Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

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.

Happy Christmas from China: false imprisonment and torture

December 28, 2017

The Chinese Communist Party has a long tradition of doing dirty work at Christmas, because its members think that the world is not paying attention. Some people, however, are…

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China Change, December 26, 2017

 

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Wu Gan on June 8, 2015, two weeks after he was arrested: ““My case is an absurd and entertaining movie. The filming has begun, and I have gotten into character.” 

 

On the morning of December 26 courts in Tianjin and Changsha announced the verdicts respectively of Wu Gan, a seminal activist, and Xie Yang, a human rights lawyer. Xie Yang was found guilty of “inciting subversion of state power” while Wu Gan’s refusal to cooperate led him to receive the more severe “subversion of state power.” Both were “convicted,” but Xie Yang was exempt from punishment, while Wu Gan was handed a heavy sentence of eight years.

In a live broadcast, Xie Yang was made to once again deny that he had been tortured, and to thank all parties for a “fair” trial and for “safeguarding” his rights. The first time he was forced to make this false admission was during his trial in May.

On the other hand, Wu Gan’s lawyer reported that he told the court, immediately after the sentence was announced, that “I thank the Communist Party for conferring me this high honor [subversion]. I will not forget my original aspiration, and will roll up my sleeves and work harder.” His remarks were a play on the official words of Xi Jinping; observers found it remarkable that a man who had just received such a harsh sentence would have the sense of humor, and guts, to do so.

It wasn’t until hours later that the authorities released a short clip of Wu Gan in court. Viewers will see why it took time: the authorities doctored the video, using clips of Wu Gan’s secret trial in August to show he was “contrite.” In August, Wu Gan wore a short sleeved T-shirt and read from a sheet of paper that he would not appeal, while yesterday he wore a dark, long-sleeved top.

Wu Gan’s lawyer Ge Yongxi (葛永喜) described on Twitter what the official clips purposefully omitted: Following “I admit that I have harbored thoughts of subverting state power,” Wu Gan added, “but I believe this is a citizen’s right, and my actions do not constitute crimes.”

Lawyer Ge Yongxi challenged the authorities to show the court recording in its entirety.

After Wu Gan’s sentence, his lawyers released a statement on his behalf.

 

Wu Gan’s Statement About His Sentence

For those living under a dictatorship, being given the honorable label of one who “subverts state power” is the highest form of affirmation for a citizen. It’s proof that the citizen wasn’t an accomplice or a slave, and that at the very least he went out and defended, and fought for, human rights. Liang Qichao (梁启超, famous reformist at end of Qing dynasty) said that he and dictatorship were two forces inextricably opposed; I say: If I don’t oppose dictatorship, am I still a man?

They have attempted to have me plead guilt and cooperate with them to produce their propaganda in exchange for a light sentence — they even said that as long as I plead guilty, they’ll give me a three-year sentence suspended for three years. I rejected it all. My eight-year sentence doesn’t make me indignant or hopeless. This was what I chose for myself: when you oppose the dictatorship, it means you are already walking on the path to jail.

I’m optimistic despite the harsh sentence. Because of the internet, more and more people are waking up. The ranks of those ready to stand at the funeral of the dictatorship is growing stronger and larger by the day. Those who try to use jail to frighten citizens pursuing freedom and democracy, thus obstructing the progress of human civilization, won’t meet a good end. Their tyranny is based on a lack of self-confidence — a sign of a guilty conscience and fear. It’s a dead end. When the masses wake up, will the dictatorship’s end be far off?

I have been subjected to torture and other forms of inhumane treatment during my detention thus far — and it’s not an isolated occurrence, but a common phenomenon. I appeal to the international community to closely follow the deterioration of human rights in China, follow the Chinese Communist Party’s criminal detention of its own citizens, and especially of dissidents, along with the other abuses they’re subjected to, including: false charges, secret detention, forced confessions to the media, forced appointment of state-controlled defense counsel, torture and abuse in custody, and the stripping of every civil right of Chinese citizens.

I hereby name the individuals involved in persecuting, torturing, and abusing me: An Shaodong (安少东), Chen Tuo (陈拓), Guan Jiantong (管建童), Yao Cheng (姚诚), Yuan Yi (袁溢), Wang Shoujian (王守俭), Xie Jinchun (谢锦春), Gong Ning (宫宁), Sheng Guowen (盛国文), Cao Jiyuan (曹纪元), Liu Yi (刘毅), Cai Shuying (蔡淑英), Lin Kun (林崑).

Another reason to go in to academia

September 21, 2017

This is a wonderful story from today’s South China Morning Post. The only slightly annoying thing is that if they wanted unctuous propaganda masquerading as scholarly endeavour, why didn’t they come to me? I am not saying that I am cheap, but I am absolutely available. My PhD has cost me a fortune.

Have you tried singing ‘Oh, Xi Jinping’ to the sound of ‘Oh, Jeremy Corbyn’? It is mildly humouring.

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Chinese universities encourage professors, students to post online content that promotes ‘socialist values’

Content that influences public opinion with ‘correct thinking and culture’ given same weight as academic papers

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 September, 2017, 6:43pm

UPDATED : Thursday, 21 September, 2017, 7:00pm

 

China’s top universities are encouraging academics and students to write online articles promoting socialist values, with some offering authors the same academic credits they would get for papers published in journals.

The policy, which follows calls made by President Xi Jinping late last year for academics to become advocates of socialist values and firm supporters of Communist Party rule, has upset some people in the world of academia.

According to a notice issued this month by Zhejiang University, content that is widely circulated online, that shows “core socialist values” and influences public opinion with “correct thinking and culture” now carries the same weight as an academic paper – whether it is in the form of an essay, video or animation.

Content that is posted on the websites and social media platforms of party mouthpieces such as People’s Daily and Xinhua would receive the most credits, the notice said.

“Many professors object to it, saying they do not want to be used for politics,” a PhD student at the university told the South China Morning Post.

“No one is stupid here. The policy is aimed at getting the most intelligent people to say positive things about the country,” said the student, who asked not to be named.

The new scheme is being run by the university’s party committee, he said.

Zhejiang University, which is based in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou, is not the only seat of learning offering incentives to those who toe the party line. Jilin University in northeastern China is also handing out credits to faculty members whose propaganda is published on state media websites and major commercial news portals.

Propagating the country’s achievements on “mainstream foreign media” also counted as an academic achievement, the university said.

A professor at Jilin, who also requested anonymity, said the new policy had yet to affect his teaching or research work.

“I’m holding onto my own academic standards,” he said. “I don’t know what will happen in the future. A good society should have voices of opposition.”

Shanghai Jiaotong University and the University of Electronic Science and Technology have launched similar schemes, while a number of other schools have promised to follow suit.

The online propaganda drive came soon after inspectors from the party’s discipline watchdog in June named 14 top colleges as being “too weak in their political work”. That announcement followed a nationwide programme of inspections.

Both Zhejiang and Jilin universities were accused of failing to implement a strong system for ideological work.

China is keen to boost the global rankings of its universities and attract the best talent from around the world, but critics have said its efforts were being undermined by too many controls on academics.

In recent years, Beijing has tightened its restraints on higher education, warning of the spread of “Western values” on campuses and sacking lecturers it accused of being critical of the party.

In a speech to universities and colleges in December, Xi said they must become the “strongholds of the party’s leadership”.

Ying Biao, Zhejiang University’s party propaganda chief, said the new scheme was a way to help achieve Xi’s goals.

“We want to … encourage all teachers and students to tell the China story well, to spread China’s voice and to produce more positive views and comments,” Ying told People’s Daily.

According to the Zhejiang PhD student, due to its distance from Beijing’s political centre, the university traditionally enjoyed more freedom than many others and attracted a higher number of liberal scholars as a result.

However, the new policy was likely to encourage young researchers to produce propaganda work rather than academic papers in their bid to get on, he said.

“At least the old people are still here, and they are hard to move,” he said. “But I don’t know how things will be in 10 or 20 years.”

 

 

China: GDP-per-capita US$8,123

July 6, 2017

Liu Xiaobo & wife 0717

 

Later, following the death of Liu Xiaobo:

James Palmer in Foreign Policy with a thoughtful overview.

Jerome Cohen on the legal aspects of the Chinese Communist Party’s abuse of Liu Xiaobo and his wife Liu Xia, and its impressive hypocrisy.

Novelist Ma Jian writes about Liu Xiaobo on Project Syndicate.

Philippines back on track?

May 10, 2016

 

It is pretty much clear that Dirty Harry Duterte has won the Philippines’ presidential election.

Thank goodness. Six years of Noynoy, with relatively clean government and improved growth threatened the Philippines’ status as the most dysfunctional polity in mainstream east Asia. The Thais were catching up. Fast.

Dirty Harry has the chance to put his country back on its pedestal by returning to the basics of machismo, nepotism, greed and ignorance. I’m not absolutely certain he will seize the chance because, like Donald Trump, he expresses contradictory positions on almost every issue. Which is more important to Duterte: LGBT rights or rape? He’s expressed support for the first and condoned the second. I guess that only time will tell.

Do we blame the poverty of Filipinos for this presidential choice? Or the poverty of choice of candidates? My personal grudge is against Noynoy, for endorsing Mar Roxas, from one of the great robber baron political dynasties, as his successor. Roxas stood aside in 2010 to give Noynoy a clear run, so it seems that Noynoy decided he had to return the favour. It may yet be 100 million Filipinos who pay the price for this bit of political business as usual.

 

Dirty Duterte / Donald Trump quiz:

The Guardian today offers the following quotations. Which ones are from Duterte, and which are from Trump? Answers at the end.

On crime and punishment:

On crime and punishment

A: “Forget the laws on human rights… You drug pushers, hold-up men and do-nothings, you better go out. Because I’d kill you.”

B: “They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”

On sex and other things

A: “I was separated from my wife. I’m not impotent. What am I supposed to do? Let this hang forever? When I take Viagra, it stands up.”

B: “My fingers are long and beautiful, as, it has been well documented, are various other parts of my body.”

On modesty

A: “I do not have brilliance, wit or smartness. What I have is common sense. It is what our country needs!”

B: “My IQ is one of the highest — and you all know it! Please don’t feel so stupid or insecure; it’s not your fault.”

On negotiation

A: “Do not fuck with my team.”

B: “Sometimes you need conflict in order to come up with a solution. Through weakness, oftentimes, you can’t make the right sort of settlement, so I’m aggressive, but I also get things done, and in the end, everybody likes me.”

On the political system

A: “The trouble with us in government is that we talk too much, we act too slow, and do too little.”

B: “One of they key problems today is that politics is such a disgrace. Good people don’t go into government.”

On the future

A: “We, the People, recognise that we have responsibilities as well as rights; that our destinies are bound together; that a freedom which only asks what’s in it for me, a freedom without a commitment to others, a freedom without love or charity or duty or patriotism, is unworthy of our founding ideals, and those who died in their defence.”

B: “We need to steer clear of this poverty of ambition, where people want to drive fancy cars and wear nice clothes and live in nice apartments but don’t want to work hard to accomplish these things. Everyone should try to realise their full potential.”

Answers: All As are Rodrigo Duterte and all Bs are Donald Trump. EXCEPT the last one – both are Barack Obama.

 

More:

Here is the first of three articles in the Huffington Post on the background to the Philippine elections. The first article links to the other two.

Choose your poison – but not Italian poison

April 30, 2016

Good news for the Eurozone in data released today. The area grew 0.6 percent in the first quarter, faster than either the US or UK, and finally surpassed the level of GDP achieved before the global financial crisis (the US and UK did this 2-3 years ago).

Perhaps the most striking performance came from France, whose national data show quarterly year-on-year growth of 0.5 percent. This made me think. France may have sclerotic labour laws and a self-serving bureaucratic elite. But it is still a relatively grown-up country. France’s productivity record is way better than the UK’s. Its people at least live on the same planet as the Utopian economic dream by which they live. Unemployment remains grotesquely high, but growth has returned and Hollande can hold his head higher as he drives around Paris on his union-built scooter.

In Spain, too, growth has returned, despite even more grotesque unemployment following the country’s presumably acid-induced foray into the Anglo-Saxon never-never land of post-industrial, debt-fuelled, realestate driven, marginalist economic voodoo.

In sensible Germany, of course, with its revised labour laws, continued commitment to equitable growth, and its serious leader, life inevitably goes on in the sort of steady-state fashion that Anglo-Saxon economists fantasise about. Largely, I suppose, because they don’t have any Anglo-Saxon economists.

One can quite reasonably choose between any of these poisons. However, one poison is to be avoided. The Italian one. Not Anglo-Saxon-Spanish. Not Utopian French. Not sensible German. Instead, directionless decay. This, I suspect, is the price to be paid for not believing in principles. Or indeed, anything.

Here are current GDP levels of the different countries rebased to 100 in  Q1 of 2008.

United States: 111

United Kingdom: 107

Germany: 106

France: 103

Spain: 97

Italy: 92

 

The system that dare not speak its name

April 20, 2016

This is a very thoughtful little essay from Yu Keping, dean of the school of government at Beida. It is hard to see how the Chinese government’s praxis could be out of line with such clear thinking. And yet it is. ‘Democracy’ remains one of hundreds of terms that you cannot search for on the Chinese Internet.

The original article is posted here, on the site of The Conversation.

 

Crossing the river by feeling the stones: democracy’s advance in China

April 15, 2016 1.31am BST

Author

  1. Yu Keping

Chair of Politics, Professor and Dean at the School of Government, Peking University

The Conversation is funded by the following universities:Aberdeen, Anglia Ruskin, Bangor, Bath, Bath Spa, Birmingham, Bradford, Brighton, Bristol, Brunel, Cambridge, Cardiff, Cardiff Metropolitan, Central Lancashire, City, Coventry, Durham, Edge Hill, Edinburgh Napier, Essex, Exeter, Glasgow, Glasgow Caledonian, Goldsmiths, Heriot-Watt, Hertfordshire, Huddersfield, Hull, Kent, King’s College, Lancaster, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, Loughborough, LSE, Manchester Metropolitan, Newcastle, Northumbria, Nottingham, Nottingham Trent, The Open University, Oxford, Queen Mary University of London, Queen’s University Belfast, Royal Holloway, Salford, Sheffield, Southampton, Stirling, St Andrews, Surrey, Sussex, UCL, Warwick, Westminster and York.

It also receives funding from:Hefce, Hefcw, SAGE, SFC, RCUK, The Nuffield Foundation, The Ogden Trust, The Royal Society, The Wellcome Trust, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, The Alliance for Useful Evidence and Lloyd’s Register Foundation.

 

Renowned as one of China’s leading political thinkers, Yu Keping from Peking University featured in this year’s Encounter hosted by the Sydney Democracy Network (SDN) at the University of Sydney on April 12. His article is a contribution to the Democracy Futures series, a joint global initiative with SDN. The series aims to stimulate fresh thinking about the many challenges facing democracies in the 21st century.

To say “democracy is a good thing” means that democracy can benefit the people. Yet if democracy is to benefit the people, a precondition is that social order must be maintained and hardship shouldn’t burden them. If democracy causes unrest, the people will lose hope, corruption will go unchecked. Under these circumstances, who would still wish for democracy?

Those who are against democracy often use this possibility to frighten their audience. The truth is that there is much evidence to show that the advancement of democracy will not necessarily produce disorder. Just the opposite: over the long term, it is only democracy and the rule of law that will provide for the long-lasting peaceful rule of the nation.

Direction

The China dream is about supporting the great revival of the Chinese nation. This revival includes many things, but a high level of democracy and the rule of law are an indispensable part of the vision.

The movement towards democracy everywhere is a political trend that cannot be reversed. China is no exception. Sun Yat-sen once said:

Worldwide trends are powerful. Going with them will bring success, going against them will bring disaster.

The main global trend he referred to was nations becoming independent, countries growing wealthy and strong, and their people wanting democracy. Today, when we speak of political civilisation, we mainly refer to democracy and the rule of law.

Democracy is the lifeblood of our republic. The central meaning of “The People’s Republic of China” is that the people are the masters and make the key decisions. The 16th Party Congress emphasised that intra-party democracy is the lifeblood of the party; the 17th Party Congressemphasised that the people’s democracy is the lifeblood of socialism. It is no longer a matter of whether or not one likes democracy: democracy is a trend that cannot be blocked.

The political development of socialism with Chinese characteristics is in fact the organic unification of three things:

… the leadership of the party, the role of the people as masters and decision makers; and the ruling of the nation in accordance with the law.

The sovereign people are at the heart of these three components. The goal is to enable “the people to be the masters”. In the final analysis, the “leadership of the party” and “the rule of law” serve to ensure that the people are the masters.

The 18th Party Congress emphasised the same point: the people must indeed remain the masters. The continual advancement of democracy and the rule of law is the historical responsibility of those in the Communist Party. This is our correct direction.

Timing

The delay of political democratic reforms in China will breed a host of problems. If there are no breakthroughs in the reform of key policy areas, then illegal corruption may turn into legitimised special privileges.

The achievement of democracy depends on real-world conditions. It needs to be linked to economic and cultural realities and the actual foundations of society. As we discovered when “running towards communism”, rushing ourselves will not work; it will bring disastrous consequences.

But moving too slowly in matters of democratic political reform will also not work; the problem of corruption that we hate to the bone won’t be solved. The fact that corruption, until this day, hasn’t been effectively controlled is linked directly to the slow pace of reforms, as are such dilemmas as publishing the property holdings of officials and dealing with declining public trust in government.

Identifying the proper timing of political reforms is the responsibility of politicians, who need to have great wisdom and be willing to take action. Of these qualities, willingness to take action and a sense of responsibility are most important.

Handing over a weighty responsibility: Hu Jintao congratulates his newly elected successor as president, Xi Jinping, in 2013. Reuters/China Daily

Route

To deal with its problems, China, as a great power, must draw up a clear roadmap for political reforms.

I have always believed there are three routes from which to choose: the first is a transition from intra-party democracy to social democracy. The 16th, 17th and 18th Party Congresses have consistently emphasised this point. Democratic development needs to choose a pathway that is most efficient and exacts the lowest toll.

The second pathway is a transfer from grassroots democracy to upper-level democracy. Grassroots democracy is directly aimed at the common people, to bring them direct benefits.

In political life, the ideal situation is that the people trust all levels of government. In reality, China is the exact opposite of America: American citizens have a very low level of trust in the federal government.

We (in China) have high levels of trust in the central government, but our trust in base-level government tends to be lower. “If the base level is not solid, the ground will shake and the mountains will sway.” We need to pay attention to this possibility.

The third pathway involves a shift towards greater political competition. Democracy requires competition: without competition, how are we to elect the most outstanding individuals?

Our democracy will naturally be one with Chinese characteristics. But democracy cannot be separated from elections and competition. Consultative democracy is very important, but consultation should not exclude elections.

Methods

Democratic development in China requires achieving a balance among six policy areas:

1 We want democracy and we also want the rule of law. Democracy and the rule of law are two sides of the same coin. Any politician who speaks of democracy cannot avoid discussing the rule of law, looking to the experience of the West, or to the experience of our nation, China.

2 We want deliberation and we also want elections. Chinese democracy, to a great degree, is in fact deliberative in nature; deliberation is part of our historical traditions. Elections, on the other hand, are the product of the modern world. Democracy is naturally inseparable from elections: the two need to be combined.

3) We want freedom and we want equality. These are basic values of democratic governance. In the past, we have over-emphasised equality. Since the reforms began, freedom has been emphasised, to the point where equality and liberty are in great tension.

4) We want efficiency and we want justice. These are two indispensable basic values. In the early stages of the reforms, the issue of efficiency was more salient, but now the issue of justice becomes central.

5) We want participation and we want order. Political scientist Samuel Huntington once said that the greatest challenge for political modernisation is to manage the relationship between public participation and political stability. As the interests of different social groups become more diverse, the desire of citizens for participation becomes more intense by the day. We need more open channels for political participation. Without legal channels, citizens will certainly resort to irregular, or even illegal channels, and social unrest will result. Democratic participation then becomes problematic.

6) We want a balance between individual rights and public rights. Rights belong to the individual, and the legal rights of citizens are guaranteed by the constitution. But we also need public rights, because our nation and society are a community.

The impacts of Chinese economic reform can be seen in Shenzhen. flickr/Blake ThornberryCC BY-NC-ND

Strategy

China is facing many reform challenges, and we need to get a firm grip on the most important of them. We must discover those breakthrough reform points that enable us to “move the entire body by pulling one strand of hair”. The restraint of power through intra-party democracy is among these most important breakthrough points.

There needs to be better overall planning; put in terms of mainstream political thinking, “scientific development” is needed. This means that economic development needs to be combined with political development, social development and cultural development. There need to be upper-level designs and reasonable plans based on facts.

What is also needed is an institution responsible for co-ordinating different interests, especially at the level of the central government. Governmental reform should be matched with Party reform.

There also needs to be continuous testing and expansion of reforms, so that we “cross the river by feeling the stones”. Many reforms that have been effective have suffered from discontinuity. The problem is that when politicians leave office their policies often lapse, or are not institutionalised.

To overcome this weakness, efforts need to be made to achieve advances in areas of greater strategic importance. We speak much about supervision, but too little about restraints. We speak even less of restraints on leaders at all levels of the Party.

Everyone fears that advancing democracy will cause a loss of order and will bring social unrest. Everyone meanwhile hopes that by strengthening democracy we can maintain social stability.

However, as I see it, it is only through the deepening of reforms of our political system, and through the genuine advancement of democracy and the rule of law, that we will be able to provide for the long-lasting peaceful rule of our nation, enabling democracy to benefit the people.

 

Bad week for Brave Dave

April 7, 2016

Ooh, these bloody Panama Papers.

It’s like having Edward Snowden as your next-door neighbour for Brave Dave Cameron, as The Guardian goes to work on his family’s offshore tax arrangements.

I believe there have so far been four, very carefully-worded, separate statements from Downing Street and Cameron himself on the question of offshore family businesses, trusts, and the beneficiaries of these (tabloid list here). Downing Street kicked off with ‘It’s a private matter,’ but that was very quickly kicked into touch. Let’s hope that with this succession of ‘clarifications’ Brave Dave is not heading in the direction of Bill Clinton’s immortal ‘It depends on what the meaning of “is” is.’

Two things so far reported by The Guardian stand out for me.

First, Brave Dave’s old man, Ian, was listed by the Sunday Times Rich List as being worth £10 million. But in 2010, Brave Dave had a publicly declared inheritance from his father’s estate of only £300,000, just under the £325,000 death duties tax threshold. There are four Cameron siblings, so one wonders where the rest of the loot is? Or perhaps what one would like is an explanation as to why there isn’t any more inherited or inheritable loot. Did Ian have a flutter on the horses, perhaps? As The Guardian notes, Brave Dave said in 2012 that he would be willing to publish full details of his tax affairs, and this seems like a jolly good time to do it.

Second, Ian Cameron’s company Blairmore (surely ‘moreBlair’?) was window-shopping offshore financial centres and paying zero UK taxes even as Brave Dave became Conservative Party leader and began to rail about the moral iniquity of not paying tax as you should. See here for a Brave Dave versus Jimmy Carr ‘Whose tax arrangements might turn out to be less funny?’ comparison. The key is whether Brave Dave’s immediate family benefited, or will benefit, in any way, at any time, from Ian’s quite legal but morally unpleasant tax avoidance wheezes.

Poor old Brave Dave. Why isn’t this happening to someone less agreeable? Like Boris. Or the Thin Controller.

Later, more:

Well, just this evening Brave Dave has gone on tv and admitted he’s done a little bit of a porky pie. He sold some shares in moreBlair just before becoming PM for a profit of £19,000. This is the fifth ‘clarification’.

Is it enough to draw a line under the affair? Dave is surely hoping so. But I can’t quite see it myself. £19k doesn’t quite fill the hole on the back of my envelope. Although, it is just an envelope…

Here is The Guardian report.

Friday, 8 April, more:

The Guardian‘s Juliette Garside parses Brave Dave’s television interview of last night, here. See her comments down the right hand side. The trail, me suspects, leads to the sleazy island of Jersey… Odds on Brave Dave resigning have shortened from 20/1 to 11/2. Still a reasonable earner. And tax-free, too. I might send a child in a trench-coat over to the bookies’ to put down a tenner.

5 minutes later:

Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Odds on Brave Dave going this year are now 5/2

Monday, 11 April:

This is excellent, from today’s Guardian.

Will it be another bad week for Brave Dave? Over the weekend, Downing Street published a short and sanitised introduction to Dave’s tax affairs. Not even worth posting, since it is just spin. The pressure continues to mount for Dave to take his pants off, and reveal the full story. And the Thin Controller is feeling the heat too. The Treasury said last week he would not publish his fiscal break-down. Now Treasury is hinting he might offer up something. And there are loud demands to know who across the entire cabinet has offshore interests.

I feel so sorry for the Tories that I have posted the leaflet of their local council candidate in my house window. No one on my whole road votes Tory to my knowledge. So someone has to stick up for these poor rentiers…

Monday, 11 April, later:

The Thin Controller has published his 2014-15 tax return:

chancellor_tax_return

£3 interest on money in the bank. A timely reminder of how the poor, who have nothing but a little cash in the bank, have been royally screwed by record-low interest rates while the rentier class makes out like bandits from asset appreciation fuelled by cheap debt.

£33k is the Thin Controller’s half-share (wife has the other half) of one year’s rent on his London property.

£44k is dividends from Sloane-apocalypse wallpaper business Osborne and Little.

Effective rate of taxation on the whole lot, earned an unearned (including 120k salary) is 36 percent.

 

And Boris has published his tax summary. Unlike the Thin Controller, he has given us multiple years (what’s going on there, George?).

Boris tax summary

The highlights:

In 2014-15 Boris pulled down £266,000 for his pisspoor Daily Telegraph column. He claims to knock out his columns ‘very fast’ on a Sunday morning, and they certainly read that way. The latest lauds Assad for having saved Palmyra from Isil.

In 2014-15 Boris earned £224,000 in book royalties, reminding us that the British public prefers to read this, when it could be reading this.

Add in the Mayoral salary for London and Boris made, gross £612,583 in 2014-15. Although there is no way he will be elected prime minister, I think he comes out of the this tax return publishing episode better than either Brave Dave or the Thin Controller. No offshore filth. No rentier income, either from bricks and mortar or from daddy’s business. Boris does actually earn his money. Which is why he pays a significantly higher effective rate of taxation than the Thin Controller. Ah, the logic of our times…

Easter viewing

March 25, 2016

I have meant for some time to recommend Joshua Oppenheimer’s two documentaries about the deaths of more than 1 million people in Indonesia in 1965-6, at the time when Suharto came to power. It wasn’t a genocide, I think, because lots of different racial groups were targeted (though ethnic Chinese suffered greatly). Rather, it was a ‘politicide’, if such a word exists, an attack on all those deemed to be enemies of the new regime, including anyone deemed to be a communist.

If you have not seen these films, you should. They can be rented cheaply from Amazon. Here is the download from Amazon.co.uk for the first documentary (£3.49 to rent), The Act of Killing, and here is the download from Amazon.co.uk for the second documentary, The Look of Silence.

The Act of Killing received rave reviews partly because of Oppenheimer’s extraordinary methodology. He showed up in Sumatra saying he was interested in learning about the 1965-6 killings, and a bunch of semi-retired preman (gang members/thugs) said: ‘Hey, that’s us. How can we help?’ He then convinced them to act out their memories of murder for his movie. This makes for some very weird and utterly compelling footage.

 

Personally, however, I like The Look of Silence more. In this second documentary, Oppenheimer follows one of the victim families, as a surviving brother gently begins to confront the murderers who butchered his sibling and chucked his body in the local river. The Look of Silence gets much closer to the political and social story underlying the politicide. It is not so visually freakish, but it makes you think more. I note that on Amazon, individual viewers rank it higher than The Act of Killing, so other people may have had the same reaction as me. Really, tho, you need to watch both docs.

 

Finally, here are Werner Herzog and Errol Morris talking about The Act of Killing, just in case the trailer hasn’t convinced you to watch it:

 

 

 

The Thin Controller

March 21, 2016

Osborne weight loss

George Osborne, who I used to call The Fat Controller, has become the Thin Controller after eating less and running more. But he is still Sir Topham Hat, insensitive nemesis of poor Thomas the Tank Engine (and all other members of the working classes).

In case you missed the Thin Controller’s latest, last week he decided to reduce taxes for the rich and the middle classes at the same time as chopping a further £4.4 billion over five years from the budget to support disabled people. The Institute for Fiscal Studies estimated that 370,000 people with a disability would lose an average of £3,500 a year. This comes on the back of an already-implemented big squeeze on various direct and indirect forms of welfare support for the disabled.

Most of the groundswell of anger at the Thin Controller — he has already abandoned the disability benefit cut in a standard ‘oh my god, what have I done this time?’ volte-face  — focused on his increase to the level at which higher earners begin to pay the 40 percent income tax rate. However this change has at least the merit of rewarding middle class work.

What gob-smacked me in the Thin Controller’s budget was the decision to make big cuts to already ridiculously low rates (compared to income tax rates on work) of Capital Gains Tax (CGT). Britain is fast becoming a rentier society, but the Thin Controller’s determination to turn us into some proto-feudal squirearchy seems to know no bounds. He cut the lower band of CGT from 18 percent to 10 percent, and the higher rate from 28 percent to 20 percent.

The old rates do remain in force for profits on one’s second, third, fourth and fifth, etc homes (i.e. for non-primary real estate). However the adjustment is a huge bung to the share- and bond-owning leisure class, of which I regard myself as an aspiring member. Thinking today about whether I should not perhaps take the next three months off and go on safari, I decided to check the HM Revenue and Customs web site and learn more about the Thin Controller’s commendable policy to encourage my indolence. Here is what I found:

<Policy objective>

<The government wants to create a strong enterprise and investment culture. Cutting the rates of CGT for most assets is intended to support companies to access the capital they need to expand and create jobs. Retaining the 28% and 18% rates for residential property is intended to provide an incentive for individuals to invest in companies over property.>

This statement has three great qualities. First, it is pure gibberish. Companies (the supposed subject of the second sentence) do not pay CGT, they pay Corporation Tax. Second, it is dishonest. Following from 1., what the Thin Controller really means is that he wants to support the stock-owning rentier class, who don’t need to work because tax rates on passive capital invested in shares and bonds were already low, and are now even lower. Annoyingly, he can’t actually say this, but we know who we are. Third, the statement is misguided. This is because no British rentier with half a brain is going to invest much of their unearned capital in British companies when the Thin Controller has created such an anaemic growth environment. One gives one’s capital to American companies like Apple, Amazon, Skyworks, Gilead, Amtrust Financial Services, American Express, American Tower, Verisk Analytics, and so on. (Disclaimer: oh yes, I own them all.) And then one pays sod all tax to the Thin Controller on the profits. Of course, in the final analysis this doesn’t matter because the Thin Controller doesn’t need the tax because he’s dismantling the welfare state.

Got it?

 


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