Press Highlights 25 January 2017

Keywords: Judicial independence, foreign NGO law, Sino-US relations, economic globalization, Chinese history, election for Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, housing problems in Hong Kong.

China

Politics

1. Head of the Supreme Court warned of the calls for judicial independence in China

The Chief Justice and the head of the Supreme People’s Court Zhou Qiang made statements on 14 January 2017 which emphasized the party leadership in the judiciary, and warned judges about the “erroneous” western thoughts of “constitutional democracy”, “separation of powers”, “judicial independence”, etc. Also, the judiciary is responsible to help defend social stability as well as safeguarding the glorious history of Communist leaders in China. About one year ago, he made similar statement (see here by the Guardian). His statement was met with strong reactions from the legal field in China. The Supreme People’s Court responded to criticisms on its Weibo account, elaborating what Zhou said with five pieces of articles (here for the articles in Chinese) and reinstating the primacy of party leadership before the independency for the right of adjudication bestowed upon the judiciary by the Constitution.

  • //中国最高人民法院党组书记、院长周强1月14 日在北京谈及全国各级法院做好意识形态工作必须掌握的几项内容:要坚决抵制西方“宪政民主”、“三权分立”、“司法独立”等错误思潮影响,旗帜鲜明,敢于亮剑,坚决同否定中国共产党领导、诋毁中国特色社会主义法治道路和司法制度的错误言行作斗争,决不能落入西方错误思想和司法独立的“陷阱”,坚定不移走中国特色社会主义法治道路。[…]“要依法严惩利用网络实施的危害国家安全、造谣诽谤、寻衅滋事、煽动群体性事件等犯罪,积极参与打击网络政治谣言专项行动,维护网络社会安全。”周强说,要认真总结涉意识形态领域相关案件的审判经验,制定审理涉及侵害英雄人物、历史人物名誉荣誉等案件的司法解释,依法维护领袖、英烈形象,坚决捍卫党和人民军队的光辉历史。// Source: The Paper, 14 January 2017.
  • //另據央視新聞報導,周強在會議上還表示,當前國際形勢空前複雜,不可預測性有所上升;要「堅決抵禦敵對勢力策動顏色革命企圖,嚴厲懲處煽動顛覆國家政權、分裂國家等危害國家安全犯罪,積極參與反間諜專項鬥爭,從嚴懲處間諜破壞活動。」最高法院在會議上還提出要深化反邪教的鬥爭,要求加大對「法輪功」、「全能神」等「邪教組織」犯罪的懲處力度,防止邪教成為影響政治安全的突出因素。周強表示,要「始終繃緊反恐怖鬥爭這根弦,依法從重從快打擊暴力恐怖、傳播恐怖音視頻等犯罪,決不給暴恐分子以可乘之機。」// Source: The Initium, 14 January 2017.
  • //最高法隨即於1月15日深夜至16日凌晨在官方微博連發5篇文章,稱抵制司法獨立「有法可依」,而且應該「堅持道路自信,敢於向錯誤思潮亮劍」。最高法發布的這幾條微博均禁止評論,但可以「點讚」。系列文章稱,中國《憲法》以及從中共十三大(1987年)開始的黨代會報告均堅持「依法獨立審判」的法治原則,但這與西方的「司法獨立」不同,因為國家審判機關「只有在堅持黨的領導的前提下」行使審判權,才可稱之為「人民法院」。文章重申周強講話,稱「堅決抵制西方『憲政民主』、『三權分立』、『司法獨立』等錯誤思潮影響,堅定不移走中國特色社會主義法治道路,是旗幟鮮明地表明了我們堅決擁護中國共產黨領導的決心」;並引述周強的要求,指全國法院應「在提倡什麼、反對什麼上旗幟鮮明,在大是大非問題上敢於發聲,在思想交鋒中敢於亮劍,應成為當下人民法院意識形態工作必須肩負的責任和使命。」//Source: The Inititum, 16 January 2017.
  • //Chief Justice Zhou Qiang, China’s top judicial official, is hardly a radical reformer. But to liberal-minded watchers of the country’s evolving court system, he has nonetheless been an encouraging figure. In recent years, he has spearheaded an effort to make China’s judiciary, which is subordinate to the ruling Communist Party, more professional. He has pushed to weed out poorly trained judges and to raise the pay of those with formal legal training, which often includes a heavy dose of Western jurisprudence. So when the chief justice used warlike language on Saturday to denounce the idea of an independent judiciary and other cherished liberal principles, warning judges not to fall into the “trap” of “Western” ideology, observers in China and abroad were shocked and dismayed. “We should resolutely resist erroneous influence from the West: ‘constitutional democracy,’ ‘separation of powers’ and ‘independence of the judiciary,’” Chief Justice Zhou, the head of the Supreme People’s Court of China, said in a speech to legal officials in Beijing. “We must make clear our stand and dare to show the sword.” […] In his speech Saturday, Chief Justice Zhou also exhorted judges to “safeguard by law images of leaders and heroes, and to resolutely safeguard the party and the People’s Army’s glorious history.” […] In recent weeks, the government has cracked down harshly on some officials who made negative remarks about Mao. In the northern province of Hebei, a deputy director of the Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television Bureau in the provincial capital was fired after making what were deemed “erroneous comments” on his social media account, which has since been deleted. Overseas Chinese reported that the comments were critical of Mao. While his position is prestigious, Chief Justice Zhou is not a member of the Communist Party’s ruling Politburo. Before Mr. Xi’s ascension to power in 2012, the jurist was a rising star, serving as the top official in Hunan, Mao’s home province. He was frequently mentioned as a possible candidate for a top leadership position.// Source: New York Times, 18 January 2017.

A legal scholar in China responded to the Zhou’s statement on Weibo and commented that judicial independence is essential for citizens to get fairness and justice in judicial cases, otherwise the judiciary would be regularly intervened by factors unrelated to the law, and could not stridently follow the legal rules to make verdicts and conflict resolution. The concept of judicial independence is not something “Western”, because even in the Chinese history there is a story of Bao Zheng (包拯) which exemplifies people’s aspiration for judicial independence. Zhou’s statement is hurting the country and the people, and it is completely against the trend of history.

  • //【不可理喻】无论怎样的国度,司法如果没有独立性,那就意味着它会常态地受到法外因素的干预,无法严格地依照法律规则裁判案件和纠纷,也就难以让国民在司法案件中感受到公平正义,最终的结果只能是冤屈遍地,引发造反。即便在古代中国,包拯故事也代表着人们对司法独立的渴望。因此,把司法独立说成是什么西方观念,必欲除之而后快,是真正的祸国殃民的言行,完全是在开历史的倒车。// Source: China Digital Times, 14 January 2017.

Some legal practitioners also called for Zhou’s resignation over his failure to protect judicial independence. According to the Open Letter, the concept of judicial independence has no difference in the West or the East. Also, it is compatible with the current Chinese Constitution under the Party’s leadership. The refusal of the concept will hurt the Party’s legitimacy to rule. The initiator of the Open Letter signature campaign argued that the legal system with Chinese characteristics does not have to lack the element of judicial independence without which fairness and justice cannot be delivered by the rule of law.

  • //中国最高法院院长周强近日发表的向“司法独立”、“宪政民主”等西方错误思潮“亮剑”的讲话,引发外界强烈反弹。在网络一片批评声中,有律师发起“百名律师敦促周强立即引咎辞职”的联署寄信行动,表达对中国法治是否要倒退的思考和担忧。[…] 公开信强调,“司法独立”是全球共同认知,没有所谓东西方之别,而中国也签署过确认司法独立的国际宣言和声明等。因此,周强“向司法独立亮剑”之说,假借“西方”之名,污蔑“司法独立”,给中国这个联合国常任理事国造成极其严重的国际负面影响。公开信还表示,司法独立符合中国现行宪法,对共产党主政并无妨碍。改革开放以来,从没有高层领导人敢在公开场合说“中国不需要司法独立”,而周强的“向西方司法独立亮剑论”,把党的领导与宪法法律对立起来,给外界共产党只讲专政、不讲法治的错觉,损害共产党执政合法性,属于严重违宪,涉嫌触犯颠覆国家政权罪。// Source: Voice of America, 17 January 2017.

Jerome A. Cohen, director of the U.S.-Asia Law Institute at New York University, commented on Zhou’s speech on his blog:

  • //It is much more threatening to the judicial cadres than the usual recitation about the importance of following the Party line. It focuses almost exclusively on “morality” and political reliability. Its reference to heroic historical figures is surely bizarre and suggests that the recent investigation of the Supreme People’s Court by the Central Discipline Inspection Commission must have uncovered judges’ lack of reverence for Chairman Mao as well as their continuing desire for judicial independence from Party interference. This statement is the most enormous ideological setback for decades of halting, uneven progress toward the creation of a professional, impartial judiciary. It has already provoked some of China’s most admirable legal scholars to speak out in defiance, and, despite their prominence, I fear not only for their academic freedom and careers but also for their personal safety. […] There is immense dissatisfaction among many judges, especially the younger judges, over Xi Jinping’s restrictive, anti-Western legal values being imposed on them, contrary to their largely-Western-type legal education. Many younger officials are leaving the courts and the procuracy too for work in law firms, business and teaching. They do not want to spend their lives applying legal principles opposed to their largely Western-type legal education.// Source: Blog of Jerome Cohen, 17 January 2017.

Before Zhou’s statement, Secretary General Xi Jinping in a meeting on political-legal affairs emphasized the importance of maintaining regime and institutional stability in the run-up to the 19th National Congress of Chinese Communist Party.

  • //中共中央总书记、国家主席、中央军委主席习近平近日就政法工作作出重要指示强调,全国政法机关要强化忧患意识,提高政治警觉,增强工作预见性,不断创新理念思路、体制机制、方法手段,全面提升防范应对各类风险挑战的水平,确保国家长治久安、人民安居乐业。[…] 习近平强调,2017年是我们党和国家历史上具有特殊重要意义的一年。要把维护国家政治安全特别是政权安全、制度安全放在第一位,提高对各种矛盾问题预测预警预防能力,为党的十九大召开营造安全稳定的社会环境。要锲而不舍推进司法体制改革,进一步提高司法质量、效率和公信力。要坚持不懈加强政法队伍建设, 进一步营造风清气正、干事创业的良好生态。// Source: Xinhua, 12 January 2017.

2. Foreign NGOs registered under the new law for foreign NGOs since 2017

Six foreign NGOs made their way to register in Shanghai’s municipal authority since the new law takes effect in 2017. China Development Brief prepared a handbook to instruct how foreign NGOs can register online with relevant authority administratively.

  • //A total of six foreign nongovernmental organizations have secured official registrations under China’s new foreign NGO law, which came into effect on Jan. 1 and has been criticized for its vague language and strict stipulations, including one that requires groups to register with the Public Security Bureau, China’s police.  The law states that foreign organizations operating on the mainland must not “endanger China’s national unity, security, or ethnic unity” or “harm China’s national interests, societal public interest, and the lawful rights and interests of citizens, legal persons, and other organizations.” The six organizations are all based in Shanghai and were named earlier this week in local Shanghai news reports after they received approval from the municipal public security bureau on Tuesday. The majority of them are not charitable or advocacy organizations, but rather the Shanghai offices of chambers of commerce: the US-China Business Council, the Canada China Business Council, the Russian chamber of commerce, and the Confederation of Indian Industry. Two charitable organizations were also registered. One of them, the World Health Foundation, is a small NGO built a children’s hospital in Shanghai and has worked on the Chinese mainland for 18 years. The other is the Hong Kong Yin Shin Leung Charitable Foundation, which has built schools and medical centers in rural areas on the mainland since it first registered with the Bureau of Civil Affairs in 2007. […] Other groups have told Sixth Tone that they are still working to complete the necessary paperwork for registration, engage government offices to obtain more information about the specifics of the law, and find a suitable sponsor. Under the law, which was passed in April 2016, NGOs must report to the police but also have to be sponsored by a government agency or mass organization. The list of departments and groups that can sponsor NGOs was only released on Dec. 20, 2016, 11 days before the law came into effect. // Source: The Sixth Tone, 20 January 2017.

Twenty other foreign NGOs successfully registered with the Beijing’s municipal authority:

  • //The representative offices of 20 overseas NGOs received their registration certificates in the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau on January 23. They are the first overseas NGOs to register in the city since the Overseas NGO Law came into effect. Officials from China’s central committees and foreign embassies attended the ceremony. The 20 NGOs, which include the World Economic Forum, the Paulson Institute and Save the Children International, are mainly involved in the economy, environmental protection, health and poverty relief. They were mostly set up in the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Switzerland, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Hao Yunhong, head of the overseas NGOs administration office, said that all the overseas NGOs management offices at the provincial level have now been opened up to the public. He added that the public security bureau shall uphold the concepts of opening-up, cooperation, transparency and justice to provide efficient services to overseas NGOs and protect their legal rights in China.// Source: China Development Brief, 23 January 2017.

Diplomacy

3. The release of the White Paper “China’s Policies on Asia-Pacific Security Cooperation”

On 11 January, the Chinese government issued a white paper titled “China’s Policies on Asia-Pacific Security Cooperation” (full text in English here) which outlines its recent stand on the Asia-Pacific Security.

  • //The white paper, “China’s Policies on Asia-Pacific Security Cooperation,” was released by the State Council Information Office. Outlining China’s concept of common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security, the white paper explained the Chinese approach to achieving peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region. The policy package includes the promotion of common development; the building of partnerships; improvement of existing multilateral frameworks; rule-setting; military exchanges; and proper settlement of differences. Noting the role that major countries in the region play in maintaining peace and development, the white paper urged them to reject the Cold War mentality, respect others’ legitimate interests and concerns and to pursue positive interactions. “Small- and medium-sized countries need not and should not take sides among big countries,” the white paper said. All countries should work toward a new dialogue system instead of confrontation, and pursue partnerships rather than alliances, according to the white paper. […] Rules of individual countries should not automatically become “international rules,” and countries should not be allowed to violate the lawful rights and interests of others under the pretext of rule of law, according to the white paper. China is prepared to take on greater responsibilities for regional and global security, and provide more public security services to the Asia-Pacific region and the world at large, it said. […] China remains committed to resolving disputes peacefully through negotiation and consultation and upholding peace and stability as well as freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea, the white paper said. It said China and ASEAN continue to maintain communication and dialogue on the South China Sea issue, strengthening pragmatic maritime cooperation and steadily advancing consultations on the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea.// Source: Shanghai Daily, 11 January 2017.

Dr. Kori Schake, Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution, analyzed the potential change to the America’s foreign policy in Asia-Pacific under the presidency of Donald Trump in a media interview:

  • //How might the leadership style and worldview of General James Mattis, Trump’s nominee for secretary of defense, shape U.S. security strategy in Asia? Jim Mattis is a great American and a devoted friend to America’s allies. But I think it’s wrong to place too much responsibility on him for U.S. security strategy in Asia. Those are principally decisions for the president, the national security advisor, and the secretary of state. The statutory responsibilities of the defense secretary are to ensure the United States has military forces capable of defending the nation and its interests. Those of us who breathed sighs of relief when Jim was nominated need to be careful not to expect him to be our savior in an administration where foreign policy is principally other peoples’ job. With Islamic State, Iran, and Russia as pressing priorities for the Trump presidency, how might U.S. Asia policy, specifically the rebalance to Asia, change? I’m skeptical President Trump will reflexively continue any of President Obama’s policies, including the “pivot to Asia.” And during the campaign candidate Trump talked an awful lot of nonsense about America’s role in the world. But it wouldn’t be the first time in our history that a candidate’s perspective changed substantially once they got elected and became responsible for the security and prosperity of our country. I would just recall that candidate Obama campaigned against NAFTA [North America Free Trade Agreement] before becoming the president who negotiated TPP [Trans-Pacific Partnership], and campaigned against President George W. Bush’s counterterrorism policies before becoming the president that continued almost all of those policies.// Source: The Diplomat, 17 January 2017.

Complications in the Sino-US relations under the Trump Administration:

  • //Trump’s pick of China hawk Peter Navarro to head a new office overseeing trade further angered Beijing and stoked fears of impending conflicts between the two countries. But subsequent reports and statements by Trump have called into question how hard a line he will really take with China once in office. Revelations by The New York Times of financial ties between Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who has recently been named as a senior advisor to Trump, and the Anyang Insurance Group, have raised questions about conflicts of interest within the Trump team. The possibility of a trade war with China was cast into further doubt following a meeting this week between Trump and Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba, which left both sides singing the other’s praises. Ma reportedly vowed to help create one million jobs in the U.S. by helping American small businesses get onto his internet platform to sell their products.// Source: China Digital Times, 10 January 2017.

Economy

 4. China’s economic growth at 6.7% in 2016

  • //Growth in the world’s second-largest economy weakened last year to 6.7%, the slowest GDP expansion rate in 26 years, according to official data released Friday. […] Last year’s decline to 6.7% from a 6.9% growth rate in 2015 marked the weakest expansion pace since gross domestic product (GDP) growth hit 3.9% in 1990. And it was the sixth straight year in which growth slowed in China, reflecting Beijing’s effort to shift the growth emphasis to domestic consumption and services rather than exports and government-led investment. In a sign that the government’s slowdown strategy is working, NBS said retail sales climbed 10.4% in 2016 year-on-year. In December alone, retail spending jumped 10.9%. Fix-asset investment — a gauge of mainly government infrastructure spending — expanded 8.1% last year from 2015, while industrial output grew 6%, the NBS said. The government has not said whether it will set an annual GDP target for 2017. Top policy makers said in a statement after the Central Economic Work Conference last month “maintaining stability” was one of the government’s goals for the coming year. But the statement did not include the pledge to “sustain economic operations within a proper range,” which has led many observers to believe that the government may have decided to drop a target for growth. Analysts attributed stronger-than-expected performance in the fourth quarter to faster expansion of the service industry rather than any resurgence for traditional manufacturing. But they’re not convinced this trend will extend into 2017. Some analysts cited last year’s boom in banking lending for the economy’s improvement late in the year. The central bank said lenders issued a record 12.65 trillion yuan ($1.85 trillion) to nonfinancial borrowers last year. Kuijs estimated the nation’s total outstanding credit, which includes bonds issued by local governments, grew 16.1% in 2016 year-on-year compared to 15.2% in 2015. And government, commercial and consumer debt levels rose to around 260% of GDP at the end of 2016, up from 250% a year earlier.// Source: Caixin, 20 January 2017.

In 2016, the service industry continued to be the largest industry in the proportion of GDP (51.6%), and its relative increase is also higher than the agriculture and the manufacturing industry. It also attracts 76% of new investment in the whole year.

  • //服务业作为国民经济的第一大产业,对国民经济增长的贡献率进一步提高,主动力作用更加显现。国家统计局公布数据显示,2016年,中国服务业增加值384221亿元,比上年实际增长8%,在三次产业中继续领跑,增速比第二产业高出1.7个百分点。服务业占GDP比重已上升为51.6%比2015年继续提高1.4个百分点,比第二产业高出11.8个百分点。服务业对国民经济增长的贡献率为58.2%,比2015年提高5.3个百分点,比第二产业高出20.8个百分点。[…] 服务业新增投资占全部新增投资的76%。服务业的快速发展吸引外资投入快速增长。2016年,服务业实际使用外资5715.8亿元人民币,比上年增长8.3%,占全国实际使用外资总量的比重达70.3%。其中,信息、咨询服务业,计算机应用服务业,综合技术服务业,分销服务和零售业实际使用外资同比分别增长59.8%、112.8%、66.4%、42.9%和83.1%。另外,高技术服务业是吸引外资的重点领域,实际使用外资增长86.1%。// Source: Caixin, 23 January 2017.

Manipulation of economic data in China continues to be a concern. As Sara Hsu from Forbes reminded us that China’s economic data has been long put in doubt not just by observers but also by national leaders.

  • //Although the growth rate was the lowest it has been since 1990, China’s 2016 numbers were quite strong for a nation that is losing steam and incurring increasing debt. Particularly odd was that the growth rate actually increased from 6.7% in Q3 to 6.8% in Q4 despite an apparently decelerating economy. As a result of these contradictions, China’s National Bureau of Statistics was forced to guarantee the statistics as “authentic.” Compounding the questionability of the results is the fact that recently, the provincial governor of Liaoning province, Chen Qiufa, admitted that data had been faked between 2011 and 2014. This isn’t the first time this has happened: Liaoning, as well as in Jilin and Heilongjiang provinces owned up to altering their growth numbers in 2015. And more often than not, provincial data (reported by eager local officials seeking promotion) adds up to more than the same data reported at the national level, which is collected by the National Bureau of Statistics. There are also some concerns over data smoothing at the national level. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang referred to China’s GDP figures as “man-made and therefore unreliable” in 2007 when he was Party Secretary of Liaoning Province. He called for the use of proxies such as electricity consumption, rail cargo volume and loan volume instead. […] To find out whether this type of data falsification is still going on, Carsten Holz, professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, closely examined Chinese GDP data in a 2014 publication, looking at indicators between 1979 and 2011. He found no egregious data falsification at the national level, but noted that there may be occasional data manipulation for the purpose of political expediency. Furthermore, there are reasons that support China’s recent high growth figures. It can be attributed to an upswing in property and infrastructure construction, coupled with rising credit. Government spending on infrastructure and loose monetary policy buoyed the economy in a concerted effort by central and local governments to make up for growth shortfalls. Consumption also increased, indicating that government endeavors to promote household purchases have been successful.// Source: Forbes, 23 January 2017.

5. Xi Jinping’s statement at economic forum draws attention

PRC President Xi Jinping defended economic globalization at World Economic Forum amidst Brexit and the rise of protectionism after Donald Trump became the US President.

  • //Xi also offered a defence of globalisation in his UN speech, citing the progress that it brings despite its problems, such as the inequalities that accompany economic development. “Economic globalisation is the right direction. Of course, we acknowledge the existence of problems like inequality, difficulties in governance,” he said. “We need to address and solve these problems. But we cannot give up eating for fear of choking,” Xi added. […] During his speech, Xi also portrayed China as a champion of multilateralism. “China’s commitment to support multilateralism will not change … China will resolutely uphold the international order with the United Nations being the core of global governance,” he said. Xi’s attitude towards the UN is in sharp contrast to that of Trump, who is a harsh critic of the international body. […] UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told Xi it was “very reassuring to see China assuming such a clear leadership in multilateralism in today’s world”.// Source: SCMP, 19 January 2017.
  • //“The problems troubling the world are not caused by globalisation,” Xi Jinping said in an address at the World Economic Forum in Davos. “They are not the inevitable outcome of globalisation.” The spectacle of a Chinese Communist party leader in the spiritual home of capitalism defending the liberal economic order against the dangers of protectionism from a new US president underscored the upheaval in global affairs brought about by the election of Donald Trump. “Countries should view their own interest in the broader context and refrain from pursuing their own interests at the expense of others,” Mr Xi said without mentioning Mr Trump by name. “We should not retreat into the harbour whenever we encounter a storm or we will never reach the opposite shore.” He also warned that “no one will emerge as a winner from a trade war” and pledged that China would not seek to benefit from devaluation of its currency or a “currency war”. […] In an apparent reference to Mr Trump’s threats to abandon last year’s Paris accord on climate change, Mr Xi hailed it as “a hard-won agreement” that “all signatories should stick to”.// Source: Financial Times, 17 January 2017.

Following Xi’s speech, head of the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s Office of International Economic Affairs Zhang Jun argued that China is prepared to take up the leadership role in global economic development if the western countries give up that role. For more information about the prospect of China as the leader for international economic order, an article titled “China and the Global Economic Order” by Francoise Nicolas can be found on China Perspectives (2016/2).

  • //China is prepared to take the helm of the global economy if Western nations abdicate their leadership role, a top Chinese diplomat said Monday, days after U.S. President Donald Trump pledged in his inaugural address to put “America first.” “If it’s necessary for China to play the role of leader, then China must take on this responsibility,” Zhang Jun, head of the Chinese foreign ministry’s office of international economic affairs, told a small group of foreign reporters in Beijing. Zhang made the comments following Chinese President Xi Jinping’s trip last week to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where he delivered a defense of economic globalization in a speech that likened trade protectionism to “locking oneself in a dark room.” […] But with Mr. Trump painting an especially glum picture of the effects of globalization in his inaugural speech on Friday, Mr. Zhang entertained the idea of China adopting a new global role. “If people want to say China has taken a position of leadership, it’s not because China suddenly thrust itself forward as a leader. It’s because the original front-runners suddenly fell back and pushed China to the front,” he said. // Source: Wall Street Journal, 23 January 2017.

Society

6. China’s War of Resistance against Japan extended from eight to fourteen years in new curriculum

  • //The Ministry of Education has ordered a nationwide revision that expands the timeline of the war against Japanese aggression in primary and secondary education in its latest move to boost nationalism. A letter was sent to provincial education authorities throughout the country from a department under the ministry overseeing primary and secondary schools, The Beijing News reported yesterday. […] The People’s Daily reported that the curriculum used should fully reflect “the instrumental function of the Communist Party in the resistance against aggression” and that China was a main battlefield in the war against fascism. The eight-year war of resistance refers to the period from 1937, when the Marco Polo Bridge incident occurred, to 1945 when Japan surrendered. The education ministry now says the resistance started in 1931, when a bomb destroyed a Japanese railway near Shenyang, then known as Mukden. The changes follow a memorandum issued by the ministry in January last year that called for improved “patriotic education” in schools, as part of President Xi Jinping’s “Chinese dream” initiative to promote nationalism. In October, the Shanghai government pressured ­private schools to include the teaching of Chinese political ideology in their curriculums.// Source: SCMP, 11 January 2017.

On the other hand, historians, such as Yang Jisheng, are barred from publishing historical researches not approved by the Party:

  • //It seemed that China’s censors had finally muzzled Yang Jisheng, the famed chronicler of the Mao era. Last year, he had finished writing a widely anticipated history of the Cultural Revolution. But officials warned him against publishing it and barred him from traveling to the United States, he has said, and he stayed muted through the 50th anniversary of the start of that bloody upheaval. Now Mr. Yang has broken that silence with the publication of his history of the Cultural Revolution, “The World Turned Upside Down,” a sequel to “Tombstone,” his landmark study of the famine spawned by Mao’s policies in the late 1950s. The 1,151-page book is the latest shot fired in China’s war over remembering, or forgetting, the dark side of its Communist past, a struggle that has widened under the hard-line president, Xi Jinping. […] “Yang Jisheng is not a historian,” an editorial in Global Times, an ardently pro-party Chinese newspaper, said last year. “He leaves the impression that he’s not interested in history, and virtually all his later works display strong political tendencies.” […] “Chinese political culture, both past and present, insists that the legitimacy of rulers depends on an immaculate record of what they have done,” said Perry Link, a professor at the University of California, Riverside, who has written widely about Chinese culture and politics. “They’re afraid that telling the truth about those events pulls the rug on their right to rule,” he said. “They want to be damn well sure that history stays inside its box.”// Source: New York Times, 21 January 2017.

 7. University professor got removed from government office and academic post after posting a message on social media defaming Mao Zedong

  • //A university professor’s online posts criticising communist revolutionary Mao Zedong have sparked a violent protest and online debate between pro-Mao leftists and rightists in China. Deng angered supporters of Mao when he reposted a post on microblogging site Weibo that was critical of Mao around December 26 – which would have been his 123rd birthday. According to screenshots of posts from Deng circulating online, one post said that Mao was responsible for war and famine and that – if he had died earlier – fewer people would have starved or died from conflict. “The only thing he did right was die,” it said. Deng Xiangchao was removed from his post as a member of the standing committee of the provincial political advisory body on Friday, mainland outlets reported. He was also dismissed as a counselor of the provincial government and forced to retire to from his post as the deputy head of the School of Art at Shandong Jianzhu University on Thursday.// Source: Hong Kong Free Press, 10 January 2017.

A commentator on Global Times criticized Deng for posting words defaming Mao Zedong on the Internet as a public official. He continued that the discussions on politics are very intense on the Internet, but also highly polarized. Any public official who sets foot on this area must be very careful and cannot do whatever he/she wants. He said Deng should have expected removal from both public and academic posts. For the close relationship between Mao Zedong and the Party in today’s China, China Perspectives published an article by Arif Dirlik titled “Mao Zedong in Contemporary Official Discourse and History” in 2012/2.

  • //客观分析,邓相超在去年1226日那个特殊日子转发诋毁毛泽东的微博评论,对于正常的中国人来说都不应该,遑论公职人员。如果在几年前,他那样做或许不太显眼,说不定能混过去。但是如今互联网的氛围有所清明,他这样做十分招眼,犯了公职人员的大忌。邓相超的这些表现被公开举报,并且引起示威,他的言论放到体制的哪个审查环节,大概都过不去。因此山东省和他的学校对他做出处分,了解体制的人都知道,是肯定会发生的。[…] 因为在舆论场的恶劣表现,已经61岁的邓相超面临办理退休,以及失去其他职位的后果,应当说他自己要承担主要责任。中国互联网舆论场不仅热衷谈论政治,且高度分裂,公职人员涉足这里都应非常谨慎,任性不得。// Source: Global Times (Weibo Account), 09 January 2017.

 The commentator on Up Media Li Ling (李寧) reminds that party-affiliated members who expressed disrespectful words against Mao Zedong or the Party have faced punishments in recent years. He argued that the heavy-handed approach to the critics within the establishment would lead to the aspiration for “gradual reform within the Party” completely vanishes.

  • //類似之事在此之前也層出不窮,比如2015年4月初,原央視知名主持人畢福劍在一個私人飯局上唱評《智取威虎山》,過程中稱毛澤東同志為「老逼養」(原話是:哎,可別提那個老逼樣的了,可把我們害苦了),後被官方處理。去年2月底,即便有官二代背景、被外界稱為和王岐山關係密切的任志強也被北京西城區委下發《關於正確認識任志強嚴重違紀問題的通知》。通知當時說,任志強作為一名共產黨員,在網上持續公開發佈違法資訊和錯誤言論並產生惡劣影響,嚴重損害了黨的形象,區委將嚴格按照《中國共產黨紀律處分條例》,對任志強作出嚴肅處理。[…] 對毛對中共的評價,在中國一直是一項不能公開言說的秘密,即便中共在1981年《關於建國以來黨的若干歷史問題的決議》中有所承認錯誤,但由於「宜粗不宜細」的政治高壓,所以並沒有得以深刻反思以及允許全民探討,時至今日越來越成為老虎的屁股,摸不得。就體制內人士言論進行強有力打壓,側面也將導致這些原改良派人士此前所寄望的「黨逐漸改革」夢徹底崩塌,這也包括改良派此前影響力頗大被譽為「兩頭真」、「八不准」的炎黃春秋雜誌去年被易主。// Source: Up Media, 14 January 2017.

 

Hong Kong


Politics

1. Candidates for Chief Executive Election announced their bid

In the past month, various candidates for the post of Chief Executive in Hong Kong announced their bid. Discussions centered on who got the blessing from the China’s leaders in Beijing as well as who secured more support from local interest groups embodied as the electors of the 1200-strong Election Committee. Four hopefuls receive the most media attention, namely, 1) Carrie Lam who was the former Chief Secretary for Administration of the current Administration, 2) John Tsang, who was the former Financial Secretary of the current Administration, 3) Regina Ip who was the former Secretary for Security Bureau during 2003 when the Article 23 of the Basic Law was in discussion, and 4) Woo Kwok-hing, who was a senior judge before retirement. All of them except Woo are regarded as “pro-establishment”. In order to be a candidate for the election, any hopeful must secure 150 nominations from the electors. The election will be held in March this year and constitutionally the candidate who gets over 600 votes wins the election.

Woo Kok-hing was the first to announce his bid for the post back in October last year. Given his lack of connection with the China’s leader, the media and electors show cold reception of his bidding. Another candidate, Regina Ip, who announced her bid in December last year. After her resignation due to the Article 23 Demonstration in 2003, she established a local political party called “New People’s Party” appealing to the middle class in Hong Kong and she is now concurrently the Chairwoman of the party and the legislator in Hong Kong, please see here for her profile in details by the RTHK.

John Tsang’s resignation, which was submitted on 12 December 2017, and Carrie Lam’s one, which was submitted on 12 January 2017, got approved by the Beijing Government in recent days. For the background of the two former high-ranked officials with civil service experience, please see here prepared by HKFP. The length of time the Central Authorities took to approve John Tsang’s resignation arises some speculation about Beijing’s confidence in Tsang.

Tim Hamlett from the HKFP wrote that the seeming delay in letting Tsang leave his office could just be an administrative reason, among other speculations. A political scientist Ma Ngok from the Chinese University observed that the atmosphere among the electors is nothing but waiting for “signals” from Beijing, which is far from clear up to this point, as they want to avoid “making a wrong choice”.

  • //The most plausible and boring explanation for this would be that resignations are passed to a committee which only meets once a quarter. How long you have to wait depends on when the next meeting is. But you could hardly write a column on that basis. So we are fed the entertaining notion that Beijing officials are desperately trying to hit a happy mean between approving too quickly, which would look like an endorsement of Mr Tsang’s election aspirations, or approving too late, which would look like an endorsement of someone else’s.// Source: HKFP, 26 December 2017.
  • //選委內不同的利益集團,到今天仍然相當疑惑,因為他們不知道「老爺」真正的心意。129日前,可能很多人都以為知道的;但是後來才發覺,「老爺」的心意,家奴傭僕沒能看透。經過5年前特首選舉和12月9日的經驗,各建制派選委現在就「押注」應該是很不智的,因為「老爺」最後會把燈籠掛在誰門口,只有「老爺」一個人知道。「老爺」心中想什麼、用什麼標準來決定誰會獲得寵幸,也只有「老爺」一個人知道;其他說知道的人,可能都只是幫二姨太三姨太造勢而已,誰也不知道是否「假傳聖旨」。之前每天都說有各種明示暗示,到了燈籠掛起,才發覺自己搞錯了。到這裏我不禁想:這算是什麼利益代表制度?算是什麼選舉或選拔制度?我早年以為特首人選要得到兩方面支持:中央最高領導人和香港財閥階層,而香港民意完全不重要(否則董建華2002年不會連任了);到了2012年,民意調查反映的支持好像比財閥意見重要,因為梁振英在主要財閥不支持下可以贏出。但今屆大家都在等待「點燈」然後「押寶」,但其實「老爺」的標準是什麼呢?是政治忠誠?路線強硬?港澳系統推薦?工商界支持?高層權力鬥爭決定?過往紀錄?能與香港不同黨派溝通?能夠令香港團結和諧?在民意調查中獲得較多人支持?獲社會不同界別較多支持?我們怎會知道呢?參選人怎會知道標準然後努力爭取當選呢?「老爺」就算自己有標準,他又怎樣獲得相關資訊作判斷呢?如何確知這些資訊可靠呢?[…] 反觀現在的特首「選舉」過程,遊戲規則完全不清楚,參選人和選委之間、和普通港人之間,沒有機制去建立一種建基於價值觀、利益或信念的連繫。最後有一個人會當選,因為一旦「點燈」了大部分建制派選委都會歸隊,但這不是真正對該人的支持,他們只是效忠政權或是害怕報復而已。當連追求民意的支持今年也似乎變得不重要,將來特首管治的支持基礎不知在哪裏。// Source: MingPao Daily, 23 January 2017.

There is an ongoing competition for nominations for the three pro-establishment candidates, but some pro-establishment member revealed that an “invisible hand” seems to help one particular candidate over the other two:

  • //Pro-Beijing lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun has revealed that he has received phone calls campaigning for a chief executive candidate and asking him to switch camps. Tien said on an RTHK programme on Tuesday: “It seems that the ‘invisible hand’ [behind the election] has become increasingly visible, with some people focused on rallying support for a particular pro-establishment candidate, to the extent that they seem to want to bar all other candidates from contesting. This is something I heard, and I think the situation is turning into something different than what I had expected.” […] Tien, who is the party colleague of chief executive candidate Regina Ip, said: “I told the caller: Do you want me to betray my party colleague? I’ve already promised her that I will nominate and endorse her, so how can you make such a request? Why don’t you ask that candidate to speak to me directly?” The lawmaker added: “I expected that [Beijing] would say the nomination and election this time around was open, and that candidates were allowed to freely campaign for support. If that were the case, I think it would be a big change since the handover.”// Source: HKFP, 17 January 2017.

 SCMP revealed that the Beijing’s Liaison Office seemed to prefer Carrie Lam and has asked the state-owned newspapers in Hong Kong to give her favorable coverage:

  • //The Post has learned that Beijing’s liaison office informed senior editors of the city’s pro-Beijing newspapers last Wednesday that Lam was the preferred candidate. The liaison office also issued an instruction to those newspapers to “gradually devote more extensive coverage” to Lam.// Source: SCMP, 17 January 2017.
  • //Speaking after a talk show with former Democratic Party lawmaker Emily Lau Wai-hing, Ip said some among the 1,194-member committee had done a U-turn after earlier pledging to nominate her. “I don’t mind … I am not worried about it as [changing one’s mind] is natural,” Ip said. “I just hope to have a fair and open election.” […] A contender needs 150 votes from the committee to qualify for the main vote, and at least 601 to win. Basic Law Committee vice-chairwoman Elsie Leung Oi-sie said on Saturday that four candidates may be “too many” and some should consider their chances as the election would be aborted if no candidate secured more than 600 votes in a second round. But Ip did not agree. “It violates the meaning of an election by saying four candidates are too many while none of them had yet qualified for the main vote,” Ip said.// Source: SCMP, 16 January 2017.

Dominic Chiu, a researcher in Chinese politics based on Washington D.C., pointed out in an article on the Diplomat that the rivalries within pro-establishment camp are connected to the factional struggle within the Chinese Communist Party on the Mainland and explained why conflicting messages from Beijing have been commonplace in the CE election this time:

  • //Pro-establishment politicians are also currently rivaling one another for the office of the city’s chief executive. The divisions in the pro-establishment camp reflect the divisions within the highest echelons of the central government in Beijing. Pro-establishment parties in Hong Kong have different resources, contacts, and loyalties with conflicting mainland authorities. Beijing itself is divided, as demonstrated by the political nature of President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign. Rivals of Xi, who have substantial political and economic interests in Hong Kong, also exert enormous influence on Beijing’s policy toward the city through diktats from the Central Liaison Office. The camp is further divided by the opacity of mainland politics. Rumors and leaks are compounded by contradictory statements and offhand comments by Hong Kong representatives in the National People’s Congress (NPC). A recent pamphlet war between different pro-Beijing newspapers in Hong Kong also adds confusion to which mainland faction the camp should take orders from, and what stance they should take vis-à-vis the democrats. As long as political factions remain in China’s central government, the pro-establishment camp in Hong Kong will continue to remain divided. […] The coexistence of conflicting interest groups in the country’s core leadership meant that not all pronouncements from mainland officials or representatives from Beijing necessarily represent the view the central government as a whole. This creates enormous confusion among pro-establishment politicians in Hong Kong, particularly at a time when the city is about to choose candidates for its next chief executive. Every single sign, from a handshake with Xi to a hug with the former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa are scrutinized as possible indications of Beijing’s preference for a particular candidate. Even politicians like Rita Fan – who as a member of the NPC Standing Committee is as close to the Chinese leadership as any Hong Konger gets – have either stonewalled reporter’s questions on the chief executive election or gave hints too faint to substantiate, indicating that they too are kept in the dark. The 19th Communist Party Congress will be held later this year, where most of Xi’s opponents in the Politburo will retire or be evicted from the leadership. It remains to see whether Xi will be able to exert sufficient control over the authorities responsible for affairs in Hong Kong post-Congress in order to unify the pro-establishment camp under a single banner. Until then, the pro-establishment camp will continue to remain divided, with some groups betting their fortunes on continued loyalty to the Liaison Office, and others hoping for a more authoritative voice from Xi in Hong Kong other than rumors and insinuations from newspapers like Sing Pao. Ta Kung Pao recently called for the pro-establishment camp to unite behind a candidate loyal to Beijing. While the camp has united on nationalistic issues such as its vehement opposition against independence activists, it is not clear how they can unite in the upcoming elections given that authorities in Beijing are failing to indicate a preferred candidate for the job because of the aforementioned divisions.// Source: the Diplomat, 20 January 2017.

While the non-establishment camp with over 300 electors has been considering their choice of candidates, some pro-democracy members instigated a campaign which aims to choose the candidate on the basis of popular vote as a way to make the election more democratic.

  • //The pro-democracy camp announced a plan on Sunday promising to nominate a popularly chosen candidate in the upcoming chief executive election. […] The campaign is led by the University of Hong Kong’s law professor Benny Tai and the pro-democracy group Power of Democracy. If all of the pro-democracy Election Committee members participate in the campaign, they can nominate – at most – two candidates. […] Under the new plan, pro-democracy Election Committee members will consider nominating a candidate who meets three criteria: They must receive 37,790 nominations – representing one per cent of the electorate – from the general public; they must promise to push through a political reform package not based on Beijing’s decision in 2014; and they must promise to defend the city’s core values. Around 80 out of 325 pro-democracy Election Committee members have joined the campaign, HKU legal scholar and an Election Committee member Eric Cheung Tat-ming said. He believes it will win support from more than 150 members. Members of the public will be able to cast their “vote” between February 7 and 22 in an electronic system jointly run by HKU Public Opinion Programme and the Polytechnic University’s Centre for Social Policy Studies.// Source: HKFP, 23 January 2017.

Society

 2. Final Policy Address by C.Y Leung address housing problems in Hong Kong

Among many other issues addressed in the last Policy Address, C.Y. Leung urged the public to consider development in small portion of country parks of less ecological values. The full text of the Policy Address is available here.

  • //Building flats on the margins of country park margins was an option the public needed to consider to counter unaffordable home costs, Chief Executive Leung Chung-ying said in his last policy address on Wednesday. At the same time, the government would incorporate more land with high ecological value into country parks. “This issue matters to the well-being of our next generation and warrants serious deliberation of its pros and cons by society,” Leung said. […] Skyrocketing property prices and rents were not caused by high construction costs – a reason often used by developers to explain shockingly high flat prices – but soaring land premiums, he said. “Most families in Hong Kong can afford the construction costs passed on to them, yet the exorbitant land premium is beyond their means.” The reason for the high premiums was that there had been a shortage of land zoned for housing development, accounting for only 7 per cent of all land in the city, he said, while country parks took up 40 per cent. Leung said society should consider using “a small proportion of land on the periphery of country parks with relatively low ecological and public enjoyment value” for developments such as public housing and non-profit homes for the elderly. But a government source said although this was a question Leung had left for the public to consider, the current administration had no plan to develop country parks or change some preserved land for other uses.// Source: SCMP, 19 January 2017.
  • //Meanwhile, Leung said the government is proceeding with “full steam” to propel development projects in five areas: Tung Chung, Kwu Tung North, Fanling North, Hung Shu Kiu and Yuen Long South. This is the same as Leung suggested in his policy address last year. He estimated that the five development projects could provide close to 200,000 housing units and over 8.6 million square metres of industrial and commercial floor area between 2023 and 2038.// Source: HKFP, 18 January 2017.

Local environmental groups have mixed reception of the suggestion. The former head of Hong Kong Observatory Lim Chiu-ying argued that country park could be used for housing development as long as the government promises to keep the total amount of hectare of land reserved for country park, while a local environmental group Conservancy Association contended that it could lead to a problem with politics overriding professionalism as the environmental department, due to political pressure, may not be able to make a professional judgement for the compensation of lost country park area.

  • //前天文台台長、中大地理與資源管理學系客座教授林超英今表示,政府的提議,前提是郊野公園總面積要增加,才提出用那些地作非地產用途,興建公營房屋。林超英認為要研究「保持(郊野公園)總體面積有加無減」,以及「康樂用途、教育用途或自然生態保育用途總體功能無減」,這樣的情況下就是「寸步不讓」,不會減少郊野公園,這樣便「有得傾」,「每次你郁我的土地,我要你賠返更多土地,同埋一定要保障康樂教育生態保育功能無減少」。[…] 對於環保部門被要求「覓地建屋」,長春社擔心「政治凌駕專業」,「環保部門將因配合發展而無法有效為郊野公園環境把關」。而林超英認為環保部門沒責任選擇改建哪一個郊野公園地點,應由負責建屋的部門研究選址,由環保部門評估和提出以哪一地方作補償。// Source: The Stand News, 24 January 2017.

Meanwhile, report shows that Hong Kong has been ranked the least affordable housing market for the 7th year in a row:

  • //Hong Kong retained its rank as the most expensive housing market among 406 major metropolitan regions in the annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey for the seventh year in a row. The median price of a home in Hong Kong last year was 18.1 times the median annual pretax household income, the survey showed. While that’s a modest improvement in affordability compared with 19 times in the previous year, Demographia considers a score of more than 5.1 as “severely unaffordable,” according to its website. […] Prices of secondary homes, which account for about 70 percent of volume, are up nearly 40 percent since he [C.Y. Leung] took office in July 2012 and increased 7.7 percent last year. They are hovering just 2.6 percent shy of their September 2015 record. Sydney held its title as the second-costliest housing market in the world, with a median multiple of 12.2, according to the Demographia survey. Vancouver was the third-most expensive, while Auckland ranked fourth.// Source: Bloomberg, 23 January 2017.

 

Back to top