Was South Africa pushed, or did it jump?

Posted in Uncategorized on 05/10/2011 by editor

The South African government’s refusal to grant the Dalai Lama a visa has caused outrage this week. Many who look to South Africa as an example of where non-violence has succeeded over oppression have been sorely disappointed by this snubbing of the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.  Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who’s 80th birthday celebrations the Dalai Lama was to attend, made a particularly scathing speech over the affair, saying that the ANC were “worse than the apartheid government”.

Many have made the obvious connection to South African Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe’s recent visit to China and the deals signed there over mineral resources and financial cooperation. It seems obvious that China would use these deals as leverage to prevent a high-profile visit by His Holiness to South Africa, and this may very well be the case. But the Dalai Lama’s initial application for a visa was made back in August, and even then the South African government began delaying the process claiming that His Holiness’ paperwork was incomplete and making other bureaucratic excuses. Certainly Beijing could have been applying pressure from a distance at that stage, but this is usually done quite vocally with public announcements of how the wrong decision could hurt the feelings of the Chinese people. In the absence of such proclamations it seems more likely that Cape Town acted preemptively to please China and win favour in the then upcoming talks.

If this is indeed what happened, it would form part of a growing trend amongst governments to offer political gifts to China in the hope of better relations. In 2008 the British government changed it’s official policy on Tibet from it being under Chinese suzerainty to recognising it as part of China, with no obvious reciprocal benefit for Britain from China. That same year Malawi became the most recent country to switch diplomatic relations from Taiwan to China. And this year Tajikistan ceded 1,158 sq km of its own territory to China in an act of obvious appeasement.

It is clear that these “gifts” are an attempt to cosy up to what is fast becoming the world’s second superpower, but they are also alarmingly reminiscent of the attitude of various nations towards Nazi Germany during the 1930s. Just as then, it seems governments of the world are prepared to overlook human rights abuses and military ambitions in exchange for security and financial gain. But worse than that, they now seem to be becoming willing agents of China’s oppression, even acting without the empty promises that Neville Chamberlain was prepared to accept.

We can only hope that the negative publicity the South African government has received over this debacle will make other governments think twice about making such preemptive gestures for China’s benefit in future. If not, we may end up with history repeating itself.


Practice Makes Perfect

Posted in Uncategorized on 21/09/2011 by editor

Until fairly recently Li Keqiang had done surprisingly little foreign travel for a senior Chinese leader. Most other members of the Politburo Standing Committee, the nine most important leaders in China, travel extensively and often meet visiting diplomats. But not Vice-Premiere Li, who has generally kept a fairly low profile.

However, over the past year this has begun to change, and it’s pretty likely this has something to do with Li’s expected promotion to the position of Premiere in 2012 when Wen Jiabao retires. Only this week he met with both former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and President of the China-Britain Business Council, Sir David Brewer. Both meetings were pretty soft, with both sides giving each other a metaphorical slap on the back and certainly not discussing any awkward issues like Tibet or human rights. This, and the fact that the meetings were at the invitation of the Chinese People’s Institute of Foreign Affairs, can’t help but make me think that they were a diplomatic warm-up exercise for the Premiere-in-waiting.Li Keqiang meets Gordon Brown

Of course, they could also be a chance for Li to get back in the saddle after his disastrous visit to Hong Kong in August. Many Hong Kong residents saw the visit as symbolic of Beijing’s attempts to exert more direct influence over the Special Administrative Region and a string of protests were organised to coincide with Li’s major appointments. These protests and the heavy-handed tactics used by Li’s security to deal with them brought about a major public relations nightmare for the Chinese government, but one incident in particular left a significant stain on the occasion.Hong Kong Protest

On the 18th August, the final day of Li’s visit, he arrived at Hong Kong University at the invitation of the school president, which led to the university being put on full lock-down by the Hong Kong police. Despite Li stating that he had come to Hong Kong to “look a lot and listen a lot” to local people’s concerns, students and alumni were prevented from speaking to him and three that attempted to approach the Vice-Premier were tackled to the ground by police. One of the students, Samuel Li Shing-hong, was even locked in a staircase for an hour, an act which constitutes false imprisonment. This incident, which has become known as the “Hong Kong 818 Incident” has prompted further protests, as well as a call for the resignation of police commissioner Andy Tsang. Even members of the pro-Beijing movement in Hong Kong have come out against the police tactics used during the visit.

Whilst Li is expected to become the next Premier, it is by no means a certainty at this stage. He has already been beaten to the post of President by Xi Jinping, despite being a close ally of Hu Jintao, and a few more public embarrassments like this could put a serious dent in his career. But at least his time in Hong Kong has given him a taste of what to expect when he encounters Tibetan freedom protests on future trips overseas, as he is going to see a lot of them.

Perfect Man for the Job

Posted in Uncategorized on 31/08/2011 by editor

I think it’s fair to say that few Tibetans will be sad to see the back of Zhang Qingli, the TAR Party Secretary who was replaced a few days ago. After all, he was responsible for implementing hard-line Communist Party policy with a personal zeal that was not only terrifying, but marked him out even amongst his predecessors. Zhang ordered the horrific crackdowns following the uprising in Tibet in 2008, not to mention the continued campaign of “patriotic education” in Tibet’s monasteries, and is complicit in the detention and torture of hundreds of political prisoners. It is clear he had utter contempt for the Tibetan people, but he always saved his worst vitriol for the Dalai Lama, variously calling him “a wolf in monk’s robes” and “the scum of Buddhism”. Zhang even used his final speech as Party Secretary of the TAR to take a parting shot at His Holiness saying that he would never forget the “resolute struggle with the Dalai clique”. Charming.

Chen Quanguo (left) and Zhang Qingli (right)

But what about the new guy? Zhang’s replacement, Chen Quanguo, is unsurprisingly Han Chinese. He was born and spent most of his working life in Henan Province where he slowly worked his way up through the party before becoming Vice-Governor of Henan under Governor Li Keqiang, who is, incidentally, tipped to be the next Premier of China. Chen continued climbing the greasy pole, becoming Deputy Party Secretary of Henan, then being transferred to neighbouring Hebei Province, before eventually becoming Governor there in early 2010. So to get so high up in the Party he must have kept his nose pretty clean, right? Not at all. There’s a string of scandals and dodgy goings on linked to Chen Quanguo.

Take, for example, the “Li Gang Incident”. In October 2010, whilst Chen was Governor of Hebei Province, a 22-year-old drunk driver named Li Qiming ran over two students at Hebei University, killing one and seriously injuring the other. When he was apprehended by university security he was heard shouting a line that is now famous in China: “Sue me if you dare, my father is Li Gang!” Li Gang, it turned out, was Deputy Director of the local Public Security Bureau. A national scandal was born. Communist Party officials and the Central Propaganda Department made attempts to suppress reports of the incident and university officials pressured students to keep quiet, but news of what happened spread through the internet like wildfire. The incident even spawned its own web meme. An investigation by Chinese netizens was started and it soon became apparent that not only did Li Gang have a criminal son, but was himself involved in corruption, as evidenced by the 5 properties he owned; far beyond the means of his police wages. Now, it’s hard to say whether Chen Quanguo was directly involved in the attempts to keep the “Li Gang Incident” out of the press, but as the second highest authority in the province he had a major hand in how the incident was dealt with.


Bishop Joseph Li Liangui

Just a month after Li Gang Gate there was more trouble. The government sanctioned National Congress of Catholic Representatives was coming up and those pesky catholic clergy didn’t want to attend. Not all that surprising given that this sham event is opposed by the Vatican due to Chinese government meddling in the ordination of priests and bishops. As Hebei, Chen’s previous province, is home to a quarter of China’s catholics it became a focus for attempts to bully and harass priests into attending. Some where “escorted” to the congress, others were threatened, and Bishop Joseph Li Liangui, who disappeared 2 weeks before, was warned he would be listed as a “wanted person” if he didn’t attend. Again there’s no direct evidence that Chen was involved in this oppression, but he was the provincial Governor, how could he not have been involved? And besides, intimidating religious figures is a skill that will come in very handy in Tibet.


Gao YaojieWhilst it’s difficult to pin the last two incidents directly on Chen Quanguo, this last one has his fingerprints all over it. In 2007, it was announced that 80-year-old HIV/AIDS activist Dr Gao Yaojie was to be awarded the “Global Leadership Award, Women Changing Our World” by the Vital Voices Global Partnership. She was immediately placed under house arrest in her home in Zhengzhou, Henan province, to prevent her from traveling to America to accept the award. There was public outcry around the world against Dr Gao’s detention and the Chinese government came under increasing pressure to release her. After a week, Dr Gao was visited by then Vice Party Secretary of Henan, Chen Quanguo, who praised her for her “long-standing contributions” to the province’s “education, health and AIDS prevention work.” Undeterred by this obvious attempt at whitewash, Dr Gao confronted Chen about the police officers outside her front door.

“I asked: ‘Didn’t the police downstairs stop you?’ He replied: ‘No, what police, there aren’t any police.’ He wouldn’t admit it.”

Dr Gao was eventually released and attended the award ceremony.

So whilst Chen has so far avoided much of the hard-line rhetoric of his predecessor, it seems he still has many of the necessary skills for the job: suppressing negative publicity, oppressing religious leaders and denying knowledge of human rights abuses. Seems like he was the perfect candidate for Party Secretary for the TAR.

The Enigma of Xi

Posted in Uncategorized on 23/08/2011 by editor

It seems that everyone is writing about Xi Jinping at the moment, at least everyone in America. The Wall Street Journal, CNN, the San Francisco Chronicle and a rather good article in the Washington Post have all given their opinion of the Chinese Vice President, even Comedy Central have got in on the action. But it’s not all that surprising as there are two very good reasons for this recent obsession:

  1. US Vice President Joe Biden has been spending a large amount of time getting to know Xi during his visit to China, including an intimate dinner date at a restaurant in Chengdu.
  2. Unless he does something profoundly stupid in the next year or so, Xi will become the next leader of the Chinese Communist Party in 2012 and the President of China in 2013.

But despite everything that’s being written about Xi Jinping, there’s very little information to go on, which is almost certainly why Mr Biden wants to get to know him better. The details of his life and career that have dribbled out of state mouth-pieces portray the man as dependable, incorruptible, a problem solver and a true member of the party. In a word, dull. But the real question, the one that Mr Biden I’m sure hopes to answer, is what sort of president will Xi Jinping be?

Given how little there is to go on, this is not an easy question to answer, but let’s examine the evidence. For Tibet supporters like myself, the biggest issue is how he views minority groups in China and what he thinks about human rights. In July this year he headed the central government delegation for the 60th anniversary celebrations of the “peaceful liberation of Tibet” (or brutal conquest to you and me). Whilst there he made several speeches, during one of which he made the following announcement:

“[We] should thoroughly fight against separatist activities by the Dalai clique by firmly relying on all ethnic groups… and completely smash any plot to destroy stability in Tibet and jeopardise national unity.”

Well, that clarifies that then; a true tow-the-party-line kinda guy. Or is he? Xi also visited Xinjiang (East Turkestan) in June 2009; another occupied territory that was experiencing rising tensions between the local ethnic Uighurs and Han Chinese immigrants. Whilst there, it was reported by British journalist John Gitting that “he insisted that the local party should appoint officials who could do a better job of handling ethnic relations. He warned that they should solve the ‘real difficulties’ that Uighurs suffer in housing, food, health, education and employment.” It’s unclear whether this was a genuine sentiment, or simply a show for the foreign press, bit it is clear that he had a real grasp of the fundamental issues whether he truly intended to address them or not.

Xi has also expressed what appear to be relatively liberal views elsewhere. From 2003 to 2007, whilst serving as Communist Party chief in Zhejiang province, he was also a regular columnist for the Zhejiang Daily newspaper. In his short opinion pieces he often wrote about the need for greater transparency, an end to corruption and a desire for party leaders to better understand the man on the street. Whilst it might sound surprising and controversial to criticise the party like this, in reality most people, including top party officials, already concede that these issues are the biggest threat to the party’s continued rule. Indeed, they are at the heart of most of the demonstrations that occur all over China everyday.

So if we’re being optimistic, it seems that Xi has a good understanding of the social problems affecting China and the occupied territories and has a fairly practical approach to dealing with these problems, which, if true, is a refreshing change. However, when it comes to deeper political issues, such as Tibetan independence and human rights, I think we will see much of what we have seen before from previous leaders. Criticism from other countries about what China considers to be internal affairs has always been met with an attitude of “keep your nose out of our business”. We’ve already seen this attitude from Xi; in February 2009 whilst on a trip to Mexico he rather undiplomatically stated that:

“there are a few foreigners, with full bellies, who have nothing better to do than try to point fingers at our county”.

It is also pretty unlikely that we will see any serious reforms from Xi that might lead to greater political freedoms in China. Even if he harbours such ideals, I’m sure he is aware that the main voice of reform in the current party leadership, Premiere Wen Jiabao, has been politically isolated because of his reformist views and Xi will not wish to suffer the same fate. Xi is a career politician in a cut-throat party. He has fought off Li Keqiang, the current president’s first choice of successor, to the top spot thanks to the support of other party members, many of whom are hard-liners, and he will need their continued support throughout his presidency.

Whatever leadership style Xi Jinping ultimately adopts, one thing is clear; he will soon become one of the most powerful men on Earth with an impact that will affect Tibet, China and the rest of the world. Sadly I think it is unlikely that Mr Biden will be sharing his conclusions about Xi Jinping with the rest us anytime soon, so for now we must continue to keep a watchful eye on the next president of the most populous nation.

Grandpa Wen and the Human Flesh Search Engine

Posted in Uncategorized on 17/08/2011 by editor

Premier Wen Jiabao, affectionately known as Grandpa Wen, is the caring, cuddly and human face of the Chinese Communist leadership. Whenever there is a national catastrophe Wen soon appears with a wreath in his hands and a tear in his eye to comfort those in mourning. But after the recent high-speed train crash in Wenzhou it took Wen five days to put in an appearance, despite massive public outrage over the incident. So what took so long? Wen’s excuse was that he had been ill and unable to leave his bed.

Fair enough, you might think; at 69 years old it’s not unreasonable to assume he might not be as fit and healthy as he once was. But something was odd about this; simply put, Chinese leaders NEVER admit to any kind of weakness. As it turns out, people’s initial skepticism was correct. Photos soon started to appear on the internet of Wen greeting foreign dignitaries and enjoying banquets, all taken in the last few days.

So where did these photos come from and who was brave enough to post them? No one is exactly sure, but one answer maybe a rising internet phenomenon in China; the Human Flesh Search Engine.

It might sound like some giant pornography database, but the Human Flesh Search Engine (HFSE) is in fact an online collaboration of Chinese netizens who trawl the internet for information in support of moral crusades and to issue their own brand of vigilante justice. It’s emergence has been the subject of academic papers and it has already been used to expose personal details of animal abusers, reunite a homeless man with his family and even reveal evidence of police corruption.

Despite drawing condemnation from the Supreme People’s Court, the Human Flesh Search Engine has until now steered clear of directly attacking the higher reaches of the Communist Party; so has Wen become it’s first government victim? Whilst this incident certainly bares hallmarks of the HFSE, it’s difficult to say for sure. What is certain is that this marks a shift in online activism in China. Wen maybe on his way out of the Party leadership, retiring in 2012, but never before have Chinese netizens attacked such a high ranking member of the CCP in such a direct manner. Coupled with the recent on-air criticism by a CCTV News anchor of the pace of development in China, it is clear that cracks are starting to appear in the Chinese government’s control of the media and internet, which might just give activists in China that little bit of wiggle room they need.

Interesting Times

Posted in Uncategorized on 17/08/2011 by editor

There is said to be a Chinese curse that goes “may you live in interesting times”.

I think it is fair to say that interesting times lay ahead within the Chinese government. In 2012 and 2013 many of the highest ranking members of the Chinese Communist Party will be forced to retire, including President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao, paving the way for a new generation of leaders in China. Many of these rising stars within the Party are little known in the West, so I have started this blog to take a closer look at them and the old guard who will soon be leaving.

The name “Little Emperors” not only refers to the role these men play in being the new leaders of old imperial China, Little Emperors is also the name given to the generation of spoilt, selfish, precocious Chinese children that the infamous One-Child policy has created. This attitude of privilege is often found amongst the “princelings” as well, the children of old Communist party leaders who now, or soon will, fill many of the leadership positions themselves.