Defending Hong Kong democracy in ‘global war of ideology’

MARTIN LEETwo of the most stalwart fighters for democracy in the global war of ideology were in Washington last week, hoping for moral support, The Washington Post’s Fred Hiatt reports:

They made for an odd couple, though each has spent more than 40 years in the struggle: one is a consummate insider and the other has always battled from the outside.

The latter, lawyer Martin Lee (left) fought the British for more autonomy when they ruled Hong Kong. Since the British left in 1997, he has pressed Beijing to keep its word to allow Hong Kong to preserve its separate system of governance within China — the formula known as “one country, two systems.” …Anson Chan (right), by contrast, rose AnsonchanHKthrough the prestigious Hong Kong civil service to the top appointed position of chief secretary, resigning in 2001 when she felt the chief executive was allowing Beijing to chip away at Hong Kong’s core values: rule of law, a level playing field and freedom of press, speech and association.

With the 2017 and 2020 elections on the horizon, Chinese leaders are making increasingly clear they intend to install politicians they can control, an ominous sign for Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedoms—not to mention the economy, which relies on transparency and the rule of law, the two veteran leaders told a meeting at the National Endowment for Democracy

U.S. President Barack Obama recently told an audience in Brussels that, though the future belongs to those who support freedom and democracy, “those rules are not self-executing” and “the contest of ideas continues for your generation,” Hiatt observes, yet he also insisted that there is no new Cold War. “After all,” he said, “unlike the Soviet Union, Russia leads no bloc of nations, no global ideology.”

It’s true that “anti-freedom” doesn’t sound like an ideology to most Americans…But the dictators of Russia and China today are making a bid for legitimacy as well as survival, he writes:

They present themselves as guarantors of stability, warding off the confusion and insecurity that follow democratic uprisings. They boast of investing in the future — in highways and fast trains — in ways that pandering elected officials in India or the United States cannot manage. They put their systems forward as an antidote to the empty materialism of capitalist democracies — the pornography, the hedonism, the lack of respect for elders and religious leaders. They claim to stand for community, spirituality and tradition.

…But whether the leaders believe in their stew of xenophobia, phony egalitarianism and traditional (Russian Orthodox or Confucian) values hardly matters. They are fighting a new Cold War against democracy, and the other side is only intermittently on the field.


HK democracy activists urge West to speak out

MARTIN LEETwo prominent Hong Kong democracy campaigners on Wednesday urged Western powers to speak out against what they described as Beijing’s growing interference in the semi-autonomous financial hub, AFP reports:

On a visit to Washington, Martin Lee, a founder of the opposition Democratic Party, recalled that the United States and other nations had tried to reassure Hong Kong residents by throwing their support behind the deal in which Britain returned the city to China in 1997.

“Every government that supported the joint declaration and continues to support it owes a moral obligation to the people of Hong Kong to speak out when something like today is going terribly wrong,” Lee said at the US-funded National Endowment for Democracy. “All we are asking for is fair play. After all, China promised democracy to Hong Kong.”

China has promised to allow direct elections for Hong Kong’s chief executive in 2017 but critics question the credibility of the vote if Beijing approves candidates.


Understanding China’s Crackdown on Rights Advocates

tohtiChinese officials have cracked down on independent rights advocacy, detaining large numbers of individuals for peacefully advocating on issues ranging from combating official corruption and protecting the rights of ethnic minorities to ensuring educational equality for migrant children and seeking greater freedom of the press.

Those detained include Ilham Tohti (right), a scholar and an advocate for the Uyghur ethnic minority, who sought to build bridges between Uyghurs and the majority Han population. They also include individuals from the New Citizens’ Movement, who have called for social justice, rule of law, and citizen rights.  The detentions are occurring against the backdrop of the Chinese government’s own anti-corruption campaign and stated push for legal reforms.

Senator Sherrod Brown, Chairman and Representative Christopher Smith, Cochairman

of the

Congressional-Executive Commission on China

announce a hearing on

Understanding China’s Crackdown on Rights Advocates: Personal Accounts and Perspectives”

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Russell Senate Office Building, Room 418

Witnesses will discuss, among other things, personal accounts of the crackdown as well as its significance for China’s human rights and rule of law development.


Jewher Ilham: Daughter of detained Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti 

Donald Clarke: David A. Weaver Research Professor of Law, George Washington University School of Law 

Dr. Sophie Richardson: China Director, Human Rights Watch

***Additional witnesses may be added 

The hearing will be webcast live here.

On February 21, 2014, nine members of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) signed a letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping expressing serious concern over the worsening crackdown on rights defenders and civil society activists. The letter is available here:

The Congressional-Executive Commission on China, established by the U.S.-China Relations Act of 2000 as China prepared to enter the World Trade Organization, is mandated by law to monitor human rights, including worker rights, and the development of the rule of law in China. The Commission by mandate also maintains a database of information on political prisoners in China-individuals who have been imprisoned by the Chinese government for exercising their civil and political rights under China’s Constitution and laws or under China’s international human rights obligations. All of the Commission’s reporting and its Political Prisoner Database are available to the public online via the Commission’s Web site,

China after Tiananmen: money, yes; ideas, no

tiananmenexilesThe New York Review of Books reprints a chapter by Perry Link in Rowena He’s Tiananmen Exiles: Voices of the Struggle for Democracy in China, in which he discusses the legacy of the June 4th, 1989 military crackdown on protesters in Beijing, 25 years later, China Digital Times reports:

The Tiananmen massacre, as if having a will of its own, seems to come back to undermine whatever the regime claims as its legitimacy. In 1989 it killed the “socialist idealism” claim once and for all; then, when Deng shifted to nationalism, stressing that the Party and people are one, it was impossible not to recall when the Party and the people were on opposite ends of machine guns. So the regime still needs to list massacre-memory as one of the kinds of thought that most needs to be erased. It uses both push and pull to do this. “Push” includes warnings and threats, and—for the recalcitrant—computer and cell-phone confiscation, passport denial, employment loss, bank-account seizure, and the like, and—for the truly stubborn—house arrest or prison. “Pull” includes “invitations to tea” at which one hears smiling reminders that a better life is available to people who stop talking about massacres; advice that it is still not too late to make this kind of adjustment; comparisons with others who are materially better off for having made just that decision; offers of food, travel, employment, and other emoluments (larger if one cooperates by reporting on others); and counsel that it is best not to reveal the content of all this friendly tea-talk to anyone else.

The “pull” tactics have been especially effective in the culture of the money-making and materialism that has pervaded Chinese society in recent times. The emphasis on money, in combination with authoritarian limits on open discussion of other principles, has led to a poverty in the society’s public values. Vaclav Havel wrote about the “post-totalitarian” condition as one in which a pervasive web of official lies comes to constitute a sort of second version of daily life. Echoing Havel, the Tiananmen student leader Shen Tong observes that “the reality of living in a police state” is that “you live in a huge public lie.” The scholar and fellow Tiananmen leader Wang Dan, in explaining the behavior of people who, from no real fault of their own, become inured to lies over time, finds that they “lie subconsciously.” China’s celebration of money-making does make it different from Havel’s Czechoslovakia, but hardly better. Far from melting the artificiality (as the theories of optimistic Western politicians have held that it would), the money craze in some ways has worsened it.



Will China Democratize?

Chinawill it democratizeA  year ago the International Forum for Democratic Studies convened a panel entitled “China at the Tipping Point?” based on the series of articles that appeared under that title in the January 2013 Journal of Democracy. It is also approximately a year since the turnover of power within the Chinese Communist Party that brought President Xi Jinping to the country’s top leadership position. Many observers expected that Xi would prove to be a reformer, but so far there is little evidence that this has been the case, at least with respect to political reform.  

This panel will evaluate developments over the past year and examine in what ways China may be moving closer to or farther from a “tipping point.” All of the panelists are contributors to Will China Democratize?, a Journal of Democracy book edited by Andrew J. Nathan, Larry Diamond, and Marc F. Plattner that was published by Johns Hopkins University Press in the fall of 2013. The event also will celebrate the book’s publication, and copies will be available for purchase (cash or check only).

Will China Democratize?

A Journal of Democracy  book edited by

Andrew J. Nathan, Larry Diamond, and Marc F. Plattner

published by Johns Hopkins University Press


Louisa Greve, Andrew J. Nathan, Minxin Pei, and Marc F. Plattner 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

4:00-5:30 p.m.

    1025 F Street, N.W., Suite 800, Washington, D.C. 20004

Telephone: 202-378-9675  

RSVP (acceptances only) with name and affiliation

by Tuesday, April 8 at 

Louisa Greve is vice president for Asia, Middle East & North Africa, and Global Programs at the National Endowment for Democracy, where she previously served as director for East Asia, senior program officer, and program officer. She has studied, worked, and travelled in Asia since 1980 and has testified before Congressional committees on human rights in China and democracy promotion in Asia.  

Andrew J. Nathan is Class of 1919 Professor of Political Science at Columbia University. His teaching and research interests include Chinese politics and foreign policy, the comparative study of political participation and political culture, and human rights. Prof. Nathan’s most recent other book is China’s Search for Security, co-authored with Andrew Scobell. 

Minxin Pei is the Tom and Margot Pritzker ’72 Professor of Government and the director of the Keck Center for International and Strategic Studies at Claremont McKenna College. His research focuses on democratization in developing countries, economic reform and governance in China, and U.S.-China relations. His books include China’s Trapped Transition: The Limits of Developmental Autocracy 

Marc F. Plattner (moderator)is coeditor of the Journal of Democracy, vice-president for research and studies at the National Endowment for Democracy, and co-chair of the research council of the International Forum for Democratic Studies. His latest book is Democracy without Borders? Global Challenges to Liberal Democracy.