Rule of law – with Chinese characteristics

china rule of lawChinese authorities have detained former State Security Minister Zhou Yongkang on corruption charges and seized $14.5 billion in assets from the minister’s family and members of his inner circle, VOA reports.

“The Ministry of State Security, China’s internal intelligence agency, has been the recipient of huge amounts of money and political support,” said analyst Kerry Brown of the London-based Chatham House think tank. “The MSS, under the control of Zhou Yongkang, became a law unto itself. The MSS has had very little accountability.”

“As with other institutions affected by the anti-corruption purge,” Brown said, “the [leadership’s] strategy has been to take one or two individuals and to make an example of them. In this case, it has been Ma Jian…This is a sign that for the current anti-corruption campaign, no organization or entity is off bounds. The same goes for the military.”

The regime’s approach to rule of law illustrates that China’s elite wants democracy without the demos, says Columbia University’s Andrew Nathan, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy.

Chinese human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang talks to media in BeijingThe Chinese judicial system’s failure to release three high-profile key activists detained in recent months – public intellectual Guo Yushan, lawyer Pu Zhiqiang (right), and legal activist Guo Feixiong – reflects progressively harsher suppression of civil society, says Human Rights Watch:

There is no publicly available credible evidence of illegal behavior in any of their cases, yet all three are likely to advance in the coming weeks as judicial personnel handle these cases with instructions from Communist Party authorities. Over the past decade, the three have been at the forefront of China’s human rights movement, pushing officials for greater adherence to the law and devising new methods to advance their cause:

Guo Yushan, 38, founded two influential organizations in Beijing: the legal aid NGO Gongmeng in 2004, and a public policy think tank, the Transition Institute, in 2007. ….;

Pu Zhiqiang, 50, forged a unique path as a lawyer defending many sensitive and prominent free speech cases, including that of Ai Weiwei…. and

Guo Feixiong, 48, is best known for his work in 2005 aiding villagers in Taishi, Guangdong province, as they sought to remove the allegedly corrupt village leader from office. …..

“Under Xi Jinping’s leadership, the crackdown on dissent has netted some of China’s most respected critics known for their innovative activism developing the rule of law,” said Sophie Richardson, China director. “Prosecuting and imprisoning these well-established public figures indicates near-zero tolerance for independent activism.”

China analyst Nigel Inkster of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies said Xi’s corruption purge may be on shaky legal footing.

“So far things seem to be going Xi’s way,” he told VOA. “But he has gambled a lot on the success of this campaign which, however, suffers from the fact that it is not being pursued within a framework of rule of law…This may well be the hurdle at which it falls.”        

“The question remains to be whether Xi is taking a page from Chairman Mao,” said longtime political analyst Willy Lam with the Chinese University of Hong Kong, noting the three fallen leaders were all considered to be Xi’s political opponents. “Starting with Mao, corruption has been used to take down enemies of the more powerful faction,” he told CNN.

The Financial Times’ David Pilling and Julie Zhu report on arguments in Hong Kong over the term “rule of law.” Mainland officials such as ambassador Cui Tiankai have pushed an interpretation of the phrase which emphasizes public obedience, notes China Digital Times:

….as former Central Party School researcher Wang Guixiu told the South China Morning Post last year, “the public say it is about putting officials in check, while officials say it is about how to govern the public.” Prominent figures in Hong Kong’s legal community have recently urged its government to acknowledge its own obligations under rule of law as well as the public’s..[Source]

Read more from Stuart Lau at South China Morning Post.

At China Media Project, meanwhile, Qian Gang writes that an apparent “death sentence” on the phrase “judicial independence” presents “a worrying signal for rule of law” in China.


Indonesia’s Demokrasi: ‘still a work in progress’

indonesia democrasiLast October when Joko Widodo became president of Indonesia, the election of a man with scant political or military connections appeared to seal the country’s transformation from military dictatorship to credible democracy. It could so easily have been otherwise, writes FT analyst David Pilling.

“Fifteen years later,” writes Hamish McDonald in Demokrasi, “Indonesians were watching Egypt’s failed transition to democracy and thinking: That could have been us.”

On the surface, Indonesia is a huge success story. Although not a member of Jim O’Neill’s Brics club, in purchasing power parity terms its economy is roughly on a par with Britain’s. As the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation, it is also seen as a model of moderation…..

Yet, as Demokrasi makes clear, beneath the surface nothing is as straightforward as this list of virtues makes it appear. The picture that emerges is instead of a country still struggling to slough off its often dark past and still grappling with the business of creating a modern state capable of turning impressive headline gross domestic product growth into meaningful development. Religious intolerance has been allowed to fester and, if anything, is on the rise…..

Indonesia’s institution building is, the book makes clear, still a work in progress, he adds:

Radical political decentralisation has brought accountability, but also more layers of potential graft. There have been real attempts to rein in corruption, says McDonald, though bribe-taking remains rife. Even the Corruption Eradication Commission, which was established in 2002 and has taken some important scalps, has not been immune from scandal.


Kerry calls for more resources to fight ‘global extremism’


Top: Georges Wolinski, Jean Cabut (Cabu), Stéphane Charbonnier (Charb) Bottom: Bernard Maris, Bernard Velhac (Tignous) (Image credit: AFP/Metronews)

Top: Georges Wolinski, Jean Cabut (Cabu), Stéphane Charbonnier (Charb)
Bottom: Bernard Maris, Bernard Velhac (Tignous) (Image credit: AFP/Metronews)

Countries must devote more resources to fight global extremism, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said today, but the battle would falter if it becomes consumed by sectarian division or Islamophobia, Reuters reports:

Speaking against a backdrop of deadly Islamist militant attacks in France, Pakistan, Nigeria and elsewhere, Kerry told leaders at the annual World Economic Forum: “These kinds of actions can never be excused. And they have to be opposed. …..He compared efforts to curb the spread of extremist violence to the fight against fascism in World War Two. “The first step is to make clear the civilized world will not cower in the face of this violence,” he said.

Kerry made no specific new proposals for how to counter the tide of violent militancy. U.S. President Barack Obama has invited allies to a Washington summit on the issue on Feb. 18. Saying world leaders must “keep our heads,” Kerry warned: “The biggest error that we could make would be to blame Muslims collectively for crimes not committed by Muslims alone.

“Unless we direct our energies in the right direction, we may very well fuel the very fires we want to put out,” he said. “There’s no room for sectarian division, there’s no room for anti-Semitism or Islamophobia.”

He added: “We can’t change minds without knowing what’s in them. And we have to do so mindful of the fact that understanding and acceptance are not the same.”

“We have to do more to avoid an endless cycle of violent extremism,” he said.

islamists nytBut New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman endorses columnist Rich Lowry’s  Politico essay in which he suggested that “the administration has lapsed into unselfconscious ridiculousness”  by using the phrase ‘violent extremism’ in order to obscure or deny the ideological motivation of radical Islamists.

Friedman also cites a remarkable piece in The Washington Post  by American Muslim Asra Q. Nomani, which called out the “honor corps” — a loose, well-funded coalition of governments and private individuals “that tries to silence debate on extremist ideology in order to protect the image of Islam”:

It “throws the label of ‘Islamophobe’ on pundits, journalists and others who dare to talk about extremist ideology in the religion. … The official and unofficial channels work in tandem, harassing, threatening and battling introspective Muslims and non-Muslims everywhere. … The bullying often works to silence critics of Islamic extremism. … They cause governments, writers and experts to walk on eggshells.”

Indeed, the aftermath of the tragic spate of terrorist attacks in Paris provokes several difficult questions, notes Mohammed Dajani Daoudi, founder of the Wasatia movement of moderate Islam:

How can we reform Islam? How can Islam, and for that matter all religions, be purged of radicals and extremists who preach and practice hate and intolerance in the name of God? Can the state impose religious reform without the support of official religious authorities? Can there be an honest and enlightened interpretation of the Quran without sparking a counterrevolution?

Moderate Muslims cannot remain bystanders, he writes for Fikra Forum:

We have to join forces in recognition that our religion has been hijacked by a small, vocal minority for political ends. We, the silent, moderate majority, must raise our voices no matter the risk and stand up for what we believe. Only our voices can stem the allure of radical Islam. We must draw on our creativity and innovation to promote moderation in religion and politics, and strive to create a world built on egalitarianism, democracy, moderation, and prosperity.

There is a remarkably novel and unlikely ideological alternative emerging to Islamist radicalism, argues David Romano, Professor of Middle East Politics at Missouri State University, and co-editor of Conflict, Democratization and the Kurds in the Middle East (2014, Palgrave Macmillan):

The Kurds of Syria and Turkey, in the most unlikely of circumstances, have reinvented their leading political movements and begun experimenting with a modern variant of egalitarian, local, direct democracy. In a world thirsty for ways to contain the Islamist fever that has taken over many Muslims, one would expect people to pay a bit more attention to such secular efforts, or to at least be a bit more enthusiastic about such alternatives. Yet serious discussions of “democratic autonomy” barely make the mainstream news. 

 A  “new integrationist” discourse is widely shared across European countries and, interestingly, promoted by former left-wing activists, notes Jocelyne Cesari, Senior Research Fellow at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, and Director of Harvard University’s Islam in the West Program:  

Gender equality and rejection of religious authority, which were primary left-wing topics of struggle in the 1960s have become in the present decade the legitimate markers of European identity. In these conditions, all groups and individuals are required to demonstrate conformity to these liberal values in order to become legitimate members of national communities. The “Moderate Muslims” label serves this purpose. It creates a distinction that is supposedly not based on Islam as such but on the adherence of Muslims to liberal values.

Brutal intimidation of actual and potential critics is just one of the aims of revolutionary groups, notes Ian Buruma, Professor of Democracy, Human Rights, and Journalism at Bard College:

What revolutionaries hate most of all are not direct attacks by their enemies, but the necessary compromises, the give and take, the negotiations and adaptations that go with living in a liberal democracy. Their most important goal is to gain more recruits for their cause. If they are Islamists, they must try to force peaceful, law-abiding Muslims to stop making compromises with the secular societies they live in. They need more Holy Warriors.

The most effective way to do this is to provoke an anti-Muslim backlash by attacking symbolic targets, such as the Twin Towers in New York, a notorious filmmaker in Amsterdam, or a controversial satirical magazine in Paris. The more Muslims in Europe feel feared, rejected, and under siege by the non-Muslim majority, the more likely they are to support the extremists.

“If we conclude from last weeks’ murders that Islam is at war with the West, the jihadis will have won a major victory,” Buruma contends. “If we embrace the peaceful majority of Muslims as our allies against revolutionary violence, and treat them as fully equal fellow citizens, our democracies will emerge stronger.”

For analyst Ahmed Benchemsi, founder & editor in chief of, promoting democracy in so-called Muslim countries and empowering local liberals would be a good place to start.

Western media an ‘unwitting ally’ of North Korea?

NKShin-Dong-hyuk_2824961bAre elements of western media unwitting allies of North Korean propaganda? asks Michael Kirby, chair of the UN inquiry into North Korea’s human rights abuses. Does the way we cover news and opinion in developed countries play into the hands of autocratic and totalitarian countries, which are skillfully focused on hiding their human rights crimes?

These are questions posed by the response to the news this week that North Korean defector Shin Dong-hyuk (above) recanted parts of the story of his dramatic escape from a political detention camp, Kirby writes for The Guardian:

The admission came to light after North Korea released a video in October 2014 showing a man who claimed to be Shin’s father telling his son to repent false evidence he had given to the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on human rights in North Korea. Shin’s father said his son should return to the warm embrace of the Korean Workers Party and admit the falsehood of his claims.

Seeing his father, whom he had long believed to be dead, tormented the younger Shin. Eventually he told American writer Blaine Harden that some of the details in their popular book Escape from Camp 14 needed to be revised. ….. Shin issued an emotional statement on social media last Sunday offering apologies to fellow refugees.

“The international community should not be deflected by the minor retractions of a single, highly traumatized person who remains just another of the tragic victims of the totalitarian regime in Pyongyang,’ he concludes. RTWT

Michael Kirby was chair of the UN Commission of Inquiry on human rights in North Korea (2013-14) and Justice of the High Court of Australia (1996-2009)

Former political prisoner in Tibet overcomes the odds

When Tsultrim Dolma, a cheerful middle-aged woman from Tibet now living in Amherst, finished retelling her story the small classroom fell silent, Brendan Deady reports:

Dolma was born in a small village in Eastern Tibet in 1968, not long after the Dalai Lama signed the 17-Point Plan for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet that granted China sovereignty over Tibet, according to the Council of Foreign Relations. Many Tibetans believe the Chinese government coerced the Dalai Lama, currently in exile in India, into the agreement. In the decades following the Tibetan annexation, China outlawed demonstrations of Tibetan culture and public support for an independent Tibet. According to Dolma, government officials controlled almost every aspect of their lives.

“I remember that all the adults were always afraid. I would ask about the ruins of temples that the Chinese destroyed and the elders of the village would hit me,” she recalled. “They feared they would disappear into prisons or be killed if they were heard talking about the past.” RTWT

china tibet rfa TIBET_-_0121_-_Miniere_e_proteste_(F)China has begun railway construction towards a disputed Indian border, VOA reports:

Tibet People’s Daily said the railway from Lhasa to Nyingtri would boost local economic and social development and that “it has important significance in the unification of nationalities.” China claims Arunachal Pradesh is part of the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR). Experts say this project is doomed to raise Indian security concerns.

Chinese mining operations in a Tibetan-populated region of Qinghai province are wrecking the environment, with mountains stripped bare and waterways polluted by runoff from the mines, sources told Radio Free Asia.

Is there a recipe for success in advocating for Tibet at an international level?

Following Deng Xiaoping’s overture to His Holiness the Dalai Lama in 1979, both the Tibetan and Chinese leadership made serious efforts to resolve the Tibet issue through direct contact, writes Lodi Gyari:

During this period, His Holiness sent several fact-finding missions to various regions of Tibet and in 1982 and 1984, he sent some of us as his emissaries to begin exploratory talks with the Chinese leadership. By the mid-1980s, however, it became clear that these direct efforts were not producing results.

After lengthy deliberations, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan leadership made the decision to reach out to the Chinese leadership by other means – by creating international awareness of Tibet and by seeking the support of global leaders for our effort to begin substantive dialogue. The Chinese leadership was becoming more sensitive to international opinion and was aggressively courting Western nations to help realize their ambitious plan to modernize the Chinese economy. This gave the international community an unprecedented opportunity to help move forward the issue of Tibet.

tibetweibo-banner-threeWhen asked to share the recipe for his success in advocating for the Tibet cause at an international level, he gave a three-fold response:

First, I have a passionate belief in the cause of the Tibetan people and an unwavering commitment to serve under the leadership of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Second, I have sought out colleagues and associates who are wiser and more capable than myself—individuals who are willing to think creatively and not simply agree with everything I say. The team we assembled has brought unparalleled intelligence, talent and commitment to our efforts, and through vigorous intellectual discourse they have contributed unique insights and perspectives to our cause. Finally, I have never been afraid to seek help, and I have been able to establish relationships of trust with people who have the power to assist us in our efforts. RTWT

At his Culturally Curious blog, Matt Adler talks to Columbia University’s Robert Barnett about the complexities of Tibetan language and its situation in China. Both dialects and policies, Barnett points out, vary more than is often recognized, China Digital Times adds:

Today, in the post-Mao era, the language of state mouthpieces like the newspapers, television, radio and official texts (including history texts) is still locked in the Leninist era from 35 years ago – to read an official Tibetan newspaper day after day, with its wooden terminology and endless praise of the state, is a mind-numbing experience. And China’s education policies in Lhasa and the Tibet Autonomous Region are very damaging for Tibetan language: all middle schools there (unlike Qinghai) are required to use Chinese as the teaching medium. This is starting to happen in kindergartens now too. So a lot depends on whether the Qinghai or the Lhasa model of education is adopted in the future. [Source]

Earlier this month, Xinhua noted the publication of a new encyclopedic Tibetan dictionary, arguing that the introduction of terms for “WeChat,” “broadband,” and “robot,” as well as “lightning marriage,” “new normal,” and “Silk Road economic belt,” show that Tibetan language is flourishing:

[…] “The dictionary is getting thicker, more professional and encyclopedic, which is strong proof of Tibet’s cultural development,” said Wangchug, 69, a Tibetan language translator. [Source]

The state news agency also reported that Han officials in the Tibetan Autonomous Region will now be required to “master” Tibetan, following Xi Jinping’s declaration last September that “one cannot serve the local people well if one cannot speak the local language.”

Read more on Tibetan language, and more from Robert Barnett, via CDT.