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Document Number Nine

The People’s Republic of China had its seventieth birthday on 1 October. ‘Sheng ri kuai le’ to the world’s biggest and most populous example of … of … well, actually, that sentence is hard to finish. There’s no off-the-shelf description for China’s political and economic system. ‘Socialism with Chinese characteristics’ is the Chinese Communist Party’s preferred term, but the s-word makes an odd fit with a country that is the world’s most important market for luxury goods, has the second largest number of billionaires, stages the world’s biggest one-day shopping event, ‘Singles’ Day’, and is home to the world’s biggest, fastest-expanding, spendiest, most materially aspirational middle class. Look at the UN’s Human Development Index: after seventy years of communist rule, China’s inequality figures are dramatically worse than those of the UK and even the US. Can we call that ‘socialism’?

It’s equally hard to claim China as a triumph of capitalism, given the completeness of state control over most areas of life and the extent of its open interventions in the national economy – capital controls, for instance, are a huge no-no in free-market economics, but are central to the way the CCP runs the biggest economy in the world. This system-with-no-name has been extraordinarily successful, with more than 800 million people raised out of absolute poverty since the 1980s. Growth hasn’t slowed down since the global financial crisis – or, as those cheeky scamps at the CCP tend to call it, the Western financial crisis. While the developed world has been struggling with low to no growth, China has grown by more than six per cent a year and a further eighty million mainly rural citizens have been raised out of absolute poverty since 2012. There is a strong claim that this scale of growth, sustained for such an unprecedented number of people over such a number of years, is the greatest economic achievement in human history.

https://www.lrb.co.uk/v41/n19/john-lanchester/document-number-nine

 
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Posted by on December 9, 2019 in Asia, Reportages

 

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Tracking foreign interference in Hong Kong

Lawrence YK Ma is the executive council chairman of the Hong Kong Legal Exchange Foundation and director of the China Law Society, the Chinese Judicial Studies Association and the Hong Kong Legal Exchange Foundation. He also finds time to teach law at Nankai University in Tianjin.

Ma is the go-to expert in what is arguably the most sensitive subject in Hong Kong: He meticulously tracks perceived foreign interference in the Special Administrative Region (SAR).

In the West, in similar circumstances, he would be a media star. With a smirk, he told me that local journalists, whether working in English or Chinese, rarely visit him – not to mention foreigners.

https://www.asiatimes.com/2019/10/article/tracking-foreign-interference-in-hong-kong/

 
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Posted by on October 11, 2019 in Asia

 

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What Holds China Together?

As another humid Beijing summer passes into a crisp autumn of wind-swept skies and chrysanthemum-decked parks, it’s easy to put oneself in the minds of government propagandists and feel that things are going quite well in China. Yes, faraway Hong Kong is in crisis, with huge antigovernment protests going on since March. But it was always going to be tough to absorb the former British colony; we’ll give them a bit more leeway but if necessary will crack down hard. And perhaps the distant territory of Xinjiang has required a firm hand, but have any countries done anything about our reeducation camps there? As for the trade war with the United States, it causes some pain, but it doesn’t matter because we’ve convinced most people that it’s all the Americans’ fault. The world is tumultuous, but we remain a bastion of stability. Our economy and military are growing steadily. Nothing really challenges Communist Party rule. And soon we’ll have a chance to show our dominance to everyone when we celebrate the seventieth birthday of the People’s Republic on October 1.

This reverie isn’t entirely delusional. But it’s fair to say that today China faces its biggest set of crises in the forty years since Deng Xiaoping began economic reforms after the death of Mao. The most vexing are Hong Kong and Xinjiang. The former has seen regular demonstrations, some involving more than one million people, against efforts by Beijing to impose its legal system on the territory. That’s forced the government to launch a huge disinformation campaign at home and abroad against the protesters, some of whom are violent but who mostly reflect middle-class worries about Communist Party rule. And in Xinjiang the situation is even more dire, with more than one million Muslims being sent to reeducation camps for not following the government line on everything from alcohol and pork consumption to the historical inevitability of Chinese rule.

https://www.nybooks.com/articles/2019/09/26/what-holds-china-together/

 
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Posted by on October 7, 2019 in Asia, Reportages

 

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The US’s new evil empire

The US seems to have decided that it can’t take on China and Russia at the same time, so its principal geopolitical rival in the coming decades will be China. Trump’s Republican administration and the Democrats agree on this, though they are campaigning vigorously against each other ahead of next year’s presidential election. China has replaced the ‘evil empire’ of the Soviet Union and ‘Islamic terrorism’ as the US’s main adversary. But China, unlike the Soviet Union, has a dynamic economy, with which the US has an enormous trade deficit. And China’s strength is far more impressive than that of a few tens of thousands of Islamic fundamentalist fighters wandering the deserts of ancient Mesopotamia or the mountains of Afghanistan.

https://mondediplo.com/2019/10/01editorial

 
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Posted by on September 26, 2019 in Asia, North America

 

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The drone attack on the Saudi refinery is no game-changer. But is there a new ‘axis of evil’ in the Middle East?

When, a couple of days ago, Saudi Aramco’s crude-oil processing facilities were attacked with drones – it is thought by the Houthis in Yemen – our media repeatedly characterised this event as a “game-changer”. But was it really this? In some sense yes, since it perturbed the global oil supply and made a large armed conflict in the Middle East much more probable. However, one should be careful not to miss the cruel irony of this claim.

Houthi rebels in Yemen have been in an open war with Saudi Arabia for years, with Saudi armed forces (and the US and the UK supplying arms) practically destroying the entire country, indiscriminately bombing civilian objects. The Saudi intervention has led to one of the worst humanitarian catastrophes of the century with tens of thousands of children dead. As it was in the cases of Libya and Syria, destroying an entire country is obviously not a game-changer – just part and parcel of a very normal geopolitical game.

https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/houthi-drone-attack-saudi-arabia-aramco-oil-yemen-israel-a9108501.html

 
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Posted by on September 17, 2019 in Middle East

 

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‘Retake Hong Kong’: A Movement, a Slogan and an Identity Crisis

He has been locked up for more than a year in a secluded island jail, but the bespectacled 28-year-old inmate, Edward Leung, is the closest thing Hong Kong’s tumultuous and leaderless protest movement has to a guiding light.

He coined the protesters’ most widely chanted and, for China, most subversive slogan; he helped pioneer some of the movement’s rougher tactics; and he gave voice to the idea at the heart of Hong Kong’s struggle, now in its 10th week, to avoid becoming just another Communist Party-run Chinese city.

The protests were ignited in June by anger at plans by the Hong Kong government to allow extradition from the former British colony to mainland China. And they have been freighted since with a host of other complaints about prohibitively expensive housing, unfair elections and alleged police brutality.

But at the movement’s root is a dramatic shift in identity since Britain pulled out in 1997. The increasing influence of the Chinese government on the territory in recent years — what the protesters see as encroachment — has galvanized a large majority of Mr. Leung’s generation to reject ties to mainland China and fiercely assert what a growing number see as a distinct and entirely separate identity.

 
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Posted by on August 27, 2019 in Asia

 

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Xi Jinping and the Hong Kong protests: a welcome demonstration of the dangers of democracy?

The ongoing maelstrom in Hong Kong, on the surface at least, appears to put Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, into a bit of a pickle. There appears to be no letup to the protests, and yet, even a strongman like him, has no choice but to watch from a distance and grind his teeth. His options appear stark.

If he gives in to the demands of the protesters by withdrawing the controversial extradition bill, it would be viewed as a major defeat, his first. It would also only encourage the protesters, who, in the knowledge that their tactics have been effective, would try for more concessions, such as universal suffrage. Even worse, giving in would encourage subversive groups on the mainland, who would immediately note the defeat and perhaps try similar tactics there.

The other option is to send in the troops and restore order. Such a move, however, would roil financial markets, perhaps to the point where international banks would consider moving their funds and business to a more stable and friendly place in Asia, such as Singapore.

https://www.hongkongfp.com/2019/08/20/xi-jinping-hong-kong-protests-welcome-demonstration-dangers-democracy/

 
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Posted by on August 27, 2019 in Asia

 

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‘We Are at the Point of No Return’: How a Series of Protests Escalated Into an All-Out Battle for the Soul of Hong Kong

How do you stop a city in its tracks? Anti-government protesters decided on Aug. 12 to strike at the epicenter of this ancient trading post, by bringing Hong Kong International Airport, one of the world’s busiest transit hubs, to a standstill. Hundreds of flights were canceled and countless travelers stranded in what appears to have been the largest-ever shutdown of a major airport.

The occupation came to a halt the following day in a brief surge of violence, as protesters turned on at least two people ostensibly within their ranks—detaining and injuring a reporter for a Chinese state-controlled newspaper and a man suspected of being an undercover Chinese officer disguised as an activist. Riot police stepped in to break up the fracas, this time without the tear gas and rubber bullets used freely in other skirmishes. One officer was caught on a cell-phone video drawing a handgun in the middle of a chaotic tussle, but did not fire.

The tension in that scene defines the battle for Hong Kong midway through its third month. The city’s embattled leader, Chief Executive Carrie Lam, warned earlier that the protests risk pushing Hong Kong further “into an abyss,” as fears began to spread that Chinese law enforcement might intervene. Joining the hum of paranoia rippling across social media, U.S. President Donald Trump said he had received intelligence that troops were massing at the border. Before sharing undated footage of what appeared to be Chinese military vehicles in transit, the President tweeted: “Everyone should be calm and safe!”

https://time.com/5652412/battle-for-hong-kong/

 
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Posted by on August 27, 2019 in Asia

 

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If Chinese tanks take Hong Kong, who’ll be surprised? Land grabs are happening everywhere – and we’re all complicit

In the glorious world of journalism, tanks always “roll” across borders. I’ve never in my life actually seen a tank roll, but you get the point. They don’t let anything stand in their way – or nothing is supposed to stand in their way.

Hence the Hong Kong Chinese should back off if the People’s Army come “rolling” across the border; the Syrian Kurds should stand aside if the Turkish army crosses their mutual border; the Muslims of Jammu and Kashmir must pay respect to the Indian army’s reinforcements; the Ukrainians or Russians hostile to Putin should not tangle with the Russian army on the Black Sea coast. Nor should the Palestinians protest when Israel’s army arrives to demolish their homes or steal more of their land.

Territorial acquisition is quite the thing these days. Whether it comes through fear of political infection – the Chinese government doesn’t want the contagion of civil chaos in Hong Kong to spread – or ethnic hatred or sectarian hatred, or nationalism, or just plain greed, we are growing dangerously accustomed to the sight of armies and paramilitary forces taking over other people’s property. Not since Saddam tried to gobble up Kuwait have we seen anything on this scale, when Iraq’s army was easily (and bloodily) sent packing.

https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/hong-kong-protests-china-latest-india-kashmir-modi-israel-syria-isis-land-grabs-a9060631.html

 
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Posted by on August 19, 2019 in Asia

 

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How Tehran Fits into Russia-China Strategy

A few days after our Asia Times report, an article based on “senior sources close to the Iranian regime” and crammed with fear-mongering, baseless accusations of corruption and outright ignorance about key military issues claimed that Russia would turn the Iranian ports of Bandar Abbas and Chabahar into forward military bases complete with submarines, Spetsnaz special forces and Su-57 fighter jets, thus applying a “stranglehold” to the Persian Gulf.

For starters, “senior sources close to the Iranian regime” would never reveal such sensitive national-security details, much less to Anglo-American foreign media. In my own case, even though I have made several visits to Iran while consistently reporting on Iran for Asia Times, and even though authorities at myriad levels know where I’m coming from, I have not managed to get answers from Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps generals to 16 detailed questions I sent nearly a month ago. According to my interlocutors, these are deemed “too sensitive” and, yes, a matter of national security.

https://www.opednews.com/articles/1/How-Tehran-Fits-into-Russi-by-Pepe-Escobar-Iran_Oil_Russia-china_Sanctions-190815-153.html

 
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Posted by on August 19, 2019 in Asia, Europe

 

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