Crazy optimism about China

May 8, 2019

There has been so much dreary news about repression in China under Xi Jinping. Lawyers, academics, civil society types, all locked up and brutalised. In the past five years under Xi, China has assumed a new and mundane identity. It is no longer the country of economic miracles, it is a regressive, bullying state, best known for herding a million Uyghurs into ‘re-education’ camps.

To me, Xi’s China recalls South Korea under Chun Doo Hwan in the 1980s. Chun, like Xi, came to power after economic lift-off. Chun, like Xi, established some sort of popular domestic political appeal with an anti-corruption campaign. But Chun, like Xi, was politically backward-looking and unimaginative. Chun was indeed even more politically repressive than what had gone before. Just like Xi Jinping.

It seemed in South Korea that Chun’s repression would go on for ever. And yet, in 1987, his authority quickly dissolved and a year later he was finished. Could such a thing happen to Xi Jinping, a leader who has done away with term limits in place since the demise of Mao Zedong? An essay by Ian Johnson in the New York Review of Books conjectures that such an outcome is not impossible. What a lift for the world it might be.

 

A Specter Is Haunting Xi’s China: ‘Mr. Democracy’

Stuart Franklin/Magnum Photos

Pro-democracy protesters at Tiananmen Square, Beijing, 1989. China’s Communist authorities are wary about the approaching thirtieth anniversary on June 4

Beijing—Something strange is happening in Xi Jinping’s China. This is supposed to be the perfect dictatorship, the most sustained period of authoritarianism since the Cultural Revolution ended more than forty years ago, a period of such damning disappointment that all but the regime’s most acquiescent apologists have become cynics or critics. And yet the past few months have also seen something potentially more interesting: the most serious critique of the system in more than a decade, led by people inside China who are choosing to speak out now, during the most sensitive season of the most sensitive year in decades.

The movement started quietly enough, with several brilliant essays written by a Chinese academic that drew an attack from his university bosses, which in turn stirred a backlash among Chinese public intellectuals. None of this means that the Communist Party is getting ready to loosen its icy grip over the country, but it is a remarkable series of events that is challenging what was supposed to be possible in Xi’s China.

Although the party never ruled over a golden age of free speech in China, it was possible to argue that for a decade up until the late 2000s China was getting freer. The combination of economic reforms and proliferating new media appeared to be permitting citizens more personal autonomy and freedom of expression. That began to change slowly soon after Beijing hosted the 2008 Olympics. First came the detention of Liu Xiaobo for helping to organize “Charter 08,” a document calling for modest constitutional reforms—a stand later recognized by the award of a Nobel Peace Prize. Then the overthrow of autocracies during the Arab Spring in 2011 fed into party neuroses about secret plots and uprisings, and this last decade has seen the end of meaningful public debate of almost any kind.

Enter Xu Zhangrun. A fifty-six-year-old professor of constitutional law at Beijing’s prestigious Tsinghua University, Xu is well known in Beijing as a moderate and prolific critic of the government’s increasing embrace of authoritarianism. Since 2012, he has published and spoken widely about his concern over China’s course. Some of his essays are mentioned in “China’s Moment,” translated by David Ownby, a University of Montreal history professor who, with several other scholars, started an invaluable website called “Reading the China Dream,” which makes available leading Chinese thinkers in English. Others are translated by the scholar Geremie Barmé and collected on this page of the China Heritage website.

While most of Xu’s earlier writing was couched in fairly dense language, he decided last July to make his message much more explicit. Writing for the website of the now-shuttered Unirule Institute of Economics, Xu issued what amounts to a petition to the emperor in the classical style. He bluntly explained that the government’s ever-tightening grip was leading the country to disaster, and he demanded measures to reverse course.

Xu’s original article last year, called “Our Immediate Hopes and Expectations,” was republished by The Initium, an independent Chinese-language website based in Hong Kong. That already helped to make it one of the most widely read recent articles critiquing the government; then it was translated as “Imminent Fears, Immediate Hopes” by Barmé, who added an invaluable preface explaining the long tradition of petitions or memorials to the throne.

Xu writes that ever since the Cultural Revolution, China’s rise has been based on four basic principles: an end to political campaigns; permitting private property and wealth accumulation; tolerance for some personal freedoms; political term limits to prevent the return of dictators like Mao. All of these, he implies, have been breached by Xi; the violation of the fourth principle enables Xi to serve beyond the end of his two five-year terms in 2022.

Xu then sets out eight expectations—in effect, demands of the government—that include the abolition of special privileges for Communist Party cadres, the disclosure of leaders’ personal assets, the end of what he sees as a personality cult around Xi, and a return of term limits. Most incendiary of all, he calls for the overturning of the official verdict on the June 4, 1989, Tiananmen Massacre, which was that the use of deadly force was justified because the protests were a “counter-revolutionary rebellion.”

To get a measure of Xu’s bluntness, here is how he describes (in Barmé’s translation) the privileges enjoyed by party members, including health care:

On one side of the hospital Commoners face the challenge of gaining admission for treatment, while everyone knows that grand suites are reserved on the other side for the care of high-level cadres. The people observe this with mute and heartfelt bitterness. Every iota of this bottled up anger may, at some unexpected moment, explode with thunderous fury.

Also worrying for Xu is the state of Sino–US relations, which he sees as threatened by leaders on both sides of the Pacific. In the US, he says “a crowd of the Ghoulish Undead, nurtured on the politics of the Great Game and the Cold War” is pushing mercantilist politics that are “shortsighted and avaricious.” China, meanwhile, is run by Xi, referred to simply as “the One”:

The One is blind to the Grand Way of current affairs and is scarred indelibly by a political brand from the Cultural Revolution. Overweening pride and official competence leads this One to bend his efforts to serve the wrong ends; talented enough to play the bureaucratic game, and doubtlessly masterful at achieving high office, but as for Guiding the Nation along the Correct Path, [what the One does] is worse than arrant time-wasting for there is something perverse at work.

Xu followed this up with several other articles warning about silence and complicity, as well as an extensive three-part critique of the party since reforms began in 1978. Although all of Xu’s articles were immediately censored, Xu himself initially escaped official criticism—until this year, when in March he was suspended from teaching and placed under investigation.

That led to a series of courageous essays from Chinese public thinkers. One leading voice was Guo Yuhua, a colleague of Professor Xu’s at Tsinghua who has herself been sidelined by the university while her critique of the government has been censored and suppressed. (See the NYR Daily’s 2018 Q&A with her here.) Guo wrote that the university was destroying its reputation by attacking Xu.

Other scholars or prominent voices who joined in include the independent writer Zhang Yihe, the film critic and publisher Geng Xiaonan, the translator and scholar Zi Zhongyun, the law professor Xia Li’an, and the Peking University economics professor Zhang Weiying (who revised a folk ballad to support Xu; it can be heard here). Many others have followed, including some writing sarcastically of the need to get rid of all professors, and some using classical poetry to voice their support. In addition, Chinese and foreign scholars launched a petition to support Xu, which can be viewed, and signed, here.

All the more surprising is that these public statements are happening at an exceptionally delicate time. As always in China, the reason is history. This June 4 will be the thirtieth anniversary of Tiananmen, which will be preceded exactly a month earlier by the hundredth anniversary of the May Fourth Movement, itself a turning point in modern Chinese history when Chinese took to the streets demanding “Mr. Science” and “Mr. Democracy”—in other words, a modern economy and military in tandem with a modern political system. As many commentators are bound to point out in the coming weeks, the country is in the process of obtaining the former while stifling all efforts to create the latter. Finally, this October 1 will be the seventieth anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic. The collision of all these momentous historical precedents means that it takes inordinate courage for critical public intellectuals to speak out now.

The government is, of course, adept at marginalizing such voices. Inside China, accessing these articles by Xu, Guo, and others requires a VPN, software that enables a user to bypass China’s censored intranet and access the global Internet. As a result, Xu and his supporters are unknown to the vast majority of Chinese people.

That makes it hard for public intellectuals to effect change. But they perform another, important function: reflecting the Zeitgeist of an era. Even though Xi is personally popular among many in Chinese society, my impression in traveling widely through different parts of China and observing different strata of society is that people are also conscious of a sense of loss—that the dynamism of the 1990s and 2000s has been turned into something more rigid and stagnant. Even China’s vaunted economic development, which for decades masked all sorts of popular discontent, is slowing, and the government lacks any impetus for reform that would create new motors of growth.

Xu’s case is therefore about far more than another dissident’s being silenced or a few lonely voices speaking out in protest. Instead, it captures a sense that the government has overplayed its hand on many fronts and that opposition is building.

All of this might well be impossible to sustain. But over the past century, even during the darkest times, the underlying humanism of Chinese culture has never been extinguished and has even, at critical moments, reasserted itself. This might seem too romantically hopeful, but it reminds me of a saying from traditional Chinese thought: wu ji bi fanWhen things reach an extreme, they must move in the opposite direction. We can only hope that this pendulum is now at its farthest extent, and that we are witnessing a slow but steady swing in the opposite direction.

Trying to care about Brexit

April 9, 2019

I really have not paid attention to Brexit. It seemed to me as soon as the referendum result came out that one could expend a lot of mental energy to no useful purpose. I don’t watch daytime tv, so I decided not to watch Brexit either.

A few weeks ago, the former prime minister of an African country I am researching asked me what I thought about Brexit. Wanting to shut the conversation down quickly, I said: ‘Well, the population blames the politicians. But a small majority voted for the case put forward by Boris Johnson and Michael Gove. And if you vote for clowns, you get a circus. That is all I can see.’

The former prime minister said he liked this analogy so much he was going to use it in debate in his own parliament. I wished him good luck but said I still wouldn’t pay attention to Brexit until it went right down to the wire.

Well, we should be down to the wire, except that we are about to get another extension so the wire is moving again. There is really no excuse for paying attention, but I did today read a short piece of analysis by investment research firm GaveKal’s Charles Gave that is sufficiently big-picture to not be a complete waste of time. Charles is politically to the right of me, but his analysis is almost always astute:

…………..

And the Brexit Winner Is…

By Charles Gave

 

The root of the current Brexit mess in the UK is simple enough. The UK is a parliamentary democracy. But Conservative Party prime minister David Cameron agreed to hold a popular referendum on whether the country should remain a member of the European Union or leave. Inconveniently, the population did not vote as expected by most of members of parliament, some three-quarters of whom supported remaining in the EU. This left the UK facing a constitutional question which has yet to be resolved: Who is the real sovereign power in the UK? The people or parliament?

In line with time-honored tradition, the answer was fudged. A minority government, itself consisting largely of remain-supporting MPs, set out to negotiate a Brexit deal, knowing full well that no genuine Brexit would ever pass through the remain-supporting House of Commons. In short, the solution was to botch the negotiations in an attempt to convince the general public that getting out of Europe was impossible.

This strategy has worked remarkably well to prevent Brexit from happening—which was, of course, its main goal. But it doesn’t seem to satisfy the average voter, and especially not those who voted for Brexit in the 2016 referendum. These voters have been left with the distinct impression that they have been taken for a ride by the UK’s political class, and in particular by their representatives in parliament. And the constitutional question remains unanswered, with the average voter convinced that he or she is the real sovereign, not the House of Commons. This leaves three possible outcomes.

1) The leader of another European government—Emmanuel Macron? Matteo Salvini? Viktor Orbán?—decides to put the UK out of its misery, vetoes a further extension of the UK’s EU membership and precipitates a hard Brexit. The hard Brexiteers, embodied by Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage, get what they want and declare victory. Theresa May steps down as prime minister, and the next general election is fought along traditional lines between the Conservatives and Labour.

2) In the face of opposition from a sizable number of her own MPs, May succeeds in passing a modified version of her withdrawal agreement through the Commons thanks to Labour support. The Conservative Party splits, and the next election is contested by three main parties rather than two: (i) Labour, (ii) remain-supporting Conservatives aligned with the Liberal Democrats (and with Blairite former-Labour centrists) as the party of the men of Davos, and (iii) the hard-Brexit-supporting rump of the Conservative party, aligned with Farage’s Brexit Party and other discontents. Most likely, the Brexit Party would not put up candidates against Brexiteer Conservative MPs, focusing instead on contests against Remainer Conservatives and Labour MPs with leave-voting constituencies. In a first past the post system, the result of such a contest would be highly unpredictable. But either way, Farage’s party would gain a considerable victory, having destroyed the two-party system.

3) May either secures a lengthy extension or revokes Article 50 altogether, and the UK participates in next month’s European Parliament elections. Farage’s Brexit Party fields a full complement of candidates, capitalizing on popular discontent with the political process to win enough seats effectively to confirm the 2016 referendum result (perhaps not as unlikely as it might sound—Farage’s UK Independence Party won the largest share of the UK vote in the 2014 European Parliament election). Such a clear refutation of the government’s Brexit fudge would leave May with no popular mandate, precipitating a general election, which would leave the UK again facing outcome two.

It may seem strange, but the least dangerous of these outcomes both for the EU (and especially France) and for the UK (and especially the Conservatives) is the first scenario. Macron could assume the mantle of Charles de Gaulle, who twice vetoed UK membership of the European Economic Community, and kick the UK out of the EU for her consistent reluctance to play by European—i.e. French—rules. Such decisive action could bolster his party’s support enough to win the May European Parliament election. If so, Macron would likely dissolve France’s National Assembly in the fall and call new legislative elections to restore the legitimacy he lost to the gilets jaunes protests.

In both the second and third scenarios, the Conservative Party is finished, and will split between the hard Brexiteers and the men of Davos. The days when the likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg and Anna Soubry could both find a political home in the same party are over.

I remain convinced that if the UK is indeed expelled from Europe, it will be as much a catastrophe for the world economy as Y2K. Investors should buy sterling aggressively on any subsequent dip, and continue to sell Germany.

If either the second or third scenario unfolds, investors should not leave sizeable amounts of capital at risk in Europe. There is plenty of money to be made elsewhere. The pound would weaken markedly, since in either scenario there would be an appreciable probability that Jeremy Corbyn could become prime minister. And as Corbyn’s track record amply demonstrates, once in power he is unlikely to prove much of a friend to investors.

 

Good news from Colombia

March 31, 2019

After the World Bank’s Land and Poverty Conference in D.C. last week, I spent a few minutes thinking about the good developmental news coming out of Colombia. The country where Albert Hirschman spent so much research time may finally be getting its act together.

I don’t work on Latin America, but all good news is welcome. If you want one lens into the kind of things that have been going on in Colombia, use this link to visit a fantastic Story Map about the development of property rights and titling for Colombia’s long-suffering indigenous peoples. Even if you just look at the photographs, it is all rather pleasing.

The fight against fascism: UK chapter

March 5, 2019

I wonder if we should Crowdfund money for Tommy Robinson to do a really good Research Methodologies Master’s? There is little doubt he is smart enough to get on such a course, which is why he is such a menace. But would he apply himself to the learning?

This from The Guardian:

……

Journalist calls police as Tommy Robinson makes video at his home

Far-right activist and Ukip adviser appears at 11pm and again at 5am in retaliation for delivery of legal letter

Peter Walker and Nazia Parveen

Tue 5 Mar 2019 12.53 GMT Last modified on Tue 5 Mar 2019 13.34 GMT

 

English Defence League leader Tommy Robinson arrives at Westminster Magistrates' Court in London

 

A journalist has made a complaint to police after the far-right activist Tommy Robinson appeared outside his house during the night, repeatedly knocking on the door and windows and demanding to speak to him.

Robinson, real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, who is an adviser to the Ukip leader Gerard Batten, filmed himself outside the Luton home of Mike Stuchbery, who often writes about far-right issues.

In the footage, which was live-streamed to the internet, Robinson demanded to speak to Stuchbery, and promised to return again on other nights.

Robinson gave Stuchbery’s street address and threatened to give out the home addresses of other journalists, saying: “I’m going to make a documentary that exposes every single one of you, every single detail about every one of you. Where you live, where you work, everything about you is going to be exposed.”

In a series of tweets sent at the time Stuchbery said he remained in the house and called the police. Robinson went away when officers attended the scene, but according to Stuchbery he then returned at 5am, asking again to be let in.

@MikeStuchbery_
I’ve spent the last few months documenting how ‘Tommy Robinson’ uses doorstepping to intimidate his critics, and how social media giants have enabled it.

So what does he do? Turns up at my house tonight. 1/

Solicitor Tasnime Akunjee said Stuchbery was left shaken following the incident.

He said: “Mr Lennon turned up at Mike Stuchbery’s home address at roughly 11pm and again at 5am. On both occasions he violently banged on Mr Stuchbery’s doors and windows causing alarm and distress to the occupants.”

In a later tweet, Stuchbery said he had made a statement to police, and handed them video and audio footage of the incident.

From comments Robinson made in the stream video, his motivation seems to have been the filing of a legal letter to his family home on Sunday, giving him formal notice of an intended libel action by lawyers representing a Syrian refugee who was allegedly attacked at school.

Stuchbery was among people who helped organise a crowdfund which raised £10,300 to help pay for the legal action against Robinson, founder of the English Defence League anti-Islam street protest group.

Footage of the 15-year-old victim, who can be identified only as Jamal, being pushed to the ground at his Huddersfield school and having water poured on his face attracted widespread condemnation in December.

Hours after the video went viral, Robinson claimed on Facebook that Jamal had previously attacked three schoolgirls and a boy, something denied by the mother of one of the girls allegedly assaulted.

Facebook deleted several of Robinson’s videos for violating community standards after Jamal’s family announced their intention to sue in November.

On Tuesday the page was removed as Robinson was permanently banned from Facebook and Instagram for repeatedly breaking policies on hate speech. Facebook said he broke rules that ban public calls for violence against people based on protected characteristics; rules that ban supporting or appearing with organised hate groups; and policies that prevent people from using the site to bully others.

Robinson said by email that the delivery of the letter entailed “intimidating an innocent woman and her children by sending five men with a dog to the house whilst I wasn’t even in the country”. Stuchbery said on Twitter that the letter was handed to a police officer 50m away from Robinson’s property.

In November last year, Batten appointed Robinson as his official adviser on prisons and grooming gangs, seen as part of a wider move of Ukip towards the far right.

The Ukip leader said Robinson, who faces a possible retrial after successfully appealing against a jail term for contempt of court for live-streaming videos to Facebook from outside a grooming gang case, had “great knowledge” about the subjects.

Robinson has been approached for further comment.

 

More on research methodologies / talking shit:

Meanwhile, after the British Prime Minister yesterday said there is ‘no direct correlation’ between police cuts (plus, she seemed to me to imply, austerity more generally)  and the rise in knife crime in the UK…

If you look at the figures, what you see is that there’s no direct correlation between certain crimes and police numbers. What matters is how we ensure that police are responding to these criminal acts when they take place, that people are brought to justice.

… it appears she has taken some advice on research methodologies, data regression, significance at the five-percent level, and so forth.

Today, knife crime was the main subject at a cabinet meeting and the vicar’s daughter plans to get jolly serious about tackling it. She did not, however, make herself available in parliament or to the press.

Former Home Secretary Amber Rudd, who in that job tried the no-correlation essay question answer herself — despite leaked documents from her own ministry showing its staff do think there is a link — also seems to have decided it is a 2:2 answer (or worse) and is pretending she never said anything.

From Guardian Live:

Q: What do you think of Theresa May’s comment about there being no direct correlation between police numbers and the incidence of violent crime, given your previous role as home secretary?

Rudd says these crimes are heartbreaking. There are many different elements explaining the increase, she says. She says there have been a lot of new government interventions. She hopes they will make a difference. >

I honestly cannot remember a time in my life when the British police came across as so much more measured and thoughtful than the ruling politicians.

 

 

 

 

 

The fight against fascism: China chapter

February 28, 2019

If you missed reports of the shenanigans at Canada’s McMaster University last week, then the following article by academic Kevin Carrico is well worth a read. Universities are letting a minority of Chinese students behave in ways that are utterly unacceptable. One speculates that they do this because many universities depend heavily on Chinese students for fee income, because they and their academics fear the Chinese Communist Party, and because university administrations tend to be pretty weak-kneed.

Colleges should punish international students who engage in threats, racial hatred and intelligence gathering for Beijing

Last week, Rukiye Turdush came to McMaster University to make a presentation on a sombre topic: the arbitrary and indefinite detention of Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities in concentration camps in the region that the People’s Republic of China calls Xinjiang.

Unsurprisingly, Turdush is critical of this policy, and rightly so. A group of students from the People’s Republic, however, disagreed with the critical impetus of the talk. They planned in advance to attend and disrupt the talk with shouting and cursing.

Why film the talk? Having experienced this form of intimidation myself, the not-so-subtle message implied is that recordings of the talk will be provided to the Chinese Consulate. This is not mere speculation on my part: the Washington Post has shown that students were in contact with the People’s Republic of China’s Consulate both before and after the talk.

The Consulate was reportedly interested to know whether any Chinese citizens were involved in the planning of the event, as well as whether any university administrators or other academics were present. The students involved also stated that they intended to “look into” the presenter’s son, who is also a McMaster student.

Disrupting events by speakers with whom one disagrees has unfortunately become the new norm on many university campuses in North America. But in terms of disruptions, this case is really only unique for the sheer horror of what the students were trying to defend: a race-based system of concentration camps.

Yet in the decision to film the event, as well as to coordinate with the PRC Consulate, the students involved crossed a significant red line. Here, the “Western-style” political correctness behind the “no platform” trend meets China-style “political correctness,” enforcing Beijing’s carefully protected orthodoxies abroad.

Filming and providing information to the consulate is an act of intelligence-gathering, as well as a threat, insofar as the intelligence is provided to a dictatorship engaged in crimes against humanity.

Not only the speaker but indeed students and academics in the audience could easily be blacklisted from China, and anyone with family in the PRC could see their family bear the brunt of the authorities’ anger.

If anyone present happened to have a Uyghur relative still in China then mere presence at this talk would be more than sufficient grounds to send their entire family off into the concentration camp system, perhaps never to be heard from again.

However, despite the gravity of these students’ acts, more than a week after the event, there is still no hint of any punishment for the students involved. Rukiye Turdush personally told me that she has asked the university if there will be any repercussions for the students, and has received no answer.

After a few mildly shocked newspaper articles, everyone now seems to have moved on.

Imagine for a moment if a group of white students had done this to Native Americans. Or if a group of Afrikaner students had intimidated indigenous anti-racism activists during the era of Apartheid. Or if a group of German students had during the Hitler years recorded and provided information to the German Consulate on Jewish refugees.

Let’s even imagine that a group of Japanese students had engaged in similar behaviour towards a Chinese student giving a talk on war crimes in World War II. The world would be outraged, and rightly so.

Are international students from China, unlike any other student group in today’s universities, allowed to engage in campaigns of racial hatred, intelligence gathering, and threats against those with whom they disagree?

In contrast to the parallel historical examples of white racism and anti-Semitism provided above, ideologies which we can all join hands in condemning, there sadly remains far too much vacillation in the “Western world” about racism and ongoing crimes against humanity in China today.

In both the North American and Australian contexts in which I have worked, racism is, for obvious historical reasons, perceived as the sole purview of a white majority. This notion and its particular vision of victimiser/victim can complicate discussions of the realities of Chinese racism.

Matters become doubly complicated when this intersects with the ostensibly anti-Orientalist idealisation of China as untroubled by the perennial problems of ‘the West’, widespread in both the popular imagination and academic writings.

For example, as a researcher on PRC nationalism and racism, I have academic colleagues who have expressed to me their discomfort with the idea that there could be racism in China. After all, ethnic identity in Chinese is expressed through the idea of minzu, which is markedly different from the idea of zhongzu as a blood-based race.

Ethnic identity in China, they say, is more open and fluid than the rigid constructions that have plagued us in the West.

That certainly sounds nice, but there really is nothing fluid or open about arbitrarily and indefinitely holding a million people from Turkic minority groups in concentration camps. Nor is there anything fluid or open about shouting down and harassing speakers attempting to raise awareness of these modern-day concentration camps.

All are manifestations of a malignant Han racial supremacism with deep disdain for an “other,” the troubling implications of which are becoming increasingly apparent by the day to anyone willing to face facts.

During my decades of travel in China, countless friends have confided in me that Uyghurs are different: dangerous, natural criminals, disease carriers, prone to terrorist violence, and inherent risks to social stability.

These ideas were already disturbing enough when they were used by interlocutors to argue that Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities lived on an earlier stage of evolutionary development behind the Han. And of course, there is disturbingly limited space in both popular culture and academia in China to push back against such racism.

As a result, I have watched with trepidation as these ideas have provided the foundation for the development of an expansive network of concentration camps today in what was to be, just a few years ago, “the China century.”

It is of course disturbing that some students from the PRC, given the opportunity to learn important truths about the PRC government’s behaviour today, choose instead to maintain an information bubble in which any information that is not in the People’s Daily is somehow deceptive slander against an always “mighty, glorious, and correct” Party.

Yet we have truly reached a new level of “disturbing,” now that these students are attempting to intimidate and silence discussion in the Western world of the Chinese Communist Party’s crimes against humanity in Xinjiang.

And undoubtedly the single most disturbing aspect of this entire affair is that when faced with this blatant supremacism, the response has been far too weak.

If the McMaster students involved in threatening and providing intelligence on Rukiye Turdush would like to attend a university in which the Communist Party’s crimes are not openly discussed, and wherein they can actively collaborate with the Beijing regime in its wars against the Uyghurs, there are plenty of such universities in China.

Allowing these students who have engaged in racial profiling, intelligence gathering for a foreign government, and intimidation and harassment to continue to study at McMaster without punishment sends the completely wrong message.

And this is a message that students will remember: that this type of behaviour is acceptable, or at least that they will not face any repercussions for it.

If the University truly wants to create an environment free from harassment, intimidation, discrimination, fear, and racism, the students involved in this affair must be held responsible for their actions.

Doing so will send the right message, not only to potential future offenders, but also to all Chinese, Taiwanese, Hongkonger, Uyghur, and Tibetan students in the West: we will not allow the persecution that you face at home to follow you here.

In Cambridge, friends in Cambridge?

February 26, 2019

If you are in Cambridge (or London, or somewhere else not far away), please come to the first of a series of parties that I am organising to raise money for the homeless. The very first party is this Saturday, 2 March. Bring friends! If you are not in Cambridge (or London, or somewhere else not far away), please encourage anyone you know who is in my part of the world to come along.

You can access the ticketing site directly here.

You can access the Facebook Event page here (please hit the Like and Interested buttons on Facebook whatever else you do or don’t do). Facebook also links to the ticketing.

You can download an e-invite that contains the ticketing URL and a QR code that a phone will scan to take itself directly to the ticketing site from just below these words:

The Heart of Saturday Night Poster 3

According to James Brokenshite, the Conservative housing minister, the increase in homelessness since the Global Financial Crisis has nothing to do with government policy and cuts; instead it reflects an unrelated epidemic of drug taking and family breakdowns. To be fair, Mr Gobshite did subsequently row back on his comments, saying that we ‘need to ask ourselves some very hard questions’ about why the number of homeless has increased so much. Since Mr Brokencountry appears to be intellectually lazy, however, hard questions may be difficult to answer.

The EU works. A bit. And slowly

January 25, 2019

As the Guardian reports below, the EU has finally taken down Italy’s pants and spanked both its cheeks for its grotesque, puerile, unprofessional and corrupt handling of the Meredith Kercher murder case. This is edifying and reminds us that the EU does perform a vital role in setting standards for its more backward members. If only, however, the EU would do more to enforce those standards in a uniform fashion.

Within Italy, the Sollecito-Knox case has led to zero change that I am aware of. Giuliano Mignini, the original narcissistic Italian magistrate-nut-job, continues to work as a public prosecutor in Perugia. No policeman, as far as I know, has been sanctioned for the many, many laws the police broke. And Italy still has no equivalent of the UK’s Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE, 1984), which makes collusion between courts and police very difficult by imposing a review layer between them — what in the UK is called the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).

Italy has every single one of the judicial and police problems that led to the passage of the PACE in the UK 35 years ago. But because Italy is presently masquerading as a country called Shitaly, it won’t get on and do the same thing.

 

…………………………

Amanda Knox.
 Amanda Knox. Photograph: NBC NewsWire/Reuters

Amanda Knox: European court orders Italy to pay damages

The European court of human rights has ordered Italy to pay Amanda Knox €18,400 for police failures to provide her access to a lawyer and a translator during questioning over the 2007 killing of her British flatmate Meredith Kercher in Perugia.

The ruling opens the way for Knox’s lawyers to challenge her last remaining conviction, for malicious accusation, in the Italian courts.

The court, in Strasbourg, declared that Italy must pay Knox €10,400 in damages plus €8,000 to cover costs and expenses.

As well as concluding authorities had twice violated her right to a fair trial, the ECHR also found they had failed to investigate her complaints she had been subjected to degrading treatment, including being slapped on the head and deprived of sleep. The court did not, however, uphold her complaint of ill-treatment.

The 31-year-old American’s convictions for murder and sexual assault were previously overturned. She was also found guilty by an Italian court of making a malicious accusation, by allegedly suggesting someone else was guilty of the murder.

The killing of Kercher, a Leeds University European Studies student on a one-year exchange course in Umbria, generated global headlines for several years as charges of sexual assault and murder were fought through the courts – exposing Italy’s justice system to international criticism.

Knox, a language student and Kercher’s flatmate, and Knox’s Italian former boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito were initially charged with sexually assaulting and killing her. Kercher was stabbed in the neck.

The following year Knox was also charged with malicious accusation for suggesting another person should be a suspect. Italian detectives alleged she was trying to hide her responsibility for the attack by blaming someone else. Knox wants to have that conviction quashed.

Judges at the ECHR said the Italian government had failed to show that Knox’s restricted access to a lawyer had not “irreparably undermined the fairness of the proceedings as a whole”.

Meredith Kercher.
 Meredith Kercher. Photograph: PA

“Ms Knox had been particularly vulnerable, being a foreign young woman, 20 at the time, not having been in Italy for very long and not being fluent in Italian,” the court noted.

The ECHR’s decision was “not a big surprise for me because the supreme court already said there were many mistakes,” said Knox’s lawyer, Carlo Dalla Vedova. “That is one of the reasons that invited us to tell Amanda to go to Strasbourg. For me this is a certification of a mistake, probably the biggest legal mistake in the last years in Italy, also because the attention that this case has had.”

Dalla Vedova said of the malicious accusation conviction: “It is impossible to compensate Amanda for four years in prison for a mistake. There will be no amount. We are not looking for compensation of damages. We are doing this on principal.”

In 2009, Knox was convicted in an Italian court of falsifying a break-in at their Perugia flat, sexual assault, murder and defamation. She was sentenced to 26 years in prison. Sollecito was also found guilty of the attack and sentenced to 25 years.

Both appealed. In 2011, the Perugia court of appeal acquitted the pair of the more serious charges, but upheld Knox’s conviction for malicious accusation.

After nearly four years in custody, Knox was released and returned to the US. She appealed again to challenge the malicious accusation conviction. It was quashed but in 2014 she was re-convicted of both malicious accusation and murder.

The murder conviction was again annulled by the court of cassation, the country’s highest court, the following year but the malicious accusation conviction was not removed. Ivory Coast-born Rudy Guede is serving a 16-year sentence for his role in the killing.

Lawyers for Knox, who lives in Seattle, then appealed to the ECHR to overturn the last remaining conviction. They argued she was denied the right to legal assistance when first interviewed by police in 2007, was not given access to a professional or independent interpreter and that she did not receive a fair hearing.

Knox has always denied any involvement in the murder.

 

More:

I wrote a ton of stuff about this case while it was going on. It ought to all be under the ‘Italy to avoid’ tab

 

And so we locked up a million people…

January 15, 2019

An excellent review of evidence that China has indeed locked up one million or more Uighurs in Xinjiang ‘Autonomous’ Region in an effort to have them toe Beijing’s line. This is the sort of uncompromising approach to dissent that in all too many countries has become a victim of political correctness.

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As journalists and scholars have reported in recent months on the campaign of religious and cultural repression and incarceration taking place in the Chinese region of Xinjiang, a central question has emerged: How many people has China’s government detained as part of the campaign? In the absence of officially reported numbers or other hard evidence, researchers of various stripes have converged on the figure of one million as a common estimate of the people the Chinese government is detaining in Xinjiang’s camps.

But where does this figure come from, and how is it formulated?

An August 2018 United Nations session appears to have first popularized the number. At the session, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination said it had received “many credible reports” that one million ethnic Uighurs in China were being held in internment camps, though it did not specify the sources of these reports. In the following days, the figure was repeated in stories in The Wall Street JournalAl Jazeera, and HuffPost, all citing the U.N. session. A week later, the U.S. State Department issued a public statement raising its previous estimate of hundreds of thousands of detainees to a number “possibly . . . in the millions.” News coverage in the months since has often referred to the “one million” estimate; other reports cite lower numbers of detainees, though still in the hundreds of thousands. Chinese representatives stated at the August U.N. session that “there is no such thing as re-education centers”; by October, the local Xinjiang government had passed legislation enshrining them as a formal method to “transform” people influenced by “extremism.” But even after admitting to their existence, Chinese officials have chafed at Western reports of the numbers held there, with a spokesperson callingthe estimates “defamatory” and the results of “ulterior motives.”

Given the Chinese government has not released its own official numbers, and given the extreme obstacles that prevent independent on-the-ground accounting of camp inmates, how do outside observers arrive at the one million estimate?

No precise count of the number of people currently detained in camps in Xinjiang has made its way out of China. So investigators must rely on estimates that use small samples to extrapolate the camps’ overall population of inmates.

Two key studies independently arrived around the one million mark, by using limited data samples to estimate what percentage of the ethnic minority Muslim population is detained. Both studies arrive at a detention rate of 10 percent —at least in some areas of Xinjiang—suggesting that just over one million of the region’s 11 million ethnic Uighur population could be in the camps.

The first estimate, from Adrian Zenz, a social scientist at the European School of Culture & Theology, is based on an accounting of the detention camp populations totalling some 892,000 individuals in 68 Xinjiang counties as of the Spring of 2018. These numbers are from a document leaked by Chinese public security authorities to Istiqlal, a Uighur exile media organization based in Turkey, and also later appeared in Newsweek Japan.

As Zenz points out, these numbers are not complete. Several major population centers are missing from the leaked data. One approach to determine how many additional people are detained in these additional population centers would be to simply assume the same rate of detention across all of Xinjiang and use local population figures to calculate an estimate for the missing areas. However, as Zenz explained to ChinaFile, based on his own research and on Radio Free Asia reporting (discussed further below), he presumes that detention rates vary locally depending on the share of ethnic minority population in a given area. Specifically, this means that areas with Han-majority populations see a smaller percentage of their ethnic minority populations detained.

To account for these differences in population and likely differences in detention rates, Zenz zoomed in on just a subset of the leaked data: 27 counties where the vast majority of the population is ethnic Uighur, Kazakh, and Kyrgyz. The leaked data showed that 693,273 individuals were detained in these counties, out of a total of 4.45 million Uighur, Kazakh, and Kyrgyz adults aged 20-79—a detention rate of 12.3 percent. Zenz conservatively rounded down to reach an average detention rate of ten percent in minority-majority areas. To estimate a detention rate for Han-majority areas, he then halved the 10 percent estimate—again, seeking to offer a conservative estimate.

Applying these approximated detention rates to cities and counties throughout the entire region, Zenz writes that “Xinjiang’s total re-education internment figure may be estimated at just over one million.” (It is worth stating that this is Zenz’s high-end estimate; elsewhere in the article he writes that estimates “anywhere between several hundred thousand and just over one million” are reasonable. This estimate is also from spring 2018, and it is possible that more people have been detained since then.)

The second estimate comes from the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD). Between mid-2017 and mid-2018, CHRD interviewed eight ethnic Uighurs located in eight different villages in southern Xinjiang. Each person gave their own estimate of the number of people detained in their village, which CHRD used to surmise a detention rate for each village. These village detention rates ranged from 8 to 20 percent, averaging out to 12.8 percent across all eight villages. Just as Zenz did, CHRD “conservatively” rounded down to reach a 10 percent estimated detention rate. CHRD then applied this rate to all of southern Xinjiang, assessing that “approximately 240,000 rural residents may be detained in ‘re-education’ centers in Kashgar Prefecture, and 660,000 in the larger Southern Xinjiang [area].”

Extrapolating further, CHRD assumed a 10 percent detention rate across all of Xinjiang, estimating that 1.1 million people are being held, or have been held, in the camps. (CHRD’s figure does not include individuals forced to attend mandatory day or evening “re-education” sessions, which could add another estimated 1.3 million people across southern Xinjiang.)

These two estimates are not the only sources that suggest a 10 percent detention rate. The U.S.-based outlet Radio Free Asia (RFA), which regularly cold-calls government offices throughout Xinjiang, has reported that some local officials must meet detention quotas. Since the latter half of 2017, at least four different local officials in both southern and northern Xinjiang have told RFAthat they were given detention targets to meet, including 10 percent of the population in one village and 40 percent in another. These quotas generally accord with other RFA sources’ accounts of detention figures in their own villagesand townships. RFA itself has not offered a region-wide detention estimate, but its coverage over time and across different localities does buttress the theory that 10 percent of Xinjiang’s Uighur population could be detained. Indeed, Zenz writes in his analysis that RFA’s reporting suggests a “one million” estimate is not far-fetched.

Other reporters and researchers have compiled additional information about the camps that suggest the “one million” figure is credible. This information does not rely on personal testimony or data leaked from official sources; rather, it is based on satellite imagery or on the Chinese government’s own publicly-available documents:

  • Using a list of sites drawn from media reports and other research, a team of analysts from a multinational aerospace company reviewed satellite images for the BBC and judged that 44 of them had a high or very high likelihood of being a “security facility.” Looking specifically at a site called Dabancheng, located about an hour’s drive from Urumqi, a separate team of architects with experience in prison design, and an architect focused on social responsibility in design and planning, estimated it could hold anywhere from 11,000 detainees—on par with the largest prisons on earth—to 130,000 detainees. The lower figure, which one expert said was “likely a significant underestimate,” assumes that each detainee has his or her own private sleeping quarters; the higher estimate assumes that detainees are housed in dormitories.
    • None of the experts consulted in the BBC report address this question, but if there were only 44 camps in all of Xinjiang, they would need to each house an average 22,730 individuals to accommodate one million detainees—twice the low-end estimate for Dabancheng, but still well below the high-end estimate. If facilities such as Dabancheng can indeed hold as many as 100,000 people, only 10 similarly-sized facilities would be needed across all of Xinjiang to hold one million people.
  • The Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) analyzed just 28 camp facilities (noting that there may be more than 1,000 facilities across Xinjiang), estimating that in total these camps contain 2,700,000 square meters of floor space.
    • Although the ASPI report does not include this calculation, taking a very conservative estimate that only 10 percent of this floor space is used for dormitories, and combining it with an estimated occupancy density of 1.5-2 detainees per square meter (as used by Zenz in his analysis of such facilities), the number of detainees in these 28 camps alone could easily approach half a million.
  • In its examination of more than 1,500 publicly-available government documents, Agence France-Presse (AFP) found procurement documents that hint at huge numbers of detainees. Hotan county’s vocational education bureau, which oversees at least one camp, ordered 194,000 Chinese language practice books and 11,310 pairs of shoes in just one month this year.
  • Another CHRD analysis of Chinese government data estimated that criminal arrests in Xinjiang increased by more than 700 percent between 2016 and 2017, reaching nearly 228,000 arrests in 2017. RFA and CHRD reporting indicates that at least some of these cases represent individuals who were initially detained in camps and then transferred to the criminal system for formal prosecution.
    • Even if only 10 percent of these arrests represent transfers from camps, that would still account for more than 20,000 camp detainees. If individuals initially detained in camps were, instead, mostly responsible for this 700 percent year-on-year jump, these figures could easily account for between 100,000 and 200,000 camp detainees.

The Chinese government’s own budget and spending reports show expenditures that, while not directly corroborating the numbers of individuals detained, certainly suggest that very large numbers of detentions are plausible. AFP estimates that Xinjiang’s local justice bureaus, the organs responsible for operating the camps, may have spent 577 percent more in 2017 than they had originally budgeted. Budget documents showed that counties in southern Xinjiang, where the share of the ethnic minority Muslim population is higher, used funds especially earmarked for the camps to fund the additional outlays. Additional research by Adrian Zenz, comparing government data of year-on-year spending in counties throughout Xinjiang, shows similarly outsized spending increases on “social stability management,” “detention center management,” and other domestic security expenditures, particularly in areas with higher proportions of ethnic minority Muslim residents. This spending coincides with a February 2017 directive from the regional Justice Department to use “concentrated educational transformation centers” to manage “key groups” in society. It also corresponds with a more than 10-fold jump in the number of new security facilities the BBC was able to detect via satellite imagery between 2016 and 2017, and with spikes in new and retrofitted camp construction ASPI identified in 2017.

Taken together, these reports offer compelling support for the credibility of the “one million” estimates, even as the estimates themselves remain unavoidably imprecise. But what does “credible” mean?

Much reporting on the estimates of those detained in Xinjiang stresses that the “one million” number is “credible.” Yet it is important to distinguish between credibility and precision. Much of the information that international observers have used to make detention estimates is credible in that it comes from local sources, many of whom are in official positions that allow them access to such information through the course of their work, and who take great personal risk to communicate this information to the international community. Yet it is observers’ inability to conduct any sort of independent verification that prevents these credible estimates from being more precise. This is mainly due to China’s stringent information controls and its restrictions on foreigners’ access to the region—let alone to the camps themselves.

As a result, international observers cannot know with certainty, for example, how detentions are carried out in southern Xinjiang, where about four-fifths of the population is Uighur, versus northern Xinjiang, where only one-quarter is Uighur. Observers also cannot be sure if other ethnic minority Muslim individuals, such as Kazakhs and Kyrgyz, are detained at the same rates as Uighurs; most available reporting describes conditions only for Uighurs, the largest minority population in Xinjiang. It’s also often unclear whether estimates include the total number of people detained over time, or the number detained only at the time of the estimate.

This much, then, is clear by now: estimates of one million people detained in Xinjiang “re-education” camps are quite credible. Does that mean they are correct? Only Beijing likely knows for sure. And it’s not telling.

A good car while it lasted

January 2, 2019

Subaru passing

Parked up and went for a walk on the beach on the Isle of Wight after Christmas. When we came back the car was not quite as we left it. There had been a small fire in the engine, of which there was no sign when we set off. The fire brigade, who kindly turned up while we were walking on the beach and wondering where all the black smoke was coming from, said it is not the first time they have seen this.

I had wanted to get rid of the car for some time, as I almost never use it. My wife is less pleased. Still, when it is time to go it is time to go, and I like to think that the Subaru’s soul is now in car heaven.

This post really isn’t about development, but I am hoping it might encourage me to start blogging again.

 

Happy New Year from America: Mike Pence’s gateway

January 1, 2018

As hung on the Aspen gatepost of Vice-President Mike Pence’s home. The word on the yellow strip, which is not easy to read, is ‘America’.

The local sheriff has not, as I understand it, seen any reason to remove the banner.

A happy new year to everyone, including Mike.

MakeAmericaGayAgain 1217


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