China’s labor movement, 5 years after Tonghua

chinalaborbulletinFive years ago today, Chen Guojun, a senior manager at the Tonghua Iron and Steel Works in Jilin was killed during a protest by workers angry at the takeover of the plant by the Jianlong Group, at the time China’s largest privately-owned steel company, which Chen represented, China Labour Bulletin reports.

The “Tonghua Incident” became one of the most talked about events of the year. It focused attention on the volatile state of labour relations in many workplaces in China and the need to find a more effective and peaceful way of resolving labour disputes.

But while government officials, policy makers and commentators were debating the issue, China’s workers themselves were showing everyone the way forward.

A lot has changed in China’s workplaces over the last five years, and it is the workers’ movement that has been largely responsible for generating that change. China’s workers have shown that they are not rabble-rousers: They are determined to stand up for what is rightfully theirs but crucially they are also willing to sit down with management and work out their differences in peaceful, face-to-face negotiations – as was shown just this week in the Shenzhen QLT factory strike.


China Labour Bulletin is supported by the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.

Tunisia’s dilemma in anti-jihadist campaign

Tunisia has hit back at a deadly jihadist attack on troops by closing mosques and media outlets seen as sympathetic to extremists, raising fears of a return to the censorship of the old regime, Agence France Presse reports:

In the wake of a July 16 attack which left 15 soldiers dead in Mount Chaambi near the Algerian border, the authorities have laid down a “red line” against criticism of the army and police. The government announced the immediate closure of mosques which had fallen out of the control of the religious affairs ministry. It has also decided to shut down unlicensed media outlets which had “turned into platforms for takfiris and jihad,” referring to apostasy charges against fellow Muslims.

With a growing challenge from jihadists, long repressed under Ben Ali, the government is facing a double challenge. The authorities are working to restore the “prestige” and “authority” of a state weakened by the 2011 revolution. They also aim to curb the Islamist rhetoric which has found an outlet in a media landscape that has exploded over the past three years, with many broadcasters operating unlicenced.

Rights groups are warning against curbs on liberties that were hard-won after years of Ben Ali’s dictatorship, urging a balance between anti-terror measures and freedom of information.

“The country is going through a very difficult time and politicians are under pressure,” said Rachida Ennaifer of Tunisia’s audiovisual regulatory body HAICA.

“But the fight against terrorism should not be arbitrary or populist. If we want a state of law, we must respect the law,” she told AFP, pointing to the dilemma faced by authorities. RTWT

Tunisia’s political prospects

Although Tunisia’s democratic transition has been rocky, it presents the most promising scenario among the Arab Awakening countries. Looking ahead, parliamentary elections scheduled for later this year are important in their own right, but are also viewed as a litmus test for the future of inclusive politics. Please join a conversation with Hariri Center Nonresident Fellow Duncan Pickard, who will speak on the recently-passed elections law, voting procedures, and potential political alliances, and Fatima Hadji of the National Endowment for Democracy who will take a bird’s-eye view of the process and reflect on how external actors might help the transition.  

A discussion with Duncan Pickard, Nonresident Fellow, Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, Atlantic Council and Fatima Hadji, Program Officer for the Maghreb, National Endowment for Democracy.

Moderated by Karim Mezran, Senior Fellow, Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, Atlantic Council.

DATE: Wednesday, July 30, 2014. TIME: 10:30 a.m. -12:00 p.m. LOCATION: Atlantic Council 1030 15th St NW, 12th floor, Washington, DC 20005.

Seeing Putin plain? EU agrees fresh sanctions on Russia


The European Union today agreed to impose visa bans and asset freezes on more Russian officials, on top of penalties imposed over Russia’s seizure of Crimea from Ukraine and support for Ukrainian rebels along its border, USA Today reports:

Adrian Karatnycky, an analyst at the Atlantic Council, said European countries dependent on Russian gas worry that Russian President Vladimir Putin could respond with economic penalties of his own.

“There would be a problem for European industry in several countries if Russia were to retaliate with energy sanctions,” he said. “What they fear is Putin shutting off gas supplies to Europe.”

He said the United States, which conducts much less trade with Russia, could take tougher steps, which might protect Europe from Russian retaliation.

“The U.S. could take the lead in economic sanctions but with a wink from Europe,” he said

The downing of MH17 and Russia’s callous response is part of a disturbing pattern, says a leading commentator.

Vladimir Putin‘s first major act in power had been to lay waste to the city of Grozny in a manner reminiscent of Tamerlane,” analyst Bret Stephens writes for the Wall Street Journal:

Next he went after his domestic opponents in show trials that recalled the methods of Andrey Vyshinsky. …..In 2005 Mr. Putin called the collapse of the Soviet Union “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th century. In 2006 a mysterious pipeline explosion left Georgia without gas in the dead of winter, a tactic used against several of Russia’s neighbors. Later that year came the murders of Anna Politkovskaya, a muckraking journalist, and Alexander Litvinenko, a Russian intelligence officer who had defected to Britain and was dispatched with a dose of polonium. A few months later Estonia, another free-world thorn in Russia’s side, was subjected to a massive cyberattack.

This is only a partial list of the evidence available …. But it suggested a definite trend. The invasions of Georgia, Crimea and eastern Ukraine still lay in the future. So did the murder of Sergei Magnitsky, the prison sentences for Pussy Riot, the legal harassment of Alexei Navalny, the asylum granted to Ed Snowden, the cheating on the IMF Treaty.

“It seems like Putin was for the first time caught red-handed and that this horrible tragedy could become a real game-changer for the conflict in eastern Ukraine,” said Lilia Shevtsova, a senior researcher with Moscow Carnegie Center. “Putin still has room for maneuver granted to him by the obvious lack of resolute Western response” to his actions so far, Shevtsova said.

In the wake of the MH17 disaster, Russia “faces the most appalling public relations predicament that it’s been in, in decades,” according to a leading expert.

“No government wants to have the kind of criminal reputation that the Russians are acquiring,” says Council on Foreign Relations analyst Stephen Sestanovich.

“And the result is — you already see — is a kind of backing off of some of the positions that they have taken,” he told Newshour (above). They supported a U.N. Security Council resolution today. The separatists have been urged to release the bodies. There is that kind of minimal level of cooperation that is meant to rescue their international position right now.”

Putin is in a fix largely of his own making, says Sestanovich, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy:

The nationalist hysteria that …. dominates the Russian media right now has been encouraged by Putin. It is the consequence of the campaign that he’s been on to stoke Russian nationalism as a source for his domestic popularity. That is something that does limit his maneuvering room, but he can’t let himself be in a position where he makes Russia so isolated that it has severe consequences for the economy and for Russia’s political standing.

“Security assistance is probably the next issue on the agenda. It used to be said, you know, the Ukrainian military is so pathetic that they can’t even use any help or they use it irresponsibly,” he says.

“The record of recent weeks has been that the Ukrainian military has been able to make advances against the separatists, and they probably need further help.”


How to save Iraq

IRAQ SECTARIANWhile a one-country-two-system solution (federalism for the Arab provinces and confederation with Kurdistan) is certainly a plausible future for Iraq, it may well be the least plausible, say two leading authorities.

It’s less that federalism-confederalism would be complex (which it would be) and therefore prone to dysfunctionality, and more that so far it seems hard to imagine Iraq’s various warring factions agreeing to it, according to Zalmay Khalilzad, a former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Afghanistan, and the U.N, and Brookings Institution analyst Kenneth M. Pollack:

[Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-]Maliki is determined to rule a highly centralized Iraq, and is determined to bring the Sunnis to heel. For their part, the Sunni groups either want to do the same to Maliki or else be left entirely alonewhich may sound like federalism in theory, but in practice would probably amount to partition given the fear and antagonism they now nurture toward Maliki. The Kurds would have to decide between confederation and outright independence.

Yet here we are. The circumstances of Iraq have worsened so dramatically that weand the Iraqis and their neighborshave nothing but difficult choices.

“There is no escaping the simple reality that restoring peace to Iraq will require a re-balancing or disengagement of the center from the periphery, either de facto or de jure,” they write for the New Republic.

Zalmay Khalilzad is a Counselor at CSIS and a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy. Kenneth M. Pollack is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and has served as a Persian Gulf Military analyst at the CIA and Director for Persian Gulf Affairs at the National Security Council.

Economic insecurity saps confidence of market democracies

zoellickThe US needs strategic direction, but the key “ingredients of success are sounder than airmiles travelled, meetings convened, and lines tweeted,” argues Robert Zoellick, who served as a US undersecretary of state from 1989 to 1992 and helped negotiate Germany’s unification.  

A fresh look at the last years of the cold war offers lessons for today’s policy makers, he writes for the Financial Times.

James Graham Wilson’s The Triumph of Improvisation “suggests that individuals and power, economic strength and dynamism, the confidence and trust of allies, and diplomatic resilience and adaptability matter,” notes Zoellick, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy:

President Vladimir Putin rejects Gorbachev’s failures and seeks to restore Russia’s influence – and even territory. President Xi Jinping tells his cadres that Gorbachev committed a terrible error by abandoning the Communist party, which Xi believes must be strengthened and cleansed in China so as to lead its economic restructuring. Economic blows and insecurities have sapped the confidence and resources of the market democracies. A different American venture to expand the frontiers of freedom has ended in tragedy and withdrawals. America’s allies question US resolve and reliability.