Meanwhile in Beijing…

Lost amid the deluge of western media coverage of the upcoming US presidential election on November 6 has been an equally if not more important event, beginning on November 8, when the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China convenes in Beijing to elect a new Central Committee and replace seven of the nine members of the current Politburo, who are due to retire and/or stand down. These include the current President of People’s Republic – Hu Jintao.

His successor is likely to be the current vice president, Xi Jinping, who is seen as close to the military and is likely to adopt a more robust stance when it comes to dealing with the West than the moderate one taken by Jintao. This will likely manifest most over the issue of US support for Taiwan, when it comes to heightening tension with Japan over the territorial rights to a group of islands in the East China Sea (Senkaku Islands in Japan and Diaoyu Islands in China) but also when it comes to US policy towards the Middle East, from which China derives around 40 percent of its oil.

The key difference in global terms between the significance of the US presidential election and the imminent leadership reorganisation in China is the difference between the political and economic crisis engulfing a declining power, the United States, and the growing political and economic strength of its emergent rival to the East, China.

China’s economic growth over the past three decades has been simply staggering, averaging around 10 percent year on year. Though its growth has dipped and is predicted to end 2012 at around 7.7%, the success of the People’s Republic in weathering the global recession to the extent it has continues to confound economists in the West.

A key factor in China’s continued economic growth even as global markets for its exports, in particular the US, have contracted sharply, is the boost to domestic demand as a consequence of the rapid urbanisation that has seen millions migrate from the countryside into the city. Meeting the concomitant increased need for jobs has presented the current leadership with one of the biggest challenges any Chinese government has faced since it opened up its economy in the late 1970s. It has gone some way to meeting this challenge, as well as stimulating its economy, with a raft of major infrastructure projects, taking advantage of its unique position within the global economy of being deposit rich as a consequence of an economic model that has hitherto placed a priority on saving over consumption.

Strict controls over the convertibility of the renminbi has lent further stability to China’s economy, acting as a firewall against the sudden and often sharp fluctuations suffered by convertible currencies.

For the US – a declining economic power relative to China, though still some way ahead in terms of overall GDP – China’s sharp increase in military spending in recent years, needed to protect its accumulating global interests and economic alliances, is undoubtedly a major source of concern. This strategic threat to US hegemony is reflected in a staggering US defence budget of over $1 trillion in 2012. Compare this to China’s 2012 defence budget of $106.4 billion (which constitutes an 11.2 percent increase from 2011). To put this disparity in even greater context, the US defence budget constitutes 46.5 percent of the entire world’s military budget, whilst China’s constitutes around 7 percent. Regardless, Romney’s pledge to increase US defence spending by 2 trillion dollars over the next ten years if elected president is located in the mounting worry within a section of the US political and security establishment over China’s increased military spending.

China’s role as the world’s major creditor to the US, to the tune of $1.2 trillion (2011), in effect funding US domestic consumption, is one half of the reason why the relationship between both countries will remain a mutually dependent at least in the short term, despite being adversaries. For China, its main priority lies in continuing to ensure the viability of US domestic consumption in order to maintain the US as its largest export market, though in recent years it has placed more emphasis on regional markets.

It is predicted that China’s GDP will have caught up with the US by 2018, though US GDP per capita will still remain considerably higher. However, based on current projections, China’s GDP per capita is predicted to outstrip that of the US by 2030.

Western critics of China have long pointed to the lack of democratic and political rights enjoyed by its citizens. But this reflects the paucity of understanding in the West when it comes to the distinct development of Chinese culture and its fractured history. The relationship between the state and society in China is much different to its western counterpart. In China the state is seen as sacrosanct, with a premium placed on unity over the ability to change course through the election of a new government every few years and thus risk instability.

The ‘century of humiliation’ by which China’s subjugation at the hands of the western and Japanese colonialism is known, beginning with the Opium Wars of the mid-nineteenth century and ending with the Chinese Revolution in 1949, remains indelibly imprinted on Chinese mass consciousness, with the aforementioned national sovereignty exalted above any other factor in the life of the nation as a result.

Whatever the outcome of the US presidential election on November 6 is, events in Beijing on November 8 will undoubtedly prove of equal if not more significance for a southern hemisphere that has long suffered as a consequence of the unipolarity enjoyed by Washington.

Bo Xilai: China Through the Looking Glass

By Anna Chen, from Madam Miaow Says

In Lewis Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland, when the Walrus and the Carpenter take the little oysters on a long march along the beach, the Walrus weeps over the fate of the poor shellfish while he scoffs as many as he can behind the cover of the handkerchief he’s sobbing into. This image sums up my feelings about the disgraced party secretary of Chonqing, Bo Xilai whose rising star has been super-novaed in spectacular style.

Months after 41-year old British businessman Neil Heywood died in Chongqing last November of a suspected drinks binge and was hurriedly cremated without an autopsy despite telling friends he feared for his life, the news that he was most likely poisoned with cyanide at the behest of Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai after an argument about their business interests, has exploded across the top echelons of the CPP.

Set to become the leader of the top superpower with a seat on the Politburo, Bo will now be lucky if he’s sweeping streets by the end of the murder investigation, and it’ll be astonishing if his wife —rapidly replacing the late Madam Mao Chiang Ching as Lady MacBeth du nos jours — avoids the death penalty.

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–
Of cabbages–and kings–
And why the sea is boiling hot–
And whether pigs have wings.” 

“But wait a bit,” the Oysters cried,
“Before we have our chat;
For some of us are out of breath,
And all of us are fat!”
“No hurry!” said the Carpenter.
They thanked him much for that.

What’s emerging from the suspected “intentional homicide” of Heywood (and who knows what little embellishments and out-and-out inventions are being devised by interested parties) is a text-book case of the sort of leaders who give despotism a bad name. While Bo was the politician showman and leader of a supercity of 28 million, Gu’s law firm specialised in extracting a large slice of China’s wealth and spiriting it abroad, claimed by Wang to be several hundred million dollars. Heywood is thought to have threatened to blow the whistle on her deals.

Smuggling money abroad is a major problem for China. It’s estimated that, in the ten years to 2009, RMB 800 billion ($127bn) was moved overseas illegally. A China Merchants Bank and Bain & Company joint report, published in April 2011, revealed that 27% of those with over RMB 100 million have emigrated, and a further 47% are considering emigration. That’s a whopping 74% of China’s wealthiest wanting to leave with their loot.

“A loaf of bread,” the Walrus said,
“Is what we chiefly need:
Pepper and vinegar besides
Are very good indeed–
Now if you’re ready, Oysters dear,
We can begin to feed.” 

“But not on us!” the Oysters cried,
Turning a little blue.
“After such kindness, that would be
A dismal thing to do!”

“The night is fine,” the Walrus said.
“Do you admire the view?

I’d been hoping that China had avoided the fate of the old USSR where, under Yeltsin and then Putin, communist cadre turned cowboys turned oligarchs and carved up Russia’s assets making billionaires out of the former guardians of the socialist state. However, with China’s top 70 politicians in the National People’s Congress worth $89b, ten times the net worth of all of the US Congress, that’s some wishful thinking.

According to Louisa Lim’s interview with Jiang Weiping, a Chinese journalist who did time in prison after investigating Bo and Gu’s corruption in the 1980s:

Bo was running Dalian’s propaganda office, which oversaw cultural affairs. His wife, who is also a lawyer, started the Folk Customs Culture Research Institute. “The heads of the Authors Association and the Artists Association, etc., were chosen by his wife,” Jiang says. “You had to give her gifts before you would be promoted. She got millions from entrepreneurs ‘sponsoring’ her institute. But she was actually just raking in money. She used this to throw parties, give favors and line her own pockets.” As her husband rose through the ranks, Gu set up a legal firm, which Jiang believes fulfilled the same function. Jiang alleges the pair used family members to hide their wealth. Gu’s sisters have companies worth $126 million, according to Bloomberg news agency. And Bo’s brother is reportedly vice chairman of a state-run company, using a pseudonym, with stock options worth $25 million.

It’s little wonder that the children of formerly privileged families such as Ai Wei Wei are seething. It’s one thing losing the family fortune if it all goes back into the pot for the good of society as a whole. It’s quite another to see another ruling elite emerging who are troughing down on your inheritance.

“It was so kind of you to come!
And you are very nice!”
The Carpenter said nothing but
“Cut us another slice:
I wish you were not quite so deaf–
I’ve had to ask you twice!”

The peasants and workers aren’t too pleased, either. There’s a nostalgia for Mao Zedong whose helmsmanship saw life expectancy double, lowered the death rate from 38 per thousand in 1949 to 10 per thousand in 1957, and lifted hundreds of millions out of absolute poverty. In Mobo Gao’s fascinating book, The Battle For China’s Past: Mao and the Cultural Revolution, he describes the change in lifestyle for ordinary people in his home village. Not only did their quality of life improve with free or cheap healthcare, decent housing and often a job for life, but their cultural life was enriched as well.

Now, under communism with capitalist characteristics, the poor are getting poorer and 95 percent of the national wealth is owned by 5 percent of the population. Revolution? What revolution?

“It seems a shame,” the Walrus said,
“To play them such a trick,
After we’ve brought them out so far,
And made them trot so quick!”
The Carpenter said nothing but
“The butter’s spread too thick!”

So when, in classic demagogue style, wideboy Bo saw a gap in the market, he was in there like a rat up a drainpipe. His popularist Mao-inspired campaigns and crackdown on corruption earned him rock-star status that began to worry his CCP rivals. But at the same time as he was sticking it to the mafia and sticking up for the masses, we now know that his lady wife was getting her alleged lover, the very dead Heywood, to take mega-millions out of the country.

There’s been a groundswell of bitterness in evidence ever since 1989. Although the western press like to depict the Tian Anmen protests as a desire by the populace to emulate western democracy, the occupants of the square that June came with a wide range of complaints, a chief one being corruption and a growing divide between the new rich and the poor who’d made such great sacrifices in the effort to create an equitable and democratic society.

“I weep for you,” the Walrus said:
“I deeply sympathize.”
With sobs and tears he sorted out
Those of the largest size,
Holding his pocket-handkerchief
Before his streaming eyes.

It may not have taken a genius to see which way the wind was blowing but it took a charismatic talent like Bo — tall, handsome, a ready smile, charm and utter ruthlessness — to marshall those forces into one which would sweep him to power. And, indeed, he was headed for the very top: leader of the geriatric communist party. At 62 Bo was a mere whippersnapper by CCP standards and probably had a couple more decades of careerism in him. It may not have been his own corruption, however, that triggered his demise. It’s depressing to think that if he hadn’t over-reached himself, he may well have risen to the top. Louisa Lim again:

China’s press is emphasizing that his spectacular downfall has not touched off any political turmoil. “It does not indicate a political struggle within the party,” reads an editorial published Wednesday in the China Daily. But few Chinese believe that, especially in light of news reports that party members and the military have had to swear loyalty oaths to China’s current leadership. “There can only be one explanation for the military’s oath of loyalty,” says Zhang Ming, a political scientist at Renmin University of China. “Bo Xilai tried to mobilize the army, something like a rebellion. He went too far.”

I haven’t yet heard who’s idea it was to cremate Heywood so fast or why a British consul official was present at the deed. In this murky tale, the businessman’s was not the only cadaver clogging up the scenery. When Bo’s former henchman, the police chief Wang Lijun, realised he was in too deep and ran to the sanctuary of the American consulate in Chengdu, seven of his associates were said to have been captured by Bo and two of his investigation team tortured to death, probably by his “personal security detail” getting mediaeval on their arse.

On the other hand, inconveniently deprived of a body, we may never know whether Bo and Gu were stitched up by their rivals or if they really are as monstrous as has been claimed. A handful of dust he may be, but in shaking the ruling elite of the next top superpower to the core, Neil Heywood — suspected of being a spook, now in every sense — may have done a better job than NATO.

“O Oysters,” said the Carpenter,
“You’ve had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?’
But answer came there none–
And this was scarcely odd, because
They’d eaten every one.

China’s Opinions on Democracy

by Rachel, from Tea Leaf Nation

Public opinion polls about political issues in China are harder to find than wild pandas. To find one in Global Times, a Party-loving tabloid, is kind of like spotting a wild panda on the beach in balmy Hainan.

But there it is. 

The very fact that this opinion poll [Chinese] was published by a conservative Chinese newspaper confused microblog users. Many asked for confirmation from Mr. Hu Xijin, the editor in chief of Global Times. Writing on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter, @一人一票民主连线 asks, “Do I dare to believe that the mouthpiece has become Deep Throat?” @欧阳贝丹 tweets, “The word ‘poll’ appears in Chinese media, what does it harbinger?” @做还不乱 wondered, “Did Editor Hu have too much to drink?” 

[NB: Some results do not add up to precisely 100% due to rounding.]


According to this poll, on the key question of whether Chinese people believe their country should become a Western-style democracy, almost half surveyed said they are not opposed to the idea but do not believe it is realistic. The vague phrasing of the answer opens it up to different interpretations: Do people believe it’s not realistic because of possible intervention by the current government? Do they fear a high cost of transition? Or do they believe such system cannot be properly implemented in China? 

One way to read the data is that about 63% of the Chinese people generally approve of Western-style democracy. @抱个老虎当猫养 tweets with sarcasm, ”Only 63%? So only a small minority of Chinese approve of Western democracy. Most people, as high as 37%, are not in favor. Therefore we can say that the Party still represents most Chinese people.”  @初一成了职业宅咯 asks, “Shouldn’t it be more than 63%?” Other comments in microblogs, however, echo the ambivalence about Western democracy shown in the poll. @小熊娃娃_USA, whose location is shown as the U.S., tweets, “So I’m actually the 37%.” 

@虎爸_Michael had a question about the phrasing, “Democracy is democracy, why call it Western democracy?” 







Russia/china Dual Veto Designed to Promote Peaceful Outcome

by Yu Zhixiao, from Xinhua
BEIJING, Feb. 5 (Xinhua) — Russia and China’s double veto of an Arab-European draft resolution on Syria Saturday was aimed at further seeking peaceful settlement of the chronic Syrian crisis and preventing possible drastic and risky solutions to it.

It was the second time since last October that Russia and China used double veto to block a UN Security Council draft on Syria, which they deemed was not the best choice to promote peace in the Middle East country.

The unadopted draft meant to say the UN Security Council “fully supports” the Jan. 22 Arab League plan to ask Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down, one of the major stumbling blocks in pre-vote consultations.

With the veto, Russia and China believed more time and patience should be given to a political solution to the Syrian crisis, which would prevent the Syrian people from more turbulence and fatalities.

Hours before the Security Council’s vote on the draft, Russia circulated an amended resolution, which it said “aims to fix two basic problems.” The first was the imposition of conditions on dialogue, and the second was that measures must be taken to influence not only the government but also anti-government armed groups.

“The draft resolution that was put to a vote did not adequately reflect the real state of affairs in Syria and has sent an unbalanced signal to the Syrian parties,” Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said after the vote.

For his part, Li Baodong, the Chinese permanent representative to the United Nations, regretted the Russian amendments were ignored.

“China supports the revision proposals raised by Russia,” Li told the council, adding the request for continued consultation on the draft by some council members is reasonable.”

“To push through a vote when parties are still seriously divided over the issue will not help maintain the unity and authority of the Security Council, or help resolve the issue,” he said.

The United Nations put the total death toll in Syria during the months-long unrest at more than 5,400, while the Syrian government said more than 2,000 army and security personnel have been killed.

In order to deter fresh bloodshed and violence, an inclusive political process should be started immediately in Syria, and it is the Syrian people instead of outside forces that should decide its fate.

The Steampunk Opium Wars

National Maritime Museum
Thursday 16th February 2012

A satirical extravaganza about China, Britain, imperialism and drugs in the 19th century in verse & music. See narco-capitalists & Chinese lawmakers slug it out, take part in a poetry slam, and watch the weirdest tea ceremony ever.

What do the humble cup of tea and the opium poppy have in common?

Britain’s craving for chinoiserie in the 18th and 19th centuries resulted in a trade imbalance that threatened to empty the treasury. To pay for the tea, silks, spices and porcelain we liked so much, the East India Company sold enormous quantities of cheap Bengal-grown opium to China, turning an aristocratic vice into a nationwide addiction.

The profits from the opium trade made fortunes, earned revenues for the British government, paid for the administration of the Empire in India and even financed a large slice of Royal Navy costs. When the Chinese tried to halt the import of the drug, the narco-capitalists persuaded Foreign Secretary Palmerston and Lord Melbourne’s government to go to war in 1839. The first military conflict, lasting a bloody three years, resulted in the Treaty of Nanking and the transfer of territory including Hong Kong to British rule.

A dastardly tale of imperialism, drugs and warfare, the story of this dark episode in British history is told in The Steampunk Opium Wars, a satirical extravaganza hosted by poet Anna Chen inside the belly of the beast, the heart of Empire, the Royal National Maritime Museum in Greenwich.

Government narco-capitalists and Chinese law-enforcers slug it out in verse, and members of the audience have the chance to write and take part in a Farrago Poetry History Slam.

Featuring Paul Anderson, John Crow Constable, Neil Hornick, John Paul O’Neill, Hugo Trebels, and Louise Whittle.

With music from legendary writer Charles Shaar Murray and The Plague’s Marc “The Exorcist” Jefferies; former Flying Lizards singer Deborah Evans-Stickland singing her mega-hit “Money”; DJ Zoe “Lucky Cat” Baxter of Resonance FM; and Gary Lammin of The Bermondsey Joyriders in the weirdest tea ceremony you’ve ever seen.

Have your photograph taken in your finest steampunk paraphernalia on stage by Mrs Sukey Parnell, who has exhibited in the National Portrait Gallery, and maybe see it displayed on the interweb.

Come and play with us …

More here:

Free entry but book tickets:

Message from Chinese Activists in Support of “occupy Wall-street”


This letter of solidarity, signed over by 50 intellectuals and activists in China, was posted to Utopia  on Sunday.  Made available by China Study Group. Thanks to everyone for the translation and editing work!

From the middle of September, a great “Wall Street Revolution” has broken out in the United States. This street revolution, going by the name of “Occupy Wall Street,” has already expanded to over 70 cities and countries in North America, Europe, and other areas. In their statement on “The Wall Street Revolution,” the American people have sworn that this demand for “a democratic country, not a corporate kingdom” mass democratic revolution must spread to every part of the world, and they will not rest until this goal is met. From the anti-capitalist demonstrations that began after the 2008 financial crisis, and which this year have spread across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa and South America, this magnificent global mass democratic movement has finally spread to the center of capitalism’s financial empire–Wall Street. Click to continue reading

The Transformation of Chinese Society

By Robert Griffiths, from the Morning Star

In one enormous hall in a tower block near Tiananmen Square, Beijing, Communist Party of China central committee member He Yong and other officials were welcoming a deputation of communist parties from western Europe.

In another part of the building, Chinese government and party leaders were meeting US Vice-President Joseph Biden.

The Western communists were expressing varying degrees of admiration, solidarity and concern about economic and political developments in the world’s most populous society.

The imperialist politician from the world’s wealthiest country had come to Beijing to beg for more Chinese investment in US industry.

China’s socialist state is already the biggest owner of US Treasury bonds, helping to fund the biggest national debt in the world.

Now Chinese funds are sought to create jobs in the US’s productive economy.

On his first day in the Chinese capital, Biden had made a detour from his schedule to attend a “friendly” basketball game between a local team and their US visitors.

The match had to be abandoned during an almighty brawl — an example, it might be said, of an antagonistic contradiction.

The public relations fiasco was fully covered in China’s mass media, most of which are in the public sector, just as — contrary to Western media claims — the July 23 Wenzhou bullet train disaster was widely reported, including by the state-owned People’s Daily Railway newspaper.

The scale of economic and social transformation taking place in that country has to be seen to be fully appreciated.

The figures are impressive enough on paper — annual growth rates of 10 to 14 per cent and, between 1981 and 2004, more than 600 million people lifted out of absolute poverty (defined by the World Bank as an income of less than $1.25, or 78 pence, a day).

But to see the forest of cranes in city after city, the new office and residential apartment blocks, shopping centres, civic and business parks, railway stations and airline terminals under construction or newly opened, to travel along the new eight-lane motorways or ride in modern trains with enough leg-room to swing several cats, is something more.

A modern, industrial and predominantly urban society is being built in China without foreign conquest and colonies, without a slave trade, without shoving children up chimneys or down coal mines.

This is happening in a country the size of a continent, with a population of 1,346m bigger than Africa (1,033m), Europe (733m) and north America (352m).

It is being done on the basis of state economic planning, a mixed economy and Communist Party rule.

Private capital from emigre, foreign and now domestic sources has been utilised, under licence by the state, to drive investment, employment and technological advance.

Many such arrangements will be renewed into the middle of the 21st century at least.

Although Chinese communists are not comfortable with the analogy, this strategy is akin to Lenin’s New Economic Policy of the 1920s in Soviet Russia, but on a vast scale and over decades rather than years.

A native Chinese capitalist class has been created over the past two decades, although it is small.

As yet it has no political voice outside the Communist Party, although its economic concerns are expressed in sections of the press, by some academics and — within the context of the party’s strategy and policy — by business owners who are now allowed inside the CPC itself.

There are eight other political parties in China, mostly based on intellectual, peasant or emigre circles and founded before the People’s Republic in 1949.

They supported the national-democratic and socialist revolutions and participate in the National People’s Convention and other representative bodies.

Potential threats to the revolution do not come from any existing political forces.

They arise from the very forces of economic development unleashed by the CPC itself.

Robert Griffiths is general secretary of the Communist Party of Britain.  You can donate to the Morning Star’s fighting fund here.

Photo shows some of the 500000 new public sector owned appartments being built this year in Chongqing, southwest China, for rent to low and middle income families. Source