Pre-empt a Tiananmen in Hong Kong

CHINA HK CDTThousands of Hong Kong university students abandoned classes on Monday to rally against Chinese government limits on voting rights, a bellwether demonstration of the city’s appetite for turning smoldering discontent into street-level opposition, the New York Times reports:

Last month, the Chinese legislature proposed election rule changes for Hong Kong. Starting in 2017, they would allow residents to vote directly for the leader of the city’s government, the chief executive, but a nominating committee dominated by pro-Beijing loyalists would be used to restrict how many and which candidates could enter the contest.

The demonstrations may have only the slightest chance of forcing Beijing to change its mind and allow an open ballot, but student activists said they were ready to fight for many years…..Frustration with Chinese policy in Hong Kong is especially deep among the young, and contention over voting rights has given many otherwise apolitical students a jolt of civic engagement.

Two of the world’s powerful autocracies, both rooted in the idea and practice of communist dictatorship, are bent on encroaching upon freedom and democracy on two different fronts: Ukraine and Hong Kong, former political prisoners Yang Jianli, Teng Biao and Hu Jia write for the Wall Street Journal:

China has the potential to become an even more relentless, aggressive dictatorship than Russia. From their support for rogue regimes in Iran, North Korea, and Syria to their military buildups and aggressive use of cyber warfare and technology theft, Moscow and Beijing are playing for keeps and their corrosive impact should worry the free world.

Only a strong, unambiguous warning from the U.S. will cause either of those countries to carefully consider the costs of new violent acts of repression, they contend (Mr. Yang is the president of Initiatives for China. Mr. Teng is a human rights lawyer. Mr. Hu is a winner of the Sakharov Prize.) RTWT

Uyghur scholar Tohti receives life sentence for ‘separatism’

tohtiAn Urumqi court passed an unexpectedly heavy sentence of life imprisonment for separatism on Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti on Tuesday, The New York Times’ Edward Wong reports:

The punishment was among the harshest that Chinese officials have imposed on a political dissident in recent years. Officials announced Ilham Tohti’s sentence after holding a two-day trial in Urumqi, the regional capital, that ended last Wednesday. Mr. Tohti was taken by the police last January from his home in Beijing, where he teaches economics at Minzu University, and was brought to Xinjiang to be held here and charged with separatism, to which he pleaded not guilty.

Officials in Xinjiang are grappling with a surge in violence between the mostly Muslim, Turkic-speaking Uighurs and the Han, the dominant ethnic group in China. Communist Party leaders have long said that Xinjiang is in a battle with the forces of terrorism, separatism and religious extremism and that all steps must be taken to stamp out the insurgency. But foreign scholars, diplomats and human rights advocates denounce China’s hard-line policies against the Uighurs, and they say the harsh measures that China has taken against moderates like Mr. Tohti will only lead to further radicalization of Uighurs and a rise in violence, including the kind encouraged by foreign jihadist groups.

The Uyghur American Association (UAA) condemned the sentence “in the strongest terms,” adding that it considers the verdict and punishment “a clear indicator of China’s derision for international standards of justice.”

“By heavily sentencing Professor Tohti, China has proven that it has no interest in peace in East Turkestan,” said UAA president, Alim Seytoff. “China has shown to the whole world that it will show no mercy to any Uyghur who dares to challenge its repressive rule.”

In an interview with Ian Johnson for The New York Review of Books (via China Digital Times) this summer, scholar Wang Lixiong predicted that clearing out the ideological middle ground might be precisely the authorities’ goal: “The only conclusion is dark: it’s that they don’t want moderate Uighurs. Because if you have moderate Uighurs, then why aren’t you talking to them? So they wanted to get rid of him and then you can say to the West that there are no moderates and we’re fighting terrorists.”  RTWT

China uses SCO to challenge liberal world order

China_ideologyThe Shanghai Co-operation Organization (SCO) poses a challenge to the liberal world order, albeit a subtle one, The Economist argues:

China itself is building all sorts of institutions: the SCO, CICA, the “BRICS” (grouping China with Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa), a Trilateral Commission (at present languishing) with South Korea and Japan and a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. Their shared characteristics are that China has a big and sometimes dominant role and that the United States is not a member—and indeed was rebuffed when it sought to join the SCO as an observer.

“China is not just challenging the existing world order,” The Economist suggests. “Slowly, messily and, apparently with no clear end in view, it is building a new one.”


China is no model for poor countries

CHINA winner-take-all-cover-fs8Other rising powers are eager to emulate China’s success and pursue statist policies that quickly deliver a short-term jolt, notes Dambisa Moyo, the author of “Winner Take All: China’s Race for Resources and What It Means for the World.” Under state capitalism, China has delivered phenomenal growth, brought hundreds of millions out of poverty, bulked up infrastructure and delivered social services, she writes for the Wall Street Journal.

Moreover, as autocratic China has surged, democracy and capitalism have suffered a series of setbacks that make them less tempting options. But the Chinese model isn’t as viable as its admirers in the emerging world often think, she contends:

First, unlike many emerging markets, China’s growth has been driven largely by exports. Its success has been dependent on the free markets of the West. Most other emerging-market economies are based on agricultural commodities—just the sort of produce that the U.S. and Europe undercut with their own domestic subsidies.

Second, an economic system with the state at its heart is inefficient because it dislocates markets. When the government is the ultimate economic arbiter, assets are inevitably mispriced, which hinders sustained, longer-term growth. …

Finally, policies that mimic China may yield a short-term burst in employment, but they also produce serious negative externalities and economic dead weight. China itself is now grappling with massive debt woes in its financial sector, a property bubble that could burst at any time and pollution that slows growth.

“It should worry us all that, in the face of growing popular unrest, many leaders in emerging markets are turning to authoritarian, state-centric models,” Moyo argues. “Whatever the short-term political appeal of such policies, they are likely, in the long run, to exacerbate social turmoil and create a vicious cycle for both emerging markets and the world as a whole.”


‘Doubling down’ on democracy in face of new authoritarians?

fukuyama pol order decayWestern liberal democracy now faces a competitor Frances Fukuyama did not anticipate when he wrote “The End of History?,” says Harvard’s Michael Ignatieff: states that are capitalist in economics, authoritarian in politics, and nationalist in ideology. These new authoritarians are conducting an epoch-making historical experiment as to whether regimes that allow private freedoms can endure when they deny their citizens public freedom.

Fukuyama, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy, “has learned caution since ‘The End of History?,’” he writes for The Atlantic, in a review of Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalization of Democracy:

If his analysis is true, however, then Presidents Xi and Putin should beware. Over the long term—and nobody knows how long that might be—authoritarian regimes that allow their citizens capitalist freedoms but deny them democratic rights will explode, in revolution, coups, civil war, or a combination of all three. Democratization, Fukuyama seems to be saying, will eventually turn out to be necessary to Russia’s and China’s very survival as unitary states.

He also takes a relatively optimistic view of political developments in the Arab world, Ignatieff notes…

…..arguing that a middle class is steadily growing there, education levels are rising, and economies are opening up, all of which mean that autocracy or military dictatorship cannot last forever. Islam, he insists, is not an enemy of democracy. Indeed, Islamic parties have best captured the demand for political voice and dignity. Fukuyama clings to the Tunisian example, where moderate Islamic parties and secular political groups have agreed on a compromise constitution that does not let Sharia trump the rule of law.

Fukuyama’s assumption that middle classes always want democracy would seem to break down in Egypt, where the middle class of Cairo teamed up with the army to restore a military dictatorship after the first wave of the Arab Spring. Elsewhere, Islamists have exploited demands for voice and dignity, and Syria and Iraq are crumbling as their regimes fight to hold on to power. Not even Fukuyama is up to the challenge of predicting how long this battle will last, or who will win.


MICHAEL IGNATIEFF, the Edward R. Murrow Professor of the Press, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School, is the author of Fire and Ashes: Success and Failure in Politics.