Chinese Government Set to Abolish Term Limits

By , February 25, 2018

President Xi Jinping, trying to be more Mao than Mao?

In preparation of the three-day plenum set to start on Monday, the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, the Party’s highest ranking body, announced today that it would propose the elimination of the term limit provision found in the Chinese Constitution.  While the proposal still has to be ratified by the National People’s Congress (NPC), which is set to convene on March 5, 2018, the Party-controlled NPC will likely rubberstamp the proposals that emerge from this week’s Party plenum.

Added to China’s 1982 Constitution, the term limit provision limits the president and vice-president to two, five-year terms.  It was put in place in response to the excesses of the Cultural Revolution and the one-man leadership of Mao Zedong, with its goal to ensure the peaceful transfer of power from one leader to another and eliminate the consolidation of power in one man.  But it’s repudiation all but guarantees that current President Xi Jinping will continue on as China’s leader well past 2023, when his second term was to end.  It also signifies that, with the rapid purging of rivals through his anti-corruption campaign, all power now resides with Xi.  Gone is China’s governing model of a collective Party approach, an approach where Xi would merely be the first among equals, an approach that has ruled China for the last 35 years.

The last time a U.S. President met a one-man-rule leader.

How will the United States confront this new challenge is anyone’s guess.  The United States, only formally recognizing the People’s Republic of China in 1979, has only engaged China with a collective leadership.  And as if on cue, last week, the Asia Society’s online magazine, ChinaFile, published a series of conversations from experts about how the U.S. should engage a rising China under Xi Jinping.  It’s a very timely piece and well worth the read, with many already acknowledging complete power in Xi.  And while Professor Jerome Cohen in his piece rightly points out that Xi will eventually pass from the scene and there will be a reaction to his harsh rule, much like there was when Mao died, expect that point to be much further away now that Xi will likely be able to rule indefinitely.

新年快乐! Welcome Year of The Dog!

By , February 15, 2018

On Friday, about a quarter of the world’s population will sit down with their families, eat a good meal and celebrate the most festive of holidays in Asia: the Lunar New Year.  While most associate the holiday with China, various other countries and cultures also celebrate it – South Korea, North Korea, Vietnam, Taiwan, Hong Kong, the Philippines and Asian communities throughout America.

But Friday does not just usher in a new year, it also brings in a new animal in the 12 animal zodiac.  And with the new animal, a new year of speculations and predictions.  This year is the Earth Dog which, with the earth element, is particularly auspicious since the dog’s internal element is also earth.  With earth reinforcing earth, it will reinforce the good.  But it will, unfortunately, also reinforce the bad.

If you are having a baby during this Earth Dog year, well then, lucky you!   A dog is loyal, compassionate, and values morality and justice; an easier kid to raise than a dragon or a tiger.  But a dog can also be “highly dependent, suffer from imaginary fears, and sometimes self-reclusive and silent.”

Thus, it should come as no surprise that the current U.S. president is a dog.  And that is the greatest fear for most Chinese feng shui masters for 2018.  In general, it is not good luck when the year matches your sign.  For dogs, to ward off the bad luck during this dog year, you should look to wear something red for most of the year – a red bracelet, red underwear, red socks – as red is seen to drive away bad luck.  But for Donald Trump, that likely will not be enough.  That is because Trump is a Fire Dog, and fire and earth clash.  According to Feng Shui Master Thierry Chow, “The elements are too much fire [in Trump] and too much earth [in 2018], so that’s going to be causing him imbalance in his fortune.” According to Chow, expect Trump’s fiery rhetoric to bring about “real problems” and tangible consequences.  Chow didn’t say if that also includes his tweets.

Trump aside, the question still remains – what about your horoscope for the year?  That is dependent on how your birth sign deals with the Earth Dog. Check out your personal horoscope here (note you may have to do a Bazi test to determine the strength of your birth year element.  You can do that here).

But no matter what the future may hold, may you spend Friday ringing in the new year with family, good friends and delicious food!  To our Chinese friends who celebrate the new year,新年快乐 (sin knee-an k-why le)!

Happy New Year!

Just for Fun – Art Review – The Guggenheim’s Art & China After 1989

By , January 2, 2018

Open at the Guggenheim, NYC until January 7, 2018

In October, the Guggenheim’s show, Art & China After 1989: Theater of the World, opened to a flurry of criticism, with the museum capitulating to animal rights activists and online protesters by pulling three pieces that involved – and in some cases abused – animals.  But after seeing the show this past weekend, one has to wonder precisely when the Guggenheim first started on its path of censorship in creating Art & China as self-censorship appears to permeate the first half of the show.

Art & China covers what was perhaps China’s most innovative artistic time period – the two decades covering 1989 through 2008.  With 1989 being the start, one would assume that the focal event would be the students protests at Tiananmen Square in spring 1989.  Much of the art included in the first half of Art & China, with its darkness and dystopian feel, is a result of those protests.   But Art & China makes little mention of the Tiananmen massacre, an event that caused artist and the art movement in China to radically change; many of the artists featured in the Guggenheim’s retrospective left the country as a result.  But instead, the Guggenheim merely equates 1989 with the end of the Cold War.  That might be true for the West, but for China, the Tiananmen protests and massacre was likely a more influential event.  But Tiananmen – a seminal moment for many of the artists featured –  is shortchanged.  In fact, it is whitewashed.  One slide shockingly describes the Tiananmen massacre as a simple clearing of the Square:

Back in Beijing, in the early morning of June 4, soldiers cleared demonstrators from Tiananmen Square, marking the end of a democracy movement to which advanced art had been closely allied.  In the months that followed, the publications and institutions that had catalyzed artist discussion throughout the 1980s were reined in or shuttered. . . .

There is no mention of the fact that the Chinese government ordered the massacre of hundreds to possibly thousands of unarmed civilians the night of June 3 into the early morning of June 4, 1989 on the streets surrounding the Square.  Even the pieces that directly address the Tiananmen massacre, choose not to explain it. Wang Xingwei’s painting of a cyclist ferrying two bleeding penguins does not mention that the painting is a reference to a tragic photo from that night where the penguins were dying people.  It does not even  show the original photo.  Similarly, Zheng Guogo’s sculpture of a line of deep fried toy tanks makes no mention of the iconic photo of Tank Man – a Chinese man stopping a line of tanks after so many civilians were killed by those same tanks only hours earlier.  Again, the original photo is absent.  And as Jane Perlez points out in her New York Times piece, even for those artists featured, the Guggenheim chose not to include more powerful and artistic pieces likely because they more honestly and precisely addressed what happened on June 4, 1989 and would arouse the ire of the current Chinese government.  There is one piece at the end of the exhibit- Yang Jiechang’s Lifelines I – where the wall plate goes into a little more detail, acknowledging that this piece reflects the zigzag paths that volunteers carried injured protesters to hospitals and to safety.

But the Guggenheim should not assume that the people visiting the show will already know the history.  This past weekend, much of the crowd appeared to be average tourists, not necessarily people who are China watchers. With many looking like they were below the age of 40 who likely didn’t personally experience the events of 1989.  Without putting these early works from 1989 and the early 1990s into the proper historical perspective, these visitors lose the true meaning of not just the works, but what these artists were doing with their movement.

Chen Zhen’s “Precipitous Parturition”

The Guggenheim does a bit of a better job explaining the next major event that impacted these artists – the rapid economic development that took China from a poor country to the second largest economy in the world.  But again, the description of these events presupposes a knowledge of China.  The enormity of this transformation – in a night, entire neighborhoods were razed, with new buildings being built a week later; in the spans of 10 years, China’s urban population would grow from 26% to 50% of the total population – is not fully developed.  But that massive societal shift is never put in any type of measurable perspective which makes it difficult to truly understand what these artists were responding to.

Finally, Art & China only features avant-garde, conceptual art from 1989 through 2008.  Most of China’s famous artists from 1989 to 2008 who practiced in more staid mediums like oils or watercolors are not featured.  But many of the conceptual pieces that the Guggenheim chose to feature were some of the most important from the time period and heavily influenced not just artists in China but also abroad.

Yang Jiechang’s Lifelines I, one of the few pieces where there is a little more description about the Tiananmen massacre.

Art & China is in its final week, closing on Sunday, January 7. But given the whitewashing of the Tiananmen Square protests and massacre, an average visitor likely will not fully comprehend the depth of what these artists were doing in the early 1990s.  It is true that many Western observers seek to view Chinese art through a political perspective and that has, rightfully so, frustrated many of China’s newest artists. But for the artists of the early 1990s, their art was a reaction to the Tiananmen massacre.  So it is essential to explain their work through that lens.  That fact that the Guggenheim chose not to raises the question as to why.  What audience were the curators seeking to serve with their show?  Certainly not the visitors, who are left with looking at political art and understanding a movement without any perspective; and certainly not the artists from the early 1990s whose work was completely altered by Tiananmen.  It is unfortunate that the Guggenheim – in a show that starts with 1989 – chose not to fully explain or address Tiananmen.  it does a disservice to the featured Chinese artists and their impressive work.

Rating: ★★½☆☆

Art & China After 1989: Theater of the World
Through January 7, 2018
Guggenheim
1071 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10128
Sundays through Wednesdays & Fridays: 10 AM – 5:45 PM
Closed Thursdays
Saturdays, Pay What You Want After 5:45 PM
Otherwise $25 adult; $18 students and seniors; children below 12 free
Skip the line and purchase online: https://tickets.guggenheim.org/Info.aspx?EventID=3

Two More Civil Rights Activists to Be Sentenced on Tuesday; Lawyer Wang Quanzhang still MIA

By , December 25, 2017

UPDATE – Dec. 26 @ 10:00 AM, EST – As expected, Wu Gan was found guilty of subverting state power.  He was given one of the harshest sentences yet – 8 years (with about 2 and a half already served).  His release date is May 18, 2023.  Xie Yang escaped any prison time, with his court noting that he plead guilty to the charge of inciting subversion and his actions did not cause severe damage to national security.  Xie also again publicly withdrew his claims of torture while in custody.

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China Human Rights Lawyer Concern Group announcement about the upcoming court appearances in Wu Gan’s (R) case and Xie Yang’s (L) case

As the sun sets on Christmas 2017, China will awake on Tuesday to two more civil rights activists being convicted for seeking to end injustice in their country.  According to lawyer Liang Xiaojun, the courts will finally issue verdicts – and possibly sentences – in the cases against advocate Wu Gan and lawyer Xie Yang, two civil rights activists arrested and charged in the wake of the Chinese government’s July 9, 2015 nationwide crackdown on over 250 civil rights lawyers and activists (“the 709 Crackdown”).  Although both had their trials months ago – Wu Gan on August 17, 2017 at a closed-door trial at the Tianjin Intermediate Court and Xie Yang on May 8, 2017 at the Changsha Intermediate Court – verdicts, and in the case of Xie Yang, a possible re-trial, will be announced tomorrow morning at each of the respective courts.  Wu’s verdict will be handed down at 8:30 AM local time and Xie’s court will deal with his case an hour later.

While both have undergone severe treatment in custody, with allegations of torture, expect a much harsher sentence for Wu Gan.  First, Wu Gan has been charged with the more severe crime of “subversion of state power,” a charge that, if he is determined to be a ringleader, carries a sentence of no less than 10 years under Article 105 of China’s Criminal Law.  If he is considered a mere participant, the law still requires a sentence of no less than five years.  Xie Yang has been charged with “inciting subversion of state power.”  It’s the verb of inciting that will inevitably lead to a lesser sentence under Article 105 of five years or less (unless of course he is considered a “ringleader; then five years minimum).  Further, since his trial, Xie Yang has been out on bail.  Although constantly surveilled  by police, it provides a touch more freedom than being trapped in a Chinese detention facility.

A female character who stabs to death a government official after he assumes she is a prostitute and tries to rape her in Jia Zhangke’s A Touch of Sin.

Second, Wu Gan – who often uses the online pen name of Super Vulgar Butcher – is the activist that defies the Chinese government’s current narrative – a narrative that believes that middle class, intellectual lawyers have become entrapped by “foreign forces,” forces like George Soros and the U.S. government that funds Chinese civil rights non-profits.  But that is not Wu Gan.  Instead, for the first 35 years of his life, Wu Gan was just an average Chinese citizen.  A former soldier, Wu Gan was a security guard at the Xiamen Gaoji International Airport until he resigned in 2008 to work full-time on his online activism, wanting to expose the everyday injustices that frustrated him.  In 2009, Wu Gan brought societal attention to the case of Deng Yujiao, a waitress who stabbed to death a government official who attempted to rape her.  While her story would eventually appear in Jia Zhangke’s internationally-acclaimed film, A Touch of Sin, it was Wu Gan who brought the injustice of her case to light.  His activism around the case sparked an online debate about rampant government corruption, the flagrant abuse of prostitutes by government officials as well as the right of women to defend themselves.  It was also successful, resulting in Deng Yujiao being convicted of the much lesser crime of “causing injury with intent” as opposed to the original murder charge.

Photo of Wu Gan at his May 2015 protest outside the courthouse. Photo courtesy of Change China

Further, Wu Gan’s strategies just get under the skin more.  Wu’s advocacy includes using online humor, satire, crowdfunding and street performances to draw attention to the Chinese government’s abuse of people’s rights.  In 2011, Wu published a series of online “How To” pamphlets: Guide to Butchering Pigs (strategies on how to conduct a campaign to protect human rights); Guide to Drinking Tea (how to deal with the police during interrogations); and Guide to Petitioners Fighting Against Forced Demolitions (instruction manual on how individuals can fight to protect their home from force demolition).  Each are widely popular in China and not just for their fun titles but because they are effective teaching tools.

But the straw that broke the camel’s back was Wu Gan’s May 2015 street protest to overturn the death sentence of four criminal defendants who had been convicted of capital murder even though each was tortured while in custody.  Wu stood outside the courthouse with two handmade signs – one with a picture of the chief judge with a Hitler moustache and one with the tombstone of the chief judge with an engraving highlighting his lack of integrity and ignorance of justice.  Situated between the signs was Wu, with his middle fingers up on each hand.  While that kind of protest elicits chuckles in the West, in China it is not tolerated.  Wu Gan was detained and has been in custody since.  Regardless of the fact that the four criminal defendants were exonerated in 2016, Wu Gan will still likely see a prison sentence as a result of his advocacy for justice.

Xie Yang in happier times with his daughter. Xie’s wife and two daughters were able to flee China earlier this year and now are in the United States.

But make no mistake, lawyer Xie Yang’s detention has been no walk in the park.  While being held incommunicado, Xie was physically tortured according to his lawyers who eventually got access to him.  And like Wu Gan, Xie’s crime has been his advocacy on behalf of others.  Xie Yang has long represented China’s most vulnerable: Christians; members of China’s Democratic Party; petitioners whose land was unlawfully seized by the government; and other activists.  In May 2015, Xie had been retained by the family of Xu Chunhe after the police officer who killed him was found not guilty of any crime.  Although Xu Chunhe, unarmed, was with his three young children and his 81 year-old mother in a crowded train station, the officer still shot and killed Xu Chunhe.  According to the officer, his act was one of self-defense; but for for most Chinese people, Xu Chunhe’s case was yet another example of police acting with impunity.  Thus, Xie Yang’s advocacy in bringing a wrongful death case on behalf of the family would go to the heart of the Chinese government’s police state.  And for that, he is now facing the charge of inciting subversion of state power.

But while Wu Gan and Xie Yang’s cases will finally be dealt with tomorrow, there is still one activist that has disappeared completely, lawyer Wang Quanzhang.  Another victim of the 709 Crackdown, Wang has not been heard from since August 4, 2015, when he was detained for “inciting subversion of state power.”  Neither his wife, family, nor the lawyers hired by his family have been able to meet with him and no trial has been set for Wang even though it has been more than two years since he was first taken into custody.  While Wu Gan and Xie Yang’s fates will be known tomorrow, it is the unknown of what is happening to Wang Quanzhang – and why – that is most alarming.  Denied access to lawyers, unable to meet with family, no speedy trial, how is this a country with a rule of law?

NYC Event – Challenging Authoritarianism through Feminist Activism: Insights From China

By , December 7, 2017

On Monday, December 11, 2017, 6 pm- 8pm, Fordham Law School’s Leitner Center for International Law & Justice will be hosting panel discussion with two of China’s preeminent feminist activists, Guan Er and Xiaowen Liang.  They will discuss their work in China and feminist scholar and author, Leta Hong Fincher (author of Leftover Women:  The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China) will place their work in the historical and cultural context.  Elizabeth M. Lynch of China Law & Policy will moderate. Details about the event – from the Leitner Center’s website (http://www.leitnercenter.org/events/1259/) – are below.

Challenging Authoritarianism through Feminist Activism: Insights From China

December 11, 2017 6:00PM – 8:00PM
Location: Bateman, Fordham Law School, 150 W. 62nd St., New York, NY 10023
Contact: LeitnerCenter@law.fordham.edu

The rise of China’s economic and political power does not bring its society gender equality. There is a general demand for more feminist approaches to social issues, which have not yet been well known outside China. Regardless of the hostile political environment, Chinese feminist activists have worked collectively to fight against inequality and discrimination through all kinds of legal strategies, and to channel social grievance towards effort for social changes. Their fights are invaluable expertise for any social movement that wants to survive in difficult situations. This event aims at delivering these feminist insights from the frontline, and bridge better communication among different feminist perspectives.

Speakers:

Guan Er, Young Feminist Activist

Guan Er is one of the leading young feminist activists in China. She has been active in Chinese young feminist activism since 2012, and initiated multiple well-received campaigns for advocacy and public education. At this talk, she will introduce contemporary feminist activist action in China, and how to negotiate with the state for movement space.

Dr. Leta Hong Fincher, Feminist Author  

Dr. Leta Hong Fincher is author of “Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China” (2014) and her new book, “Betraying Big Brother: The Rise of China’s Feminist Resistance” will be published next year by Verso. She will give an overview of the underlying social and economic factors behind the emergence of feminist activism today.

Xiaowen Liang, Young Feminist Activist

Xiaowen Liang is a Chinese feminist activist. She started her activism work in LGBT movement and feminist movement in 2012. After graduation, Xiaowen worked as a legal project manager of a feminist activist group. She has initiated and participated in several successful campaigns by using legal strategies and network building with women lawyers. During her studies at Fordham Law School, she initiated a Chinese feminist group in New York and put on a theater play called “Our Vaginas, Ourselves” at Times Square. She will share her experiences on being an activist in China and how to support China’s activism while in the U.S.

Moderator:

Elizabeth M. Lynch, Attorney and China Watcher

Elizabeth M. Lynch is a legal aid attorney in New York City and the founder of China Law & Policy. She was named a New York Law Journal “Rising Star” in 2015, and her writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Huffington Post and the George Washington International Law Review. From 2007 to 2009, Elizabeth was a research fellow at NYU Law School’s US-Asia Law Institute where she worked with Professor Jerome Cohen on criminal justice reform projects in China.

 

The Sentencing of Jiang Tianyong: What it Means for China & the World

By , December 3, 2017

Civil rights activist, Jiang Tianyong, sitting in the courtroom awaiting his sentence on Nov. 21, 2017

Last month, and three months after civil rights activist Jiang Tianyong pled guilty to “inciting subversion of state power,” the Changsha Intermediate Court finally issued its sentence: two years in prison (much of it already served) and the deprivation of Jiang’s political rights for three years.

As far as the crime of subverting state power goes, a crime the Chinese government has increasingly used to silence its civil rights activists, things could have been worse.  Jiang is seen as a leader in China’s civil rights circles, a lawyer who has daringly taken on some of China’s most politically sensitive cases, such as representing Falun Gong practitioners as well as ethnic Tibetans in the aftermath of the 2008 Tibetan riots.  As a result of his zealous advocacy in these cases, in 2009, the Chinese government denied the renewal of his law license.  But lack of a law license did not stopped Jiang from continuing his work.  Ironically, much of his advocacy began to focus on a new vulnerable group: China’s civil rights lawyers.  In 2011, Jiang played an active role in ensuring that blind activist Chen Guangcheng’s cruel house arrest remained in the public eye.  More recently, Jiang was important in supporting many of his colleagues who were caught up in the Chinese government’s July 9, 2015 nationwide crackdown on over 200 civil rights lawyers and activists (“709 Crackdown”). Through blog posts, tweets, calls for protests and interviews with foreign media as well as with Philip Alston, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Jiang effectively kept the 709 Crackdown visible.  It is this type of ardent support for his colleagues that has made him the him the soul of the movement.

Civil rights lawyer Zhou Shifeng at his sentencing. August 4, 2016

And in a legal system where the Chinese government essentially determines the crime and sentence of any activist regardless of evidence, such a leadership role would result in a charge that could lead to a substantial prison term.  But Jiang was only charged with – and pled guilty to – the lowest level of subversion under Article 105 of China’s Criminal Law: inciting subversion of state power; a crime that carries a prison term of three years maximum.  Some of Jiang’s colleagues – those caught up in the 709 Crackdown – received harsher sentences for actually subverting state power under Article 105, not just inciting it: Zhou Shifeng received seven years, Hu Shigen seven and a half years.  And more recently, two other activists, Lee Ming-che and Peng Yuhua, both arrested after the 709 Crackdown but still part of the Chinese government’s attack on free speech, were each charged with – and pled guilty – to Article 105’s subversion of state power and were sentenced to five years and seven years, respectively.

Jiang Tianyong, second from left, and proudly standing with other activists outside of a detention center.

But make no mistake, Jiang has suffered just as much as these other activists while in detention.  According to the China Human Rights Lawyer Concern Group, Jiang was repeatedly denied access to his own lawyers and allegations of torture have emerged.    He was demonized in the state-run press and social media outlets, and, although his own lawyers could never gain access to Jiang, the state-run CCTV was able to interview him in which he “admitted” to fabricating allegations of torture of his colleague Xie Yang.  After being held incommunicado for over nine months and under who knows what kinds of conditions, on August 22, 2017, Jiang pled guilty to the crime of inciting subversion.  In his televised, in-court confession, Jiang called upon his fellow rights defenders and rights lawyers to learn from his experiences.  A shockingly far cry from Jiang’s Twitter description“A lawyer who was born at just the right time; a lawyer who’s willing to take any case; a lawyer hated by a small political clique; a lawyer who wants to win the respect of regular folk; a lawyer who kept going even after being stripped of his law license.” (translation courtesy of China Change) – causing many, including his wife, to strongly believe that his confession was forced.

Cultural Revolution Poster: “Imperialists and reactionaries are all paper tigers”

Although much of Jiang’s ordeal calls into question the Chinese government’s commitment to the rule of law, respect for human rights and why it must continue to abuse its own people, another deeply troubling trend has emerged: the Chinese government’s anti-foreign rhetoric.  In reporting on the Jiang’s sentencing last month, the state-run Legal Daily blamed the “foreign, anti-China” forces influencing Jiang for much of his behavior.  It is that paranoia of anything foreign that is the most dangerous to the current world order.  With the U.S. retreating from its position of global, moral leader, China is seeking to rise and promote its type of leadership.  From the trial of Jiang Tianyong, that moral leadership model seeks to create societies that are not just unresponsive to its own people, but shut off from connections with the rest of the world.  But it is those connections between cultures and people that have long been a driving force of the post-WWII model and have helped to maintain the peace in much of the world these last 75 years.

But in blaming these elusive, foreign, anti-China forces, the Chinese government ignores the real reason why these civil rights activists exist: the injustices in Chinese society.  It is Jiang’s own life that is a testament as to why the Chinese government’s efforts to suppress these civil rights activists will ultimately fail.  For a long time Jiang was just an ordinary guy; after graduating from college, Jiang was a teacher for almost 10 years. But in 2004, wanting to pursue greater justice for others, he gave up teaching to become a civil rights lawyer, passing the bar exam in 2005.  People like Jiang are not motivated by foreign forces or other entities; they are motivated to correct the injustices and sufferings of others to make their society better.  The Chinese government cannot stop people from feeling that way and the real question is – why would they want to.

Ooo, So Awkward….Trump’s Upcoming Visit to China

By , November 3, 2017

Nov. 3, 2017 @ 12:00 pm – The Trump Administration has just announced that Trump will extend his stay in Asia to attend the East Asia Summit.  This post was written last night, prior to that announcement.  

It’s got to be awkward to go on a whirlwind tour of Asia, meeting with various world leaders, and at the same time knowing that back home senior officials from your campaign are being indicted and one is even pleading guilty.  But that is exactly where U.S. President Donald Trump will find himself on Sunday when he lands in Japan for a nine-day tour that will also include stops in South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines.

It will be Trump’s two-day visit to Beijing – on November 8 and 9 –  that will likely be the most absurd, or at least the most absurd for Chinese President Xi Jinping; Trump will likely remain unaware about the asymmetry in their positions.  While he leads America’s retreat from global engagement and fails domestically to create a governing coalition that can successfully pass any of his major campaign promises, Xi’s star in the rise. With a celebrated speech before the world community in Davos, a successful One Belt, One Road conference that extends China’s influence and economic power  even beyond Asia, and a 19th Party Congress that further consolidated his power and control, Xi looks more and more like the reliable, senior statesman in the relationship.

But even in light of this imbalance, any meeting between the two most powerful leaders in the world leading the two largest economies will be a big deal.  And, even if Trump chooses to disengage Asia, America is still an important military presence in the region, so Trump’s visit, and what comes of it, will be important.  So what should we expect?

Expect the Continued Failure of Trump’s China Agenda

Xi & Trump, agreeing in Mar-a-Lago Photo Courtesy of CNN

On some level, Trump’s meeting with Xi at Mar-a-Lago in April was a success.  Not focusing so much on policy, Trump used the meeting to forge a personal relationship with Xi, a relationship that has proved beneficial in his dealings with China, in particular in regards to North Korea.  In August, China agreed to strong U.N. sanctions against North Korea including banning imports of North Korean coal, iron and lead.

But Trump still lacks a cohesive China policy and it is that shortfall that has become an Achilles heel for the United States, especially on the only other aspect of the relationship that is important to Trump: trade.  At the April Mar-a-Lago meeting, Xi and Trump announced the 100 Day Action plan to open Chinese markets to U.S. goods such as beef, liquefied natural gas and financial products.  But 100 days later, the only action achieved was the Chinese importation of U.S. beef, a deal that in fact had been brokered by the Obama Administration the year prior.  The July U.S.-China Comprehensive Economic Dialogue, an annual summit between the economic heavyweights in the U.S. and Chinese government, proved equally as futile: the Dialogue ended without any agreements on trade, the cancelation of the joint press conference and no joint statement.

Not much has changed since July in the Trump White House, at least vis-a-vis China.  The Administration is still dangerously short of China experts.  The State Department’s Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs still lacks an appointed Assistant Secretary of State (although Susan Thornton, a noted China hand, is serving as the Acting Assistant Secretary).  Aside from Matthew Pottinger, a veteran China journalist who currently serves as Senior Director of Asian Affairs on the National Security Council, the inner White House largely lacks anyone with intimate knowledge of China.  And while Jeffrey Kessler, a trade attorney whose career has dealt specifically with China, was recently nominated to be Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Enforcement and Compliance, his nomination comes too late to enable his expertise to serve a role in shaping Trump’s upcoming visit.

So for Trump’s November visit, expect a lot of bluster, promises to do more in the future, but don’t expect results.  And don’t expect Trump to raise the issue of human rights or the continued crackdown and disappearance of rights activist.  His Administration has barely focused on it.  Instead, at the September 2017 Social and Cultural Dialogue between the two countries, the only vague reference to any type of human rights issue was mention of China’s Foreign NGO Law, a law that has been used to break civil society in China.  However, the U.S. State Department issued a positive assessment of the law, noting that it has not impeded the “legal activities” of American NGOs.  Given the difficulty that many U.S. civil society NGOs have had in continuing their work in China since its passage, the State Department’s assessment seems to diverge significantly from reality.

Photo of the World Leaders at the 2011 East Asia Summit, the US’ first

Expect the Rest of Asia to Feel Abandoned and to Start Looking Elsewhere

Last month, the White House heralded Trump’s Asia trip as a way to “underscore his commitment to longstanding United States alliances and partnerships, and reaffirm United States leadership in promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific region.” But that commitment is belied by Trump’s decision to skip the East Asia Summit. [Editor’s Note: On Nov. 3, 2017 at around noon, the Trump Administration announced that Trump would extend his trip to attend the East Asia Summit]

The East Asia Summit brings together the leaders of 16 Asian countries plus, since 2011, the leaders of Russian and the United States.  At the two-day summit, the world leaders discuss the major issues confronting the region including those involving trade, politics and security and through the Summit, the leaders shape the future of the region.  During his two terms as president, Barack Obama attended every East Asia Summit except the 2013 Summit, when the U.S. government was shut down.

Someone who knows a little bit about being undermined. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to attend the 2017 East Asia Summit

This year’s East Asia Summit is scheduled for November 13 and 14 in the Philippines, the country Trump will be in on November 12, making it easy for Trump to stay for the meeting. And thus making his absence even more obvious.  Any positive outcomes from the prior days’ meetings will be undermined by Trump’s failure to essentially stay in the Philippines for an extra day and engage these other world leaders and help shape the future of the region.  If Asia was questioning Trump’s commitment to Asia with his withdrawal from the Trans Pacific Partnership or his unilateral war of words with North Korea, it now has an answer with Trump’s absence at the East Asia Summit: the U.S. is withdrawing from the Asia.  But the region is one of the most economically dynamic in the world and China is looking to take the lead in the area.  Are we ready to just walk away?

Just For Fun – Art Review: FOLD at the Museum of Chinese in America

By , October 29, 2017

Ai Weiwei’s public art installation, Good Fences Make Good  Neighbors, may be the talk of New York right now, but it is the recently-opened exhibit at New York’s Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) that, if you want to see a subversive take on the current Administration’s immigration policy, is not to be missed.

MOCA’s exhibit, FOLD: Golden Venture Paper Sculptures, focuses on an event that ushered in a radical change in the United States’ immigration policy: the 1993 shipwreck of the Golden Venture in the Rockaways, Queens and the 281 Chinese undocumented immigrants, mostly men, who emerged from that cargo ship.  While 10 drowned trying to get to shore and another 190 were deported back to China and other countries, approximately 80 sought asylum and thus could stay in the United States pending a decision on their applications.

But unlike previous asylum-seeking immigrants, the Golden Venture men were not permitted to remain free.  Instead, for almost four years, while their cases were pending, they were held behind bars, mostly in a detention center in York, Pennsylvania.  With nothing to do, the prisoners began making shapes out of paper in the traditional Chinese folk art of papermaking, known in Chinese as zhezhi and popularized in Japan as origami.  But these artists took their papermaking to another level.  By tightly folding thousands of pieces of papers, the men were able to make large, beautiful paper sculptures. Some were of things that they knew – the ship that brought them to America, the Statute of Liberty, eight-story pagodas. And some reflect more their emotions – birds trapped in cages.  Or their playful side with cats fishing for fish and cartoon characters playing with each other.

One of the paper sculptures in MOCA’s FOLD

With over 40 of these sculptures, FOLD showcases these artists at the forefront of a folk art revolution, with a creation of a new type of art – qianzhi, now known in English as “Golden Venture folding.”  But more importantly, this section of FOLD reflects these immigrants’ humanity, something that has been too easily lost in the past year as rhetoric surrounding immigration takes on an increasingly cruel and callous tone.

And it is the second half of FOLD that brings us back to the unpleasant reality of the United States’ severe immigration policy over the past 20 years, culminating with the current Administration.  In a 20-minute documentary that runs in a continuous loop in another room, FOLD places the Golden Venture in its historical context.  Even under a Democratic President – in 1993, Bill Clinton – the idea of an immigrant as a person, as a family, as an artist began to be replaced with the fear of an immigrant as a security issue or worse, a negative political poll.

MOCA’s FOLD Exhibition

With discussions about the “bed quota” – a Congressional mandate that requires 34,000 immigrants to fill beds in immigration detention facilities not because there is a need but because the contracts with private prison companies require it – and the recent reversal on the Deferred Childhood Arrivals Action (DACA) program, where many of these DACA recipients now face the very real possibility of deportation solely because they trusted the government, FOLD sadly makes clear that the United States’ immigration policy is no longer a policy.  Instead it is a program that is used to feed corporate interests and nativist political whims.  Immigration has always been a difficult issue in America since essentially our founding.  But FOLD reminds us that there was a time before the Golden Venture when it wasn’t always like what it is today and our laws and regulations were shaped by policy, a policy that reflected our immigrant roots and sought to balance the interests of America with the humanity of the individual.

Rating: ★★★★★

FOLD: Golden Venture Paper Sculptures
Through March 25, 2018
Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA)
215 Centre Street
New York, NY 10013
Open Tuesday through Sunday: 11 AM – 6 PM
Open Late on Thursdays to 9 PM
Free the first Thursday of every month
Otherwise $10 Adult; $5 Senior, Student, Children (includes permanent exhibits on history of NYC Chinatown)

Rule of Law at China’s 19th Party Congress – Oh No Xi Didn’t!*

By , October 16, 2017

Every five years, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) holds a Party Congress, a week-long, rather formulaic meeting of Party members that is more about palace intrigue — who in the Party advances, who is left behind — than it is about anything substantive.  At most, broad policies for the direction of the Party, and hence direction of the country in this one-party state, are announced.  The world media usually looks on with feigned interest.

But, as the CCP opens its 19th Party Congress this Wednesday, this year will be different.  For the first time, the Party Congress comes as China’s global star is truly on the rise, with the United States pretty much on retreat in the region, at least as a reliable, predictable partner. As a result, the future of China’s leadership has become more important to the world, especially as the current leader, Xi Jinping, seeks to consolidate his power.

Since taking over leadership of both the Party and the State in 2012 and 2013 respectively, Xi has moved China’s governing model away from the collective Party approach of his immediate predecessors, an approach where he would merely be the first among equals; an approach that was largely put in place in response to the excesses of the one-man leadership of the Cultural Revolution. Instead, with Xi, all power increasingly resides with him and he has sought to fill the inner rankings of the Party with his supporters.

Party Man Wang Qishan (Photo Courtesy of the Epoch Times)

In that regards, this week’s 19th Party Congress will largely be watched to see who will replace five members of the seven-member Standing Committee of the CCP’s Politburo, each of whom will hit the retirement age of 68.  Who takes over the reins, and whether they are considered Xi’s people, will foretell the depths of Xi’s power over the Party, and thus the state. But it is the future of one person on the Politburo Standing Committee that will be most revealing: Wang Qishan, the current Secretary of the Party’s Central Committee for Discipline Inspection, the committee responsible for policing Party members.  Wang, who is already 69, should be replaced during this Party Congress under the Party’s unwritten rule of forced retirement at the age of 68.  But there is speculation that this rule will be broken so that Xi can keep his right-hand man on his anti-corruption campaign, a campaign that for sure has exposed corruption at the highest levels but has also allowed Xi to easily purge his rivals. If Xi is willing to break this unspoken rule for Wang, then there is good chance that in five years, he will break the rule for himself and continue on for an unprecedented third term as Party head and Chairman of the Central Military Commission, the two posts that hold real power in China.[1]

But the other thing to watch for at the 19th Party Congress is Xi Jinping’s doubling down on his anti-corruption campaign.  And not just because Xi has used the campaign to purge high-level officials who he considers a threat to his one-man rule — think Bo Xilai, Zhou Yongkang,and now, Sun Zhengcai, a man slated to be Xi’s successor until he was expelled from the Party. Instead, the anti-corruption campaign has been an affront to the rule of law in China.  Expect the 19th Party Congress to signal the codification of the abuses of Xi’s anti-corruption campaign.

Currently, the anti-corruption campaign is largely conducted through the Party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), a commission ostensibly responsible for investigating Party members’ violation of Party rules and of which Xi’s right hand man, Wang Qishan is still the head.  Theoretically, the police and procuratorate are responsible for investigating and prosecuting any corruption or bribery that rises to the level of a crime.  But in practice, the police, prosecutor and courts are a mere after thought to the CCDI.  That is largely because, outside of the confines of the law, the CCDI is able to secretly detain Party members, deny them access to a lawyer and interrogate them in secret locations.  According to Human Rights Watch, torture and ill-treatment during these secret Party detentions, known colloquially in China as shuanggui, are prevalent.  Instead of there being two separate systems, the Party and the State, the two are intertwined according to HRW: the prosecutor is a part of the shuanggui process, using the confession obtained through that investigation in the prosecution of the case.  In the Bo Xilai case, Bo attempted to retract his confession at his trial, stating that it was made under duress.  In the end, the court ruled against him and he received a life sentence on charges of corruption and bribery.

Bo Xilai on trial in 2013

But having the shuanggui system in place, a system that exists in the shadows of the law, has not been enough for Xi.  Last November, the Party announced a new pilot program for Beijing, Shanxi and Zhejiang provinces where the Party would create a new government body, a Supervision Commission.  As the Party doesn’t really have the full authority to create new governmental bodies, a month later, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC), adopted the Supervision Commission pilot project.  That Supervision Commission would be the sole entity responsible for corruption and bribery by Party members, state officials, the legislature, the courts and state employees, taking away that responsibility from the Procuratorate and the Anti-Corruption Bureau.  The Supervision Commission will also have the power to interrogate and detain individuals as well as freeze their assets; it is unclear what role the courts will play – if any – in oversight of the Supervision Commission’s broad powers.  According to Prof. Zhiqiong June Wang, while much is still unknown about these Supervision Commission, what is known is that they will share personnel with the Party’s CCDI.  Prof. Wang anticipates that the NPC will seek to adopt the pilot project nationwide in March 2018.

Corruption is a serious problem in China  and there might be an argument that bringing the anti-corruption campaign into a strong, unified government body will be good for transparency and legal protections for the suspects, something that is currently ignored by the CCDI.  But the question remains – will codifying this campaign bring it out of the shadows of the CCDI or will it just bring more shadows to the law?  It seems like the latter is the more likely outcome.  First, even if the Supervision Commission were to follow the law, China’s Criminal Procedure Law (CPL) still allows the Commission to legally hold suspects incommunicado under “residential surveillance at a designated location” for six months without access to a lawyer.  This is because the provisions of  the CPL that the police currently use to do this to political activists under the guise of national security – Articles 37, 73 and 77 – apply where there are suspicions of “especially serious bribery.”  In a way, the CCDI’s methods have already been codified – and are actively being used with little reprimand – in the current CPL.

And with Xi only consolidating his power further at the 19th Party Congress, don’t expect there to be any divergent voices – anyone who cares about the Party and the government being subject to the law – in the Supervision Commission. The Party-State being subject to the law is not really Xi’s thing.  As if to demonstrate this further, this past weekend, the current head of the Ministry of Justice, Wu Aiying, was expelled from the Party.  Who replaced her as Justice Minister?  Zhang Jun, a former deputy chief of the CCDI.

*********************************************************************************************************************

[1] China’s Constitution limits the President, a state position, not a Party one, to two terms.  But it is the two Party positions where real power lies.  Deng continued on as China’s paramount leader as a force within the Party.

* Hattip to Jeremy Daum at China Law Translate for the title pun.

How Many Times Can the World Turn its Head…..The Case for Wang Quanzhang

By , August 30, 2017

To call China’s human rights lawyers “battered” is an understatement.  These lawyers are victims of the Chinese government’s deliberate and brutal pursuit to render them extinct.  And that is why the nomination of Chinese human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang for the Dutch government’s Human Rights Tulip award is so significant and why readers should vote for him (public voting is open here until September 6, 2017).

Wang is perhaps the quintessential human rights lawyer.  Even before graduating from Shandong University Law School in 2000, he was already representing some of Chinese society’s most vulnerable: members of the banned spiritual sect of Falun Gong.  From there, he extended his practice to assist farmers whose land was being confiscated, criminal defendants and other civil rights activist.  Throughout, he received constant pressure from the Chinese government to discontinue his practice and in 2013 was taken into custody by Chinese police merely for defending his client in court.  But instead of ending his advocacy, the Chinese government’s pressure only emboldened him. Wang criticized the Chinese government in a series of blog posts under the pen name Gao Feng and in 2014, traveled to Heilongjiang to protest the illegal detention of other human rights lawyers.  But for Wang, practicing law was not enough.  He also sought to elevate the legal profession in China and joined forces with a small foreign NGO in Beijing – Chinese Urgent Action Working Group (“China Action”) – to teach and support other human rights lawyers throughout China on how to effectively advocate in a one-party dictatorship.

Photo courtesy of China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group, July 4, 2016

While the rest of the world might celebrate Wang’s commitment to justice, in China, Wang is considered a villain – at least according to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).  It is his work that the CCP fears as a threat to its one-party rule and is intent on destroying.  On July 9, 2015, the Chinese government launched a national offensive against its human rights lawyers, simultaneously detaining over 300 lawyers and activist across the country (known colloquially as the “709 Crackdown”).  Wang was caught up in the persecution and on August 4, 2015 was detained for suspicion of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” and “inciting subversion of state power.”  Since then – for over two years – he has been held incommunicado, with his lawyers and his wife denied any access to him.  Ironically, the rights that Wang has long sought for his own clients – the right to meet with an attorney, the right to a fair trial, the right to a speedy trial in accordance with Chinese law – is being denied to him as he remains isolated in prison.

For sure, China’s human rights lawyers have been under assault for close to a decade now.  But as Professor Eva Pils notes in a recent article, the 709 Crackdown is much more severe, with new and frightening measures taken by the Chinese government.  From the inception of the Crackdown, the Chinese government has vilified these lawyers by name in the press (including naming Wang as a ringleader) and refer to them as a “criminal syndicate.” It has also changed its rhetoric – no longer are human rights lawyers a threat to social stability; instead, because of the influence of “foreign forces,” specifically the use of foreign NGO funds, the Chinese government presents these lawyers as a national security risk. And more recently, Pils notes that there appears to be at least six detained human rights lawyers who have been forced to take medication while in detention.  But not for any current medical condition.  Instead, it appears to Pils that the Chinese government’s use of forced medication has had a physiological impact on the detainees and is being used more to alter the personalities of the human rights defenders with the hope that they do not continue to practice once they are released.

Wang Quanzhang’s wife and son. Neither has seen Wang for the last two years,. Photo courtesy of RFA

And this is another reason why Wang Quanzhuang should be awarded the Human Rights Tulip.  China – the world’s second largest economy – offers another way by which to order society.  A world where human rights take a back seat to economics and alleged national security issues.  Unfortunately, the rest of the world appears to be largely playing along.  As Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo laid unnecessarily dying in a Chinese prison hospital, imprisoned for his speech, not a single world leader made a public peep about it at the G20 Summit that was happening at the same time.  As Beijing dismantles Hong Kong’s democracy, Western democracies largely remain quiet.  In May 2017, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson ignorantly stated that promoting human rights “really creates obstacles to our ability to advance our national security interests, our economic interests.”   In June 2017, Greece – which has been able to economically recover largely through the support of China – vetoed the European Union’s condemnation of China’s human rights record.  And this has only been the last four months.  With the nomination of Wang Quanzhuang for the Human Rights Tulip, the question arises – how many times can the world turn its head and pretend that it just doesn’t see?   Is this who we really are?  If the answer is no, then please vote for Wang Quanzhuang here.  From the top three, the Minster of Foreign Affairs of the Dutch Government will choose a winner.

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