Archive | January, 2015

China’s murky state

30 Jan

The weather has been mostly good in Beijing, but there’s something else afoul in the country recently.

The government’s ideological-fueled crackdown on liberties continues to grow, so much so that it might be hard to keep track of them. Internet censorship took a big step recently when the authorities blocked Gmail in late December and then last week blocked mainstream VPNs (Virtual Private Networks, which allow users to access the Internet through private links) on Apple iPhones and iPads.

Then this morning, I woke up to read that the education minister came out and told Chinese universities to stop using textbooks that “promote Western values” or criticize socialism. University academics have also been told to stop criticizing the government, while a province even mulled plans to install CCTV in university classrooms to monitor professors over the past year. Journalists and artists have also been urged (warned) to adhere to Marxist values while accepting tighter control and scrutiny. Churches and human rights lawyers have faced crackdowns of their own as well.

I’ve said before I don’t see things going too well for the country, especially as its economy continues slowing and its government goes on cracking down on everything left, right and center, and spouting Marxist rhetoric. What I’m unsure about is whether the leadership is doing these things because it feels invincible or is desperate.This article sums up why China might be feeling a bit vulnerable, which is indeed facing a host of challenges.

Yet another hospital attack took place, resulting in a doctor dying along with his assailant after both fell down an elevator shaft in a Hebei hospital earlier this week. There is absolutely no excuse for attacking a doctor and killing him. The hospital’s doctors and nurses then went on a march through the streets the next day to mourn their colleague and highlight the lack of security. This has been a recurring problem that has happened across the nation even in Beijing.

In what was a bit of a shocker, a government regulator came out last week and blasted e-commerce giant Alibaba, which launched the world’s largest-ever IPO last September, over the prevalence of counterfeit items on its market websites. Alibaba, owned by China’s second-richest man Jack Ma, hit back at the regulator, the SAIC, with some unusually strong words of its own. This is very interesting since it pits a very wealthy and well-known entrepreneur against a strong organization of the central government. As this article points out, similar clashes have happened in the past and the government has usually come out on top.
The tiff seems to have settled a bit but this raises the question about whether the government will start cracking down on its own large companies, as it has already done on major foreign companies such as drug giants, auto companies and Microsoft and Qualcomm. The regulator has picked a very late time to release its critical report, which it had completed by last July but claimed it had held off from releasing public due to not wanting to affect Alibaba’s IPO. Alibaba’s share prices have dropped significantly this past week after the report. Alibaba’s Taobao site, which lets vendors sell directly to individual consumers, does have a lot of fakes so there is some merit to the SAIC’s report but this is the first time it has openly criticized Alibaba, which many consider a massive and rising star in China’s private sector.

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Crackdown on rights lawyers

18 Jan

Here’s a link to another bleak article about the mainland’s legal system, this one focusing on human rights lawyers, of whom 7 are languishing in jails. The situation is certainly not good especially with a rough 2014 and a president who feels powerful enough to crack down on everything and everyone. While in general, the harsh treatment of lawyers is not surprising in China given its stance towards human rights, the disturbing situation is that this is a major part of how the party maintains such control over Chinese society. Maintaining a self-serving legal system, enforcing the law arbitrarily and jailing any form of dissent whether it be lawyers, journalists or activists, the party guarantees that no form of organized opposition can develop. Indeed, one of the jailed lawyers Xu Zhiyong was jailed in January for criticizing the government and advocating for political reform as a founder of group New Citizens Movement. This piece has more about Xu.

Some choice quotes from the article:

China’s leaders are far from governing the country under a system based on the rule of law. Instead, they are paying lip service to the idea in order to give legitimacy to the Communist Party’s rule while building a legal system that serves their political interests.

“China’s embattled rights lawyers, however, have refused to be coerced into submission. On the contrary, they are increasingly challenging authorities for failing to practice the respect for the law that they preach. More young lawyers are joining the movement.”

Harrowing tale of a jailed reporter assistant

16 Jan

The new year’s first post on this blog is about the imprisonment of a Chinese assistant to a German reporter in Beijing. The reporter wrote a detailed, disturbing account of the events that led up to her assistant Miao’s detention, which shows how arbitrary and unpredictable the mainland’s legal system are. The reporter held off on writing the story for 12 weeks because she thought this would help Miao’s situation such as get her a release. It didn’t as she continues to be held without being given regular access to visitors or a lawyer.
Miao was imprisoned in October after trying to attend an event in Beijing held in support of the Occupy movement in Hong Kong. The reporter and Miao’s family tried to find her but after finding her prison, were refused access to her from the authorities. The authorities then called the reporter in several times to interrogate her about Miao, using intimidation and deception to get her to confess to being a spy. The authorities keep at it, calling her up frequently to come in to talk, shouting, issuing threats, and attempting to get her to sign “agreements” written only in Chinese. Eventually the reporter leaves China deeply worried, while Miao languishes in jail.
This is a striking reminder that press freedom and true rule of law are both weak in China. Miao was actually one of over 100 Chinese rounded up for expressing support for the Occupy movement.

Some very telling quotes from the article:

“”When lawmakers make laws, they do it for their own interests and not because they are concerned about those of the public.”
“Do the security authorities have to announce that they are invoking an exception or get it authorized?”
“No,” Zhou [Miao’s lawyer] responds. In principle, he continues, the security apparatus can find an exception clause for every law.

“The more I think about it, the clearer it is: No one can tell if reporting on it will do any good. This is a state ruled by arbitrariness. The agonizing uncertainty I’m feeling is intentional.”

Now I’m starting to experience firsthand something that I’ve read a lot about: their skill at twisting the meaning of things. They might have enough material on me. They’ve been eavesdropping on me for four year – on my phone, in my apartment.