Press Highlights 19 April 2017

Keywords: North Korea, Xiong’an, Rights defense lawyers, Hengshui High School, Press freedom in Hong Kong, Sunflower Movement in Taiwan.



 1. Military tension over North Korea

When Donald Trump vowed to take unilateral actions to solve the question of North Korea if China was not helping, tension was built up in the region with the American navy standing by near the Korean Peninsula and the North Korean government might make another nuclear test shortly. Media reported that Trump received bipartisan acclaim at home over his decision to airstrike Syria druing the Xi-Trump Summit and some analysts suggested the airstrike could influence China’s decision on how to deal with North Korea. In case of military conflict between the US and North Korea, it is uncertain about how China would assist its ally under the military aid treaty. It was also reported that the US and its allies as well as China reached a consensus to act in order to change the situation. Donald Trump mentioned he would not name China as currency manipulator because it now came to help for the North Korea issue. Commentators pointed out that China was in passivity and it did not want to see any military conflict against North Korea, nor the North Korean government continued its nuclear program.

  • //Mr. Xi’s dilemma was also acute because China has generally sided with Russia in defending Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, and because it worries that Mr. Trump might be prepared to order a similar strike on North Korea, Chinese and Western analysts said. “Xi can’t fail to be impressed by Trump’s resolve,” said Alan Dupont, an Australian military analyst who worked for that country’s Defense Department. “Xi will have to reassess what the Trump presidency means for Chinese interests in East Asia, particularly North Korea and the South China Sea.” The American strikes on Syria would quite likely make Mr. Xi be more amenable about the White House’s demand that China squeeze North Korea’s economy, analysts said. “I suspect Xi will treat Trump’s threat against North Korea as more serious than before this, provided the behind-the-scenes-body language does not counteract it,” said Douglas H. Paal, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Beijing has long been fairly confident that the United States would not risk an attack on North Korea, a much more dangerous target than Syria because of its nuclear arsenal and its capacity to hit Japan and South Korea, two American allies, Chinese analysts said. But China’s leaders are still trying to figure out Mr. Trump, and his quick decision to strike Syria may cause them to reconsider that assumption.// Source: New York Times, 07 April 2017.

The airstrike is symbolic if the Syrian-North Korean relationship is taken into account. According to Quartz, the North Korean government has been selling military equipment to the Syrian government and benefiting from the Syrian civil war:

  • //[e]vidence has emerged suggesting that in one way or another, via front companies and elaborate logistics, war materials from North Korea have ended up in Syria, ultimately enriching the Kim regime. It’s a gold mine for North Korea,” said Bruce Bechtol, a political science professor at Angelo State University in Texas who’s penned a handful of books on the country. “This is the best thing that’s ever happened to North Korea—as long as Syria doesn’t fall, which could happen.” Pyongyang has reportedly also supplied troops and advisors, who have gained valuable real-world experience from the Syrian conflict. […] In 2012 a UN report said that North Korea was, in violation of sanctions, still sending materials like artillery components to Syria but using “elaborate techniques” to avoid interception, including shipping goods through China and Malaysia. […] In an interview with NK News in January, Syria’s ambassador to North Korea, Tammam Sulaiman, denied that scientists and weapons experts from North Korea aided the Damascus government in the early part of the war. […] As has been noted previously in Quartz, North Korea’s missile tests and nuclear explosions are in some ways sales pitches to countries like Iran, Syria, and Pakistan. Meanwhile China, North Korea’s main trading partner and economic lifeline, seems to be getting more serious about imposing sanctions on its unruly neighbor, for example by recently turning back a fleet of coal-laden cargo ships. That could mean income from selling military gear becoming all the more important to Pyongyang.// Source: Quartz, 19 April 2017.
  • //Xi and Trump did not reach a consensus over North Korea at their Mar-a-Lago meeting, with China insisting on “peaceful means” and the US reserving military options. The US launched a missile strike against Syria on the first night of the summit, in a move widely seen as a message to China and North Korea that it was willing to take unilateral action. […] Trump revealed some of the substance of his conversation with Xi in Florida in tweets on Tuesday. “North Korea is looking for trouble. If China decides to help, that would be great. If not, we will solve the problem without them!” he said. “I explained to the president of China that a trade deal with the US will be far better for them if they solve the North Korean problem!” […] Su Hao, a professor at China Foreign Affairs University, said Trump was putting severe pressure on North Korea with his threats, but he was probably more intending to push China. However, Beijing could only act within the limits of the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council, targeting Pyongyang’s economy. Su said China would give Pyongyang a clear warning about the consequences of carrying out a new nuclear test. Beijing would also urge restraint.// Source: SCMP, 12 April 2017.
  • //The Carl Vinson and several other warships are heading toward the Korean Peninsula in a show of force intended to deter the North from testing a sixth nuclear weapon or launching missiles. North Korea celebrates the 105th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il-sung, the nation’s founder, on Saturday. Its current leader, Kim Jong-un, his grandson, is expected to use the occasion to either stage a nuclear weapons test or conduct a missile test, in direct defiance of the United States and China. American television networks and some newspapers have been invited to report on a military show in the North’s capital, Pyongyang, this weekend.// New York Times, 12 April 2017.
  • //China and North Korea signed a mutual aid and cooperation treaty in 1961 as they sought to mount a united front against Western powers. It specifies that if one of the parties comes under armed attack, the other should render immediate assistance, including military support. […] For China, North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons in violation of the United Nations treaty on non-proliferation could amount to a breach of their pact, leaving Beijing with no obligation to lend a hand, observers said. […] “It’s hard to say how China would assist North Korea militarily in case of war, since North Korea is developing nuclear weapons, an act that might have already breached the treaty between the two nations,” said Li Jie, a retired Chinese naval colonel.// Source: SCMP, 13 April 2017.
  • //The United States, its allies and China are working together on a range of responses to North Korea’s latest failed ballistic missile test, Trump’s national security adviser said on Sunday, citing what he called an international consensus to act. […] The Trump administration is focusing its North Korea strategy on tougher economic sanctions, possibly including an oil embargo, a global ban on its airline, intercepting cargo ships and punishing Chinese banks doing business with Pyongyang, Reuters reported last week, citing US officials. […] Trump acknowledged on Sunday that the softer line he had taken on China’s management of its currency was linked to Beijing’s help on the North Korea issue. “Why would I call China a currency manipulator when they are working with us on the North Korean problem? We will see what happens!” Trump said on Twitter. […] Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Monday that he would also urge China to play a bigger role in resolving tensions over North Korea.// Source: SCMP, 18 April 2017.

Some commentators discussed the possibilities that China might intervene into North Korea to protect its interests in national security if the US decided to resolve the problem militarily. Cao Xin, The council member of the Asia-Africa Development & Exchange Society (supervised by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs), contended that China’s and Russia’s interests in North Korea must be protected before the US could wage war on North Korea, and there are two fundamental principles: 1) North Korea as a state must remain although the leaders could be replaced and the new one must give up the nuclearization project. Second, the US could not take this opportunity to forcefully unify the Korean Peninsula. If war broke out, it could be in China’s interests to invade North Korea together with the US and establish a regime friendly to China, willing to give up nuclear weapons, and passionate about reform and opening.

  • //至于中国和俄罗斯的利益如何保障,以下两条恐怕是最基本的,即:第一,朝鲜领导人可以下台,新政权必须弃核,但朝鲜作为一个国家不能灭亡;第二,美国不能借此次战争武力统一朝鲜半岛。“习特会”之后,美国国务卿蒂勒森又去俄罗斯访问了。俄美双方涉及朝鲜议题的会谈内容尚不得知,但以上两条是常识,中俄领导人不可能不知道,也不可能让步。[…] 根据当前中国在半岛面临的现实,以及中国与半岛唇齿相依的紧密关联性,中国应确立的对朝政策目标应该是:在朝鲜建立一个对华友好的、实行弃核、改革开放政策的党政领导核心及政府,并将这三条作为朝鲜党和政府基本的路线、方针和政策。这不仅符合中国的国家利益,也同样符合半岛周边国家的利益,美国也很难公开反对。在这一政策目标下,一旦美国对朝鲜动武,中国的行动指南就将变得十分清晰了。[…] 一旦战端开启,作为板门店临时停战协定的签字国,中国也应在恰当时机从海陆两路出兵朝鲜,甚至可以和美军同时行动,以保护自己的国家安全利益,包括在朝鲜的侨民,并借助劳动党内的健康力量,为建立一个奉行对华友好、弃核和改革开放基本国策的朝鲜新政权提供协助。战后,中国应大力帮助朝鲜新政权发展经济,避免战后初期朝鲜可能出现的混乱。// Source: Financial Times (Chinese edition), 12 April 2017.

Salvatore Babones, a comparative sociologist at the University of Sydney, argued:

  • //There have been unconfirmed reports that China has moved up to 150,000 troops to its border with North Korea, which Beijing has called “pure fabrication”. But on Friday, China did suddenly suspend flights between Beijing and Pyongyang without offering any explanation. Whether China is preparing to intervene in Korea once again, preparing to manage the fallout of a US intervention in Korea, or just playing it safe, nobody knows. Northeast China is already host to thousands of North Koreans refugees. Some are on the run from the repressive regime of Kim Jong-un, others are just seeking work, and still others are women forced into prostitution. If there is to be another conflict on the Korean Peninsula, China would be worried about a large number of Koreans fleeing across the border. The second to last thing China wants is a new Korean war. But the last thing China wants is a united Korea under South Korean leadership. China’s Communist Party leadership has learned the lessons of 1989-1991, when German reunification ultimately pushed the borders of NATO some 1000 kilometres to the east and Soviet communism was thrown into the dustbin of history. If China does intervene in North Korea, it won’t be to topple the Kim regime and promote peaceful reunification. It will be to prevent a collapse of the Kim regime in the face of domestic mismanagement and American pressure. Kim may go, but China will make sure that the regime remains. The long-term consequences of any such intervention are anyone’s guess.// Source: Aljazeera, 15 April 2017.

Trade between China and North Korea continued despite the tension, but the combination of trade items were a bit different:

  • //China has signed up to wide-ranging United Nations sanctions designed at halting Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, and local traders told Reuters that blanket bans on key North Korean commodities exports like coal, iron ore powder and precious metals have dealt a blow to business. Trade across the border is now mainly food, textiles, plastic goods, other household items and some commodities, the traders said. […] Trade has slowed at the border, Chinese transport workers said. At one logistics center for metal shipments visited by Reuters, workers were busy unloading North Korean trucks arriving from across the border. They said flows of North Korean trucks had slowed to a trickle of three or four a day since February, down from the usual 20. “Only shipments of lead are being allowed through,” said the center’s foreman, who asked to be identified only by his last name, Zhang. “We used to trade all metals here, gold, silver, iron ore powder from North Korea – just not copper, they keep it there for military use.” China has long been wary of cutting off trade completely for fear that it could trigger a regime collapse that would send millions of North Koreans surging across the border seeking refuge. China and North Korea enjoy “normal trade activities”, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told reporters in Beijing.// Source: Reuters, 13 April 2017.
  • //The data released on Thursday showed that China’s trade with North Korea grew 37.4 percent in the first quarter of this year from the period in 2016. Chinese exports surged 54.5 percent, and imports increased 18.4 percent, the General Administration of Customs said at a news conference in Beijing. China buys iron ore, zinc and other minerals from North Korea, as well as growing amounts of seafood and garments manufactured in the North’s well-equipped textile factories. China reported that its imports of North Korean iron were up 270 percent in January and February compared with the period in 2016. But imports of coal dropped 51.6 percent in the first three months of 2017 compared with the first quarter of last year, said Huang Songping, a spokesman for the customs agency. Coal has been the biggest hard-currency earner among North Korea’s fairly limited menu of exports.// Source: New York Times, 13 April 2017.


 2. Lawyers to be evaluated for their loyalty to CCP’s leadership in the profession

According to SCMP, the Ministry of Justice recently circulated the new standards that assessed the performance of lawyers by four criteria: political correctness, record of “integrity”, length of experience and professional skills. A month ago, the All-China Lawyers Association (ACLA) also incorporated similar elements into the code for the legal profession in China. For the latest development of legal reform in China, Supreme People’s Court Monitor’s recent post on 14 April could be helpful.

  • //The Ministry of Justice flagged the new standards in a notice dated late last month but the document only started circulating on social media this week. Shanghai, Inner Mongolia, Anhui and Shaanxi provinces will pilot the scheme. Under the new system, lawyers will be classified into nine specialist areas, ranging from criminal law to intellectual property law. The system would help people seeking legal services to narrow their search, the notice said. But lawyers would have to meet four criteria to be listed, the top one being political correctness, followed by record of “integrity”, length of experience and professional skills. The political performance assessment includes supporting the Communist Party’s leadership and “socialist rule by law”, abiding by the constitution and law, and observing the legal profession’s ethics and discipline. The integrity criterion would require applicants to have a clean record on party discipline and administrative penalties, such as detention, in the past five years. […] Susan Finder, a specialist on the mainland’s legal system and publisher of the Supreme People’s Court Monitor blog, said it was not surprising that support for the party was the first criterion. “It reflects increasing controls on the legal profession, as could be seen from new regulations issued by the Ministry of Justice last [autumn],” Finder said.// Source: SCMP, 14 April 2017.

On 25 March 2017, ACLA relayed three documents which detailed how ACLA protects the rights of lawyers, made clear the boundary of lawyers’ activities, and improved the procedure and applicability of disciplinary actions. The ACLA also supplemented the Behavioral Code for legal profession by adding that lawyers must embrace the CCP’s leadership and socialist rule by law, and that lawyers could not endanger national security, disturb social stability, or use cases to pick quarrels.

  • //发布会上,全国律协通报了《律师协会维护律师执业权利规则(试行)》《律师执业行为规范》《律师协会会员违规行为处分规则(试行)》三个文件,清晰界定了律协维护律师执业权利工作的主要职责及分工、明晰了律师执业行为边界、完善了纪律处分的情形与适用。[…] 全国律协根据新修订的《律师事务所管理办法》和《律师执业管理办法》,对《律师执业行为规范》相关内容进行了补充,形成了修正案。修正案新增两条内容:一是增加“两拥护”的内容,即“律师应当把拥护中国共产党领导、拥护社会主义法治作为从业的基本要求”;二是增加律师应当坚守的三条底线,即“律师不得利用律师身份和以律师事务所为平台炒作个案,攻击社会主义制度,从事危害国家安全活动,不得利用律师身份策划、煽动、组织有关利益群体,干扰、破坏正常社会秩序,不得利用律师身份教唆、指使当事人串供、伪造证据,干扰正常司法活动”。// Source: Xinhua, 25 March 2017.

Further background:

  • //The rankings mark a further step in the government’s refinement of the legal system as an instrument of power, rather than a shield against it. In a recent review of judicial reforms at Foreign Affairs, Rebecca Liao wrote that “Beijing’s goal is to establish a robust legal system that can effectively govern China’s political and social life without ever challenging the Communist Party’s core policies and ideology.” In August 2015, NYU law scholar Jerome Cohen warned of “a comprehensive legislative agenda designed to confirm China as a de facto garrison state,” under which “any lawyer bold enough to wage a vigorous defense in court can easily be sentenced to three years in prison, marking the end of his career.” He described the then-recent “Black Friday” or “709” crackdown on rights lawyers as “an effort to destroy any remaining possibility of waging a vigorous defense at trial or of challenging government in the broader arena of public opinion.”// Source: China Digital Times, 14 April 2017.


 3. Further discussions on Xiong’an New Area

In an interview, He Liffeng, the head of National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), explained that the Xiong’an New Area would have some non-capital functions of Beijing, and a new favorable environment for innovation, technology, and experimental development model. One Analyst suggested it could become the biggest infrastructure project of modern China and the new would proceed as it got the backing of Xi Jinping. After the announcement of the Xiong’an New Area near Beijing, state-owned enterprises as well as speculators rushed into Xiong’an. The surprising announcement stirred up heated discussions in China. Various commentators proposed how to make the new plan a successful mode for China’s sustainable development on Financial Times, Caixin, and Sixth Tone.

  • // Establishing the Xiongan New Area is “a very important integral part” of measures to transfer non-capital functions out of Beijing, said He [He Lifeng, head of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC)]. Beijing will focus on its “capital functions,” serving as the country’s political center, cultural center, and center for international exchanges and science and technological innovation, according to previous plans. […] Innovation will be the fundamental driver in building and developing the Xiongan New Area, and policies will be put in place to bring innovative elements to the area, said He. The new area will create a favorable environment for innovation and attract innovative talent and teams to help build it into a “high ground” for innovation and a new science and technology city, the official said. The NDRC chief pointed to reform as a key to development, saying that new administrative, investment and financing models will be tried in the new area. A long-term and stable funding mechanism will be put in place, and private funds will be encouraged to participate in building the new area, He added. The central government is also mulling specific support policies and will provide policy and funding support for the new area’s major projects in transportation, ecology, water conservation, energy and public services, said the NDRC head.// Source: Xinhua, 04 April 2017.
  • //“80年代看深圳,90年代看浦东,21世纪看雄安”——今天流行的这句新话并非豪言壮语,它是时代的选择,更是历史的承诺。“深圳和浦东的今天,就是我们希望看到的雄安的明天。雄安新区发展的机遇和挑战都是前所未有的。”京津冀协同发展专家咨询委员会副组长邬贺铨院士说,千年大计,正是表达着中央推行这个战略的决心和定力。俯瞰中国地图,深圳、浦东和雄安呈梯度而上,分别占据全国南、中、北三个维度,这将合力推动中国实现全局均衡发展,改变经济发展南强北弱的状况。 […] 雄安新区不会简单复制深圳和浦东,而是要开创国家新区和城市发展的全新模式。要坚持以人民为中心,从市民需要出发,做到疏密有度、绿色低碳、返璞归真,提供宜居的环境、优质的公共服务,有效吸引北京人口和功能疏解转移。”新区规划一开始,习近平总书记就如此强调。// Source: Xinhua, 13 April 2017.
  • //Xiongan New Area, the Chinese president’s ambitious plan to remake a backwater into a dream city, could lure as much as 2.4 trillion yuan (US$348 billion) of investments over the next decade, adding as much as 0.4 percentage point to China’s economic growth every year, according to a projection by Morgan Stanley. The new city, designed as a salve to ease Beijing’s notorious overcrowding, air pollution and congested traffic, will redirect up to 6.7 million people to the 100 square kilometre area, eventually expanding the area’s size 20-fold over a decade. That could potentially make it the largest ever infrastructure project in the history of modern China. State-backed institutions and companies are likely to be the biggest winners out of the mega project, as they are in the best position to get the lion’s share of construction works and services, analysts said.// Source: SCMP, 13 April 2017.
  • //There are no blueprints yet and details are hazy, but it is sure to entail a massive amount of investment. The three counties that will be converted into Xiongan are mainly made up of scrubby fields and drab towns (pictured). Analysts at UBS, a bank, reckon that as much as 4trn yuan ($580bn) could be spent on building Xiongan over the next two decades—hence the rally in construction-related shares. But punters might be getting ahead of themselves. Given the size of the Chinese economy, Xiongan will, even in the most bullish assessments, add less than half a percentage point to annual GDP growth while it is being built. And that is if all goes well. The government has pointed to Shenzhen, a southern metropolis, and Pudong, Shanghai’s financial district, as examples of successful urban developments that it hopes to replicate. Yet there are also plenty of new areas—notably, Binhai in Tianjin, just east of Xiongan—that have failed to take root. One problem that has plagued these urban projects is changes in government leadership. When they lose their sponsors, they often also lose their funding. Xiongan should fare better in this regard. It appears to have strong backing from Xi Jinping, China’s powerful president who is on the cusp of another five-year term. The bigger concern is whether it will actually be a smart investment.// Source: The Economist, 12 April 2017.

Xinhua’s commentary:

  • //In terms of national significance, the area parallels the Shenzhen Economic Zone and Pudong New District, China’s successful test beds for reform and opening up. The area will operate as a new growth pole for the country’s economy, and also aim to curb urban sprawl, bridge growth disparities and protect ecology. It is unprecedented to have a special zone with such inclusive development value. It is of huge significance as coordinated and sustainable growth is so important for the country.// Source: Xinhua, 02 April 2017.

Director of Unirule Institute of Economics (天则经济研究所) Sheng Hong (盛洪) argued that Beijing City has been growing large due to the over-spending on the political capital by the central government, and reform in this regard has been very slow. Xiong’an New Area, designated as sharing some functions of Beijing, was very much different from the Special Economic Zone of Shenzhen in the 1980s or Shanghai’s Pudong in the 1990s as its functions were largely predetermined by the state.

  • //很显然,“北京过大”不是人们非理性地涌入北京的结果,而是政府直接配置资源打破了资源在空间中配置的平衡,人们用行动纠正这种不平衡所致。 […]所以从相当一段时间来看,北京不会变小,似乎总应有一个地方分担北京的部分功能。偶然地,这就是雄安。但“分担北京的非首都功能”的雄安能否成为又一个上海或深圳呢?似乎不可能。这是因为,如果一个城已经定位,它的发展潜力依赖于它在贸易节点上的重要性和其腹地市场的纵深程度。应该指出,上海和深圳并非政府定的位,而早由市场定了位。深圳紧邻香港,在上世纪80年代初,香港在地理上是中国大陆上最大的贸易口岸,不仅有最大的港口,还有为贸易口岸服务的成熟和丰富的现代服务业。深圳的腹地则是珠江三角洲和珠江流域。深圳与香港在城市功能上是一体的。上海则曾是近代以来东亚最大的贸易口岸,只是在计划经济年代衰落了。只要实行市场经济,它自然会崛起。更不用说,它的腹地是长江三角洲和长江流域。反观雄安,则没有这样的条件。[…] 如果是由市场决定,绝不可能有一个与上海和深圳匹敌的贸易中心会在雄安崛起。// Source: Financial Times (Chinese Edition), 12 April 2017.

Economist Liu Shengjun (刘胜军) argued that the rationale behind the plan was to solve the urban blight of Beijing as the political capital and made its development more sustainable. He further contended that the previous development model: state-led and investment-driven was no longer useful. As such, Xiong’an New Area should be used for further reform toward innovation, consumption and urbanization in replacement of property development, export, and investment.

  • //尽管历史辉煌,如今的京城却是百病缠身:2015年工作日平均每天堵车约3个小时,远超纽约、东京等国际都市;2016年北京5年均浓度为73微克/立方米,超过国家标准109%;2016年北京商品住宅成交均价为3.47万元/平方米,较2015年上涨了17.2%。北京房价收入比超过30倍,学区房价格甚至达到令人咋舌的20万/平方米。北京作为中国的首都,从历史、文化传承和现实来看,迁都都无必要和可能。给定这一限制条件,“千年都城”北京如何寻求作为首都的“可持续性”,的确是“千年大计”。[…] 从全国范围讲,北京的都市困境并非孤例,而是折射了过去“政府主导+投资驱动”增长模式已臻极限。不仅首都北京面临“可持续发展”的挑战,中国经济亦然。 […] 第三轮改革的要义是:通过深水区的全面改革,让创新、消费、城镇化成为中国经济新的增长引擎,取代过去的房地产、出口和投资。鉴于北京的巨大规模,雄安只要能分得一部分资源,就可以轻松上台阶。[…] 但是,如果脱离改革这一法宝,只是简单的资源转移,这样的“雄安新区”想象空间有限,甚至可能陷入“曹妃甸”式的困境。曹妃甸当初被寄予的希望不可谓不大,投入近3000亿,但如今与当初的设想相去甚远,掉入泥潭。曹妃甸的最大教训是:重投资,轻改革。曹妃甸希望依靠钢铁、煤炭等大型工业拉动发展,结果反受其累。笔者以为,雄安目前还是一张白纸,只要从改革之处落笔,美好未来可期。// Source: Caixin, 12 April 2017.

Ren Dagang, researcher at the Iceberg Institute, provided another angle about the loss of community with the sudden announcement of new urban plan:

  • //Based on China’s considerable experience constructing new cities and development zones, it seems likely that within a few years, all of this, including my wife’s home village, the farmers’ houses, the trees, the wheat fields, the graves — even interpersonal relationships — will all disappear, to be replaced with broad city boulevards, vast apartment complexes, villas, office buildings, research institutes, schools, industrial parks. […] Xiongan’s establishment and the decentralization of Beijing’s functions are, in fact, a covert attempt to move the capital outright. This “dual capital” method has been employed by many countries around the world, such as South Africa and the Netherlands. Two months ago, as I stood in the middle of that wheat field, I never would have imagined that this dusty county in the back of beyond would soon become something akin to a new capital. What saddens me, however, is that its development will inevitably come at the cost of the people and communities who have called Rongcheng home for years.// Source: Sixth Tone, 12 April 2017.


 4. A new branch of Hengshui High School entering Zhejiang attracts criticisms from educators

Hengshui High School located in Hebei Province has been famous for its militarized school management as well as impressive examination performance of its students. Its recent opening of a new branch in Zhejiang Province, which will be privately run, stirred up controversies. While many parents in China are willing to send their children to the school, its practice attracts criticisms from educators and government officials in charge of basic education. The government officials for social development in Hebei, however, granted it the permission since it could attract talents to stay in the area. It has been in doubt whether the school’s practice of over-recruitment in Hebei Province is in violation of the law. While the school has been spreading its model across China, it faced particularly fierce criticisms and resistance in Zhejiang. An analyst suggested that many people in Zhejiang were worried that the infamous model could undermine the critical moment of education reform in Zhejiang.

  • //Although China has been campaigning for better-rounded “quality education” for years, these controversial “militarized” schools have survived and even thrived. The latest Hengshui High School is the third offshoot of the original in the city of Hengshui, North China’s Hebei Province, joining branches in Southwest China’s Yunnan Province and East China’s Anhui Province. Students at the Pinghu branch who get into top universities such as Tsinghua University and Peking University will be rewarded with up to 500,000 yuan ($72,487) in cash by the school. Over 86 percent of the school’s students get into top domestic universities every year according to the school’s official website. In 2016 that figure reached 92 percent and Hebei’s top two scorers in the arts and science portions of the gaokao were students at the school. Tong Xiaojun, a professor at the China Youth University for Political Sciences, told the Global Times that Hengshui High School and schools like it ignore students’ individual personalities and neglect their physical and psychological development. One female student at Hengshui No.2 High School killed herself in 2014 and another did so in 2015, China Central Television reported. Hengshui High School branches are opening around the country as a consequence of the intense competition in society, said Yang Dongping, the president of the 21st Century Education Research Institute. “Hengshui High School is an outcome of frustration, as China’s education system forces people to choose score-orientated education at the cost of hurting their children’s physical health,” Yang said.// Source: Global Times, 09 April 2017.
  • //Hengshui High School in Hebei is well-known for its military-style teaching methods and exemplary student performance on the country’s national college entrance exam, or gaokao. However, the opening of a satellite arm of the school in Jiaxing, a city south of Shanghai, has caused Fang Hongfeng, the official in charge of basic education for Zhejiang province, to speak out against the school’s teaching methods. “What they consider advanced education, we see as outdated,” Fang said in an interview with a local radio and television network. Officially opened on March 26, the new branch was co-established with a private education group based in Guangzhou. […] In response to the criticism, Wang Jianyong, deputy dean of Hengshui High School in Hebei, said in an interview with the Paper, Sixth Tone’s sister publication, that the school will “take its own course and let them talk.” Wang disagreed with the assertion that his school sees only scores and not students, adding that the school’s teaching methods are not as harsh as media have made them out to be. Wang stated that rather than the local government, demand from parents should decide whether a city needs the Hengshui model of education. Unlike its counterpart in Hebei, the new branch in Zhejiang will be privately run, with an annual tuition fee of 35,000 yuan. Around 400 students have already applied for the 90 places available this year. […] According to Zhang Weigen, an official from Zhejiang’s social development office, the decision to allow Hengshui to open a branch was an effort to retain high-caliber students in the area. […] However, it appears the school is already running into difficulties with local officials. Its orientation day has been postponed until later in the year, as the event was scheduled to take place before the annual high school entrance exam in June — a violation of provincial regulations.// Source: Sixth Tone, 10 April 2017.
  • //衡水中学也一直以跨区域大规模“掐尖”招生备受争议。这在河北教育厅发布的《关于全国推进依法治校工作的实施意见》等中都不被允许。多位学者告诉财新记者,作为公办学校,河北衡水中学能超规模招生是“当地政府支持”“源自地方政府的教育政绩观”。[…] 此举当时已引起中国教育主管部门的注意。教育部在2014年印发的《关于2013年规范教育收费治理教育乱收费重点督查查处的典型问题情况通报》中指出,衡水中学超“三限”(指限分数、限人数、限钱数的政策而录取的学生)计划数招收择校生52人,并且对23名转入学生违规收取择校费34万元。但衡水中学通过“名校办民校”的方式扩张招生的步伐并未被阻挡。2014年8月,衡中的民办学校“衡水第一中学”正式投入使用。该校官网资料显示,该校由河北衡水中学与河北泰华锦业房地产开发有限公司共同创建,且受到“市委、市政府的鼎力支持”。[…] 衡水中学已经在很多地方推销模式,唯独在浙江引起非常大的反响和抵触。”夏谷鸣分析,原因或在于浙江高考改革已进入非常关键的时期,“一方面改革方向越来越清晰,另一方面各种矛盾、困难甚至阻力都暴露无遗”。在不进则退的关键时刻,突然冒出一个衡水中学,“无论是教育思想还是办学行为规范都是一个负面挑战”。[…] 浙江教育生态或被改变”是目前对衡中入浙的隐忧之一。“浙江无须担心。”夏谷鸣认为,与其执着于口水之争,不如在加强监督、检查和规范等方面有所作为,“分校提前开学的违规现象已经被叫停,就是一个很好的作为。浙江同样可以用一样尺子规范衡水中学在浙江的办学”。 “假如一所备受争议的衡水中学能在浙江土地上按照浙江现行的教育改革得到改良和发展,对于衡水中学和浙江教育也应该是一件好事。”夏谷鸣表示。// Source: Caixin, 13 April 2017.


 5. A new release of anti-corruption campaign TV series In the Name of People (人民的名义) becomes a big hit in the Mainland

Unlike other TV series on the sensitive topic of officials’ corruption, In the Name of People was praised for the depth of corruption cases it depicted and the level of criticisms it gave the government. The TV series was co-produced by the Video Centre of the Supreme People’s Procuratorate (最高人民检察院影视中心), Hunan Television and others. Some commentators praised the TV series for reflecting the reality about corruption. In an interview with the playwright of the TV series, Zhou Meisen (周梅森), he revealed that the stories in the TV series was a reflection of his own experience as a nominal government official (挂职). The script for this TV series met no difficulty in getting the approval, unlike other scripts which could face hundreds of demand for revisions. Its hit rate has already been over 1.78 billion on one platform, and it is also popular among students.

  • //The star-studded series In the Name of People has proved popular with viewers and critics alike, receiving 270 million views by Wednesday for the first 12 episodes out of 55 in total on, one of the ­websites and television channels licensed to show the series. […] What is extraordinary about the series is that has broken China’s decade-long ban on anti-corruption-themed dramas being aired in prime-time slots and it is the first television drama to paint a “deputy state-level” party leader as a villain. […] In June 2015, a team from the CCDI propaganda department visited the Film and Television Centre of the Supreme People’s Procuratorate and the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, demanding more anti-corruption TV series and movies to be made, according to Fan Ziwen, a deputy director at the centre, which was a producer of In the Name of People. […] In an interview with Beijing Daily, Zhou said unlike his previous anti-corruption dramas, the production struggled to find backing from state-owned companies. Series’ director Li Lu said the big state-owned enterprises were not willing to invest because of the long absence of successful anti-corruption dramas in the market and the sensitivity of the theme. In the end, the show was bankrolled by five private companies, none of which had invested in a television series before, Li said. […] Its portrayal of power groups inside the party, such as “secretary gang” and the “political legal affairs gang”, echo real fallen political factions led by former president Hu Jintao’s disgraced personal secretary Ling Jihua and former Politburo Standing Committee member Zhou Yongkang, once one of the country’s most powerful men.// Source: SCMP, 05 April 2017.
  • //因曾在政府挂职,并与一些官员多年交往,周梅森得以了解官场运行的逻辑。而很多熟识的官员犯下错误,以致锒铛入狱,他也深为惋惜。在新作中,他借由虚构的H省,写出了自己七八年间的观察和思考。[…] 做秘书长,仅仅是我的生命中的一段经历。应该反观另外一个问题:你为什么愿意做那个秘书 长?把话说穿了就是有官瘾,想做官。谁不喜欢权力、渴望权力呢?首先我有这个想法,关心权力,也希望弄点权力试一试,看看咱能给人民造就一番什么样的事 业。我密切关注权力运作,所以我愿意去。挂职当秘书长前,我比较极端,对官员基本上是否定的,有点像愤青;去了以后,扎进去,我的认识和立场改变了,很多时候会自觉不自觉地站在官员角度考虑问题。[…] 权力特别腐蚀人。开头我不习惯——“秘书长”“秘书长”喊谁呢?原来是喊我。要想干点什么 事,一切都给你安排得好好的,老远就把门给你拉开了。我1990年代就拿了驾驶证,那证只敢在徐州开,因为我的眼睛不好,红绿灯分不清,看着红灯直接就开 过去了。把警察气得呀,他在那里站着,明目张胆一个车就开过来了,马上打手势阻止我。他一看我那个车——42号,是政府四套班子的车,马上从拦车变成敬礼,从那里就过去了。我几次说过,贪官的堕落,可能就是从第一次闯红灯没得到及时制止开始的。[…] 过去我的电视剧送上去,总要脱层皮,改八百处都便宜你,改三个月到半年是正常的,免不了还要争吵干架。这次送到总局,十天全部审完,高度评价。总局让专家们提意见,变成了表彰会和研讨会。这在过去不可想象,看来情况真起了变化,反腐剧春天悄然来临了。// Source: Southern Weekly, 20 February 2017.


Hong Kong


1. Press Freedom in Hong Kong perceived in decline by media practitioners

Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontières) announced that it would not open its East Asian chapter in Hong Kong but Taipei in June this year, due to the worries over the lack of legal guarantee for its entity and activities, and its members under potential state surveillance in Hong Kong. Taiwan’s authority welcomed the move. Meanwhile, Apple Store was recently accused of practicing censorship by removing a Falun Gong-funded News Commentary App not just in Mainland China but also in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Despite that the rise of digital media increased diversity, self-censorship among the media in Hong Kong remained severe as an annual survey had found.

  • //Reporters Without Borders, which advocates press freedom, announced on Thursday that it would open its first Asian bureau in Taipei, Taiwan’s capital, rather than in Hong Kong, which is increasingly under China’s sway. “Hong Kong was the place where we originally wanted to open an office in Asia,” Christophe Deloire, the group’s secretary general, said in an email, adding, “It is not so easy now to run activities from there.” Deloire said that the Paris-based organization, also known as Reporters Sans Frontières, decided against Hong Kong because of “a lack of legal certainty for our entity and activities.” He also cited the possibility that staff members would be put under surveillance. […] “The main threat to media freedom comes from China, which has been exerting growing economic and political pressure on the Taiwanese media,” Taiwan’s profile on Reporters Without Borders’ website said. For Taiwan, the group’s decision to set up in Taipei is a rare — and welcome — soft-power win. The bureau is scheduled to open in June. “Because of difficulties owing to Taiwan’s diplomatic plight, strengthening ties with international NGOs that espouse universal values, such as R.S.F., will be a boost to Taiwan’s international participation,” said Hsu Kuo-yung, a spokesman for Taiwan’s government, referring to Reporters Without Borders using its initials in French.// Source: New York Times, 06 April 2017.
  • //The new bureau in Taipei will focus on the east Asian territories including China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, North Korea, South Korea and Mongolia. “The opening of an East Asia office corresponds to the ongoing international expansion of our association and aims to better address the new challenges of media freedoms in this increasingly influential region of the world, explains RSF Secretary General Christophe Deloire. The choice of Taiwan was made not only with regards to its central geographic location and ease of operating logistics, but also considering its status of being the freest place in Asia in our annual Press Freedom Index ranking.”// Source: Reporters Without Borders, 06 April 2017.
  • //Taiwan last year ranked 51st in the organization’s World Press Freedom Index, while Hong Kong was 69th and China 176th. Recent incidents in Hong Kong — including the disappearance of five booksellers who were known for salacious titles about the Chinese leadership — have sparked fears that Beijing is choking the territory’s freedoms. Hong Kong presented “real obstacles” for the watchdog to carry out its monitoring work, Chinese dissident Wuer Kaixi said. “They wouldn’t be able to guarantee the safety of their staff,” said Wuer Kaixi, an Uighur student leader in the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests who now lives in exile in Taiwan and sits on RSF’s emeritus board. He said he proposed Taiwan as an alternative, citing its boisterous and competitive media landscape. “Freedom of speech and freedom of press is absolutely not an issue in Taiwan. What might be a problem is the threat from China,” he said.// Source: Taipei Times, 08 April 2017.
  • //US satirical news show China Uncensored says that the Apple TV app store has blocked users from accessing it not only in mainland China, but also in Hong Kong and Taiwan. […] China Uncensored, which is produced by Falun Gong-founded New Tang Dynasty Television, has launched a petition on its website requesting that Apple unblock the app. It received over 5,700 signatures as of Saturday. In January, Apple also came under fire after removing the New York Times app from its China store. The newspaper’s app remains available in the Hong Kong and Taiwan versions of the store. Apple is not the only tech company accused of censoring content in China. Microsoft admitted last November that its chat bot filters sensitive topics in the country, while LinkedIn said it blocked Chinese users from viewing sensitive content in the lead-up to the 2014 anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre.// Source: Hong Kong Free Press, 08 April 2017.
  • //Conducted since 2013, the annual Press Freedom Index is calculated from survey responses on a number of issues – including government pressure, self-censorship, access to information, media ownership and media diversity. The HKJA and the University of Hong Kong together interviewed some 1,000 members of the public and almost 500 journalists in January and February. On Thursday, the HKJA announced that the 2016 index increased slightly by 0.6 points to 48 for the general public, and 1.2 points to 39.4 for journalists compared with 2015. A score of 100 represents a maximum level of press freedom. While Sham believed that the emergence of digital media has improved conditions, she said that digital media outlets were still banned from accessing government press events and facilities. She added that the city still lacked a freedom of information law and archives law. […] Some 45 per cent of the public and 72 per cent of journalists responding to the survey still perceived that press freedom was in decline. “The self-censorship rating… still had the lowest score amongst all categories, indicating that the problem was still severe,” read the press release. Since the survey was conducted, however, the parent of i-Cable has announced that it would no longer fund the television network known for its investigative news reporting. Digital news outlet Initium Media also said on Wednesday that it would lay off a “substantial” amount of staff due to funding concerns.// Source: Hong Kong Free Press, 7 April 2017.

 2. Departure of key leader in the New People’s Party

The former vice-chairman of a pro-establishment political party New People’s Party Michael Tien Puk-sun recently announced his withdrawal from the party, saying there has been a rift between him and the party’s leader Regina Ip over many issues, including the party’s closeness with the Central Liaison Office.

  • //Hong Kong lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun said on Tuesday that the close relationship between New People’s Party and Beijing officials was one of the reasons behind his departure from the pro-establishment political group. Elaborating on his resignation on Monday, Tien, the party’s vice-chairman, said the frequent appearance of the central government’s liaison office officials at party events, had betrayed an original agreement by members to maintain an “appropriate distance” with the office. […] “When the party was founded, we all agreed not to invite officials from the central government’s liaison office to party celebrations,” Tien said. But the practice was not observed and the situation got worse, he added. […] In January, Tien launched a thinly-veiled attack on the office, complaining that the chief executive race had “lost its shape” due to increasing “interference” by an “invisible hand”. But Ip has been reluctant to criticise the office.// Source: SCMP, 11 April 2017.
  • //Lawmaker Regina Ip has said that Michael Tien Puk-sun’s departure from her New People’s Party (NPP) was unfortunate but it will not affect the party’s morale. Tien, a pro-Beijing lawmaker and a district councillor, left the party owing to differences in political ideals with Ip. Six district councillors from Tien’s New Territories West area followed Tien in leaving the NPP. […] Ip did not support Tien to become the LegCo president, and chose to support Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen, who was seen as the Liaison Office’s pick. Ip said the NPP has been prepared for the news as rumours have been flying for some time.// Source: Hong Kong Free Press, 11 April 2017.


 3. Hong Kong continued to fall in livability ranking

Private consultancy firm ECA International published a list of rankings of livable cities around the world. Although it remained high on the list, Hong Kong’s ranking decreased to 15th in the Asia-Pacific (9th in 2013) and 29th in the world (11th in 2013). The firm cited worsening air pollution and unstable political environment as the reason for the descent. Meanwhile, the gap between Hong Kong and other Chinese cities such as Shanghai and Guangzhou have been narrowing with the continued improvement in infrastructures for the two rising cities.

  • //Hong Kong has fallen to 29th position in the global rankings of the most liveable locations for Asian expatriates, and remains the 15th most liveable location in the Asia Pacific region. […] Updated annually, ECA’s Location Ratings system objectively evaluates a host of factors to form an assessment of the overall quality of living in over 470 locations worldwide. […] Hong Kong’s fall is due to a combination of internal and external factors. “We have witnessed improvements of living conditions in several cities in Australia, Japan and New Zealand over the past five years,” said Quane. “At the same time, Hong Kong has continued to suffer from poor air quality levels. Combined with ongoing socio-political tensions in Hong Kong, it has therefore fallen in our rankings over this period.” […] “Singapore continues to rank higher than Hong Kong in our rankings owing to environmental factors such as lower levels of air pollution and the fact that Singapore is spared the impact of natural disasters such as typhoons that afflict Hong Kong annually,” said Quane. “However, the gap between the two locations in terms of our rankings has widened over the past five years as the Lion city has been spared from the tensions that we have seen in Hong Kong in recent years.” Of China’s Tier 1 cities, Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou have all seen marginal improvements over the past year in terms of infrastructure. Shanghai has risen by three places in the past year to sit in 107th place in the global rankings and remains the most liveable of the mainland Chinese locations assessed. Shanghai also saw the most significant improvements in China since our last survey. “The quality of health services, the availability of goods & services and infrastructure have all seen improvements in Shanghai over the past 12 months,“ said Quane. “While there remains a sizeable gap in living conditions between Hong Kong and Shanghai, this is narrowing as living conditions deteriorate in Hong Kong and it falls in our rankings while conditions improve in Shanghai, causing it to rise.”// Source: ECA International, 12 April 2017.
  • //“Hong Kong is essentially a first-world city with third-world air quality levels,” ECA’s regional director for Asia, Lee Quane, said. “Combined with ongoing socio-political tensions in Hong Kong, [the city] has therefore fallen in our rankings.” […] Four years ago, Hong Kong was ranked 11th worldwide and 9th in Asia-Pacific, but mainland cities such as Shanghai are gaining ground. […] The survey took in to consideration climate, health risks and facilities, air pollution, goods and services, infrastructure, recreation, quality and availability – but not cost – of housing, education, crime, and socio-political tensions.// Source: SCMP, 13 April 2017.




1. Twin-city Forum to be held in Shanghai in June

The Twin-city Forum is held every year and it has been held in Taipei for the past years. The theme for this year is “Healthy City”. It now becomes one of the few channels for exchange between Taiwan and Mainland China after DPP controlled the government since May 2016. According to the analysis by United Daily News, the mayor of Taipei Ko Wen-je has been active ahead of the forum in proposing his own discourse on cross-strait relations, which is a bit different from that of the DPP and he might take this opportunity to discuss with Mainland officials. His identity as a member of pan-green camp but not a member of the DPP could also gives him some strategic advantages to enlarge the common ground between Taiwan and Mainland China.

  • //Taipei, April 11 (CNA) The annual twin-city forum between Taipei and Shanghai will likely be held in June this year. At a press conference held Tuesday morning, Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) responded to reporters that the city has since been talking with Shanghai officials on the possibility of staging the Taipei-Shanghai forum in June to avoid a conflicting schedule with the Taipei Universiade, which will kick off in August. […] The upcoming Taipei-Shanghai forum is seen as a rare high-level exchange across the strait as relations between the two sides have cooled since President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party took office last May.// Source: Focus Taiwan, 11 April 2017.
  • //今年四月一日,正在印度訪問的台北市長柯文哲說,這次出訪感受到台灣外交空間幾乎窒息,有機會將和大陸朋友討論這個問題,並在六月雙城論壇前提出「兩岸關係論述」。若非雙城論壇即將登場,柯文哲過去很少主動評論兩岸政策,他在四月一日愚人節拋出要重談兩岸論述,令人感覺到一種「莞爾的巧合」。兩岸關係陷入僵局,在親綠執政縣市中,台北市儼然成為大陸少數願意對話的城市。台北市長非中央政府,不必對國家定位表態,柯文哲也刻意在兩岸關係保持策略性模糊,既可增加兩岸對話機會,也拉抬自身的政治分量。去年北、高分別主辦雙城論壇和港灣城市論壇,雖然高雄市長陳菊也向對岸遞出橄欖枝,最後只有柯文哲迎來大陸貴客。// Source: United Daily News, 11 April 2017.

2. Participants in Sunflower Movement faced different verdicts

22 people who occupied the Legislative Yuan (the Legislature) in Taiwan in April 2014 were ruled not guilty of all the charges on 31 March this year. The judge cited civil disobedience as the cause for their acquittal. 11 out of 21 participants who have occupied the Executive Yuan (the Executive) and were prosecuted in relation to the Sunflower Movement were found guilty of obstructing an officer in exercising his duties and damaging public properties on 10 April. Their jail-terms, however, can be communed into monetary fines. All people who were charged with incitement to commit an offence were acquitted.

  • //The Taipei District Court issued 11 guilty verdicts on Monday over the occupation of Taiwan’s Executive Yuan during the 2014 Sunflower Student Movement, sentencing protesters to terms of imprisonment between three and five months. […] The protesters climbed into the building via ladders, but were expelled by the police at 5am the next morning. The police initially made 61 arrests related to the incident. According to local newspaper Liberty Times, the court convicted eight protesters on Monday on charges of obstructing an officer in the discharge of duties. A further three were convicted for damaging public property. Eight protesters charged with incitement to commit an offence – including student activist Dennis Wei – were acquitted, alongside two protesters charged with theft. Their prison sentences can be commuted into monetary fines.// Source: Hong Kong Free Press, 10 April 2017.
  • //The Taipei District Court yesterday acquitted 22 defendants involved in the 2014 Sunflower movement in the first ruling on the case, saying the defendants had legitimate reasons for breaking into the Legislative Yuan on the night of March 18, 2014, based on the principle of “civil disobedience.” […] The 22 stood trial on charges of inciting others to commit a crime, obstruction of police officers in the discharge of their duties and other crimes. […] Taipei District Court Chief Judge Liao Chien-yu (廖建瑜) said the panel of three judges made investigative inquiries, and reviewed theories and practice surrounding the concept of civil disobedience, through literature and research findings on the topic by both Taiwanese and international academics and experts. Liao said the judges had summarized the findings and found that the concept of civil obedience rests on seven main requirements […] The judges reached their assessment by carefully considering each of the requirements for civil disobedience, looking at the legislative process of tabling the bill for the ratification of the cross-strait service trade agreement, procedures for review by legislative committees, negotiations between the political parties, and approval of the bill through votes in the legislature, according to the ruling. “It was found that Huang Kuo-chang and the other defendants’ occupation of the legislature on March 18 was in accordance with the seven major requirements for civil disobedience.// Source: Taipei Times, 01 April 2017.
  • //Sunflower movement leader and now New Power Party Executive Chairman Huang Kuo-chang (黃國昌) said the ruling is not only about the defendants, but also about the actions of “people trying to save their nation.“It will have great significance in the annals of Taiwan’s judicial system, as it deliberated on the meaning and results of civil disobedience from the perspective of the constitutional system,” he said. […] KMT Legislator Lin Wei-chou (林為洲) said he hopes the court would hold the same standard to other protests and demonstrators so that the public can have faith in the nation’s judiciary. KMT Vice Chairman Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) said that while he has no choice but to respect the judicial system, he believes the verdict runs counter to public opinion and the rule of law.// Source: Taipei Times, 01 April 2017.

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