Politburo’s predicament: repression in China grows at cost to party power


china-cover-fhChinese Communist Party repression has intensified under the leadership of Xi Jinping, but has also trapped the party in a vicious circle whereby increasing coercion breeds growing resistance, requiring ever more intense crackdowns, according to a Freedom House report released today, The Politburo’s Predicament. 

“There is a clear change in how Xi Jinping is managing the censorship and security apparatus compared with his predecessor, and overall this has meant more restrictions, not more freedom,” said Sarah Cook, author of the report. “As the systems of coercion touch the lives of more Chinese people, Xi and his colleagues risk exacerbating the party’s legitimacy problems.”

The Politburo’s Predicament: Confronting the Limitations of Chinese Communist Party Repression finds that Xi has combined quasi-reformist rhetoric and minor institutional changes with ideological retrenchment and intensified repression in an attempt to strengthen the party’s hold on power. These efforts have proved effective in many ways, but they have also fueled resentment and recruitment to the cause of rights defense, both within society and among some party members, security personnel, and censors.

Key findings:

  • Concentration of power at the very top: Ultimate authority over information controls and domestic security has been consolidated in the hands of Xi himself via new party entities.
  • Expanded targets of repression: Of 17 categories of victims assessed, 11 experienced greater restrictions after Xi took power. Among the victims are new targets whose activities were previously tolerated, including individuals from the economic elite or with official ties.
  • Revival of old practices alongside new methods: Tactics and terminology reminiscent of the Mao Zedong era—including televised confessions—have been revived alongside more novel approaches. Increasingly strategic, multipronged campaigns, criminal and extralegal detentions, and the “community corrections” system have been used to punish activists and intimidate social-media users.
  • Civil society resilience: Despite heightened repression, fear of the regime appears to be diminishing. Civic participation in rights defense activities is growing. Banned information circulates despite censorship. And activities that the authorities have invested tremendous resources in suppressing have continued and even expanded.
  • Regime insecurity and internal resistance: The increase in repression appears to be driven by a deep sense of insecurity. Some of those tasked with implementing censorship, propaganda, and repression are instead showing sympathy with victims, quietly refusing to comply with orders, and expressing regret for their role in obstructing other citizens’ freedoms.

The study draws on an analysis of hundreds of official documents, censorship directives, and human rights reports, as well as some 30 interviews, examining the evolution of the censorship and internal security apparatus—as well as its limitations—since November 2012. It also offers recommendations to the international community on how to respond. 

Read the report here or download the PDF. 

China is rated Not Free in Freedom in the World 2014, Not Free in Freedom of the Press 2014, and Not Free in Freedom on the Net 2014

Is democracy in decline?

MarcplattnerAn optimistic long-term scenario presupposes that democracy remains the goal that countries are seeking, notes a leading authority. And this in turn is likely to depend on its being viewed both as the global standard of political legitimacy and as the best system for achieving the kind of prosperity and effective governance that almost all countries seek, writes Marc F. Plattner, editor of The Journal of Democracy.

What has changed most dramatically in recent years is that these presuppositions are increasingly being called into question, he writes for the latest issue. In my view, there are three chief reasons for this shift: 1) the growing sense that the advanced democracies are in trouble in terms of their economic and political performance; 2) the new self-confidence and seeming vitality of some authoritarian countries; and 3) the shifting geopolitical balance between the democracies and their rivals.

jod.26.1The first of these was generated by the 2008 financial crisis and its lingering economic consequences, including the recession and high unemployment rates that still plague much of Europe. That the advanced democracies suffered these reverses at a time when emerging-market countries were growing at a rapid clip undercut the notion that the institutions and policies of the West were worthy of emulation by “the rest.” The political dysfunction that afflicted the advanced democracies as they sought to respond to the crisis further weakened their appeal. As Thomas Carothers notes in his essay on the changing global context of democracy promotion, “Democracy’s travails in both the United States and Europe have greatly damaged the standing of democracy in the eyes of many people around the world.”

The flip side of democracy’s dwindling prestige has been the growing clout of a number of leading authoritarian regimes. Key among them is China, whose ability to make enormous economic strides without introducing democratic reforms has cast doubt on the notion that democracy is the only appropriate political system for wealthy countries. At the same time, as E. Gyimah-Boadi points out, China “is providing African governments with alternative non-Western markets, trade partners, and sources of military and development aid”—aid that is not tied to considerations of human rights or government accountability in the recipient states. Nor is China the only assertive nondemocratic power. Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela also have been learning from one another and even cooperating directly to thwart democracy’s progress.

The essay on China in this issue by Andrew J. Nathan is the first in a series that the Journal of Democracy will be publishing in 2015 on what we have labeled the “authoritarian resurgence.” It hurts to use this title; our first Journal of Democracy book, published in 1993, was called The Global Resurgence of Democracy. But today it does seem to be authoritarianism that has the wind at its back, even if it has not yet spread to many more countries. One sign of this is the headway that the authoritarians have made in the realm of “soft power,” especially in major regional and multilateral organizations. The prodemocratic norms that the democracies helped to embed in organizations such as the OSCE, the Council of Europe, and the OAS in the 1990s are being weakened by antidemocratic nations represented in these bodies. Countries such as Russia and China also are ramping up their cultural diplomacy and international broadcasting while Western efforts in these fields have been unfocused and underfunded.

But it is not only in “soft-power” competition that the advanced democracies have fallen short. Increasingly, they are looking weaker in terms of hard power as well, shrinking their defense budgets even as authoritarian states spend more on arms. Over the past 25 years, the Journal of Democracy devoted little attention to issues of interstate relations or military affairs. In part, this reflected our sense of where the Journal enjoys a comparative advantage among world-affairs periodicals—most of them focus on security and foreign policy, while few study the domestic politics of non-Western countries. But we also felt that the internal developments accompanying or preceding struggles over democracy often were decisive in shaping the direction of international relations. Certainly that seemed true during the height of the third wave. Though the international context mattered, of course, the spark for change frequently came from internal grievances, movements, and conflicts, and by concentrating on these the Journal, in our view, was generally “ahead of the curve” in providing insight into how international developments would unfold.


Amrika Chalo (Destination U.S.A.)


Written and directed by Pakistan’s leading theater artist Shahid Nadeem, a former Reagan-Fascell fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy, this hilarious send-up of U.S.-Pakistani relations set in an American consulate in Pakistan explodes stereotypes through satire. This workshop production will feature Pakistani artists from Ajoka Theatre as well as guest US professionals and advanced students.

Amrika Chalo (Destination U.S.A.)

by Shahid Nadeem

Friday and Saturday, January 23 and 24, 2015 at 8:00 p.m.



Purchase tickets  here

For production information, please contact:

Rob Jansen- rj407@georgetown.edu

Jojo Ruf- jvr4@georgetown.edu

Host Committee: Co-Chairs

Rashid Chotani – 571-425-9730

Tasneem Rais – 703-944-7674

Worker protests surge across China

china lb Shangzhi teachers strike

Construction workers, teachers and miners joined factory workers in a wave of strikes and protests across China in the final quarter of 2014. China Labour Bulletin’s Strike Map recorded 569 incidents during the fourth quarter, more than three times the number in the same period in 2013.

The dramatic upturn can be partially explained by the increased use of cheap smartphones and social media as tools by workers to get news of their protest action to a wider audience but at the same time there clearly is an increase in labour activism in response primarily to the economic slowdown in China over the last year or so.

The southern province of Guangdong continued to be the epicentre of worker activism in China, accounting for about 20 percent of all incidents, however there has been a sharp increase in the number of protests in several other provinces, with the number of incidents in Jiangsu, Shandong, and Henan jumping from 11, 6, and 6 respectively in the fourth quarter of 2013 to 43, 34, and 30 last year.


Priorities for Africa 2015

africa coverThe year 2015 will be an eventful one for the more than one billion people living in Africa. China, Africa’s largest trading partner, will hold the Sixth Forum on China-Africa Cooperation; the Post-2015 Development Agenda will chart a new course for global responses to poverty; West Africa will begin its recovery from the devastating Ebola crisis; and the continent’s largest economy, Nigeria, will face a defining presidential election (along with more than 15 other countries). Many of these milestones will bring opportunities for Africa to redefine its relationships with global partners and strengthen its voice on the world stage. Others will present obstacles to the continent’s steady march towards peace, security, and economic and human development.

On January 15, the Africa Growth Initiative at Brookings will host a discussion with leading Africa experts on the most important challenges the continent will face in 2015. The panel of Brookings experts will offer their expertise on these pressing issues as well give recommendations to national governments, regional organizations, multilateral institutions and civil society on how to approach them in order to create a peaceful and prosperous 2015 for Africa.

Further details here.