Friday 28 September 2012

The Hong Kong Backlash

Much has been written elsewhere about the whole kerfuffle surrounding the ham-fisted attempt to insititute a once-a-week moral and national education (MNE - AKA civics) classes in Hong Kong's schools that some suspected of being aimed at brainwashing Hong Kong's youth into accepting a CCP-friendly world-view. On paper, at least, the proposals actually left the schools free to decide on content, and the nature of this kind of education is such that it's hard to believe that that many people would have been won over by it even if it was just as bad as its critics made it out to be. It is, however, correct to say that MNE grew to represent something more than a mere once-a-week time-waste, as the excellent Big Lychee blog points out:

"Hong Kong is experiencing a backlash against attempts to turn it into something it isn’t. The government can’t admit that a secret but ham-fisted policy of Mainlandization was launched, let alone promise that it will now be suspended as counterproductive. It can’t (apparently) drastically reduce the number of Mainland visitors or bar them meaningfully from buying second homes here. It can’t even officially admit that National Education is completely over and done with and has ceased to exist. It can’t do much else because its own citizens won’t let it."
Exactly. This is the reason why you see people too young to remember the 1997 hand-over marching through the streets of the territory carrying the old colonial-era Hong Kong flag. Not because they seriously want to be returned to the UK, or even because the majority of them would like outright independence, but because they see the Hong Kong that exists right now, the one that came about under the old flag, as one under attack from the authorities whose flag now flies at government buildings in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong is unique in being a quasi-city-state that is Chinese but not altogether part of China. The Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984 is explicit in this status having an end-date in 2047, when full unification with the mainland is due to occur. The current government of Hong Kong is tasked with acheiving this union, a union which, since the Chinese mainland has not reformed in any meaningful way politically since the 90's, and is governed by a party apparently committed to avoiding reform, requires that Hong Kong become like the mainland. This the people of Hong Kong do not appear willing to accept.

There is, of course, another deadline in play in Hong Kong affairs - the 2017 deadline for the introduction of universal suffrage. What chance is there now of this commitment coming about if the Hong Kong electorate continues to vote as it did in this year's LegCo elections? It is very hard not to think that the Chinese government will never accept a Hong Kong Chief Executive who is not their creature. 2017 therefore appears to be a date at which problems are already very much forseeable.

Thursday 20 September 2012

A note on what may be considered 'subversion'

A long time ago I had a long-running discussion with some of the people who run the Hidden Harmonies website on whether Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo's conviction for subversion showed that the mere writing and publishing of articles on the internet alone was considered subversion in China. The discussion ended, as always on that den of crazed nationalists, with them maintaining the position most favourable to the Chinese government (that Liu Xiaobo's real crime was spying even though he was never charged with that, nor any proof of spying other than innuendo offered at the trial) in defiance of the evidence of their own eyes.

It is therefore with no satisfaction or surprise that, following a link from JR's blog, I read the indictment of Chen Pingfu, a man whose crime was described thus:

"The Gaolan County Public Security Bureau has concluded its investigation of this case. The Gaolan County People’s Procuratorate submitted his case to the Lanzhou Municipal People’s Procuratorate for examination and review for indictment. The examination conducted according to law has found that:
Between July 2007 and March 2012, the defendant Chen Pingfu registered blogs or microblogs under the name “Chen Pingfu” on NetEase, Baidu, Sohu,, Sina, Tianya, and other websites where he published or reposted 34 articles including [list of blog post titles]. In these articles he expressed such inflammatory views as that Marxism, Leninism, Mao Zedong Thoughts, Deng Xiaoping Theory, Three Represents, and Scientific Development have no benefit for the society and the people; that the Communist Party rule knows only to push ordinary people around and not let them make a living; that the current system is not democratic enough, and that democracy and constitutionalism should be implemented.
The aforementioned facts of crime are proven by documentary evidence, material evidence, and the defendant’s statements."

Whilst Chen Pingfu's sentence is still yet to be announced, it is clear that, at least according to the Gaolan County People’s Procuratorate, the mere writing of articles critical of the Chinese government is subversion. Chen's 'crimes' consist of writing and publishing articles saying no more than what 95%+ of the Chinese people think in private: that communism is nonsense and the current system of governance is essentially dictatorial. No other offence is mentioned.

I do not expect the people at Hidden Harmonies to acknowledge that Liu Xiaobo went to prison merely for criticising the government publicly, nor do I expect that they would admit that this is what Chen went to prison for when, as will certainly be the case, he is eventually convicted for the same 'crime'. Experience has shown that  there is literally no distortion that hard-line nationalists are incapable of swallowing, nor any incontrovertible truth that they are incapable of denying. However, thinking people should bear in mind that China still is a country where mere criticism of those in power is a crime.

The very simple reason why the EU arms embargo on China is going nowhere

As an example of the political differences between the countries that make up the EU and the government of the People's Republic of  China, you couldn't do much better than the cancellation of the press conference due to be held today at the end of the latest round of EU-PRC trade talks. At least according to the BBC, it seems that the Chinese side refused to attend unless they could hand-pick the journalists allowed to attend. This, if true, indicates the degree to which China's government would like to avoid answering questions now or ever about the present political problems besetting the People's Republic, or about the economic statistics announced today which have even me believing that we are now seeing a significant slow-down in the PRC's economic growth (along with the rest of the world).

Another reason, of course, why the PRC's representatives at the talk would have wished to avoid having to answer (or not answer) questions from journalists that they did not pre-approve is that the talks were a wash for them. On the two big issues that the PRC government had wanted to see concessions on - the EU arms embargo and recognition by the EU as a fully-fledged market economy - the EU's representatives have remained adamant.

Naturally Wen Jiabao will not recognise the root cause of this intransigence. Despite what officials in Beijing might say, it is neither due to a 'cold war mentality' nor is it based on 'prejudice'. It's root cause is very simple: the People's Republic of China is not a democracy. It is a totalitarian state which, in as much as it has allies, has aligned itself with countries antagonistic to the interests of Europe's democracies, such as the Assad regime and North Korea. It is an autocracy that directly threatens democratic neighbours in Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, and elsewhere with military force.

Not only is China undemocratic, but it is an undemocratic state where selective application of a range of laws that can make doing business in China twice as expensive for foreign companies as it is for local ones. This may be either by accident or by design, but in neither case does it deserve recognition as a full market economy.

In the late 1970's the governments of both the states of Europe and the United States were willing to make a deal with the devil. They judged, perhaps correctly, that they had more to gain in supporting the PRC's development as a military power on the southern flank of the country which most directly threatened them - the USSR - than they did in supporting a totalitarian state emerging from the turmoil of the Cultural Revolution.

By 1989, however, this had changed. It was not the cold war which was nearing its end that prompted the sanctions in 1989, nor was it prejudice against the Chinese people to whom Europe and America had previously sold weapons. Instead the USSR's hold on Central and Eastern Europe had crumbled, and, much more pressingly, the true nature of the Chinese Communist Party's rule had been made clear in the blood-bath of Tiananmen Square.

The situation has not changed. Selling arms to the PRC whilst it remains in the hands of people willing to turn heavy weapons on their own citizens, who target the free society across the Taiwan strait with more than a thousand surface-to-surface missiles, who censor opinions and arbitrarily arrest, detain, and torture their critics and their families, would be selling them the rope with which to hang ourselves and our friends.

[Picture: A monument to the innocent dead of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, Wroclaw, Poland. Via Wiki]

Monday 17 September 2012

The Third Sino-Japanese War (and why it's not going to happen)

So by now you've probably seen the pictures of nationalist demonstrators in mainland China looting Japan-linked businesses and burning Japanese-branded cars. Whilst the anger of the demonstrators is obvious and extreme, for anyone who's observed China for any significant length of time, the suggestions seen in various places that this might drive China's leadership into a war with Japan seems very wide of the mark for the following reasons:

    This does in fact fit a long running pattern for such demonstrations, running through the 2005 anti-Japan demonstrations, then the 2001 anti-US demonstrations, right back to the demonstrations sparked by the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999. Just as is described in this eyewitness account, the demos in Beijing in all cases consisted of demonstrators being marched past the offending embassy in groups of a few hundred, venting their rage, and then being hustled onward by the Chinese police. Elsewhere, depending on the attitude taken by the local authorities, the demonstrators have been allowed to burn and smash properties, but nowhere will they be permitted to threaten the government.
  • There is nothing to fight for. The islands themselves are of little or no value and are incapable of sustaining significant numbers of inhabitants. Depending on who you believe they either have very little fresh water, or a very small stream, or just enough to sustain up to two hundred people, but no more. A garrison left on the islands in their current state would be totally dependent on supplies coming in by sea or by helicopter (there is insufficient room for an airstrip), would be exposed to the elements, and would be sitting ducks for any ships or aircraft in the area. Any attempt to develop or fortify the islands to the point where a garrison might stay there for a prolonged period of time would be seen months ahead of time by the other side.  
    Of course, the real prize in holding the islands is the gas and oil under the seabed surrounding the islands, but this would be impossible for one side to develop safely without the agreement of the other side. As Iran found out in the eighties, an oil platform is just a big floating target if someone wishes to attack it. Occupying the islands would do exactly nothing to change this, nor could either side genuinely hope to exclude the other from the air and sea around the islands on a permanent basis given the area that would have to be covered. Whichever country used force to permanently exclude the other from the area and develop the oil and gas resources themselves would be vulnerable to attacks on infrastructure similar to those launched by both sides in the 1967-70 Israeli-Egyptian war of attrition
China's leaders neither have a realistic reason to believe that their country would gain economically from war with Japan, nor are they in a position where they might have to declare war because of pressure from a nationalistic public. Instead, as Jeremiah Jenne points out, this sudden out burst of government-directed anger against Japan is most likely an attempt at distraction from the CCP's current problems surrounding this year's transition of leadership in Beijing. Put simply, in observing Chinese political affairs you should never forget which hand holds the whip.

[Picture: An Iranian oil platform blazes in the aftermath of Operation Nimble Archer, 1987. via Wiki]

Sunday 2 September 2012

Nehru on the Sino-Japanese dispute

Actually, the following quote (taken from India's China War by Neville Maxwell) is the then-Indian prime minister talking in early September 1959 about the Sino-Indian border dispute, but it adds up to much the same thing:

"Now, it is a question of fact of whether this village or that village or this little strip of territory is on their side or our side. Normally, wherever these are relatively petty disputes, well, it does seem rather absurd for two great countries . . . immediately to rush at each other's  throats to decide whether two miles of territory are on this side or on that side, and especially two miles of territory in the high mountains, where no-one lives.
But where national prestige and dignity is involved, it is not two miles of territory, it is the nation's dignity and self-respect that is involved. And therefore this happens."

 "This" was a violent border clash, one of many leading up to the 1962 war.