Showing posts with label Xi Jinping. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Xi Jinping. Show all posts

Monday, 25 January 2016

The Politics Behind China’s Anti-Corruption Drive

The number one motivation behind China’s anti-corruption efforts is domestic stability. Whenever corruption has seeped into a dynasty, be it the Han (220 AD) – as vividly detailed in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms – or the Qing (1911) with its scheming mandarins, the ruling regime lost the mandate of heaven and fell. This not merely a colourful aside: historical memory deeply informs the thinking of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Targeting corrupt actors falls perfectly in line with previous CCP rhetoric regarding the need to root out land owners, saboteurs, hoarders of rice, and other leeches on national productivity. These sentiments were in turn informed by the harsh attitudes against extortionate land lords and officials, as well as bandits; the twin plagues of internal discord during imperial China. Thus anti-corruption efforts and language find ample precedence in Chinese history and national memory. 

Maintaining public support is paramount for the CCP, especially as it has shed it ideological trappings, and is in certain ways looking for new meaning. Moreover, the CCP needs to stave off the doubts of the Chinese public which question the CCP’s relevance in the 21st century. Consequently, the CCP has to bill itself as the most effective public administrator. If the CCP can instill confidence in the public, then they can dissuade them from considering untested alternative governing options.

The way the CCP maintains this legitimacy is by demonstrating the economic bounty that its stewardship has bestowed upon the people. By placating the population’s materialistic needs, the CCP has in the decades since Mao’s death diverted public attention and energy into economic, and away from political matters. Following Deng Xiaoping’s mantra that “[t]o get rich is glorious” and more recently Xi Jinping’s “Chinese Dream”, the CCP has focused on improving quality of life. Having lifted hundreds of millions out of subsistence level poverty, Beijing has directed the population’s efforts into national building.

Guilty vs. Guilty by Association

There are two broad categories of corruption in China: a) corruption directly related to CCP policies and party organs, and b) corruption which comes about in due course in countries which experience rapid growth and demonstrate insufficient civil society and public accountability.

With regards to the first category, as long as Chinese citizens are experiencing on-going improvements in their lives, they are willing to tolerate Beijing’s heavy handed social and political policies. Yet with slowing growth, both Beijing and the populace are seeking scapegoats. Admittedly, there is widespread corruption in China, especially surrounding government programs such as the one-child policy, urban-rural residency permits, underground churches, and black market medical care. 

All these sources of corruption, with which the public are forced to deal with on a daily basis, stem from government policies. Reluctance to criticize the regime in economic boom times is a common phenomenon, yet as growth slows and discontent increases, this reluctance disappears. While China does not broadcast the fact to the greater world, or even to its own citizens, there are tens of thousands of protests in China every year. These protests overwhelmingly concern corruption and pollution. 

China’s massive party apparatus and state-supported economic development put not just the government, but the CCP itself in the firing line. In the two areas mentioned previously, the CCP is having to deal with decades of unaddressed dissatisfaction stemming from China’s ‘growth over everything’ policies. Reforming the policies which cause this systemic corruption takes time, and while Beijing is pragmatic and willing, it cannot openly admit fault: enter anti-corruption scapegoatism. By publicly announcing its anti-corruption efforts, the CCP distances itself from the issue as well as engages in a witch-hunt of lower and mid-tier party officials.

This tactic often does expose real sources of corruption, thus allowing Beijing to blame ‘a few bad apples‘ for local or provincial corruption; while ignoring the national lack of accountability and civil society under CCP rule, which created said systemic corruption in the first place. Highly public anti-corruption efforts and trials also allow the government to implement reforms as remedies against corrupt officials, as opposed as solutions to past CCP failures, thus saving face.

Xi Jinping’s recent anti-corruption drive embodies many of these elements, although it does represent a concerted, and I believe genuine, effort to stamp out corruption. While there are show-trial elements inherent in the program, Xi recognizes that championing this cause boosts his domestic image and support, as well as solidifies his control over government. Would-be opponents may think twice, as corruption within their departments or mandates may see their heads on the block in the name of accountability.

With regards to the second type of corruption mentioned above, here the CCP is – in the eyes of the public – in many cases guilty by association. Given the widespread integration of party organs in various social organizations, as well as the predominance of state-run institutions and companies, corruption in these areas indirectly tarnishes the government’s image. The public is aware of the connections these entities have to the government, so any failure by stamp out corruption ultimately directs discontent back at the regime.

Given that growth has absolute priority, the government has been more proactive in its anti-corruption efforts here. This is largely due to the fact that foreign firms, investors, and governments come into contact with the above mentioned CCP-linked entities. If China’s economic actors, and by extension the government is seen as corrupt and unwilling to tackle those who wrong foreign actors, business confidence will sink. Beijing cannot allow this to occur, and this fear drives its anti-corruption efforts. Lower business confidence mean less investment and trade which means lower growth, and hence greater discontent.

Anti-Corruption Efforts in China Going Forward

As for an anti-corruption time line, I would argue that China will continue apace with its efforts. Since China’s opening in the 1980s its main focus has been stamping out corruption in the economy, specifically the elements that deal with foreign economic activity. This area will continue to be China’s main immediate focus. This will be trickier as more economic activity is conducted by non-state corporations. Consequently, China will need to increase efforts to enshrine a culture of corporate responsibility as well create efficient regulatory mechanisms.

With regards to the first category of corruption, this ties into China’s larger domestic stability efforts. Any egregious sources of public discontent will be dealt with post-haste, while the government will continue to slowly implement systemic reforms to even longstanding policies, as seen with its recent alterations to the one-child policy, itself a major source of corruption.

The government walks a fine line in that it seeks to increase accountability and transparency in select areas, while attempting to prevent public curiosity and calls for openness penetrating where Beijing benefits from obfuscation. Ideally, Beijing looks to states such as Singapore which enjoy ultra-low levels of corruption, high transparency, and efficiency ratings, yet still maintain social and political control via a firm hand on the reins of government.

Originally written for Freedom Observatory

Monday, 29 September 2014

Establishing 'Correct Views': Beijing's Response to Uighur Violence & Identity

While the West and the world's media attention has been focused on the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria, China has been gripped by a wave of violence perpetuated by homegrown Muslim terrorists. Last week fifty people were killed (including forty suspected assailants) and more injured as multiple explosions shook Luntai County, Xinjiang. In the past eighteen months, over 300 people have been killed by aggressors with links to Xinjiang, the autonomous region in western China. Xinjiang is home to the Uighurs, a minority numbering some ten million, scattered across China's far western expanse and bordering several Central Asian countries. The Uighurs are a Turko-Islamic people who long lived on the periphery of Qing China, in an atmosphere of semi-independence as a tributary state to Beijing. Following the fall of imperial China in 1912, Xinjiang enjoyed de facto independence during the mid to late 1940s as the East Turkestan Republic, before being reincorporated into the People's Republic of China in 1949.

Uighur Unrest tops Beijing's Domestic Security Concerns

The Han dominated central government in Beijing has long viewed Xinjiang as a restive frontier, inhabited by troublesome minorities who refuse to assimilate and adopt the majoritarian norms promoted by the government. This tension has increased in recent decades for several reasons. Firstly, Central Asian nations each inhabited by Turkic peoples which emerged on to the world stage after the collapse of the Soviet Union, spurred similar separatist sentiments in Xinjiang. More recently the rapid industrialization of China and corresponding need for resources has seen large scale Han migration (actively encouraged by Beijing) into Xinjiang, lured by construction, resource extraction and defence related projects. This demographic pressure combined with Beijing's emphasis on a Han-dominated, unified national identity has led to the increasing marginalization of the Uighurs. Unequal access to jobs, government services as well as prejudicial sentiments within the migrant Han population has also led to growing discontent and radicalization.

Photo Credit: Wall Street Journal
The explosions in Luntai County are merely the latest in a recent upsurge in Uighur/Xinjiang linked violence. In March a knife attack in the southern city of Kunming left twenty-nine dead and 143 injured. Two months later in May 2014, Uighur extremists detonated explosives in and drove off-road vehicles through a crowded market in Xinjiang's capital Urumqi, killing thirty-nine and injuring more than ninety. In response the government executed thirteen individuals linked to Xinjiang attacks in June, and on September 24th executed eight others implicated in five separate acts, including suicide car crashes in Tiananmen Square which killed the attackers and two tourists.

Even moderate Uighur voices are falling victim of Beijing's crackdown, which has been paying extra attention to Xinjiang since the 2009 Urumqi uprising which left hundreds dead and injured. On September 17th the Urumqi Intermediate People's Court began the trial of Uighur activist Ilham Tohti, who has been accused of separatism. Tohti is a moderate Uighur voice, who while advocating to the Uighur cause has repeatedly sought to mend Han-Uighur relations by campaigning against ethnic intolerance and anti-Han sentiments within the Uighur community. Tohti ran afoul of the central government after creating Uighurbiz in 2006, a Chinese language website fostering Han-Uighur understanding. Tohti has repeatedly been subject to house arrest, and only four days after his trial began, on September 21st was sentenced to life in prison.

Moderate Man, Harsh Sentence: Ilham Tohti Recieves Life in Prison
Photo Credit: AFP

Alongside a predictable security crackdown in the region, Beijing has increasingly been implementing policies which seek to undermine Uighur identity, and which many critics characterize as efforts to “Sinify the Uighurs.” These efforts tout the promotion of secularism and community (read Han) values, by delegitimizing Uighur values, often surrounding Islamic pratices. For instance, during his incarceration, Tohti went on a ten day hunger strike because the guards refused to give him halal food. Such actions are in line with Beijing's larger goal of stamping out the Muslim identities of Uighurs. The government has recently banned young Uighur from growing beards or wearing Muslim garb. Similarly in April 2014, Shayar County introduced a program which offers rewards to people who informed the local government about individuals under the age of 18 who are suspected of growing a beard or attending a mosque.

Recently President Xi Jinping suggested that more Uighurs should be moved to Han dominated areas for education and employment. Furthermore, in recent weeks, Chinese officials in Xinjiang have begun offering various incentives to encourage Han-Uighur intermarriage. Cherchen County in southern Xinjiang is offering 10,000 renminbi ($1600) a year for five years to Han who marry one of China's fifty-five minorities. The government is also offering inter-married couples priority consideration for housing and government jobs, as well as up to $3200 a year in health benefits. Moreover the government is also promising free K-12 education for children of mixed parentage, and tuition subsidies for technical school or university. Cherchen County director, Yasen Nasi’er, said that inter-ethnic marriages were “an important step in the harmonious integration and development of all ethnicities.” Yasen went on to characterize such marriages as positive energy contributing to the realization of the “Chinese Dream,” a concept popularized by President Xi Jinping.

The Chinese Dream: Xi Meets Uighur Community Leaders in Urumqi

These restriction have been put in place because the central government sees the expression of Uighur identity as a threat. The position of Uighurs as Turkic Muslim non-Mandarin speakers who agitate against the status quo undermines the efforts of Beijing to mold a unified modern Chinese identity. The government is pushing strongly to instil the image of 21st century China as Mandarin, Han and secular. These efforts are driven by the desire to prevent another Tibet situation in Xinjiang and other minority areas. Specifically, this means preventing the establishment of a robust non-Han identity which challenges the official discourse emanating from Beijing.

Beijing Fears Spillover: Uighur protesters in Ankara, 2012
Photo Credit: Reuters

At a meeting discussing recent Uighur violence, Xi called on the government to "establish correct views about the motherland and the nation" among China's minorities. The greatest fear for the central government is an internationalization of the Uighur cause. The proliferation of international sympathies for Tibetan independence haunt the Chinese leadership. Consequently their chief priority is preventing the situation in Xinjiang from attracting foreign attention and creating unrest, either from the West, but more importantly from pan-Turkic sympathizes and the greater Muslim world.

Monday, 8 September 2014

The Last Lama? The Dalai Lama on China and Not Wanting a Successor

Following their victory over the Kuomintang Nationalists in 1949, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) sought to re-establish direct control over the traditional periphery of Qing China. Areas such as Tibet and Xinjiang had, following the fall of the Qing dynasty in 1911, drifted out of Beijing's orbit, achieving de facto independence. In 1950 the People's Liberation Army (PLA) retook Tibet for the new central government in Beijing. This move led to ethnic and religious conflict as tensions rose between the Buddhist Tibetans and the Han dominated, officially atheist CCP government. At the centre of Tibetan resistance was the centuries old link between the people and Tibetan Buddhism, as personified by the Dalai Lama. The 14th and current Dalai Lama resisted the Chinese occupation of Tibet, yet following a failed uprising was forced to flee to India in 1959.

Coronation of the Dalai Lama, March 17th 1950
Photo Credit:

The Tibetan government in exile still resides in India as does a large Tibetan diaspora. Since 1959 the Dalai Lama has become globally renowned, earning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 – much to the chagrin of Beijing – especially given the timing of the award which was most likely heavily influenced by China's actions during the Tiananmen Square protests in the same year. Having defied every leader of modern China since Mao, the Dalai Lama has in sense become China's Castro: an initially threatening, later perennially just out of reach, half-century old thorn-in-the-side, frustratingly enjoying international support, and achieving mythic levels of intransigence thanks primarily to China's hyperbolic rhetoric. Just switch out Beijing for Washington, and you have the Castro regime: both even came to international attention in 1959.

Amusing digressions aside, the Dalai Lama continues to head China's dissident list, with Beijing regularly exercising pressure at the international level to inhibit his movements and counter his popularity. If not acceding to China's 'One China' rule is the paramount deal breaker when engaging with the regime in Beijing; a 'One Tibet' – not parlaying with the Dalai Lama – rule is not far behind. While countries such as the United States publicly embrace the Dalai Lama at regular intervals whenever they need to tweak China' nose, smaller nations with less geo-political clout often cannot. For instance, on September 4th South Africa denied the Dalai Lama a visa to visit the country. This was the third such denial in five years, with this most recent refusal preventing the Dalai Lama from attending the 14th world summit of Nobel Peace Prize laureates. The level of irony inherent in South Africa's actions is almost farcical, especially given the recent passing of Nelson Mandela: the country's own Nobel Prize winning leader who fought for an oppressed people, and was repeatedly denied entry into various countries.

The Dalai Lama Arrives in India
Photo Credit: Indian Defence Review

While the actions of the South African government seem arbitrary, Pretoria has more to lose from angering China than from being a hypocrite. South Africa is China's largest trade partner in Africa, with trade increasing by thirty-two percent since 2012, reaching $25 billion in 2013.  Furthermore, while trade with South Africa only equals four percent of China's trade with the EU, China is South Africa's biggest export and import partner, comprising 14.5 and 14.9 percent of Pretoria's trade, respectively. Consequently, South Africa needs to placate China via acts such as denying entry to the Dalai Lama; a move that did not go unnoticed. According to Xinhua, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Qin Gang stated that China “greatly appreciates” South Africa's efforts, in preventing access to a dangerous separatist.

Interestingly, Xinhua goes on to state that the Dalai was simply prevented from attending a meeting in South Africa. By excluding any mention of the nature of said meeting – an assemblage of Peace Prize winners – Xinhua seeks to erode any moral high ground that the Dalai Lama could occupy as a result of South Africa's actions. Excising mention of the Nobel Peace Prize firstly seek to downplay the international recognition of the Tibetan cause, and secondly sow confusion and suspicion among Xinhua's readership as to the nature and intent of said meeting.

China's efforts to curtail the Dalai Lama's freedom of movement and international support is premised on the assertion that he embodies a dangerous separatist movement as well as heading a government in exile. Not only is the Dalai Lama not the head of the government, having fostered the creation of a democratic regime in exile since the 1960s, he also officially devolved himself from the political leadership in 2011, claiming the time for a new leader. Paradoxically it is the Chinese government that has become the chief voice emphasizing the importance of the Dalai Lama on the world stage.

No Successor Needed, Position of Dalai Lama has Served Its Purpose
Photo Credit: Die Welt am Sonntag

While he is revered and respected by many Tibetans and non-Tibetans alike, efforts to re-establish Tibetan self-rule are focused on achieving democratic, not theocratic governance. The Dalai Lama himself acknowledges this and in a recent interview in German newspaper Die Welt am Sonntag, stated that he does not wish for a successor. Officially retired since 2011, the Dalai Lama stated that he did not want officials to appoint a successor after his death, arguing that the 450 year old tradition had served its purpose. Furthermore, during the interview he highlighted the large and effective network of Buddhist monks and scholars, stating that Tibetan Buddhism was not dependent on or dictated by one person. This statement is primarily a simple acknowledgment of the work of the Tibetan community, as well as characteristic humility, yet it also sends a strong message to China that the struggle over Tibet does not start or end with the Dalai Lama.

Xi Jinping Speaks in Paris, March 2014

The seventy-nine year old Lama also expressed his firm belief that he will eventually be able to return to Tibet. According to assessments of the Dalai Lama's health, doctors have stated that he will likely live to be one hundred, with the Dalai Lama himself stating that in his dreams he sees himself dying at the age of 113. Such potential longevity adds two to three decades onto the Dalai Lama's perspective, in turn making him confident about not only his chances of returning to Tibet, but of China's gradual democratization. If such a perspective seems naïve, one need only look at the difference that 20-30 years has already made in China with regards to civil society and personal freedoms. The Dalai Lama told Die Welt am Sonntag that China must and will democratize as it can no longer choose isolation nor inoculate itself against globalizing influences.

Interestingly, despite continuing opposition from Beijing, the Dalai Lama expressed his admiration for current Chinese President Xi Jinping, citing Xi's efforts to continue along the path of Hu Jintao's harmonious society, as well as his anti-corruption stance which has caused Xi to make many enemies among the CCP's old guard. Lastly, the Dalai Lama argued that he sees these actions as indicative of China's progress toward slowly becoming more open and inclusive; a view buttressed by Xi's March 2014 statement in Paris crediting Buddhism with playing an important part in the development of Chinese civilization.