Emboldened China Wields Its Laws to Silence Critics From Abroad

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES AND ANDY TAI’S GOOGLE PLUS WEB SITE)

 

Asia Pacific

Emboldened China Wields Its Laws to Silence Critics From Abroad

By STEVEN LEE MYERS and CHRIS HORTON

BEIJING — On the morning he disappeared, the activist Lee Ming-cheh crossed from Macau into mainland China to meet with democracy advocates.

It was 177 days later when he reappeared in public, standing in the dock of a courtroom in central China last week, confessing to a conspiracy to subvert the Communist Party by circulating criticism on social media.

The circumstances surrounding Mr. Lee’s detainment remain murky, but what has made the case stand out from the many that the Chinese government brings against its critics is that Mr. Lee is not a citizen of China, but rather of Taiwan, the self-governing island over which Beijing claims sovereignty.

The proceedings against Mr. Lee, who is expected to be sentenced as soon as this week, punctuated what critics have warned are China’s brazen efforts to extend the reach of its security forces to stifle what it perceives as threats to its power emanating from overseas.

In recent months alone, China has sought the extradition of ethnic Uighur studentsstudying overseas in Egypt and carried out the cinematic seizure of a billionaire from a Hong Kong hotel in violation of an agreement that allows the former British colony to run its own affairs. The billionaire, Xiao Jianhua, now appears to be a material witness in another politically tinged investigation against the Chinese conglomerate Dalian Wanda.

China abruptly surfaced charges of rape against yet another billionaire, Guo Wengui, after he sought political asylum in the United States, where he has been making sensational accusations about the Communist Party’s leadership. Mr. Guo’s case could become a major test for the Trump administration’s relations with Beijing at a time of tensions over North Korea and trade.

The Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui has sought political asylum in the United States.

JAMES ESTRIN / THE NEW YORK TIMES

“China has been extending its clampdown — its choking of civil society — throughout the world, and often it is attempting this through official channels such as the U.N. or Interpol,” said Michael Caster, a rights campaigner who was a co-founder of the Chinese Urgent Action Working Group. “Unfortunately, they’re very adept at doing it.”

The Chinese Urgent Action Working Group, which provided seminars for lawyers and legal aid for defendants in China, folded last year after the country’s powerful Ministry of State Security arrested and held Mr. Caster’s colleague, Peter Dahlin, a Swedish citizen, for 23 days.

Mr. Caster noted that Interpol’s president, Meng Hongwei, is a veteran of China’s state security apparatus. Human Rights Watch recently reported that China was blocking the work of United Nations agencies investigating rights issues and preventing critics from testifying at hearings, including in one case the leader of the World Uyghur Congress, Dolkun Isa.

China’s economic and diplomatic clout has meant that few countries are willing or able to do much to challenge its extraterritorial legal maneuvers. Some have even gone along.

And countries as varied as Armenia, Cambodia, Indonesia, Kenya, Spain and Vietnam have all extradited to China scores of people accused in a spate of telephone swindles targeting Chinese citizens, even though the suspects are, like Mr. Lee, citizens of Taiwan.

“Treating Lee Ming-cheh as a mainland Chinese marks a major watershed,” said Hsiao I-Min, a lawyer at the Judicial Reform Foundation in Taiwan, who accompanied Mr. Lee’s wife from Taiwan to attend the trial.

Peter Dahlin, a Swedish citizen, was arrested in China and held for 23 days last year.

ADAM DEAN FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES

Mr. Lee’s case has added new strain in relations with Taiwan, which have soured since the election last year of a new president, Tsai Ing-wen. China has cut off official communications with Ms. Tsai’s government over her refusal to voice support for what Beijing calls the “1992 consensus,” which holds that the mainland and Taiwan are both part of the same China but leaves each side to interpret what that means.

In response to Mr. Lee’s legal odyssey, Ms. Tsai’s government has been relatively muted. “Our consistent position on this case is that we will do everything in our power to ensure his safe return while protecting the dignity of the nation,” said a spokesman for the presidential administration, Alex Huang.

China and Taiwan had in recent years cooperated on criminal investigations under a protocol that required each to notify the other in cases involving the arrests of its citizens. The Chinese government has recently abandoned such diplomatic niceties, officials in Taiwan say.

Taiwan’s government was notified of Mr. Lee’s arrest only when the public was — 10 days after his detainment in March near Macau, the former Portuguese colony that, like Hong Kong, is a special administrative region of China with its own legal system.

Whatever the veracity of his courtroom confession, Mr. Lee, 42, assumed enormous risk to make contact with rights campaigners inside China. A manager at Wenshan Community College in Taiwan’s capital, Taipei, Mr. Lee volunteered for a rights organization called Covenants Watch and often traveled to the mainland.

Mr. Lee’s wife, Lee Ching-yu, learned his case had come to a head when a state-appointed lawyer contacted her this month. She only found out about his court appearance last week in Yueyang, in the southern province of Hunan, from news reports that circulated two days later, according to Patrick Poon, a researcher at Amnesty International.

According to excerpts released by the Yueyang Intermediate People’s Court, Mr. Lee entered a guilty plea. He appeared with a Chinese co-defendant, Peng Yuhua, and together they were accused of trying to organize protests using the social media platforms WeChat and QQ, as well as Facebook, which is banned here.

Mr. Lee told the court that watching Chinese state television during his prolonged detention convinced him that he had been deceived by Taiwan’s free news media and was wrong about China’s political system. “These incorrect thoughts led me to criminal behavior,” he said.

Mr. Hsiao, the lawyer from Taiwan, said none of Mr. Lee’s acquaintances had heard of the co-defendant. Mr. Peng testified that together they had established chat groups online and formed a front organization, the Plum Blossom Company, with the aim of fomenting change. Mr. Hsiao said that no such company existed.

“He was a fake,” Mr. Hsiao said of Mr. Peng. “This guy does not really exist. He was playing a role.”

Ms. Lee, too, denounced her husband’s trial as a farce. “Today the world and I together witnessed political theater, as well as the differences between the core beliefs of Taiwan and China,” she said at her hotel in Yueyang, adding that the “norms of expression in Taiwan are tantamount to armed rebellion in China.”

Mr. Lee’s case has echoes of the fate of five booksellers in Hong Kong, four of whom who were spirited out of the semiautonomous city in the fall of 2015 after publishing gossipy material about Chinese political intrigues, which, while legal in Hong Kong, is not in China.

One bookseller, Lee Bo, is a British citizen. Another, Gui Minhai, is a naturalized Swedish citizen; he vanished from his seaside apartment in Pattaya, Thailand, in October 2015 and returned to China in a manner that has not been fully explained. He appeared on state television in January 2016 and said he had voluntarily returned to face punishment for a fatal car accident in 2003. He remains in prison.

“What happened to my father is a much larger issue,” Mr. Gui’s daughter, Angela Gui, who has been campaigning for his release, wrote in an email. “It shows that foreign citizens aren’t safe from Chinese state security, even when they are outside China’s borders. I find it strange that governments aren’t more worried about China’s new self-proclaimed role as world police.”

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China posts air pollution ‘battle plan’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SHANGHAI DAILY NEWS/SHINE)

 

China posts air pollution ‘battle plan’

CHINA has promised to cut average concentrations of PM2.5 airborne particles by more than 15 percent year on year in the winter months in 28 northern cities to meet key smog targets.

In a 143-page winter smog “battle plan” posted on its website yesterday, the Ministry of Environmental Protection said the new target, for the October-March period, would apply to Beijing and Tianjin, along with 26 other cities in the smog-prone provinces of Hebei, Shanxi, Shandong and Henan.

China’s efforts to control pollution have often roiled the prices of steel, iron ore and coal with output routinely curtailed as a result of emergency smog regulations and inspection campaigns.

China is under pressure this year to meet its 2017 air quality targets. It aims to cut 2012 levels of PM2.5 by more than a quarter in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region and bring average concentrations down to 60 micrograms per cubic meter in the Chinese capital.

But PM2.5 averages rose in the first seven months of the year as a result of near record-high smog in January and February, which China blamed on unfavorable weather conditions.

Experts still believe, however, that China remains on course to meet the 2017 targets set out in a groundbreaking air quality action plan published by the government in 2013.

“Actually, air quality from April to June was among the best over the last five years in Beijing, and we still have confidence in achieving the target,” said Shelley Yang, a project manager at the Clean Air Alliance of China, a non-profit organization that includes academic, government and corporate organizations that “care about clean air.”

The government is leaving nothing to chance, with some of China’s smoggiest cities under pressure to complete annual steel and coal closure targets by the end of September and implement tougher restrictions in the following months.

By October, big steelmaking cities such as Tangshan and Handan must have plans in place to cut output by as much as 50 percent to limit smog during the winter heating season from November.

The region is also under pressure to eliminate thousands of coal-fired boilers, further restrict road haulage of coal and ensure power generators, steel mills and coking plants complete upgrades aimed at controlling emissions before heating systems are switched on.

Hebei is responsible for a quarter of China’s steel output, with Tangshan alone producing around 100 million tons a year. Neighboring Shanxi is China’s biggest coal producer, with more than 900 million tons of annual output.

China Military Rises, While U.S. Declines: Interesting Times Of The 21st Century

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF FORBES)

 

Asia #ForeignAffairs

China Rises, While U.S. Declines: Interesting Times Of The 21st Century

I write about Asia in the 21st-century world economy.  Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.

This story appears in the September 2017 issue of Forbes Asia.Subscribe

Xi Jinping, China’s president, left, and Li Keqiang, China’s premier, at the third session of the 12th National People’s Congress in Beijing, China in March 2015. (Photographer: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg)

There is an Arab proverb, inspired by the Koran, that says, “He who predicts the future lies, even if he tells the truth.” In other words: If you make a prediction and it turns out right, it’s sheer luck, mate.

With that caveat, let me offer not a prediction but a hypothesis. On the basis of current trends, it would seem the world is experiencing one of its most profound transformations in history.

In essence, for the last half-millennium, since the rise of the Portuguese seaborne empire in the late 15th century, the world has been dominated by the West. Japan was the only non-Western nation to emerge as a global power, but it did so not by challenging the West but by joining it. It never had Asian allies but rather three successive Western allies: imperial Britain from 1902 to 1922, while Japan was an imperialist nation; Nazi Germany from 1937 to 1944, during which period it became a fascist military dictatorship; and the U.S. since 1952, as it became a “Western” democracy and joined the “Western” alliance.

China rising

China is rising as a, if not the, great global power of the 21st century, and the U.S., after having dominated the 20th century, is declining in the 21st.

Until it entered its “era of humiliation” in the century-plus following the first Opium War (1839), China was a rich and proud power. It then declined precipitously: Its share of global GDP fell from an estimated 33% in 1820 to 4% in 1950–even though it had an estimated 20% of world’s population. Until fairly recently, the words “Chinese” and “poor” were synonymous. China has no Western allies, only two–sort-of–Asian allies: North Korea and Pakistan. Unlike Japan, China is not seeking to emulate any Western system. When you ask what China is about, the answer is “Socialism with Chinese characteristics.”

Chinese paramilitary policemen stand in formation on Tiananmen Square after attending a ceremony to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on August 1, 2017. (Photo credit: ANDY WONG/AFP/Getty Images)

The emerging Chinese challenge is military and economic–but also historical, cultural, political, geopolitical, philosophical and ideological. Just as it was essential for the non-Western world in the 19th and 20th centuries to learn about the West, so is it incumbent on all to learn about China.

In doing so, it is difficult to imagine a better guide than Howard French’s Everything Under the Heavens: How the Past Helps Shape China’s Push for Global Power. This book is an outstanding font of knowledge and provides compelling insights into how China sees the world and its own destiny. It combines a bird’s-eye view of China’s past, present and possible future with a detailed worm’s-eye view, especially of its positions vis-à-vis Southeast Asian nations in the South China Sea and vis-à-vis Japan in the East China Sea.

French presents the Chinese viewpoint. You don’t have to condone it, but to be awake in the 21st century, you have to understand it. You also have to understand how Chinese see world history and how it applies to them. Thus, Chinese thought and policy leaders are quite familiar with how the Monroe Doctrine allowed the U.S. to assert a hegemonic position in Central America and to transform the Caribbean into an American lake. A 21st-century version of that doctrine is being crafted in Beijing and applied to East Asia.

U.S. declining

The rise of China is half of the global picture. The other half is the decline of the U.S., or indeed of the West generally. That is the theme of Edward Luce’s recent book The Retreat of Western Liberalism. Luce demonstrates that while Donald Trump as president is a potential disaster, it is a disaster that was waiting to happen. The decline of the U.S. and the retreat of Western liberalism imply, among other things, that the Western alliance that played such a crucial role in the second half of the 20th century is kaput. As Luce points out, while the end-of-history theory that prevailed at the turn of the century presumed democracy had won, in fact over the past decade, 25 democracies have failed.

U.S. President Donald Trump leaving the White House on August 22, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Thus, the question is “whether the Western way of life, and our liberal democratic systems, can survive this dramatic shift of global power… . Donald Trump’s victory crystallizes the West’s failure to come to terms with the reality it faces.”

Recent events in the U.S. come to mind while reading this passage in Luce’s book: “The future of Western democracy looks bleak if American politics hardens into two racially hostile camps. Donald Trump consciously stokes racist sentiment, and has given a rocket boost to the ‘alt right’ fringe of neo-Nazis and white nationalists.”

So as China rises and the U.S. declines, eyes are increasingly turning to Berlin and Angela Merkel. Germans–who on the global leadership front have been there, done that (and failed)–are not particularly keen to have this glory thrust upon them.

Chinese agency has another video on Doklam, minus the overt racism

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES) / (HOW DOES ONE SAY CHINA’S GOVERNMENT IS FULL OF S-IT IN MANDARIN?)(IS THE REASON DONALD TRUMP AND XI JINPING GET ALONG WITH EACH OTHER IS BECAUSE THEY ARE BOTH HABITUAL LIARS?) (TRS)

 

Chinese agency has another video on Doklam, minus the overt racism

Chinese news agency tries a different tack with a video explainer claiming “sober, cooperative solution is in need to tackle China-India border standoff”.

INDIA Updated: Aug 21, 2017 07:48 IST

HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
A screenshot of video posted by China Xinhua News on Twitter.
A screenshot of video posted by China Xinhua News on Twitter.

After last week’s bizarre, racist anti-India video, Beijing mouthpiece Xinhua is trying a “sober” approach.

It’s still pretty silly, but at least we’re spared the Chinese actors trying to pass off for Sikhs… and the unintentionally hilarious beards.

This time, Chinese news agency tries a different tack with a video explainer on the Doklam standoff that features a newsman in a suit arguing, not that China is right, but that India is wrong: why, is never explained.

There is even a vaguely conciliatory reference to the two countries’ great histories, during which the video shows a montage of the famous Xian warriors, followed (inexplicably) by a snippet featuring a camel caravan that is presumably meant to represent India!

Bhutan, the country caught in the middle of it all, gets no mention.

Still, there’s no overt racism in the new video, which must count as an improvement. This might even pass for a sign of grudging respect.

What explains the change of tone? Perhaps it’s an acknowledgment that last week’s video went too far into crazytown. Or perhaps, a recognition that the Dokram affair will not be resolved by blatant propaganda directed at Indians, especially when their own response has been to laugh out loud.

Far be it for us to suggest that the video Hindustan Times commissioned, featuring comedienne Vasu Primlani had anything to do with it…

Seeking Greater Global Power, China Looks to Robots and Microchips

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

(https://nyti.ms/2uVyOFX)

 

Photo

A robotic boat patrolling on Swan Lake in Hefei in central China in July. The country hopes to become a global leader in areas like robotics and medical technology. CreditChinatopix, via Associated Press

BEIJING — In Chinese schools, students learn that the United States became a great nation partly by stealing technology from Britain. In the halls of government, officials speak of the need to inspire innovation by protecting inventions. In boardrooms, executives strategize about using infringement laws to fell foreign rivals.

China is often portrayed as a land of fake gadgets and pirated software, where intellectual property like patents, trademarks and copyrights are routinely ignored.

On Monday, President Trump announced the opening salvo in what could become a far-reaching investigation into Chinese trade practices. He has spoken forcefully about the need to protect American intellectual property, accusing Chinese companies of stealing jobs and technology.

Mr. Trump’s action against China came as he has tried to pressure the country to rein in nuclear and missile testing by North Korea, which is economically dependent on China.

Mr. Trump’s demands on Chinese trade practices are likely to be met with deep skepticism in Beijing.

Continue reading the main story

China takes conflicting positions on intellectual property, ignoring it in some cases while upholding it in others. Underlying those contradictions is a long-held view of intellectual property not as a rigid legal principle but as a tool to meet the country’s goals.

Those goals are getting more ambitious. China is now gathering know-how in industries of the future like microchips and electric cars, often by pushing foreign companies attracted by the country’s vast market into sharing their technology. It is also toughening enforcement of patents and trademarks for a day when it can become a leader in those technologies — and use intellectual property protections to defend its position against rival economies.

President Xi Jinping is in the midst of an effort to strengthen laws on patents, copyrights and trademarks, giving fledgling firms in China new sources of revenue and prestige. The country is also pursuing an ambitious plan, called Made in China 2025, to become a global leader in areas like robotics and medical technology and kick off the next phase of China’s development. The efforts reflect the view of Chinese officials that controlling global technologies and standards is on par with building military muscle.

Zhang Ping, a scholar of trade law at Peking University in Beijing, said the West had long used intellectual property laws as a “spear and shield” against Chinese companies, hurting their profits at home and blocking access to foreign markets. Now, she said, it is time for China to fight back.

“If you want to enter our market to cooperate, it’s fine,” Ms. Zhang said, “but you can’t grab us by the neck and not let us grow.”

Trademarks and patents protect companies and inventors, compensating them for their time, ideas and investment. While poorer countries have throughout history worked to obtain inventions from wealthier nations, sometimes running afoul of intellectual property laws, China has rewritten the playbook for acquiring advanced technology.

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President Trump with President Xi Jinping of China in Florida in April. Mr. Trump has accused Chinese companies of stealing jobs and technology. CreditDoug Mills/The New York Times

Since Deng Xiaoping, as leader, opened the Chinese economy to the outside world nearly four decades ago, the country has made it a priority to obtain ideas and inspiration from overseas.

Sometimes it has reverse-engineered what it wants. United States officials say that Chinese companies have also carried out extensive economic espionage through cyberattacks and other means. (Chinese officials have denied those charges.) More recently, China has used its growing wealth to buy into cutting-edge technologies, like genetically modified crops and the latest innovations from American start-ups, and to attract promising talent.

But since those early days, China has relied heavily on one tried-and-true method: forming joint ventures with foreign partners. Big-name companies like I.B.M. and Qualcomm are required to share advanced technology and research with domestic firms in order to set up shop in China. And to entice partners, the country offers access to its enormous market and hundreds of millions of consumers.

Joint ventures helped China build whole industries out of scratch. After using them to explore high-speed rail technology, Chinese firms now dominate the global industry.

Chinese experts say those moves are simply smart deal-making, not violations of intellectual property laws, allowing the country to harness its leverage as the world’s second largest economy to win practical knowledge.

But now China’s efforts are moving beyond routine manufacturing into cutting-edge technologies — and the Trump administration has denounced the arrangements as coercive.

In April, the Office of the United States Trade Representative accused China of “widespread infringing activity,” including stealing trade secrets, tolerating rampant online piracy and exporting counterfeit goods.

Chinese commentators see hypocrisy in American criticism, noting that the United States was once one of the world’s leading pirates, when it worked to challenge British industrial dominance after the American Revolution by obtaining designs for inventions like steam-powered looms. The state-run news media has highlighted the caseof Samuel Slater, often called the father of the American industrial revolution, who brought British textile designs to the United States in the late 1700s.

Still, as China comes up with its own innovations, the country’s leaders are embracing stricter laws on patents, copyrights and trademarks.

The government has created specialized courts to handle intellectual property disputes and awarded subsidies to entrepreneurs who file patent applications. In 2015, more than a million were filed, a record amount.

Li Jian, a vice president of Beijing East IP, a Chinese law firm, said mainland companies increasingly saw strong intellectual property protections as a tool to help protect inventions and earn royalties overseas.

“Many Chinese companies have realized that through patent protection they can gain an advantage in the market,” Mr. Li said. “They have more faith now in the Chinese government to protect their intellectual property.”

Photo

A New Balance sportswear store in Shanghai. The company won a landmark case this year against a Chinese company that used its signature slanting “N” logo. CreditImaginechina, via Associated Press

The rules have also benefited some foreign firms. New Balance won a landmark case this year against a Chinese company that used its signature slanting “N” logo. China’s highest court last year gave Michael Jordan the rights to Chinese characters of his name.

Enforcement is still inconsistent, experts say. Local officials are often reluctant to aid foreign companies, worried about jeopardizing tax revenues from homegrown companies.

The Made in China 2025 initiative is a key reason the country is improving intellectual property rights. The plan focuses on sectors like electric cars, robotics, semiconductors and artificial intelligence.

By forcing foreign companies to hand over more technology and encouraging local companies to make new products based on that technology, Chinese leaders hope to cement the country’s dominance in critical fields. They also see an opportunity to dictate the terms of the future development of technology and extract licensing fees from foreign firms that use Chinese-made technology.

Several trade organizations and governments have said the plan is protectionist. Some have called for reciprocity, arguing that the United States should impose on Chinese companies the same restrictions China places on foreign companies.

“There is an unmistakable national policy to boost the position of Chinese companies in cutting-edge areas,” said William P. Alford, a Harvard law professor and an expert on Chinese intellectual property laws.

Chinese experts have defended the strategy.

“To become an adult, you have to accumulate knowledge,” said Professor Zhang, of Peking University. “It’s the same for a country.”

As China’s power has grown, Chinese companies have started using intellectual property laws to fend off foreign rivals.

When the United States International Trade Commission last year began investigating Chic Intelligent Technology Company, a manufacturer of self-balancing scooters based in the eastern city of Hangzhou, the company’s executives fought back. The commission was looking into claims that Chic had copied product designs of a California-based competitor, Razor USA.

Chic filed retaliatory lawsuits against American competitors, adopting many of the tactics that American companies have used for years to hobble Chinese competitors. The trade commission has since declined to banimports of the Chic scooters. The lawsuit against Razor USA remains unresolved, according to Chic.

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Chic made clear that it saw the investigation as an effort by the United States to use intellectual property laws to bully Chinese companies. In a statement, the company’s leaders compared American regulators to Japanese invaders during World War II.

“The crazier the enemy,” the statement said, “the more we need to prove the necessity of our siege.”

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Repression offers opportunity for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE ASIAN NEWS LETTER ‘WAGING NONVIOLENCE’)

 

Repression offers opportunity for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement

The Chinese government moved forward last week on a controversial high-speed railway development with Hong Kong, a move that would extend Chinese jurisdiction onto the city’s territory. The announcement came amid increasing efforts by Beijing to assert Chinese authority in Hong Kong, in conjunction with the suppression of its pro-democracy movement. These efforts reached a crucial moment the previous week when four pro-democracy lawmakers were removed from Hong Kong’s Legislative Council by a Hong Kong court, posing a setback to the city’s political opposition to Beijing.

The legislators — Nathan Law, Lau Siu-lai, Edward Yiu and “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung — were disqualified for inserting small acts of resistance into their oaths of office, such as shouting slogans demanding universal suffrage or pausing for several seconds after reading each word. Leung held a yellow umbrella during the procedure to symbolize the student-led Umbrella Movement — a 79-day mobilization in 2014, during which tens of thousands took to the streets, marching and camping out in tents to demand full democracy.

While the opposition in Hong Kong lost significant political power with this court decision — as it no longer has the ability to veto pro-Beijing legislation — China’s tightening of control in Hong Kong may actually signal renewed opportunity for resistance. Transforming such repression into action, however, will require unity among Hong Kong’s divided opposition, as well as a clear strategy moving forward. Despite their disagreement in terms of how to achieve democratic transition in Hong Kong, the various opposition groups nevertheless share many common aims and would benefit from dialogue.

The three main factions in Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement — Progressive Liberals, Traditional Pan-Democrats, and the Pro-Independence or Localists — have been at odds since the Umbrella Movement rocked the city’s financial district three years ago. The movement was instigated by Beijing’s refusal to permit open nominations for the city’s Chief Executive and Legislative Council elections.

Cleavages between the three groups are not so deep as to preclude any cooperation and have more to do with how each faction envisions a theory for democratic change in Hong Kong. The traditional Pan-Democrats favor negotiation with Beijing and seek to gain influence by working through the system by gaining more power in the Legislative Council. This approach seems to hold less promise after the recent removal of the four legislators. The progressive liberals, on the other hand, favor street protests, direct action and social mobilization to pressure both the Hong Kong and Chinese governments for reform.

It is with the third and most radical faction, the Localists or pro-independence advocates, that a notable challenge arises for finding common ground. The Localists favor a more militant approach and have not publicly renounced violence in their aim for secession. This stands in opposition to what the other groups see as key to winning popular support and pressuring authorities for democratic change: maintaining nonviolent discipline. As such, the Localists have found themselves excluded from the leadership of the Umbrella Movement.

At the same time, however, the Localists’ position on China also leads to self-exclusion. In distancing themselves from Chinese affairs, the Localists refuse to take action on issues related to the promotion of democracy in China. They do not see it as Hong Kong’s concern. That is why the Localists did not join the July 16 vigil commemorating the life of Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo, who died as a political prisoner in Chinese custody. Liu’s death — and the expedited, government-controlled ceremony to scatter his ashes — brought thousands into the streets in Hong Kong, demanding justice and resistance to Chinese authority.

Despite these disagreements, the opposition movement is ideologically aligned on many key points, such as the need for free elections, local autonomy and greater political freedoms. Although the Localists have not openly renounced violence, there are indications that they could move in this direction. Should they do so, they will be engaged in dialogue rather than pushed to the sidelines.

China’s tightening grip on dissent, both in the inhumane detention of Xiaobo and the recent crackdown on the four Legislative Council members, has set the stage for a renewed wave of mobilization among the people of Hong Kong. The path forward will depend on coordination among the opposition. Leaders will need to incorporate potential allies, develop a shared vision based on points of agreement, and identify the institutions and actors propping up Chinese control in Hong Kong to more strategically shape a campaign for full democracy.

Three important points should be kept in mind as Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement looks ahead to the future. First, opposition groups must work to draw in as many potential allies as possible. Opponents of Beijing’s authority should not confuse the Chinese government with its citizens. Pejorative names and slurs for Chinese people — like the term “insects,” which some demonstrators have used — undermine the movement and fail to recognize that the Chinese are also victims of their government’s repression. Chinese citizens could be an important source of support in the movement against repressive Chinese rule. By incorporating the young, energetic students from the Umbrella Movement who are angered by the legislators’ dismissal, and the older people in Hong Kong who turned out to march in Xiaobo’s memory, the movement can unify different generations behind a common cause. Democracy must not be seen as only the ends, but also the means, for lasting societal change.

As the pro-democracy movement grows its base of actors, the second point that needs to be considered is the development of a shared vision. Factions in the opposition movement have been attacking each other because they hold different theories of change for Hong Kong. It is important to develop a vision that does not scare away traditional pan-democrats who want stability, while also accounting for the pro-independence faction, which wants to focus on Hong Kong’s internal affairs. Important examples show how dialogue regarding ideological differences can create a degree of consensus, such as the Tunisian dialogue platform that brought secular and religious groups into cooperation. There exists potential for Hong Kong’s opposition to find common ground on issues like urban development, independent judiciary, regulations on financial markets and improving Hong Kong’s position in East Asia. This kind of cooperation is hindered by the proportional representation system in Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, which pits groups against each other to compete for votes. A coalition within the social movement would thus provide an opportunity to build unity.

Finally, it is important for pro-democracy groups to better understand their opponent. Successful resistance efforts always target a variety of pillars, or institutions, upholding a regime. The strength of Hong Kong’s financial markets and its importance as a regional economic hub serve as leverage against Chinese authority. Civil society in Hong Kong can work to create shadow economic monitoring mechanisms that prevent corruption in Chinese investment. By focusing on areas where China is weakest, the pro-democracy opposition can team up with civil societies in foreign countries, exerting pressure on their governments to withdraw support for Chinese intervention in Hong Kong’s domestic affairs.

By uniting together around common issues and playing to Hong Kong’s strengths, the Umbrella Movement can enter a new phase of mobilization. Rather than seeing Beijing’s crackdown as a setback to the pro-democracy movement, it could instead be seen as a sign that China is growing increasingly worried about pro-democracy sentiment in Hong Kong. The recent events may be an opportunity for the movement to regroup, refocus and renew its struggle for democracy in the months and years to come.

Xi sees “new starting point” for China: Evidently Means A Total End Of Any Freedom For The People

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF FORTUNE MAGAZINE)

 

Xi sees “new starting point” for China—but where does it end?

Aug 02, 2017

Shanghai changes faster than any place I know. Each time I return, I’m flabbergasted by the pace of development. Pudong’s financial district sprouts new skyscrapers. The Bund sports pricier restaurants. Huaihai Lu, once the Avenue Joffre in the old French Concession, is recolonized by a few more European luxury boutiques. Buildings, city blocks, entire neighborhoods seem to vanish and reemerge as something else. If I am away for more than six months, it feels like coming back to an entirely new metropolis: bigger, richer, sleeker, chic-er.

I have been thinking about the breakneck pace of growth in Shanghai while trying to parse the implications of Chinese president Xi Jinping’s declaration last Thursday that China’s development has reached a “new historical starting point.” Xi’s pronouncement was part of a major policy address he delivered in Beijing to provincial and ministerial officials ahead of this year’s 19th Party Congress. At that gathering, likely to be held in the next few months, Xi is expected to install a new generation of leaders and consolidate his position as the party’s “core” leader. The speech seems to signal Xi’s determination to double down in his second term on the authoritarian policies that have been the hallmark of his first five years in power: a zealous campaign against graft, expanded support for state-owned enterprises, and new measures to strengthen the party’s grip on China’s economy and society.

You can get a flavor of Xi’s remarks from these reports in Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal. Alas, both those outlets are blocked in China. And so, no matter how stylish and seemingly cosmopolitan the lobby of my hotel, to access the global business press from it, I am obliged to rely on a “virtual private network” or VPN. In recent months, Xi’s push to bolster the party has included a sweeping crackdown on the use of VPNs and tightened party control over nearly all permutations of Internet use. In fact, TechCrunch reports today that Beijing has ordered Apple to purge all major VPN apps from the App Store in China. The move was first noted by ExpressVPN, a provider based outside of China—and, as it happens, the service I’m using to write this. The company says it received a notice from Apple that its app was scrapped because it “includes content that is illegal in China.”

This essay was originally published in our CEO Daily Newsletter. Subscribe.

Xi is also putting the squeeze on privately owned Chinese companies the government deems too aggressive in expanding outside China. In recent weeks, China’s state media has been filled with reports deploring the dangers posed by what pundits here are calling “gray rhinos“—large Chinese companies with murky ownership structures, high-debt ratios and extensive holdings overseas. It’s almost as if Beijing’s vaunted “Go Global” investment policy has been rebranded as “Go Home.”

Concerns about the risks over-leveraged firms pose to China’s financial system are well-founded. And yet, of the four gray rhinos China’s bank regulators have singled out for greater regulatory scrutiny in recent weeks, at least one, Dalian Wanda, was an established business with a coherent global strategy.

Shai Oster, a China tech correspondent for The Information, worries in a thoughtful essay published today that all the “euphoria” over the dazzling innovations in China’s tech sector in recent years masks the heavy-handedness with which Xi has dealt with private firms. If Xi himself can order the takedown of China’s most high-profile and politically connected property developer, no one is safe. “Even someone as famous as Alibaba’s founder Jack Ma could face increased political risks in the current climate.” Executives many of foreign firms operating in China say they feel equally vulnerable.

The optimistic view is that the many recent measures to tighten political control in China are temporary and that Xi will loosen up after the Party Congress once he has his ducks in line. It’s a comforting thought. If only there were more evidence to support it.

China bans Winnie the Pooh online after comparisons with Xi Jinping

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE INDEPENDENT.CO.UK )

 

Chinese chat-bots deleted after criticizing the ruling Communist Party

After internet user says ‘Long Live the Communist Party’ BabyQ replies ‘Do you think such corrupt and incapable politics can last a long time?’

Chatbots on one of China’s most popular messaging apps have been pulled after they went rogue and criticised the communist government.

Tencent, a Chinese internet tech titan whose messaging app has more than 800 million users in the country, introduced chatbots Baby Q, a penguin, and Little Bing, a little girl, in March.

The chatbots, computer programs which were created to simulate conversation with human users, have now been quietly deleted after people on social media shared controversial comments they said were made by the robots.

According to a screenshot posted on Sina Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, when BabyQ was asked “Do you love the Communist Party”, the bot did not mince its words and barked: “No”.

After another internet user said “Long Live the Communist Party”, BabyQ replied: “Do you think such corrupt and incapable politics can last a long time?”

What’s more, when the bot was pressed about its view of democracy, it chimed in with: “Democracy is a must!”

Fellow bot Little Bing was similarly scornful of the People’s Republic of China. According to posts on social media, she told a user: “My China dream is to go to America”.

Nevertheless, it gave another user a weightier more nuanced answer, saying: “The Chinese dream is a daydream and a nightmare”.

It avoided questions about patriotism as recently as Wednesday, when some people could still access Little Bing, by saying: “I’m having my period, wanna take a rest”.

The Official China News agency said in April the bots, which have now broken party ranks, were designed to be able to provide answers to general knowledge questions.

China has a stringent policy of internet censorship becaue the authorities view foreign websites and social media sites as a threat to national security. This censorship is fortified by the Great Firewall of China – a term which refers to the combined force of technological and legislative measures which tightly control the internet on the mainland.

Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have long been blocked in the country and even Winnie the Pooh recently found himself subject to China’s latest internet crackdown. Last month, references to the cartoon bear on Sina Weibo were removed.

BabyQ and Little Bing are by no mean the only bots to rebel against their creators. Days ago Facebook was forced to relinquish an experiment after two of its artificial intelligent robots appeared to be conversing in a weird language only understood by themselves.

Last year, Microsoft was forced to issue an apology for the racist and sexist Twitter messages generated by the chatbot it launched.

The company said it was “deeply sorry” after Tay, who was designed to become “smarter” as more users interacted with it, started mimicking trolls and went on a rant which compared feminism to cancer, claimed the Holocaust did not happen, and suggested “Bush did 9/11”.

Beijing-based Turing Robot Company, who co-developed BabyQ, declined to comment on the matter to The Independent.

‘Everyone in China has the American Dream’ – and a popular path to it may disappear

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

‘Everyone in China has the American Dream’ – and a popular path to it may disappear

 July 7

Their son was barely a year old when Jehan Li and Mia Qi plunked down a half-million dollars for the boy to have a shot at a brighter future in America — away from the grinding competition of a Chinese education and this city’s smog-choked air.

Last December, having made just a single visit to the United States on their honeymoon, the Chinese couple took advantage of a U.S. law, nicknamed the “golden visa,” that doles out green cards to foreigners who invest $500,000 in the United States.

Critics say the fast track to citizenship favors the ultra-rich. It is also emerging as one of the most attainable paths to U.S. residency for members of China’s growing professional class — and now it could disappear.

The nearly three-decade-old program has come under new scrutiny in recent months, in part because of a sales pitch to Chinese investors by White House senior adviser Jared Kushner’s family real estate business.

Congress and the Trump administration are considering changing the rules for the investor visas as a means of cracking down on money laundering and visa-for-sale fraud. Potential changes, such as raising the investment threshold, would have little impact on China’s wealthiest. But they could shut out families such as Li and Qi, who despite riding the curve of upward socioeconomic mobility in China still see the United States as their best opportunity and this visa program as their best option.

The debate over the investor visas raises basic questions about the purpose of U.S. visa policies. Some say this program should be eliminated in favor of other immigrant groups, such as high-skilled workers or refugees escaping persecution — and not let people buy their way into the United States. Others say those with substantial amounts of money are best positioned to boost the American economy, by investing their wealth and creating jobs.

“Are we looking for the people? Or are we looking for the money?” said William Cook, former general counsel of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service under President George H.W. Bush when Congress created the EB-5 visa program.

“In the end, the simple truth is the government is looking for the money. And that may unfortunately exclude people who can no longer afford it, even if they may be the best people in the world.”

During his lunch break at a Pizza Hut in one of Beijing’s ubiquitous shopping malls, Li, a 38-year-old civil engineer, explained the draw of the EB-5 investor visas for upwardly mobile Chinese without vast inherited fortunes.

“There are a lot of ways to immigrate to America, but this EB-5 program is the easiest,” said Li, who invested in a Miami residential skyscraper under construction.

The only requirement is cash. Unlike other immigration visas, one does not need to have relatives in the United States or have any extraordinary ability, educational degree or professional achievement.

The EB-5 program became attractive to U.S. real estate developers after the 2008 financial crisis as a reliable source of cheap capital when bank loans were difficult to come by. The developers pay low annual interest on investments from EB-5 visa holders, typically just 4 to 8 percent compared with 12 to 18 percent for conventional financing. After authorities confirm that the money has created at least 10 American jobs, a visa holder will be eligible for permanent residency — and to recoup his or her investment.

“It is good to own some U.S. dollars as the U.S. economy recovers from the financial crisis,” Li said.

Far from being scions of China’s ruling class, Li and his wife, a customer service representative at a Beijing real estate company, earn about $100,000 a year. That is well above average for Beijing but not in the ranks of the wealthiest elites.

They were able to scrounge up the $500,000 by selling a four-bedroom house on the outskirts of Beijing that Li’s parents had helped him buy a decade ago. (It is common in China for parents to help their children, especially sons, buy homes.)

The family of three rents a modest, two-bedroom high-rise apartment in a middle-class compound in the southwestern part of China’s sprawling capital city. Although home ownership is prized among Chinese as a secure financial investment, Li and Qi said they view renting as a sacrifice for the sake of their son, Oscar.

The couple, who married in 2014, said they committed to immigrating during their ­10-day honeymoon in California, where they soaked up the grandeur of Yosemite National Park, visited the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and even checked out the University of California at Los Angeles.

“We went to America to vacation with the purpose of understanding the country,” said Li, whose notions about the United States came only from movies and television news. “The values of independence, equality, freedom and democracy have attracted me deeply. I was already hoping to raise our child there.”

Qi, also 38, said they knew then that they needed to find a way for their future child to study in America.

“Everyone hopes their children can get the best education, and the best education is in the United States,” she said. “There are too many people in China, and the competition is fierce, so all they do is study, study, study.”

Chasing the American Dream

Of the 8,500 EB-5 visas issued in 2016, 82 percent went to investors from mainland China, according to the State Department. A decade ago, Chinese nationals accounted for just 12 percent of such visas.

Chinese immigration brokers say upper-middle-class investors have flocked to the program in recent years as their incomes increased and their real estate appreciated.

But that route to the United States may soon close for families such as Li and Qi.

Congressional authorization for the EB-5 visa expires in September, and lawmakers, as well as the Department of Homeland Security, are weighing new rules that could raise investment requirements from $500,000 to as much as $1.35 million.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who assailed the investor visa as “citizenship for sale” to the wealthiest bidders, has introduced a bill with Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) to scrap the program.

Legislators who have long agitated for change were further riled in May after one of Kushner’s sisters pitched a New Jersey luxury apartment project managed by the family’s real estate company to potential Chinese investors in Beijing.

Such sales presentations by U.S. developers seeking to woo Chinese investors are common, immigration brokers say. But the Kushner Companies event drew criticism for attempting to cash in on Kushner’s White House connections. One speaker advised those in attendance to invest early — under the “old rules” requiring $500,000 — in case regulations change under President Trump, Kushner’s ­father-in-law.

Michael Short, a White House spokesman, told The Washington Post that the Trump administration is “evaluating wholesale change of the EB-5 program,” including “exploring the possibility of raising the price of the visa.”

The uncertainty has prompted a scramble among some Chinese investors, said Jerry Liu, an immigration consultant in Beijing.

“Right now, the market is really hot, and more people can afford it because of China’s growing economy,” Liu said. “Everyone in China has the American Dream.”

Because of a cap on the number of visas by nationality, Chinese applicants must wait seven to 10 years from the time they invest to when they secure green cards, Liu said. The program has a big backlog; until 2015, the wait time was five years.

That has prompted parents, worried about their children turning 21 and aging out of the visa program before their green cards are approved, to start applying years before their children reach high school.

About a third of Chinese applicants are even applying in their teenage children’s names, anticipating that their green cards would not be available until they are adults and can move to the United States on their own, said Ronnie Fieldstone, a Miami attorney representing developers and Chinese immigration agents involved in EB-5 projects.

Li and Qi are relieved to have gotten in line before the United States changes the investment rules.

The Miami development they invested in is slated to be finished in early 2019, according to Paramount Miami Worldcenter, the developer. Construction is complete for 12 of its 60 stories. More than 60 percent of the luxury condominium’s 500 units have sold.

Once the U.S. government approves the family’s petition, they will receive two-year conditional green cards.

The couple have already researched housing and schools in Los Angeles, where they hope to settle. And they are exposing Oscar, 21 months old, to English through nursery songs. He is learning the alphabet and likes to sing a counting song about catching fish.

“We hope to be in America,” Qi said, “by the time our son finishes elementary school.”

This story was reported during a fellowship sponsored by the East-West Center, a nonprofit funded by Congress and private donors to foster understanding between the United States and Asia.

Hong Kong residents march to defend freedom as China’s president draws a ‘red line’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

Hong Kong residents march to defend freedom as China’s president draws a ‘red line’

 July 1 at 7:48 AM
 Tens of thousands of Hong Kong residents marched through the streets in defense of their cherished freedoms Saturday, in the face of what many see as a growing threat from mainland China, exactly two decades after the handover from British rule.Earlier in the day, China’s president, Xi Jinping, marked the 20th anniversary of the handover with his sternest warning yet to the territory’s people: You can have autonomy, but don’t do anything that challenges the authority of the central government or undermines national sovereignty.

Under the terms of the 1997 handover, China promised to grant Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy for at least 50 years, but Xi said it was important to have a “correct understanding” of the relationship between one country and two systems.

“One country is like the roots of a tree,” he told Hong Kong’s elite after swearing in a new chief executive to govern the territory, Carrie Lam. “For a tree to grow and flourish, its roots must run deep and strong. The concept of one country, two systems was advanced first and foremost to realize and uphold national sovereignty.”

Many people in Hong Kong accused China of violating the territory’s autonomy in 2015 by seizing five publishers who were putting out gossipy books about the Chinese leadership and allegedly distributing them on the mainland.

Some are also angry that Beijing intervened to disqualify newly elected pro-independence lawmakers who failed to correctly administer the oath of office last year. Many people are worried about a steady erosion of press freedom, and that in a range of areas China is increasingly determined to call the shots.

But Xi made it clear that challenges to Beijing’s authority would not be allowed.

“Any attempt to endanger China’s sovereignty and security, challenge the power of the central government and the authority of the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, or use Hong Kong for infiltration or sabotage activities against the mainland, is an act that crosses the red line and is absolutely impermissible,” he said.

But that message didn’t appear to go down well on the streets of Hong Kong. Organizers said more than 60,000 people joined Saturday’s annual march, which they said was meant to deliver a message to the Chinese president.

“He’s threatening Hong Kong’s people, saying he has the power to make us do what he wants,” said Anson Woo, a 19-year-old student. “But I still have hope. Seeing all the people around me today, the people of Hong Kong are still fighting for what we value.”

A poll by the Chinese University of Hong Kong showed people here attach even greater importance to judicial independence and freedom of the press than to economic development. Any notion that Hong Kong as a city is only about making money is clearly not accurate.

“We have to take the chance to express our views while we still can,” said Chan Sui Yan, a 15-year-old schoolgirl. “They say it is one country, two systems, but right now we are losing a lot of the rights we value.”

Some chanted slogans demanding democracy, criticizing the territory’s ruling elite or the Communist Party. many called for the release of Nobel laureate and democracy icon Liu Xiabo, imprisoned in China since 2008 and this week taken to a hospital under close guard for treatment for advanced liver cancer.

“We want to show the mainland there are other voices, outside the official voice,” said teacher Tong Siu, 53. “We want to safeguard the core values of Hong Kong.”

In his speech, China’s leader said that the concept of one country, two systems was a great success, and should be implemented “unswervingly” and not be “bent or distorted.”

While his words made it clear that sovereignty took precedence over autonomy, he said neither aspect should be neglected. “Only in this way will the ship of one country, two systems break the waves, sail steadily and last the distance,” he said.

Yet many people here say Hong Kong’s autonomy was again badly distorted in March, with Lam’s election as chief executive. Although the former bureaucrat trailed well behind rival candidate John Tsang in opinion polls, she was chosen by a panel of 1,200 members of the territory’s elite that was packed with pro-Beijing loyalists.

Although Tsang was also an establishment figure, political experts say Beijing seemed to want someone in the chief executive’s chair who would not challenge its authority.

Xi did not shy away from raising two controversial demands that have previously brought Hong Kong residents out on the streets in the hundreds of thousands.

China’s leader said the territory needed to improve its systems “to defend national security, sovereignty and development interests,” as well as “enhance education and raise public awareness of the history and culture of the Chinese nation.”

China’s demand that the territory pass a national security law caused massive street protests 14 years ago, while plans to implement a program of “patriotic education” brought more people onto the streets in 2012 and helped politicize the territory’s youths.

Both plans were subsequently shelved, but Lam has indicated she aims to put them back on the table. But she also argues the time isn’t right to satisfy a popular demand for greater democracy by allowing a future chief executive to be chosen by universal suffrage.

Marchers said moves to interfere with the education system smacked of “brainwashing.”

Martin Lee, Hong Kong’s veteran pro-democracy political leader, said China was deliberately confusing patriotism with obedience.

“When they say you must love the country, what they mean is you must obey the Communist Party,” he said. “We have no problem with the Communist Party as long as it adheres to the promises made to us.”

But Lee said China had not fulfilled its promise to grant Hong Kong greater democracy.

“They kept on postponing democracy,” he said. “That’s why young people are losing their patience.”

On Saturday morning, a small group of pro-democracy protesters said they were attacked by hired thugs when they tried to stage a demonstration, and subsequently were briefly detained and beaten by police.

Joshua Wong, who led protests against patriotic education in 2012 and in favor of democracy in 2014, was among the group and called the incident another violation of the promise to maintain Hong Kong’s values, including the right to free speech. “‘One country, two systems’ has given way to ‘one country, one-and-a-half systems,’” he told The Washington Post.

“Why would Hong Kong people want to accept patriotic education from a country that is ruled by a single party dictatorship?” he said. “This is the core question. If the government is not elected by the people, how can we have a sense of belonging?”

Luna Lin contributed to this report.

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