China: rule of law v party rule

china rule of lawChina’s Communist leaders promised legal reforms on Thursday that could give judges more independence from interference by local officials but will leave the party essentially above the law, the Washington Post’s Simon Denyer reports:

After a four-day closed-door session, the party’s elite Central Committee pledged to promote “the socialist rule of law with Chinese characteristics.” Far from a Western notion of the separation of powers, the communique made it clear the Communist Party remained the ultimate authority in the country, and talk of reform seemed largely aimed at improving local governance and calming rising social unrest.

 “This is something that has to be done if the party wants to maintain legitimacy, because legitimacy is not just made by abstract concepts and buzzwords,” said Flora Sapio, an assistant professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong who studies China’s legal system. “You have to deliver something to the people,” she told the New York Times:

But she and other legal experts noted that Mr. Xi had no interest in creating a judiciary that could rule against the party’s policies and interests, particularly in cases that are politically delicate or that could lead to social unrest.

china teng biaoHence the government’s talk of “rule of law” is “like a rooster dreaming that he can lay eggs,” Teng Biao (left), a prominent rights lawyer, wrote this week in Oriental Daily News, a Hong Kong website.

“The basic political system is incompatible with rule of law,” he said in an interview from Cambridge, Mass., where he is a visiting scholar at Harvard University. “They mainly want to use the law to control society and control the public.”

In a country where the notion that the ruling elite should be restrained by law has never held sway, few expect the party to allow a truly independent judiciary, the Wall Street Journal reports:

“They need a strong judiciary to capture, or to resolve, all the disputes on the streets,” said Fu Hualing, a professor of law at Hong Kong University. “Basically, you’re creating a sphere of autonomy over which you don’t have total control in the end. That’s the sacrifice.”

In past plenums, the party has often followed up initial statements with more details in a broader policy paper a week or so later. For now, Thursday’s communiqué offered few clues as to the party’s seriousness about moving beyond paying lip service to rule of law.

“I was looking for a bit more,” Mr. Fu said. “It’s pretty dry—there’s not much you can squeeze out of it.”

Party divisions

“What we really need is to incorporate the idea of ‘governing the country by law’ into every aspect of our governance and we need to modernise the entire method of governing,” said Lin Zhe, a professor specialising in anti-corruption at China’s top training academy for senior party officials. “We no longer want rule by individuals and their whims, which we have relied on heavily in the past,” Lin told the FT:

china cpcongress clbYesterday, the party said it would establish a mechanism in which individual officials will be given demerits or “criticised in public notices” if they are found to have interfered in judicial cases.

How this will be applied in practice is unclear, since there was no indication from the meeting that the party intended to reduce its decision-making power in cases officials decide are “political” or “sensitive”.

Mr Xi and other leaders have previously derided and ruled out “constitutionalism” for China but the communiqué yesterday said China “should be ruled in line with the constitution”.

Several reports, however, note that the plenum did not discuss the fate of China’s former domestic security chief Zhou Yongkang who is also being probed for corruption, the BBC adds:

Analysts tell Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post that the “lack of action on Zhou Yongkang suggests party divisions”. According to Hong Kong-based political commentator Johnny Lau Yui-siu, reforms by President Xi Jinping are facing “strong resistance” within the party.

A commentary in the Haiwai Net also observes that no mention was made at the meeting of top military official Xu Caihou who has been accused of accepting bribes.

“Mr Zhou and Mr Xu are at the centre of the corruption theme, yet there wasn’t much discussion about them during the meeting,” says the article. Nevertheless, it adds that the anti-corruption effort of the current leadership has won much praise and dismisses allegations of “power struggles” within the party.





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China’s Imperial President tightens his grip

china cpcongress clbChinese President Xi Jinping has articulated a simple but powerful vision: the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, notes Elizabeth C. Economy, the Director for Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Underlying Xi’s vision is a growing sense of urgency. Xi assumed power at a moment when China, despite its economic success, was politically adrift, she writes for Foreign Affairs:

The Chinese Communist Party, plagued by corruption and lacking a compelling ideology, had lost credibility among the public, and social unrest was on the rise…..Xi has reacted to this sense of malaise with a power grab — for himself, for the Communist Party, and for China. He has rejected the communist tradition of collective leadership, instead establishing himself as the paramount leader within a tightly centralized political system. At home, his proposed economic reforms will bolster the role of the market but nonetheless allow the state to retain significant control. Abroad, Xi has sought to elevate China by expanding trade and investment, creating new international institutions, and strengthening the military. His vision contains an implicit fear: that an open door to Western political and economic ideas will undermine the power of the Chinese state.

Xi’s nationalist rhetoric and assertive military posture pose a direct challenge to U.S. interests in the region and call for a vigorous response, Economy contends:

Washington’s “rebalance,” or “pivot,” to Asia represents more than simply a response to China’s more assertive behavior. It also reflects the United States’ most closely held foreign policy values: freedom of the seas, the air, and space; free trade; the rule of law; and basic human rights. Without a strong pivot, the United States’ role as a regional power will diminish, and Washington will be denied the benefits of deeper engagement with many of the world’s most dynamic economies. The United States should therefore back up the pivot with a strong military presence in the Asia-Pacific to deter or counter Chinese aggression; reach consensus and then ratify the TPP; and bolster U.S. programs that support democratic institutions and civil society in such places as Cambodia, Malaysia, Myanmar, and Vietnam, where democracy is nascent but growing.

“Washington should realize that Xi may not be successful in transforming China in precisely the ways he has articulated,” she concludes. “He has set out his vision, but pressures from both inside and outside China will shape the country’s path forward in unexpected ways.”


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Vietnam plans punitive demolition of dissident’s home

Vietnam_cu huyAuthorities in Vietnam are planning to demolish the family home of dissident Dr. Cu Huy Ha Vu in retaliation for his outspoken criticism of the Communist regime. Officials arrived at the house in Hanoi last week to make preparations, but several dozen friends and neighbors formed a human chain around the house in solidarity with the Vu family when the police returned on Monday. 

After receiving a phone call from a Hanoi police station, where his son was being held, Dr. Vu warned the police that they would pay a heavy price if the demolition went ahead. The police backed off temporarily but today the family learned that officials will return tomorrow morning Hanoi time (8 pm today EST) to tear down the home and confiscate the Vus’ property.

Dr. Vu and his wife have been in close communication with their son, who lives in their Hanoi home. He has been on the receiving end of threats from the government and faces the prospect of being made homeless should the demolition proceed. 

Dr. Vu has written to Vietnamese President Troung Tan Sang denouncing the government’s illegal actions against him. His mother-in-law’s home in Ho Chi Minh city is also under threat of demolition.

The threatened demolitions are official retaliation for the articles Vu has written for Voice of America and other media criticizing the Vietnamese regime,  detailing the tactics used to stifle dissent and calling for human rights pre-conditions prior to any lifting of the U.S. arms embargo on Vietnam and any arms sales to the regime. It is not without precedent for the regime to use demolition as a means of penalizing dissent.

A Sorbonne-educated lawyer and son of a revolutionary poet who was a close friend of Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam’s ‘founding father,’  Dr. Vu was imprisoned in 2011 for publicly demanding democratic reform and an end to the ruling Communist Party’s one-party rule. Upon his release, he was exiled to Washington, D.C., where he is currently a Reagan-Fascell fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy.

As one human rights advocate recently noted, “the government did not release him but rather forced him into exile in the United States, where Hanoi believes he will be less able to organize opposition to Vietnam’s one-party rule.”

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Russia ‘poses existential threat’: Navalny vows to fight Putin


RUSSIA-UKRAINE-POLITICS-CRISISThe investor and philanthropist George Soros has warned that Russian expansionism poses an existential threat to the EU and called for greater material support for Ukraine.

Vladimir Putin’s mix of authoritarianism and aggressive nationalism represents an alternative model to western liberal democracy, he contends.

“Europe is facing a challenge from Russia to its very existence. Neither the European leaders nor their citizens are fully aware of this challenge or know how best to deal with it,” Soros writes in an article published in the New York Review of Books.

“Russia is presenting an alternative that poses a fundamental challenge to the values and principles on which the European Union was originally founded. It is based on the use of force that manifests itself in repression at home and aggression abroad, as opposed to the rule of law.”

Soros told the Guardian: “There is a general dissatisfaction with the EU as a result of the euro crisis, which has perverted the initial impetus for forming a union of like-minded democratic states. The euro crisis was mishandled and lasted a long time, and it turned a voluntary union of equals into something quite different.”

“Putin has established good relations with those agitating against Europe,” he said. “The failure of Europe as an experiment in supranational government would make Russia a potent threat … The collapse of Ukraine would be a tremendous loss for Nato, the European Union and the United States. A victorious Russia would become much more influential within the EU and pose a potent threat to the Baltic states with large ethnic Russian populations.”

russiaputinterrorTwo years ago, Alexei Navalny was the driving force behind giant anti-government protests in Moscow. Now he wears a monitoring bracelet on his ankle and is not allowed to step over the threshold of his own home, AP’s Nataliya Vasilyeva reports:

“This is a way to derail my activities,” he said, “and it’s unlikely that they want another political prisoner at this stage.” But Navalny said the tactic will fail, vowing to continue his fight against President Vladimir Putin’s regime.

“The opposition has to be a moral one,” he said, “calling the bad things bad.” Navalny said it’s understandable that the 2011-12 protests in Russia fizzled out after repression was unleashed not only against leaders but also grass-roots activists. …..”The regime in Russia will not change as a result of an election,” he said. “In a situation where we are barred even from running, I don’t see how it can.”

The opposition leader said that Putin’s intervention in Ukraine is driven by a pragmatic motive: staying in power.

“The success of Ukraine is death to them,” Navalny said. “It’s critically important for them that Ukraine become a failed state.”





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‘Tunisia model’ shows way to defeat ISIS


TUNISIA UGTTA Tunisian policeman was killed on Thursday when security forces clashed with Islamist militants on the outskirts of Tunis, an interior ministry spokesman said, as the country prepares for parliamentary elections, Reuters reports.

Tunisia’s transition to democracy serves as an example of how to defeat extremists such as the Islamic State jihadist group, the leader of the country’s powerful Islamist movement said, Middle East Online reports.

“One of the best ways to fight terrorism is to advocate moderate Islam because terrorism is based on an extremist interpretation of Islam,” said Ghannouchi, whose party has emerged as the leading political force in Tunisia in the aftermath of the revolt which ousted longtime president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

“The success of the Tunisian experience is in the international interest, especially in the fight against extremism and the fight against Islamic State and similar groups,” he said in an interview with AFP in the run-up to the country’s first parliamentary election Sunday since its 2011 revolution.

“The Tunisian model is the alternative to the Daesh model … This Tunisian model … brings together Islam and secularism, Islam and democracy, Islam and freedom for women,” he said, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS.

Crucially, Ennahda proved more flexible than Islamist movements elsewhere, and it accepted the return of former Ben Ali officials into politics, Reuters adds:

Prominent former regime officials were excluded from Tunisia’s first election. The country’s new constitution, praised as the region’s most progressive, has also helped resolve divisive questions of politics and religion.

“Tunisia managed to differentiate itself, and made its way through. It’s marked by this inclusiveness,” said one Western diplomat. “One of the products is that everyone here has a place in the political context.”

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