Years after revolt, Wukan ‘glumly returns to polls’

china wukan polls wikimedia commons

Polls in Wukan. Wikimedia Commons


After staging a very public revolt against official corruption and then voting in remarkably unfettered democratic elections, the people who live in this southern Chinese village returned to the polls on Monday amid torrential rains and growing fears that the Communist Party was taking back control of their local government, Dan Levin writes for The New York Times:

In December 2011, villagers in Wukan, a fishing hamlet of 15,000 in Guangdong Province, took to the streets in large protests, chased out local party officials they accused of illegal real estate deals and engaged in an 11-day standoff with armed security forces. After drawing the attention of the international news media, the confrontation ended peacefully when senior Communist Party officials from the provincial capital agreed to allow free elections and promised to investigate the land deals at the heart of the protests.

Striking behavior: China labor militancy challenges official union


IBM workers protest Credit: China Labor Bulletin

IBM workers protest
Credit: China Labor Bulletin

One of the primary causes of China’s labor unrest unrest over the last three years has been the sale, merger, relocation or closure of factories in the southern manufacturing heartland, according to a leading analyst.

For example, a Shenzhen strike was triggered by IBM’s sale of its low-end server business to the Chinese-owned computer manufacturer Lenovo and the workers’ protest followed a familiar pattern, says China Labour Bulletin’s Geoffrey Crothall.

The protest highlighted the ambiguous role of the official trade union and the importance of local non-governmental organisations that actively look out for the rights and interests of workers, he writes for Open Democracy:

The official All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) has for the most part been unwilling or unable to support China’s workers and help level the playing field in labour relations. The trade union has essentially been a helpless bystander as the workers’ movement has gained momentum. But there are signs that growing pressure from the workers for the union to represent their interests better is beginning to take effect. At the same time as the IBM strike in Shenzhen, workers at Pepsi plants in several cities across China went out in a co-ordinated strike against large-scale layoffs, pay cuts and reduced benefits. The protests were backed and even led by the company trade union and several individual factory unions. And in the central province of Hunan the trade union at a Walmart store, which was scheduled to close on March 19th, took the lead in protests by nearly 150 shop workers opposed to the planned closure.

Why would an authoritarian regime like the Chinese Communist Party tolerate such an active and seemingly radicalised workforce, especially when it is being supported in some cases by the trade union? Crothall asks:

The workers’ demands, in and of themselves, are not a threat to the party. Quite the contrary: demands for better pay and conditions and for pension payments and decent severance pay after years, even decades, of service are perfectly in keeping with the party’s stated desire to raise the incomes of ordinary workers, reduce the rapidly growing gap between rich and poor and create a new class of consumers that can put the Chinese economy on a more stable and sustainable footing.

CLB is a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy.


Prospects for Democracy and Press Freedom in Hong Kong

HKDEMNEDUnder China’s “one country, two systems” policy, Hong Kong residents enjoy greater freedom and autonomy than people in mainland China, including freedoms of speech, press, and religion.  China has stated it intends to allow Hong Kong residents to elect their Chief Executive by universal suffrage for the first time in 2017 and to elect Hong Kong’s Legislative Council by universal suffrage in 2020.  

As Hong Kong’s government contemplates electoral reform in the run-up to the 2017 election, concerns are growing that China’s central government will attempt to control the election by allowing only pro-Beijing candidates to run for Chief Executive. Concerns over press freedom have also grown in the wake of several incidents in which journalists have been violently attacked or fired.

Senator Sherrod Brown, Chairman and Representative Christopher Smith, Cochairman of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China announce a roundtable on

“Prospects for Democracy and Press Freedom in Hong Kong”

Thursday, April 3, 2014

12:00 p.m. to 1:00 p.m.

Russell Senate Office Building, Room 385

The roundtable will feature two prominent advocates for Hong Kong democracy, Martin Lee and Anson Chan, who will examine the prospects for Hong Kong’s democratic development.   


Martin Lee: Barrister, founding Chairman of the Democratic Party of Hong Kong, former Member of the Drafting Committee for the Basic Law, and former Member of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong (1985–2008).     

Anson Chan: Former Chief Secretary for Administration of Hong Kong, former Member of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong (2007–2008), and Convener of Hong Kong 2020, a political group working toward achieving universal suffrage in the 2017 election for Chief Executive and 2020 Legislative Council elections.

This roundtable will be webcast live here.

Click here to download a copy of the Commission’s full 2013 Annual Report.

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.


Why election of Hong Kong chief exec is necessary and feasible

HKDEMNEDIt is difficult to take seriously the normative, philosophical, empirical, or legal objections that have been raised against Hong Kong’s legitimate aspiration for democracy, says a leading democracy scholar.

In the end, all of these arguments melt away, leaving a core resistance that is purely political, according to Larry Diamond, Director of Stanford University’s Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law.

“Interests in Hong Kong that have considerable political power do not want to lose it. And Beijing does not want to surrender the trump card of control it now enjoys—the ability to determine who can contest for Chief Executive,” he writes in a paper for this week’s conference at the University of Hong Kong’s Faculty of Law:

Hong Kong has waited patiently for democracy under the rules and limits that Beijing has lain down. But there comes a point after which the requirement for “orderly and gradual progress” becomes a smokescreen for authoritarian intransigence. As the electoral cycles pass and the opportunities for democratic reform are missed, frustration mounts and the legitimacy of the current governing framework withers. This is not a scenario that anyone interested in the economic and civic health of Hong Kong can possibly welcome.

RTWT and retrieve the other conference papers here.

Beijing’s recent pronouncements that only “patriotic” Hong Kong people can stand for chief executive coupled with violent attacks on the media have raised concerns about basic rights and freedoms in the territory of 7 million people. 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. Martin Lee and Anson Chan, two veteran political leaders known and respected for their decades of service in Hong Kong’s legislature and government, will outline the growing threats to democracy in Hong Kong and what can be done to defend rights and freedoms in Hong Kong.

The National Endowment for Democracy cordially invites you to a briefing


Martin Lee, Democratic Party of Hong Kong

Anson Chan, former Chief Secretary of Hong Kong

Louisa Greve, V.P. for Asia, Middle East & Africa at the NED

When and Where: 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014 12:30 – 2 p.m. National Endowment for Democracy, 1025 F Street NW, Suite 800, Washington, DC 20004 / (202) 378-9700

About the Speakers

Martin Lee is a top barrister, longtime democracy advocate, and the founding chairman of the Democratic Party of Hong Kong, who served in the Legislative Council from 1985-2008. Lee has been among the highest profile defenders of Hong Kong’s freedoms, rule of law and way of life, arguing that without a democratic system to underpin the rule of law, Hong Kong will not continue as a free society and as a model for China’s future development. In a recent New York Times op-ed titled “Hong Kong’s Shaky Democratic Future,” he warned that “our autonomy and the rule of law it buttresses are under threat from the mainland central government,” and called on Beijing to end the dangerous escalation of press threats in Hong Kong. Martin Lee was a 1997 recipient of the National Endowment for Democracy’s Democracy Award.

Anson Chan was Hong Kong’s Chief Secretary, the head of the civil service under British rule, and after the transfer of sovereignty in 1997 held the post under Chinese rule. The first ethnic Chinese to hold the second-highest governmental position in Hong Kong, Chan has often been described as Hong Kong’s “Iron Lady,” and is regarded as one of the most powerful women in Asia. Elected to the Legislative Council from 2007-2008, in 2013, she helped launch the Hong Kong 2020 campaign, which advocates for constitutional changes in order to achieve “full universal suffrage for election of the Chief Executive in 2017 and all members of the Legislative Council by 2020.”

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. She was a member of the AEI/Armitage International Taiwan Policy Working Group (2007) and the Council on Foreign Relations Term Member Roundtable on U.S. National Security – New Threats in a Changing World (2002).

Taiwan’s democracy faltering?


Student protests in one of Asia’s most stable democracies are facing violent police crackdown. The effects could echo throughout the region, writes Bettina Chang.

Thousands of protesters in Taiwan have been occupying the country’s legislature for a week now, demanding that the ruling party retracts a trade deal with China, which they say was negotiated behind closed doors and pushed through the legislature….

The movement, known as the Sunflower Revolution (named after its intent to provide sunlight and transparency), is composed of mostly college students, along with some civil activists and professors, among others. They claim the ruling party has side-stepped legislative processes and is ignoring the people’s desire to stay out of the trade pact with China…..

While the domestic debate has been about executive abuse of power and China-Taiwan relations, political experts think there is much more at stake for democracy in the region.

“Taiwan is looked to among the Chinese-speaking world as the place where democracy is in action,” says Kharis Templeman, program manager for the Taiwan Democracy Project at Stanford University.

Despite being a young democracy, Taiwan’s is one of the strongest in the region. “It has freedom of speech and assembly, elections are vibrant and competitive, it has gone through two changes of ruling parties through elections, and it’s enjoyed a very peaceful democratization,” says Dafydd Fell, deputy director of the Centre of Taiwan Studies at University of London. “The most important asset in Taiwan’s international diplomacy or ‘soft power’ is its democracy.”