China: government and governance 2016-18

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China’s Influence
(Quartz) As America retreats, China is striving for global leadership on everything from trade to climate change to advanced technology. It has the capital to fund infrastructure spending across the globe, and the economic clout to freeze out trade partners and corporations who offend its sense of national identity. But the country may be more fragile than it looks, with a shifting economic model, changing demographics, lots of risky debt, and an aging population.

10 October
Why Did China’s Biggest Movie Star and the Interpol Chief Vanish?
(The New Yorker) Taken together, the abrupt, spectacular falls of both Fan and Meng suggest a drastic widening of a dragnet that is primarily about Xi’s consolidation of authority. Since assuming the Presidency, in 2013, he has assiduously preached the supremacy of the Communist Party. Central to “Xi Jinping Thought,” which was enshrined in the Party’s constitution last year, at its annual conference, is the idea that fealty to the Party is no longer a choice but, once again, a duty. As Fan’s confession makes clear, the personal is necessarily political.

20 June
The ominous economic power of Chinese propaganda
(Quartz) … the Chinese government doesn’t need tariffs to punish American companies. After all, it wields the power of the world’s biggest propaganda machine.
In 2012, for instance, when the spat between Japan and China over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands heated up, the Chinese government’s anti-Japanese propaganda caused sales of Japanese cars to plunge around 50% in a single month. The same thing happened to Korean companies last year, thanks to a dispute with China over the installation of a US anti-missile system in South Korea. During that dispute, a Chinese consumer boycott also dealt a brutal blow to Korean makeup companies, as well as to its tourism sector and K-pop juggernaut.

20 March
China issued a chilling warning to Taiwan—and the rest of the world. President Xi Jinping said that Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its own territory, will face the “punishment of history” if it attempts separatist activities. Xi also said that China would “take our due place in the world” and was prepared to “fight bloody battles against our enemies.”

25- 26 February
Prepare for a Tougher China as Xi Sets in For the Long Haul
By C Uday Bhaskar
(The Quint) Sunday’s announcement of lifting the two-term ban in effect makes Xi Jinping the supreme Chinese leader for life, but this may also sow the seeds of domestic discord and dissonance that could morph into unexpected defiance at a later date. This is not an unfamiliar pattern in China and Xi Jinping would be deeply aware of his own father’s orientation apropos the Great Helmsman Mao.
…the emerging paradox is likely to be that of a very powerful leader in Beijing with no visible sell-by date, who could become deeply insecure and suspicious of peers – and succumbing to the pitfalls of untrammelled power that turns paranoiac, when there are no internal checks and balances. The political history of the last century is replete with such ‘skeletons’.
Xi Jinping to cement his power with plan to scrap two-term limit
China’s Communist party chiefs propose constitutional change to allow president to stay on
(The Guardian) The Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, already considered the country’s most dominant since Mao Zedong, looks to have further cemented his grip on power after Beijing unveiled plans to scrap the presidency’s two-term limit.
China’s official news agency, Xinhua, announced the dramatic news on Sunday in a bland 36-word dispatch. It paves the way for Xi to remain in power well into the next decade and perhaps even beyond.
The report said the Communist party’s 205-member central committee had proposed China’s constitution be modified so that it no longer contained a section stipulating that the president and vice-president “shall serve no more than two consecutive [five-year] terms”.
Xi Jinping: has China’s strongman forgotten the perils of power?
His suffering as a teenager under the excesses of Maoism has not stopped the president pursuing unassailable authority (25 October 2017)


26 December
“China is much more likely to win if it sees itself as one of the inheritors of a global order being vacated by US retrenchment. This change is opening up legitimate possibilities for contenders to supremacy. An America that is retreating from the vanguard of economic and ecological progress is enabling China to take its place in the evolution of the global commons. To embrace that manifest destiny, China will have to change. ­Unfortunately, there are few indications that it is doing so.”
If Xi Jinping wants China to succeed the US as a world superpower, he must choose change
Derwin Pereira* says if President Xi Jinping wants China to lead the world in place of a retreating America, he will have to make the country worthy of that leadership, as an autocratic system can never carry history forward
(South China Morning Post) The best that can be said about 2017 is that it has survived both US President Donald Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. What happens next year will depend on the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping. The years from then on are China’s to lose.
… In this struggle between a ­nuclear David and a nuclear Goliath, China – itself nuclear, of course – appears as an agnostic interlocutor. It has achieved already a measure of ­destructive ability that makes it a nuclear companion of the United States, although not an equal. It has also kept open channels of meaningful communication with the ­regime in Pyongyang.
China has assured North Korea that it will not sell it down the river to bolster its own relations with America. This is because Washington – and not Pyongyang (nor Tokyo, Seoul or New Delhi) – remains the chief obstacle to China’s rise to world greatness. Having sought to inherit the mantle of the world’s next superpower, China will have to wear it comfortably. It is not certain that it can do so.
If China reverts to a Middle Kingdom complex, it will have to create a world order that suits its needs. First, it will have to re-establish a tributary system in Southeast Asia, the historical Nanyang. The South China Sea, over most of which China claims sovereignty, will have to provide the chief waterway into an Asian future centred on Chinese hegemony. Then, China will have to limit American sway over the Western Pacific and block countries such as Australia from facilitating the US’ ability to intervene in Asian affairs.
Beijing may well seek this goal, but it is likely to be hobbled at every turn. Asia today is not the 16th century centre of Chinese ascendancy. Even if America disappears from global calculations, which is ­improbable, a middle power such as Australia and regional great powers such as Japan, South Korea and India are not likely to sit back and let China recreate the Asia of the 16th century. The Middle Kingdom reborn is not a viable option.
*Derwin Pereira heads Pereira International, a Singapore-based political consultancy. He is also a member of Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs

27 October
Kevin Rudd: When China Leads
(Project Syndicate) For the last 40 years, China has implemented a national strategy that, despite its many twists and turns, has produced the economic and political juggernaut we see today. It would be reckless to assume, as many still do in the US, Europe, and elsewhere, that China’s transition to global preeminence will somehow simply implode, under the weight of the political and economic contradictions they believe to be inherent to the Chinese model.
The West, by and large, has no idea what awaits it as China continues its rise. The United States, under President Donald Trump, has become a global laughingstock in less than a year. Europe, with the notable exception of French President Emmanuel Macron, remains a rolling seminar on itself, oblivious to its declining relevance to the rest of the world. And the less said about Britain’s collective act of national political and economic suicide in last year’s Brexit referendum, the better.
In short, the West has turned decisively inward, while China, breaking with its 3,000 years of dynastic history, has turned decisively outward, so that today few corners of the world are untouched by its influence.

25 October
Chris Patten: China’s New Emperor
In another country, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s concentration of power might trigger accusations of latter-day totalitarianism. In China, however, Xi’s behavior has drawn praise from observers who believe that he is leading the way to the fulfillment of the “Chinese dream” of national rejuvenation.
(Project Syndicate) Xi has also swept aside potential rivals, relying primarily on his far-reaching anti-corruption campaign to target officials previously thought to be untouchable. He has just overseen the largest-ever purge of the CCP Central Committee. He has cracked down on even the most restrained criticism or signs of dissent, and has even banned Internet jokes, including memes comparing him to Winnie the Pooh.
But, for some, the dream is on the verge of becoming a nightmare. Demographic trends are threatening to turn the labor surplus that helped drive China’s rapid growth over the last few decades into a labor shortage at an unprecedented pace. Water contamination and scarcity, alongside carbon dioxide emissions and lethal levels of air pollution, are imperiling people’s health and jeopardizing the sustainability of China’s economic performance.
… with great power comes great responsibility – and, at this point, Xi’s power is virtually absolute. That is a heavy burden for one man. Xi may be much smarter than Trump (not a high hurdle to clear), but that is not enough to guarantee a stable and prosperous future for China. And, if things go wrong, everyone will know whom to blame.

China unveils 7-man top leadership: A 7-minute guide on all you need to know
(Straits Times) The seven men in the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) – China’s top leadership team – were unveiled on Wednesday (Oct 25) morning, bringing to a close the country’s most important political meeting.
Apart from Mr Xi and Premier Li Keqiang, the PSC sees five new members: Li Zhanshu, Wang Yang, Wang Huning, Zhao Leji and Han Zheng.
Congress concludes with President Xi Jinping as undisputed ‘core’ leader
Delegates elect 204 members of new-look Central Committee as anti-graft tsar Wang Qishan and vice-president Li Yuanchao step down
(South China Morning Post) President Xi Jinping was elevated to the status of late paramount leaders Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, securing an almost unchallengeable dominance over the Communist Party, which ended its week-long gathering on Tuesday with a newly elected Central Committee, the party’s elite decision-making body.
(Quartz) Xi Jinping achieved Mao-like status. China’s communist party added “Xi Jinping Thought” to its constitution on the final day of the 19th National Congress. Until now, Mao Zedong was the only Communist leader to have been honored with his own political philosophy while still alive. China watchers note that challenging Xi could now be tantamount to challenging the party itself.
From The Economist
Communism in China: A second Thought A new principle has been added to the constitution of the Chinese Communist Party: “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era”. This has huge implications. Mr Xi is the first living leader to be mentioned in the party’s charter since Mao Zedong. His ideological authority is now uncontested. That could make governing smoother, but it increases the chances of bad policymaking and complicates succession
China: Era message Yesterday Xi Jinping addressed the Chinese Communist Party’s 19th congress, declaring a new era for China. But look beyond his words, and the central message of the event is that Mr Xi is in absolute command; the new era will be his. That is a risky assertion in a country where many are prospering but many others feel left out. In effect, Mr Xi is taking responsibility for the way the coming era turns out, writes our Beijing bureau chief

17 October
The 19th Communist Party congress is set to start in Beijing A fresh team of leaders in China’s top decision-making body, the Politburo Standing Committee, is expected to be unveiled, as well as a roadmap for China for the next five years. In the Asia Times, Grant Newsham writes China’s communist party congress stirs echoes of South Africa – The premise underlying both systems? Populations genetically unsuited for consensual government and hence harsh rule by a governing clique being the only alternative to chaos.
Your simple guide to the Chinese Communist Party’s 19th congress
(Quartz) The 19th congress will kick off on Wednesday (Oct. 18), and is expected to last for a week. Around 2,300 party members from across the country will attend the meeting in Beijing to select the party’s top leadership for the next five years. All key decisions, however, have already been decided by top leaders behind closed doors ahead of the big gathering.
Why does it matter?
The short answer is that the congress will determine China’s course over the next five years or even longer. The outcomes of the meeting will “indicate how successfully (or not) Xi has consolidated power, how much support there is for his agenda, and how this agenda will evolve in the coming years,” wrote analysts at Trivium, an Australia-based research group, in a preview of the event.

7 October
China’s 19th Party Congress approaches. Later this month, the Chinese Communist Party will hold its all-important party congress to set national policy goals and elect its top leadership. Ahead of this seminal event, explore a new resource for information on the 19th Party Congress, including an analysis from Richard Bush on how the thorny issue of Taiwan will feature in Xi Jinping’s much-anticipated speech

14 July
Liu Xiaobo’s Dreams Will Never Die
The Nobel laureate may have passed away, but his vision of a democratic China lives on.
(US News) The world’s only imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Liu Xiaobo, died of liver cancer on Thursday at the No. 1 Hospital of China Medical University in the northeastern city of Shenyang. Despite a global outcry supporting his dying wish to travel abroad for medical treatment, including by 154 Nobel laureates, the Chinese government stood firm and willfully hastened his death by denying him access to treatments abroad that could have extended his life by several weeks. As his lawyer, I had arranged for a Medevac to take him abroad the moment Chinese President Xi Jinping might relent, but in the end Xi showed no humanity and no mercy.
Liu died totally cut off from everyone but his wife Liu Xia, and was not allowed to receive visits or calls from friends or other family. And as a further affront to his dignity, he wasn’t even allowed to be alone with his wife – a Chinese security official was in the room with them around the clock and even when he died.
The last time the world heard from Liu was in a statement released by his counsel on Dec. 25, 2009, right after he was sentenced to 11 years imprisonment for “inciting subversion of state power.” Liu said, “I have long been aware that when an independent intellectual stands up to an autocratic state, step one toward freedom is often a step into prison. Now I am taking that step; and true freedom is that much nearer.”

Dissident Liu Xiaobo provoked China’s fury
The country’s most prominent and outspoken political prisoner, he wrote of love, philosophy and human freedoms, and won the Nobel Peace Prize for his long struggle for human rights
(Globe & Mail) His pen was a sword wielded at China’s Communist Party, a spotlight illuminating his country’s social contradictions and a minstrel soothing his wife with poems of tender lament for the woman he loved, and the life they were forced to live apart.
For decades, Liu Xiaobo was one of his country’s most important voices, a critic, thinker and scourge of authoritarianism whose work won him the Nobel Peace Prize and the fury of a Chinese state that repeatedly incarcerated him, making him its most famed political prisoner.

12 July
In the Liu Xiaobo Saga, the World Demands a Kinder, Gentler China
Beijing is foregoing a chance to rebrand itself to the international community as a world leader, rights advocates warn.
(Pacific Standard) China continued on Tuesday to ignore requests to allow long-imprisoned political dissident and Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo to leave the country for medical treatment for complications related to liver cancer. China’s negligence stands as a sharp rebuttal to calls from the international community for Beijing to act “humanely.”
Liu is one of many rights advocates who sacrifice their lives to the cause of Chinese human rights; many others like him languish in prison or under house arrest. But attention to Liu’s case has surged abroad—his ordeal is being treated as a litmus test for whether Beijing, empowered by the absence of the United States as a world leader and stabilizer, might ease its approach toward dissenters and try to rebrand itself on the global stage.

January 2017
Brookings: Will Engaging China Promote Good Governance?
Jamie P. Horsley


28 December
Chinese state media are blaming kitchen fumes for smog. Readers are incensed by an editorial attributing the toxic haze that has choked cities partly to greasy cooking.
10 October
Mysterious factory break-in raises suspicions about Chinese visit
A burglary at an innovative Scottish wave-power company went forgotten, until a very similar project appeared in China
It was an unusual burglary, in which four or five laptops were stolen from a Scottish renewable energy manufacturer in the dead of a March night in 2011. So innovative was the company that it had been been visited by a 60-strong delegation led by China’s then vice-premier only two months before.
Nothing else was taken from the company and the crime, while irritating, went unsolved and forgotten – until a few years later pictures began emerging that showed a remarkably similar project manufactured in the world’s most populous country.
6 September
Umbrella Movement logoChina warns Hong Kong democracy activists after election
(BBC) China has warned that anyone advocating Hong Kong’s independence could be punished, state media say.
The stern message came after young pro-democracy activists won seats on Hong Kong’s Legislative Council (LegCo).
The Chinese government underlined its “resolute opposition” to any independence activities on the council or outside it.
Many in Hong Kong are increasingly concerned about Beijing’s interventions in its politics.
5 September
Thirty pro-democracy candidates were elected to the 70-seat LegCo on Sunday, up from 27 previously, meaning they retain the ability to veto major constitutional changes.
‘This is our country!’: China makes no apologies on the tarmac or at the bargaining table
China seems determined to challenge the old world powers and to act on its own terms
By Saša Petricic
(CBC) Some dismissed it all as an unfortunate, uncharacteristic misunderstanding. Others, including several diplomats to Beijing, saw it as deliberate, a shocking snub. Obama said the confrontation with the media revealed a difference over “values and ideals,” while Beijing blamed the U.S. for the stairs mix-up.
In any case, it seemed to confirm China’s determination to challenge the old world powers and to act on its own terms. (“This is our country” has since become a popular refrain on social media here.)
Speaking to the leaders, Chinese President Xi Jinping called on G20 countries to work together, to move away from protectionism and to lower trade barriers as a way to jump-start a lacklustre world economy.
“We have come here for closer partnerships,” Xi said. “It is crucial that we enhance mutual understanding, expand consensus and form synergy.”
But for many, it’s China that’s playing by its own rules. U.S., European and Canadian businesses complain they’re unfairly kept out of the Chinese market.
… At the same time as China restricts foreign businesses, European Union leaders say Beijing expects open access to Western economies. At the G20 summit, the president of the European Commission warned China not to dump excess steel in the EU at prices that undercut domestic producers, especially when some Chinese factories are subsidized.
As the meetings wrapped up, there was much talk about reducing trade barriers and increasing co-operation for the sake of the world economy.
But Chinese officials offered nothing concrete to make it easier for foreign firms to thrive in this market.
And  they offered no apologies for  the missing stairs on the tarmac.
Ghost town: how China emptied Hangzhou to guarantee ‘perfect’ G20
Third of city’s 6m people were ‘convinced’ to leave as week-long public holiday was declared, factories were shut and dissidents put under house arrest
(The Guardian) In recent days, foreign journalists have been astonished and bewildered at how China’s authoritarian rulers have managed to transform a usually bustling metropolis of 6 million inhabitants into a virtual ghost town to guarantee a trouble-free summit. … Foreign journalists have spent days trudging through Hangzhou’s eerie and empty backstreets – anxious Communist party security agents trailing their every step – in a luckless quest to find interviewees.
The medal count at Rio Olympics adding fuel to the fire? Hong Kong election results will likely be another aggravation.
Cracks emerge in China’s image as Obama snubbed at G20 summit
(Globe & Mail) “China – connecting with you.”
It’s an image China spends heavily to promote, of a place powerful enough to win respect, but magnanimous enough to use it for good. Selling it is a major reason China is hosting the G20, a massive public relations exercise for which it shut down factories, built a new expressway and emptied parts of one of its biggest cities.
Then Air Force One landed in Hangzhou on Saturday and the picture, once again for China, cracked badly.
In a series of heated disputes that nearly led to blows, Chinese officials harassed foreign reporters and embarrassed U.S. President Barack Obama from the first moments of his arrival.
It all had the look of China’s Communist Party putting the leader of a superpower in his place.
Beijing spends roughly $10-billion (U.S.) every year on “external propaganda,” political scientist David Shambaugh has estimated. … far more than any other nation spends on its external image – and an obvious mark of how badly China covets global affection.
But if the idea is to show an ancient civilization retaking its peaceful place in the world, that effort has struggled against China’s own hectoring. …
China is not what it was five years ago. … In only three countries in the G8 do people look positively toward Beijing, according to Pew Research Center polling, and Canadian ill-feeling, too, has deepened in recent years. Among 30 large nations in an international “soft power” index maintained by communications consultancy Portland, China sits two spots from the bottom – behind Russia (Canada is fourth).
This isn’t how China imagined its future a decade ago.
In the prelude to the 2008 Summer Olympics, it held the world spellbound with the sweep of its modernization, the skill of its planners and the competitiveness of its athletes.
Beijing then won further plaudits for astute financial management as it marched confidently onwards while the financial crisis turned the rest of the world upside down. But it was that moment that observers point to as the turning point, when China began to see its system and governance as superior, and act accordingly.
In 2005, political scientist Joseph Nye – the man who coined the term “soft power” – pointed out that China had begun to attract more favourable perceptions than the U.S.
But “things have changed,” said Prof. Nye, the former dean of Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, in an e-mail. Under Mr. Xi, China’s “soft power has suffered from his crackdown on civil society and from the nationalistic response to China’s disputes with its neighbours.”
What the Chinese president wants is cultural and political dominance equal to his country’s economic achievements – superpower status in all arenas.
“They talk about the power of discourse. The very fact this is talked about means China lacks this kind of power. And they want to make up for that weakness,” said Chengxin Pan, a senior lecturer in international relations at Deakin University.
That stems partly from the tone at the top.
“Telling a reporter that she does not have the right to ask about Chinese human rights is akin to denying visas to scholars who criticize China or buying Chinese-language media in countries outside China. They are all efforts to use coercive means to control what is said about China by the international community,” said Elizabeth Economy, director of Asia studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. “China buys friends but it doesn’t win them.”
And in some cases, it has alienated them. By flouting international norms and building artificial islands in disputed maritime areas, China has also provoked a military response.
“If the law of the sea is not respected today in the China seas, it will be threatened tomorrow in the Arctic, in the Mediterranean, or elsewhere,” French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said this summer.
Provoking global anxiety and suspicion “could actually constrain China’s increase of influence and ultimately even China’s expansion of investment,” Mr. Pan said. “This may actually come back to damage China’s core interests.”
Mr. Obama, too, has warned China about its conduct. “Part of what I’ve tried to communicate to President Xi is that the United States arrives at its power, in part, by restraining itself,” he said in a CNN interview.
12 August
The South China Sea Ruling: 1 Month Later
One month has passed since the International Tribunal of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) at The Hague handed down its historic and sweeping award on maritime entitlements in the South China Sea (SCS), overwhelmingly favoring the Philippines over China. As expected, Beijing refused to accept the PCA ruling, hardened its legal and diplomatic positions, and yet refrained from undertaking provocative actions aimed at changing the status quo as many had feared.

(The Diplomat) Time to carefully analyze the Chinese reaction to determine how best to respond in the coming months.
Now is an opportune time to carefully analyze the Chinese reaction to determine how best to respond in the coming months. The ultimate goal is for China to act as (or become) a more responsible global stakeholder and net provider of maritime security that contributes positively to the international system. Otherwise, Beijing’s attempts to execute its SCS agenda and strategic ambitions in the Indo-Asia-Pacific will continue unabated and unchecked. The worst-case outcome for the region, the international community, and the United States is the emergence of a regional hegemon (and possible future global power), one that disregards the international rule of law and acts without restraint in the foreign policy realm.
Before and after the ruling, Beijing challenged the Tribunal’s legitimacy and authority and framed China as the true standard-bearer of international law and accepted norms. Beijing, through official statements and authoritative media commentaries, is painting Washington’s position as the minority view while also trying to clarify its maritime claims in the SCS. China’s earlier legal position was more ambiguous. Previously, China stated that it “exerts indisputable sovereignty over the SCS Islands and the adjacent waters and… is entitled to relevant maritime rights and interests based on the SCS Islands as well as historic rights in these waters.” Now, rather than speaking of undefined rights and interests in undefined waters, Beijing has adopted the language of UNCLOS in naming the maritime zones it claims, perhaps leaving room for future negotiations. Moreover, Beijing has been creating new domestic maritime law as part of its continuing effort to reset the terms for international legal disputes it expects to grow as China’s maritime reach expands. China’s Supreme People’s Court recently issued a judicial interpretation specifying standards for convicting and punishing those engaged in illegal fishing or entry into Chinese territorial waters and refusing to obey commands to leave.
11 August
China’s Anti-Western Show Trials
A dangerous turn in Beijing’s campaign against dissenters.
(WSJ) Chinese authorities turned last week’s show trials of four legal activists into a multimedia sensation, with forced confessions airing nightly on prime-time news and propaganda videos online. Beyond vilifying the four men, who advocated for dissidents and religious minorities, the trials had a broader purpose: to paint the United States as China’s enemy.
The courtroom drama was highly choreographed, with four trials over four days, each lasting a few hours. The accused, who couldn’t use their own lawyers or have family in the courtroom, were arrested during last year’s sweep of nearly 300 lawyers and legal activists. When they surfaced in a courtroom in the port city of Tianjin after more than 12 months incommunicado, they denounced themselves, praised their jailers and condemned overseas influences for leading them astray…
28 April
China’s Cultural Revolution at 50 (Subscription req’d)
(The Diplomat) Conventional thinking on one of Communist China’s seminal events is often too simplistic.
China’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution began 50 years ago. On May 16, 1966, the Communist Party’s Central Committee declared that capitalist agents had sneaked into leading positions

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