednesday appeared to convict executives of a company whose chemical warehouse exploded last week killing 114 people of slipshod practices at least, saying they used connections to obtain fire safety and environmental approvals.
7 March
The Coming Chinese Crackup
By Dr. David Shambaugh, professor of international affairs and director of the China Policy Program at George Washington University and a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
The endgame of communist rule in China has begun, and Xi Jinping’s ruthless measures are only bringing the country closer to a breaking point
(WSJ) Despite appearances, China’s political system is badly broken, and nobody knows it better than the Communist Party itself. China’s strongman leader, Xi Jinping , is hoping that a crackdown on dissent and corruption will shore up the party’s rule. He is determined to avoid becoming the Mikhail Gorbachev of China, presiding over the party’s collapse. But instead of being the antithesis of Mr. Gorbachev, Mr. Xi may well wind up having the same effect. His despotism is severely stressing China’s system and society—and bringing it closer to a breaking point.
Communist rule in China is unlikely to end quietly. A single event is unlikely to trigger a peaceful implosion of the regime. Its demise is likely to be protracted, messy and violent. I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that Mr. Xi will be deposed in a power struggle or coup d’état. With his aggressive anticorruption campaign—a focus of this week’s National People’s Congress—he is overplaying a weak hand and deeply aggravating key party, state, military and commercial constituencies.

 

2014

China in 2014: The three Rs
By Robert Daly, director of the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States at the Wilson Center.
(CNN) Three stories dominate American coverage of China at the close of 2013: the recent plenum that outlined China’s direction for the next decade, China’s establishment of an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea, and Beijing’s delayed issuance of visas to American journalists. The common thread in these stories is Chinese Communist Party (CCP) General Secretary Xi Jinping. Xi’s vision and political acumen are the driving force behind reform proposals that could reshape China. Xi would have had to sign off on an ADIZ that has deepened suspicion that China seeks regional hegemony. And Xi has spearheaded a year-long campaign against freedom of information that may culminate in the closing of the China offices of Bloomberg and the New York Times.
Xi’s program to date is Reform, Resurgence, and Repression. What China becomes under his leadership in 2014 and beyond will depend on whether this modern strongman is truly modern and truly strong, or whether he is cultivating an image of strength in an attempt to rein in a dynamic but fragile nation which an anachronistic CCP can no longer control. (16 December 2013)

12 November
China vs. U.S. media at rare Beijing news conference
(CNN) — In a rare, joint news conference with the global news media inside the heart of Beijing, U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged cooperation on a range of common interests as they concluded an unusually colorful economic summit.
Asked about anti-American rhetoric in Chinese state-run media which accused the United States of backing recent democracy protests in Hong Kong, Obama brushed off the criticism as “part of being a public official.”
“The United States had no involvement in fostering the protests that took place there,” Obama insisted.
Xi appeared to grimace when asked by New York Times reporter Mark Landler about international press access in China and whether he viewed Obama’s “pivot” to Asia as an authentic component of U.S. foreign policy.
1 August
Massive corruption has a long history in China
(Globe & Mail) What makes China different from other Communist societies, all plagued by similar issues, is the scale of the problem, rooted in the sheer amount of money pouring through and out of state hands. By 2009, capital spending in China exceeded $2-trillion (U.S.), higher even than the United States. In 2013, China spend $104-billion on railways alone.
When the dollar amounts get that high, graft can accumulate on a massive scale.
6 June
China disrupts Google services ahead of Tiananmen anniversary
(Reuters) – Google services are being disrupted in China … a censorship watchdog said on Monday. GreatFire.org said in a blog post that the government appeared to have begun targeting Google Inc’s main search engine and Gmail, among many other services, since at least last week, making them inaccessible to many users in China.It added that the last time it monitored such a block was in 2012, when it only lasted 12 hours. “It is not clear that the block is a temporary measure around the anniversary or a permanent block. But because the block has lasted for four days, it’s more likely that Google will be severely disrupted and barely usable from now on,” the advocacy group said.
31 May
China’s Quarter Century Of Cracking Down On Dissent
(AP via World Post) Each year’s anniversary [of Tiananmen] brings a crackdown on dissent, but this year has been especially harsh, say dissidents and human rights groups. Lawyers and others taking part in even minor private commemorations have been detained. Outspoken relatives of those killed in the crackdown have been forced out of Beijing.
Journalists, including those in the foreign media, have been issued stern orders not to report on unspecified sensitive topics around the June 4 anniversary, with warnings of dire consequences. …
Meanwhile, the state has developed increasingly sophisticated mechanisms of surveillance and censorship, taking advantage of technological improvements and a huge boost in domestic security spending. An army of young, computer-savvy censors checks social media and websites and removes content on sensitive topics.
Users of social media such as the hugely popular microblogging and instant messaging applications Weibo and QQ must be registered and identified. …
Despite these efforts, China sees what many of what it calls “mass incidents” threatening social stability. One Chinese sociologist, Sun Liping, has estimated there are about 180,000 per year, ranging from organized marches to spontaneous protests and even violence sparked by anger over working conditions, corruption, environmental degradation and ethnic unrest.
A premium is placed on quickly containing and dissolving such incidents, unlike in 1989, when protests were allowed to build up over more than a month.
The government also has focused heavily on avoiding military force such as the tanks and troops that tore their way through citizen barricades to the heart of the protests in Tiananmen Square, leaving hundreds, possibly thousands dead.
Instead, the government has vastly expanded its domestic security apparatus. Much of the effort has gone into improved training and equipment for the 1.5 million-member paramilitary People’s Armed Police, the Chinese interior security force. Grassroots-level officials and public security department heads have undergone training in responding to unrest.
24 April
Re-Governing China
(Project Syndicate) Orchestrating China’s transformation from a manufacturing- and export-based economic model to one driven by consumption and services – and that is inclusive, environmentally sustainable, and creates more than 13 million jobs annually – is a massive undertaking. Add to it the challenge of upholding financial and social stability – and accomplishing all of this while managing one of the world’s largest bureaucracies – and the task ahead becomes truly mind-boggling.
19 April
China on course to become ‘world’s most Christian nation’ within 15 years
The number of Christians in Communist China is growing so steadily that it by 2030 it could have more churchgoers than America
13 April
Malcolm Moore: Tiananmen 25 years on: the ‘event’ that no one dares remember
As the rest of the world remembers the Tiananmen Square massacre, China forbids its citizens from mentioning the atrocity
2 March
Malcolm Moore: China’s human rights situation ‘worst in decades’
First year under president Xi Jinping sees the most severe campaign against dissidents for decades
(The Telegraph UK) The police have arrested 224 activists in the past year, one for almost every working day, according to Wen Yunchao, an outspoken blogger.
The arrests represent the most severe campaign in decades by the Communist party to silence dissent.
When Xi Jinping became president some hoped that he might be a liberal reformer. But as he marks the first anniversary of his presidency, he has proven every bit as cynical and hard-edged as his “good friend” Vladimir Putin.
21 January
Leaked Records Reveal Offshore Holdings of China’s EliteChina republicofoffshore ICIJ
Files shed light on nearly 22,000 tax haven clients from Hong Kong and mainland China.
(ICIJ) Close relatives of China’s top leaders have held secretive offshore companies in tax havens that helped shroud the Communist elite’s wealth, a leaked cache of documents reveals.
The confidential files include details of a real estate company co-owned by current President Xi Jinping’s brother-in-law and British Virgin Islands companies set up by former Premier Wen Jiabao’s son and also by his son-in-law.
Nearly 22,000 offshore clients with addresses in mainland China and Hong Kong appear in the files obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.  Among them are some of China’s most powerful men and women — including at least 15 of China’s richest, members of the National People’s Congress and executives from state-owned companies entangled in corruption scandals.
PricewaterhouseCoopers, UBS and other Western banks and accounting firms play a key role as middlemen in helping Chinese clients set up trusts and companies in the British Virgin Islands, Samoa and other offshore centers usually associated with hidden wealth, the records show. For instance, Swiss financial giant Credit Suisse helped Wen Jiabao’s son create his BVI company while his father was leading the country.
The files come from two offshore firms — Singapore-based Portcullis TrustNet and BVI-based Commonwealth Trust Limited — that help clients create offshore companies, trusts and bank accounts. They are part of a cache of 2.5 million leaked files that ICIJ has sifted through with help from more than 50 reporting partners in Europe, North America, Asia and other regions.

2013

Gordon G. Chang: North Korea and China’s Resurgent Militaries
(World Affairs Journal) Last Thursday’s surprise execution of Jang Song Thaek in North Korea may well suggest that a fundamental shift in the balance of power is taking place in Pyongyang. If so, it seems likely that the country’s military—at least for now—is winning in the rough game of Kim-style politics. A similar shift might also be taking shape in Beijing, where Chinese generals and admirals seem to be gaining influence in Communist Party circles. The rise of the two militaries is bound to profoundly affect an already troubled region (18 December)
TED Conversation
Debate: Is corruption a moral or a legal issue?
Too often the corruption debate and discussions all over the world are focused on how somebody broke a law. By that definition Mahatma Gandhi was the most corrupt man since he periodically broke British laws!
By dictionary definition corruption relates to doing things which are not ethical.
Hence how should the corruption be defined and fought for greater good?

Before and After Hu — Is China Better Off Than It Was Ten Years Ago?
(Foreign Affairs) As China’s trade surplus ballooned to $155 billion in 2011, its economic prospects became excessively dependent on foreign demand, and its growth has come at the expense of domestic consumption. According to official data from the National Bureau of Statistics, over the last decade the decline in the portion of Chinese GDP represented by domestic consumption has been almost entirely offset by the rise in investment. The transformation of Shanghai, whose skyline has become one of the most imposing in the world in less than 20 years, is a testament to the investment addiction. When the financial crisis of 2008-9 swept from Manhattan to Shanghai, the vulnerable Chinese export sector collapsed, prompting Beijing to deploy a hastily concocted $600 billion stimulus package that saved the economy but deepened already significant imbalances. Despite these setbacks, Hu and Wen can claim that they rescued China’s economy from the brink of catastrophe and that average Chinese incomes rose steadily under their watch.
Yet the boom has benefited the Chinese people unevenly while imposing hefty environmental costs on everyone.

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What Will It Cost to Cover China?
(The New Yorker) Journalism on China is facing a time of reckoning as well. The foreign correspondent Paul Mooney, an American who has covered China for the past eighteen years, for Newsweek, the South China Morning Post, and others, has been denied a visa. To anyone familiar with his work, the reason is no mystery—it’s outrageous, but familiar. He has been one of the most diligent and capable investigators of abuses of power. Mooney joins a list of other foreign correspondents—including Andrew Higgins and Melissa Chan—who have been denied entry, or have been forced to leave, in the past two years, because the Chinese government objects to how they do their work.
17 November
Chinese leaders control media, academics to shape the perception of China
(WaPost) It’s well known that Chinese censors shape and limit the news and history their people can learn. What may be more surprising is how Chinese officials shape and limit what Americans learn about China.
Last month, a cultural attache in the Chinese embassy in Washington invited Perry Link to attend a Forum of Overseas Sinologists in Beijing in December.
Link sent his passport and application, and on Nov. 8 received the following message: “After review, I’d like to inform you that you will not be invited to the forum.”
The Lucy-and-the-football quality of this exchange is striking, but Link is far from the only foreign scholar to be blacklisted. In 2011, 13 respected academics who had contributed chapters to a book on Xinjiang, a province of western China that is home to a restive Muslim minority, found themselves banned.
Bloomberg provides a telling case. Last year it published groundbreaking investigations on the wealth that China’s elites are accumulating. Corruption is a sensitive issue for Communist Party leaders, and, given Bloomberg’s business interests in China, the journalism took courage. After the reports, Bloomberg’s Web site was blocked to Chinese viewers, and journalists were denied visas. Recently, according to the New York Times, Bloomberg spiked an investigative report about a billionaire’s connection to Chinese leaders, with its editor in chief arguing that it was important to maintain his reporters’ access to the country.
China’s Potemkin Reforms
The one child policy will continue for most of the country.
(WSJ) First the headlines. On Friday, the Chinese Communist Party released a policy document that suggests it will relax its “one child policy,” allowing married couples to have a second child if one of the two parents is an only child. It will also abolish the system of “re-education through labor,” under which hundreds of thousands of people are held in forced-labor camps without trial.
Now the reality. The one child policy will only change slightly. The forced abortions, sterilizations and fines used to enforce the ban on second and third children for hundreds of millions of Chinese will continue. Local authorities resist change because they earn revenue from controlling reproduction. They regularly strip families who dare to have an illegal child of their livelihood, housing, education and other rights.
The motivation for even this modest policy shift is less about human dignity than economics. The one-child policy has contributed to a rapidly aging population that could make China the world’s first nation that is old before it is economically developed.
The abolition of labor camps is also less than it appears. Even if re-education through labor does disappear, China has another, much larger gulag of forced-labor camps, known as “reform through labor,” or laogai. Inmates, believed to number in the millions, have to be convicted of a crime, but that is not a high bar in China’s primitive criminal justice system. Once a suspect is arrested, conviction is virtually guaranteed.
The re-education camps may reopen under new names, such as “drug rehabilitation centers.” Ten years ago the police practice of locking up rural migrants in the cities and shipping them home was abolished. But in place of the old “custody and repatriation centers,” authorities created a network of “black jails,” illegal detention centers where all the same abuses are carried out.
Over the past decade, the Communist Party has turned away from the pursuit of the rule of law and a nonpolitical legal profession. Instead it has embraced the “mass line,” which is code for judges ruling as the Party decides and the police acting with impunity. This allows Beijing to construct a Potemkin legal structure that seems to be moving closer to international norms but doesn’t interfere with human-rights abuses. That means nobody should take last Friday’s reform plans at face value.
China’s Bold Reforms Are Bad News For Markets
(Forbes) China has unveiled its most sweeping reform agenda in more than 30 years, after a meeting of key Communist Party leaders in Beijing last week. The agenda aims to transition China to a more free-market consumer economy with fewer social controls. On the economic front, the plans include reducing the power of giant state-owned companies, removing a swathe of price controls, phasing out caps on interest rates and moving towards yuan convertibility. More broadly, the plans also outline loosening the one-child policy, abolishing the controversial “re-education” labor camps and introducing steps toward an independent judiciary.
Surprises include the commitment to reducing the power of state-owned enterprises (SOEs), as this wasn’t flagged prior to the meeting. The breadth of price controls to be removed – including water, oil, gas and power – is also a surprise. Though its made headlines, relaxation of the one-child policy was well flagged and actually doesn’t go as far as some would have liked. One of the most unexpected reforms is the abolition of labor camps. This was a key gripe of foreign governments as it allowed the detention of people without trial.
China’s economic reforms: What you need to know
(CNBC) China late on Friday unveiled details of the long-term economic reforms agreed to at this month’s Third Plenum, a key meeting of the country’s top leaders.
The 60-point reform plan is seen paving the way for sweeping changes in the world’s second-biggest economy as it tries to steer away from investment-led growth to a consumption-driven economy.
14 November
China: The Next Phase of Reform
China is now at a turning point. The country’s economic growth has firmly cemented Chinese businesses and national interests around the globe. It has raised the living standards, but also the expectations, of China’s citizens. There is a growing sense of Chinese patriotism that exists beyond the confines of the Communist Party. The emerging educated middle class has traveled the world, has seen multiple systems in action and is taking a greater interest in local and national political decisions. Modern forms of communication such as social media give Chinese citizens the ability to rapidly share successes and grievances across the country, to identify and single out cases of political corruption and to more actively keep the Party and leadership under scrutiny. At the same time, the expanded Chinese imports of raw materials and exports of commodities have substantially expanded China’s active foreign interests, requiring a more nuanced and potentially a more activist foreign policy.
(Stratfor) The commitment and ability of China’s leaders to follow through on new policies and to meet rising expectations will be tested as they strive to balance competing social, economic, political and security challenges. Three decades ago, China embarked on a new path, creating a framework that encouraged the country’s rapid economic rise. The successes of those policies have transformed China, and the country’s leadership now faces another set of strategic choices to address China’s new economic and international position.
The much-anticipated Third Plenary Session of the 18th Communist Party of China Central Committee concluded Nov. 12 after four days of closed-door deliberations among top political elites. The full document containing the policy proposals will not be released for days or even a week, but the initial information suggests China’s leaders are seeking more significant changes in their policies to try to stay ahead of the challenges the country faces.
Admittedly, China has moved well beyond the massive economic mismanagement and social disorder of the post-Cultural Revolution period. However, the inevitable loss of the demographic advantages that sustained the country’s economic miracle, combined with the prevailing social inequality and regional disparities as well as the rising political awareness of the middle class, mean the new leadership is facing even greater challenges to preserve its legitimacy. Doing so requires a constant commitment by political leaders to respond to China’s changing internal and external environments. It also requires a path toward reform that meets public expectations while overcoming anti-reform elements.
12 November
CPC announces decision on comprehensive reform
(Xinhua) — The 18th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) on Tuesday approved a decision on “major issues concerning comprehensively deepening reforms” at the close of their four-day meeting. … The general objective of the approved reforms is to improve and develop socialism with Chinese characteristics and push on with modernization of the country’s governing system and capabilities, according to the communique issued after the session.
7 November
Fareed Zakaria: China’s coming challenges
(WaPost) “We are all struck by the contrast between Beijing and Washington,” said George Yeo, the former foreign minister of Singapore. He was referring to the quality of governance in the two capitals — in particular, the sense pervasive in Asia that the United States has lost its ability to execute public policy with competence (see Iraq, Obamacare). Beijing, on the other hand, has been carefully and systematically planning a series of reforms that probably will make China the world’s largest economy within a decade.
The contrast is particularly striking because China faces huge challenges and will need to make major economic, political and social reforms as it navigates through the “middle-income trap” that has affected many once-fast-growing developing countries. The United States, on the other hand, remains the world’s most innovative economy with a dynamic and growing society. It simply needs some common-sense policies on a range of issues, such as infrastructure, entitlements and immigration. And yet it’s hard to foresee progress on any of these fronts in the next few years in Washington.
China’s Third Plenum: Key issues
(BBC) On Saturday, China’s leaders will hold their Third Plenum, where priorities for reform over the next decade will be discussed.
21 August
In China, an Unprecedented Demographic Problem Takes Shape
(Stratfor) Chinese society is on the verge of a structural transformation even more  profound than the long and painful project of economic rebalancing, which the  Communist Party is anxiously beginning to undertake. China’s population is aging  more rapidly than it is getting rich, giving rise to a great demographic  imbalance with important implications for the Party’s efforts to transform the  Chinese economy and preserve its own power in the coming decade.
20 July
David Kilgour speech in Hong Kong on Governance in China
29 May
China says Xinjiang minorities too busy dancing to make trouble
(Reuters) – Ethnic minority people in China’s Xinjiang are far more fond of dancing, singing and being good hosts than making trouble, a top official said on Tuesday, dismissing the idea that the far western region is a hotbed of unrest.. NOT the most politically correct statement we have read!
5 May
China Needs Justice, Not Equality
(Foreign Affairs) China’s new leaders have interpreted recent unrest as being fueled by anger about inequality. But most Chinese find the gap between rich and poor relatively unproblematic. If the Xi administration hopes to settle the country, it needs to starts focusing on the real reasons citizens are taking to the streets: injustice and corruption.
24 April
Corruption curbs crimp luxury market
(China Daily) Government moves to fight corruption will have some surprising effects, including putting a possible dent in the market for luxury goods, as Wang Wen finds out.
Strict government regulations to ban officials’ consumption of luxury items are expected to soften the luxury goods market and change patterns of consumer consumption.
Statistics from the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry show that Swiss watch exports to the Chinese mainland dropped 27.5 percent year-on-year in September.
4 April
China’s internet – A giant cage in-depth analysis and some excellent maps and graphs
The internet was expected to help democratise China. Instead, it has enabled the authoritarian state to get a firmer grip, says Gady Epstein. But for how long?
(The Economist) Not only has Chinese authoritarian rule survived the internet, but the state has shown great skill in bending the technology to its own purposes, enabling it to exercise better control of its own society and setting an example for other repressive regimes. China’s party-state has deployed an army of cyber-police, hardware engineers, software developers, web monitors and paid online propagandists to watch, filter, censor and guide Chinese internet users. Chinese private internet companies, many of them clones of Western ones, have been allowed to flourish so long as they do not deviate from the party line.
… Ironically, the first e-mail from China, sent to an international academic network on September 14th 1987, proclaimed proudly: “Across the Great Wall we can reach every corner in the world.” Yet within China’s borders the Communist Party has systematically put in place projects such as the Great Firewall, which keeps out “undesirable” foreign websites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, and Golden Shield, which monitors activities within China. It has also worked closely with trusted domestic internet companies such as Baidu (a search engine), Tencent (an internet-services portal), Renren (China’s leading clone of Facebook) and Sina, an online media company that includes Weibo, a Twitter-like microblogging service. …
Adaptive authoritarianism
For the party leaders the internet has created more subtle challenges. Collective expression on the web, led by civic-minded microbloggers with millions of followers, is focusing attention on recurring problems such as food safety and pollution, showing up the gap between expectations and performance. That means the authorities now have to try to come up with credible responses to crises such as the huge spike in air pollution in January and February. In short, the internet requires the party centre to be more efficient at being authoritarian.
This is the online blueprint for what scholars call “adaptive authoritarianism”, and there is an international market for it. China sells its technological know-how abroad, including tools for monitoring and filtering the internet. Huawei and ZTE, two big Chinese companies, are leading suppliers of internet and telecoms hardware to a number of states in Central and South-East Asia, eastern Europe and Africa, including Kazakhstan, Vietnam, Belarus, Ethiopia and Zambia. Many of these would like to increase online access while retaining tight political and technological control. China has aligned itself with these countries and dozens of others, including Russia, in a global dispute with Western democracies over how the internet should be governed.

2012

16 November
Useful analysis of the breakdown of the power structure (e.g. princelings vs.tuanpai) at the highest levels
Opportunity Lost? Inside China’s leadership transition.
(Foreign Policy) For a country widely seen as the world’s other superpower, we know shockingly little about the worldviews, values, and socioeconomic policies of the seven men just named the new leaders of China. Unlike American politicians, Chinese leaders carry out their campaigns largely behind closed doors, and they are not chosen by the people. …
… China’s much-needed political reform may be delayed. Public demand for a more competitive, more institutionalized, more transparent political system will, however, only become stronger.
15 November
Xi’s Got Issues
China’s new leader has 100 days to make his mark. Ready, set, go.
(Foreign Policy) As the succession has drawn closer, there have been a few hints that for all his discretion, Xi is really a closet reformer — at least on the economy and perhaps on political issues as well. The problem for China-watchers, however, is not just that these are only suggestions, but also that the very same stories were told a decade ago about Hu and Wen. For Hu and Wen, one of the supposed signs of their reformist credentials was their close personal relationship with Hu Yaobang, the liberal party leader who was deposed by hard-liners in the mid-1980s and whose death in 1989 sparked the Tiananmen Square protests. In Xi’s case, the apparent signal has been a recent meeting with Hu Deping, the son of the former leader who has been a lonely standard-bearer for liberal reform within the party.
China’s new leaders to focus on welfare, not reform
(Emerging Markets) The Chinese Communist Party’s 18th Congress brought little progress to its willingness to implement deep policy reforms, analysts said after the country’s new leadership was announced on Thursday.
The liberalization of the financial sector and China’s move towards a fully convertible currency and a floating exchange rate will be “pivotal” in reforms needed to “soften the decline in China’s long-term growth,” [Flemming Nielsen, senior analyst at Danske Bank] said.
If the new leadership pushes through “significant changes” to economy policy such as further liberalization of the interest rate, weakening the ties between state-owned banks and state-owned companies and fostering an environment that encourages the growth of smaller, private firms, the economy is likely to expand at between 7% and 8% over the next few years, said [Mark Williams, chief Asia economist at Capital Economics].
“If however there is gridlock within the new leadership or if vested interests block reform, GDP growth could slow to 5%,” he warned.
China names conservative, older leadership
(Reuters) – China’s ruling Communist Party unveiled an older, conservative leadership line-up on Thursday that appears unlikely to take the drastic action needed to tackle pressing issues like social unrest, environmental degradation and corruption.
New party chief Xi Jinping, premier-in-waiting Li Keqiang and vice-premier in charge of economic affairs Wang Qishan, all named as expected to the elite decision-making Politburo Standing Committee, are considered cautious reformers. … The committee was cut to seven members from nine, which should ease consensus building and decision making.
Except for Xi and his deputy Li Keqiang, all the others in the standing committee – the innermost circle of power in China’s authoritarian government – are 64 or above and will have to retire within five years, when the next party congress is held. That means the party may just tread water on the most vital reforms until then. (Globe & Mail) China congress ends with new leader, and fractured leadership
8 November
President Hu Jintao gives his last state-of-the-nation address as China’s leader, admitting the growing contradictions in Chinese society
(The Economist) The 18th Chinese Communist Party congress opened in Beijing. Hu Jintao, who is stepping down as party chief, admitted in his state-of-the-nation speech that China’s development is “unbalanced, unco-ordinated and unsustainable”, but did not put forward any plans for deep political reform
1 November
Jiang Weiping on Corruption, Reform, and China
Last week, OpenCanada.org interviewed Chinese journalist and dissident Jiang Weiping. Jiang Weiping reported extensively on corruption in northeast China, most notably on Bo Xilai’s term in Dalian, prior to his stints as Minister of Commerce and mayor of Chongqing. In late 2001, Jiang was sentenced to eight years in prison, which was later reduced to six years upon appeal. He was released early in January 2006. In early 2009, PEN Canada arranged for him to move to Canada on a special permit granted on humanitarian grounds by the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration. In our interview, we discussed the significance of the upcoming Eighteenth Party Congress, the continuing challenge of corruption and the future of reform in China.
26 October
Brother Wristwatch and Grandpa Wen: Chinese Kleptocracy
(The New Yorker) To understand the threat that corruption has come to pose to the Party, the Chinese need look no further than their own newspapers.It is one of the curious facts of China today that the state press both marches in step with the Communist Party and also devotes much of its space to documenting acts of epic plunder and abuses of power.
There is nothing inherently unique about the fact that China’s rise has been accompanied by enormous official theft. (In “Boss Rail,” a piece in the magazine last week, I examined the culture of corruption in China’s largest public-works project, as well as the corruption that shadowed America’s rise in the nineteenth century.) What is unique, however, and potentially harmful to political stability, is the nature of the corruption in China. In a new book, “The Double Paradox,” the sinologist Andrew Wedeman examines a raft of data on arrests, bribes, and prosecutions not only in China but in other countries with high rates of corruption such as Zaire, Nicaragua, and Haiti—as well as places with high growth such as Korea and Taiwan.
“Although there is no good corruption,” Wedeman writes, “there is clearly bad and worse corruption: the corruption that has negative effects, and the corruption that can have potentially catastrophic effects.” The science of kleptocracy separates the behavior into two basic types: “developmental corruption” of the kind we see in Korea and Taiwan, which does not ultimately prevent the economy from recovering, and “degenerative corruption” of the kind that ruined the economies in Zaire and Haiti.
When investors and diplomats consider the risks facing China, they often assume that its corruption is of the kind we saw in Korea and Taiwan (or Chicago, for that matter), in which a political machine pulls money out of the state to give to favored friends and businesses, but does not ultimately kill the goose that laid the golden egg. But when Wedeman looked at the data, he concluded, to his surprise, that “corruption in China more closely resembled corruption in Zaire than it did corruption in Japan.” In short, he found, “the evidence suggests that corruption in contemporary China is essentially anarchy.”
China’s ruling families — Torrent of scandal

(The Economist) As a tour de force of investigative reporting by the New York Times now reveals …  the prime minister’s relatives, including his wife, have controlled assets worth at least $2.7 billion. It notes that Mr Wen has “broad authority” over the major industries where his relatives have made their fortunes. Their business dealings have sometimes been hidden in ways that suggest the relatives are eager to avoid public scrutiny, says the report.
That family members of China’s most powerful politicians cash in on their connections comes as no surprise. Over the past two decades, as the country’s economy has ballooned, rumours and occasional bits of evidence of such behaviour have accumulated at a similar pace. In June Bloomberg shed remarkable light on the fortunes of relatives of Xi Jinping, the man who next month will be appointed general secretary of the Communist Party and, in March, president of China. Chinese officials were deeply unhappy with that report: Bloomberg’s entire website has been blocked in China ever since (as has the Analects story about the Bloomberg report). …
Our cover this week calls Mr Xi “The man who must change China”. Revelations such as those by the New York Times, Bloomberg and Brookings strengthen the case for this. As we argue in a leader, Mr Xi needs to venture deep into political reform, including setting a timetable for the direct election of government leaders as Deng Xiaoping once suggested should be possible. Our Banyan column explains why Chinese-style “meritocracy” is not enough to prevent the kind of abuses of power that are rife in China today. And in a three-page briefing we look at how Mr Xi is being assailed from all sides by demands for far-reaching change.
Richer party men sidestep Bo Xilai’s fate
(The Australian) …  A new report by research and advocacy group Global Financial Integrity released yesterday estimates China has lost $US3.79 trillion over the past decade in money smuggled out of the country, much of it from corruption, crime or tax evasion. It says the outflow is accelerating, with $US472bn leaving the nation last year, equivalent to 8.3 per cent of its gross domestic product, up from $US204.7bn in 2000.
23 October
Jonathan Manthorpe: China’s new leader contemplates Singapore model of authoritarian capitalism
For all those China Watchers examining tea leaves for some sign of what sort of Communist Party leader and national president Xi Jinping will be, a column in Monday’s edition of the magazine Study Times is looming large.
The article argues that in the pursuit of political reform, China should adopt the “Singapore model” of liberalized authoritarian capitalism.
The reason this article is attracting so much attention is that Study Times is published by the Communist Party’s Central Party School, and the president of the school is incoming leader Xi.
3 October
China banks pull out of meetings in Japan
Relations between Tokyo and Beijing remain tense over Japanese-controlled islands, as Chinese ships re-enter waters.
(Al Jazeera) Chinese banks have pulled out of events linked to annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank in Japan next week, a report said, as Tokyo and Beijing remain locked in a diplomatic row.
The Bank of China had not decided if representatives would attend the IMF meetings, it said.
1 October
Beijing Opera: What comes after Hu?
(Reuters) China’s leadership changeover might be the most important political event of the decade. The country’s new rulers will decide not just the fate of the world’s most populous nation, but of its twenty neighbors, large portions of Africa, and its biggest trade partners, Europe and the United States. Download the e-book (PDF format)

China at critical time as CPC congress approaches

(Xinhua) — There may be no better time than today to observe how China will change in the future, as the Communist Party of China (CPC) is gearing up for a key meeting that will see a once-in-a-decade leadership transition in the world’s most populous nation.
In a year of global elections, the world is closely scrutinizing the CPC 18th National Congress, to be convened on Nov. 8, and waiting to see how it will stand up to challenges facing the country and the CPC, as well as how it will influence the world at large.
After more than three decades of rapid growth thanks to the reform and opening-up drive, China has ushered in an important era of transition in which the country must transform its economy and make it more sustainable.
… the most pressing issue for the Chinese public is the uninhibited and widespread abuse of power and corruption among government officials and businessmen. A series of systematic and structural problems that have impeded the healthy development of the Chinese economy and society have yet to be resolved.
Addressing problems that concern the people’s vital interests and giving more respect to the will of the people in making policies will continue to be a challenge for the CPC.
Challenges have also appeared from outside, as the external environment has never been as complicated as it is now.
Due to the deepening of the sovereign debt crisis and massive economic restructuring that occurred after the global financial crisis, developed economies may sink into long-term recession, thus creating new uncertainties and posing increasing risks for emerging economies like China.
While maintaining the continuity of its policies, China must also adjust its relations with major powers, developing countries and neighboring countries according to the latest changes in the global situation. Any change in China will inevitably affect the rest of the world in an era of economic globalization.
Day after party ouster, Bo Xilai axed from parliament
(Times of India) Chinese PM Wen Jiabao on Saturday gave a rallying call to ruling Communist Party of China cadre a day after disgraced politician Bo Xilai’s removal from the party. The call is important as the country celebrates the 63rd anniversary of its founding as a People’s Republic two days later, and awaits a leadership change at the party Congress on November 8.
“Let us rally more closely around the CPC central committee with comrade Hu Jintao as the general secretary,” the premier told an audience of some 2,000 diplomats and officials, who had gathered at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.
He said the Congress will allow the party to “open new perspectives on development”. Though Wen did not directly mention the Bo scandal, but it was clear the party was still worried about its possible repercussions.
15 September
(The Economist) THE CHINESE vice-president, Xi Jinping, ended a two-week absence from public view when he reappeared in Beijing this morning both in the flesh and in official photographs. Xinhua, an official news service, reported that Mr Xi visited the campus of China Agricultural University to mark National Science Popularisation Day. His unusual disappearance, occurring shortly before his expected promotion to general secretary of the Communist Party, had fuelled wild speculation in a country where so little is known about its leaders that experts are left to study their official photographs and speeches, as discussed in Banyan in the current issue.
12 September
Patrick Brown: China and the case of the missing Politburo member
Xi, heir-apparent to President Hu Jintao, was last seen in public on Sept. 1, when he gave a speech at the Communist Party’s elite training centre, the Central Party School. He suggested that officials beginning a course there should spend their time “thinking critically about major national issues” rather than using the opportunity for “expanding personal contacts and inviting guests to dinner.” He may be taking his own advice, but we have no way of knowing that. He has not been heard from since.
(Nick’s Gleanings) It is a sign of the times that a big feature on China in a major newspaper starts with the words “The world’s eyes may be focused on the Nov. 6 showdown between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, but in the larger scheme of things, the U.S. presidential election may not be the most decisive moment for the leadership of a major nation taking place this autumn … This became abundantly clear when it emerged this week that the man widely believed to be the next leader of China, Vice-President Xi Jinping, has not been seen for more than 10 days…” – the most reliable report is that he had a heart attack but one not so serious as to delay the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in mid-October or to prevent him from assuming his country’s leadership.
13 August
Unlivable Cities
China’s megalopolises may seem impressive on paper, but they are awful places to live.
(Foreign Policy) Even today, most Chinese cities feel like they were cobbled together from a Soviet-era engineering textbook. China’s fabled post-Mao liberal reforms meant that the country’s cities grew wealthier, but not that much more distinct from each other. … Yes, China’s cities are booming, but there’s a depressing sameness to what you find in even the newest of new boomtowns. Consider the checklist of “hot” new urban features itemized in a 2007 article in the Communist Party mouthpiece the People’s Daily, including obligatory new “development zones” (sprawling corporate parks set up to attract foreign direct investment), public squares, “villa” developments for the nouveau riche, large overlapping highways, and, of course, a new golf course or two for the bosses. The cookie-cutter approach is such that even someone like Zhou Deci, former director of the Chinese Academy of Urban Planning and Design, told the paper he has difficulty telling Chinese cities apart.
30 July
China’s Leaders Head to the Beach
Selecting the Next Standing Committee in Beidaihe
(Foreign Affairs) As the summer comes to an end, Chinese leaders are preparing for a once-in-a-decade turnover in leadership. But unlike past transitions, this time around, there are no revolutionary-credentialed party elders to mediate among the party’s squabbling cliques. This means the jockeying for powerful positions in the new Politburo’s lineup could be more combative, as rival kingpins push aggressively for their favorites. Coming off their annual summer provincial inspection tours, the chief powerbrokers of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will soon be setting off for their summer retreat at the seaside resort town of Beidaihe where the process will begin in earnest.
29 June
Xi Jinping Millionaire Relations Reveal Fortunes of Elite
(Bloomberg) Now in line to be China’s next president, Xi Jinping has risen through the Communist Party with a reputation for clean government. Members of his extended family have expanded their business interests, including rare-earths mining, real estate and mobile-phone equipment. The holdings were traced using public and business records, interviews with acquaintances and Hong Kong and Chinese identity-card numbers. No assets were linked to Xi and his immediate family. There is no indication Xi intervened to advance his relatives’ business transactions, or of any wrongdoing by Xi or his extended family.
6 June
The Macroeconomics of Chinese kleptocracy
(Bronte Capital) China is a kleptocracy of a scale never seen before in human history. This post aims to explain how this wave of theft is financed, what makes it sustainable and what will make it fail. There are several China experts I have chatted with – and many of the ideas are not original. The synthesis however is mine. Some sources do not want to be quoted.
The macroeconomic effects of the Chinese kleptocracy and the massive fixed-currency crisis in Europe are the dominant macroeconomic drivers of the global economy. As I am trying a comprehensive explanation for much of the world’s economy in less that two thousand words I expect some kick-back.
5 June
Tiananmen after 23 years — Unfair and unjust things
(The Economist | Analects ) … to a surprising degree, the official campaign to shove 1989 down the memory hole has succeeded. Through their near-monopoly control of the media and educational materials, and their intimidation and suppression of those who would challenge the official version of events, authorities have made the story fade, faster than its advancing years would seem to allow. So far as I have gauged it, I’ve found the forced forgetfulness to be distressing.
With this year’s anniversary however comes evidence that the ministers of propaganda have not succeeded in making “6-4” disappear entirely. Though it has not been one of those attention-getting round-numbered ones, the 23rd anniversary has seen an uptick in June 4th-related news and remembrance. The Hong Kong vigil attracted scores of thousands, and smaller-scale attempts to commemorate the killings were mounted (and quickly broken up) in cities on the mainland.
18 May
The Paradox of China’s Reform
(Project Syndicate) … if China’s national imperative today is reform, the greatest threat to that goal is the massive influence and institutionalized corruption of the country’s entrenched elites. For years, senior Chinese officials and their families have received a cut of countless major investments throughout China. They and their families have become multimillionaires by exploiting the close association of business and politics, as well their strong links with China’s state-owned enterprises.
4 May
US expects China to allow dissident Chen Guangcheng to travel abroad
Officials say Beijing has indicated it will push through activist’s application to leave China after offer of study from US university
The US expects the Chinese government to quickly clear the way for Chen Guangcheng to travel abroad to study, it said on Friday, raising hopes for the blind activist after days of fraught negotiation.
China’s foreign ministry hinted at a possible face-saving deal in an ambiguous statement saying he could apply to study abroad like other citizens.
For more, see The Economist: Human rights in China – An extraordinary drama
30 April
Cleo Paskal: Chinese Corruption Party Undermines China’s Stability
(HuffPost) Corruption is literally built into the foundations of modern China. The construction and infrastructure sectors are two of the most corrupt in country, putting at risk China’s vaunted development, and also potentially endangering its neighbors.
All across China, everything from sidewalks to apartment buildings to megadams are compromised [by]corruption. …
At the same time that ground level stability is being compromised by pervasive corruption, top down Government diktats are resulting in the construction of vast, complex infrastructure projects that are reshaping entire ecosystems. China’s approach to development has included large-scale engineering projects that connote a driving ideology that the natural environment can be controlled though engineering. …
The potential instability of China’s megadams, caused by a combination of engineering hubris and corruption, is of particular concern. For example, China’s Three Gorges dam, the world’s largest hydroelectric project, has been problematic from the start, displacing over a million people.
One key flaw was that the effects of environmental change (including climate change impacts such as changes in rainfall patterns), weren’t properly factored into the dam design, making it already out of sync with its environment even before the first watt was generated. As a result, even if the planning and construction had been perfect, the dam would still be problematic.
However, to make things worse, in 2000 alone, 97 officials were convicted of corruption related to dam funds. Who knows what corners were cut and vulnerabilities introduced? A collapse of the dam would not only cause untold damage and loss of life, it could severely, if not fatally, undermine the credibility of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
18 April
Beijing’s Cracked Consensus
The Bo Scandal Exposes Flaws in China’s Leadership Model
(Foreign Affairs) The Chinese Communist Party’s decision last week to suspend Bo Xilai — the “princeling” scion of one of the People’s Republic’s revolutionary founding fathers — from the Politburo amounts to the most serious political earthquake to hit China’s top leadership in decades.
The scandal surrounding the downfall of Chongqing party boss Bo Xilai has revealed the problems with President Hu Jintao’s unrelenting emphasis on harmony among the country’s top leaders. Unless things change soon China’s legendary economic growth could grind to a halt.
10 April
Chinese politician Bo Xilai suspended from top posts, wife investigated for murder
(AP via Globe & Mail) China’s ruling Communist Party suspended a high-profile politician from his remaining leadership positions Tuesday and named his wife as a suspect in the murder of a British businessman.
Announcements carried by state media said Bo Xilai has been suspended from the party’s 25-member Politburo on suspicion of involvement in “serious discipline violations.”
Mr. Bo’s wife Gu Kailai is being investigated for intentional homicide of a British citizen, Neil Heywood, who died in November in Chongqing, the Xinhua News Agency said. Ms. Gu and an orderly at Mr. Bo’s home have been turned over to judicial authorities, it said.
29 March
The Revenge of Wen Jiabao
(Foreign Policy) The ouster of Chongqing boss Bo Xilai was 30 years in the making — a long, sordid tale of elite families and factions vying for the soul of the Chinese Communist Party.
23 March
Interpreting a purge – Where Bo goes
(The Economist) WHEN he lost his job as the chief of the Communist Party for the south-western region of Chongqing on March 15th, Bo Xilai became the third member of the ruling Politburo to suffer such ignominy since the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. But he is the first to enjoy open support among members of the public even after his dismissal. The party, which normally tries to suppress any expression of sympathy for purged leaders, is either failing this time, or else it is not trying very hard. It could well be a sign that Chinese leaders themselves are divided over how to handle Mr Bo’s case and the public reaction to it.
14 March
The National People’s Congress: What worries Grandpa Wen
(The Economist | Analects) For a full three hours, Mr Wen sat before hundreds of foreign and domestic reporters gathered in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, as well as before a live national television audience. In reply to a series of relatively provocative questions, he provided lengthy, detailed and even interesting (if unsurprising) answers, full of numbered bullet points and relevant data. Such topics included: trade friction with America, the appropriate valuation of China’s currency, targets for economic growth, local governments’ debt loads and spending on social welfare.
In response to other sorts of questions, Mr Wen … took several opportunities to highlight the importance of political reform, even warning at one point that disastrous excesses of the sort that tore China apart during the Cultural Revolution “could yet happen again”.
14 February
Obama friendly but firm with Xi Jinping on White House visit
(The Guardian) Chinese vice-president pressed on human rights and trade as US gets first look at man who will succeed leader Hu Jintao
Empty Suit — Xi Jinping is just another Communist Party hack.
BY YU JIE
(Foreign Policy) Ten years ago, China’s “crown prince,” Hu Jintao, visited the United States and was treated with the highest respect. Back then the Chinese people, not to mention a large portion of Western political elites and China experts, held extremely high hopes for his tenure. The U.S. government wanted to win over Hu so it could press him to start political reform as soon as possible.
Now, with Hu’s reign coming to an end, the Chinese people have realized that after Mao Zedong, no Chinese leader has been as hostile to the West as President Hu. Instead of launching political reforms, he tried to use the Chinese model of “crony capitalism” to compete with the Western democratic system. And the state of human rights in China took a huge step backward. (BBC) Xi Jinping: Cave dweller or princeling? (Spiegel) Xi Jinping’s US Visit: China’s Next Leader Takes Center Stage

2011

28 December
‘Design flaws’ caused China crash
A Chinese bullet train crash in July was caused by design flaws and “sloppy management”, the government says in a long-awaited report.
(BBC) A bullet train crash which killed 40 people in China in July was caused by design flaws and sloppy management, the Chinese government says.
“Missteps” by 54 officials led to the disaster, the long-awaited official report says.
The crash led many Chinese to accuse the government of putting development and profit before safety.
It also triggered a wave of popular anger against officials who were accused of trying to cover up the seriousness, and causes, of the crash.
1 July
Can China’s style of rule continue in an age of citizen uprisings and social networking
The Chinese Communist Party is celebrating its 90th birthday. Clifford Coonan argues that if it is to survive, reinvention cannot be avoided..
(The Independent) It’s probably fair to say that democracy is not a big talking point in polite Chinese society. People are enjoying the new wealth that the three decades of opening up and reform has brought them and even those who dislike the Communist Party are grateful for the stability it has brought.
And yet, as incomes rise in China, more people are paying tax. And when you pay tax, you want a say in how your tax money is spent. But having a say is risky, even for the famous.
16 June
Independent candidates for elections appear to be a spontaneous step too far for the Communist Party
(The Economist) “A LIVE-FIRE exercise in democracy” is how one of China’s sparkier newspapers hailed a recent move by dozens of citizens to promote themselves online as independent candidates in forthcoming local elections. Communist Party officials, unnerved by Arab revolutions and sporadic unrest in the provinces, are far less jubilant. Voting rituals long choreographed by the party suddenly face a new challenge from the internet.
14 March
Chinese premier calls for political reform
(BBC) Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has once again said China needs to carry out political reforms.
He said the economic achievements of the last 30 years could be lost without “institutional” changes.
The premier did not spell out exactly what reforms are necessary – and said they would have to be introduced gradually.
But his comments appear to put him out of step with more conservative colleagues.
20 February
China calls for domestic unrest to be defused
(Reuters) – China must find new ways to defuse unrest, the domestic security chief said, underscoring Beijing’s anxiety about control after police quashed calls for gatherings inspired by uprisings in the Middle East.

2010

7 September
(AD) Singapore, and China which learned a lot from it, function because the culture of the electorate accepts a form of legitimacy at substantial variance with the traditional Western model. As long as the economy prospers, those in charge will not be challenged.This presumes that a strong management team emerged somehow, and perpetuates itself. Since there always is a risk that the management team in office, for whatever reason, ceases to deliver, what is the mechanism for dealing with those who have lost the Mandate of Heaven?
(MN) It’s a good way to describe Singapore – more of company with a very strong management team.
(GS comments) The current China model I think raises a number of interesting points. For instance, its legitimacy is derived from its competence: this is in other words a “management” model rather than a political one. As Peter Drucker observed frequently, modern business management has no basis of legitimacy in political theory and derives it only from competence. Sufficient sign of incompetence and the shareholders throw them out. This piece raises the issue of how the CCP could stay in power so long, but the arguments are posed through western eyes, in which legitimacy is derived from process and incompetence is less important. Can the CCP be replaced? It is clear that the “management team” can be replaced by rivals within the party, something like the way corporate management teams can be replaced from within the cohorts of management available. Personally, I see no reason why Canada isn’t also growing at 8-10 per cent a year, moving up the techno food chain instead of descending it, and reaching out to safeguard our sea and air routes. Worse, I don’t see any alternative “management team” available to turn things around. Yet our “process model” isn’t working too badly. Mind you, I’m also no fan of arbitrary imprisonment and turning society over to the cops (G-20?) and we still have better legal infrastructure than the CCP would be comfortable with. But despite the Charter, there are no real guarantees that without a competent management team at the top these things can be preserved.
The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers. By Richard McGregor, the must-read book for China watchers and fans of geopolitics
(The Economist) The permanent party – An entertaining and insightful portrait of China’s secretive rulers
ANY study of the Chinese Communist Party today will soon confront two jarring questions. The first is how a party responsible for such horrors-the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, the death of some 35m-40m people in the worst-ever man-made famine from 1958-1960-has stayed in power without facing any serious threat, the 1989 Tiananmen protests aside. The second is why it still calls itself “communist”, when China today seems closer to the cut-throat capitalism of Victorian England than to any egalitarian dream.
Market Maoism
(New Statesman) All is not well in the mighty central organisation department of the Communist Party of China, the section that controls the fortunes of the CPC’s 75 million members. In this compelling exploration of the world’s largest and most successful political machine, Richard McGregor reveals that the cadres complain that party members are “losing belief”. Even those in senior leadership positions “doubt the inevitability of the ultimate triumph of socialism and communism”. Many have replaced their faith in communism with a belief in “ghosts and demons”.
Richard McGregor — The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Leaders: China’s Open Economy and Authoritarian Government
(HuffPost) It is widely understood, somewhat vaguely, that the Communist Party runs China, but few have any real sense of what it means in practice. Here is one example.
Just imagine a single body in the US that oversaw the appointment of the entire US cabinet, state governors and their deputies, the mayors of major cities, the heads of all federal regulatory agencies and the justices on the Supreme Court.
In addition, the same body would also clear the appointments of the chief executives of GE, Wal-Mart, Exxon Mobil and about fifty of the remaining largest US companies; the editors of the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post; the bosses of the TV networks and cable stations; the presidents of Yale and Harvard and other big universities; and the heads of think-tanks like the Brookings Institution and the Heritage Foundation.
Not only that, the vetting process would take place behind closed doors, and the appointments announced without any accompanying explanation about the basis on which they were made.
This body goes by the rather spooky name of the Central Organisation Department. Its imposing headquarters in Beijing, a modern office block a short drive west from Tiananmen Square, has no sign outside indicating the building’s occupants. And the department has no listed phone number allowing the public to call and talk to its officials.
An Interview with Richard McGregor, Author of The Party

Richard McGregor is the former Beijing bureau chief for the Financial Times and author of the newly released The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers. I recently conducted the interview below with McGregor via e-mail; you can read excerpts from the book here and here and also find a “Why I Write” profile of McGregor at the Urbanatomy site.

“My purpose was simply to describe the political system as it really is. I think few people, even foreigners living in China, appreciate just how vast and resilient the party apparatus that underpins the government in China is, and how deeply its tentacles extend into all manners of institutions, like universities and the media. And often people who do know a lot about the party will attempt to explain it away, as a product of Chinese culture or some such. I wanted to describe in an unflinchingly fashion a system that is the product of resolutely political arrangements.
The other major theme of my book is secrecy. Once you begin to describe bodies like the Central Organisation Department, which is really the world’s most powerful human resources outfit, you can convey just how absurdly secretive the CCP is. This body controls the lives and careers of a vast elite in China, and it has no sign outside of its office and no listed phone number! To me, simple facts like this don’t need dressing up. Just tell it as it is and hopefully readers will get a sense of what a strange pre-modern body the CCP is.
I think a lot of western journalists do have a sense of how pervasive the party is but it is quite a hard thing to explain in day-to-day news stories. Frankly, it is also hard to explain to editors back in head office at all. It is kind of like – “The Central Organisation what?!”

3 Comments on "China: government and governance 2010 – 2015"

  1. s j-c November 9, 2012 at 1:51 pm · Reply

    It is so interesting to me that the populist American elections coincide with the secretive Chinese elections.
    There has been no campaigning in China but many have known for at least the past three years who the president and premier will be. It’s not as nerve-wracking as the US! But the scandals and reporting on politburo members has visibly made the leadership nervous. Also, this past week, in the lead up to the 18th Party Congress, another 4 Tibetans have self-immolated in protest. At the same time, the father of Xi Jingping had a very close and trusting relationship with the dalai lama. It’s not so much a question as to who will take over, but how they will deal with so many challenges.
    As for scientific development and environmental protection, they are getting it mostly right.

  2. Nick's gleanings #526 August 30, 2013 at 9:34 pm · Reply

    Recently China’s propaganda officials, supposedly upon instructions of President Xi Jinping, released a list of seven topics newspapers and academic meetings are no longer allowed to discuss or mention,since they are “dangerous Western influences”. They are :
    $ the idea of “universal values”, such as entitlements to human rights;
    $ freedom of speech;
    $ democracy & civil society;
    $ civil rights & free elections;
    $ independence of the judiciary; and
    $ historical errors of the Chinese Communist Party.
    In today’s digital era this is likely to be as effective as the Dutch boy who plugged a hole in the dyke with his finger (except that in his case help arrived in the morning).

  3. Nick's Gleanings January 24, 2014 at 3:01 pm · Reply

    Nick’s Gleanings #546 comments on ICIJ revelations
    In a way this is not news; for back in 2005 already Xinhua, of all people, had reported on Chinese individuals & companies using the BVI as a tax haven. Be that as it may, with such a lineup of illuminati with potentially “dirty hands” (Xi Jinping’s recent choice of words), he and anti-corruption czar Wang Qishan will have their work cut out for them if they are serious about rooting out corruption(and might want to watch their backs as they go about doing so).

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