Thursday, 9 June 2011

"There are no independent candidates"

Since 1978 the CCP has been toying with so-called "village elections", an experiment in a highly limited form of grassroots democracy in the people's republic. During this time, small numbers of independent candidates have been elected to various positions, like Wang Liang, who was elected to the grassroots legislature in Shenzhen.

Earlier this year it was announced that this was also going to be rolled out to include direct elections to the local People's Congress's across the country, and as a result many candidates put themselves forward for election. The most prominent story was that of Liu Ping, whose candidature was touted as an alternative to direct petitioning of the government.

I personally speculated that this might be the emergence of movement on the mainland similar to the Dangwai movement of independent candidates during the martial law period in Taiwan, whose members included Shi Mingde and Annette Lu (pictured above second and third from the right). This movement played an important part in the transition to democracy on the island.

However, it seems that the CCP have also read their history books. From today's Taipei Times:

"China told citizens yesterday not to run for local legislatures as independents, tightening reins on activists who have sought to challenge the Chinese Communist Party’s grip on grassroots government.

The warning, which came from an unnamed official of the party-controlled National People’s Congress (NPC), was in response to a small but spreading online campaign by dozens who hope to fight for seats on local legislatures with no endorsement from the party.

It was another sign that party leaders want tight political controls as they ready for a succession next year from President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) to his presumed heir, Vice President Xi Jinping (習近平).

“There are no so-called ‘independent candidates,’ and there is no legal basis for ‘independent candidates,’” said the NPC official as quoted in the People’s Daily, the party’s main newspaper."

So all those years in which independent candidates were being elected, this was in fact illegal? This would at least be the natural conclusion to be drawn from the statements of the unidentified member of the NPC, China's highest state body and legislature, quoted in the People's Daily, a newspaper which refers to itself as "the party's mouthpiece".

I am given to agreeing that this is a sign of the influence of the new generation of leadership. It does not bode well for the future.

[Picture: The Kaohsiung Eight under arrest. Picture via Wikipedia]

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Whilst Britain temporarily abandon's fixed wing carriers, the PRC finally acknowledges that it is building one

It is hard to remember the days when doubts surrounded what the eventual fate of the ex-Soviet aircraft Varyag would be. Back in early 2005, the extent of what any of the nerds who love to speculate on such things (in which I include myself) knew was that it had been bought, moved to Dalian, and that the promised casino/tourist attraction had not yet materialised. Over the intervening years it has steadily become more and more apparent that it was being made ready for service with the PLAN, although this was never officially confirmed.

Now, the Chinese government has finally admitted what we were all 99.99% sure of anyway - that it is being made ready as an aircraft carrier, and will enter service some time in the near future. Whilst those who previously characterised aircraft carriers as exclusively the tool of 'imperialist' and 'hegemonic' nations (trans: America and anyone else we don't like) may be mollified by the announcement that it would "definitely not sail to other countries' territorial waters", others may be concerned at the growing might that this carrier represents.

However, the simple fact is that if people are worried about this, they shouldn't be, at least not in the short term. Even if, as is expected, this ship is launched either late this year or next year, it will be a few years until it will be ready for active service, and probably more until the battle group required to escort it and sustain it is ready. Even then, its combat power is likely to be less than that of the major aircraft carriers to be found elsewhere in the world, such as France's Charles De Gaulle.

Beyond even this, even if the potential of this carrier were equal to that of the much bigger carriers owned by the US Navy, the US Navy has far more of them in the Pacific region than the PLAN is likely to have any time in the next ten years. As US Defence Secretary Robert Gates has said:

"The U.S. operates 11 large carriers, all nuclear powered. In terms of size and striking power, no other country has even one comparable ship. The U.S. Navy has 10 large-deck amphibious ships that can operate as sea bases for helicopters and vertical-takeoff jets. No other navy has more than three, and all of those navies belong to pur allies or friends. Our Navy can carry twice as many aircraft at sea as all the rest of the world combined."

All the same, as a Brit, it is hard not to draw the contrast between the state of the PLAN and that of the Royal Navy. This announcement comes just as the Royal Navy enters an interlude between the old Invincible class going out of service and the new, substantially more powerful Queen Elizabeth-class coming into service.

[Picture: The ex-Soviet aircraft carrier Varyag is towed into Dalian harbour in 2005. Via Wikicommons]

China drops Gaddafi

The CCP government never had much reason to be fond of him, they did not oppose Resolution 1973 authorising the use of force against the Gaddafi regime, and they voted for Resolution 1970 referring his government to the International Criminal Court. All the same, it is a little surprising that the PRC should agree to meet with the representatives of Libya's "rebellious provinces" before they have properly taken control of the entire country.

This is especially true in view of the PRC's intransigence elsewhere. China refused to recognise India's peaceful and consensual 1975 absorption of Sikkim until 2003, even insisting that Chinese maps should portray the country as still being independent years after it was voted out of existence by its own people.

Here's how Xinhua described the meeting:

""Chinese ambassador to Qatar Zhang Zhiliang has recently met with Chairman of the Libya's National Transitional Council (NTC) Jalil and the two sides exchanged views on the Libyan situation," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said when responding to a question from the press.

"China's position on the Libyan situation is clear, that is, we expect the Libyan crisis can be solved through political means and believe that Libya's future should be decided by its own people," Hong said."

Could this future now include the National Transitional Council taking power in some form? The answer, at least in the view of the Chinese government, would appear to be yes, and it is taking steps in this direction. It would also appear that meeting with the leader of an internal rebellion is not quite the crime PRC leaders make it out to be, at least when other countries are concerned.