China Hotline Hiatus

It’s been more than a few weeks since I updated here, and it’s probably about time to put in an official word. Right now my day job is starting to entail more and more writing about China, which is using a lot of the energy for which I had previously been using this site as an outlet. When events warrant longer blog posts or opinions which I can’t put forth at work, I may still put them here- but for the moment, probably no more news aggregating. I’ll keep the site up, and we’ll see if/when regular updates start to make sense again.

-The Management

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“A New Map in Chinese Passports Stirs Anger Across the Region”

China’s quest to make all of her neighbors angry is starting to get make some serious progress (via Mark MacDonald):

China’s new passports — embossed with a map showing disputed territories as belonging solely to the mainland — are causing quite the diplomatic furor in Asia.

India, Vietnam, Taiwan and the Philippines have all objected to the new map, which puts a number of island chains and border areas under Beijing’s sovereignty.

Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said in a statement that Beijing was “not targeting a specific country” with the revised passport map, noting that “China is willing to communicate with the relevant countries.”

Shi Yinhong, a professor of international affairs at Renmin University, said in The Financial Times that the new map could “demonstrate our national sovereignty but it could also make things more problematic and there is already more than enough trouble” over territorial disputes.

“We are not prepared to accept it,” said Salman Khurshid, the Indian foreign minister. “We, therefore, ensure that our flags of disagreement are put out immediately when something happens. We can do it in an agreeable way or you can do it in a disagreeable way.”

India, meanwhile, has come up with its own map, which it is stamping into the passports of Chinese citizens seeking Indian visas.

Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency, said that Vietnamese border officials — not wanting to appear to validate the new Chinese map — were refusing to stamp visas into the passports of Chinese visitors.

Instead, Vietnam was issuing visas on separate pieces of paper that are inserted into the passports.

Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario sent a verbal note to China’s embassy in Manila saying that “the Philippines strongly protests the inclusion of the nine-dash line in the e-passport as such image covers an area clearly part of the Philippines’ territory and maritime domain.”

The Chinese passport map includes the popular Taiwanese tourist sites of Sun Moon Lake and Cingshui Cliffs. That did not sit well with President Ma Ying-jeou, who said in a statement that Beijing should not “unilaterally damage the status quo of the hard-fought stability across the Taiwan Strait.”

Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council said: “China has ignored the truth and sparked disputes by including pictures of our territory and landscape in its new Chinese passports. It should put aside disputes and face up to reality.”

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Two More Self-Immolations in Rebkong

If Xi really is thinking about overhauling restrictions on religion in Tibet and Xinjiang, now would be a really good time to get to work on that. The most recent burning, via Phayul:

Sangdag Tsering, 24, set himself on fire in front of a local Chinese government office in Dokar Mo town in the Rebkong region of eastern Tibet at around 7 pm (local time). Tsering, father of a three-year-old son, passed away at the site of his protest.

His self-immolation came just hours after a Tibetan woman, Chagmo Kyi passed away after setting herself on fire outside a Chinese office in Rongwo town.

Sources tell Phayul that earlier in the day, Chinese authorities summoned a large meeting of local Tibetans and gave out clear orders, barring them from visiting families of self-immolators to pay their respect and condolences.

Chinese security personnel arrived at the scene and tried to douse the flames but Sangdag Tsering succumbed to his injuries.

“Monks from two nearby monasteries and thousands of local Tibetans gathered at the protest site and carried his body to the Gonshul Sangag Mindrol Dhargeyling for his cremation,” Wangchuk said.

The same source added that Sangdag Tsering had off late repeatedly expressed his frustration over the lack of freedom in Tibet, His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s absence, and the continuing wave of self-immolations in Tibet.

About a week back, he had written a short poem espousing loyalty to Tibet and emailed it to a friend.

The last two lines of the poem written in Tibetan reads: “The brave men of the snow mountains, Don’t forget your loyalty to Tibet.”

And from RFA:

Chakmo Kyi, a taxi driver, burned herself and died at the doorstep of the tax office in Rebgong’s capital Rongwo at around 4 p.m. on Saturday, triggering a clash for her charred body by local residents and Chinese security forces, sources said, citing local contacts.

Two hours later, thousands of monks and local people gathered at a cremation site in Rongwo for her funeral and chanted prayers for the long life of the Dalai Lama, who lives in exile in India.

“When Chinese security forces arrived to take away her body, local Tibetans in large numbers repossessed the body from the hands of the security forces,” Sonam, a Tibetan living in exile who had contact in the region, told RFA’s Tibetan service.

“After that, monks of Rongwo monastery and local Tibetans, estimated at thousands, took the body to the Dhongya-la cremation site. Many Chinese officials were present and observed the large gathering,” Sonam said.

Free Tibet said there was a heavy security presence in Rongwo, which has been the scene of several huge protests this year, as well as a growing number of self-immolations.

At least 20 trucks, each with 20 armed police standing in the back, are stationed at intersections throughout the town, the group said.

There are reports of cars, each with about five government officials inside, positioned every 20 paces along most streets, monitoring the population, Free Tibet said.

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Last Takes on the Party Congress

A few more before the Congress fades out and life under the new regime begins. First, from Evan Osnos:

On Thursday, however, the Great Hall of the People returned to its full orthodox splendor, if only for a few hours, for a peculiar ritual to mark the arrival of the new Standing Committee of the Politburo, the group of seven men who will lead the People’s Republic for the next ten years. (If they succeed, China’s Communist Party will have edged out the Soviet Union for the title of history’s longest-serving authoritarian regime.) Their début is, by tradition, a kind of Communist catwalk—officially, a “meet the press” opportunity, though no questions are asked, and none are answered. It is a performance as retro and choreographed as “Cats,” but, in its details, it gave us a few intriguing hints about the men who will seek to project China’s Communist Party into the future.

In person, Xi is a sharp contrast to the man he replaces, the robotic Hu Jintao, who spoke esoteric jargon about “harmonious society” and “a scientific outlook on development.” Hu leaves office unloved.

Divining anything about Xi’s politics from his public persona is a mug’s game, but one thing is beyond doubt: he conveys an understanding of style that utterly eluded his predecessor, and an awareness that he will be judged more openly and mercilessly than any paramount Chinese leader before him. His citizens’ experience with technology, prosperity, and cynicism has forced him to confront a problem that is now more acute than his predecessors ever faced: he was never elected, but he must figure out a way to be liked.

Those gestures of populist sensibility—the sense that, like it or not, the Party must figure out a way to be responsive—stand out especially because they are at odds with the credentials of the men that Xi will have by his side. Xi did not choose them exactly; they are a compromise between powerful families and factions. And when the members were unveiled, their composition confirmed what pundits had predicted: reform-minded candidates had been sidelined. Instead, the Party chose some of its most ardent conservatives. One is a seasoned propagandist. Another received his economics training in North Korea. They were so faithful to precedent that all but one wore a nearly identical dark suit and red tie.

When it was all over this morning, and the seven men had returned once again to the secluded backstage of the Great Hall of the People, trailed by their security, and the stage where they had stood was suddenly empty. I walked up to the spot where Xi Jinping had stood to deliver his remarks. It was carpeted in a brilliant shade of red, and at his feet there was a small piece of tape in the shape of the number one, to indicate where the most powerful man in China should stand. He looked out over a line of poinsettias and ferns, to a wall of cameras, and a world of expectations from his people. It must have been terrifying.

Next, a speculative piece from Bloomberg:

China’s new leadership, headed by Xi Jinping, will probably unveil new market-oriented changes in late 2013, according to Li Jiange, head of the country’s biggest investment bank.

Li, chairman of China International Capital Corp. and a vice chairman of state-owned Central Huijin Investment Co., which holds stakes in the nation’s biggest lenders, said the focus will probably be on reducing government intervention in the economy and breaking up state monopolies. Li spoke at Caixin Media’s annual conference in Beijing yesterday.

“Expectations are high” for the new leadership to make changes as government intervention, ranging from excessive regulation to rigid price controls, has become “unbearable” over the last couple of years, said Li, who previously worked for the Development Research Center, an organization that advises the State Council, China’s cabinet.

“When inflation was high, many Chinese stores, merchants and even producers received phone calls from regulators telling them not to increase prices,” Li said. “But how can a supermarket not change the price of pork if hog prices are rising,” he said.

There are also some sources speculating that Xi is planning to unveil changes to religious policies with an eye towards improving the situation in Tibet and Xinjiang- more if I see a proper writeup about it. Next, Susan Shirk at Chinafile says that the age of China’s new leaders may have been a key point in choosing this seven-person group:

So without an election, how did the self-interested supremos manage to agree on how power at the top would be shared?

But there is a third possibility that looks just as plausible: namely, reliance on a seniority principle. The new PBSC is more than one year older on average than the last one (63.4 vs 62.1 years). The new leaders who were promoted to the Standing Committee are all sixty-four years old or older. Of the seven members, all but General Secretary Xi Jinping and the presumptive premier Li Keqiang will need to retire in five years after one term. At that time, five (or more, depending on the size of the next PBSC) additional politicians now on the Politburo will get the chance to move up.

Seniority, plus a norm of five-year instead of ten-year terms, allows power, patronage, and the other rewards of top office to be shared more widely so that no one loses too much. Xi Jinping can work to get his close associates into the PBSC in 2017.

In this transition, there were eight Politburo members competing for five PBSC slots, which means three disappointed and potentially disgruntled losers: Wang Yang (age fifty-seven), Li Yuanchao (age sixty-two), and Liu Yandong (female, age sixty-seven). Wang Yang and Liu Yuanchao likely will be consoled with a soft promise (not enforceable, of course) that they will move up next time. The only one who has reached the glass ceiling is Madame Liu, and they are probably counting on her, as one of the very rare women ever to rise to a senior political position, not to push back.

Seniority, a useful rule for managing the social strain of competition in organizations everywhere, has helped the CCP leadership solve the power-sharing problem this time around. But it has worsened its credibility problem by widening the gap between the Party’s rhetoric about intra-party democracy and the highly secretive and concentrated process its leaders actually used.

And finally, Edward Wong on the lack of real meritocracy in the Party:

The Communist Party and its acolytes like to brag that the party promotion system is a meritocracy, producing leaders better suited to run a country than those who emerge from the cacophony of elections and partisan bickering in full-blown democracies. But critics, including a number of party insiders, say that China’s secretive selection process, rooted in personal networks, has actually created a meritocracy of mediocrity.

Instead of pure talent, political patronage and family connections are the critical factors in ascending to the top, according to recent academic studies and analyses of the backgrounds of the leaders.

In the United States and other Western countries, some prominent political families have certainly wielded power through successive generations — think of the Kennedys or Bushes — but entrenched dynasties and the influence of elders are becoming particularly noteworthy in China. The increasing prevalence of the so-called princelings, those related by birth or marriage to earlier Communist Party luminaries, is one sure sign that family background plays a decisive role in ascending to power. Four of the new standing committee members, including Xi Jinping, come from the red aristocracy. One of them, Wang Qishan, who seems to prefer blue ties, married into it.

“Xi Jinping himself didn’t come to power because of outstanding political achievements,” said Pu Zhiqiang, a rights lawyer, who added that he believed the new leadership was “quite mediocre.”

“Normal logic is that based on a meritocracy, whoever is better in terms of performance should be picked,” said Bo Zhiyue, a scholar of Chinese politics at the National University of Singapore. “But in Chinese politics, they have a logic of reverse selection,” he added. “If A is better than B, then A should be eliminated.”

That antimeritocracy logic was at work even in the assigning of portfolios. Many political insiders say that of the seven men, Wang Qishan, with his years of experience in the finance sector, would be the most able to take on day-to-day management of China’s economy. But they said he was shunted aside to be head of an anticorruption commission because Li Keqiang, the second-ranked party member and designated heir to the title of government premier, which carries overall responsibility for the economy, and other leaders feared sharing that power with the confident Mr. Wang would cause friction.

“It’s sort of absurd,” said Wu Jiaxiang, once an adviser to Zhao Ziyang, the party chief purged during the 1989 student uprising. “It shows how power games can distort the arrangements.”

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Party Congress Reaction Roundup

The NYT covers the end of the Congress:

Minutes before noon on Thursday, after a confirmation vote by the party’s new Central Committee, Mr. Xi, 59, strode onto a red-carpeted stage at the Great Hall of the People accompanied by six other party officials who will form the new Politburo Standing Committee, the elite group that makes crucial decisions on the economy, foreign policy and other major issues. Before their appearance, the new lineup was announced by Xinhua, the state news agency.

“We have every reason to be proud — proud, but not complacent,” said Mr. Xi, looking relaxed in a dark suit and a wine-red tie. “Inside the party, there are many problems that need be addressed, especially the problems among party members and officials of corruption and taking bribes, being out of touch with the people, undue emphasis on formalities and bureaucracy, and other issues.” He added, “To forge iron, one must be strong.”

Mr. Hu, 69, also turned over the post of civilian chairman of the military on Thursday to Mr. Xi, which made this transition the first time since the promotion of the ill-fated Hua Guofeng in 1976 that a Chinese leader had taken office as head of the party and the military at the same time. That gives Mr. Xi a stronger base from which to consolidate his power, even as he grapples with the continuing influence of party elders.

Two points from Isaac Stone Fish on the differences with this new generation of leaders:

-They’re not engineers any more.

In 2006, each of the nine members of the Politburo Standing Committee had trained as an engineer; then-President Hu Jintao studied hydropower while his Premier Wen Jiabao was an expert in geology. That started to shift with the ascension in 2007 of China’s new leader Xi Jinping (he studied law along with chemical engineering) and his deputy Li Keqiang (who studied law and received a PhD in economics). The latest lineup features a far more diverse band of former economists, research fellows, and even a journalist. Without reading too much into how career background affects leadership styles — a 2006 article comparing U.S. and Chinese leaders in Bloomberg said that “engineers strive for ‘better,’ while lawyers prepare for the worst — it does mean that they bring a more varied set of experiences to the job.

-China’s new leader is far more personable than the last chairman.

By smiling and seeming relaxed, Xi already proved himself a far more natural presence than Hu Jintao, the faceless, stiflingly boring bureaucrat who stepped down yesterday. Hu and his interregnum of boringness was the exception rather than the rule. The despotic Mao Zedong astounded people with his charisma; the 4’11 Deng Xiaoping, who ran China in the 1980s and 1990s, charmed with his smile. Even though nature bestowed Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao’s predecessor as president of China, with less of an ability to appear at ease, he at least tried to be likeable. If we’re lucky, Xi will end the last decade’s tradition of devastatingly boring speeches.

And finally, a strong piece from Sophie Richardson of HRW on what Xi and company could do right now to fix some of China’s human rights problems:

1. Set the Courts Free

Creating independent entities whose highest loyalty is not to the party but to the law itself would go a long way towards stemming corruption and renewing some of the waning faith in the system. Xi could abolish the party judicial committees that dictate some court rulings, and allow for the establishment of a truly independent bar association and for lawyers to operate according to their professional judgment rather than local officials’ political concerns. Such changes will invariably mean more prosecutions of party members and challenges to various laws, but a wiser leader would prefer to see these play out in a courtroom than face public ire and international embarassment.

2. Liberalize the Press

The Chinese constitution already provides lip service to freedom of expression, but the rise of the Internet has made censoring and controlling media content an endless and ultimately losing battle. Yes, a free press will mean embarrassing scandals and criticism of the government, but this is already happening. The benefits to the government of good information from China’s many excellent journalists and the opportunity to explain government initiatives devoid of propaganda could temper the discomfiture of exposure.

5. Improve Treatment of Ethnic Minorities

Beijing’s policies in Tibet and Xinjiang, which constitute about half of China’s territory, may be its greatest human rights failure over the last decade. Massive investment and infrastructure development have done little to offset the anger and despair of Tibetans and Uighurs forced to endure ever-tightening restrictions on their culture, language, movements, and religion. In the wake of protests in Tibetan areas in 2008 and in Xinjiang in 2009, the central government did not address underlying grievances, instead responding with enforced disappearances and harsh sentences. Since that time, access to both regions has been heavily restricted. It should be a source of profound shame and sense of failure to Beijing that at least 62 Tibetans have chosen to protest these policies by setting themselves ablaze, and it is hard to see the disproportionate indictment of Uighurs on state security charges and the razing of ancient parts of the Silk Road city of Kashgar as anything other than a grim indications of Beijing’s strategy for these regions.

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Party Congress Ends, Self-Immolations Continue

Two Tibetans self-immolated today in Rebkong while Xi Jinping, a thousand miles away in Beijing, gets used to his new office (via Phayul):

Adding to the alarming escalation in self-immolation protests inside Tibet, a second Tibetan set herself on fire today in an apparent protest against China’s occupation of Tibet.

Tangzin Dolma, 23, set herself ablaze at around 12 pm (local time) today in Tsemo region of Rebkong, eastern Tibet.

Exile sources are saying that Tibetans from around the region started gathering in Tsemo upon hearing news of the self-immolation protest.

This is the second self-immolation that took place in Tibet today. Kharbum Gyal, a teenaged Tibetan set himself on fire in the same region earlier today and passed away in his protest.

The Daily Times, a Pakistani newspaper I’ve never heard of, has a good op-ed on that subject:

It is an eloquent testimony to our skewed priorities that we in South Asia devote reams of newsprint on the American presidential election and ignore the spate of self-immolations in Tibet.

Most of the 63 self-immolations share certain similarities. Those who died chose to set themselves ablaze outside famous monasteries or public places. Their choice of venue suggests the self-immolators consciously sought to turn their death into a public spectacle, in the hope of conveying to both the people and police the meaning of their action. Yet the audience could not interpret their action in any way other than as a protest against the Chinese government, for they shouted, as they turned into a raging ball of fire, slogans for freedom or demanding the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet.

Some self-immolators chose to record their statements before walking to their chosen site of death. In their English rendering, these testimonials are remarkable for the absence of fear of death in them, their willingness to undergo searing pain, and their expression of anguish at the repression of their people. For instance, Lama Soepa, before lighting fire to his body doused in inflammable liquid, was recorded saying, “I am giving away my body as an offering of light to chase away the darkness…”

In a piece for The Guardian in 2005, Eagleton wrote, “The martyr bets his life on a future of justice and freedom; the suicide bomber bets your life on it. But both believe that a life is only worth living if it contains something worth dying for.”

The self-immolator is as much Eagleton’s martyr, as both kill themselves without harming anyone else through their act. Indeed, the statements of Tibetans who burnt themselves to death are remarkable for not preaching vengeance against their tormentors, for not even asking those alive to emulate them. They offer their bodies as a voluntary sacrifice for preserving the cultural unity of Tibet.

Thus, in setting their bodies on fire they are in reality cremating themselves — and also mocking their tormentors who, unable to establish supremacy over the hearts and minds of Tibetans, forever seek to control their bodies.

The feared erosion of their legitimacy prompts the Chinese to take retributive action against the monasteries to which the dead were affiliated. This in itself balloons the number of people willing to self-immolate, creating a crisis of legitimacy for Beijing.

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“Party Congress Diary, Day 4″

FP’s Kathleen McLaughlin has been posting updates from Beijing over the last week, and her latest is a look at the unrelenting sexism of the Communist Party:

Moving in synchronicity with their interchangeable smart suits and tidy hairstyles, the most noticeable women at the 18th party congress are, by design, part of the backdrop. Several hundred young women, chosen from a nationwide search, are working during the week as “ceremony girls,” a ubiquitous feature of official China, inside both the Great Hall of the People in Beijing where the congress is being held and the media center in the Western part of the city, as the Chinese Communist Party installs its next generation of top leaders.

Serving tea, ushering people to their seats, and standing in neat rows while posing for the cameras, “ceremony girls” are ever present in official China, from the sexy soldiers marching in China’s 60th-anniversary parade in 2009 to the young women delivering medals at 2008’s Beijing Olympics.

Their constant, attentive presence is a glaring reminder of what is forever missing from China’s top tier of power: women. They can pour tea with a smile, but they don’t get a seat at the table.

Gender discrimination often seems to be getting worse in China: Although a large percentage of Chinese women are employed (70 percent, compared with 25 percent in India), urban Chinese women earn about 67 percent of what men make, according to a 2010 survey from the All-China Women’s Federation. This summer, women in Guangzhou shaved their heads in protest of growing discriminatory policies around the country that require girls to score higher than boys on college entrance exams.

China’s ranking in the World Economic Forum’s annual Global Gender Gap report, which measures gender parity, is falling, from 57th place in 2008 to 69th this year.

“The gender-equality situation in China has not actually been improving in the past 30 years,” says Chan. “A small percentage of women can rise to the top in business and some sectors, but far more women are stuck in low-paid positions and service industries.”

Chan said there is “massive need” for policies that will improve women’s standing in China — things like girls’ education, affordable child care, and basic social services. “If any country prioritizes economic development and social stability ahead of social development, this kind of thing is bound to happen,” she says. “Historically and culturally, women in China have always been treated and still are treated as less important.” Just ask the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party, which on Nov. 9 published a slide show called: “‘Beautiful scenery’ at 18th CPC National Congress.” The scenery in the slide show? Women.

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