China’s Police Chief Mystery

The Chinese rumor mill has been in overdrive since Tuesday, when Chongqing deputy mayor and chief of police Wang Lijun was apparently taken into custody after spending the night in the American consulate in the nearby city of Chengdu. A close ally of Chongqing’s party chief, the celebrity politician Bo Xilai, Wang’s case throws sudden doubt on Bo’s efforts to join the top-ranking Politburo standing committee, and suggests that powerful forces may be gunning for the Chongqing leader.

Wang’s apparent attempt to defect is presumed to have followed a warning that he was due to be arrested (although there are other, if rather fanciful, theories – see below).

I spoke today to Richard McGregor, a former Financial TimesBeijing bureau chief and author of The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers – required reading for anyone trying to understand the Chinese Communist Party.  McGregor says that Wang’s arrest is a crisis for Bo’s remarkably public campaign for promotion: “It seemed like a sure thing til last week. Normally you’d expect a very public campaign to backfire, but out of the nine members of the standing committee, about six have been to Chongqing and, by their presence, consecrated his campaign.”

Read the full story on The Diplomat!

David Cohen Sunday, February 12th, 2012
Chinese Media, Chinese Politics No Comments

Civil society in China: Jia Xijin interview

The latest installment of our interview series with Chinese academics and thinkers is up on the Lowy Interpreter. This time, we talked to Jia Xijin, an expert on civil society in China from Tsinghua University.

Lei Gong: What is the current state of development of Chinese civil society? How is the development of civil society oriented in terms of its independence, integration, or lack thereof from the state?

There are two ways of looking at civil society in China. I would personally use civil society in a Western sense of a self-governing society which develops from the bottom up. In this sense, China’s civil society is not very developed, but has grown little-by-little since 1978, especially since the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. After that, awareness of citizen participation really increased. Each year has seen new developments, including the development of the ‘grassroots’, ‘microblogs’, and ‘micro-social movements’.

But that is only one way to look at civil society in China. It’s not only developed in a bottom-up way. Some scholars use civil society to describe all the areas outside government, business offshore company formation. That’s much broader because in China you can find many social organisations which represent the Party or the Government but are not part of the Party or Government: we call them GONGOs, or Government-organised non-Government organisations. They may register with the Ministry of Civil Affairs or directly with the Party. Examples include the Women’s Federation, the Youth League, and labor unions. They are also part of what China calls civil society, but they aren’t civil society according to my definition because they’re not self-governing, and they’re not bottom-up.

Sebastian Hymen: How do you interpret the Government’s move to solicit public opinion on certain issues (public hearings, online surveys etc)?

I think the Government increasingly says it wants to hear from citizens. They are trying to explore more ways to reach citizens. It happens in many areas like public policy, city planning, and even some courts. But the efficiency of these kinds of citizen participation is doubtful because there are not many formal channels to confirm the effects of this participation. The results of these solicitations depend on whether or not the Government wants to listen. If leaders want to ignore these consultations, they can do so.

Public opinion in general though is increasingly important. When something happens, and public opinion spreads across the whole of society, then it can create real pressure. This kind of pressure means that the Government has to take public opinion into account. We can even find some examples of the Government changing its opinion, even in the wrong direction, but following public opinion. For example, lawyers might look at a case in a very professional way, but public opinion can be extremely emotional and the final decision of a judge might be influenced by this kind of emotion. In these kinds of cases, it’s hard to say whether it’s good or not.

Read the full interview here

Online piracy: if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em

I have a piece about the computer game industry in China in the newest issue of the Cheung Kong School of Management’s in-house magazine, which marks the start of a collaboration with the distinguished Chinese business magazine Caixin.  The magazine is only available online as a PDF download (my story begins on page 28), so I’m posting the whole piece here below the jump.

Game Theory

How Western video game companies overhauled their business models to target the Chinese market

China is a daunting place to bring intellectual property. It’s especially tough for businesses that produce content, like movies and music. Widespread piracy has all but shut out Western publishers, record labels, and television studios.

But for the video game industry, the Chinese market is becoming central to growth. Not only is it vast and lucrative—in November, China became the largest consumer of smartphones—it’s also an unlikely driver of innovation. Gaming companies have been forced to adapt to China, whether that means developing new models for payment and distribution, taking creative approaches to IP, or partnering with pirates to reach their audiences. Some companies have even applied these lessons to markets back home. For years, China has represented the piracy problem. Now it may be the solution.

The gaming industry has adapted far more rapidly than its counterparts in music, movies, and books, says Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business (CKGSB) Assistant Professor of Strategy and Economics Brian Viard. “The music industry is painfully slow,” he says. “But if you look at games, I think they’ve been some of the most progressive companies.”

Three video game companies in particular—Rovio, creator of the “Angry Birds” franchise; PopCap, which made the hits “Bejeweled” and “Plants vs. Zombies” before being acquired by the studio Electronic Arts in July; and Blizzard Entertainment, which created the monumental “Warcraft” series—have tweaked their business models to fit China’s unusual gaming market. This, their executives say, will help them adjust their strategies around the world as piracy becomes more commonplace. “We see Asia as a kind of time machine into the future,” says James Gwertzman, Asia division chief of PopCap.

› Continue reading

David Cohen Thursday, January 12th, 2012
China's Economy, Chinese Media No Comments

China and Global Governance

Dave and I interviewed Renmin University’s Pang Zhongying about his views on China’s participation in global governance. Pang outlined his view that the time has come for China to take a more active role in global governance and that its attitude towards non-interference should also change with China’s growing influence.

Anna: China’s lack of developed NGOs limits its participation in international civil society. Is this a weakness for Chinese diplomacy?

Pang: I think so. For example, this university, like other leading universities in China, has established and operates Confucius Institutes around the globe. But you know, such behavior is not led by NGOs or private organisations. This university is a national university, and the Confucius Institute is owned and managed by the Chinese Government. This a limit of China’s projection of soft power, and maybe this is ‘Chinese characteristics’. But in my view, the experiences of others show that you project your soft power not by the government, but mainly by civil society organisations.

China should encourage the full development of Chinese civil society, and let them play larger roles in Chinese diplomacy. And maybe a very good news is in recent years, is China promotes public diplomacy. Maybe the Government now takes the lead, and if it faces some failures and setbacks, China will realize the importance of NGOs and civil society in pursuing Chinese objectives.

Jacob: I would like to know, what does China plan on using its growing power in international institutions for?

Pang: This country’s relations with the world are so different from others, because it has one-sixth of the population of the globe. Also, this country represents one of this world’s civilizations. China’s goal in intervening in universal international institutions is to promote the peaceful coexistence of different civilizations and solving the differences of different civilizations, and avoiding the ‘clash of civilizations’. It includes the continuations of civilizations around the world, many other small languages, small countries, promoting peaceful coexistence and dialogue.

Read the full part 1 of the interview here. Part 2 to come later.

Hu: China in Cultural War

Chinese President Hu Jintao says China and the West are engaged in a “cultural war,” and China’s cultural integrity should be defended from “international hostile forces [which] are intensifying the strategic plot of westernizing and dividing China.”

The comments came Monday in an editorial in the Party journal “Seeking Truth” as a follow-up to discussions of “cultural security” at the October meeting of the Party Central Committee. Yesterday’s article added little to what was said back then, but the publication of a signed editorial by Hu is a sign that the slogan is unlikely to be forgotten in the near future.

The precise reason for penning the editorial now is still unclear, but it seems likely intended to address both concerns about a crisis of values in Chinese society, and the Chinese leader’s keen interest in developing the country’s soft power by creating internationally popular media.

Read the full post at The Diplomat!

What Wukan Meant

The seige of Wukan ended peacefully after Guangdong provincial Gov. Wang Yang flew to the rebellious fishing village and cut a deal that replaced corrupt local authorities and ended the land deals that provoked the conflict.  The issues that prompted the uprising aren’t going away – but neither is the nation’s authoritarian government. Comparisons to the Arab Spring and the protests in Russia are a poor fit. Indeed, Wukan does a very good job of showing off the strengths of the Chinese Communist Party, as well as the challenges it faces as it tries to hold on to stability and legitimacy.

The protests in Wukan began two months ago over an attempt to seize rural land for commercial development, a widespread issue which is a frequent cause of unrest. It escalated into an uprising in early December, when a villager sent to negotiate with the local government was beaten to death in police custody, infuriating residents already fed up with the corruption of their local leaders.

The conflict rose to the provincial level before being resolved, but it seems to have made little impression on China’s leaders, who have apparently filed it as nothing more than a particularly serious example of the 80,000 to 100,000 “mass incidents” China experiences annually, at least according to official figures.  Beijing’s response has been most notable for what hasn’t happened – while the revolutions of the Arab Spring clearly shook Chinese leaders, who responded with a wave of arrests and status quo-friendly media coverage, central officials seem to have been happy to leave Wukan to local authorities.

Land grabs and local corruption are serious challenges for China’s leaders, but Wukan demonstrates well why they are unlikely to prompt a revolution: the government is often ready to give protesters what they want.  The villains in such stories are almost always local officials – low-level functionaries who have long since been passed over promotion and learned to spend their time selling favors to provide for their retirements.

When low-level officials earn pocket money by forcing people off their land for real estate developers, they are frequently violating Chinese law, which mandates relatively generous compensation for forced land sales. And, much more importantly, they are ignoring the directives of Party leaders, who place a high value on stability and see land seizures as both potentially incendiary and – not insignificantly – contrary to the Communist Party’s mission of serving the people.

But repeated mention in high-level speeches by Chinese leaders has done little to resolve the issue as local officials face contradictory demands. Local governments rely on land to fund their budgets – according to some estimates, drawing as much as a third of their revenue from land sales. Under pressure to avoid local conflict while delivering growth and government services, many local officials have come to rely on violent intimidation to end protests before they can attract career-ending attention from their superiors.

Nonetheless, it seems that protesters like the Wukan rebels are ready to put the blame on local officials, appealing to Beijing to protect their rights. In the improvised foreign press center, villagers hung a signtelling journalists: “We are not a revolt.  We support the Communist Party.  We love our country” – although this did little to discourage foreign analysts eager to call revolution.

The villagers of Wukan also had good timing – provincial leader Wang Yang is thought to be in the running for a seat on the Politburo Standing Committee in October’s leadership transition, which allowed them to put extra pressure on him to resolve the conflict.  A massacre would have raised doubts about his ability to manage conflict and would have given his enemies ammunition to block his promotion.

Far from being “a rare concession from Beijing,” Wang Yang’s deal was immediately praised in the semi-official People’s Daily, which criticized Guangdong officials for being slow to recognize villagers’ grievances, writing: “The Wukan incident could have gone in another, totally different direction – instead of getting worse and becoming a more severe conflict – if villagers’ interests and demands had been taken seriously.”  The People’s Daily isn’t a reliable guide to Party leaders’ opinions. But, given what we know about the Hu government’s policy of social management, this seems like a plausible fit for a high-level response to the incident.

To China’s top leaders, protests over local issues are a policy challenge, not an existential threat. Going forward, we should expect to see local conflicts regularly being resolved in favor of protesters. But we should also expect to see a lot more protests – while dangerous, protests are proving to be the most effective tool China’s ordinary citizens have for getting things done.

Read the original article on The Diplomat!

Sino-African relations: The Gripping Finale!

The third and final part of our interview with He Wenping is live at the Lowy Interpreter, where she tells us about China’s position on Libya and racism in the Middle Kingdom.  This interview wound up much longer than usual, so check out the full post at Lowy!

Frances: How does China view its relationship with and approach to Libya now? How have China’s relationships with North African countries changed since the Arab Spring?

He: I think our relations with post-Qadhafi Libya are back to the normal track. Some people say that because China did not support the bombing, maybe our interests will be hurt. But China couldn’t — you cannot imagine China would support any bombing. It’s against our principles. I think because we were neutral at the very beginning, once things became clear, and we knew that even the people in Tripoli supported the NTC (National Transitional Council), there was no reason for China not to support the NTC, and then we recognised the NTC and give them assistance.

And also we got the promise guaranteed from NTC as well, they promised all those deals we have signed with the previous administration will be guaranteed. Those deals, those contracts, are all good for the people themselves. The house-building is almost finished, which is houses for the people, not palaces, not parliament buildings. So all those contracts, some half-finished, some maybe 80% finished, if they are continued I think it is a good thing for the Libyan people. Actually, you know, our contact with the NTC was not so late. At that time Qadhafi was still in charge of all of Tripoli, and we made contact with NTC, we even invited key members of the NTC to Beijing.

Even some of our private companies like Huawei were doing business in Benghazi. Without Huawei’s contribution, the NTC could not have had very good communications. Now they are trying to organise the new coalition government. If security can be guaranteed, I think Chinese workers will return to continue their work. And also I think there will be new contracts, because the war caused lots of damage. I don’t think its good policy to say, who helped me, I will give so many shares to them — I think a transparent, open system is good for the people of Libya themselves. And I see no reason Chinese oil companies will not join the bidding.

Hillel: How is China navigating through its principle of non-interference in domestic affairs of other conflicts when dealing with African countries? Is China solely relying on the governments in power or does it make exceptions in cases where power is fragmented due to ethnic/civil war?

He: I read a recent speech by Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, and he said this policy is not only a part of the past, but also the present, and it will remain long into the future. I don’t think non-interference is a stubborn or outdated policy — actually I think it is very flexible. Obviously, in the era of globalisation, it is very hard to say what is domestic and what is global. I do think we need to have some kind of definition of domestic and international, maybe when a conflict has been escalated to such an extent, that it is time for all responsible parties to step in. So when a conflict is beginning, we push diplomatic means. But if the case has been escalated to a very high level, then all the international organisations, especially the UN, and the regional and subregional organisations, they know things better. If you pay a close watch, when they make decisions we never say no. The decision made by the Arab League about Libya, even Russia said was not so suitable, but our foreign ministry spokesman has never said so.

Hillel: How would you assess China’s capacity to serve as mediator or honest broker in inter-state and ethnic and civil war on the African continent? Is there a room for China to serve as an unique mediator or is China bound to work only as a supporter of United Nations/African Union peacemaking endeavors?

He: Well, we have some capacity, because normally our stance is quite neutral. For example in the Libya case, we never said we support Qadhafi — there were no weapons there, no special forces, no material support. So this neutral stance can offer us some advantage to be a negotiator or mediator, but otherwise if you are fully behind some party, then the role of being a mediator is quite different. But I think we also have quite a lot of disadvantages, because the non-interference policy constrains us. If we want to do some interference, it will be a very positive interference. I think bombing is a very negative interference, and in Libya once the opposition parties felt that they had very strong backup, it made negotiation difficult.

And then there’s intelligence — the US, Canada, and other countries have lots of people in those zones, both civil society and even intelligence agents, so if the opposition party has organised a committee, they know who they are. But we have no idea, we do not have the information. So we have that potential capability, but non-intervention makes it hard to get information on the ground, so the two are like the chicken and the egg.

Read the rest of the post here.

David Cohen Friday, December 2nd, 2011
Chinese Foreign Policy No Comments

Milk strikes again!

China’s food safety standards are under fire again as a 4-year-old boy lies dead, and his mother in a coma, after drinking a bottle of Minute Maid strawberry-flavored milk last Tuesday that police say was laced with toxic pesticide.  The incident has drawn attention to the country’s weak – and possibly weakening – standards for safe milk, and raised the specter of powerful special interests. In doing so, it has also created a political opportunity to level accusations at large Chinese companies unconnected with the latest case of poison milk.

Food safety is a perennially explosive issue in China, and milk the biggest one since the 2008 Sanlu milk powder scandal exposed state-owned companies and officials suppressing the recall of a product that sickened tens of thousands of infants in order to protect their careers.

Chinese parents who could afford it turned away from Chinese-made milk products after the 2008 scandal – I’ve heard that importing foreign milk into China is still as good as a license to print money.  So a poisoning scandal involving Minute Maid, a subsidiary of Coca-Cola, is a particular shock. The Coca-Cola company, however, isn’t a milk importer – its overseas bottling plants are locally run using largely domestic supply chains, and the Financial Times reports that many Weibo users aren’t blaming the company:

But very few of the Weibo comments about the Coke incident blamed the famous drinks brand. Most Weibo comments appeared to assume that the poisoning was deliberate and not the result of a lapse in quality control by Coke.

The Chinese public has instead turned its attention to China’s food safety administration, which issued a set of remarkably weak standards for milk in June – including, remarkably, lowering the minimum protein content of milk sold in China from 2.95 per hundred grams to 2.8 – a significant step away from the developed world standard of 3.0.

Read the full post on The Diplomat.

He Wenping Part II

Original post on The Lowy Interpreter.  Check back next week for Part III!

Junni: Whilst the scale and nature of Chinese and Indian involvement in Sub-Saharan Africa remain quite different, increasing attention is being paid to competition between the two countries on the continent. Thinking specifically about issues such as the growth of Chinese/Indian soft power in Africa and competition for influence and diplomatic support, how do you see the relationship between China and India in the region evolving in the future? Also, what might developing countries in Africa be able to learn from comparisons between China and India in terms of their different approaches to economic development and political reform?

He: At the moment, I don’t see harsh competition between China and India in Africa. Actually, I have seen a lot of complementary action. When I spent time in Rwanda, for example — I was based there for two months — I visited a project supported by India, a long-distance education project. Universities in India offer courses in English, so, because they share the British education system with some African countries, they feel they can study with them. And then we set up our Confucius Institute in African countries, so that’s kind of complementary.

India is a democracy, and of course they are also a very heterogeneous society, so how they maintain stability for a long time, how they can balance rich and poor — I think that experience is very attractive to African countries. But I think China’s experience is also unique, because we have made such economic progress in a single generation. There are now seven Special Economic Zones in Africa receiving Chinese aid. We originally planned to set up five, but then Africa countries were quite enthusiastic, so now the total number is seven.

Pete and David: What about China’s political model?

He: Right now, I think the Chinese model is at least on an upward trend. Its appeal is increasing, especially after the financial crisis. They noticed that China’s model can quickly mobilise all the social resources to deal with the crisis, even though the crisis is not generated within the country, so it is very efficient, the system itself, and it can maintain social stability even though so much social and economic reform has taken place in such a short time.

However, because Africa’s political development path is totally different, they thought there is no way for Africa to go back to an authoritarian time, now they have already entered the period of democracy, the only thing is they want is to draw some experience. In South Africa, the ruling party are now sending their party leaders, even from the provinces, to join some courses from the Central Party School, and to visit our government at the provincial level, to exchange some ideas about how to run the government.

David Cohen Friday, November 25th, 2011
Chinese Foreign Policy No Comments

China in Africa: New Lowy Interview!

Pete and I have a new post up in the “Through Chinese Eyes” series on the Lowy Interpreter — He Wenping tells us how China’s experience as a foreign aid recipient has made it a new kind of international donor.  This is an exceptionally long one, so check back for Part II tomorrow, and Part III next week!

Angelica: Aid from China to African countries has been generous and forthcoming ever since the founding of ‘New China’. But China is often criticised by the world about paying for political benefits (such as support on the Taiwan issue) and resources in Africa. Since the very beginning, Sino-Africa relations took an strong ideological trust. In 2011, democratic movements in Africa are quite active, so now, is ideological trust still strong?

He: I think it’s normal strong. During the first period of China-African relations were very rich in ideology, because Mao and Zhou at that time were more interested in third-world theory. So they offered very generous support to African countries, without considering economic benefits. A typical example is the Tanzania-Zambia railway — it cost almost one tenth of China’s foreign reserves at that time.

Since early 1980s, because China had begun its the economic drive, and we were also trying to lure foreign investment, all the focus has been on economic development, so ideology has gradually faded away since the 80s. So now China has been labeled an economic animal by the Western media. Actually, it’s not true, I think our relationship is very balanced: political, economic, cultural. Hu Jintao has made six visits to Africa – can you imagine Junior Bush going to Africa six times?

Steve: In real (2008 price) terms, China received almost US$71 billion in net ODA (official development assistance) between 1979 and 2009. To what degree, if any, does Ms He believe that China’s previous experiences as a major recipient of foreign aid influences its engagement as a donor to emerging countries today?

He: Definitely. As China, we now have a dual role we can play in the development system, and also a dual identity. On the one hand, we are a recipient country, and on the other we are becoming a donor. So we have accumulated tremendous experience about being a good recipient, and I think we can share this with African countries.

Read the full post on The Lowy Interpreter.

David Cohen Thursday, November 24th, 2011
Chinese Foreign Policy No Comments