Beijing Consensus waning: democracy bests ‘efficient’ alternatives


These are interesting days for those who remember the time not so long ago when there was a “Beijing consensus” that authoritarian political leadership produced better economic results, notes analyst Joseph Sternberg.

“In that era, the unelected kleptocrats in China delivered consistently high growth figures while the softer technocrats of Hong Kong maintained stability and positive nonintervention. Democracies produced either populism (Thailand) or paralysis (India and Japan),” he writes for the Wall Street Journal:

Now it’s a foolish executive who isn’t reconsidering. Spurred by rising panic about the durability of its grip on power, China’s opaque political class has launched a war on corruption that already has claimed one foreign corporate victim, GlaxoSmithKline and likely will ensnare many others. Normally peaceable Hong Kong faces civil unrest amid unmet popular demands for democracy.

Hong Kong is an important case because, with the possible exception of Singapore, it is the place where softly-softly autocracy arguably worked the best for the longest. It is also the place where a potential crack-up looms largest this week, as at least 700,000 Hong Kongers have participated in an unofficial referendum to demand greater democracy, and could take to the streets in a protest movement known as Occupy Central if Beijing doesn’t deliver.

“It is no small matter that the territory’s gentle authoritarianism under the British and then the Chinese—partial autonomy and partial democracy—delivered the positive non-interventionism that allowed the economy to prosper,” Sternberg notes:

Yet it’s becoming clear that without a democratic mandate, the stability of that pro-economic-freedom consensus was illusory. Recent years have seen the government roll out a competition law and a minimum wage, special property taxes and even a levy on plastic bags, all in an attempt to retain non-democratic legitimacy by pandering to vocal interest groups.


China fumes over US push to rename embassy street after dissident


China on Wednesday dismissed as a “farce” and a “smear” a vote by a United States panel of lawmakers to rename a Washington road in front of its embassy after imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, Reuters reports.

The bipartisan effort to have the section of International Place NW that runs in front of the Chinese Embassy named after the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner presently jailed in China, received a big boost in Congress yesterday when the full House Appropriations Committee approved by voice vote an amendment to the FY 2015 spending bill that funds the State Department to rename the portion of the street, the office of Rep. Frank Wolf reports:

The amendment was offered by Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) after learning that the street is owned by the federal government and not the District of Columbia.  The amendment directs the Secretary of State to officially rename the section of International Place that runs directly in front of the Chinese Embassy “Liu Xiaobo Plaza” and post accompanying street signs.  For purposes of U.S. Postal code, the embassy’s address would change to No. 1 Liu Xiaobo Plaza so that every piece of incoming mail to the embassy would bear the name of the imprisoned Nobel laureate.    

In May, a bipartisan group of Members of Congress, including several from the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, asked the District of Columbia to rename the street as a way to highlight Liu’s unjust imprisonment and send a symbolic – but strong – message that the United States is committed to advocating for the protection of basic human rights worldwide.  

The group cited as precedent congressional action in the 1980s to rename the street in front of the Soviet Embassy in Washington ‘Sakharov Plaza,’ after jailed dissident Andrei Sakharov.  The letter was timed to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre in China. in which Dr. Liu took part and marked the start of his peaceful, pro-democracy efforts. 

On June 4, 15 Senators sent a similar letter. Wolf subsequently met with D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson who on June 17 introduced a Sense of the Council Resolution supporting the effort.  The chairman has indicated that he intends to move the resolution prior to the July Council recess. 

Chinese authorities have failed to live up to their agreement with the United States concerning his release and exile, says Chen Guangcheng, a distinguished senior fellow in human rights at theWitherspoon Institute, distinguished visiting fellow of the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at Catholic University and senior distinguished adviser at the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice.

Not only has the Chinese government relentlessly persecuted members of my family since my departure, it also never investigated its prior abuses, as it committed to do. And it imprisoned my nephew, who remains in jail today,” he writes for The Washington Post:

By the time I arrived in the United States two years ago, many people knew about my journey. As a self-trained “barefoot” lawyer, I believed I could use the Chinese constitution — the government’s sacred promise to its people — to promote social justice and benefit my community. But I quickly learned that the rule of law means nothing in the face of tyranny and impunity. Like so many before me, I was jailed on fabricated charges. Even after my release, Chinese officials placed me under house arrest with no legal justification. To keep me in line, my entire family was targeted for persecution — an indication of just how badly the regime has lost its moral center.


HK’s unofficial poll ‘draws Beijing’s ire’

More than 200,000 residents of Hong Kong did something on Friday that no one in mainland China can do: They participated in a free vote over their political future, The New York Times reports:

The results are nonbinding because the election is not official: It is a referendum held by a civic group on how the 7.2 million people in Hong Kong, a former British colony, will elect their head of government. The voting on Friday was through computers and mobile phones, with organizers saying they would have been pleased if 100,000 people had cast ballots over the entire 10-day voting period, which ends June 29…..

The referendum’s organizers have vowed to disrupt the city’s central business district later this year with a sit-in protest, called Occupy Central, drawing on civil disobedience principles — Henry David Thoreau is often invoked — should the central government in Beijing and Hong Kong’s administration fail to come up with a plan for universal suffrage, promised by 2017, that meets international standards for free and fair elections. Mr. Leung, who took office in 2012, was chosen by a group of fewer than 1,200 Hong Kong residents.

“Organizers of the referendum say its online voting platform has faced cyberattacks in recent days,” The Times reports:

The standoff comes as one authoritative poll shows that dissatisfaction in Hong Kong with the way Beijing is managing its rule over the territory is at its highest level in a decade. The trend is especially pronounced among the young, with 82 percent of permanent residents aged 21 to 29 polled in December and January by the Hong Kong Transition Project expressing dissatisfaction.

Such feelings are being driven by concern that Hong Kong’s civil liberties, guaranteed until 2047, are being slowly eroded as the mainland’s economic and political influence grows. A policy document, or white paper, recently issued by the State Council reminded Hong Kong’s people that their liberties were granted solely by Beijing and also said that judges and other government officials must be “patriots,” language that Hong Kong’s bar association says encroaches on judicial independence.


Uyghurs ‘trapped in a virtual cage’

Chinese authorities have exerted effective control over how Uyghurs seek, receive and impart information online by employing technical and legislative strategies, according to Trapped in a Virtual Cage: Chinese State Repression of Uyghurs Online. The new report from the Uyghur Human Rights Project also documents how the Communist authorities use the criminal justice system to create an atmosphere of fear, intimidation and self-censorship.

“It is no surprise Chinese officials have placed unprecedented controls over the Uyghur Internet. They fear that an open online environment in East Turkestan will expose egregious human rights abuses committed against the Uyghur people under their administration,” said UHRP director, Alim Seytoff. “This report is the most comprehensive analysis available on the systemic repression of Uyghur online activity. The Chinese authorities can, at will, imprison Uyghurs who peacefully express dissent online and deny Uyghurs access to the Internet at the flick of a switch.”

“The Internet in East Turkestan is not the vehicle for empowerment, accountability and freedom that it is in the democracies of the world. What it represents, however, is another means for the Chinese state to disseminate propaganda and falsehoods about the Uyghur condition, as well as to flush out its perceived enemies,” added Mr. Seytoff.

China: harsh sentences for anti-corruption activists

China-_Tre_Activists_-_Liu_-_Wei-LiNew Citizens’ Movement activists Liu Ping and Wei Zhongping were each sentenced to six and a half years in prison on Thursday, while a third, Li Sihua, received a sentence of three years, China Digital Times reports.

The New Citizens advocate causes such as asset disclosure by officials and education rights for migrants’ children; these judgments are the latest in a series against members of the movement, which has been systematically dismantled over the past year. From Patrick Boehler at South China Morning Post:

The Yushui District People’s Court in Xinyu found all three defendants guilty of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”. Liu and Wei were also found guilty of “gathering a crowd to disrupt public order in a public space” and “using an evil cult to undermine law enforcement”.

The Xinyu verdicts are the harshest reported so far in a nationwide crackdown on the New Citizens Movement that started last year.

[…] Local authorities in Xinyu have long considered the three “thorns in their eyes”, said Maya Wang, a Hong Kong-based researcher for Human Rights Watch. “The local authorities have essentially used the current crackdown as an opportunity,” she said. [Source]

The charges of “using an evil cult” refer to messages Liu and Wei sent about the trial of a Falun Gong practitioner in 2012. A press release from Amnesty International reported that some of the charges had been changed without proper notice:

The court changed the charge from “illegal assembly” to the more heavy charge of “picking quarrels and creating troubles” six months after the trial and just days before the sentencing. This sudden change meant that Liu Ping’s lawyers, Si Weijiang and Yang Xuelin, were only informed of the date of the sentencing two days in advance. This violates the legal requirement of three days’ advance notice, and forced the lawyers to be absent at the sentencing due to other court appearances. [Source]

The three’s trial in Xinyu in December—their second, after they aborted the first by dismissing their own lawyers in protest—was marked by pandemonium outside the courthouse. Defence lawyers including Pu Zhiqiang, himself recently arrested, reported that hundreds of “government-appointed thugs” surrounded them, shoving and hurling insults. (A subsequent directory from the State Council Information Office ordered that “all online news on the case of Liu Ping and the rest […] especially news related to the comments and actions of their lawyers” be deleted.) The New York Times’ Didi Kirsten Tatlow reported on Wednesday that local authorities had taken a heavy-handed approach ahead of the sentencing as well….

“This is a crazy retaliation, a shameless retaliation, which has no connection with the law, the legal system or rule of law,” the New Citizens Movement said in a statement on its website. “This is not just a retaliation against Liu Ping, Wei Zhongping and Li Sihua but retaliates against and dishonors the rights of citizens.”

“The harsh sentences are just the latest moves in the politically motivated crackdown on the New Citizens’ Movement,” William Nee, a China researcher at Amnesty International in Hong Kong, said in an e-mailed statement. “They are prisoners of conscience and should be released immediately and unconditionally.”

China Digital Times is supported by the National Endowment for Democracy.