Commentary Magazine


Topic: Chinese government

Clarity on Taiwan

Chinese President Hu Jintao reportedly will ask that President Bush personally express his opposition to the upcoming referendum in Taiwan over U.N. membership. Evidently, statements of opposition from Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte (on Phoenix TV in Hong Kong) and former CIA analyst (and now National Security Council member) Dennis Wilder have not satisfied the Chinese authorities. According to the World Journal of September 3, Hu will make the request when he meets President Bush at the upcoming APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) meeting in Australia. A tempest is now brewing over a matter that Washington should have dismissed with a simple “no comment.”

Beijing is clearly worried that democracy in Taiwan will get out of hand. It has evidently been warning and threatening us—perhaps, and this is my own speculation, suggesting the Chinese government might undertake some symbolic or real military action if a “red line” is crossed. This would be most unwelcome given the current state of Iraq and Afghanistan. So Washington has made a huge effort to make absolutely certain that no trouble develops in Asia—leading to an overreaction that is proving seriously counterproductive.

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Chinese President Hu Jintao reportedly will ask that President Bush personally express his opposition to the upcoming referendum in Taiwan over U.N. membership. Evidently, statements of opposition from Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte (on Phoenix TV in Hong Kong) and former CIA analyst (and now National Security Council member) Dennis Wilder have not satisfied the Chinese authorities. According to the World Journal of September 3, Hu will make the request when he meets President Bush at the upcoming APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) meeting in Australia. A tempest is now brewing over a matter that Washington should have dismissed with a simple “no comment.”

Beijing is clearly worried that democracy in Taiwan will get out of hand. It has evidently been warning and threatening us—perhaps, and this is my own speculation, suggesting the Chinese government might undertake some symbolic or real military action if a “red line” is crossed. This would be most unwelcome given the current state of Iraq and Afghanistan. So Washington has made a huge effort to make absolutely certain that no trouble develops in Asia—leading to an overreaction that is proving seriously counterproductive.

By publicly supporting the Chinese, we have put the spotlight unintentionally on our own policies, which are a welter of contradictions unlikely to withstand close scrutiny. We have never recognized Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan, even when we did recognize the Chiang Kai-shek government in Taiwan as the government of China. We expected, when we cut our relations with Chiang’s government, that Taipei’s then-autocratic rulers would cut a deal with Beijing and merge. But they did not; they went democratic, unexpectedly (not without some consternation on our part). We support independence referenda in states all around the world, and are pushing now for the independence of Kosovo from Serbia. We insist on peaceful resolution of issues between Taipei and Beijing, yet we sell weapons and share intelligence with the government of Taiwan, which we do not recognize. Our most important Asian allies, Japan in particular, have vital interests in Taiwan’s not coming under Chinese control. PRC forces there could easily cut vital shipping lanes for energy from the Middle East to Northeast Asia.

But even though we do not consider Taiwan to be part of China, we oppose the Taiwanese sharing this view or acting on it. All sorts of conflicts are latent here, but silence and circumspection have kept them reasonably quiet for nearly thirty years. Now a series of misplaced steps, designed to please China, seem set to push the whole situation towards exactly what we and they have been seeking to avoid: a clear-cut, democratic, and legal assertion of the rights of the Taiwanese to be members of the international community.

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What is Behind the Chinese Cyber-Offensive?

Is a Chinese cyber-war against the West underway? Let us connect the dots.

In the most recent episode, earlier this month, Chinese hackers, operating out of Guangzhou and Lanzhou, two regions that are strongholds of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), invaded the computer systems of key German-government ministries in Berlin.

Last November, the United States was hit, and not for the first time. Chinese hackers entered the network of the Naval War College, the Navy’s school for senior officers, forcing the closure of its internal network and the temporary suspension of all email accounts.

That followed an attack in June on the computer systems at Taiwan’s defense ministry and also the American Institute in Taiwan, the de-facto U.S. embassy there.

Then there is Titan Rain, the U.S. codename for an entire series of attacks on U.S. facilities from 2003 to 2005, that included raids on the U.S. Army Information Systems Engineering Command at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, the Defense Information Systems Agency in Arlington, Virginia, and the Naval Ocean Systems Center in San Diego. All are thought to have originated in China.

The British parliament was also attacked in 2005 by hackers believed to be located in China.

What is behind all these episodes?

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Is a Chinese cyber-war against the West underway? Let us connect the dots.

In the most recent episode, earlier this month, Chinese hackers, operating out of Guangzhou and Lanzhou, two regions that are strongholds of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), invaded the computer systems of key German-government ministries in Berlin.

Last November, the United States was hit, and not for the first time. Chinese hackers entered the network of the Naval War College, the Navy’s school for senior officers, forcing the closure of its internal network and the temporary suspension of all email accounts.

That followed an attack in June on the computer systems at Taiwan’s defense ministry and also the American Institute in Taiwan, the de-facto U.S. embassy there.

Then there is Titan Rain, the U.S. codename for an entire series of attacks on U.S. facilities from 2003 to 2005, that included raids on the U.S. Army Information Systems Engineering Command at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, the Defense Information Systems Agency in Arlington, Virginia, and the Naval Ocean Systems Center in San Diego. All are thought to have originated in China.

The British parliament was also attacked in 2005 by hackers believed to be located in China.

What is behind all these episodes?

According to “Military Power of the People’s Republic of China 2006,” a U.S. Department of Defense publication, China has been “experimenting with strategy, doctrine, and tactics for information warfare.” The report notes that during a conflict, “information-warfare units could support active PLA forces by conducting ‘hacker attacks’ and network intrusions, or other forms of ‘cyber’ warfare, on an adversary’s military and commercial computer systems, while helping to defend Chinese networks.”

That the Chinese would be developing such a capability is unsurprising. We are developing similar capabilities, as are all advanced military powers. Computer networks are essential to warfare. and the ability to disrupt the enemy’s network while protecting one’s own has become an equally essential task.

Intelligence gathering via illicit entry into computer networks has become an important tool in the espionage toolkit. There are lots of secrets residing in both government and private-sector computers, and it should hardly come as a surprise that the Chinese have been developing techniques for extracting such secrets by clandestine means.

What does come as a surprise are all the recent hacking incidents. We are not at war with China. Neither is Germany or Britain or, arguably, Taiwan. If the hacking is part of a coherent strategy, it would seem to be self-defeating, prompting victim countries to develop countermeasures that make their own systems far more difficult to penetrate in the kind of crisis when the Chinese would really want to turn on their computer-sleuthing and disruption capabilities.

One possibility is that the attacks are being carried out not at governmental direction but by private hackers in China or elsewhere, who are routing their activities through Chinese networks. That is what the Chinese government maintains with some supporting evidence.

Another possibility is that the PLA is operating on its own, without the blessings of Beijing, to hone its capabilities and to test Western responses. Again, there is some evidence to support this theory.

Yet another possibility is that there is less to these incidents than meets the eye. They may in fact reflect the ineptitude of certain ill-prepared sectors of Western governments.

It is useful to keep in mind that major brokerage houses, banks, investment banks, and government central banks use computer networks to move billions of dollars around the world every day. These would be a ripe target for hackers, both inside adversary governments and in the criminal sector. But we seldom hear of any successful attacks against these institutions. Why not? Probably because, given what is at stake, they all put huge resources in computer security. Surely, if they were paying sufficient attention, governments could erect the same kinds of barriers to unauthorized entry.

Finally, there is the possibility that the Chinese government, acting on the basis of motives that are not apparent to us, has opted for short-term at the expense of long-term gain. Governments can do irrational things, and Communist governments, accountable to no one but themselves, doubly so.

In the end, the ongoing Chinese cyber-warfare remains a puzzle. Before we massively retaliate with a cyber-war of our own, it would be useful to get a firm fix on what we are up against.

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So Long, Lu Xun

From China comes news, reported in the Chinese-language newspaper World Journal, that the works of Lu Xun—the country’s greatest modern author, a founder of the Chinese League of Left-Wing Writers, and a longtime favorite of the Communists—are being removed from high school curricula. These classics will be replaced by contemporary fantasies about ancient knights and swordplay by the popular Hong Kong author Jin Yong. The reason for this censorship? The Tiananmen Massacre, of which Lu Xun’s works uncomfortably remind the Chinese government.

The most troublesome of Lu Xun’s writings, from this perspective, is In Memory of Miss Liu Hezhen, a story about the death of a student shot as she and her colleagues attempted peacefully to present a petition to the military government of Duan Qirui on March 18, 1926. Lu addresses the events with his characteristic mixture of detachment and suppressed passion:

I did not see this, but I heard that she—Liu Hezhen—went forward gaily. Of course it was only a petition, and no one with any conscience could imagine such a trap. But then she was shot before Government House, shot from behind, and the bullet pierced her lung and heart.

Many a Tiananmen parent could speak similarly of the final moments of their dead son or daughter. Those parents and others may share as well Lu’s anger and despair:

[W]e are not living in the world of men. In a welter of . . . young people’s blood I can barely see, hear or breathe, so what can I say? We can make no long lament till after our pain is dulled. And the insidious talk of some so-called scholars since this incident has added to my sense of desolation. I am beyond indignation.

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From China comes news, reported in the Chinese-language newspaper World Journal, that the works of Lu Xun—the country’s greatest modern author, a founder of the Chinese League of Left-Wing Writers, and a longtime favorite of the Communists—are being removed from high school curricula. These classics will be replaced by contemporary fantasies about ancient knights and swordplay by the popular Hong Kong author Jin Yong. The reason for this censorship? The Tiananmen Massacre, of which Lu Xun’s works uncomfortably remind the Chinese government.

The most troublesome of Lu Xun’s writings, from this perspective, is In Memory of Miss Liu Hezhen, a story about the death of a student shot as she and her colleagues attempted peacefully to present a petition to the military government of Duan Qirui on March 18, 1926. Lu addresses the events with his characteristic mixture of detachment and suppressed passion:

I did not see this, but I heard that she—Liu Hezhen—went forward gaily. Of course it was only a petition, and no one with any conscience could imagine such a trap. But then she was shot before Government House, shot from behind, and the bullet pierced her lung and heart.

Many a Tiananmen parent could speak similarly of the final moments of their dead son or daughter. Those parents and others may share as well Lu’s anger and despair:

[W]e are not living in the world of men. In a welter of . . . young people’s blood I can barely see, hear or breathe, so what can I say? We can make no long lament till after our pain is dulled. And the insidious talk of some so-called scholars since this incident has added to my sense of desolation. I am beyond indignation.

General Duan’s government showed public remorse for the murder of Liu Hezhen. (The junta, in fact, fell from power just one month later.) By contrast, since 1989 Chinese governments consistently have refused to say anything at all about the Tiananmen Massacre, every trace of which they have sought obsessively to remove. Google has agreed not to provide images or information about the massacre for its Chinese service; the asphalt in Tiananmen Square, formerly marked by the prints of tank treads, has been replaced by granite slabs. New flowerbeds have been planted. Bullet marks in walls have been plastered over. Public denial has been complete for seventeen years.

All this denial has had some success. Chinese born after 1989 have only vague notions of what happened at Tiananmen. Foreigners are far too courteous to mention the massacre. The media are silent. But have the bloodstains truly been washed away? Evidently not.

In Memory of Miss Liu Hezhen is being censored, after all, despite it’s once having received praise from Mao himself. (As one of the censors responsible explains, “[W]e are touching things that previously one dared not touch.”) Even the Soviets, no great appreciators of literature, taught Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. To exile Lu Xun from Chinese school curricula reveals the wide-ranging and desperate nature of the government’s effort to efface completely the memory of Tiananmen.

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China’s “Nuclear Option”

In the past few days two Chinese officials have threatened to employ the “nuclear option” against the United States: selling dollars and U.S. Treasury obligations to retaliate against possible American legislation. Congress is now considering bills meant to counter Beijing’s tight control of the value of its currency, the renminbi. China possesses somewhere in the vicinity of $1.3 trillion of foreign exchange reserves. Analysts believe that the Chinese government holds about $900 billion in dollar assets.

“I personally believe we have so many foreign exchange reserves that we should be smarter in setting the issues,” said Xia Bin, one of the officials, at the end of July. “It should at least be a bargaining chip in talks.” This is the first time that a senior economic adviser to Beijing publicly has suggested using China’s reserves for political leverage. He Fan, the other official, wrote in the China Daily on Tuesday about Beijing’s causing “a mass depreciation” of the greenback.

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In the past few days two Chinese officials have threatened to employ the “nuclear option” against the United States: selling dollars and U.S. Treasury obligations to retaliate against possible American legislation. Congress is now considering bills meant to counter Beijing’s tight control of the value of its currency, the renminbi. China possesses somewhere in the vicinity of $1.3 trillion of foreign exchange reserves. Analysts believe that the Chinese government holds about $900 billion in dollar assets.

“I personally believe we have so many foreign exchange reserves that we should be smarter in setting the issues,” said Xia Bin, one of the officials, at the end of July. “It should at least be a bargaining chip in talks.” This is the first time that a senior economic adviser to Beijing publicly has suggested using China’s reserves for political leverage. He Fan, the other official, wrote in the China Daily on Tuesday about Beijing’s causing “a mass depreciation” of the greenback.

We should thank Xia and He for revealing the thinking in the inner circles in Beijing. They provide a useful reminder that we need to pay down our debt and rebalance our economic relations with China. Yet let’s not panic and give into the bluster of China’s autocrats. Unfortunately for them, their holding of dollars is not much of a weapon. Imagine the worst-case scenario: Beijing tries to dump all of its dollars in one day. What would happen? The Chinese would have to buy something—say, for example, euros and yen. The values of those currencies would then shoot up through the ceiling. The Europeans and the Japanese, to stabilize their currencies, would then have to buy . . . dollars. In short, there would be a great circular flow of cash in the world’s currency and debt markets.

There would be turmoil in those markets, but it would not last long—two quarters at the most, perhaps even just a few weeks. And we would end up in just the same place that we are now, except that our friends, instead of our adversary, would be holding our debt. Global markets are deep and flexible and can handle just about anything.

Hillary Clinton once said we can’t argue with our Chinese bankers. I think we can.

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Dirty Olympics

Next year, at eight seconds after 8:08 on the evening of August 8, the most important event in the most populous country in the world will begin. At that moment, the Olympics in Beijing will start—and the People’s Republic of China will announce its arrival in the century it believes it will own.

Today, to mark the one-year countdown to the XXIX Olympiad, Beijing staged a grandiose nighttime ceremony in Tiananmen Square, the symbolic heart of the Chinese nation and the scene of mass murder in 1989. China’s Leninists are good at organizing gargantuan rallies glorifying themselves, and this extravaganza, which included International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge, was no exception. The anthem for the event was “We’re Ready.”

Will Beijing’s leaders be ready a year from now? Amnesty International, in a report issued yesterday, urged Communist Party officials to stop repressing the Chinese people. In an accompanying statement, Amnesty said “time is running out for the Chinese government to fulfill its promise of improving human rights in the run-up to the Games.” The report came out on the same day as one from Human Rights Watch and another from the Committee to Protect Journalists. On Monday in the Chinese capital, Reporters Without Borders unfurled a banner showing the Olympic rings as handcuffs. Beijing authorities detained and roughed up journalists who had staged the protest. Yesterday, activists at the Great Wall displayed a large banner reading “One World, One Dream, Free Tibet 2008.” They were detained as well.

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Next year, at eight seconds after 8:08 on the evening of August 8, the most important event in the most populous country in the world will begin. At that moment, the Olympics in Beijing will start—and the People’s Republic of China will announce its arrival in the century it believes it will own.

Today, to mark the one-year countdown to the XXIX Olympiad, Beijing staged a grandiose nighttime ceremony in Tiananmen Square, the symbolic heart of the Chinese nation and the scene of mass murder in 1989. China’s Leninists are good at organizing gargantuan rallies glorifying themselves, and this extravaganza, which included International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge, was no exception. The anthem for the event was “We’re Ready.”

Will Beijing’s leaders be ready a year from now? Amnesty International, in a report issued yesterday, urged Communist Party officials to stop repressing the Chinese people. In an accompanying statement, Amnesty said “time is running out for the Chinese government to fulfill its promise of improving human rights in the run-up to the Games.” The report came out on the same day as one from Human Rights Watch and another from the Committee to Protect Journalists. On Monday in the Chinese capital, Reporters Without Borders unfurled a banner showing the Olympic rings as handcuffs. Beijing authorities detained and roughed up journalists who had staged the protest. Yesterday, activists at the Great Wall displayed a large banner reading “One World, One Dream, Free Tibet 2008.” They were detained as well.

China was not ready to host the Games in 2001, when they were awarded, and it is not ready now. The Beijing Olympics organizing committee is already trying to lower foreign expectations. “We can’t please everybody,” said spokesman Sun Weide. In response, the International Olympic Committee should live up to its principles and think about criticizing the Chinese government. President Rogge, however, has consistently maintained that Beijing’s detestable political system is none of his organization’s business. “Any expectations that the International Olympic Committee should apply pressure on the Chinese government beyond what is necessary for Games preparations are misplaced, especially concerning sovereign matters the IOC is not qualified to judge,” he recently said. Some activists argue the IOC should take away the Olympics from China. I say keep the Games in Beijing to maintain the spotlight on the Communist Party—and a complicit International Olympic Committee.

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Piracy Bust

This morning, the New York Times reported that Chinese authorities, working with the FBI, seized more than $500 million of counterfeit Microsoft and Symantec software and arrested 25 people involved in the counterfeiting operation. “This is a real milestone,” said David Finn, Microsoft associate general counsel. Finn is right. The Chinese deserve great credit for busting a ring that looks as if it were responsible for at least $2 billion of pirated software sales. (As Gao Feng, Deputy Director General of China’s Ministry of Public Security, has said, profit margins for software piracy exceed those for drug trafficking.)

Unfortunately, with those enormous profits, counterfeiters have been able to buy off the political system maintained by the Communist Party. Officials at the lowest rungs of that organization personally profit from protecting counterfeiters and often own part of the counterfeiting factories. The officials then buy protection for themselves from their superiors in the Party’s entrenched patronage system. The upshot of all this? Piracy in China is not going away anytime soon.

So what can foreign owners of intellectual property do? For one thing, they can publicly demand that Beijing protect their rights as vigorously as it has protected the five Fuwa, the cutesy mascots for the 2008 Summer Olympics. China has stopped counterfeiters from knocking off Beibei the fish, Jingjing the panda, Huanhuan the Olympic flame, Yingying the Tibetan antelope, and Nini the swallow. Yes, the latest raid reported by the Times is good news indeed, but there’s a lot more the Chinese government can—and should—do.

This morning, the New York Times reported that Chinese authorities, working with the FBI, seized more than $500 million of counterfeit Microsoft and Symantec software and arrested 25 people involved in the counterfeiting operation. “This is a real milestone,” said David Finn, Microsoft associate general counsel. Finn is right. The Chinese deserve great credit for busting a ring that looks as if it were responsible for at least $2 billion of pirated software sales. (As Gao Feng, Deputy Director General of China’s Ministry of Public Security, has said, profit margins for software piracy exceed those for drug trafficking.)

Unfortunately, with those enormous profits, counterfeiters have been able to buy off the political system maintained by the Communist Party. Officials at the lowest rungs of that organization personally profit from protecting counterfeiters and often own part of the counterfeiting factories. The officials then buy protection for themselves from their superiors in the Party’s entrenched patronage system. The upshot of all this? Piracy in China is not going away anytime soon.

So what can foreign owners of intellectual property do? For one thing, they can publicly demand that Beijing protect their rights as vigorously as it has protected the five Fuwa, the cutesy mascots for the 2008 Summer Olympics. China has stopped counterfeiters from knocking off Beibei the fish, Jingjing the panda, Huanhuan the Olympic flame, Yingying the Tibetan antelope, and Nini the swallow. Yes, the latest raid reported by the Times is good news indeed, but there’s a lot more the Chinese government can—and should—do.

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The Totalitarian Olympics

Since the awarding of the Olympics to China in July 2001, no major world city has changed more than Beijing, with its massive new construction of roads, bridges, terminals, hotels, and other facilities promised for the Games. According to official estimates, the Chinese government will spend $37 billion to get ready for next August. That is almost four times what Athens disbursed for its summer Olympics, which was by far the most expensive ever staged. Yet the 2008 Games may end up costing China over $100 billion, after taking into account the relentless building and “beautification” campaigns currently demolishing “illegal urban villages.”

Last week, the Geneva-based Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions issued a report claiming that 1.25 million Chinese citizens have been displaced from their homes in advance of the 2008 Olympics. Another quarter million or so will be forcibly moved between now and the opening ceremony. All told, an estimated 512,100 households and 1,483,300 people in Beijing will be affected. Some have received no notice of eviction and others no compensation.

China has denied the accusations. “The report is sheer groundless [sic],” said Jiang Yu, a foreign ministry spokeswoman. According to her, every relocated person received compensation and no one was forced to leave Beijing. The government maintains that only 6,037 households have been resettled since 2002.

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Since the awarding of the Olympics to China in July 2001, no major world city has changed more than Beijing, with its massive new construction of roads, bridges, terminals, hotels, and other facilities promised for the Games. According to official estimates, the Chinese government will spend $37 billion to get ready for next August. That is almost four times what Athens disbursed for its summer Olympics, which was by far the most expensive ever staged. Yet the 2008 Games may end up costing China over $100 billion, after taking into account the relentless building and “beautification” campaigns currently demolishing “illegal urban villages.”

Last week, the Geneva-based Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions issued a report claiming that 1.25 million Chinese citizens have been displaced from their homes in advance of the 2008 Olympics. Another quarter million or so will be forcibly moved between now and the opening ceremony. All told, an estimated 512,100 households and 1,483,300 people in Beijing will be affected. Some have received no notice of eviction and others no compensation.

China has denied the accusations. “The report is sheer groundless [sic],” said Jiang Yu, a foreign ministry spokeswoman. According to her, every relocated person received compensation and no one was forced to leave Beijing. The government maintains that only 6,037 households have been resettled since 2002.

But the forced relocation of residents is just one small part of the story. The most disturbing aspect of China’s preparation for the Games is its employment of mass-mobilization techniques and strict social controls—the essential tools of totalitarian governance. Some of the government’s efforts resemble Singapore-style silliness—forcing school children to cheer for other nations’ teams, prohibiting cab drivers from dyeing their hair red or wearing big earrings, and banning sarcasm in shops. The capital’s municipal government has even divided the city into five areas and decreed that each section be repainted in a uniform hue.

Other measures are less trivial. Beggars will be evicted ahead of Olympiad XXIX. About a million cars will be forced off the road during the Games to clean the air, and heavy industry will be shut down for months beforehand for the same purpose. Worst of all, during this politically sensitive period, the Communist party has launched a severe crackdown. Over the past four years, there has been a marked deterioration of human rights and a virtual halt to political liberalization.

The awarding of the Olympics to China was supposed to speed up the liberalization of Chinese society. Perhaps one day we will see that it did. But so far, the government has only become more repressive. Just ask the million-and-a-half Chinese being forced from their homes.

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China’s Population Crisis

Last Tuesday, in ten towns across Rongxian county in southern China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, several thousand peasants stormed government offices, torched patrol cars, and fought armed police over fines imposed to enforce Beijing’s one-child policy.

The Rongxian disturbances occurred less than two weeks after approximately 10,000 peasants rioted over the same policy in nearby Bobai county. In Bobai, protesters also set fires, smashed cars, and damaged and looted a government office. As many as five people—including three population-control officials—may have died. Protests occurred in 28 Bobai townships over a three-day period. The central government’s one-child rules vary, depending on location and other factors: Bobai regulations permit families one child if the first was a boy and two if the first was a girl.

Heavy fines helped cause the Bobai disturbances. Some of the penalties were as high as $1,300—in an area where annual incomes average about one-tenth of that amount. Failure to pay such a fine within three days of its assessment can result in the destruction of a family’s home and the seizure of its personal property. There have also been more than 250 instances of the application of “population-control measures”—forced sterilizations and forced abortions—in Guangxi in the last three months. The Guangxi demonstrations appear to have been triggered by this sudden two-pronged crackdown.

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Last Tuesday, in ten towns across Rongxian county in southern China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, several thousand peasants stormed government offices, torched patrol cars, and fought armed police over fines imposed to enforce Beijing’s one-child policy.

The Rongxian disturbances occurred less than two weeks after approximately 10,000 peasants rioted over the same policy in nearby Bobai county. In Bobai, protesters also set fires, smashed cars, and damaged and looted a government office. As many as five people—including three population-control officials—may have died. Protests occurred in 28 Bobai townships over a three-day period. The central government’s one-child rules vary, depending on location and other factors: Bobai regulations permit families one child if the first was a boy and two if the first was a girl.

Heavy fines helped cause the Bobai disturbances. Some of the penalties were as high as $1,300—in an area where annual incomes average about one-tenth of that amount. Failure to pay such a fine within three days of its assessment can result in the destruction of a family’s home and the seizure of its personal property. There have also been more than 250 instances of the application of “population-control measures”—forced sterilizations and forced abortions—in Guangxi in the last three months. The Guangxi demonstrations appear to have been triggered by this sudden two-pronged crackdown.

As these spontaneous demonstrations in Rongxian and Bobai show, China’s one-child policy is deeply unpopular. In Bobai, officials enforcing the rule are, in the words of one villager, “just like the Japanese invaders during the war.” Defiance of the policy is widespread—only about 35 percent of all Chinese families have complied with official limits, according to one estimate. Family-planning outlaws come from all geographic areas and every economic and social group. In urban China, the wealthy pay the fines for noncompliance or hide their children in big homes. In rural China, the poor continue to procreate and (as the past two weeks have shown) take to the streets to defend their right to reproduce.

Despite such defiance, the Chinese government believes it has managed to control population growth. Official estimates credit the one-child policy, which has been in place since the 1970’s, for preventing up to 300 million births. Beijing views that statistic as evidence of success. The government has, in fact, decided to keep the policy in place until at least 2010 in order to meet the country’s announced population target of 1.36 billion people. That goal may be merely a fantasy, however. By some estimates, China already has a population of more than 1.5 billion.

This massive experiment in social engineering has caused a rapidly aging China—it is often said that the country will grow old before it becomes rich—and has skewed demographics: there are now about 118 boys for every 100 girls, and in a decade there will be about 30 million excess males. Many have speculated about the social consequences of such a demographic imbalance. Some believe that the overabundance of young men—“bare branches,” in popular terminology—will lead the country to war, while others merely see increased prostitution, trafficking in females, and assorted other criminal activity. Whatever happens, it’s clear that none of the policy’s byproducts is socially desirable.

If demography is destiny, then China is in for a disturbing future. And it is clear that the one-child policy is destabilizing the present. Population control through repression, as the Rongxian and Bobai disturbances suggest, is completely unsustainable.

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Forgetting Tiananmen

Eighteen years ago today, elements of the vicious 27th Army were mopping up scattered resistance in the center of Beijing. Most of the fighting occurred in the streets west of Tiananmen Square, where Chinese citizens took on armored vehicles with rocks. By the time the People’s Liberation Army pushed its way to the symbolic heart of China, the death toll had reached hundreds, perhaps thousands.

Beijing’s leaders do not permit commemoration of the dead and rarely talk about “that 1989 affair,” as they now euphemistically call it. In Hong Kong, however, Tiananmen remains close to the center of public discourse. This year’s June 4 vigil—an annual event in Hong Kong—attracted 28,000 residents, according to police, and 55,000 in the estimation of organizers. The crowd was about 10,000 larger than it was last year.

The increased turnout was no surprise. Ma Lik, chairman of the main pro-Beijing political party in Hong Kong, recently stoked public debate on Tiananmen. “We should not say the Communist party massacred people on June 4,” Ma told a group of journalists last month. “A massacre would mean the Communist party intentionally killed people with machine guns indiscriminately.” His larger point was that Hong Kong, now a special administrative region of China, should not have universal suffrage until its students have received “proper” national education. The fact that people still use terms like “massacre” show, in Ma’s opinion, the citizens’ lack of “heart-felt” patriotism.

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Eighteen years ago today, elements of the vicious 27th Army were mopping up scattered resistance in the center of Beijing. Most of the fighting occurred in the streets west of Tiananmen Square, where Chinese citizens took on armored vehicles with rocks. By the time the People’s Liberation Army pushed its way to the symbolic heart of China, the death toll had reached hundreds, perhaps thousands.

Beijing’s leaders do not permit commemoration of the dead and rarely talk about “that 1989 affair,” as they now euphemistically call it. In Hong Kong, however, Tiananmen remains close to the center of public discourse. This year’s June 4 vigil—an annual event in Hong Kong—attracted 28,000 residents, according to police, and 55,000 in the estimation of organizers. The crowd was about 10,000 larger than it was last year.

The increased turnout was no surprise. Ma Lik, chairman of the main pro-Beijing political party in Hong Kong, recently stoked public debate on Tiananmen. “We should not say the Communist party massacred people on June 4,” Ma told a group of journalists last month. “A massacre would mean the Communist party intentionally killed people with machine guns indiscriminately.” His larger point was that Hong Kong, now a special administrative region of China, should not have universal suffrage until its students have received “proper” national education. The fact that people still use terms like “massacre” show, in Ma’s opinion, the citizens’ lack of “heart-felt” patriotism.

But the thorniest problem for the Chinese government is not that China’s citizens will remember the incident—it is, paradoxically, that they will forget. The party stays in power through coercion and, on occasion, force. The Chinese people, however, stage demonstratations whenever they think they can get away with it. There is so much unrest in China today—there are, incredibly, about 150,000 protests in China each year—precisely because the Chinese people are forgetting about Tiananmen and losing their fear of the regime.

The reaction to all this unrest is that the nation’s fourth-generation leaders, especially President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao, have begun to paint themselves as ordinary citizens. They are increasingly giving up the imperial trappings so favored by their predecessors and spending public holidays in coal mines and isolated hamlets.

Currying favor with the people is the only possible course for this generation. It’s extremely unlikely that the party would survive another uprising of the kind so brutally put down eighteen years ago—it no longer has the ability to order mass slaughter. No current leader has the same kind of autocratic personal authority that Deng Xiaoping possessed, authority necessary to give such a command.

And it’s highly unlikely that the People’s Liberation Army, at this point, would obey an order of that sort. Even with his military credentials, it took Deng a long time to find a unit that would actually fight unarmed citizens in 1989. The current civilian leadership does not have Deng’s stature; such an order might split the military and cause a revolt among the officer class. Finally, even if the top brass wanted to shoot, it’s unlikely that ordinary soldiers would kill ordinary citizens on behalf of a regime that has lost the love and loyalty of most of its people.

So instead of condemning Ma Lik, now embroiled in the uproar he caused, let’s cheer him on. It might be best if the rest of the world remembers Tiananmen—and the Chinese people forget.

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Trade Showdown with China

This month Beijing is sending one of its largest delegations ever to visit America. Headed by the “Iron Lady of China,” Vice Premier Wu Yi, the group will participate in the second round of Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson’s Strategic Economic Dialogue, which begins in Washington next week.

In the last two weeks, Paulson has been trying to lower expectations for the upcoming discussions with the Chinese. That’s smart strategy. The first round of the dialogue, held in Beijing last December, was an abysmal failure. And the talks later this month are bound to be contentious: the Bush administration in March announced it would reverse decades of trade policy by imposing countervailing tariffs on products from non-market economies. The U.S. has also filed a series of World Trade Organization complaints against China: one in February and two more last month. The February case complains of nine discrete sets of manufacturing subsidies. The cases last month target both Chinese piracy of American intellectual property and China’s internal restrictions on the distribution of foreign films, music, books, and journals.

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This month Beijing is sending one of its largest delegations ever to visit America. Headed by the “Iron Lady of China,” Vice Premier Wu Yi, the group will participate in the second round of Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson’s Strategic Economic Dialogue, which begins in Washington next week.

In the last two weeks, Paulson has been trying to lower expectations for the upcoming discussions with the Chinese. That’s smart strategy. The first round of the dialogue, held in Beijing last December, was an abysmal failure. And the talks later this month are bound to be contentious: the Bush administration in March announced it would reverse decades of trade policy by imposing countervailing tariffs on products from non-market economies. The U.S. has also filed a series of World Trade Organization complaints against China: one in February and two more last month. The February case complains of nine discrete sets of manufacturing subsidies. The cases last month target both Chinese piracy of American intellectual property and China’s internal restrictions on the distribution of foreign films, music, books, and journals.

How important are these WTO cases to Beijing? Very—each touches on an essential part of China’s vast economy. Trade subsidies are vital to China’s competitiveness—they benefit about 60 percent of its exports, according to U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab. China’s theft of intellectual property is now tightly interwoven into the fabric of its economy. And the restrictions on legitimate distribution of foreign entertainment products and publications are essential to the Communist party’s control over ideas and its political monopoly.

Late last month Vice Premier Wu said Beijing would “fight to the finish” over the U.S. complaints. These words make it clear that we are heading for a rough patch in U.S.-China relations. Trade issues like these not only affect the foundations of China’s export economy, but also impinge deeply on political matters. The Chinese undoubtedly feel they have little room for compromise.

And fighting to the finish they are. Beijing capitulated on the first case Washington filed: against a preferential value-added tax rate for domestically produced or designed integrated circuits.* But the Chinese government has chosen to resist the second American complaint-relating to discriminatory auto-parts tariffs-even though it has little chance of success, and it will undoubtedly oppose the three cases just filed. The Bush administration may want to avoid a trade war with Beijing. But, as Wu Yi has indicated with her stark words, the Chinese think they are already fighting one.

*Through an editor’s error, this tax rate was originally mislabelled.

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