Tag Archives: Global Times

On Wang Wen’s HuffPo Essay

Oh boy. Take a look at this essay by Wang Wen that appears in Eric X. Li’s column in the Global Times Huffington Post.

Before we begin, it’s worth noting that the HuffPo piece fails to mention that Wang Wen is an editor for the Global Times. It does specify that he’s an editor for a major paper, but conspicuously fails to mention that the paper in question is the State-owned Global Times. That seems questionable — doesn’t someone working for the government have a vested interest in its perpetuation, and isn’t that a conflict of interest worth noting? — but let’s move on.

The piece begins with a rundown of the recent coup rumors and a regurgitation of the Party line: China is not the Middle East, there will be no Chinese Arab Spring, the Chinese people want stability, etc. Nothing you haven’t read before a hundred times. But then there’s this:

In my discussions with those in Beijing’s elite circles I find a wide range of opinions. Some are resentful of Bo’s removal and even feel betrayed. Some are euphoric as they see the central government has finally made the right decision. Regardless of the seeming intensity of their views, no one wants to take to the streets. On the contrary, they seem all worried that such a controversial event might drive others onto the streets. In China, without the instigation of the elites, it is impossible for ordinary people to have the channel and willingness for meaningful political protests. As for the Chinese elites, the memory of the Tiananmen Square incident 22 years ago is still fresh in their minds. Radicalism, in the name of any political ideal, has no appeal in reality.

You may want to stop and read this sentence again: “In China, without the instigation of the elites, it is impossible for ordinary people to have the channel and willingness for meaningful political protests.” Absurd classism aside, apparently Wang didn’t get the memo about the protests in Wukan, which were sustained and quite successful despite the lack of patronage from any of Beijing’s elites, or any elites at all. Yet I feel certain they would consider their protests — and the outcome — quite meaningful.

I think Wang is right that intellectuals ((It’s worth noting that the Global Times and other Party-line folks frequently disparage China’s intellectual elite as being out-of-touch with the common people precisely because they DO express interest in fairly radical political change, but Wang seems to have flipped that on its head here because it fits his argument better.)), at least, might be necessary at some point for another Tiananmen-like massive-scale protest to occur. And he’s right that ideals alone aren’t going to get people on the streets. That said, what has that got to do with anything? It wasn’t ideals that sparked the protests in ’89 either, it was the death of Hu Yaobang. By all accounts, the actual protests started rather organically among students ((students attending elite universities, yes, but that doesn’t make them elites)), not as the result of some call to arms from elites. In fact, the strongest early call-to-arms came from the Party itself in the form of the April 26 People’s Daily editorial, which paradoxically attracted more people (including elites) to the cause. The idea that large-scale protests must be organized and channeled by China’s elites is absurd.

Moreover, I’m not sure what the fact that China isn’t about to see large-scale political protests is meant to prove. It’s as much a reflection of the effectiveness of China’s authoritarian controls as it is a reflection of the national mood.

However divisive people’s opinions are, there is one thing they have in common: they all put their hope in the Party to solve problems facing Chinese society. China’s one-party governance structure has matured to a state in which groups with intensely opposing views and interests fight to influence the Party, not to subvert its rule. What they all want is reform that would favor their positions, not revolution that could overturn the entire system. Many aggressively vent their dissatisfaction and satirize the government. There are even many incidents of mass clashes. Yet even the most dissatisfied take their grievances to the authority of the central leadership for redress. It is a reality that can be counterintuitive to the eyes of an outside observer.

What a shock — the people in power don’t want to destroy the system! If Li bothered to talk to any of the non-elite regular people, he might have discovered a different story. In most cases, he certainly wouldn’t have found that the common people are on the verge of overthrowing the government — that’s not what I’m suggesting. But for everyone I’ve talked to who puts all their hope in the Party to solve China’s problems, there’s someone who has completely lost hope in the Party to do anything other than bulldoze houses and drink baijiu. And, of course, most people lie somewhere in between those two extremes. The idea that all Chinese people put all their hope in the Party to solve China’s problems is an absurd fantasy.

Wang is right that the Party is not facing an imminent physical threat of overthrow — there is no mass movement or revolt coming. What it is facing is increasing cynicism, dissatisfaction, and despair. Wang writes, “…yet even the most dissatisfied take their grievances to the authority of the central leadership for redress,” but he wisely leaves it at that. This is probably because he knows discussing the results of that process wouldn’t help his argument much. Yes, almost anyone in China with a serious grievance will attempt to bring it to the central leadership for redress, and when they do, they tend to be met with utter indifference, if not violent repression (see: black jails, etc.).

Based on the parents we’ve spoken to for our film, as well as other former petitioners I’ve spoken with for other projects, the process of petitioning is precisely how faith in the central leadership gets killed. People go into the process thinking theirs is a local injustice the central government is unaware of and doesn’t allow. Generally speaking, they come away with the knowledge that what happened to them is happening in many other places, and that the central government is not at all interested in hearing what they have to say.

Moving on, Wang’s essay seems to alternate between what I’d consider to be a few pretty reasonable points and bizarre lapses into near self-parody.

China in the early 21st century is not dissimilar to the U.S. during its Progressive era of the early 20th century. We see a society frequently plagued by chaos and bad news, which has the effect of making people feel hopeless. Yet reality prevails just like it did in America then. Just like the young and growing America weathered its ills 100 years ago and developed, China will, too, enter a new period of long-term prosperity and stability.

Yes, because if there’s anything the Progressive Era in the US is famous for, it’s being followed by long-term prosperity and stability (You know, except for the Great Depression and those two World Wars).

As a matter of fact, those who are familiar with Chinese history might have noticed that political struggles, even at the highest-level, have become increasingly less a matter of “life and death.” Compared with what befell losers in previous political struggles, such as Lin Biao, whose forced defection resulted in a plane crash that killed him and his family 41 years ago, today’s political infighting is much more moderate. Chinese people, as all peoples, like honest and upright officials. They hope that good political leaders end well, and even the not so good ones do not get destroyed completely. I’d like to wish the same for contemporary China that has created the miracle of leading 1.3 billion people out of poverty in one generation.

Well, I’m sure Bo Xilai is grateful that he hasn’t been taken for any plane rides (yet). But the piece ends with a ridiculous straw-man implication — that anyone who doesn’t agree with Wang wants to see China destroyed completely — and a dramatic overstatement. China’s economic policy deserves plenty of credit for lifting most of the population from poverty, of course, but it has taken a little more than a generation, and there are still more than 100 million Chinese living in poverty. I doubt Wang ran into any of them on his survey of Beijing elites, but they do exist, and it is troubling that people like this seem so willing to pretend that 100,000,000+ people don’t exist whenever their existence would be inconvenient for the argument.

It’s especially galling because it’s not like anyone could fault China for only raising 1.2 billion people from poverty in the last 30+ years. That’s still pretty good! I’m not sure why it’s necessary to exaggerate or to suggest that anyone who disagrees with you wants to see China “destroyed completely.” This sort of thing is par for the course in the Global Times, but it is sad to see it creeping into the outside world, especially when it’s not disclosed that the author works in an upper-level position at a state-owned company and almost certainly has personal ties to the Party he is so adamantly defending.

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Troubling Legal Reforms

via Yahoo NewsFirst off, apologies for the recent relative silence of this blog. I’ve been busy with a number of other things (including moving to a new apartment). At least one of those things will be appearing here quite soon, I hope, but in the interim, you’ll have to excuse the delays.

Anyway, if you’ve been following the news you’re probably already aware that proposed revisions to China’s criminal law code are currently making the rounds for public comment, as is customary prior to the revisions being ultimately approved (or not). These revisions have caused quite a stir because among them is a clause that would allow police to detain persons suspected of terrorism or endangering state security ((a crime many dissidents are accused of)) for long periods of time in secret locations and without informing their family members. Siweiluozi has been covering this issue particularly well, and I suggest reading his blog and also following his Twitter, which often contains commentary on the proposed laws from famous Chinese lawyers.

Anyway, the full text of the revisions is available here, but we’ve translated the relevant segment, which is from article 30, below (emphasis added):

Residential surveillance ((i.e., house arrest)) should be carried out at the residence of the accused criminal suspect; those without a fixed residence can be held at specified location. As for those suspected of harming state security, terrorist activities, or major corruption, carrying out residential surveillance in their residence could pose obstacles to investigation, [so if it is approved by] the immediately superior people’s procuratorate or the public security organ, the residential surveillance can be carried out at an appointed location. However, the appointed place does not need to be a detention center or a designated case center [专门的办案场所].”

The family members of the person being held should be notified of the location and reasons for the detainee’s detention at a designated location for residential surveillance within 24 hours of the detention being carried out, except in cases where notification is impossible or the detainee is suspected of involvement in harming state security or terrorist activities, or if informing them could impede investigations.

Now, I am not a legal expert, nor am I a legal translator, but I’m fairly confident that even if I haven’t translated this as precisely as a professional might, I’ve gotten the general idea correct. And it should be pretty clear why people are concerned about these revisions; clearly, they allow the PSB to summarily detain anyone at an undisclosed location for an unlimited period of time, so long as that person is suspected of harming state security.

There is no indication of what evidence (if any) is required, and no clarification whatsoever as to what it takes to label someone as “suspected” of harming state security. There is also no stated time limit for the deteintion of these suspects or the informing of their family members. And most concerning, to get approval to do this, the police must either get approval from the people’s procuratorate or from “the public security organ” — in other words, from themselves. It appears that a local PSB official of sufficient rank could in essence summarily detain anyone, anywhere, for any period of time, for doing anything, so long as the police official “suspected” they were involved in harming state security and/or terrorism.

The good news is that the revisions are attracting attention. Officially, over 40,000 opinions have already been submitted, and discussions are taking place everywhere from newspapers to Sina Weibo. Here’s hoping the NPC is listening to what people are saying.

Given that, I was interested when Tom Lasseter pointed out that the Global Times has addressed this issue:

One article of the amendment is interpreted as both progress and regression in China’s legal system, depending on how you look at the issue.

The amendment stipulates “under special conditions, suspects can be held under surveillance without their families being notified within 24 hours.” The special conditions include: notification being impossible, crimes concerning national security, severe law violation involving terrorism activity and if notification may hinder an investigation.

These special conditions have triggered outcry that it leaves room for secret detention, and has caused concern in media outlets, such as the New York Times, that “more Chinese dissidents appear to disappear.”

But if one reads it from another perspective, the article has actually been written into the Criminal Procedure Law for 32-years, and the amendment is trying to clarify the special conditions and limit the circumstances of detention without proper notification of the family.

Law articles can’t be black and white. There are cases that have to be decided differently. For example, the detention of a corrupt official may conform to the special conditions of withholding information in order to prevent the fleeing of others involved. Conspirators may be kept from communicating when nabbing a terrorist network.

There are worries of overuse or improper use of these special conditions. These are legitimate concerns. But the way to prevent misuse is through further improvement and clarification, not by completely denying it. With the legal consciousness of the public on the rise, plus scorching media scrutiny, law enforcement procedures are under mounting pressures that force police to reduce abuses of power.

China’s legal system has much to improve, but the country is also not under the dark days of the Middle Ages. Law is meant to protect the majority of people, not only a few who speak loudly.

As I understand it, these laws were last revised 14 years ago. Are those of us who are concerned by this development meant to wait another 14 years in the hope that this law will be further revised? That’s nonsense. Regardless of what you think of the law, it it needs “further improvement and clarification,” why wait? And if it doesn’t, why bother saying that at all?

Of course, disputing the logic of a Global Times editorial is sort of like taking candy from a box labeled “free candy — please take.” So I’ll just leave it at this: I find this suggested revision very disturbing, and in fact would say it appears to be an attempt to legitimize and legalize the “disappearing” of “dissidents” like Ai Weiwei and Gao Zhisheng. Under the current laws, his disappearance was possible because of a loophole in the legal code, which they are now proposing be written into law.

Passing this revision would be a step backward in China’s march — perhaps glacial crawl is actually a better term — towards embracing human rights as meaning something beyond GDP growth. Other nations, including the United States, have similar provisions for terror suspects, and they are equally reprehensible. Whatever crimes a person may have committed, they should not be subject to extended or arbitrary detention before they are convicted, and their family — who have committed no crime — should at the very least be allowed to know their whereabouts.

The Safest Bridge Ever, and a Little Bit on Jiang Zemin

Bridge engineer denies going too far

The Bridge

You know something is up when the headline in a Chinese paper is a denial. No, I’m not talking about Jiang Zemin, we’ll get to him in a minute. But first, let’s talk about this bridge that is totally safe and was in no way rushed to completion. You will want to read this article before continuing.

You may have heard that as part of the CCP’s 90th anniversary celebration, in addition to making a really terrible movie, China also built a giant fucking bridge.

Said bridge is, in fact, the world’s longest sea bridge, and is over 26 miles long. If that doesn’t prove that China is a glorious socialist paradise, I’m not sure what does.

And yet, nay-sayers (probably on the NED payroll) have maligned the bridge, saying it was rushed to completion in time for the anniversary! Why? Just because it doesn’t have finished guard rails, or any kind of lighting, and the bolts aren’t all properly fastened.

What these dissident, anti-China forces don’t understand is that a bridge’s guard rails and lighting aren’t part of the bridge, they’re separate projects to be completed at a later date (duh!). Plus, who cares? An expert at the Beijing Jiaotong University’s department of Bridge Engineering has already said that the unscrewed bolts would cause no problems, and as for the guard rails, the only way them being unfinished could cause a problem would be if someone hit them! And come on, what are the chances of anyone getting into an accident along a 26-mile-long, completely unlit stretch of road in China?

Bridges don’t need lighting, or guardrails, you idiots. What they need is a strong Communist Party. If you crash into the guard rails and go flying into the water and drown, remember that it’s probably your fault for not singing enough red songs.

Jiang’s Death?

Rumors have been flying for several days that Jiang Zemin is dead. Until noon today, the Chinese media stayed completely silent on the matter, while several Hong Kong, Taiwanese, and Japanese news stations all reported that Jiang had died. Then around noon today, Xinhua said this (this is the entire report, verbatim):

Recent reports of some overseas media organizations about Jiang Zemin’s death from illness are “pure rumor,” Xinhua News Agency reported Thursday, citing authoritative sources.

That seems to clear everything up, except that it doesn’t at all. First of all, no one seems to be able to find the Chinese-language Xinhua report (at least as of when I wrote this), which is odd. It’s also important, though, because you’ll notice the English phrasing doesn’t technically deny that Jiang is dead.

It seems pretty certain that at the very least, Jiang’s health is extremely poor. Whether he’s dead or not remains unclear. At this point, we can be sure that even if he is dead, the government will wait at least a few days before announcing it to avoid the embarrassment of having a CCP leader’s death get scooped by Hong Kongers, Taiwanese, and even the Japanese.

The Global Times, Translated

The Global Times (as one would expect) has decided to take this whole Ai Weiwei nonsense head on. For those of you who have trouble reading between the lines of Chinese newspapers (i.e., no one), we’re providing a translation. Note: this is our first ever gibberish-to-English translation ((Another note: this is meant to be funny, if you hadn’t guessed already.))

Political activism cannot be a legal shield

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei is being investigated over “suspected economic crimes,” according to authorities Thursday. Some Western media outlets immediately questioned the charge as a “catch-all crime,” and insisted on interpreting the case in their own way.

Translation: Despite our explicit instructions to the contrary, you annoying foreigners have a habit of “interpreting” things based on sources, factual data, historical precedents, and common sense, rather than the Ministry of Culture’s press releases.

Western media claimed that Ai was “missing” or had “disappeared” in previous reports, despite their acknowledgement of Ai’s detainment. They used such words to paint the Chinese government as a “kidnapper.”

Translation: Look, just because we dragged the guy away, refused to admit it for several days, and didn’t tell anyone in his family doesn’t mean we kidnapped the guy! We prefer to call it surprise involuntary secret fun time.

Now they describe the police’s charge as “laughable” and flout the spirit of the law. They depict anyone conducting anti-government activities in China as being innocent, and as being exempt unconditionally from legal pursuit.

Translation: Just because we arrest a whole bunch of dissidents, you act like we’re cracking down on dissidents or something? Baseless. These guys just all cheated on their taxes. At the same time.

Diplomats and officials from countries such as the US and Germany on Wednesday rebuked China once again over human rights. A mayor from South Korea also issued a statement pressuring China to release Ai soon. Such intensive intervention has barely been seen in China of late.

Translation: We really enjoyed that downtime during the worst of the recession, when all of you shut up because you were afraid we would call in your debts.

Ai’s detention is one of the many judicial cases handled in China every day. It is pure fantasy to conclude that Ai’s case will be handled specially and unfairly. The era of judicial cases involving severely unjust, false or wrong charges has gone.

Translation: Look, our terrible track record is no reason to just assume this trial will also be rigged! After all, it’s not like our court system is totally beholden to some kind of political apparatus or…oh. Nevermind.

Nowadays, corrupt officials and the occasional dissident may view their own cases as being handled unfairly: The former believe their merits offset faults, and the latter see China’s legal system as maintaining an “illegal” existence. Ai once said China was living a “crazy, black” era. This is not the mainstream perception among Chinese society.

Translation: Forget about that whole “economic crimes” thing. That’s so five paragraphs ago. Ai is a dissident whose views are out of touch with mainstream society!

China’s legal system ensures the basic order of this large-scale country. It guarantees the balanced development of civil livelihood and social establishment. Besides, it maintains an economic order that not only propels domestic growth but also generates foreign exchange powerful enough to purchase US treasury bonds.

Translation: Before you criticize our legal system, remember you owe us money!

The integrated legal system is the framework of China. The West wants to bring changes to this framework, shaping it as they please, and transforming the nation into a compliant puppet. They have succeeded in creating many such puppets around the world.

Translation: Our legal system is very integrated, in that it is governed by and answers to the Party. Western, non-integrated judicial systems are merely imperialist plots.

China is not the dangerous place of Western description. Otherwise, Ai would not have returned to China from the US, and Western diplomats and businessmen would not view China as the best place for doing business. But like other safe places in the world, China is only safe for law-abiding citizens, and nobody is allowed to see illegal acts go unpunished.

Translation: China is not a dangerous place unless you break the law. Don’t ask which law, though. We prefer to just detain you first, and keep that whole law part a surprise until we’ve decided which one you broke.

The charge of “suspected economic crimes” does not mean Ai will be found guilty. The case should be handled properly through legal procedures, and Western pressure should not weigh upon the court’s decision.

Translation: That said, we might be totally making all this “economic crimes” stuff up.

If Ai’s “suspected economic crimes” are justified, the conviction should not consider his “pro-democracy” activities. The only relation between the two is probably the lesson that anyone who engages in political activities needs to keep “clean hands.”

Translation: Here is the part where we say something rational, to make you feel like everything else we said might have also made sense. But then we follow that up with a warning about how people who engage in politics need to be careful! Except, of course, actual politicians. Because who are we kidding, they can do whatever the fuck they want!

If Ai is found not guilty, his acquittal should transcend politics too. However the authorities should learn to be more cautious and find sufficient evidence before detaining public figures next time.

Translation: We are starting to feel a little nervous about this whole thing, though.

Comments

This is just meant as a humor piece. In actuality, the Global Times is right that if Ai Weiwei has actually committed economic crimes, he should be convicted, and that his “pro-democracy” activities shouldn’t affect his sentence in this case one way or the other. However, even if these crimes are real — and there’s not a shred of evidence yet that they are — one wonders if all the manpower spent on investigating the finances of a man who makes art installations for a living might be better spent investigating the guys who make tofu buildings, poisoned foods, and fake baijiu for a living (or, better yet, the government workers who “supervise” them!).

In actuality, if there are crimes, China certainly has the right to make that case, and I don’t see why the police should be required to present evidence to the media at this juncture. That said, from a PR standpoint, they must understand that in the overall context of the past few months and in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, journalists really have no choice but to interpret the arrest as political. And the long delay in naming the reason for Ai’s arrest (and confirming he was arrested at all) did not look good. If this is a totally legitimate case, China has a right to prosecute it, but it’s hardly fair to get upset at people for drawing one conclusion if you refuse to give them any evidence that points toward the other.

For the Nth time, China needs to hire some PR people who understand the Western media. Either that, or stop caring what the Western media says.

Me, I’m a fan of innocent until proven guilty, so: Free Ai Weiwei.

Surveillance, Stability, and How Everything is Terrible

UPDATE: It’s a burden being right all the time. According to this official government release (via the New York Times), the purpose of the cameras being added in Beijing has nothing to do with safety:

“The goal, the [Beijing government] Web site ((Seriously, New York Times? You’re too cool for AP Style?)) stated, is to “directly and effectively monitor” the content of performances on behalf of various government agencies.”

***

Amidst the kerfuffle about another Global Times piece from the Beijing Metro section, you’d think more people would be watching their pages from day to day. But since they aren’t, it falls to me to share this really depressing news with you:

The culture industry is the latest to fall under the authorities’ watchful eyes, quite literally, with the debut of yet another surveillance project Wednesday.

The capital is planning to inject 5.57 million yuan ($847,754) to establish a massive remote surveillance system covering all the capital’s entertainment venues, according to the Municipal Bureau of Culture Wednesday.

The bureau is seeking bids this month for a system combining audio and video monitoring and emergency services coordination.

When complete, the bureau will be able to use the system to “directly and effectively monitor” all performances in cinemas, theaters, music clubs and even arcades, store and manage all video materials and share the information they obtain with other government departments as needed, according to the bidding document.

Apparently, the authorities have finally figured out that people are committing thoughtcrime in private and are taking the first steps towards putting a stop to it, which is to put cameras and microphones anywhere people might congregate (that doesn’t already have cameras and microphones).

Actually, no one will clarify the purpose of this surveillance, but I imagine that when the government gets its PR game together, this will be presented as a safety measure. How that would work, I don’t know ((What I mean by “I don’t know” is “It wouldn’t.”)), but that’s not the point. Regardless of what the stated or even intended purpose of this system is, putting surveillance systems inside cultural centers is creepy. And it gets even creepier:

This project is the third surveillance plan announced recently by the city. On Tuesday, State authorities proposed a nationwide database to gather information on the assets, income and families of all individuals in order to curb corruption. And last week, the Municipal Science and Technology Commission announced that China Mobile’s Beijing branch plans to track cell-phone users’ positions to study transportation patterns and in turn combat traffic jams.

So, when you’re in public, cameras and phones track your precise location. When you’re at a bar, nightclub, movie theater, or concert, cameras are watching you. Not a problem, if you trust your privacy, safety, and freedoms to China Mobile and the stability-maintenance arm of the PSB. However, I think many people — myself included — don’t trust them.

But is this really a big deal?

“I think mass surveillance helps deter anti-social behaviors,” Tian Yangang, a Beijing lawyer told the Global Times, adding that one need not worry too much about privacy in a public place like a theater.

Does surveillance help deter anti-social behaviors? Because there are plenty of cameras around Beijing, but people still spit, curse, and push people out of the way when getting on to buses and subways. It probably does deter actual crime, but how often are serious crimes committed in movie theaters or at concerts? Often enough to warrant legally-mandated, government-monitored video and audio 24-hour surveillance?

A theater is not a public place, it is a privately-owned establishment. And I for one have no doubt whatsoever that this initiative is about rooting out and putting a stop to bands, artists, and filmmakers who get away with politically edgy material by performing it in private clubs.

Now, add that development to the recent GFW upgrade that has blocked several VPN services (I know for a fact Freedur and Witopia have been targeted, albeit without total success) and Gmail ((I’m not sure what exactly they’ve done to Gmail. It works sometime, but it’s so slow and unreliable as to make it essentially unusable most of the time.)), the recent beatings and detentions of numerous foreign reporters, the recent declaration that China will under no circumstances do anything that might challenge the Party’s death-grip on power, etc.

I asked way back in December if things were getting worse. It seems pretty clear they are. And for those of you this-is-what-Chinese-people-want advocates, here’s some food for thought. This story was originally reported by the VOA, but its statistics come from a poll conducted by China.com.cn, which is a Chinese government-owned portal):

In a China.com.cn poll of 1,350 netizens, only 6% reported they were “happy”. Only 36% felt their lives had improved over the last five years. Additionally, according to a Gallup poll conducted from 2005-2009, China ranked 125th out of 155 countries in terms of whose people said they were the happiest (Denmark was the happiest country, apparently, with 82% of its people reporting happiness).

But the first is an unscientific poll, to be sure, and the second one was probably conducted by wily foreigners bent on using their science to promote anti-China forces! Well, here are some hard numbers for you:

Even though China has a large GDP, this is simply due to the fact that it has a large population. On a per-capita basis, the country ranks 99th out of 183 nations. It is no surprise, therefore, that wages are low.

But salaries in China aren’t just low, they are abnormally low. Typically, a country’s minimum annual wage is 58% of its per capita GDP; in China it is 25% of per capita GDP, good enough for 158th place out of the aforementioned 183 nations.

The gap between the GDP and minimum wage rankings – 99 versus 158 – is perhaps the most telling statistic. For the majority of countries, there is a close correlation between the two rankings; the disparity in China’s case points to grossly inequitable income distribution.

This is borne out by the Gini coefficient numbers, a widely accepted measure of economic disparity. China’s coefficient is 0.47 on a range of 0 (perfectly equal) to 1.0 (perfectly inequal), putting it 83rd out of 134 countries measured.
According to Gini, China’s level of income inequality is higher than in almost every industrialized country in the world.

Past studies have blamed the income disparity on the rural-urban divide, the development divide between coastal and interior regions, and even foreign purchases of Chinese products. These factors may be responsible to some degree, but so too is the government.

[…]

Recent studies have shown that:

• Wages of civil servants are abnormally high. The average salary of a civil servant in China is six times the minimum wage, compared to a global average of two times.

• Management level salaries in state-owned enterprises (SOEs) are abnormally high. The average SOE manager in China makes 98 times the minimum wage, compared with a global average of five times.

• Within the state sector itself, wage disparity is abnormally high. An SOE banker on average earns 3,000% more than his counterpart at a construction company, compared with a global average disparity of 70%.
The pressure is compounded by costs of necessary items being abnormally high relative to wages.

• The UN recommends that it should be possible for an average worker to purchase a home with three to six years of annual income. In Beijing, it is estimated that the average worker would have to toil for 74 years just to buy a place in a suburban multi-story condo block, unfinished, unfurnished and without any amenities.

• The cost of electricity is a good index of the basic utility costs for urban residents. The average cost of 1,000 kilowatt-hours as a proportion of the average monthly wage in the US, South Korea and Japan is 2.67%, 3.19% and 8.19% respectively. In China, by comparison, it is 30.68%.

• The US Department of Agriculture estimates that the average Chinese family spends 28% of its total monthly income on food. While this compares favorably with other developing countries, the number is far higher than America’s 6.1%. Food prices remain the key driver of inflation in China, rising 10.3% year-on-year in January as the newly revised consumer price index rose 4.9%. The figure is well above the traditional central government target of 3%, and even above its revised target of 4% for 2011. This makes wage growth an even more pressing social issue.

So yeah. What was that about how stability makes everyone rich and happy?

Another Rejected GT Op-ed: “Criticism needed in a rising China”

Our friend Eric Fish has once again been told that they can’t publish his opinion piece, which was written as a sort of reaction to this op-ed they did publish.

It seems to me, and Eric said his experience seemed to match this conclusion, that the Global Times has been cutting down significantly on the critical-of-China content in their editorial pages over the past few months. Here’s Eric’s submission as-is; would you run it if you were the editor?

Criticism needed in a rising China

By Eric Fish

2010 was a rough year for Chinese foreign policy. Numerous events unfolded which laid criticism on China from an American search engine, a Norwegian prize committee, the Japanese coast guard and South Korean leadership…just to name a few. And, as a recent Global Times editorial pointed out, rising China WILL endure more criticism. But as a rising nation, China absolutely should receive it.

As China charges ahead with development and takes a larger role in the world community, it’s inevitable that it will bump elbows harder and more often with other nations. And since the foreign media is gaining more access to China, it’s also inevitable that criticism will continue to pour in for things China considers internal issues. In either case, this criticism is good.

But whenever critical comments come from abroad, the Chinese leadership and media’s first impulse is to go on the defensive. Newspaper headlines are full of angry verbs that “blast, rap, condemn, or reject” the criticism. Government spokesmen and editorials lash out at those critics for not understanding China or interfering with its internal affairs.

Those Chinese leaders and journalists need to realize that criticism is not the same as interference. And not everyone who voices opposition to Chinese policy is interested in seeing the nation’s progress stunted. China can’t be 100% correct in every single action it takes, so having outside voices point out the faults is constructive, not hostile.

Those decision makers sitting in China feel what they’re doing is right, but their scope is unavoidably limited. No matter what country you’re in, it’s hard to see your own big picture when you’re standing in the middle of it.

I remember in 2003 during the lead up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, many of us Americans were insulted by the international opposition to the war. At that time, over 70% of Americans supported it. The scar of the 9/11 attacks still hadn’t healed and a sensationalist media left us paranoid and trigger-happy. We were then told that Iraq’s brutal regime illegally harbored stockpiles of horrible weapons…and may have even had a hand in 9/11.

Our scared populace wasn’t able to detach from their emotions and view the situation rationally. Even our leaders seemed to sincerely think the war was necessary and that we’d be greeted as liberators.

So we didn’t listen to the international chorus condemning us for the action. Many Americans even boycotted France for spearheading the UN rejection of the invasion. But if we had listened to the criticism of those who were far enough removed to see the war for the reckless debacle that it would become, things could have been very different.

Heeding, or at least listening to the criticism of those with an outside view can help prevent irresponsible and self-defeating actions. It’s cost the U.S. eight years, a trillion dollars, and over 100,000 American and Iraqi lives to learn that lesson. I hope China too can learn that criticism shouldn’t automatically be viewed as a malicious force to be fought.

China’s at a vulnerable stage as it gets used to its new found power in the world. Abroad, its actions are being felt further away and more intensely than ever before. At home, rapid social and economic changes are forcing leaders to juggle priorities and make tough decisions.

Many of the countries scrutinizing China have lived these problems in their own development and felt their consequences. Still others have active interests in a stable prosperous China and don’t want to see it self-destruct. That’s why it’s so important to listen to these voices of criticism for the sake of China’s and the world’s well-being.

Of course, some of those voices criticizing China are hostile and have no constructive use, but they don’t represent the majority. Those rants should be taken in stride and not empowered with inflammatory responses.

But for the rest, I have some simple advice for China that I wish my own country had heeded. In the coming year when something inevitably happens that leaves you on the receiving end of international criticism, don’t automatically blast or condemn it. Instead, try out a new verb: listen.

The author is a master’s candidate of Global Business Journalism at Tsinghua University. His blog: sinostand.com

Anti-China Conspiracy Theories Hold No Traction

The following article was sent to me by its author, Eric Fish. It was written as a response to this article in the Global Times, but the Global Times declined to publish it, so we’re publishing it here.

Anti-China Conspiracy Theories Hold No Traction

By Eric Fish

On November 19th, Global Times ran an editorial entitled “UN politics tied up with China bashing.” Unfortunately the image it portrayed of a vast underground conspiracy to undermine China is all too common.

The article asserted that “hate-mongering China-bashers or anti-China groups and organizations” spurred on by the United States and its allies have been giving “behind-the-door orders” to top UN leadership to pressure China. It went on to say that the US is using its clout over UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon’s re-election next year as leverage to make him carry out their anti-China agenda.

Like most similar articles, there wasn’t a shred of verifiable evidence given for these claims; simply a string of argumentative fallacies surrounded by strong rhetoric.

Later, the article claimed that the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates was purposely scheduled during the same time as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum where President Hu Jintao was in attendance.

Allegedly organized by The US, its Western allies, and the Nobel Committee, this “whole globally-coordinated political showcase, which specifically targets China, is a politically-motivated and pre-calculated anti-China demonization campaign.”

I enjoy a good conspiracy theory as much as the next guy, but this one has more holes than Swiss cheese. A little research showed that the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates is organized by non-governmental organizations and businesses from around the world. Its organizing committee is made up almost entirely of people who are neither Japanese nor American.

The conference itself was held in Hiroshima and focused exclusively on nuclear disarmament issues. It would be far more reasonable to see it as a snub against America rather than by it.
Meanwhile, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum was also held in Japan and was attended by both Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan and American President Barack Obama (who declined his invitation to the Nobel summit). So even if they did have any power over the Nobel forum, why would the two countries try to upstage their own event?

Many conspiracy theorists like to claim that the US and its Western allies are pulling the strings of some massive underground effort to keep China down. But even if one ignores the fact that there’s absolutely no verifiable evidence for this, the motivations and feasibility of such an effort both serve to show the absurdity of such an idea.

China is America’s biggest creditor and has loaned the US over $22 billion just since July. At the same time American companies are betting their shirts on an increase in demand for American goods from Chinese consumers. A stronger Chinese economy with a strong Yuan is critical to achieving this. Doing anything to undermine China’s current pace of growth would be detrimental to these US interests. So what could possibly motivate the US to head a conspiracy aimed at disrupting its relationship with China and its growth?

Even if the US did have the motivation to keep China down, they would have an impossibly difficult time concealing it, much less succeeding.

Ask anyone from the Kennedy administration who, in 1961, launched “Operation Mongoose” aimed at undermining the Communist Cuban government through propaganda, sabotage and even assassination attempts on President Fidel Castro.

It didn’t take long for the half-baked scheme to be uncovered within Cuba and America…and this was decades before the internet. With today’s online vigilantes and WikiLeaks, the US government has trouble keeping even their lowest level atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan secret. And these are just internal US matters. It doesn’t even begin to demonstrate the challenges of coordinating secretly with other countries with whom the US has its own separate problems with.

Surely if there were some “whole-globally coordinated” campaign to achieve something so self-defeating as to undermine China, by now someone involved would have come forward or anonymously released related documents through a site like WikiLeaks. The absence of either of these things is probably why you never see any hard evidence provided in conspiracy theorists’ rants.

Sure, US politicians frequently use China as a political scapegoat and even threaten economic sanctions…but that’s about as far as it ever goes. Looking strong on the economy and firm on human rights to their constituents wins these leaders big political points, but they know doing anything truly provocative or threatening to China’s stability would be economic suicide.

Conspiracy theories like this are appealing and they’re a good tool in generating fear for political uses, but in reality the evidence just doesn’t afford them any credibility.

The author is a master’s candidate of Global Business Journalism at Tsinghua University. ericfish85@gmail.com

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