Yesterday, at the 190-nation UN Climate Change Conference in Bali, China suggested that Americans live more modestly. “I just wonder whether it’s fair to ask developing countries like China to take on binding targets,” said Su Wei, a member of Beijing’s delegation, referring to mandatory caps on emissions of greenhouse gases. “I think there is much room for the United States to think whether it’s possible to change lifestyle and consumption patterns in order to contribute to the protection of the global climate.”
Isn’t the global climate everyone’s responsibility? This year, China, which contains twenty of the world’s thirty dirtiest cities, has probably emitted more carbon and other heat-trapping gases than any other country. Yet the Chinese argue that their per-capita emissions are only a sixth of America’s and that they have been poisoning the atmosphere for only two decades while the United States and Europe have been at it for two centuries.
Whatever one thinks of the concept of global warming or the Kyoto Protocol—the conference seeks a replacement for this failing agreement—Beijing’s arguments fall flat for many reasons. Most importantly, China’s Communist Party is hell-bent on economic growth and will not take any meaningful measures to limit ecological harm. To their credit, the country’s leaders talk about renewable energy and energy efficiency, but they’re not doing much to further their initiatives. They adopted a “Green GDP” index to measure the effect of environmental degradation, but dropped the effort when it revealed embarrassing results: some areas, for instance, showed negative growth after subtracting out the effect of environmental damage.
The slow-moving but steady struggle for democracy in Hong Kong—which China promised in 1997 when taking over the territory from the British, but without specifying a date—took a major step forward with today’s swearing-in of newly-elected Anson Chan to the Legislative Council.
Chan’s victory was a major setback, ten years into rule by Beijing, for the Chinese scenario, according to which the city is to be de-politicized gradually and democracy made to disappear while Hong Kong remains an economic center. By electing Chan by 54 percent over her pro-Beijing opponent, the voters of Hong Kong dealt a deadly blow to that plan.
Chan, a highly respected former civil servant born in Shanghai and educated in Hong Kong Catholic schools and at Tufts University in the United States, had avoided politics for years since her resignation in 2001 from the number two post in the first Chinese-run administration. (She had been the first ethnic Chinese to hold the analogous post under the British).
Chan stepped forward, however, when the death of Ma Lik, leader of the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), opened up a key seat in the city’s Legislative Council. Chan’s opponent for this seat was prominent politician Regina Ip.
Newsweek’s Melinda Liu, in an article dated Saturday, gushes over Xi Jinping, the cadre just designated as the first in line to succeed Communist Party boss Hu Jintao five years from now. The desire to praise young communists—Xi is a relatively spry 54—is an unfortunate tendency common to China watchers whenever the Party unveils a “new generation” of leaders. I will spare you all the good things she has to say about Xi because they’re predictable—and wrong. (I also have a strong aversion to helping Beijing spread its hagiography.)
But Liu, in her article, also praises the minor “reforms” that the Party is implementing to improve its internal workings. Xi “got the highest vote” in a secret internal Party poll, she notes. Because that political organization is now attempting to gauge sentiment within a small circle of its most senior members, Liu sees important progress. “China’s new heir apparent is a surprise pick, suggesting that ‘intraparty democracy’ is no joke,” Newsweek writes. Liu’s thesis is that, absent these changes, some other aspiring tyrant would have been selected front-runner for the Communist Party’s top post.
Of course, we do not know enough about the Party’s internal maneuverings to make such a judgment. And it’s important to note that intraparty democracy is by no means democracy. Xi was still picked by an extremely small group of senior cadres in backroom negotiations inside a closed political organization. And Newsweek considers this progress?
So here’s some advice for Ms. Liu: hold off cheering China’s Communists until they allow the Chinese people to decide who should lead the country—in free and fair national elections.
This morning, China’s Communist Party revealed its new Politburo Standing Committee in Beijing. Gone were three senior cadres. In were four new faces. Almost all of the attention in the run up to this grand announcement has focused on two of the newcomers, Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang. Xi, close to former leader Jiang Zemin, is acceptable to all the factions in the Party. Li is the favorite of current supremo, Hu Jintao. One of them is expected to replace Hu five years from now. Xi, by virtue of his ranking in the new hierarchy, is now the front-runner.
But more important than the elevation of Xi and Li is the retention of Jia Qinglin, 67, the fourth-ranking official. Jia served as the Party boss of coastal Fujian province during the most serious corruption scandal in the history of the People’s Republic. His wife, Lin Youfang, was the head of the province’s main import-export company at the time, and was viewed to be connected intimately to customs fraud. She was investigated, and so were officials close to Jia. The pudgy cadre survived the incident only because of his close relationship with Jiang Zemin, the Chinese leader at the time. Jiang was even able to engineer Jia’s elevation to the Standing Committee in 2002—not surprising at that especially corrupt period in China’s history.
Hu Jintao, as a means of putting distance between himself and Jiang, has said consistently that his administration is determined to root out official venality. At a time when corruption undermines the stability of the Communist Party, Jia’s ability to maintain his position at the apex of power says that the political system has lost the ability to deal with critical problems. In a sense, that’s all we need to know about governance in China. It certainly is more important than knowing which cautious bureaucrat is scheduled to become the next head of the Communist Party in 2012. After all, there is not much future for a political organization that cannot deal with the most serious threat to its existence.
Western observers tend to assume that the Chinese Army and the Communist Party are as close as the proverbial “lips and teeth.” However, a number of troubling, but largely unremarked upon, reports in the Chinese media raises nagging doubts about just how close the two really are. This is an important question for the United States, as the People’s Liberation Army is the rock upon which the structure of Party dictatorship rests.
China Central Television (CCTV) recently reported that, according to a September 21 article in the authoritative newspaper People’s Liberation Army Daily, the military has been exhorted to:
“[A]dvance the Party’s construction in the army, persist in the Party’s absolute leadership of the army, uphold the Party’s flag as the army’s flag, and take the Party’s will as the army’s will.”
Hortatory articles like this one have appeared regularly for years in the Chinese media. Last summer, however, the tone of such standard articles began to change, becoming more insistent, even panicky.
Reading Thabo Mbeki’s weekly letters is alternately a mind-numbing and revelatory experience. Mind-numbing because of their length and monotony; revelatory because they really do give the reader an insight into the paranoid and aggrieved mind of the South African President.
The lead item in this week’s missive—”Che Guevara—a fond farewell forty years later!”—sounds exactly like what it is: Stalinist propaganda. Mbeki calls Guevara “our beloved hero,” remarking that he died soon after former ANC president Albert Luthuli. This is an absurd juxtaposition: Luthuli was a man of unimpeachable reputation who preached reconciliation with whites and multiracial democracy. He was also an ally of the novelist Alan Paton and his anti-Communist Liberal Party. Luthuli himself was a strong anti-Communist who feared that Communists would tarnish the reputation of the anti-apartheid movement (which they later did). Nor did Luthuli ever call for his political enemies to be executed.
In today’s South Africa, it is considered gauche to bring up the ANC’s historic ties to the Soviet Union, just as it was considered pro-apartheid to write about these ties during the years of the nation’s struggle for freedom. To do so apparently reveals one’s anachronistic anti-Communism. Contemporary South Africa, after all, is hardly going Red, in spite of the continued influence of its domestic Communist Party.
But just because the Soviet Union is dead does not mean that its admirers are, or that they have significantly altered their ideologies of governance. As the South African blogger Michael Kransdorff explains, effusions of the above kind are par for the course when it comes to the missives of Mbeki and his top associates. It is far too soon to conclude, as so many are wont to do, that post-apartheid South Africa is on stable, democratic, liberal footing. It says something ominous about the political temperament and ideology of South Africa’s leading politician when he praises Che Guevara and denounces the United States.
Today, Beijing issued a warning to Washington over the planned award of the Congressional Gold Medal to the Dalai Lama. “The move will seriously damage China-U.S. relations,” said Liu Jianchao, a Foreign Ministry spokesman. He also noted that his country hoped that the United States would “correct its mistakes” and cancel the “relevant arrangements.” Those arrangements include President Bush’s receiving His Holiness at the White House today and House Speaker Pelosi’s presenting the award tomorrow at the Capitol. The increasingly visible Laura Bush will attend tomorrow’s ceremony. And so will her husband, who will be speaking at the event. He will be the first sitting President to appear publicly with the 1989 Nobel laureate.
The Chinese government has already shown its displeasure at American defiance of its wishes. Beijing diplomats have raised the issue a number of times at the ambassadorial level. Furthermore, earlier this month Beijing put off a visit by Wu Bangguo, the second-ranked Communist Party leader, to the United States. Beijing has also pulled out of a meeting, scheduled for tomorrow in Berlin, to talk about Iran.
On Sunday, the German government announced that China had canceled upcoming human rights talks (supposed to take place in December) with Chancellor Angela Merkel. The German foreign ministry refused to give any reason for the change in plans, yet an explanation was unnecessary. Beijing’s diplomats have been complaining publicly for weeks that Merkel had met with the world’s most famous refugee last month. In fact, they had been protesting the visit before she received His Holiness, and the cancellation announced Sunday is only the latest in a series of meetings the Chinese have aborted with their German counterparts since last month.
The New York Times reports that, just days before the start of a major conclave, the senior leaders of China’s Communist Party are deadlocked on choosing the organization’s next set of bosses. At stake is the future of the world’s most populous—and potentially dangerous—state. The Times repeats rumors that General Secretary Hu Jintao, the country’s current supremo, is thinking of threatening war with Taiwan to help him obtain the support of the generals so that he can prevail in the increasingly unpredictable succession struggle. After years of relative political calm, the Party now appears headed for a period of heightened internal stress.
China watchers are fond of saying that Deng Xiaoping picked three of the four leaders of the People’s Republic. Deng picked himself and his two successors, Jiang Zemin and Hu. Hu now wants to choose his successor in Deng-like fashion. He is in favor of elevating Li Keqiang to the all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee, the apex of political power in today’s China. Many others, however, are trying to thwart Hu by promoting Xi Jinping. Li is a modestly talented cadre known to be totally loyal to Hu. Xi, on the other hand, is closer to Jiang and is thought to be more acceptable to other elements of the Party.
Japan, according to Thursday’s New York Times, is in “disarray.” Its government, rocked by a series of resignations, has fallen apart. Shinzo Abe, the prime minister, in office for only a year, checked himself into a hospital for stress after announcing his intent to step down. The country may be on the verge of a historic transfer of power: the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which has governed the country almost continuously for a half century, looks exhausted after its crushing defeat in elections at the end of July. There will undoubtedly be a period of extended infighting, even after a new prime minister is finally selected. The financial community seems to think the stock market will fall and the economy will stumble. Foreign investors look as if they will flee. The outlook for Japan is grim.
The country’s prospects may be even darker than that. Yuichi Yamamoto, a Tokyo blogger, thinks Japan has already collapsed. The old system has failed, he notes, and the nation resembles the Soviet Union in the late 1980’s. If he’s right, then the only reason the Japanese aren’t surrendering to neighboring China is because they’re too moribund to raise the white flag.
On Thursday, China’s State Council announced the appointment of the first head and deputy head of the National Corruption Prevention Bureau. People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s flagship publication, called the bureau “a brand new and first ever anti-corruption agency.” Once it establishes its headquarters, the organization will set up units around the nation.
The Party already maintains the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection and a multitude of local anti-corruption units at its lower levels. Furthermore, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate also has prosecutorial offices around the country. It’s not clear how the new bureau will relate to these other nationwide organizations.
China is infested with venal officials not because it lacks ministries, departments, or bureaus. Corruption has reached new levels in China because of the Communist Party’s insistence on political monopoly. Such rampant corruption nearly guarantees that problems will not be dealt with effectively.
Today, German Chancellor Angela Merkel encouraged China’s Premier Wen Jiabao to do more to stop climate change. “The Chinese wish, like all people, for blue skies, green hills and clear water,” Wen said at a joint news conference in Beijing. Then, the “People’s Premier” told the Germans—and by implication, everyone else—to mind their own business. He essentially said that China must finish its industrialization before it can consider minimizing its impact on world climate. “China has taken part of the responsibility for climate change for only 30 years while industrial countries have grown fast for the last 200 years,” he said.
China does not have a severely degraded environment—the world’s worst—because it is industrializing. And it’s not because of a shortage of money—China possesses the world’s largest pile of foreign currency reserves, now in excess of $1.3 trillion. Nor is it due to a lack of technology: China already possesses much of the know-how, and foreign governments and companies are tripping over themselves to supply what it does not now have.
Yesterday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average ended down 30.49 points. Yet both the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq Composite posted gains, and market signals indicate the Dow will turn back up today to continue the advance started on Friday. But even with the recent uptrend, no one thinks the global sub-prime lending crisis is over.
The recent turmoil in the world’s equity markets is a symptom of greater dislocations. There are many causes for the recent problems—such as the mispricing of risk caused by too much liquidity—and none of them have been solved by the recent gyrations in global markets. At some point, the great economic bull run following the fall of the Soviet Union must end. There is a rhythm to economies that governments can moderate, but not eliminate.
Since the end of World War II, the United States has taken the lead in developing mutually supporting systems—embodied by multilateral institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank—to ensure prosperity. Yet, if the shocks to this global system are too great, the network’s interconnectedness, normally a strength, becomes its weakness, as one part brings down another. As in an overstressed electrical grid, problems can first ripple and then cascade. So, for the first time in history, virtually all societies can move in sync due to the very nature of the international system we have created.
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.
Yesterday was the 80th anniversary of the founding of the world’s largest private army: China’s. The biggest misconception about China’s military is that it belongs to China. Yes, the Chinese state pays for the People’s Liberation Army, but the PLA reports to—and pledges to defend—the Communist Party. On this Army Day, Beijing’s propaganda saluted (as it always does) the army’s 2.3 million members in their capacity as employees and defenders of China’s leading political organization.
This year’s ritualistic expressions of mutual party-army appreciation seem more numerous and passionate than on past anniversaries. President Hu Jintao mentioned the party’s total control over the military at least 15 times in his Army Day speech. Some foreign observers speculate that the excessive declarations are meant to cover up rifts in the military’s leadership or the failure of Hu—who is also the party’s general secretary—to consolidate control over his generals and admirals. (Others say that he is already in charge.)
Here’s a shortcut for those who do not want to devote their lives to studying this impenetrable issue: Beijing operates an abnormal political system and maintains an abnormal relationship with its armed forces. And here’s something else: because the party controls the army (or at least tries to do so), our attempts to establish military-to-military ties are bound to end in failure. It is not just that the Chinese generally believe in secrecy as a powerful military tool (though they do): secrecy lies at the heart of China’s political system, and of its peculiar government-military relationship.
The Bush White House should know this by now. It has done all it can to try to build functional military-to-military relations with China, but has not succeeded. The Chinese continue to ask for assistance—their more recent requests included the arresting gear of aircraft carriers and the training of carrier crews—but they are not willing to reciprocate. We let them tour our navy’s most important base—in Norfolk, VA—in April of this year, but they were not willing to let our Chief of Naval Operations, Mike Mullen, make a visit to a comparable Chinese naval facility. (In response, Mullen, departing from the Bush administration’s renewed emphasis on military ties with China, canceled his planned trip to Beijing.)
On this anniversary of the People’s Liberation Army let’s send the Chinese our birthday greetings—but let’s stop making gifts of our know-how and technology.
Today, my dad turns 90. Our family marked this milestone by getting together in Ithaca, his first home in the United States of America. My father came to this country from China by design, but stayed by happenstance. He won a scholarship to study here, and planned to return as soon as he earned his masters degree in civil engineering, which he did in 1946. By then he had seen his homeland tear itself apart in the civil war between the Kuomintang of Chiang Kai-shek and the Communist Party of Mao Zedong. As we know, Mao won, taking power in 1949. Many idealistic Chinese returned to build New China, as the Communists called it, but my dad wanted to stay in his adopted land. An open America let him.
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.
Earlier this week, Variety magazine reported that Robert DeNiro and his Tribeca Productions partner Jane Rosenthal have obtained the rights to Roy Rowan’s Chasing the Dragon: A Veteran Journalist’s Firsthand Account of the 1949 Chinese Revolution. Rowan, a former correspondent for Time and Life, will be a consultant on the film.
I probably will not be asked to help on this project, so I thought I should make some notes for DeNiro. The late 1940′s were heady times for Mao Zedong. He defeated a vastly superior adversary, Chiang Kai-shek, who enjoyed substantial American support. Yet Kai-shek was corrupt, weak, and incompetent. It’s no wonder that a ragtag army of rebels led by an assistant librarian with literary aspirations defeated him—Chiang had simply lost the hearts of the Chinese people. Mao did not win, so much as he occupied a vacuum after his opponent’s forces disintegrated.
The young Mao went on to preside over the early successes of the People’s Republic. So DeNiro’s film might end up making him look pretty good. Should we complain if Mao is portrayed as a hero during the revolution and the first few years of New China?
Actually, the better Mao looks on the big screen, the worse it is for his successors, especially the ones in power now. Hu Jintao, the current General Secretary of the Communist Party, will not like moviegoers making comparisons between the charismatic Mao of the early years and the drab and corrupt leaders who infest Beijing today. Hu knows that the Party has lost the hearts of the Chinese, and someone in the audience may just get the idea that it is time for another revolution in the great nation of China. Chinese idealism, after all, did not die with Mao Zedong.
Yesterday, it was revealed that authorities on July 4 had ordered China Development Brief, a Beijing-friendly newsletter published in the Chinese capital since 1995, to cease publication. It was shuttered for conducting “unauthorized surveys,” a violation of a 1983 statistical law. Nick Young, the founder of the newsletter and the editor of its English version, had tried to keep the news secret so that he could negotiate with the authorities, but a former colleague leaked the news to the international media. Young, referring to the closing, noted in a statement, “My hope is that these actions have been precipitated by zealous state security agents, and that more senior figures in the government and Communist Party will realise that actions of this kind are not in China’s best interest.”
Of course they are not, but the Communist Party almost never does what’s good for China. And now, the Party seems intent on delegitimizing its friends—and itself. Young had often pointed to Beijing’s tolerance of his publication as proof that the one-party state was reforming. “I have spent the last decade telling foreigners that China is not as repressive and totalitarian as Western media often portray it to be,” he said in his statement. “At the end of the day, I hoped that if we had an open, intelligent conversation, we would be accepted,” he told the New York Times. “But I think we miscalculated, or they miscalculated.”
If anyone made a mistake, it is Young, for being optimistic. The mission of China Development Brief was “to enhance constructive engagement between China and the world.” How do you do that when you’re dealing with insecure autocrats? The truth is that the Communist Party has gone into reverse.
We should all be grateful to Nick Young: he’s shown that, for all of China’s efforts at mustering international goodwill, it still hasn’t let go of its deep-rooted authoritarian tendencies.
What is the difference between an Islamic Doctors’ Plot and a Jewish Doctors’ Plot?
It sounds like the opening line of a joke, but it’s not.
So far, in the Islamic Doctors’ Plot now being unraveled by Scotland Yard, eight people have been arrested in connection with two failed car-bombings in London and a third at the Glasgow airport. Seven are doctors, and the eighth is a laboratory technician. They are all suspected of planning or participating in a mass casualty attack, using gas canisters, gasoline, and nails to inflict maximum carnage on innocents civilians, as part of a broader worldwide campaign of terror in the name of Islam.