China: government and governance 2016-20

Written by  //  February 5, 2020  //  China  //  1 Comment

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China wages ‘people’s war’ on coronavirus as cruises, companies hit
Xi, again seeking to prevent global panic, said China’s strong mobilisation capacity and rich experience in public health would enable it to beat the coronavirus.
(Reuters) – Chinese President Xi Jinping declared a “people’s war” on Thursday against the fast-spreading coronavirus whose impact has been felt around the world from slowing factory floors to quarantined cruise liners.
The death toll in mainland China jumped by 73 to 563, with more than 28,000 infections also confirmed inside the world’s second largest economy. … cities have been shut off, flights cancelled and factories closed, shutting supply lines crucial to international businesses.
Bloomberg: Keen to preserve social stability, and with it the Communist Party’s control, China’s leaders have moved swiftly at home to change the narrative on the coronavirus from “slow to respond” to “we are fighting this together.”
Rallying songs are populating state media. Officials speak in terms of a great battle and China’s history of triumphing over adversity. They’ve cordoned off a chunk of the country to contain the virus (nearly 25,000 confirmed cases, 490 deaths), building hospitals from scratch and sending in vast medical crews.
It’s not just the internal politics that China has to get on top of. There’s defusing the narrative overseas that its early reactions were slow, suspicious, and lacking transparency. Because it must limit the damage to its economy.
While China needs to keep large parts of itself closed, it needs the rest of the world to stay somewhat open. It has been leaning on smaller states to limit their travel bans and keep goods moving.
We see Indonesia hastily scrapping a plan to halt Chinese food imports. Pakistan cancels but then quickly resumes flights to China. Hong Kong is keeping some border traffic open despite big protests.
And Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen is going today to China, investment from which has benefited his country. He even wanted to visit Wuhan (Beijing politely pointed out that would be too risky).
Even so, Beijing has struggled to get bigger Western economies to ease travel curbs. Convincing the public at home may be easier than convincing skeptical governments abroad.
Rosalind Mathieson

3-4 February
China’s economy, having weathered the trade war, is now jolted by coronavirus
(WaPo) Even if the coronavirus is swiftly controlled, economists say China’s annual growth rate will slump to between 3 and 4 percent in the first quarter, while the figure for the whole year may reach only 5.4 percent. But if that optimistic scenario does not pan out, the annual figure could easily fall below 5 percent

Beijing Sees ‘Major Test’ as Doors to China Close and Coronavirus Deaths Surpass SARS
The number of dead is likely to grow as the tally of confirmed infections surges by more than 2,000 every day..
(NYT) Chinese leaders on Monday called the coronavirus epidemic “a major test of China’s system and capacity for governance,” as confirmed infections surge by more than 2,000 daily and the outbreak unnerves the global economy.
The announcement by the Communist Party leadership came as the government was applying familiar authoritarian techniques — like asking neighbors to inform on one another — to help control an outbreak that had killed 427 people as of this morning, all but two in mainland China.
China, Desperate to Stop Coronavirus, Turns Neighbor Against Neighbor
The authorities hunt for people from Wuhan, the center of the outbreak, encouraging citizens to inform on others. Even those without symptoms are being ostracized.
Many people from Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, are desperate for treatment, but the government’s approach has led many to be ostracized. Experts warn that the approach could further damage public trust across China, and send people who should be screened and monitored deeper underground.

24 – 26 January
In Coronavirus, a ‘Battle’ That Could Humble China’s Strongman
With Xi Jinping firmly in control, the Chinese government has stepped up its response to the Wuhan crisis, but the effort has been plagued by bureaucracy and a lack of transparency.
After his declaration, the leader, Xi Jinping, put China on a virtual war footing to cope with the unfolding epidemic of the coronavirus. He convened an extraordinary session of the Communist Party’s top political body, issuing orders for handling the crisis with the crisp, somber stoicism of a field marshal.
… the coronavirus has erupted as one of the most complex and unpredictable tests for Mr. Xi since he came to power more than seven years ago. Over that time, he has by some measures established himself as the most formidable Chinese leader since Mao Zedong.
The epidemic and the effectiveness of the government’s response remain subject to many unknowns, but the outbreak comes at a time when Mr. Xi has already been facing quiet whispers about his political acumen. In the past year, he has experienced repeated setbacks on some of the most vital issues on his agenda.
The Wuhan coronavirus has hit Xinjiang, where China has imprisoned at least 1 million Uighur Muslims. Its filthy detention camps will make inmates sitting ducks.
(Insider) The camps are filthy, have poor infrastructure, and are packed to busting with prisoners, according to testimony of former inmates. This makes them an ideal breeding ground for disease and infection.
Coronavirus’s ability to spread getting stronger, China suggests
Officials announce new measures to contain disease, including wildlife trade ban and bus suspensions
(The Guardian) On Sunday officials in China also announced the suspension of long-distance buses in the eastern province of Shandong, which has a population of 100 million people. Long-distance buses have also been banned from departing from or arriving at Beijing and Shanghai.

China restricts travel for 35 million people to halt spread of deadly virus
(WaPo) China locked down more than 35 million people in an increasingly urgent effort to halt the spread of the deadly coronavirus Friday, as the United States confirmed a second infected person and the respiratory illness found its way to Europe, where the first three cases were announced in France.
The pneumonia-like disease has claimed 41 lives — all in China — and infected more than 1,200 people there. An official at the World Health Organization told reporters that his agency has begun planning for an outbreak that will last for months.
The Chinese medical system is struggling to cope with the outbreak, amid reports of overcrowded hospitals, stressed doctors and dwindling supplies.
A ban on travel was extended to 14 cities, with a total population of more than 35 million in central China’s Hubei province. Tunnels under the Yangtze River were blocked to stop the flow of traffic, and all ride-hailing services in Wuhan were halted at midday Friday. Only half the city’s taxis are allowed on the road each day.
China coronavirus: rush is on in Wuhan to build treatment centre for up to 1,000 patients
Workers paid three times their usual wage to get emergency facility built within six days
Strategy echoes Beijing’s response to Sars in 2003
(SCMP) Wuhan is rushing to build a makeshift hospital on its outskirts as a quarantine and treatment centre for patients in the latest coronavirus outbreak, replicating a step regarded as instrumental in Beijing’s fight 17 years ago against severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars).

13 January
How the Re-Election of Taiwan’s President, a China Critic, Could Reshape Asia’s Economic Landscape
(Fortune) Over the weekend, millions in Taiwan opted to reject Mainland China’s economic and political vision for its future, setting the self-governed island on an economic course that looks set to be veering away from Beijing as fast as possible.
Taiwan election results ‘suggest no appetite for rapid push for independence’ after Tsai Ing-wen’s victory
The success of the president and her independence-leaning DPP on Saturday indicates voters are happy with the status quo, according to one analyst
High turnout suggests young voters are becoming an increasingly important voice that politicians ignore at their peril
(SCMP) Taiwan’s changing voter demographics and turnout at the weekend’s elections suggest there is little appetite for dramatic changes to the island’s status, with observers saying that Beijing should not worry about a push for independence over the next four years.
The high turnout of 75 per cent – almost 9 points higher than the previous presidential election in 2016 – also indicated that young voters were becoming engaged in the political process to the point that no politician could afford to ignore them in future.
Saturday’s poll saw President Tsai Ing-wen, from the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party, beating Han Kuo-yu, from the mainland-friendly Kuomintang by more than 2.5 million votes, making her the first candidate to capture more than 8 million votes.

10 January
What to Know About Taiwan’s Presidential Election
President Tsai Ing-wen’s prospects in the vote Saturday have been buoyed by a stronger economy and her promises to stand up to China
(NYT) Voters in Taiwan are widely expected to deliver a victory on Saturday to President Tsai Ing-wen, in defiance of China’s pressure campaign against the island democracy. If she wins a second term, as polls indicate she will, Ms. Tsai will have made a dramatic comeback from 2018, when her party was battered in local elections. In the 14 months since, she has rallied her party’s leadership behind her and rebuilt public support by overseeing economic growth, despite Beijing’s efforts to isolate her government.


17 December
A Surveillance Net Blankets China’s Cities, Giving Police Vast Powers
The authorities can scan your phones, track your face and find out when you leave your home. One of the world’s biggest spying networks is aimed at regular people, and nobody can stop it.
(NYT) China is ramping up its ability to spy on its nearly 1.4 billion people to new and disturbing levels, giving the world a blueprint for how to build a digital totalitarian state.
The rollout has come at the expense of personal privacy. The Times found that the authorities parked the personal data of millions of people on servers unprotected by even basic security measures. It also found that private contractors and middlemen have wide access to personal data collected by the Chinese government.
This build-out has only just begun, but it is sweeping through Chinese cities. The surveillance networks are controlled by local police, as if county sheriffs in the United States ran their own personal versions of the National Security Agency.

24 November
China’s Internment Camps Ruled by Secrecy and Spying, New Leak Shows
A secret document reflects leaders’ struggle to manage Xinjiang sites swelling with Muslim detainees.
(NYT) As the government accelerated mass detentions of Muslim minorities in northwest China, a senior official issued a secret directive giving detailed orders for how the rapidly expanding indoctrination camps holding them should be managed.
Now that secrecy has been shattered with the publication of the directive itself. It is one of six internal documents obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, that shed new light on China’s crackdown in the Xinjiang region, where a million or more ethnic Uighurs, Kazakhs and others have been detained in the past three years.
The disclosure of the 24 pages of documents amounts to a second significant leak from inside China’s ruling Communist Party related to the crackdown. A member of the Chinese political establishment shared a different, 403-page set of internal papers with The New York Times earlier this year, expressing hope that it would make it more difficult for party leaders, including President Xi Jinping, to escape culpability for the mass detentions.
While the source of the new documents is unknown — they were provided by Uighur overseas networks — their disclosure may amount to another sign of dissent in the party over the crackdown.

17 November
‘Show no mercy’: leaked documents reveal details of China’s Xinjiang detentions
More than 400 pages leaked to New York Times by Chinese political insider document brutal crackdown on Muslim minority
(The Guardian) Hundreds of pages of leaked internal government documents reveal how China’s mass detention of Uighurs and other minorities in Xinjiang came from directives by Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, to “show absolutely no mercy” in the “struggle against terrorism, infiltration and separatism”.
More than 400 pages of documents obtained by the New York Times show the government was aware its campaign of mass internment would tear families apart and could provoke backlash if it became widely known.
Beijing has repeatedly refuted criticisms of its crackdown in the predominately Muslim region, which has seen more than 1 million Uighurs, Kazakhs and other minorities sent to camps where they are often subjected to political indoctrination. China has organised tours of the camps, which it describes as voluntary “vocational training centres” intended to provide “students” with job skills.

17 October
A Million People Are Jailed at China’s Gulags. I Managed to Escape. Here’s What Really Goes on Inside
Rape, torture and human experiments. Sayragul Sauytbay offers firsthand testimony from a Xinjiang ‘reeducation’ camp
By David Stavrou
(Haaretz) The Xinjiang region in northwestern China is a very large. Spanning an area larger than France, Spain and Germany combined, it is home to more than 20 million people. About 40 percent of the population is Han Chinese, China’s ethnic majority, but the majority in Xinjiang are ethnic minorities, mostly Turkic Muslim groups. The largest of these is the Uyghurs, who constitute about half the region’s population; other ethnic groups include Kazakhs, Kyrgyz and others.
Xinjiang became part of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 and received an autonomous status. In recent decades, the region has experienced dramatic social, political and economic changes. Formerly a traditional agricultural area, Xinjiang is now undergoing rapid industrialization and economic growth powered by the production of minerals, oil and natural gas, and by the fact that it is a major hub of the Belt and Road Initiative, which is an important part of China’s global economic expansion.
For quite a few countries, we’re not only talking about coreligionists but also about ethnic affinity, as the Uyghurs are of Turkish descent. The thing is that many Muslim states are involved in the Silk Road [Belt and Road Initiative] project. In my opinion, one of the reasons for the promotion of that project, whose economic rationale is not always clear, is to facilitate the elimination of the Uyghur problem. By means of investments and the promise of huge future investments, China has bought the silence of many Muslim countries.
“Since the 1950s, the Chinese government has invested heavily in Xinjiang,” says Magnus Fiskesjö, an anthropologist from Cornell University who specializes in ethnic minorities in China.
“A large part of this investment is managed by a governmental military enterprise called Bingtuan [short for the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps], whose activity, together with various economic and political measures taken by the central government, created resentment among the local population. They were discriminated against and were becoming a minority in their own land, because the authorities moved masses of Han Chinese to Xinjiang,” he explains. “The tension between minority peoples and Han Chinese there is not only a result of religious feelings or a specific economic enterprise. It stems from a wide range of Chinese policies that the native population does not benefit from. Tensions reached a boiling point on several occasions, and in some cases deteriorated into organized violence and terror attacks.”
The vast majority of the minorities in Xinjiang are opposed to violence, but radical Uyghurs have at times been able to dictate the tone. Fiskesjö elaborates: “The Chinese government used these conflicts and terror attacks to paint the entire population of Xinjiang as terrorists and to start a campaign of erasing the population’s cultural identity. The Chinese are erasing minority cultures from both the public and the private arena. They are criminalizing ethnic identities, erasing any trace of Islam and minority languages, arresting singers, poets, writers and public figures. They are holding about 10 percent of the minority ethnic groups in modern-day gulags.”

14 June
Prominent Uighur Writer Dies at Chinese Internment Camp
(VOA) A prominent Uighur writer, who had been held at an internment camp in China’s Xinjiang region, has died, his family members told VOA.
Nurmuhammad Tohti, a well-known writer in Xinjiang’s Uighur community, was picked up by state authorities last year from his home and taken to the controversial internment camps for re-education purposes, according to his family members now living in exile in Canada.
Berna Ilchi, Tohti’s granddaughter, told VOA they had not been able to confirm whether Tohti died inside the camp or later at his home because the family in China could not elaborate on circumstances of his death, fearing their phone was tapped by officials.
Tohti is not the only intellectual who was taken to the so-called re-education camps, which China vehemently defends as a necessary measure to counter what Chinese officials call the growing threat of extremism in the country.
According to a recent report by the Uighur Human Rights Project, a Washington-based reporting and advocacy organization, hundreds of journalists, students and intellectuals of the Uighur community have been forcibly taken to the state-run internment camps. The report, Detained and Disappeared: Intellectuals Under Assault in the Uighur Homeland, charges that based on testimonies of close relatives of those detained, currently there are more than 380 known cases of  intellectuals interned, disappeared or imprisoned, including 101 students and 285 scholars, artists and journalists.

13 June
Bloomberg Politics: As Chinese President Xi Jinping gears up for this month’s Group of 20 summit, he’s facing multiple fires that strike at the Communist Party’s legitimacy.
Mass protests in Hong Kong — a semi-autonomous city under Chinese rule — threaten to scuttle a bill that would allow extraditions to the mainland for the first time. Many residents fear passage would spell the end of the financial hub’s independent legal system, putting those who criticize Xi or the party at risk.
U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May and U.S. lawmakers have publicly backed the protesters. President Donald Trump, who’s threatened Xi with more tariffs if he doesn’t meet at the G-20, has said he thinks China and Hong Kong can resolve the issue. Leaders of both parties say Congress should reassess Hong Kong’s special trading status if the bill passes.
Trump’s trade war is starting to hurt China’s economy. That’s a worry for Xi, given years of growth and falling poverty levels have underpinned the party’s grip on the nation of 1.4 billion people.
If Xi backs down on trade or Hong Kong, he risks looking weak. Yet a hard-line approach could backfire. Either way, having amassed power unseen in China for decades, Xi has no one to blame but himself if things go awry.

5 June
As it happened: How ‘record crowds’ turned out for Tiananmen Square 30th anniversary vigil in Hong Kong
Organisers claim turnout exceeds 2012 and 2014 peaks but police estimate crowd was 37,000 at most
Gwynne Dyer: The People’s Republic of Amnesia
Another of the five-yearly anniversaries has rolled around, and it’s timely to consider the long-term meaning of the massacre on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989. But 30 years later, what is there left to say?
Great changes were already underway in the Communist-ruled parts of Europe in 1989. Mikhail Gorbachev, the reformist Soviet leader, visited Beijing after the students had taken over the square in late April, and he obviously thought that the same process was underway in China. Maybe it was, but it was violently aborted — and it has still not recovered.
That’s not what people thought at the time. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of students were killed on the square — the soldiers burned the bodies in a massive pyre right on the square, so there was never an accurate count. Hundreds or thousands more died elsewhere, because similar demonstrations were put down in every major Chinese city. And we all thought: this will never be forgotten.
The dominant conservative faction in the Chinese Communist Party responded by killing them, and then set out to erase all popular memory of what had happened. It can’t be done, said all the journalists outside China: they will never be forgiven. The crowds will be back on the streets one of these days, and there will be a great reckoning and radical change.
Well, not. Thirty years later, most Chinese millennials are ignorant of exactly what happened in 1989. The older generation remember, but they dare not mention it in public and they are a dwindling minority. Journalist Louisa Lim has accurately described contemporary China as the ‘People’s Republic of Amnesia.’

21 March
Kachin women from Myanmar ‘raped until they get pregnant’ in China
Women from Kachin minority are allowed to go home only if they leave baby behind, says HRW report
China is grappling with a severe gender imbalance; the percentage of the population who are women has fallen every year since 1987. Researchers estimate that factors including sex-selective abortion, infanticide and neglect of female babies mean that there are 30 to 40 million “missing women” in China, who should be alive today but aren’t.
That means millions of men are now unable to find a wife, and there has been a rise in trafficking across the borders of neighbouring, poorer nations.
Many of the Kachin women are trafficked out of Myanmar by their relatives, friends or people they trust; in one case a woman was betrayed by someone from her bible study class. They are often promised jobs across the border in China, and discover only after they cross over that they have been sold into sexual slavery.

18 March
China says it has arrested 13,000 ‘terrorists’ in Xinjiang
Beijing launches propaganda campaign to counter abuse claims by human rights groups
(The Guardian) China has claimed to have arrested 13,000 “terrorists” in Xinjiang over the last five years, as it launched an aggressive propaganda campaign in defence of its restrictive measures in the far-western region.
Human rights advocates and researchers believe more than 1 million Muslims – mostly Uighurs as well as Kazakhs and other groups – are being systematically imprisoned in internment camps where they are forced to undergo political re-education.
On Monday China’s state council released a white paper on “the fight against terrorism and extremism” and “human rights protection in Xinjiang”, in which Beijing attempted to quantify the campaign.
“Since 2014, Xinjiang has destroyed 1,588 violent and terrorist gangs, arrested 12,995 terrorists, seized 2,052 explosive devices, punished 30,645 people for 4,858 illegal religious activities, and confiscated 345,229 copies of illegal religious material,” the report said.

12 March
Gwynne Dyer: Where is the outrage on China’s oppression of Islam in Xinjiang?
It is the most brazen frontal assault on Muslims in modern history. Up to a million Chinese citizens have been sent to concentration camps in Xinjiang for the non-crime of being Muslim.
Muslim governments were not silent when Myanmar murdered thousands of Rohingya, its Muslim minority, and expelled 700,000 of them across the border into Bangladesh. They were unanimous in their anger when the Trump administration moved the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. But they are almost silent on China’s attempt to suppress Islam in its far western province, Xinjiang. …in the face of this repression, the 49 Muslim-majority countries of the world have said almost nothing. Malaysia refused to send a dozen Uighur refugees back to China last year, four members of Kuwait’s parliament made a public protest in January, and Turkey loudly condemned China’s behaviour last month, but the other 46 governments have assiduously avoided the issue. It is very strange. .. With the honourable exception of Al-Jazeera, the issue is rarely even mentioned in the Arab media, and popular awareness of what is happening is minimal in big Muslim countries like Iran, Pakistan and Indonesia. Why?

24 January
Inside the Vast Police State at the Heart of China’s Belt and Road
Xi’s economic ambitions drive the anti-Muslim crackdown in Xinjiang.
(Bloomberg) Far-flung Xinjiang is critically important to President Xi Jinping’s loftiest goal: completing China’s return as one of the world’s great powers. Although it represents just 1.5 percent of China’s population and 1.3 percent of its economy, Xinjiang sits at the geographic heart of Xi’s signature Belt and Road Initiative. It’s a trillion-dollar plan to finance new highways, ports and other modern infrastructure projects in developing countries that will connect them to China’s markets—and, skeptics say, put them in China’s debt for decades to come.
The government has spent vast sums building up cities in Xinjiang to attract companies and fuel growth in the relatively poor region. Concerns about lawlessness in Xinjiang could chill investment. China’s campaign against the Uighurs is aimed in part at reassuring wary investors that Xinjiang is a safe place to live and work.

16 January
Gwynne Dyer: Xi rhetoric ensures Taiwan treads carefully
(New Zealand Herald) “Independence for Taiwan would only bring profound disaster to Taiwan,” said China’s President Xi Jinping in Beijing at the start of the new year.
And he ought to know — he is the one who would make sure the disaster happened.
Speaking on the 40th anniversary of United States diplomatic recognition of the Chinese People’s Republic, Xi said that Taiwan was “sacred territory” for Beijing and he would never tolerate “separatist activities” there.
“We make no promise to renounce the use of force and reserve the option of taking all necessary means.”
Well now, that would be exciting, wouldn’t it?
Start with Chinese air and missile strikes on Taiwan, presumably reciprocated by the Taiwanese forces. Probably no nukes, although China does have them, but the first major sea battle since World War II, followed by a Chinese assault landing on Taiwan involving several hundred thousand troops.
Quite a lot of death and destruction, in fact.
No? That’s not what he meant? Okay then, what did Xi mean by “all necessary means”?
Harsh words and a trade embargo? Then why not say so? Is the Trump thing catching?
There is a peculiar ambiguity to Beijing’s official statements on Taiwan.
On one hand, nobody in the Communist regime is in a great rush to gather Taiwan back into the fold. It will happen eventually, they believe, and they can wait.
On the other hand, the regime’s credibility (such as it is) comes from only two sources: its nationalist posturing, and its ability to deliver rising living standards.
With the latter asset rapidly depreciating — the Chinese economy is heading south — the nationalism becomes more important, so a bit of chest-beating is inevitable.
[See Comment of 16 Jan. below]

7 January

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.

Glavin: 2018 was horrible for human rights, and this year isn’t looking great, either
According to Freedom House, last year was the 12th year in a row that democracy has been in retreat around the world.
(PostMedia) Among the world’s police states, Beijing is downright triumphalist these days. What Chinese President Xi Jinping has shown the world is that with enough money and enough corporate-sector collaborators and compradors in the world’s democracies, you can imprison as many as a million Muslims in concentration camps and annex the South China Sea, and you’ll get away with it. You can jail human rights lawyers, kidnap Canadians, ruthlessly extort investment-hungry African nations, threaten Taiwan with war and commit any number of obscene outrages against human decency, and you’ll still have toadies with impeccable business-class credentials doing your public relations work for you in the opinion pages of the G7 capitals’ most respectable newspapers.
See Freedom in the World


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

One Comment on "China: government and governance 2016-20"

  1. Diana Thebaud Nicholson January 16, 2019 at 4:13 pm ·

    From an astute observer.
    At least from the days I dealt with Taiwan (early-mid 80s) it was quite commonly known that they had nuclear capacity. In those days Taiwan, Israel and South Africa formed an “UnHoly Alliance” all being outcasts at the time and benefiting from each others. I understood at the time that the know-how had been served by Israel and some American scientists of Chinese descent.
    President Xi must be perfectly well aware of this and I therefore think that his demarche is made for domestic consumption and not so much as a threat to Taipei.
    After the Kuomingtan dictatorship Taiwan is today the only truly democratic Chinese nation ever. Singapore was a promise, but Lee Kuan Yew decided that democracy was not good for the country and designated his son as his successor.
    An invasion of Taiwan would be disastrous to Beijing even if they won. I think that Xi is making these noices 1) to see reactions in Taiwan 2) in the international community and 3) to remind everybody of China’s might.
    Maybe I sound as Chamberlain, but with the difference that I do not recommend appeasement.

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