China: changing of the guard —amid same old repression

As expected, Xi Jinping was chosen as general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party at the 18th Party Congress in Beijing's  Great Hall of the People Nov. 15. The process, concealed from domestic and international observers, was thoroughly choreographed; Xi, the incoming president, and Li Keqiang, the new premier, were probably chosen years ago. The 2,270 delegates also named the new Central Committee, a ruling council of some 200 full members and 170 non-voting alternates. The leadership change happens every 10 years. The congress had an official theme of "Accelerating the Transformation of the Economic Growth Model," with the official report opening: "We need to expedite the improvement of the socialist market economic system." The target of doubling gross domestic product growth by 2020, set during the 16th congress, was raised to doubling both GDP and per capita income. Xi's remarks called for addressing "corruption" and "inequality," but made no mention of Marxism or Mao Zedong Thought. (China Digital Times, Xinhua, BBC World Service, Nov. 15; Caixin, IOL, BBC News, Nov. 14; Worldpress, Nov. 6)

Born in 1953, Xi is the son of one of Mao's "first generation" elite, Xi Zhongxun, and spent the first year of his life within the walls of the Zhongnanhai, the palace that houses the Communist party headquarters, adjacent to the Forbidden City. The elder Xi was purged and arrested in 1962, and the son went back to the ancestral homeland of Shaanxi and lived in a cave for seven years. Xi Zhongxun was rehabilitated after Mao's death in 1976, and the son's career track was restored. The elder Xi fell out of grace again by speaking out against the repression at Tiananmen Square in 1989, but the son was by then well ensconced in the bureaucracy and was unaffected. After senior political roles in Fujian and Zhejiang provinces, he was appointed as Shanghai's party chief in 2007 and ascended to the all-powerful nine-member Standing Committee of the 25-member Politburo. The following year, he was named vice-president under Hu Jintao. He became a leading advocate of market liberalization and developing the private sector. (Business Insider, Nov. 14;  IBT, Nov. 2)

When Xi Jinping served as deputy party secretary in Fujian from 1995 to 2002 and party secretary in Zhejiang from 2002 to 2007, he gained a reputation for targeting independent trade unions. In 2002, eight activists in Fujian who formed an independent union were arrested and received sentences of up to 16 years. After Xi departed for Zhejiang, those imprisoned in the case were one by one granted clemency. Only the leader Li Jianfeng is currently believed to be imprisoned. During Xi’s tenure in Zhejiang, the province imprisoned several members of the China Democracy Party—one of the largest underground opposition parties. After Xi’s arrival in Beijing, he became the Standing Committee's pointman for supressing dissent.  (Dui Hua, Oct. 26)

In 2009, Xi famously blasted critics of China's human rights situation—in comments clearly aimed at the US: "There are a few foreigners, with full bellies, who have nothing better to do than try to point fingers at our country. China does not export revolution, hunger, poverty nor does China cause you any headaches. Just what else do you want?" Yet he visisted with Obama in Washington and toured the US in February 2012, with stops in Los Angeles and Iowa. (NYT, Nov. 4; NYT, Nov. 3; BBC News, Feb. 14)

In the prelude to the Party Congress, police and security personnel cracked down on dissidents, human rights activists and petitioners, with hundreds detained—part of the effort pioneered by Xi to "maintain stability" during "sensitive periods" with pre-emptive measures. Many in Beijing who are routinely under surveillance were subjected to greater controls, with guards stationed outside their homes, and police "escorting" them when they ventured outside. Police in the capital held activist Hu Jia under house arrest for over a month before the congress opened. (Chinese Human Rights Defenders, Nov. 1)

The heightened repression also came amid a new wave of labor unrest. A sharp increase in the number of wage arrears cases saw the total number of worker protests recorded by China Labour Bulletin reach 49 in October, the highest monthly total since the Hong Kong-based watchdog launched its "strike map" in January 2011. The largest protests were reported at Singapore's Flextronics International plant in Shenzhen and Hong Kong-based Win Hanverky's plant in Guangdong, which produces sportswear for Adidas. (China Labour Bulletin, Nov. 6)

Cold Warriors confused on China

The exile-based Epoch Times, which bitterly opposes the Beijing regime, ran an enlightening story Nov. 13, "Open Alliance of Power and Money Meets in Beijing." 

The state-run Xinhua News Agency recently published an article by China Economic Weekly titled "Red Entrepreneurs." The article reported that, according to incomplete statistics, 145 out of the 2,270 Party delegates are CEOs of state-owned enterprises, banks, and financial institutions, and of private enterprises from provinces and municipalities.

Bloomberg News published an article in February, titled, "China's Billionaire People's Congress Makes Capitol Hill Look Like Pauper," saying, "The net worth of the 70 richest delegates in China’s National People’' Congress, which opens its annual session on March 5, rose to 565.8 billion yuan (US$89.8 billion) in 2011, a gain of US$11.5 billion from 2010, according to figures from the "Hurun Report," which tracks the country’s wealthy. That compares to the US$7.5 billion net worth of all 660 top officials in the three branches of the U.S. government."

The 18th Party Congress is hosting political and military elites, along with rich businessmen...

The feast of wealth began in 1990s in China, and now red aristocrats can be seen in every sector, including electricity, oil, real estate, the stock market, the financial sector, and so on. According to reports on the Internet, about 200 Chinese political families have monopolized China’s wealth.

A diplomatic cable leaked by WikiLeaks in August 2011 said former Chinese Premier Li Peng and his family controlled all electric power interests, Politburo member and security czar Zhou Yongkang and his cronies controlled the oil interests, while Premier Wen Jiabao's wife controlled China's precious gems sector.

Over 130 state-owned enterprises under the state-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission of the State Council are said to be operated or managed by people who come from an official family background.

In fact, the biggest problem in China today is not the gap between rich and poor, but that the regime's insiders took the nation's wealth hostage long ago.

Um, now what exactly is the difference between these two concepts? In addition to being completely naive about the US ("In the United States, rich peoples' wealth is mainly attributed to personal capabilities"), Epoch Times seems to accept the Orwellian construction of "red entrepreneurs" at face value. We have noted before their outdated anti-Communist prism. Do they really think nothing has changed since 1945, when the constitution of the CCP read:

The Communist Party of China is the organized vanguard of the Chinese working class and the highest form of its class organization. The Party represents the interests of the Chinese nation and the Chinese people. While at the present stage it works to create a system of new democracy in China, its ultimate aim is the realization of a system of communism in China. [Quoted in Fanshen by William Hinton, p. 168]

OK, sophomoric exercise in historical irony over now...

"Red Dawn" reveals contradictions of new cold war

The 1984 jingo-fest Red Dawn was nearly an official piece of Cold War propaganda, given the advisory role of bellicose Secretary of State Alexander Haig (as Fast Rewind recalls), and the controversy over the current remake reveals much about the contradictory nature of the New Cold War with China—characterized by an uneasy tension between imperial rivalry and globalist interpenetration. When word got out that this time the enemy occupying forces of the American heartland would be Chinese rather than Russian, China's largest paper, Global Times, ran not just one but two angry editorials accusing Hollywood of "demonizing" and "planting hostile seeds against China." Producers MGM capitulated like spineless cultural-elite quislings, spending $1 million to go through the movie frame by frame and digitally alter every Chinese symbol seen on the screen into North Korean!

Of course in so doing, they sent the film's premise over the edge from wildly improbable to straight-up impossible. C. Thomas Howell, a star from the 1984 version, stated the obvious, telling USA Today: "Quite frankly, we all know North Korea cannot afford to invade itself. How is that going to happen? That's already stupid in my book."

Maybe the North Koreans will now protest too, as they did the execrable 2002 James Bond flick Die Another Day, Wikipedia recalls...

By the way, dig these shots from the movie at the Daily Mail. See those Chinese, I mean North Korean, propaganda posters...? See the one that says "Fighting Corporate Corruption" with the staff of a Communist flag skewering an image of the Wall Street bull? Is that supposed to make us think of Occupy?

China: apocalyptic cult makes rulers nervous —with reason

Lost amid the endless hoopla about the end-of-the-world panic last week is what a big deal it was in China—and how nervous it made the authorities. From NBC's Behind the Wall blog:

The government is taking one aspect of the doomsday talk seriously; it has reportedly rounded-up members of a religious group calling for the toppling of the Communist Party. 

The group, known as the "Almighty God," has called for a "decisive battle" to slay the "big red dragon," a reference to the Book of Revelation and the organization’s name for the Chinese Communist Party.

Nearly 1,000 members of the sect have been arrested, The New York Times reported. NBC News could not independently verify the number of detentions, but Chinese state media also reported that authorities had detained around 1,000 members over some seven provinces, Reuters reported.

This is not the first time that China has dealt with a fast-moving Christian cult it deems a risk to party rule. In fact, according to the newspaper, "Almighty God" has its roots in a sect that claimed it had 300,000 adherents called "Lightning from the East," according to Time Magazine in 2001.

Lightning from the East propagated the belief that Jesus had returned to earth in the form of a 30-year old Chinese woman who had written a third testament of the Bible and promised salvation from the coming apocalypse for all who joined her.

You can bet that China's rulers, in ordering the mass arrests, were recalling the Taiping Rebellion, a mid-19th century peasant upsurge against the Qing dynasty, with apocalyptic Christian overtones, that shook China for 15 years at a cost of millions of lives and nearly brought about the collapse of the imperial state. 

Such memories doubtless also inform the harsh crackdown on the Falun Gong movement. We are agnostic on the claims of Falun Gong leaders that their movement's imprisoned adherents are being killed so that their organs can be harvested. (Epoch Times, Dec. 21)   But it is bad enough that they are being imprisoned. It's been 12 years now since Falun Gong followers filled Tiananmen Square. (See The Telegraph, Oct. 2, 2000) It's a shame that just a decade after the 1989 Tiananmen Square movement was crushed, popular dissension was being exploited by an obscurantist and cultish sect. But the dissension remained real. And has probably only grown since then.

More clues to Xi Jinping's contradictions

The New York Times noted Feb. 14 that off-the-record comments made by Xi Jinping to party insiders in Guangdong in December were leaked by a blogger named Gao Yu (who seems to be associated with the Seeing Red in China website). In the comments, which may not be verbatim, Xi apparently said that China must heed the "deeply profound" (sic) lessons of the fall of the Soviet Union. "Why did the Soviet Union disintegrate? Why did the Soviet Communist Party collapse? An important reason was that their ideals and convictions wavered... Finally, all it took was one quiet word from Gorbachev to declare the dissolution of the Soviet Communist Party, and a great party was gone. In the end nobody was a real man, nobody came out to resist."

The Times notes the signifance that the comments were made in Guangdong: "In a province famed for its frenetic capitalism, he demanded a return to traditional Leninist discipline."

Xi's reference to "ideals and convictions" is very revealing—showing the propaganda utility of the Mao era for maintainence of the one-party state, even as the actual "ideals and convictions" of the Mao era are utterly betrayed. This is telegraphed by the reigning bureaucracy in other ways—e.g. in the continuing official denigration of the Cultural Revolution (also evidenced in the Bo Xilai affair). A Feb. 21 AFP report notes the strange trial of an octogenarian in Zhejiang who is charged with having carried out a murder in connection with the Cultural Revolution purges in 1967. This has actually sparked some wry commentary on Weibo, China's answer to Twitter. According to AFP, dissident attorney Liu Xiaoyuan posted: "The biggest murderer in the Cultural Revolution has no responsibility, while a common murderer is held accountable decades later." This is obviously a reference to Mao, without actually naming him. The fact that he (apparently) got away with this comment indicates how finely the line is drawn in contemporary China.

Of course this little game actually began with the Gang of Four trial, when scapegoats were needed for the Cultural Revolution to signal the consolidation of the "revisionist coup" (as the Maoists continue to call it today)—while Mao himself, safely dead, remained sacrosanct so that the regime could exploit him as a symbol of national unity. Note how these anti-Gang of Four propaganda posters all ironically invoke the style of Cultural Revolution propaganda posters from a decade earlier. Of course, you don't see anything like that in China today—but commercial adverstizing is just as crass and ubiquitous as in the West (see reports at Ad Age), and Col. Sanders' face is far more ubiquitous than that of Mao.

As we have noted.

China: golf courses for the rich, caves for the poor

A revealing juxtaposition of news stories. New Statesman is but one among several outlets to give play to Dan Washburn's new book, The Forbidden Game: Golf and the Chinese Dream. Golf is (appropriately) illegal in China, yet there is nonetheless a golf course boom going on—with the connivance of authorities. And the boom and illegality are another example of the paradoxical unity of opposites. Golf was banned under Mao for the same reason it is now being avidly embraced by China's contemporary elite—it is an ostentatious symbol of bourgeois profligacy.

Meanwhile makes note of a story in the LA Times last year finding that up to 30 million Chinese currently live in caves. The report portrays cave life favorably, and we are not here to diss it. But we wonder if the ranks of the cave-dwellers are not growing as poor Chinese are forced from their homes by the country's real estate boom.

China: capitalist purge

Here we go again. The outward appearance of a good old-fashioned Communist party purge—but it is obvious that what is at issue here is a struggle for private, capitalist control over China's financial and industrial apparatus. The man named in a Wikileaks cable (see above) as controlling the country's oil sector, ex-Minister of Public Security Zhou Yongkang, is being investigated for "serious disciplinary violation"—the most senior Chinese official to be investigated since the Gang of Four trial, and the first time ever for a member of the Politburo Standing Committee. The investigation is to be conducted by the Communist Party's Central Commission for Discipline Inspection. His son, Zhou Bin, has been arrested for "involvement in illegal business operations." He is named as an oil industry equipment investor, and one of China's richest men.

Liu Han, a mining tycoon also said to be part of Zhou's clique, has been sentenced to death for "organizing and leading mafia-style crime and murder." Liu is the former head of mining conglomerate Sichuan Hanlong Group, with operations in several African countries. 

Also under investigation is Jiang Jiemin, Zhou's close ally and former head of the China National Petroleum Company (CNPC). 

Finally, Zhou is being linked to the imprisoned ex-Politburo member Bo Xilai, and there were apparently rumors that the two of them were plotting a coup together against President Hu Jintao. Despite Bo's Maoist pretensions, the shake-up is being portrayed as an effort by the new generation that came in with Xi Jinping to break up the old "Elitist" oligarchy that rose with Jiang Zemin, paramount leader in the '90s. (Caixin, Epoch Times, Aug. 21; Foreign Policy, Aug. 4; The Guardian, BBC News, July 29,, March 31)

China: fall of a 'tiger'

Ex-security chief Zhou Yongkang has been arrested and expelled from the Communist Party, China's Supreme People's Procuratorate, announced. Zhou is accused of leaking state secrets as well as illegal enrichment and "committing adultery with several women." He had not been seen in public for over a year. Xi Jinping has promised to go after "both the tigers and the flies" in his corruption crackdown. (BBC News, BBC News, Channel News Asia, Dec. 6)

China moves to further privatize oil sector

Caixin Online reported May 14 of leadership changes at all of China's "Big Three" state-owned oil companies—CNPC, CNOOC and Sinopec. Ostensibly, the move was taken because the incumbent chairmen of each of these turn 63 this year—the traditional age of retirement at China's state-owned enterprises (SOEs). But we are told that the changes come amid "initiatives to downsize" the SOEs "by auctioning off non-core assets." Last year, Sinopec sold off about 30% of its retail business to private investors. The company, which has just launched shale-fracking operations in Sichuan, is expected to go public within three years. We're reminded that these Big Three are global companies, with investments in Canadian oil sands, Brazilian offshore wells, a Burma pipeline and other projects around the world.

The changes also come amid the much-touted anti-corruption crackdown. China Daily on May 5 reported that Sinopec's president was facing a corruption investigation, and several CNPC officials also face corruption probes. But we're inclined to view the corruption crackdown as a cover for turning the industry over to a new generation of cronies—under increasing private control.

This process is well under way. Three years ago, PetroChina overtook Exxon as the world's biggest publicly traded oil giant.

China moves to (still) further privatize oil sector

China's National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) is said to be considering a plan that would establish pipeline operators as independent businesses to "ensure competitive access." CNPC and Sinopec would theoretically benefit from the sales, which would raise cash for more profitable exploration and production activities. (RFA, June 1)

Ex-PetroChina chair gets 16 years

From Bloomberg, Oct. 12:

The former chairman of China’s biggest oil producer was sentenced to 16 years in prison for taking bribes and abuse of power, the latest high-ranking official to be taken down in President Xi Jinping’s campaign to weed out corruption in the Communist Party.

Jiang Jiemin, former chairman of China National Petroleum Corp. and its listed unit PetroChina Co., accepted the sentence and won’t appeal the ruling by the Hanjiang Intermediate People’s Court in Hubei , the official China Central Television reported Monday. Authorities also confiscated about about 1 million yuan ($157,600) from Jiang, 60, after he failed to explain where it came from, the report said...

Jiang’s prosecution was part of an effort to root out corruption by Zhou Yongkang, a one-time member of the Politburo Standing Committee, who dominated the Chinese energy industry for more than three decades with the help of Jiang. Zhou was sentenced to life in prison in June.

With the support of Zhou, Jiang used his influence at CNPC between 2004 to 2008 to help unidentified sources win bids for oil and gas exploration, gas turbine generation and natural gas supply contracts, the official Xinhua News Agency reported in April.

"Bids"? Sounds very communistic, doesn't it?

China torturing corruption suspects: HRW

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is engaging in torture in its efforts to root out official corruption, according to a Human Rights Watch report (PDF) released Dec. 6. The report claims that President Xi Jinping's "war on corruption" has resulted in the punishment of thousands of low-level corrupt officials, as well as hundreds of so-called "tigers," high-level officials. HRW states that officials are summoned by the CCP to detention centers operated outside of the criminal justice system. Officials are reportedly held for up to several months and tortured until they confess to corruption. Many are then handed over to face criminal prosecutions based on these confessions. HRW called for abolition of this system, which the organization said "underscores the abuses inherent in President Xi's anti-corruption campaign." (Jurist)

Xi Jinping keeps a straight face while invoking 'Marxism'

Here's a telling juxtaposition of news items. The Financial Times headlines July 1: "Xi Jinping pledges return to Marxist roots for China’s Communists"...

Communist orthodoxy is hard to come by in an increasingly prosperous and materialist China where a growing wealth gap is generating class tensions. But the president stayed well within the careful choreography of party ceremony as he urged its 88m members not to “betray or abandon” Marxism. “The whole party should remember, what we are building is socialism with Chinese characteristics, not some other -ism,” Mr Xi said in an 80-minute address in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People. The speech was live-streamed on the website of state news agency Xinhua as well as on YouTube — a site banned in China.

Just two days earlier, China Labour Bulletin headlined: "China starts to shift social insurance burden from employers to workers"...

China’s Social Insurance Law, which went into effect five years ago on 1 July 2011, was supposed to create a comprehensive social insurance system in which the responsibilities of employees, employers and the government were clearly spelled out.

However, the majority of employers simply ignored their legal obligations to provide employees with a basic pension, unemployment, medical, work-related injury and maternity insurance. Local government officials, likewise, ignored their obligation to enforce the law, leaving hundreds of millions of workers without an effective social welfare safety net.

Now, there is growing evidence that China’s increasingly pro-business government is looking to place the burden of social security firmly on to the shoulders of workers and individual citizens and gradually reduce the limited burden currently carried by employers.

The government’s own figures show that in 2015, only 262 million workers, about one third of China’s total workforce of around 775 million, actually had a basic pension, while only 213 million workers had basic medical insurance provided by their employer.

By contrast, there are currently 357 million working age people with a government-backed pension—but what they receive from this is often "token at best." Meanwhile, "responsibility for medical insurance likewise is gradually shifting away from employers towards individual citizens."

Marxism? Really?

The contemporary Chinese state has zero to do with Marxism, apart from appropriating its rhetoric—and ever less of that over the past generation. What Xi is really defending here is a legacy of Leninism—the one-party dictatorship—actually bereft of its Marxist character. The Marxist-Leninist justifications of totalitarianism are employed, but in support of a state which is aggressively, savagely capitalist.

Xi Jinping anointed as 'core' leader

China's Communist Party elevated President Xi Jinping’s political status on Oct. 27, referring to him as the "core" of its leadership. A communique released after the end of the Central Committee's four-day Sixth Plenum in Beijing adopted new sets of regulations governing the conduct of senior cadres and called on all members to "closely unite around [its] Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping as the core." The term is believed to confer veto power on Xi ahead of the party's five-yearly congress late next year. 

The term "core" was used by Deng Xiaoping in 1989 to describe Mao Zedong, himself and his successor Jiang Zemin. From the early 1990s, various top-level documents and state media reports referred to Jiang as the "core." However, the title was abandoned under Jiang's successor and Xi's predecessor, Hu Jintao. During Hu’s decade-long term as party chief, he was only referred to as the "general secretary" of the leadership, and in practice he was "first among equals" with the ­other eight Politburo Standing Committee members. (SCMP, Oct. 27)

China demands WTO 'market economy' status

Did you catch that little tiff? Next month will mark 15 years that China has been a member of the World Trade Organization, and it is making a big push to have "free market status" confered on it, despite European concerns about dumping. See this editorial in China Daily, and (for the other side of the story) this analysis from the European Council on Foreign Relations. "Socialism," eh? How do they square it?