Rule of law – with Chinese characteristics

china rule of lawChinese authorities have detained former State Security Minister Zhou Yongkang on corruption charges and seized $14.5 billion in assets from the minister’s family and members of his inner circle, VOA reports.

“The Ministry of State Security, China’s internal intelligence agency, has been the recipient of huge amounts of money and political support,” said analyst Kerry Brown of the London-based Chatham House think tank. “The MSS, under the control of Zhou Yongkang, became a law unto itself. The MSS has had very little accountability.”

“As with other institutions affected by the anti-corruption purge,” Brown said, “the [leadership’s] strategy has been to take one or two individuals and to make an example of them. In this case, it has been Ma Jian…This is a sign that for the current anti-corruption campaign, no organization or entity is off bounds. The same goes for the military.”

The regime’s approach to rule of law illustrates that China’s elite wants democracy without the demos, says Columbia University’s Andrew Nathan, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy.

Chinese human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang talks to media in BeijingThe Chinese judicial system’s failure to release three high-profile key activists detained in recent months – public intellectual Guo Yushan, lawyer Pu Zhiqiang (right), and legal activist Guo Feixiong – reflects progressively harsher suppression of civil society, says Human Rights Watch:

There is no publicly available credible evidence of illegal behavior in any of their cases, yet all three are likely to advance in the coming weeks as judicial personnel handle these cases with instructions from Communist Party authorities. Over the past decade, the three have been at the forefront of China’s human rights movement, pushing officials for greater adherence to the law and devising new methods to advance their cause:

Guo Yushan, 38, founded two influential organizations in Beijing: the legal aid NGO Gongmeng in 2004, and a public policy think tank, the Transition Institute, in 2007. ….;

Pu Zhiqiang, 50, forged a unique path as a lawyer defending many sensitive and prominent free speech cases, including that of Ai Weiwei…. and

Guo Feixiong, 48, is best known for his work in 2005 aiding villagers in Taishi, Guangdong province, as they sought to remove the allegedly corrupt village leader from office. …..

“Under Xi Jinping’s leadership, the crackdown on dissent has netted some of China’s most respected critics known for their innovative activism developing the rule of law,” said Sophie Richardson, China director. “Prosecuting and imprisoning these well-established public figures indicates near-zero tolerance for independent activism.”

China analyst Nigel Inkster of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies said Xi’s corruption purge may be on shaky legal footing.

“So far things seem to be going Xi’s way,” he told VOA. “But he has gambled a lot on the success of this campaign which, however, suffers from the fact that it is not being pursued within a framework of rule of law…This may well be the hurdle at which it falls.”        

“The question remains to be whether Xi is taking a page from Chairman Mao,” said longtime political analyst Willy Lam with the Chinese University of Hong Kong, noting the three fallen leaders were all considered to be Xi’s political opponents. “Starting with Mao, corruption has been used to take down enemies of the more powerful faction,” he told CNN.

The Financial Times’ David Pilling and Julie Zhu report on arguments in Hong Kong over the term “rule of law.” Mainland officials such as ambassador Cui Tiankai have pushed an interpretation of the phrase which emphasizes public obedience, notes China Digital Times:

….as former Central Party School researcher Wang Guixiu told the South China Morning Post last year, “the public say it is about putting officials in check, while officials say it is about how to govern the public.” Prominent figures in Hong Kong’s legal community have recently urged its government to acknowledge its own obligations under rule of law as well as the public’s..[Source]

Read more from Stuart Lau at South China Morning Post.

At China Media Project, meanwhile, Qian Gang writes that an apparent “death sentence” on the phrase “judicial independence” presents “a worrying signal for rule of law” in China.


Worker protests surge across China

china lb Shangzhi teachers strike

Construction workers, teachers and miners joined factory workers in a wave of strikes and protests across China in the final quarter of 2014. China Labour Bulletin’s Strike Map recorded 569 incidents during the fourth quarter, more than three times the number in the same period in 2013.

The dramatic upturn can be partially explained by the increased use of cheap smartphones and social media as tools by workers to get news of their protest action to a wider audience but at the same time there clearly is an increase in labour activism in response primarily to the economic slowdown in China over the last year or so.

The southern province of Guangdong continued to be the epicentre of worker activism in China, accounting for about 20 percent of all incidents, however there has been a sharp increase in the number of protests in several other provinces, with the number of incidents in Jiangsu, Shandong, and Henan jumping from 11, 6, and 6 respectively in the fourth quarter of 2013 to 43, 34, and 30 last year.


China’s soft power deficit as Xi tightens ideological screws

china briefEven for a country that is notable for its myriad contradictions, the gap between China’s hard and soft power has never been more pronounced, analyst Willy Lam writes for Jamestown’s China Brief. Yet the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) increasingly draconian efforts to impose ideological control on 1.3 billion Chinese has not only stifled their creativity but also detracted from the worldwide appeal of the “China model,” he adds.

Document No. 9 Enforces Party Control

The Xi leadership has also sought to tighten control over the country’s professors and university administrators, Lam says:

chinaLast October, the Ministry of Education issued a circular entitled “Opinions on strengthening long-lasting mechanisms for the construction of morality among college teachers” to all institutes of higher learning. Academics and college staff were asked to refrain from engaging in seven pernicious activities, including “hurting the interests of the state,” “words and deeds that run counter to the goals and directions of the party” as well as “soliciting and accepting bribes from students or their parents” (Guangming Daily, October 13; Ming Pao, October 11). These edicts came on the heels of the Central Party Document No. 9, entitled “Concerning the Situation in the Ideological Sphere,” that the CCP General Office last year dispatched to Party units handling education, ideology and the media. Teachers and media personnel were instructed to steer clear of “seven unmentionable topics” (qige buyaojiang), namely: universal values, press freedom, civil society, citizens’ rights, the party’s historical aberrations, the “privileged capitalist class” and independence of the judiciary ( [Hong Kong], April 15; BBC Chinese Service, May 28, 2013).

The authorities have also indirectly encouraged students to expose liberal and “pro-West” professors who often speak ill of China.

The Xi administration is aware that the fast-rising quasi-superpower is disproportionately weak in the soft-power department. It is estimated that the country spends $12.5 billion a year on disseminating Chinese culture and ideas through means ranging from establishing nearly 500 Confucius Institutes worldwide to running TV news channels in English and other languages (see China Brief, October 10;Times Higher Education, November 20; The Australian, November 17).

Reclaiming China’s Narrative From the West

At the Fourth Plenum of the CCP Central Committee last month, the Xi administration pledged to bolster the “rule of law” and to curtail political interference in judicial proceedings (see China Brief, November 20), Lam notes:

china Gao_Yu (1)A spate of trials of dissidents and political activists, however, has raised questions about Party authorities’ commitment to global standards of jurisprudence. Several writers, lawyers and NGO activists—who are known for being liberal critics of the CCP—have been charged with offenses that could carry sentences of up to life imprisonment. For example, Gao Yu (right), a respected journalist and author, was last month put on trial for “illegally providing state secrets to [media] outside China.” The lawyer and relatives of the 70-year-old dissident noted that the alleged “state secrets” were the Document No. 9 issued by the CCP General Office in 2013 (Radio Television Hong Kong, November 21; Radio Free Asia, November 18). And Pu Zhiqiang, an internationally recognized rights lawyer whose clients included Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo, was also due to appear in court on charges including “incitement to subvert state power,” “incitement to separatism,” and “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble” (Radio Free Asia, November 24;China Digital Times, November 21).


Crackdown a ‘pivotal moment’ for Hong Kong protests

china hric_umbrellaHong Kong’s pro-democracy movement is at “a pivotal moment,” analysts suggest, as police cleared activists from one of the largest protest sites in the city on Wednesday. They arrested Joshua Wong and Lester Shum, two of the student leaders at the heart of the pro-democracy movement that has shaken the Asian financial hub, Reuters reports: HT:FPI For the second day in a row, police on Wednesday clashed with protestors as work crews began dismantling barricades on a main rode in Hong Kong’s scruffy Mong Kong district, McCaltchy adds. Thousands of demonstrators defied a police attempt to shrink one of the pro-democracy protest camps that have filled some streets in the city for nearly two months, The New York Times reports.

Clashes continued, says the Council on Foreign Relations, as police cleared the Mong Kok protest site for a second day:

Protesters have vowed to remain on the streets (SCMP). Meanwhile, seven Hong Kong police officers were arrested (BBC) on Wednesday for allegedly beating a protesting lawmaker in October.


china hk protests july1-crowds-rn“Hong Kong’s protest movement, it seems, is starting to divide, as different groups pursue their own strategies. Ironically, that is exactly the spirit of democracy that the protesters are pursuing.” writes Ellie Ng in Foreign Policy.

“We are at a pivotal moment for democracy in Hong Kong. If there is one thing history has shown us, it is this: Authoritarian rule has a limited life span. No matter how hard the CCP may try to quash dissent, outlaw religious belief, control the outcome of so-called elections, manipulate economic prosperity, or control the words and thoughts of its citizens, it is on the wrong side of history,” said CFR’s Mark P. Lagon in his testimony before the Congressional-Executive Commission on China.

“For Hong Kong to emerge stronger and better following the Occupy movement, we need leaders who are liberal-minded, willing to listen to others with different views, who have the courage to stand up against pressure and are willing to give and take,” writes Susan Chan, the secretary general of the Business and Professionals Federation of Hong Kong, in the South China Morning Post

China turns up ‘ideological, Mao-style’ rhetoric against west


While China’s President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Barack Obama exchange diplomatic niceties, the ruling Communist Party is conducting a relentlessly ideological, Mao-style campaign against the U.S. and Western ideas, including freedom of expression, The New York Times reports.

chinaXi’s comments on the legitimacy of curbs on independent media formalize a shift in the Chinese government’s approach, said Orville Schell, the director of the Center on U.S.-China Relations at the Asia Society, and a longtime scholar on China. “There is a fundamental contrast between Western notions of the role of the press as a watchdog institution and Chinese, Maoist notions of the press as essentially a megaphone of the party and state,” Mr. Schell told the Times:

Over the last 20 or 30 years, he said, that distinction has been less defined, as the Chinese permitted more robust coverage by Western journalists. “But I think under Xi we’re beginning to get something of a return to a more traditional Maoist notion not only of the media, but of arts and culture.”

The Arab Spring of 2011 marked a turning point, said Evan Osnos, a staff writer for The New Yorker who until recently covered China for the magazine. Chinese leaders watched authoritarian governments fall with very little warning, he said, and decided that “there were all of these latent threats to their political stability that had to be controlled.”

Last month Xi praised a young blogger, Zhou Xiaoping, who is best known for his articles condemning America, China Digital Times* reports.

chinacongressIn the Times, Edward Wang looks at the phenomenon of Zhou Xiaoping as part of a broader message put forward by the Party to vilify foreigners, even as China’s political and economic power is rising globally:

In one widely circulated essay published by the state news outlets titled “Nine Knockout Blows in America’s Cold War Against China,” the blogger, Zhou Xiaoping, Argued that American Culture was “eroding the moral foundation and self-confidence of the Chinese people.” He compared unfavorable American news coverage of China to Hitler’s treatment of the Jews. In another essay, he said that the west had “slaughtered and robbed” China and other civilizations since the 17th century, and was now “brainwashing” it.

[…] His embrace of Mr. Zhou, who has been hailed by propaganda officials but widely mocked by scholars here, is just the latest sign of rising anti-Western sentiment, bordering on xenophobia, that has emanated from the highest levels of the communist party and sent a chill through Chinese civil society and academia.

Using ideological language reminiscent of the Cold War, Chinese officials have voiced conspiracy theories with relish, accusing foreigners, their companies, government agencies and nongovernmental organizations of plotting to weaken or overthrow the party, Wang adds:

The vilification of foreigners as enemies of China has been a staple of propaganda by the Communist Party since before its rise to power, and analysts say the leadership tends to ramp up such rhetoric when it feels under pressure at home….

The surge in anti-Americanism extends beyond speeches. Over the summer, for example, the Chinese government began a security review of foreign nongovernmental agencies operating in China, as well as Chinese nongovernmental agencies that receive foreign support, scrutinizing their finances and freezing bank accounts. A 100-minute anti-American propaganda film (above) made by the People’s Liberation Army last year laid out the case that American nongovernmental agencies were out to undermine the party….

Some have questioned the sincerity, or pointed out the hypocrisy, of the party’s tirades against the West, Wang continues, noting that many party officials have children or other family members living and even applying for citizenship overseas. Mr. Xi’s daughter, Xi Mingze, attended Harvard University under a pseudonym.

“How can Chinese officials really be anti-American?” asked Zhan Jiang, a media studies professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University.

“Antiforeign sentiments will always be present in China because of China’s unique history,” he said. “However, the public’s opinion of the West will not change because of what the party says.”


*A grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy.

See also, “China targets ‘hostile foreign forces’ in crescendo of accusations” from the Christian Science Monitor. The mainland and Hong Kong governments accused “hostile foreign forces” of being behind the Hong Kong protest movement. Read more on Zhou Xiaoping via CDT.