In a little noticed event on New Year’s Day, China inaugurated its first non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of soft power—China Public Diplomacy Association (CPDA). Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi attended and spoke at the unveiling ceremony for the group, which elected as its president Li Zhaoxing, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of China’s National People’s Congress. Addressing the group after the vote, Li told its members that the CPDA would mobilize and coordinate “social resources and civilian efforts” towards the goal of “promoting China’s soft power.”
In some ways, China’s desire to strengthen its soft power capabilities seems entirely logical. After all, ancient Chinese leaders masterfully wielded soft power. And as China’s economic power has risen in recent years, the Chinese government has adopted various measures to enhance China’s soft power, such as establishing global news services (most recently, China Daily’s Africa Weekly) and Confucius Institutes across the world. Outside of China some have spoken of a Beijing Consensus that is supposedly supplementing the Washington Consensus in terms of the most favored political-economic model.
Yet even as China inaugurated its first organization dedicated to enhancing Beijing’s soft power, a number of disparate events in China were illustrating why the CCP’s charm offensive is doomed to fail.
During his civil lawsuit against the People’s Republic of China, Brian Milburn says he never once saw one of the country’s lawyers. He read no court documents from China’s attorneys because they filed none. The voluminous case record at the U.S. District courthouse in Santa Ana contains a single communication from China: a curt letter to the U.S. State Department, urging that the suit be dismissed.
That doesn’t mean Milburn’s adversary had no contact with him.
For three years, a group of hackers from China waged a relentless campaign of cyber harassment against Solid Oak Software Inc., Milburn’s family-owned, eight-person firm in Santa Barbara, California. The attack began less than two weeks after Milburn publicly accused China of appropriating his company’s parental filtering software, CYBERsitter, for a national Internet censoring project. And it ended shortly after he settled a $2.2 billion lawsuit against the Chinese government and a string of computer companies last April.
In between, the hackers assailed Solid Oak’s computer systems, shutting down web and e-mail servers, spying on an employee with her webcam, and gaining access to sensitive files in a battle that caused company revenues to tumble and brought it within a hair’s breadth of collapse.
Self-immolation has become something of a symbol for the Tibetan struggle against Chinese rule. It’s been going on for years, but after a recent resurgence in the ultimate display of civil disobedience, the Chinese government has decided to try to stop Tibetans from coating themselves in gas and lighting a match in a bid to restore “social harmony” once and for all.
Their method of doing so was to post a notice in the Kanlho area offering around $8,000 to snitches willing to rat out fellow Tibetans who plan on committing the “crime” of self-immolation. Rather than quash these acts of rebellion, however, further suicides by fire actually led to the highest incident level on record, with seven Tibetans taking their own lives during one week at the end of October. Astoundingly, it seems the oppressed are unwilling to give up their friends and neighbors for a bit of cash, with immolations carrying on into November, including the first incidence of a triple immolation.
As China’s once-in-a-decade leadership transition begins in Beijing next month, the government’s treatment of high-profile critics such as the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo will invariably garner attention inside the country and abroad. The persecution of such dissidents certainly merits discussion, but it must not obscure a larger phenomenon: the emergence of widespread populist activism in China.
At first, Alison Klayman’s new documentary, “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry,”seems to fit this perspective, by focusing on the singular work, political activism, and daily life of Ai Weiwei, the world-famous Beijing-based artist and outspoken government critic. In raising subjects that are usually airbrushed from the Chinese media, the film contains much that the Chinese leadership will dislike. It highlights Ai’s international celebrity and his ability to mobilize large numbers of people through social media, the naked brutality of the Chinese police, and the still-debilitating aftereffects of Mao’s Cultural Revolution.
But “Never Sorry” does much more than call attention to the work of Ai and the well-known artists, writers, and critics he interacts with. The most poignant aspect of the documentary — and the one that senior Chinese leaders would find most alarming — is expressed by a woman who had volunteered with a project that Ai led to compile the names of schoolchildren who died in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake when their shoddily constructed schools collapsed. She recalls how, when the authorities asked her whom she was working for, she replied, “We were all volunteers, there on our own. The way I see it, we weren’t there as anybody’s ‘people.’ “
The Chinese government does tolerate some state-dictated volunteerism; the Chinese Ministry of Internal Affairs had registered more than 10,000 civil society groups by 2011. When it serves the political interests of the Communist Party or the government, popular mobilizing is fine, as is the case with the periodic virulent anti-Japanese manifestations.
In February 1957, Chairman Mao Zedong rose to speak to a packed session of China’s Supreme State Conference in Beijing. The architect and founding father of the People’s Republic of China was about to deliver what one scholar described as “the most important speech on politics that he or anyone else had made since the creation of the communist regime” eight years before.
Mao’s speech, titled, “On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People,” began with a broad explanation of socialism and the relationship between China’s bourgeoisie and working class. Joseph Stalin, he said, had “made a mess of” unifying the classes in the Soviet Union. In a section of his speech that the Communist Party would delete before publishing the text in the Peoples Daily, he claimed that China had learned “from the mistakes” of the Soviets, who had killed too many people they should not have killed, as well as from those of the Hungarian communists, who had not executed enough. He acknowledged that the Chinese government had killed 700,000 “counterrevolutionaries” between 1950 and 1952, but said, “Now there are no more killings.” If the government had not carried out those executions, he claimed, “the people would not have been able to lift their heads. The people demanded their execution and the liberation of the productive forces.”
Yet Mao’s speech may be best known for marking the beginning of the Hundred Flowers Movement—a brief campaign that ended in the betrayal of the principle on which it was based and the people he had invited to take part. A few months earlier, as anti-Soviet demonstrations erupted in Eastern Europe, Zhou Enlai, China’s popular and highly influential premier, had emphasized a greater need for China’s intellectuals to participate in governmental policy-making. “The government needs criticism from its people,” Zhou proclaimed in a speech. “Without this criticism the government will not be able to function as the People’s Democratic Dictatorship. Thus the basis of a healthy government lost….We must learn from old mistakes, take all forms of healthy criticism, and do what we can to answer these criticisms.”
BANBURY, a little English town best known for a walk-on part in a nursery rhyme and as the eponymous origin of a fruitcake, is an unlikely fulcrum for the balance of power in the world of telecoms. But the “Cyber Security Evaluation Centre” set up there by Huawei, a Chinese telecoms giant, in 2010 marks a new way of persuading purchasers, and the British government, that equipment from the manufacturer that runs it can be trusted. It operates in close co-operation with GCHQ, Britain’s signals-intelligence agency, located conveniently just over the Cotswolds in Cheltenham. Its security-cleared staff, some of whom used to work for GCHQ, are responsible for making sure that the networking equipment and software that the Chinese firm wishes to sell to British telecoms companies are reliable, will only do what customers want them to do and cannot be exploited by cybercriminals or foreign spies—including Chinese ones.
Over the past ten years or so, Chinese telecoms firms such as Huawei and ZTE, another telecoms-equipment provider, have expanded from their vast home market to become global players. This is a worry not just for the rich-world incumbents under threat but also for those responsible for the integrity of critical infrastructure such as phone systems. They fear that the companies’ networking gear and software could be used by China’s spooks to eavesdrop on sensitive communications, or that it might contain “kill switches” which would allow China to disable the systems involved in the event of a conflict. “I think it’s ridiculous to allow a Chinese company with connections to the Chinese government and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to have access to a network,” says Dmitri Alperovitch of CrowdStrike, a web-security outfit.
Chinese government officials never seem to learn. If you’ve been following us for a while, you may remember the Chinese government’s Photoshop fail from last year, where three officials were supposedly inspecting a road, but instead looked more like they were floating above it. And on May 9th five more government inspectors were immortalized floating around, this time inspecting a park.
The horribly ‘shopped photo quickly went viral among Chinese netizens, and a week later the government website issued the following apology:
May 9th, my company submitted the news manuscript of the “Completion and Transfer of the Green Landscaping Project of Nanhu Beach Park” to the Yuhang District Government Portal Website, along with photographs of technicians on location conducting inspections. Due to unsuitable work processes, there were serious mistakes in the uploaded photograph. With regards to the errors of our work, we deeply express our apologies: We sincerely accept the criticizes of the netizen masses, and wholeheartedly appreciate the concern netizens have given us.
China has a secret: It owes American investors hundreds of billions of dollars.
The Chinese government doesn’t like to talk about it and the U.S. government doesn’t want to raise it. But decades ago, Beijing defaulted on debt owed to Americans, as well as investors and governments around the world. In one case, it was paid. In the rest it was not. More than 20,000 American investors own this debt. The U.S. government may also own Chinese war debt, unpaid since World War II.
With the simple stroke of an executive proclamation, President Barack Obama can begin the process of addressing this issue. A 1930s-era law has established a quasi-public agency within the Securities and Exchange Commission, known as the Corporation of Foreign Securities Holders, which can arbitrate this dispute, much as a predecessor agency did for decades. China can both afford and benefit from this solution; it will afford goodwill at a time when relations between the world’s two superpowers are strained.
The story begins nearly 100 years ago, in 1913, when the government of China began issuing bonds to foreign investors and governments for infrastructure work to modernize the country. As the country fell into civil war in 1927, paying these debts became increasingly difficult and the government fell into default. Even so, in April 1938, the Nationalist government of China began to issue U.S.-dollar denominated bonds to finance the war against Japan’s brutal invasion.
The United States should “take necessary measures” to prevent a repeat of the Chen Guangcheng incident, China said Monday, after a diplomatic row with Washington.
Beijing last week demanded that the United States apologise for sheltering the blind activist, who fled house arrest last month for the US embassy, where he spent six days.
“The US side should draw a lesson from the relevant incident with a responsible attitude, reflect on its policies and moves and take necessary measures to prevent similar incidents,” said foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei.
Chen’s flight from under the noses of dozens of guards made headlines around the world and embarrassed the Chinese government, which has accused Washington of interfering in its affairs.
The activist left the US embassy shortly after the arrival of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Beijing last week for key talks with Chinese leaders, after China said he could move to a “safe” location.
But after speaking to friends and family, he said he feared for his safety in China, and wanted to go to the United States, where he has been offered a university fellowship.
The jet fighter suddenly appears directly overhead, twin engines roaring, landing gear dangling like claws, diamond-shaped wings tracing an impressive black silhouette against the grayish sky. The airplane, displaying the red-star insignia of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, whips past and disappears beyond the opposite horizon.
In its wake, there is only the gray sky — and the excited chatter of a cameraman and the other airplane aficionados huddled around him. “The wind was strong!” someone says in the local Sichuan dialect, referring to the blast from the fighter’s engines.
They laugh nervously, clearly appreciating that they’ve just witnessed, and recorded, something remarkable: the second-ever test flight of the Chinese military’s very first stealth fighter prototype — the J-20 “Annihilator,” an advanced “fifth-generation” warplane that some experts say could rival America’s latest F-22 and F-35 stealth fighters — on the outskirts of Chengdu, an industrial city of 14 million in central China.
But the most remarkable thing is what would happen in the hours following the April 17 flight last year: the cameraman, using the handle “Star Not,” uploaded his video to Youku, a Chinese YouTube clone that is closely monitored by the Chinese government.
The video itself was nothing special. But the fact that it didn’t immediately disappear, yanked from the server by a vigilant censor, was.