Tiananmen anniversary puts Chinese government and activists on hyper-watch
By William Wan
Jun 04, 2013 06:37 PM EDT
The Washington Post
Published: June 4 | Updated: Wednesday, June 5, 2:37 AM
BEIJING — Democracy activist Hu Jia said he spent Tuesday alone in a hotel room in southern China, where he has been confined for the past week under the watchful eyes of eight to nine plainclothes security agents.
The restrictions on him and other dissidents have become an annual routine on June 4 — the anniversary of the government’s violent suppression of the 1989 protests in and around Tiananmen Square — when much of the country is placed on a lockdown of sorts by the ruling Communist Party.
On Tuesday, China’s restricted Internet was more finely edited than usual, with censors deleting posts that contained even the vaguest reference to that day 24 years ago when the government forces opened fire on unarmed civilians. The square itself was flooded with uniformed and plainclothes police.
The heaviest surveillance, however, was reserved for dissidents such as Hu, who are often put under house arrest on the anniversary or taken by police to provinces far from Beijing.
The annual ritual of hypervigilance and attempts to evade it has evolved into a kind of cat-and-mouse game. Bloggers use increasingly creative means of outflanking the censors. And dissidents form elaborate plans weeks in advance to ensure that their messages can be circulated if their communications are cut off.
For all the absurdities that can result, activists say their efforts at least help keep alive the memory of those who died during the student-led protests against government repression and corruption.
In Hu’s case, he had continuous access to the Internet though he was confined to the hotel room. So he spent Monday and Tuesday promoting a campaign for citizens to wear black T-shirts in solidarity with the dead.
It was an idea he had incubated for months with other activists, he said in a phone interview Tuesday from the hotel in Guangzhou. “The authorities can’t do anything about T-shirts. There is no law forbidding wearing them,” he said.
Some people posted pictures of themselves in black shirts online, but it was impossible to gauge the popularity of the campaign because censors took down many of the images.
Others deployed different tricks online. With the date “June 4” and its numerical equivalents — “64,” “six 4” and “6 four” — censored on microblogs, some used “0.8*8” as a workaround for “6.4.”
One particularly widespread post on weibo, Chinese microblogging Web sites similar to Twitter, was a doctored version of the iconic photo of a man standing defiantly in front of Chinese army tanks. In the photo, the tanks were replaced with giant yellow rubber ducks, a joking reference to a recently popular inflatable art piece in Hong Kong’s harbor.
In response, the phrase “big yellow duck” was quickly censored, along with pictures of lighted candles, the word “today” and a Lego variant of the tank-man picture.
For a few days leading up to Tuesday, weibo seemed to be experimenting with a more sophisticated way of censoring searches. Instead of simply blocking queries on banned words, users were diverted to what appeared to be carefully chosen but largely irrelevant results. But by Tuesday, the regular method of blocking was back in place.
Some had hoped that with a new slate of top leaders in place this year, the party would reconsider its long-standing position on Tiananmen — that the protest was a counterrevolutionary rebellion and that the crackdown was necessary for stability.
Over the weekend, the government responded furiously to a statement by the U.S. State Department calling for a full accounting of those killed in the crackdown; the estimates range from hundreds to 7,000.
In a response available only via the government-run Xinhua News Agency’s English platform, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Hong Lei said Saturday that “a clear conclusion has already been made concerning the political turmoil that happened in the late 1980s.” The United States should stop its “rude interference in China’s internal affairs,” Hong added.
On Friday, a group representing parents whose children were killed at Tian*anmen released an open letter criticizing new Chinese President Xi Jinping for maintaining the party’s stance on the crackdown and continuing to persecute Tiananmen survivors.
Ding Zilin, a former Peking University professor who heads a group of Tiananmen mothers, could not be reached Tuesday by cellphone, home phone or e-mail and was reported by other activists to be under house arrest.
Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people gathered in a Hong Kong park for a vigil Tuesday night, the Associated Press reported. The attendees held candles in remembrance of those slain.
Earlier, some Hong Kong reporters trying to interview people in Tiananmen Square said they were detained for almost an hour.
Hu, who has spent many previous June 4 anniversaries either in prison on state subversion charges or under house arrest, said the security seemed even heavier this year.
“They started even earlier,” he said, noting that authorities began following him and restricting his movements as early as May 25. “I don’t think China’s new leadership has resulted in any improvements at all.”
‘Fool’s errand’: Why China censors rubber duckies on Tiananmen anniversary
By Max Fisher, Published: June 4, 2013 at 12:10 pm)
On May 1, 1989, one month before Chinese troops killed hundreds of protesters in and around Tiananmen Square in Beijing, the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, Zhao Zhiyang, made his case for compromise in a private session of the Politburo. “Democracy is a worldwide trend,” he said, according to former Washington Post reporter Philip Pan’s excellent book “Out of Mao’s Shadow.” Zhao went on: “If the party does not hold up the banner of democracy in our country, someone else will, and we will lose out. I think we should grab the lead on this and not be pushed along grudgingly.”
Zhao lost out, as did the protesters. But Chinese leaders were not content to simply shut down the protesters and fire Zhao. They, and the movement for political liberalization they represented, were considered so dangerous that they had to be forgotten completely. Zhao was banished to house arrest, where he lived out his years in forced isolation. As for the protests and massacre in Beijing, they never happened. Discussion of the events on June 4 remain so taboo and so heavily censored that, when people do dare to discuss them, they often refer to “May 35th.”
This year, the censorship around Tiananmen’s anniversary is reaching new heights. The Wall Street Journal’s Josh Chin reports that Chinese social media sites are not just blocking Tiananmen-related search terms but even oblique, tertiary references. Chinese Web users can’t search for the phrase “black shirt,” for example, presumably because a Chinese activist named Hu Jia had called on people to wear black T-shirts in a subtle nod to the anniversary.
Even mentions of yellow rubber duckies are blocked on the Chinese Web. Not because they’re a potent or politically charged symbol of the anniversary but because some anonymous person in China, referencing the giant rubber duck currently floating in Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor, posted an image on social media of the famous “tank man” photo with giant rubber ducks replacing the tanks. It probably took about 20 minutes in Photoshop, but it was enough to get not just the image deleted from Weibo but searches for all things yellow rubber duck-related blocked.
You could be forgiven for seeing the extent of the censorship as a bit absurd; are rubber duckies really so dangerous to one of the most entrenched single-party states on Earth? But the censorship isn’t just about preventing even the slightest hint of possible 1989-style unrest – although that’s certainly part of it. It’s also about delaying the conversation that Zhao (and, in their own way, the protesters) tried to start.
“Can a one-party system ensure the development of democracy?” Zhao asked Mikhail Gorbachev when the Soviet leader visited Beijing shortly before the crackdown. “Can it implement effective control over negative phenomena and fight the corruption in party and government institutions?” Can China’s Communist Party, in other words, continue resisting change and still survive?
Today’s Communist Party leaders are no dummies; they give every indication of wondering about these very same questions today. And they have, in fact, slowly reformed the political system, which is more open today than it was in 1989, though not as open as Zhao wanted. Still, Chinese leaders such as Hu Jintao, who led the country and the party from 2002 to 2012, did much more to kick that can down the road, to delay the party’s dilemma over its maintaining single-party power without risking more of 1989′s instability, than he did to address or resolve it. And that’s still the status quo.
This is a problem that China’s leaders have addressed repeatedly since 1989 and, as with the almost laughably broad censorship of rubber ducks for the marginal association with Tiananmen, they have consistently avoided the issue. Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in a 2011 interview with the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, channeled the view of many so-called “China bears,” or skeptics of the Communist Party’s long-term viability. Goldberg noted that Chinese authorities had appeared frightened of the “Arab Spring” uprisings half a world away. “Well, they are,” Clinton said. “They’re worried, and they are trying to stop history, which is a fool’s errand. They cannot do it. But they’re going to hold it off as long as possible.”
Maybe Clinton is right that the Communist Party can’t “stop history” and maybe she’s wrong. Maybe Chinese leaders will one day try to answer Zhao’s questions from May 1989. But, for the time being, they would repress the memory of Tiananmen than try to reconcile with that dark day in Chinese history.
Why it’s good news for the U.S. that China is snapping up Iraq’s oil
By Max Fisher, Published: June 3, 2013 at 3:30 pm
If you thought that the U.S.-led Iraq War would at least open up the country’s vast oil reserves to American firms, perhaps defraying some of the war’s enormous costs, then the New York Times has some bad news for you: Iraqi oil is increasingly flowing east, to China.
“China already buys nearly half the oil that Iraq produces, nearly 1.5 million barrels a day, and is angling for an even bigger share, bidding for a stake now owned by Exxon Mobil in one of Iraq’s largest oil fields,” the Times’s Tim Arango Clifford Krauss report. A former Pentagon official who worked on Iraqi oil policy during the Bush administration told the reporters, “We lost out. The Chinese had nothing to do with the war, but from an economic standpoint they are benefiting from it.” The implicit message is that Iraqi oil was supposed to be our spoils of war, but they’re getting scooped up by China instead.
On Twitter, the Atlantic’s James Fallows summed up the general reaction to China’s growing interest in Iraqi oil, writing, “Would be crude & reductionist to say U.S. fought Iraq, and China won. But wouldn’t be wrong.”
Fair enough. And it’s true that the Iraq War came nowhere close to paying for itself, as former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and others suggested it would. And that’s just considering the cost in dollars, much less American and Iraqi lives, U.S. credibility abroad and in the middle east particularly. So, even if the Iraqi oil did end up going mostly to U.S. rather than Chinese firms, that would not even remotely outweigh the dollar-costs of the war.
But, looking in isolation just at the growing Chinese stake in Iraqi oil and putting aside for a moment the symbolic power of that trend, it’s worth remembering that the global energy supply is not exactly a zero-sum game. And things that help China don’t necessarily hurt the U.S. Despite the broader narrative of a post-war Iraq that’s far from a reliable American ally (which is true), there are some real silver linings for the U.S. to this story. Here are a few:
(1) Reduces Chinese competition for oil in other countries.
One reason Chinese firms are outperforming Western firms in Iraq is that Baghdad has tight restrictions on drilling rights that reduce the firm’s profit. That makes it less attractive for American or British firms, who would rather drill in places where they can enjoy higher margins. But Chinese firms are just after energy, not profit, so they don’t mind it as much. That’s good both for China and, believe it or not, for the U.S., because it reduces Chinese demand in more U.S.-friendly markets. In other words, the more oil that China buys in Iraq, the less it will want to buy in, say, Angola, which means that U.S. firms can get it cheaper there than they otherwise would. That’s better for everybody.
(2) China is paying for Iraq’s infrastructure development, which benefits us.
A big reason that the Iraq War never ended up “paying for itself,” other than the rapidly escalating costs, is the fact that the oil sector had been badly degraded by years of sanctions and mismanagement. It was always going to be a huge, costly, long-term project to get it up to fuller production. The New York Times story says it takes $30 billion in annual investment; neither the U.S. nor Exxon Mobil was likely to foot that bill. But China is just oil-hungry enough to do it. Those investments will pay off for generations, increasing the global energy supply and alleviating upward pressure on prices. That’s good for everyone who buys oil on the global market, including the U.S.
(3) Reduces China’s reliance on Iran.
As China diversifies its energy imports, buying more and more form Iraq, it will need Iranian oil less and less. International sanctions on Iran, potential political instability and fears of war all make Iran an increasingly unattractive source of oil for China. This makes Beijing more likely to enforce sanctions against Iran, which – hopefully – will in turn pressure Tehran to finally compromise on its nuclear program.
(4) Forces China to care more about peace and stability in the Middle East.
As I’ve written before, China’s increasing investment in foreign markets is actually great news for the U.S., which is finding it harder and harder to be the world’s policeman. Although this sometimes gets portrayed as scary resource competition, it’s also forcing China to act less like a free-rider on a U.S.-enforced international system and more like a responsible stakeholder in global peace and stability. Iraq in particular badly needs outside aid and attention to keep its political system and economy together. The more money and interest China has tied up a stable Iraq, the harder it will work to keep it that way – something that very much benefits the U.S.
(5) Protects global energy market from China-driven price spikes.
China is the world’s biggest oil importer and its demanding is only going up. That puts upward pressure on prices, making American imports more expensive as well. China is very reliant on a small number of oil exporters. If one of those exporters went offline – let’s say, for example, that protests in Sudan spiral out of control and political instability cuts exports – then China still needs to import oil, so it would just start paying more. That kind of demand spike could raise prices for everyone, including the U.S. Diversified Chinese imports reduces the odds of that happening and the severity if it did.
To be clear, none of this is to say that the Iraq War is proving to be anywhere near balance positive for the U.S. economy. But it’s worth keeping in mind that the global energy market is just that – a global market – and that the U.S. and China have mutual interests in keeping it running.
Nicholas Kristof’s hair-raising dispatch from Beijing, June 4, 1989
By Max Fisher, Published: June 4, 2013 at 1:08 pm
Looking back on the Beijing protests and crackdown of May and June 1989, it can be easy to lose perspective. It was long ago – 24 years – and China has changed so much since then. The event feels very remote, and its legacy has been so meticulously repressed within China itself, that the desperation and horror of that day in June have largely receded.
As part of our coverage of the anniversary, it’s worth pausing to remember that June 4, when New York Times reporter Nicholas Kristof’s famous story appeared on the paper’s front page. He and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, won a Pulitzer the next year for their coverage of the events that are now a part of history. It’s not hard to see why.
Revisiting the article 24 years later helps us better understand what it felt like at the time and reminds us of just how bad it really got. Try reading the below excerpt, of the first three paragraphs, and imagine that you didn’t know what country it was from. Does it sound more like China or, say, Syria?
BEIJING, Monday, June 5 — Army units tightened their hold on the center of the Chinese capital on Sunday, moving in large convoys on some of the main thoroughfares and firing indiscriminately at crowds as outraged citizens continued to attack and burn army vehicles.
It was clear that at least 300 people had been killed since the troops first opened fire shortly after midnight on Sunday morning but the toll may be much higher. Word-of-mouth estimates continued to soar, some reaching far into the thousands. Outbreaks of firing continued today, as more convoys of troops moved through the city.
The bloodshed stunned Beijing and seemed to traumatize its citizens. Normal life halted as armored personnel carriers and troop trucks rumbled along debris-filled roads, with soldiers firing their automatic weapons in every direction. Smoke filled the sky as workers and students vented frustration and outrage by burning army vehicles wherever they found them separated from major convoys, in side streets or at intersections.
Kristof wrote, as it would turn out, correctly, “By ordering soldiers to fire on the unarmed crowds, the Chinese leadership has created an incident that almost surely will haunt the Government for years to come.” He also relayed, as best he could, the still-sparse information about what exactly transpired:
When troops finally seized Tiananmen Square early Sunday morning, they allowed the student occupiers who held on to the center of the square for three weeks to leave and then sent tanks to run over the tents and makeshift encampment that demonstrators had set up. Unconfirmed reports rapidly spread that some students had remained in the tents and were crushed to death.
The troops sealed off Tiananmen Square and started a huge bonfire. Many Beijing residents drew the conclusion, again impossible to verify, that the soldiers cremated corpses to destroy the evidence.
Another thing that struck me about reading this story now is that Kristof is still writing for the New York Times, as a columnist. June 1989, as long ago as it feels, is really not so old. As jarringly incompatible as this story feels with the China we know today, the past and the present are not so distant from one another. Current Chinese President Xi Jinping was 35 at the time. Former Beijing Mayor Chen Xitong, a mastermind of the crackdown, died on Tuesday, just a few hours into the crackdown’s 24th anniversary.
We are in between worlds, established superpower America of the West and emerging superpower China of the East. It is a contrast territorially and ideologically. The contrast of sunrise and sunset had carried with it much conflict historically. When the West discovered the East, expansionism by conquest and/or trade was the order of the day. For several centuries, relationships were defined by violence and greed.
The West mastered expansion by conquest. Although it had its Renaissance and awed the world with its creativity and artistry, the West was primarily about the use of power to establish control. From within its boundaries, member states waged so many wars against each other that, including those between Christians and Muslims, there were more wars than years.
The East had its own version of violent relationships and encounters, among tribes and among member countries. That the great massive land of China had fallen to foreign control described a China weakened by intramurals that Western countries were quick to exploit. By historical time, it did not take that long before the Chinese rallied towards their own solidarity to expel their foreign masters. The history of England was much more pitiful—1,500 years of subjugation by different countries before their warring tribes learned to fight together.
Filipinos and Chinese are blood brothers as they are trading partners. This history of blood brotherhood and trading partnerships go a long way and is a feature of our pre-Hispanic times. It could very well be that China and the Philippines were once physically connected by land bridges. But the seas have not deterred Chinese and Filipino engagement. Both peoples have used the seas like highways and trading routes that it is not surprisingly for the Philippines and China to claim ownership of common waters and islands.
However, we are blood brothers with China not because we have visited each other that long that that often, but because Chinese have come here without us going to China. Blood brotherhood is territorial and limited to Filipinos and Chinese within the Philippines. It seems that Filipinos were seafarers but mostly intra-islands, our islands. There were more Chinese adventurers and traders who sailed farther from their native shores and reached our islands. It was more of a one-way street, from there to here.
With these little pieces of history, we may catch clues why China claims islands that are so far from their mainland and so much nearer to ours. It may be because they have taken routes from China to the Philippines that passed these same islands routinely. Since we did not travel to China in the same frequency as Chinese traveled to the Philippines, they could have regarded some contested islands today as theirs because of their historical use. It was not till very modern times when the world began to use the exclusive 200-mile from shore as standard to measure territorial boundaries.
Bullying, well, bullying does not need too much explanation. For one, there is size. Apparently, size is a major factor where bullying occurs. A much bigger size really makes one feel a bit superior, if not actually much more superior, over another who is smaller or much smaller. There are a few examples and many more of lesser visibility to the world but not to their neighbors. Take America, take Russia, take Iran. Size when matched with bigger populations tends to having an attitude of superiority.
When the natural conditions of bigger size and bigger population are joined by pressure, internal or external, bullying is almost a foregone conclusion – except that the bully country does not really believe that it is bullying. It acts from a sense of entitlement – meaning. “I’m bigger than you, I’m more than you, so I deserve more than you.” Unfortunate for the victim, and very dangerous, too.
As China must be feeling more entitled, from size, population and from history, the United States shares this feeling as well. Its history in the region is much shorter than what China shares with all Asian nations but it is very current, very fresh in the memory. After all, when China was still being beset by its own internal problems and exploited by everyone else because of these, America was king in Asia, ably supported by mother England. The United States gained entitlement when it won the last World War at a steep cost. Besides, the big bad atomic bomb set it apart as a nation that built it first – and used it first (and last so far) against an enemy.
Having become used to being boss, and gaining much from it in terms of its own economic growth, the United States is having difficulty accepting China’s great emergence as the next superpower. The 7th Fleet is an awesome force and Asia is its beat. It cannot invade China but it can rain nuclear missiles from the seas. And while figures on firepower shown parity between China and the United States, China has had little practice with warfare at this level compared to America. From WWII up to today, the United States has used modern warfare technology in a way that no other country has.
One thing nice about bullying is when two bullies face off. They are not used to having the kind of competition that can badly hurt them, or even destroy them. When this situation arises, bullies can be very sober, and somber. They growl but do not like to bite. They will circle each other and wait, looking for substantial advantage, waiting for allies to gain courage and enter the conflict, and most probably, look for a way out that mutually satisfies.
The Philippines may believe that it is a principal player in its own territorial dispute with China. But it is not in the league of giants, not competitive to bullies, and only a pawn in geopolitics. There is only one trait that can elevate it to the level of those much bigger, the only factor that equalizes difference in size – and that is its willingness, the willingness of its citizens, to do or die whatever the cost.
In February 1972, Richard Nixon went to China and restored Sino-U.S. relations that had been broken for 23 years. During that visit, Nixon held a series of critical meetings with China’s premier, Zhou Enlai, and they discussed the broad strategic framework that would guide bilateral relations. President Obama’s meetings with President Xi Jinping this weekend have the potential to be a similarly historic summit — but with an important caveat.
China has always played a weak hand brilliantly. When Mao Zedong and Zhou met with Nixon and Henry Kissinger, China was in the midst of economic, political and cultural chaos. Its per capita gross domestic product had fallen below that of Uganda and Sierra Leone. Yet Beijing negotiated as if from commanding heights. Today, it has tremendous assets — but it is not the world’s other superpower, and we should not treat it as such.
The United States has been accused of having a confused, contradictory foreign policy, as each administration reverses its predecessor. This is often a mischaracterization, never more so than with China policy. Since Nixon and Kissinger opened the door, U.S. foreign policy toward China has been remarkably consistent over 40 years and eight presidents. Washington has sought to integrate China into the world, economically and politically. This policy has been good for the United States, good for the world and extremely good for China.
But many of the forces that pushed the two countries together are waning. For the first two decades of relations, Washington had strategic reasons to align with Beijing and shift the balance of power against the Soviet Union. While China was in its early years of development, it desperately needed access to U.S. capital, technology and political assistance to expand its economy. Today, China is much stronger and is acting in ways — from cyberattacks to its policies in Africa — that are counter to U.S. interests and values. For its part, Washington must respond to the realities of Asia, where its historic allies are nervous about China’s rise.
That’s why the meetings between Obama and Xi are important. Both countries need to take a clear-eyed look at the relationship and find a new path that could define a cooperative framework for the future, as Nixon and Zhou did in 1972. Both sides should seek to create a broad atmosphere of trust rather than to work through a “to-do” list.
Some Americans want to see these meetings as a “G-2” alliance of sorts between the world’s largest economies. That would not serve U.S. interests nor those of broader global stability and integration.
China is the world’s second-largest economy and, because of its size, will one day become the largest. (On a per-capita basis, it is a middle-income country, and it might never surpass the United States in that regard.) But power is defined along many dimensions, and by most political, military, strategic and cultural measures, China is a great but not global power. For now, it lacks the intellectual ambition to set the global agenda.
The scholar David Shambaugh, who has always been well-disposed toward China, put it this way in a recent book: “China is, in essence, a very narrow-minded, self-interested, realist state, seeking only to maximize its own national interests and power. It cares little for global governance and enforcing global standards of behavior (except its much-vaunted doctrine of noninterference in the internal affairs of countries). Its economic policies are mercantilist and its diplomacy is passive. China is also a lonely strategic power, with no allies and experiencing distrust and strained relationships with much of the world.”
Beijing wants good relations with the United States and a general climate of external stability. That’s partly because it faces huge internal challenges. Chinese leaders want to embark on serious reform at home (described as “rectification”) and are searching for a way to generate greater legitimacy for the Communist Party, experimenting with both a return to Maoist rhetoric and a revival of nationalism. Beijing wants to rise without creating a powerful anti-Chinese backlash among Asia’s other powers.
The United States should seek good and deep relations with China. They would mean a more stable, prosperous and peaceful world. Further integrating China into an open global system would help maintain that system and the open world economy that rests on it. But this can happen only if China recognizes and respects that system and operates from the perspective of a global power and not that of a “narrow-minded” state seeking only to maximize its interests.
In other words, when China starts acting like a superpower, we should treat it like one.
Will Xi Jinping’s ‘Chinese dream’ include the rule of law?
By Fred Hiatt Jun 03, 2013 12:19 AM EDT
The Washington Post
Published: June 3E-mail the writer
As he accepted the Communist Party’s designation to be China’s president and supreme military leader in March, Xi Jinping vowed “to achieve the Chinese dream of great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”
Xi’s speech to the National People’s Congress won plaudits from the press. “His crisp yet rich voice and frank yet resolute gaze revealed a power to invigorate the people,” the China People’s Daily reported.
But the speech left analysts guessing about what sort of rejuvenation — also translated as “revival” or “renaissance” — the new leader has in mind. Presumably President Obama will be looking for clues when he meets with Xi later this week in California.
Does Xi mean a “Chinese dream” of prosperity, as the “American dream” is often interpreted — a promise to continue the historic progress of the past three decades in moving people from poverty into the middle class? Does he have in mind a campaign against the widespread corruption and growing inequality of wealth that rankles many Chinese? Or is he focused on raising China’s influence and profile beyond its borders? He has hinted at all three possibilities.
Many prominent scholars, the Economist magazine recently reported, signed a petition urging China to rejuvenate based on the rule of law — placing the constitution higher than arbitrary one-party rule.
A turn in that direction could help with all three “revival” goals. Dictators from Stalin to South Korea’s Park Chung-hee have managed to wrench their nations from abject poverty to mid-level industrialization, but further growth — escape from the *“middle-income trap” that worries many Chinese officials — almost always is accompanied by political liberalization.
An independent judiciary would tame corruption more effectively than periodic purges and Communist Party disciplinary campaigns. And China would win more friends abroad, and drive fewer neighbors into the shelter of U.S. alliance, by respecting international norms than through bullying.
Alas, there is little evidence so far that Xi is tempted in the direction of constitutionalism. While he has, like past leaders, mentioned democracy as an eventual goal, he also has said, “The Chinese dream is an ideal. Communists should have a higher ideal, and that is communism.” When the People’s Daily posted an online survey about the “Chinese dream,” about 80 percent of respondents said they did not support one-party rule — and the survey was quickly taken down.
Xi is still settling in, though; he himself may not be entirely sure what direction he will take. While his choices will be determined primarily by internal factors, global perceptions and responses will matter, too. That makes it even more important than usual for Obama to explain why mutually beneficial U.S.-China relations would be served by Chinese respect for the rule of law.
Obama should make clear, for example, that when Chinese officials promise their U.S. counterparts that human rights lawyer Chen Guangcheng can emigrate with no adverse consequences to his relatives, and then those relatives are arrested, beaten and harassed, U.S. trust is affected.
When a longtime resident of North America, democracy advocate Wang Bingzhang, is lured to a meeting on the Vietnam-China border, kidnapped by Chinese security agents and thrown into solitary confinement in a remote prison — that affects perceptions, too. (Full disclosure: I have a personal interest in Wang’s case, having become friends with his daughter, Ti-Anna Wang, and written a novel for young adults inspired in part by his story.)
And when a literary critic such as Nobel Peace Laureate Liu Xiaobois imprisoned for peaceful advocacy of free speech — and his wife is put under house arrest with no due process — outsiders have to doubt the confidence that Chinese officials claim to feel in their model of governance and development.
Here’s something else Obama might say: No country is likely to win respect for greatness if it lives in fear of citizens like Chen, Wang and Liu. Nor is “rejuvenation” likely to be more than a slogan unless it is built on the principle that all three men spoke for — the principle of rule of law.
U.S. officials describe a common frustration in dealing with China over the past decade. Beijing wants to be recognized as a rising economic power but refuses to be an active partner in maintaining security. Beijing has seemed to want a free ride, without the corresponding responsibilities.
The next week will test whether China’s new president, Xi Jinping, intends to play a more engaged role with the United States and the world. Xi will spend two days in secluded strategic talks with President Obama, in what Chinese officials have been describing over the past year as a search for “a new type of great power relationship.”
The dilemma of great power relations that Xi and Obama will explore is often likened to the anxiety that the rise of Athens provoked in Sparta. As Harvard professor Joseph Nye noted back in 2005, the Peloponnesian War resulted from Sparta’s fears of an economically powerful Athens, but conflict wasn’t inevitable. It could have been averted by negotiations and wise policy. So, too, with America and China.
In the run-up to the meeting that will begin Friday at the Sunnylands estate east of Los Angeles, Xi has offered a demonstration of China’s new stance. He bluntly warned a North Korean emissary in May that Pyongyang should back away from its reckless nuclear threats and negotiate peace with China, the United States and others. “The denuclearization of the Korean peninsula . . . is what the people want and also the trend of the times,” Xi said.
U.S. officials think the Chinese stopped waffling on North Korea for three reasons: They fear that a nuclear North Korea will force neighboring South Korea and Japan to have nuclear weapons, too; they worry that North Korea will proliferate technology to rogue nations and terrorists; and, perhaps most important, they fear the United States will take military actions to protect itself that will reduce China’s security.
If the Chinese become a more reliable, stand-up regional power, what do they get in return? That surely will be on top of Xi’s list of questions for Obama. The most dangerous test is a small chain of islands in the East China Sea that the Chinese call the Diaoyu and the Japanese the Senkaku. The Japanese have recently asserted a stronger claim of sovereignty over the islands, and the Chinese have pushed back with gunboat diplomacy. The United States wants the issue to go away — taking no position on sovereignty and urging de-escalation — but it could be compelled by its defense treaty with Japan. It’s enough for now that Xi and Obama talk honestly about the issue.
The Chinese also want a partnership in managing the global economy. Vice Premier Wang Yang told visiting national security adviser Thomas Donilon last week that the two nations should “strengthen macroeconomic policy coordination, and jointly promote world economic recovery and growth.”
Beijing has come a long way from its skepticism during the depth of the Great Recession, when U.S. capitalism seemed like the god that had failed. In a speech at the 2009 World Economic Forum in Davos, then-Prime Minister Wen Jiabao chided “inappropriate macroeconomic policies” and greedy banks and called the U.S. model “unsustainable.” The Chinese have changed their tune, thanks to solid economic measures by the Obama administration. Now they want even more free-market policies, on the American model.
The toughest nut will be cyber-issues. Here, Chinese behavior has been egregious, as they have stolen hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of U.S. technology over the past decade, including many of the most secret U.S. weapons systems. Donilon said in March that the United States wants three things: a Chinese recognition that this is a real and urgent problem, a Chinese commitment to investigate, and an agreement to cooperate on a framework for cyber-protection. That will be the agenda at Sunnylands, but U.S. officials say they are looking for a strategic discussion rather than a “deliverable.”
The U.S.-China relationship is the biggest play on the board of international relations. This is an area where Donilon’s hyper-organized approach, which sometimes annoys his colleagues, has paid dividends. The United States has been building the groundwork for a new relationship with Xi for more than a year, and Donilon rightly says it could be Obama’s “signature achievement.”
U.S. officials stress in every speech about China the paramount need for military-to-military dialogue. Perhaps history would have been different if Spartan and Athenian commanders had been friendly, though I’m not sure. But given the stakes, this week’s summit meeting between Obama and Xi deserves the term “historic.”
A nation can be compared to a train where the citizens are passengers. The leaders are the engineers who direct the train and the speed with which it travels. If the engineers recklessly run the train along tracks beside a cliff at a rate of unsafe speed, it could very well derail and fall hundreds of feet down killing or seriously hurting its helpless passengers.
Arrogance of power and false dangerous ego based nationalism can blind a nation’s leaders and many of its people – leading them towards a dangerous path headed for sure disaster. How can leaders of nations and many of its citizens be so irrational or be so blind as not to see that they are bringing their people to hell?
The history of mankind is full of stories of charismatic ego driven leaders who impressed upon their people that it is their manifest destiny to rule the world and that their time has come for these glorious moments. Leaders might be labeled by their own people as being “great” especially when they have conquered other nations – but in actuality, they were not only terrible scourges to the people they conquered but also were curses to their own people who eventually suffered much because of their blind ambitions to rule the world.
Within human beings are the seeds of good and evil. There is a terrible frightening force within us that operates on a personal and group level that makes us blind to the evil that we do – even causing us to see the evil we do as good. Hitler’s attack or invasion of neighboring economically and militarily weaker countries: Poland, France, England, Holland, etc. – swelled the hearts and minds of many Germans with national pride. They even closed their eyes and numbed their consciences to the mass slaughter of innocent Jews as necessary for the motherland to conquer the world. They saw Nazism as good instead of the horrible evil that it was. What terrible forces blinded them from clearly seeing the evil that they were doing and made them even think they were doing something good?
In the case of Hitler’s Nazi Germany and Japan’s Tojo governments in WWII, it was a combination of group ego, false nationalism and power tripping over lording it over weaker helpless nations. Their lack of respect and brutality towards other nations eventually led to their defeat, the destruction of their countries and much suffering for the Japanese and German people.
These evil leaders had their temporary victories and glories, but over time, they incurred the combined wrath of those countries they invaded and oppressed which in turn regrouped and made them and their people pay heavily for their bullying oppressive grabbing ways. Hannibal, Napoleon, Japan’s military leaders in WW II, Hitler, Mussolini, Saddam Hussein – are some examples of ego driven leaders who initially successfully invaded and conquered other countries but eventually paid heavy prices for their megalomania and dragged their people down with them. Eventually, other countries they had not yet invaded realized that they could be the next victims. They allied themselves with those similarly situated and went to the rescue of the conquered countries whose citizens also fought from within to defeat the invaders.
Is China heading towards the same destructive direction? With its recent remarkable economic success, China has expanded and re-armed with modern weapons its armed forces – now the largest in the world in terms of number of military personnel. Will China’s arrogant behavior of immoral policy decisions and showing no respect to other nations who are much weaker militarily – lead the Chinese people along a dangerous path where eventually, the whole world will ally to bring China down as a rogue evil nation?
Here’s the thing:
The primary obligation of any government is to provide a good honest efficient government that constantly attends to the general welfare of its people. Ideally, governments should provide its citizens with the basics of: economic opportunities for honest livelihood, defense against foreign invaders, protecting the citizenry from dishonest individuals in the private and public sector, education and health services and promulgating conditions that would enable many to reach their highest potentials as human beings. This also means having a non-strangulating political environment for individuals that affords free legitimate self-determination choices for happy fulfilling lives.
But in addition to these, governments also have a moral obligation to its citizens of maintaining the respect and goodwill of other nations by avoiding aggressive immoral illegitimate ego and greed based oppression of weaker nations that cause a sense of outrage in the global community. The lessons of history show that no nation, however big, wealthy or powerful – can carry on with unjustified coercive policies against other nations without risking the security of its own people or internal strife among its own people.
Noveaux rich China with its aggressive bullying territory grabbing military actions against weaker nations, support of corrupt oppressive governments and non-respect for the patent rights and intellectual property belonging to citizens of other countries – is fast heading towards a downward road to hell for its citizens.
As in Hitler’s Germany, some of China’s current political and military leaders and many of its citizens may be ego tripping with their new wealth and military might. It appears that they are escalating their abuse of power in many ways – seeing themselves as clever with their nefarious ways. Hopefully, the more rational among the Chinese people will look at history and see that the present course they are on will lead their nation to self-destruct – and that they should do all that they can to prevent this.
Consider some of China’s policies. According to Transparency International, China has very close ties with many of the most corrupt and oppressive human rights violator nations – supplying them with armaments, equipment and various infrastructures – in exchange for concessions to their oil, minerals and other natural resources. These include countries like: Sudan, Chad, Angola, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea, the Congo, Zimbabwe, North Korea, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, etc. Billions of dollars go to the pockets of the dictators in these countries instead of benefiting the impoverished hungry populations which rightly own the wealth of their countries. How much bad will is China incurring with the victim citizens of these countries?
In the Philippines and other surrounding countries, China’s leaders are outrageously claiming that territories within 200 miles of these countries rich in fish and vast energy resources are theirs – even if the United Nation’s Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS) affirms otherwise. China bases its claim on what is obviously recognizable pure fiction simply used as a reason to oppress weaker nations to take over their territories and valuable resources.
China’s premises its claim on an ancient Han Dynasty map and also on an arbitrary map made by an individual in Chiang Kai Sheks’ Kuomintang government in 1948 – which indicated China’s territory with a U shaped (like a cow’s tongue) so called “9 dash line.” Even some Chinese scholars indicate that the Chinese claim is so arbitrary that it cannot be sustained on factual or legal grounds.
If China’s leaders are acting in good faith and truly believe that they have a valid claim, then they should have no problems in having their claim and the conflicting claims of other countries adjudicated in the International Tribunal on the Law of the Seas (ITLOS) utilizing the UNCLOS law to which they are signatories. Why won’t China agree to this fair objective process meant to resolve ocean territorial disputes between countries unless China’s leaders themselves know that they are pushing a bogus claim which cannot withstand judicial scrutiny?
They want to take over Philippine territories because of the enormous resources found there so they simply are using brute force by squatting and claiming fictitious rights on these. Initially, being cautious, China was first using veiled methods to take over islands in Philippine territories – such as claiming that they were merely putting a resting station for their fishermen in Mischief Reef. It turned out later that what they built was a permanent military garrison. To take over Scarborough Shoals, they sent in over a hundred disguised fishing boats accompanied by armed patrol boats.
In the interest of peace, seeking to avoid armed heated confrontation with the giant Chinese dragon and seeking a diplomatic solution, the Philippines has agreed to cool the situation in Scarborough by withdrawing its ships from the area with the understanding that China would do the same. Not only did China not withdraw its ships, it even increased their numbers and also roped off the area preventing Philippine fishing and patrol boats from entering Philippine territory which is only 120 miles from the Philippines’ Zambales province and over a thousand miles from China. Some reports indicate that Chinese ships were recently observed unloading construction materials in the Scarborough area.
Emboldened by its strategy and the ease with which it can gain valuable territory without a fight, China is using the same strategy to take over other areas clearly inside the Philippines 200 mile economic zone. Only now, their takeover plans are no longer veiled but includes outright arrogant declarations that these waters and land inside Philippines territory is theirs and that it is the Philippines which is trespassing. Not only do their fishing boats now come in and out of Philippine waters without permission but Chinese cruise ships and missile carrying war ships do the same. Three of these recently deployed themselves near Ayungin Shoals, their next target for occupation.
At the Shangri-la Dialogue Conference in Singapore on June 2, 2013, Chinese Lt. General Qi Jianguo, Deputy Chief of the Chinese Liberation Army – openly declared Philippine territory as theirs: “We don’t see any necessity to resort to an international tribunal. Patrols by Chinese warships and surveillance vessels within our own territory are totally legitimate and uncontroversial.”
Major General Zhang Zhaozhang, a professor at China’s National Defense University, recently openly disclosed in a television interview the Chinese strategy to take over Philippine territories: Chinese warships have been “wrapping Panatag (Scarborough) like a cabbage” successfully keeping Philippine patrol and fishing boats away. “We can adopt this method elsewhere.”
Zhaozhang gleefully added: “We have successfully sealed the area. If the Philippines wants to get in, they have to ask our permission…Our fishermen can carry out their production safely while our country’s marine rights and sovereignty are safeguarded.”
These statements clearly indicate China’s strategy from the start and for the future. They were feeling out how the Philippines and the US, its major superpower ally – would react if they took a small piece of Philippine territory using bully tactics and coercive intimidation. Having had two seemingly successful grabs, they now believe that they can now proceed with their cabbage strategy at will – grabbing one area after the other until they possess everything.
Engaged in obvious duplicity, at the same time that they are engaged in these blatant territorial grabs, they are telling the world that their intention is to have peaceful relationships with their neighbors and want only mutual cooperation and development – as General Qi did in the Shangri-la dialogue.
China’s political and military leaders are outsmarting themselves and going on a very dangerous deadly course of action for its people. The Philippines, the United States, the surrounding countries – are not exactly fools and are very aware of China’s trickery and insincerity. The more China’s leaders engage in these immoral activities, the more they incur the ire and resentment of the global community.
Very clearly, the Philippines now knows what China’s takeover plans are from the very beginning and for the future. If nothing is effectively done to stop China from carrying out its cabbage and other devious strategies, within a short time, not only will Chinese war boats, patrol and fishing boats be regular fixtures in Philippine waters, Chinese oil rigs and oil tankers will also be common sights.
Given these blatant immoral actions on the part of China, what should the Philippines do?
Here’s my take on this:
China or at least its leadership is generally no longer the China guided by the principled thoughts of its great philosopher sages like Confucius, Lao Tzu, Mencius and others who were concerned about humanist values such as: human rights; love and respect for family and neighbors; a commitment to truth and justice.
While the world should rightfully rejoice with the long suffering Chinese people on its new found prosperity, it should also be aware of the dangers that face the Chinese people and the world – because of the dark directions where some of her leaders are taking them.
The official modern China of today, sad to say, has incorporated in its present thinking much of the ugliness found in western corporate culture: Insatiable greed; the loss of spirituality; a callousness to the sufferings of exploited people; a willingness to use military force and other devious methods to grab the territories and resources of weaker nations; supporting oppressive corrupt foreign dictators and a lack of sensitivity to notions of fairness and justice.
Like a vampire constantly thirsty for blood to sustain its life, China constantly is now constantly lusting for oil, minerals and other resources to fuel her continued hunger for continuous wealth. If only she were willing to play by the rules and pay fair amounts for these resources as other nations do, she would be viewed more favorably by the world. Instead, she has taken the way of brigands and pirates deciding to take these resources by force. As such, she has targeted resource rich Philippines and other neighboring militarily weak countries to be her victims.
Victim countries like the Philippines must now take a bold firm stand to defend themselves against China’s grabbing bullying tactics. It’s now or never. Given her track record of duplicity, China cannot be expected nor trusted to take the moral high ground in its dealings. China’s cold hearted leaders appear to be mainly preoccupied with economic, military and political power concerns and the hell with who gets hurt.
Given the reality that the Philippines and neighboring countries are facing a heartless mighty dragon who wants to take what is not hers, what choices does the Philippines have? Filipinos must either fight or run away and live with the unpalatable thought that they and their country are being abused, raped and pillaged before their very eyes.
Many Filipinos have been lulled into inaction by the thought that we have already brought this matter to the United Nations for arbitration. This is hardly a solution. China’s officials have hinted that they will not submit to the jurisdiction of the UN Court on this matter. Moreover, it will take at least four years before this arbitration process is completed. Meanwhile, China continues to take and occupy strategic points in our territories. When these points are connected, China will then claim that the area enclosed by the lines all belong to them.
There are also those who keep on floating the idea that the solution can be found through diplomatic means. China has repeatedly announced that they are open to discussions. But they condition these discussions to bilateral negotiations where only China and the Philippines will be involved: no input from the United Nations or other countries. Correctly, the Philippines as well as former US Secretary Hillary Clinton, have rejected this arrangement. The results are predictable. China’s tremendous leverage over the Philippines, as Clinton pointed out, will leave the Philippines with little bargaining power. Diplomacy will work only if both sides are in good faith.
In dealing with a country like China where moral principles are not primary considerations, we can expect that the only forces that will serve as leverage for the Philippines are factors that affect China’s national pocketbook and the risk for them that other countries will ally with the Philippines including superpower USA which will equalize the face off.
I believe that if the Philippines wants to retain its territories and resources, it has no other choice but to immediately defend against China’s intrusion. But this must be done intelligently. We must try to ally with as many countries as possible and get the support of the majority of the global community. The world must clearly be informed through a concerted public and social media campaign of the truth about China’s immoral use of its military might to grab the Philippines and other countries’ territories and resources.
The Philippines must learn from the experience of Vietnam in 1988. Unarmed Vietnamese sailors were dispatched by the Vietnamese government to Johnson Reef which was well within Vietnam’s economic zone to keep Chinese sailors from occupying the area. China also claims this area as theirs. When the Chinese Navy ships got there, they massacred the unarmed helpless Vietnamese sailors with 37mm anti-aircraft guns killing 64 of them and seriously wounded many. The Chinese filmed this episode and proudly displays it. It can easily be accessed in YouTube.
The Philippines must place well trained and well-armed men with heavy artillery in different areas within its 200 mile economic zone. Aside from professional soldiers, these fighters can also include civilian volunteers who understand the risks involved which might mean giving their lives for a noble cause. Even long term prisoners who can be trained to fight and who might want to volunteer to be stationed in these areas for at least three years, in exchange for their freedom, should be considered.
The Filipino people are called upon at this important time – to fight for the wellbeing and welfare of generations of Filipinos and defend the country against the obvious greed of a foreign aggressor.