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

Silva: Brazil can help Cuban transition to democracy

Brazil-mARINA sILVAA former Amazon activist and Environment Minister Marina Silva is in a dead-heat presidential race with President Dilma Rousseff, who represents the Workers Party, which she herself helped found three decades ago, the UK Independent reports.

“Brazil has a great opportunity to become a global leader by leading by example,” Ms Silva said, talking about human rights and environmental protections. “Our values cannot be modified because of ideological or political reasons, or because of pure economic interest.”

Asked whether she would continue Brazil’s strong investment in and political support for regimes such as Cuba, Venezuela, China and Iran, Ms Silva said that dialogue was essential with each – but that her personal convictions meant Brazil would be more vocal in pushing human rights. “The best way to help the Cuban people is by understanding that they can make a transition from the current regime to democracy, and that we don’t need to cut any type of relations,” she said.

“If elected, she has such a remarkable personal story that she’d come to the presidency with a lot of legitimacy, tremendous excitement and high expectations,” said Michael Shifter, president of the Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue.


‘Gusano’ highlights Cuba’s intolerance of dissent

The Cuban pro-democracy group For Another Cuba has produced an exceptional documentary, detailing the intimidation, harassment and violence facing critics of the Communist regime. Totalitarian regimes are marked by their violent intolerance of even peaceful dissent and Gusano (‘Worm’) highlights the treatment meted out to those Cubans who opt to leave the island, notably by government-organized mobs, a.k.a. Committees for the Defense of the Revolution.

Essential viewing.    



Democracy the ultimate solution to China’s problems

china cpcongress clbDemocracy is the ultimate solution to many of Beijing’s problems, argues Zheng Wang, the Director of the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies at Seton Hall University a Global Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

The recent trouble in Hong Kong regarding the election of Hong Kong’s chief executive provides a good opportunity for the leadership in Beijing to reevaluate its policy towards political reform and democracy, he writes for The Diplomat:

Beyond internal change, democracy could also be a solution to some of China’s foreign policy troubles. One major problem is China’s neighbors do not trust Beijing and harbor deep suspicion towards China’s intentions and foreign policy aims. The smaller nations in East and Southeast Asia find it difficult to deal with a rising giant that has a major lack of transparency in both its policy making and the operation of the government.

There have been discussions in China about whether Xi should be China’s new Mao or “second Deng”; “China’s Putin” or the Chinese version of Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore, Wang notes:

But the best role model Xi can take is that of Taiwan’s Chiang Ching-kuo. In the late 1970s, when the Nationalist Kuomintang (KMT) government was still very powerful and possessed many political resources, Chiang made the brave and visionary move to start political reform. He removed restrictions on the formation of political parties, and endorsed freedom of the press. This process is known as Taiwan’s “quiet revolution,” a non-violent movement that transformed Taiwan from a dictatorship to a democracy.


A New Era of U.S.-China Relations? House Foreign Affairs Committee Asia and the Pacific Subcommittee September 17