‘Just speculating’ (and other interesting reads)


The above link will direct you to ESWN’s translation of prominent blogger Han Han’s speculation over the future of the Chinese Internet. Needless to say, it was deleted by blog hosting service Sina.com pretty quickly. And apparently, we have the following to look forward to:

2019:  It is the military parade on the seventieth anniversary of the founding of the nation.  On that day, the government announces that China will lock down its national borders and concentrate on strengthening itself so that all reactionary forces will tremble in fear.  On that day, China makes a statement to the rest of the world: “If you stop beating someone for 3 days, he/she may get on the roof and remove tiles.”  Many nations say that they don’t know how to translate this sentence.

2020: …

2020:  Earth is destroyed.  The descendants of the Mayans say that it is normal to see a margin of error of plus or minus ten years on such events.

Another link comes via Peter Beaumont of the Observer. Here he discusses the growing claim that there is even less freedom in China now than before 1989, and why China is terrified of escalating dissent. Fear? Harmony? Paranoia? Power-hungry?

Finally, if you haven’t quite filled your quota of the Google-China fiasco, read Rebecca MacKinnon’s commentary on the global Internet’s future and the need for accountability from both governments and online power holders.


How not to handle China


This brief post is a link to this fantastic piece written by Jonathan Fenby in today’s Guardian comment pages. Simply, Fenby argues, the West doesn’t understand how Beijing politics works, making her ill-equipped to deal diplomatically with the PRC. I couldn’t agree more, and have put forward similar (if less detailed and far less esteemed) lines of argument in previous posts.

I’ll leave you with this excerpt:

It might be nice if China was more like us, but it isn’t going to be. Expecting it to fit into the paradigm set by the west is not only futile but positively dangerous. The sooner governments start to work out a meaningful China policy rather than depending on wishful thinking, the better. It would make a good New year’s resolution. But I’m not holding my breath.

Happy New Year!

Akmal Shaikh: China’s final curtain?

2009 has ended on a bitter note for China: obstinate tactics and climate change disagreements in Copenhagen, an international outcry at the sentencing of Liu Xiaobo, and today’s uproar over Akmal Shaikh’s execution in Urumqi.

This tragic story of a mentally ill taxi driver from Kentish Town who entered China with (unbeknown to him) 4kg of heroin has unsurprisingly sparked off the usual head-banging between China and the disapproving West: enraged condemnation came from Amnesty International and Reprieve, and various British ministers called for clemency on the basis of Shaikh’s mental condition.

But none of these outcries were heeded to, and Shaikh fell victim to the hardline politics of the CCP late this morning. The line of argument put forward by China’s Supreme Court was that it had never been provided with any documentation proving Shaikh had a mental disorder. Calls for clemency were futile, and the sad reality was that the exploited Shaikh ended up being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

But, moving away slightly from the dominant discourse of human rights and how far China is stuck in the dark ages, Michael White has claimed it is hypocritical for the West to denounce China’s move. White cites the history of Europe coercing China to open up to foreign trade, and the Opium Wars that led to unequal treaties between China and the British:

Result: China was forced to accept the trade with devastating social consequences. In fairness I should add that the stuff was legal in Britain at the time – as readers of Victorian novels can confirm. The Chinese governor Lin Zexu became a hero for opposing the trade – as did young William Gladstone at Westminster.

White’s point is valid: China certainly has a knack for keeping painful memories close, and this is no exception. Her history provides a substantial amount of fuel to run the sovereignty engine I have often referred to: China dislikes being told what to do. As a result, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu responded with the usual line: the West has no right to comment on China’s judicial system.

As 2009’s curtain shuts and 2010’s opens, more voices are calling upon China to change her ways. She can no longer hide from the global magnifying glass that today revealed how she annually carries out 3/4 of the world’s executions.

But will she listen? Or will we still continue to bang heads whilst tragic victims get caught in the middle?

After Copenhagen…

Copenhagen's Failed Aims? Image from Future Atlas

Melancholy has certainly been in the air over the weekend. The two weeks of talks at Copenhagen resulted in commitments to prevent global temperatures from rising above 2C, but without enforcement upon any nation to make specific, legally-binding cuts.

For China, this was a pretty convenient deal that didn’t impinge on the country’s national sovereignty. Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, heralded the outcome as “significant and positive”. Throughout the conference, China’s status as a developing nation was hammered home, allowing the country to avoid binding cuts. In the end, she became subject to voluntary mitigation actions, along with other developing countries. For Yang, this was “not a destination, but a new beginning.”

Ed Miliband, however, wasted no time in pointing his finger at the PRC. He accused China, amongst others, of hijacking the conference by holding “the world to ransom” and preventing a deal being reached. It would be wrong to disagree with him in the sense that China’s tactics were indeed defensive and its strategy was obstinate. But, as I wrote some days ago, China’s priority was retaining her national sovereignty and making sure the West shared the blame for emissions. She wasn’t going to back down without a fight.

Ali Yang has, however, provided a balanced response to this weekend’s bickering:

Desperate world leaders need to provide an explanation to their people why Copenhagen would end in such a mess. Well, who more convenient to blame than China?

But China only deserves so much sympathy. It was merely acting in its own interests, while Copenhagen was supposed to be the place to secure a global climate rescue plan. China failed to recognise and embrace the international role it ought to play in this global fight against the biggest threat of our humanity.

Obama claimed the PRC and other developing nations needed to be “getting out of that mindset, and moving towards the position where everybody recognises that we all need to move together.” This is certainly true, and China was not exuding compromising qualities in the global relationships on show at Copenhagen. But Obama too, has (justly) not left the talks unscathed, with The Guardian quickly jumping on his broad and hollow rhetoric as providing little signs of decisive commitment.

But, perhaps Obama made the wisest diplomatic move by agreeing to non-legally binding cuts and avoiding a wave of antagonism from the East. Whilst it certainly is all too easy to blame the world’s largest CO2 emitter for the conference’s failure, at least Obama was aware that China’s historically-loaded defiance meant she wouldn’t budge just yet.

Still, despite boxes being ticked on the diplomacy list, the outcome of Copenhagen was indeed miserable. In practice, the bare minimum was achieved. And China opened a door that could potentially lead her down the ‘bad guy’ route, as Ali Yang warned. We will have to wait and see if Obama’s step-by-step method will veer China away from this and gently push her down a more global-friendly path.

This week, China says: stop interfering

It’s been hard to escape the news this week that talks at Copenhagen have been quickly turning into quarrels. Most recently, the US has argued that China’s promised emissions cuts should be internationally verified. At first, China responded with a blunt ‘thanks, but no thanks’, but has since said concessions would be made so long as her national sovereignty won’t be compromised.

As Tony Juniper wrote today, China dislikes being told what to do, not least when she feels the West is a) breathing down her neck and b) not taking enough of whichever burden it’s lumbering China herself with. And this hasn’t stopped at emissions cuts this week: on Tuesday, China’s Foreign Ministry told both the US and the EU where to go when they called for Liu Xiaobo’s release.

China’s policy of non-interference is, unsurprisingly, perceived by Western eyes as conveniently giving the government free reign to do what it wants, emitting as many greenhouse gases as it pleases and repressing whoever gets in its way. It would be wrong to deny non-interference comes with these added perks. But the West often lacks a cultural and historical understanding of why China really does what she does: the end of the nineteenth century and first 49 years of the twentieth were marred with imperialist invasions and internal power struggles that made the CCP only too fierce in preserving the country’s national sovereignty. This is also the reason why China and African nations get on like a house on fire.

But the truth is that heads are still being banged against brick walls. The West wants to monitor China, China doesn’t want to be monitored. Perhaps if there were more of an informed cultural awareness on both sides, these two would actually be able to get somewhere.

Juniper, however, is still hopeful for the final day of talks in the Danish capital: “perhaps some time tomorrow, we should have the answer to exactly what the Chinese want.” I think less Western interference will be quite high on the list. Whether or not China gets that is another matter.