BARON LAUDERMILK - 13 JANUARY 2011
It may be true that the peaceful resolution between Wukan, a coastal southern village in Guangdong province, and the local government and the party officials sets a new precedent for the future. It is indeed shocking and unprecedented to see an obscure village of just 20,000 people evict its corrupt communist party officials and police force and block off the city until its demands are met. For more than two weeks, the village governed itself without any state or central government control, and staged massive protests against the officials selling farmland to property developers without giving appropriate compensation to the owners of the land. People of all ages were fed up with the government’s abuse of its powers, land grabs, income disparities, and the possible police brutality case involving a local village leader. The Wukan people who had nothing to lose planned to protest until justice was implemented fairly. As one villager said, “If the government doesn't meet its commitments, we'll protest again.”
Despite the glimmer of hope that came out of Wukan’s success, China’s one-party system, which has been dominated by the Communist Party since the founding of the People’s Republic, has publically repeated that it will do whatever it takes to maintain its power. Wukan did have a victory, but it is far from a precedent that other villagers, activists and lawyers can depend on. I firmly believe that luck played a major part in saving Wukan from being swiftly quelled by an experienced police force.
On December 18, 2011 it appeared that the Chinese government was ready to break down the barricade the Wukan people had made to repel the police force, and brutally regain the city. There were three main reasons why this seemed like a possibility. The first one was that many foreign journalists were expelled, which was a gloomy forecast that the police were preparing to take control over the village and solve the problem through forceful means. Hong Kong-based Cable Television
journalist Lam Kin-Seng, three of his colleagues, and three Japanese journalists were forced out of Wukan by the police. A few foreign journalists were allowed to stay, including the New York Times and the UK Daily Telegraph, but their movements were restricted by the presence of armed police officers. According to Lam, he was in a restaurant in Wukan writing an article about the situation until he was stopped by several plain-clothed police officers. They told him to leave because the “village has internal conflicts” and “for the protection of his own safety”. Lam insisted that he did not feel threatened, but then the police encircled him and forced him out of city.
The second sign that demonstrated the police were ready to take out Wukan's protest was that they shut down the Internet and censored the word "Wukan" across the country. IFJ sources
claim that local Internet service providers received an order from the government to shut down all the Internet connections in the village. This approach was also implemented right before the riots in Xinjiang were squashed in 2009. The internet being forcefully shut down was another grave sign that indicated the Chinese authorities were planning on forcibly taking down the village and “socially harmonizing it.”
The third sign of the government’s preparations to eliminate the Wukan protest was that they had surrounded it by thousands of armed policemen, cutting off food and water to and from the village. On December 19, 2011 the police force increased its forces and encircled the whole village. No one was allowed to enter or leave the village, which was demonstrating against the possible cover-up of the death of Xue Jinbo, who villagers claim the police tortured and murdered.
The luck that the villagers of Wukan had was that they protested at the right time. Less than a year from now the highest party officials will step down and new ones will take their place. The highest official in Guangdong province, Wang Yang, was said to have been using this situation to ensure his image stays in a good light. He has aspirations for a top party position.
Wang Yang is aware that if it had crushed these protests, social media outlets such as Weibo and Renren, the Chinese version of Twitter and Facebook, would have demonized him. The last thing he wants right now is blood on his hands. Mr. Yang decided to use peaceful means to settle the protest in order to keep his name intact to ensure his rise in the Communist Party.
Many people who study protests and movements in China have said that the Chinese government must take this Wukan incident seriously. Elizabeth C. Economy, a Starr Senior Fellow and Director of Asia Studies and an expert on Chinese domestic policy, commented in an article called Occupy Wukan: China’s 99 Percent
that although the Chinese government will probably not change much after the Wukan protesting, they need to or the people will take matters into their own hands. Beijing’s take-away from the Wukan protest probably won’t be much more than, “It’s time to launch another [ineffective] anti-corruption campaign.” The real take-away, however, is that it is time to listen to what Premier Wen Jiabao had to say a few months ago
“We must govern the country by law… We need to uphold judicial justice…People’s democratic rights and interests prescribed in the Constitution must be protected. The most important ones are the right to vote and to stay informed about, participate in, and oversee government affairs.”
Put more bluntly, if the 5th generation* of Party leaders doesn’t listen to Wen and seize the initiative on political reform, it is looking more and more likely that the Chinese people will.
Frequently the Chinese officials call out for the protection of human rights and for the rule of law to support people’s property, but such action rarely materializes. There is an estimated 180,000
protests that erupt throughout China every year, all for different reasons. The majority of them are censured, and quietly silenced without a peep. As the New York Times said in October 2011, “local authorities have so far shown they are not afraid to spill blood, or at least knock a few heads (to evict someone for land development)”.
The success of Wukan has not stopped the Chinese government from detaining people who pose a threat to the Party’s rule. On December 23, 2011, Chen Wei, a democracy activist, was sentenced to nine years’ imprisonment
for inciting subversion of the Chinese government. He was detained in February for writing four essays that argued the Chinese should imitate the protests that occurred in the Middle East and North Africa during the Arab Spring. During his trial, Chen’s lawyer’s arguments were frequently interrupted and ignored. Chen’s wife and many others believe that the punishment does not fit the crime. His wife told Time that he is innocent, and that he should be able to express his views. "He is innocent and the punishment was too harsh. The court did not allow him to defend himself and his freedom of speech was completely deprived of…What's wrong about a person freely expressing his ideas?" Just last March, Wang Lihong was also detained for staging protests. The Chinese central government has not changed its attitude towards protest despite the glimmer of hope we saw in Wukan.
On December 28, 2011, Wen Jiabao, the Chinese Prime Minster who is recognized as the voice of democratic progress and the protection of civil rights, called for officials to better protect the rights of farmers to ensure that they receive a fairer and more equal share of protection, especially when farmland is being sold for residential and business use. Construction accounts for about 13 percent
of China’s GDP. The bubble-economy has not burst yet, and investors are still attempting to make fast money through this outlet. But until the Chinese government can ensure investors that its banking system is sound, investors will continue to pour billions of dollars into real estate. Many wealthy real estate investors depend on government officials acquiring farmland-rights so they can build new residential homes, hotels, office spaces and malls. As long as the real estate moguls and the government officials scratch each other’s backs, the 99% in villages near expanding cities will always be a threatened by the 1 percent. The people of Wukan were able to fight against this well-established relationship between the real estate investors and the government, but many villages, that are much smaller and less organized, are potential victims.
There is no doubt that the success of Wukan will vibrate into the future of China. I am sure that other villages, activists, and lawyers have learned that the Chinese government does have weaknesses. China is no longer what it was during the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre, when it killed innocent students protesting in the streets of Beijing for democracy and civil rights. China is now aware that the world expects it to act like a leader, which means they must peacefully solve internal conflicts. Yes, China still detains citizens it sees are a threat, and it still subdues protests, but it has become relatively more peaceful and uses different tactics to extinguish protests. Only two people were killed during the protests, Xue Jinbo, who suspiciously died in police custody, and a child.
I agree with Dr. Elizabeth Economy that the Chinese government will probably just launch another anti-corruption campaign and have Wen Jiabao demand change. But nothing significant will change. The invested interests are deep. The only way to create major change throughout the political system would be through completely altering the economy and how its leaders are selected. This is a process that we may not see in our lifetimes. Scholars have been arguing that it is just a matter of time before China’s Communist Party falls, and a democratic government replaces it. They point towards the local village elections as proof that change will come. But the central government ensures
that the Party itself chooses important village leadership positions. Furthermore, the village elections have not at all penetrated the central government, which is still handled behind closed doors. Wukan’s success will be a glimmer of hope for Chinese political activists and for farmers and migrant workers across China. But the status quo will not change unless a massive farmer rebellion spreads to other villages across China, which is unlikely, or the elites’ ideology changes. Such a massive change in belief is more possible than a large-scale rebellion, but still unlikely in the near future.
Image copyright of Tim Simpson
Baron Laudermilk - 06 December 2011
Navi Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, desperately urged the United Nations to take immediate action to save the Syrian people from being “ruthlessly repressed” by the their government. Many human rights activists, governments, and the European Union agree with her idea that action must be taken now. Navi Pillay never clarifies what she means by intervention, but it is clear that she does not mean economic sanctions. The sanctions from the West and the Arab League that were implemented last week have not impeded Assad’s method of maintaining power by brutally cracking down on the protestors in the streets of cities across the country.
Simply looking at the pictures of the atrocities that have occurred in Syria, and those that are occurring every day, make the idea of intervention a legitimate one. Since March of this year, more than 4,000 people
have been killed in military crackdowns on protestors, and an estimated 14,000 people have been detained. Reports have been seeping out of Syria stating that the Bashar al-Assad administration is severely violating human rights by raping women, torturing people, and by killing more than 307 children
But despite the vast amount of evidence that has proved there is in fact an overwhelming number of human rights violations that have occurred in Syria since the protest began in January, and despite the unwavering support from the West to directly intervene in Syria, China (along with a few other members) voted against a resolution backed by the Arab League to condemn Syria’s human right violations. A Chinese envoy said,
“It is our consistent view that constructive dialogue and cooperation are the right approaches to promote and protect human rights, whereas finger pointing and pressurizing give no solution to any issue.” Xinhua, the Chinese government’s mouthpiece, said “The Chinese representative stressed that [action] to promote and protect human rights should not in any case be taken by any country as pretext of intrusion over another's territorial integrity and sovereignty.” What the Chinese government wants to say is that there is no reason—ever—for a government to intervene in another country’s affairs.
Naturally most people would disagree with this. Many countries, including the United States, regret not intervening in Germany when it was committing genocide against the Jews in World War II. Many people, including scholars and human rights activists, wonder why nobody stepped in when Japan was slaughtering the northern Chinese during World War II. And many people still wonder why the West did not intervene in Rwanda when more than 800,000 people were murdered over a course of 100 days
. Clearly, when a government or a group of people is killing an overwhelming number of other people, it is only morally right to intervene.
The question is: Why is China against military action in a nation that is clearly violating human rights? Why won’t China step up to the plate and demonstrate to the international community that it supports the United Nations in preventing the bloodbath that is occurring in Syria?
The Chinese government does not want foreign forces intervening in any nation for several reasons. First of all, China has a long history of being invaded by foreign nations and controlled from afar, by both Japan and the West. It is possible that China does not want to see the West tamper with other governments’ affairs, because if the West can intervene in smaller nations, it may, one day, intervene in Chinese affairs, as it did two hundred years ago. Also, China has a reputation for violating its own peoples’ human rights. If a nation is not being punished for atrocities that it is committing, but apparently sees other nations being punished for the same things it is doing, it becomes apparent that the domino effect may take place. China does not want Syria to establish an unwritten precedent for governments to intervene in nations who are committing human right violations. And, finally, the Chinese government does not want its people to see men and women across the world sacrifice their lives for civil rights and democracy. The peak of the Jasmine Revolution, when Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya saw their governments fall to young people demanding for their civil rights and democracy (supported by Western governments), made the Chinese government realize that one day this could happen to them. It forced the Chinese government to rethink what happened in Tiananmen Square in 1989, and compelled it to hide this information from its people in fear that they may use the Middle East’s spring to democracy as motivation to demand it in their own country. China does not want foreign ideas of democracy, civil rights, and the possible threat of a nation invading it.
I find it reasonable for China to be a little paranoid about seeing the United States and the rest of the West intervene in other nations’ affairs. China has a long history of being invaded by foreign nations. Around 1075, China’s next door neighbor, Vietnam, a country it had been doing trade with since its existence, invaded Song Dynasty China. The Manchurians, at that time barbarians according to the Chinese, invaded China in 1644. The French and British invaded China in 1856 to force them to liberalize their ports and to do trade with the West in the Opium Wars. And then Japan, a country that has historically had wars and territorial tensions with China, invaded China in 1895, 1931, and, the most famous time, during World War II. All these nations that had invaded China had attempted to force it to change the way it did business with other nations, or the way it operated in general. This long history of being forced to open up to foreign ideas has rightfully caused China to be more cautious when it sees nations intervening in other nations’ affairs.
But, regardless of China’s extensive history of seeing imperialism first-hand, China should start acting as a world power. Or in the words of Fareed Zakaria
, “Beijing needs to recognize that it has become a world power, that its every move is now deeply analyzed, and that it is expected to play by the rules - indeed, it is expected to help maintain the rules.” With great power comes great responsibility. The Chinese government becomes irritated when the West wants to step into its affairs, such as the territorial disputes
in the South China Sea. But the United States and other Western nations feel that they must step into China’s affairs because although it is economically and militarily a global power, it is not acting like one.
Beijing uses its history to justify to the world that nations should not intervene in other nations’ domestic affairs. But Beijing should use its history to accept that foreign intervention is necessary when a government is brutally killing its own people. When the Japanese were controlling Manchuria, they treated the Chinese as second-rate citizens and, during the war, brutally killed them and raped their women. The history China uses to justify to itself that foreign intervention can cause imperialism can also be turned around to support intervention when a nation is being dominated, regardless if it is committed by domestic or foreign forces.
My second point: it is hard to criticize someone for something when you are doing the same thing. China has a reputation for violating its people’s rights. In fact, what Syria is doing now—preventing the people from overthrowing the government and possibly installing a democracy— China did in 1989
during the Tiananmen Square Massacre. The Chinese government has made progress since it massacred young, peaceful protestors in 1989, but it still has a long way to go before the Chinese people have civil rights that are protected by the rule of law. The Freedom House “Map of Freedom 2010
” ranked China’s political rights and civil liberties very low compared to Western nations. The overview of the report highlights the Chinese government’s major human rights issues: The Chinese government continued in 2009 to demonstrate high levels of insecurity and intolerance regarding citizens’ political activism and demands for human rights protection. Aiming to suppress protests during politically sensitive anniversaries during the year, including the 60-year mark of the Communist Party’s rise to power, the authorities resorted to lockdowns on major cities and new restrictions on the internet. The government also engaged in a renewed campaign against democracy activists, human rights lawyers, and religious or ethnic minorities, which included sentencing dozens to long prison terms following unfair trials. Repressive measures were intensified in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, especially after ethnic violence erupted there in July. Nevertheless, many citizens defied government hostility and asserted their rights to free expression and association.
So it appears that China is not in the position to censure other governments’ foreign rights violations when it are also committing serious crimes against its own people. But China needs to make efforts to prove to the international community that it is capable and willing to become a leader of the world. It has made steps in accomplishing this. Democracy
is being experimented with in many villages, people are virtually allowed to say and do what they want as long as they do not threaten the government, and the government has published many official papers stating it will further protect human rights. The world has seen this and has applauded China in its efforts to incrementally improve its protections of its people’s rights. But if China would have wanted to show the world that it truly supports the rights of people from all over the world, it would have supported that resolution and even offered economic and military resources to aid the United Nations. Clearly China has no intentions, as of now, to fully support the rights of its own people and people abroad.
Seeing dictatorships toppled by the demand of civil liberates and democracy is a scary thing for the Communist Party. Earlier this year, when the Jasmine Revolution was catching the attention of the world, the Chinese government swiftly censured the word “Egypt” and the phrase “Jasmine Revolution” from its search engines to ensure that the Arab Spring did not spread to China.
Despite the Chinese government’s well-coordinated and premeditated information chokehold on the Arab Spring, traces of the movement leaked into the minds of young Chinese students across the Middle Kingdom. In February of 2011
, there were signs that some Chinese people were going to protest in Beijing and cities across China demanding democracy and civil rights. The Chinese government took action the way it typically does when it feels threatened by protestors. It filled the streets of Beijing and other large cities, where there were rumors of planned protest, with police officers who were cradling guns and bats. There were not any protests that day, and none in the near future directly related to the Arab Spring, but the fact that the Chinese government deployed an overwhelming force to quash any protesters demonstrates the government’s paranoia and its unwavering will to maintain its hold on society and politics, regardless of the cost.
The Chinese government has astonished the world with its economic progress since the late 1970s. It has pulled over half a billion people out of poverty, it has build megacities that maintain fine public transportation systems, and it has given the average person the chance to become wealthy. But that is it. The Chinese Communist Party will allow the Chinese people to seek wealth, but nobody is allowed to challenge the party, nobody. As long as the Communist Party maintains the idea of holding its power at all cost, it will manipulate its history to justify its actions, and use its military to crush domestic opposition. It surprised the world that even when China had the opportunity to give a hand to the struggling Syrians against its relentless government, it decided not to. But that is not surprising. Everything the Communist Party does, from voting in the United Nations on critical issues regarding the livelihood of humanity, to buying natural resources from South America, are for one reason: Maintaining the Party’s Power. As long as the Communist Party desires to uphold its power and deny civil rights and liberties to its own people, the people around the world who desperately need their civil rights protected will not see a helping hand from the Chinese government.
BARON LAUDERMILK - 08 NOVEMBER 2011
Ten years ago, when people thought of free market capitalism, they imagined the United States’ robust and seemingly unstoppable economy. For the most part, they were right. The U.S. had an efficient and productive private sector, establishing billion dollar companies all over the world in a laissez-faire political environment, with little industrial, political or financial regulations.
People around the world believed that the American economy was an example for the world. It strategically survived the Great Depression and came out with a victory in World War II. It saw an economic boom under both Ronald Reagan and the fall of the Communist block and the Soviet Union in the late 1980s and early 1990s, which was thought to bring about “the end of history,” Francis Fukuyama, one of the world’s most respected political scientists, argued. The United States’ specific style of democracy and capitalism did seem to be the best example for countries to look up to.
But the world’s economic downturn in 2008 demonstrated that the U.S. system had major economic and political cleavages. While the United States was juggling high unemployment and soaring deficits and the European Union was struggling to keep the euro alive, China proved to the world that its state-run capitalism was an effective and highly productive system. China went virtually untouched during the 2008 economic crisis and came out of it as the world’s second largest economy. Western nations are still shocked as to how a country that did not have a functioning economy just fifty years ago was able to become one of the richest states in the world.
China’s method of achieving unprecedented economic progress in the last few decades is no secret. The Chinese government has carefully, deliberately, and strategically guided and manipulated its private sector to become loyal participants of the Communist Party’s game. The Middle Kingdom’s capitalism is a constant game of tug and war between the Communist Party and China’s private sector. This game has resulted in a stalemate, in which both sides are not able to pull the other side into the middle. The Communist Party wants to ensure its power over the state, but the private sector is constantly pulling for its own interests.
While the government’s bureaucrats have been getting their hands on many resources, and while the bosses in the private sector have made their fortunes, the inequality amongst the people is rising. The Gini Coefficient, a standard measure of income inequality in a society, is over 0.5, which is similar to many unstable, heavily corrupt nations in sub-Saharan Africa. The nation’s nearly 10 percent annual growth in GDP has pulled a half billion people out of dire poverty, but compared to the wealthy class in China, which consist of bureaucrats and executives, the average households is on a tight budget. The government has kept interest rates
on savings accounts so low that they cannot keep up with China’s rising inflation. This system, which is in place to benefit state-run banks and their rent-seekers, has moved the wealth from the average Chinese person to state-operated banks, which are directly connected to affluent corporations and government-supported organizations. The stalemate in this game of tug of war between the Communist Party and the private sectors’ executives have made them strong and rich, but the people have not seen these benefits yet. There are only two players in this game of tug of war. The people are barred from this match.
The constant fight of power between the Communist Party and the private sector has resulted in a unique form of capitalism that I call “The Middle Kingdom’s capitalism”. This new Chinese style of capitalism has three classes. The most powerful class is the Communist Party. This class consists of any government worker who has been brought into its club. This brings protections, benefits, and networking opportunities to their close family members. The children of the Communist Party members, infamously known as “princelings,” are born with a silver spoon and they die with a silver spoon. They are guaranteed a cushioned life and access to high-paying jobs. The princelings are almost able to get away with murder,
and their connections with the government allow them to bypass the weak, paid-off legal system.
After the Communist Party officials, the government executives and their families come in a close second. They are close to Communist officials
, especially if they are working in industries that the government is interested in, such as commodities, information, and technology. The third class is everybody else; the students, farmers, city dwellers, etc. If an ambitious Chinese student wants to be successful, he or she must find a way to get into the first two groups.
The Middle Kingdom’s style of capitalism has compelled executives across the globe to pack up their businesses and move straight to the heart of China. U.S. companies have a particular interest in China. China is not just attracting U.S. companies because of China’s cheap labor and low taxes, but because the Chinese government is more receptive to capitalism than the U.S. David Rubenstein, the co-founder and managing director of the Carlyle Group, a massive equity firm, told Thomas Reuters that he thinks
China’s new style of capitalism is more open to business ideas than Washington’s. In his words, “I would say that today when I go to China, I find more people in government who are interested in learning about the things that private equity can do to help an economy and help companies than you often do in Washington… Washington, for a number of reasons, is not as focused on the joys of private equity… So very often, you have to defend yourself when you’re talking to a member of Congress.”
The Middle Kingdom’s style of capitalism consists of the state owning all the major firms, but it allows smaller firms to work without much regulation and interference. The Chinese government may want to maintain its power over its massive state-owned companies, but it should realize that the smaller, private companies are more profitable and effective. According to a paper by Liu and Alan Siu
, unlisted private companies have an average return of around 10 percent a year. State-owned companies are earning a mere 4 percent a year. These private firms are rapidly growing. Between 2000 and 2009, registered private companies grew by 30 percent. Non-governmental industries are producing two-thirds of the country’s industrial output. Yet there is still fear that these businesses could be shut down on a whim.
Yes, the Middle Kingdom’s style of capitalism has produced a robust and booming economy. There does appear to be a healthy mixture of state-owned companies and private enterprises in China. There is no doubt that it would be foolish for an international company to not get involved in the Chinese market. Yet the fear that the Communist Party can just can suddenly shut down a company and choose favorites, and the fact that the legal system is fragile, strikes fear in all private and corporate businesses, foreign and domestic. Richard McGregor, the former Beijing bureau chief for the Financial Times
, clearly said in his excellent book The Party
that the Communist Party can fire, replace, and move executives of its state-owned international company spontaneously, with little to no notice. What kind of international company, or even a privately owned Chinese company, would put all their eggs in China’s basket?
This new form of capitalism will see its economy stagnate if the government does not allow freedom of speech and the press. All journalists, novelists, essayists, lawyers, and good politicians must be careful of what they write and say. The Communist Party has frequently demonstrated that it has no problem with incarcerating famous critics, as we have seen with Ai Weiwei and Lu Xiaobo
. There are a variety of industries that are not able to grow because people are not able to think for themselves. The regulations on freedom of speech and press must be eradicated in order to allow the spread of ideas and business.
China’s new style of capitalism will slow down in the next decade because of the attempt of the government to transition the economy from one based on exports to one based on consumption. As Hugo Dixon argues in The China Files, Part 1: How fast can China grow?,
“These trends can’t continue at the same pace. The country’s exports are now so big that it can’t keep expanding its share of world trade so fast. What’s more, its indebted customers in the West have a limited ability to keep buying.” The Chinese government rightly laid out in its last five-year plan (2011-2015) that it will boost domestic consumption and rely more on its services. But in order to do this, China must alter its education system, which is based around memorizing text and obeying authority instead of thinking for oneself, and back off of the economy and the nation’s politics.
The Middle Kingdom’s form of capitalism has pulled a half billion people out of poverty, made millions of people across the world rich, and will probably keep loaning to the United States and Europe. But at the same time, people should be skeptical of this mutation of capitalism. It is still an unpredictable system. This elite group will do what it takes to stay in power, as we have seen in both Mongolia and Tibet, a move which is bad for business. We must give the Chinese government credit, for they have proved that state-owned capitalism is possible, but now let’s see them peacefully make the transition to a more free and open society.
BARON LAUDERMILK - 25 OCTOBER 2011
Beijing has a long history of using propaganda to spread its nationalist message and the Party’s core principles to its younger citizens. It has utilized television programs and newspaper outlets to counter subversive narratives. And Beijing clearly has not accepted any type of challenges to its propaganda. But since the emergence of social media in China, which has captured hundreds of millions of its netizens across the country, Beijing’s Propaganda Department faces a direct challenge. Using social media has become a normal part of life for more than 200 million urban Chinese people. They are using social media websites for the same reasons Americans are in the West: to talk about politics, the news, and probably most importantly, to acquire the facts about social, political, and economic issues. Social media outlets, including Renren, Weibo, and even Facebook, are spreading the truth about corrupt officials, scandals, and questioning and countering messages from the central government. Social networking in China is undermining Beijing’s official stories goals and even threatening to subvert the government’s credibility.
Before the advancement of social media, Beijing was able to maintain a strong hold onto its power by controlling all outlets of communication. Prior to the explosion of social media, Chinese peoples were not able to tweet new information they found that could expose a corrupt official, or quickly organize people to protest in the streets. Although young Chinese students were able to shake the Party to its core in June 1989, they were severely disadvantaged because of the lack of communication tools they had at their disposal. During that time, China’s cities were still in their beginnings, and government agencies could easily regulate and monitor email, letters, and cell phone calls
During June 1989 in Beijing, China, the only people who had the technology to protest were the students; they had access to computers, emails, phones, and some information, though regulated and monitored by the government. The majority of the factory workers and farmers were left out of the loop. Imagine if an outburst with the same scale as the 1989 incident took place today. Social media itself would have transformed the 1989 incident to something similar to the Arab Spring.
Despite the government’s deliberately opaque procedures and corruption, social media has brought down some of the Party’s most powerful members. As I said earlier, five years ago, this would have been impossible. In 2008, a Lin Jiaxing, a former party secretary of Shenzhen Marine Affairs Bureau, was sacked for accosting a young girl
when he was drunk. Video footage of him forcing the girl into a men’s bathroom and verbally abusing her was caught on tape. Bloggers got a hold of this information and uploaded it on Weibo and Renren. The story spread across the web like a wild fire. The government was not nimble enough to delete the overwhelming amount of post about the story. The popularization of the issue on the internet contributed to the arrest of Jiaxing.
Weibo (The Chinese version of Twitter) users have become more aggressive in striving to expose the actions of corrupt officials. Within mere hours of the high-speed train crash by Wenzhou in late June 2011, online users began publically demanding, all over Weibo, for a report that included the accountable officials. Within five days
, the Prime Minister of China, Wen Jiaobo, promised, with a sincere bow in front of hundreds of people, that he would investigate in the accident. Important officials who
governed the accident were punished. Certainly social media is shedding light on corrupt practices that are occurring deep behind the secret walls of the Communist Party.
Officials a few years ago could prevent a journalist from publishing something detrimental to their career by making a few phone calls to a newspaper company. But in this 21st century, in just a blink of an eye, an official can be fired over a tweet. Social media is empowering Chinese citizens and forcing their officials to be accountable for their actions.
One online Chinese activist, Huaguoshan Zongshuji,
saw an interesting pattern among corrupt officials. He noticed that although they drove simple cars, and did not wear elaborate suits, they wore extremely expensive watches, which are sometimes valued at one hundred times the government officer’s official salary. Via Weibo, he uploaded a forty-eight page PowerPoint Presentation of officials wearing high priced watches. Within days it was blocked by the government. His story is just an example of how powerful social networking can be in exposing corruption in China, and how the Chinese government is striving hard to protect its own members. The fact that the Chinese government blocked it shows that they knew it would cause the people to become upset. Zhongshuji believes that since there is not any legal method to express dissent, the only option is through online conversation.
Social media is also changing many Chinese peoples’ most fundamental views about the people around them. A long time ago, Beijing used filtered and selected information about Japanese people, particularly about their actions during the Nanjing massacre and their invasion in China during World War II, to spark nationalism in the youth. They did this by pushing pugnacious news reports, and emphasizing the negative parts of the Japanese history in textbooks. But social media has allowed more diversified perspectives to be seen, and circulated through social media and networks.
The East Japan Earthquake in March 2011 demonstrated that Weibo can allow the truth to come out
. Bloggers consistently posted pictures, news, and analysis of the issue. Chinese students studying in Japan also contributed to the discussion by talking about how their Japanese friends were upset and horrified by the event. Although the Chinese media did not air much of the turmoil that was going on in Japan, many Chinese people sympathized with the Japanese people because of seeing pictures of people suffering. In one online pole, 23,029 people expressed support and sympathy for the Japanese people who were affected by the earthquake, while only 260 people responded that they were happy that this happened.
Clearly the information that was sent to the Chinese in the 1960s and 1970s that were designed to push nationalist goals have become ineffective because of the widespread growth social networking. Social media is eradicating many of China’s older and outdated stereotypes and traditions. This will make it more difficult for Beijing to control overseas student’s thoughts, especially since they are exposed to free media and press, where they have access to many perspectives from a wide variety of people.
The Chinese government has showed that it is nervous and feels threatened by social media. In late February 2011, during the midst of the Arab Spring in the Middle East, police flooded the streets of Beijing
after the government realized that students and activities were using social media outlets and microblogging to organize protest. During the day of the protest, police officers were everywhere, armed and ready to forcibly dismantle anything that even slightly appeared to be a protest. No protestors showed up, but the police stayed into the evening to ensure that that there was not any viable threat. The Chinese government is very aware that social media, with its fast updates and connectivity with users all over China and the world, can easily organize people to protest within minutes.
Social media is transforming Chinese society and politics in an unprecedented way. Just five years ago, Party officials and government officers had nothing to fear from ordinary citizens. They could embezzle money, cheat whomever they wanted, and, for the most part, get away with it. If an average citizen had a complaint about an official, the official was able to pay off media outlets to ensure stories never leaked. But now, even though the Party still heavily censors media via television, email, and online content, it is having difficulties regulating, monitoring, and deleting the thousands of rapid post that occur every second on Weibo, Renren, and other social networking websites. Social media is bringing down corrupt officials, forcing a long time opaque government to become more transparent, and making officials at all levels more accountable. As long as social networking is thriving in China, it will empower the people, and slowly but surely equalize the people and its government.
BARON LAUDERMILK - 12 OCTOBER 2011
The world has silently envied China’s incredible economic progress since the late 1970s. Westerners cringed with jealously when China came out as the world’s new economic engine after the United State’s economy tanked in 2008. China’s newly built capitalist economy guided by a one-party system is impressive, even for people who despise the Chinese government and its radical polices. To the average Joe, China seems to be building cities as large as New York city every year. And it seems that China’s bull market economy will be charging into the future without any problems.
Even at many U.S. universities, it appears that the Chinese students are the most affluent people around. They seem to be the new Joneses. At Ohio University, the Chinese students have reaped the benefits from China’s economic miracle. Many students stare in awe when they see a young Chinese student cruising in a brand new Mercedes Benz through the forests and Appalachia of Athens, Ohio. I have heard American college students say, “Those Chinese people are so lucky, their economy is making all the Chinese people rich.”
Unfortunately, the Chinese undergraduates in Western universities, whose’ families typically come from high government positions or state-owned industries, do not begin to represent the whole Chinese population. In Shanghai (average annual incomes are much higher than in almost every other city in China) , the salary of a average Chinese family just reached $10,000 a year in 2011
. Earning this income, even if a family saves two- thirds of it, would still not enable to the family to send their child to the West. So the questions become, are the middle class and lower class Chinese people seeing this new wealth to the extent Westerns think they are? How is inflation affecting their savings? Are their wages rising in proportion with the economic gains? What is preventing Chinese people from buying up Western goods?
There is no doubt that since China’s entrance into the globalized world people are better off than they were before 1978, under Mao Zedong’s leadership. The unemployment rate in China is relatively low compared to the developed nations and wages are going up. Coastal factories in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou are popping up every day, and minimum wages are skyrocketing. Surprisingly, and contrary to what many people believe, an overwhelming number of factories are raising wages because they are having difficulty finding full-time employees. Luckily, much of the rise in wages on China’s coast are incrementally and surely trickling out to all the different regions, including Tibet
, two of China’s poorest provinces. So yes, the Chinese people are seeing a rise of wages across the country, but the average salary in China is still low compared to the United States and European standards. The average wage in southern China is only about 75 cents an hour
But China’s low employment rate and rising wages do not mean Chinese people buy many of the new goods and services that are typically found in the West, such as cars, homes, laptops and smart phones, because Chinese people save a huge portion of their money. Why are they saving their money when the economy is booming? Here are five good reasons: (1) China’s volatile market puts off investors. To be more specific, savings interest rates are low. (2)The rise of inflation is much higher than saving account rates (3) The soaring price of food. (4)The lack of a dependable social net. (5) The rise of housing prices.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is keeping interest so low that it cannot keep up with China’s rising inflation. The New York Times interviewed a couple in Jilin
, China, who could not afford to own a home even though they made $16,000 a year, which is much more than the national average. This partly due to the fact that Chinese savings account rates are only three percent while China’s inflation is over six percent. The couple in Jilin, as with millions of other Chinese households, are skeptical of China’s unstable stock market, so they save more than two thirds of their money.Food prices are soaring
. The prices of pork, vegetables, edible oil, flour and even rice are all seeing drastic rises, making households’ budgets tight. Chinese people cannot spend their money on new gadgets and clothes when more than half of it is going towards food. Inflation is not the only reason that is pushing up the price of food. Flooding in southern China is wiping out important crops. A flood in Zhejiang province
in June 2011 damaged more than 241,600 hectares, and 432,000 hectares in total have been affected by flooding across the country. The constant rise of prices is making Chinese people stash as much money as possible until the market indicates stability. Currently, there are no signs that food prices are going to decline in the near future. Despite the CCP’s price controls
that were implemented in November 2010, the increase in food prices will not end any time soon.
One would think that as the Chinese economy develops, as China buys trillions of U.S. reserves, and as the Chinese government modernizes its military, that it would also funnel some of its new money towards its people in a social safety net. In the last three decades, the CCP eliminated its, “Iron Rice Bowl” socialist policy, which guaranteed people a steady job and retirement benefits, and instead shifted its economy to a more individualistic, take-care-of-yourself type of economy. This has forced Chinese people, even those reaping the prosperity generated by China’s economic boom, to take care of their aging parents
, and to save for their own retirement.
Homes throughout China, especially its largest cities, are as expensive as in London and Tokyo. IMF figures demonstrate
that a 70- square meter home in Beijing costs 20 times the average households’ income. A survey done by the People’s Bank of China in September, 2011, found that 76% percent of residents saw housing prices as too high, and a large portion of them believed that the prices would keep rising. The possibility rising housing prices across the country will not persuade its Chinese to spend more money on foreign goods. To the contrary, the very idea that housing prices may rise in the near future will compel many Chinese people, young and old, to save money.
The above five reasons why Chinese people are not spending money shows that the economic boom has not allowed the majority of the population to enjoy its benefits. Actually, China’s middle and lower classes are paying for the wealthy elites to live their extravagant lives. The average Chinese couple’s saving account rates are low so the banks can funnel that money into real estate. Inflation is high for the average person, it does not affect the government officials or corporate leaders as much. The lack of a social net increases the feeling of insecurity in the people, but keeps taxes on businesses low. And housing prices are making it virtually impossible for someone earning an average wage in Beijing, Shanghai or Guangzhou to purchase a home, but real estate speculators are becoming rich. Ninety-nine percent of Chinese people are paying for the other one percent to do whatever they want, and buy whatever they want. This situation appears to be very similar to that of the United States.
If the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) can find a way to encourage its people to spend, it will kill several birds with one stone. It will alleviate the West’s anger that China’s government and people save too much and don’t buy international products, and it will also mitigate the protest and dissent against the CCP growing among struggling households, a problem the CCP desperately wants to solve.
The CCP can increase spending by building China’s middle class. It can do this by allocating more funding to its social net to secure children and elders at the minimum.
A health care system which covers children and elders will allieve working young and middle aged workers’ worry about their children’s and parents’ health care, so they will spend more money on consumer goods. The CCP must ensure its people that housing, food and education prices are stable, and will not see random price hikes in the near future. The majority of Chinese people save a huge portion of their money to purchase a home, but if housing prices could be lowered people could spend more money on products, thus encouraging domestic spending across the board.
Finally, it is important that the CCP focus on increasing wages in both the private and the public sector while controlling the rise of inflation. If the CCP can secure a confident middleclass, the lives of average Chinese people will become drastically better. This will calm the West, bring security to the Chinese people, and even bring some legitimacy to the CCP regime.
BARON LAUDERMILK - 24 September 2011
Since Chinese businesses and entrepreneurs have fostered a “go-global” attitude, a number of them are strenuously seeking access to Northern Europe in order to tap their offshore financial sectors, utilize their highly skilled and productive workforce, and to acquire their innovative technologies and groundbreaking ideas.
Invest Sweden, a Swedish government’s agency tasked with attracting offshore investments in Sweden, established a solid business relationship with the Chinese government and many Chinese business leaders.
Eddie Chen, the Invest Sweden’s vise-president, told China Daily in late September 2011 that, “Our China Office was founded in 2002, and Sweden is one of the earliest developed European countries that has set up an investment agency in China.”
In 2002, Invest Sweden and China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) signed a noticed that said both organizations are in agreement with each other, and the laws and regulations regarding the contract are transparent.
Since Invest Sweden and the NDRC signed the agreement in 2002, both organizations have been in routine contact with each other to discuss policies and two-way investments.
The establishment of the Invest Sweden agency in Shanghai has triggered waves of Chinese businesses to invest in Sweden. In only nine years, Invest Sweden has aided and consulted more than 250 Chinese businesses to invest and initiate companies in Sweden.
“About two-fifths of the investment projects are industrial, and the remainders are business-oriented; for instance, investing in real-estate and setting up operation centers,” said Mr. Chen.
Chinese businesses are aware that Sweden is a strategic location for centralized market operations in Northern Europe, and a prime choice for corporate and regional headquarters. In Sweden, business leaders and investors are not only granted access to Sweden’s economy, but they also have access to the world’s largest free-trade market--the European Union (EU). The EU consists of twenty-seven countries and more than 500 million potential customers.
The Swedish economy is renowned for its resilience in world recessions, its advanced manufacturing exporting logistics, its offshore financial service sectors, and its innovative technologies and worldwide networks. Chinese enterprises have recognized this and have made major strides in acquiring some of Sweden’s precious assets.
In early May, 2011, Hawtai Motor Group, a Chinese car manufacturer, attempted to invest over 200 million dollars in Sweden’s Saab Automobile. Hawtai was not investing in Saab to save the nearly bankrupt company, but because it wanted to have access to Saab’s technology and business connections.
Richard Zhang, vice president of Hawtai, said, “Saab brand will give Hawtai access to innovative technologies and an international network which would take decades to build.” Although the deal fell through in late May 2011, the discussions between the two companies still demonstrated the Chinese desire to heavily invest in the Swedish markets to gain access to innovative technologies and global connections.
The Sweden-China business relationships will strengthen over time. In the next twenty years, bilateral trade and investment will increase between China and Sweden. Bo Landin, chairman of Sweden-Trade Council Stockholm, said in an interview to Xinhua in 2010, “By 2020, the scope of trade and development between Sweden and China will be vastly widened.”
China’s interest in Sweden’s offshore financial sectors and productive workforce, compounded with the Swedish desire to tap into Chinese markets, will continue to strengthen the business relationships between the two nations.
BARON LAUDERMILK - 21 JULY 2011 - BEIJING
The Chinese government recently released its nation’s second national Human Rights Action Plan
, a lengthy document guaranteeing protections for civil rights. The Action Plan has publically claimed
that over the past two years the Chinese government has successfully completed “all targets and tasks set by the National Human Rights Action Plan of China (2009-2010).”
Indeed, it appears that the Chinese government has decided to truly protect its peoples’ rights. As we most of us know, China has a history of violating its people’s rights, especially regarding freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom to worship. The Action Plan has received much support through formal Chinese institutions and media outlets. China Daily and Xinhua
, two Chinese state owned media companies, have touted the success that has resulted from the Action Plan.
Just about everywhere outside of China, and in fact even people in certain parts of China, have depicted the Action Plan as propaganda and completely ineffective. International human rights groups and local human right activists have already refuted the action’s plan “success.”
The Human Rights Watch in a recent review of the Action plan was highly critical of the success documented in the action plan. “The government has systematically continued to violate many of the most basic rights and the document address,” said in the Human Rights Watch review of the action plan. Chinese activist are on the same page. Teng Biao
, a Chinese human rights lawyer and teacher remarked, “There has been no improvement in the Chinese human rights situation over the past two years. On the country, things have been going backwards.”
Though the Chinese media has celebrated the success of the two year Action Plan, rights protecting religious practice have been violated, farmers and even urbanites have had their land illegally grabbed, and most gravely, the right to a fair trial has been nonexistent.
Tibetan Monks and Protestants in China have consistently had their civil rights violated between 2009 and 2010. In June, 2009, the Office of Religious Affairs sent its officials and a local police
force to Amdo Jaqung monetary in Qinghai to expel one of its leaders, Lobsang Tsultrim for “persuading the monks to be faithful to the Dalai Lama rather than the Peoples’ Republic of China.”
On April 21, 2011, unrest amongst Tibetan
Monks emerged when Chinese local authorities sealed off a deeply respected Tibetan monastery in Sichuan province, Kirk monetary, after a young monk set himself on fire to protest against the government’s oppressive policies towards religious, Tibetan monks.
Over the last two years, Protestants
have also seen the government treat them in unfair ways, and have been arbitrary detained. Protestants in China have also faced repression by the Chinese state. On April 24,2011, Chinese police arrested hundreds of congregants from the Shouwang Evangelical Church, one of the largest house churches in the capital, when they attempted to hold Easter services in a public square. Earlier during the same month, the local government authorities demanded the church to be shut down. The authorities also stifled the church’s attempts to lease or buy space for services in other areas. Some church members said that they were confined to their homes by agents to keep them from joining Easter services.
In late April 2011, a 28 year old member
of the Shouwang church, who identified herself as Waters, told a CNN correspondent that she feels that if she practices Christianity she will be harassed by the authorities. “Personally I don't know how long I can last because the pressure is pretty intense, because they try to harass your family, your workplace and your landlord. They want to control you.”
There has been countless land grabs throughout China’s urban and rural areas with very little compensation to the residents. Protests broke out
in Guangdong, southern China, in mid June 2011, after a local government boss was accused of stealing compensation payments from the people. Around 12 people were arrested. Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy, a Hong Kong-based information center, said that villagers suffering from high inflation hoped for an increase in payments from business in the industry park, but the local factory owner had been embezzled by the former head, who is now a local Communist Party Secretary. The Ministry of Land
and resources have recently released a list on Thursday of 73 officials from 31 cities and counties who have been punished for illegal use of land. Although land grabs are decreasing, they are still rampant and appear arbitrary. The rights of those people are not enforced in the courts and are rarely recognized and documented.
The Chinese government has also arrested dozens of lawyers and civil activist without giving them a trial. Lu Xiaobo, Ai Weiwei, and other high profile Chinese activist, and artist, have been arrested detained without the prospect of a trial. In fact, many civil rights lawyers and activist have disappeared without a sight. Forced confessions are also still a problem that was not discussed in the Action Plan.
The Action Plan appears to be propaganda
that is designed make international organizations and the West believe that they are working towards implementing and protecting civil rights. I personally feel that the Action Plan may have positive intentions, but the results are relatively feeble. Instead, the Action Plan appears to just be a public relations exercise. Sophie Richardson, the Asia advocacy director of the Human Rights Watch, correctly noted “that the (the action plan) is more of a public relations exercise than a meaningful tool for protecting and promoting human rights.”
The fact that the Chinese government is picking and choosing which civil rights it wants to protect and not protect demonstrates that it has a hidden motive. In the light of the Jasmine Revolution that recently occurred in the Middle East, the Chinese Communist Party certainly is nervous of having a domino effect tumble into their land. Any threat to the Communist Party’s authority is immediately suppressed and dispersed. Many people, including me, applaud some of the writings in the Chinese constitution, and the action plan, that are designed to protect civil rights. But right now, it’s all bark, and no bite.
BARON LAUDERMILK - 11 JULY 2011 - BEIJING
The vast amounts of literature about the possibilities of China’s one party state transitioning to a democratic government can fill a small living room from the floor to the ceiling. Politicians are still are debating whether or not democratic revolution in China is inevitable. But a question that is just as important but frequently overlooked is the question of whether or not the Chinese people are prepared to operate and maintain a transparent, thriving, democratic government.
The dominant Communist Party’s most influential leaders have publically discussed the Chinese peoples’ desire to govern themselves. On September 23, 2010, Wen Jiabao, China’s Premier, told CNN
“The peoples’ wishes for, and needs for, democracy and freedom are irresistible.” But even this bold statement, which is dangerous even coming from a Party member, has been blown off as just talk.
For a long time now, experts on Chinese politics have been saying that Wen Jiabao’s remarks about democracy do not actually mean that the Party will just hand over power to the masses, but rather that political reform will come when the people are ready for it.
This attitude that the Party has toward its lower classes can be seen from the beginning of the Chinese civilization until the present. Up until the 1950s, the Chinese state read and spoke a language not understood by the average worker, and made decisions for the merchants, farmers and scholars without much of their input. Since the birth of the Chinese civilization, the state has always been an authoritarian one.
Then the question becomes: When is a society ready for a democracy? I would argue that the most successful democracies that have peaceful elections, with low levels of corruption, have many economic and societal similarities with China, but are not completely the same.
Until China develops a stable middle class and a functioning rule of law,
China will not be ready to establish and maintain a successful democracy. In fact, if one of these criteria is missing, a democracy in China could possibly bear a negative outcome for the Chinese people.
The middle class in China is rapidly growing. Last year China took the number two spot of the largest GDP
in the world, right behind the United States. The Chinese economy has been growing between 7-10% a year for almost the past thirty years. And just recently, China became the world’s largest manufacturing nation in the world.
The past few times I was in Beijing, the capital of China, the first thing I always noticed was the fact that there were fewer bikes on the streets than the last time I came. In 2009, Chinese people bought
7 million cars, and in 2010, more than 8 million were sold. From my own perspective, I could easily see bikes and motor-pads almost completely replaced by automobiles within fifteen years. Clearly, a middle class in China is rising, and at an unprecedented rate.
Of course, it is easy to see Prada bags, 2011 Audis, and flashy new skyscrapers when you are in the heart of China’s capital. But if you step outside of the big city, you can find millions of struggling families.
In reality, China’s emerging middle class is still fragile, fickle and its future is uncertain. Even in 2011, the urbanized population is just under 50%. Every year China experiences thousands of protests by people who are demanding higher wages, improved working conditions, and better health benefits. The Chinese government is now attempting to appease the upcoming middle class by providing more government jobs, by utilizing green energy, by building cheaper housing for migrant workers and city dwellers, and by keeping food prices cheap and inflation low. Until the middle class becomes economically stable, a democracy in China would be unstable.
have demonstrated that having a strong rule of law is closely correlated with having a transparent democracy (there are contradictions to this theory). Currently, the rule of law in China is capricious and still works in favor of the Communist Party’s interests rather than for justice, human rights, and equality. Under Chinese law, people are not judged the same, particularly if someone challenges the authority of the Party.
Although the Chinese constitution claims to protect the rights of its people, it has frequently violated them. The Constitution of the People’s Republic of China (1982) states in Article 36 that religion in China is protected by the state and that the government may not discriminate against religious practices. However, the Party has frequently bypassed or ignored this article in the constitution and has quelled Tibetan protest
, oppressed the religious Uyghurs
in Western China, and has silenced many underground Christian churches
. The Party typically claims that these groups were undermining its quest to “build a harmonious socialist society.” It is difficult to imagine a functioning substantive and procedural democracy when a group or party is able to control how justice is implemented across the state.
I do recognize that since China’s entrance into the world economy in the 1970s, China has made great strides in establishing a functioning economy, building a middle class, and more or less, beginning to protect certain human rights. But this is not enough to maintain a functioning democracy.
As one can see in India, Venezuela and Japan, without a middle class, one party can dominate politics and prevent other parties from fairly competing for key offices. If China did happen to slide into the status of a democratic nation, it would be a shame if it happened too early. Until the people are able to feed and work for themselves, and fairly fight for basic human rights in the courts, a democracy in China is a pipe dream.