Tag Archives: China

Cash and Chemicals: Banana Boom Blessing and Curse

A worker walks through a banana plantation operated by a Chinese company in the province of Bokeo in Laos April 25, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Silva 

By Jorge Silva 
May, 2017

Kongkaew Vonusak smiles when he recalls the arrival of Chinese investors in his tranquil village in northern Laos in 2014. With them came easy money, he said.

The Chinese offered villagers up to $720 per hectare to rent their land, much of it fallow for years, said Kongkaew, 59, the village chief. They wanted to grow bananas on it.

In impoverished Laos, the offer was generous. “They told us the price and asked us if we were happy. We said okay.”

Elsewhere, riverside land with good access roads fetched at least double that sum.

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Three years later, the Chinese-driven banana boom has left few locals untouched, but not everyone is smiling.

Zhang Jianjun, 40, co-owner of the Lei Lin banana plantation sits outside his house at a plantation in the province of Bokeo in Laos April 24, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Silva 

Experts say the Chinese have brought jobs and higher wages to northern Laos, but have also drenched plantations with pesticides and other chemicals.

Last year, the Lao government banned the opening of new banana plantations after a state-backed institute reported that the intensive use of chemicals had sickened workers and polluted water sources.

China has extolled the benefits of its vision of a modern-day “Silk Road” linking it to the rest of the world – it holds a major summit in Beijing on May 14-15 to promote it.

A banana plantation worker cries as he sits inside his shack during a day off at a plantation operated by a Chinese company in the province of Bokeo in Laos April 26, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Silva 

The banana boom pre-dated the concept, which was announced in 2013, although China now regards agricultural developments in Laos as among the initiative’s projects.

Under the “Belt and Road” plan, China has sought to persuade neighbours to open their markets to Chinese investors. For villagers like Kongkaew, that meant a trade-off.

“Chinese investment has given us a better quality of life. We eat better, we live better,” Kongkaew said.

A woman waits to deliver her harvest at a packing line at a banana plantation operated by a Chinese company in the province of Bokeo in Laos April 25, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Silva 

But neither he nor his neighbours will work on the plantations, or venture near them during spraying. They have stopped fishing in the nearby river, fearing it is polluted by chemical run-off from the nearby banana plantation.

Several Chinese plantation owners and managers expressed frustration at the government ban, which forbids them from growing bananas after their leases expire.

They said the use of chemicals was necessary, and disagreed that workers were falling ill because of them.

The daughter of a banana plantation worker swings outside her home at a plantation operated by a Chinese company in the province of Bokeo in Laos April 26, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Silva 

“If you want to farm, you have to use fertilizers and pesticides,” said Wu Yaqiang, a site manager at a plantation owned by Jiangong Agriculture, one of the largest Chinese banana growers in Laos.

“If we don’t come here to develop, this place would just be bare mountains,” he added, as he watched workers carrying 30-kg bunches of bananas up steep hillsides to a rudimentary packing station.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said he was not aware of the specific issues surrounding Chinese banana growers in Laos, and did not believe they should be linked directly to the Belt and Road initiative.

“In principle we always require Chinese companies, when investing and operating abroad, to comply with local laws and regulations, fulfil their social responsibility and protect the local environment,” he told a regular briefing on Thursday.

A worker waits to deliver his harvest at a packing line inside a banana plantation operated by a Chinese company in the province of Bokeo in Laos April 25, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Silva 

Laos’ Ministry of Agriculture did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment for this article.

China is the biggest foreign investor in Laos, a landlocked country of 6.5 million people, with over 760 projects valued at about $6.7 billion, according to Chinese state-run media.

This influence is not only keenly felt in the capital Vientiane, where Chinese build shopping complexes and run some of the city’s fanciest hotels. It also extends deep into rural areas that have remained largely unchanged for decades.

Lao people say Chinese banana investors began streaming across the border around 2010, driven by land shortages at home. Many headed to Bokeo, the country’s smallest and least populous province.

In the ensuing years, Lao banana exports jumped ten-fold to become the country’s largest export earner. Nearly all of the fruit is sent to China.

For ethnic Lao like Kongkaew, Chinese planters paid them more for the land than they could earn from farming it.

On Keo Wa, 25, carries her 9-month-old baby while working at a banana plantation operated by a Chinese company in the province of Bokeo in Laos April 24, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Silva 

For impoverished, hill-dwelling minorities such as the Hmong or Khmu, the banana rush meant better wages.

At harvest time, they can earn the equivalent of at least $10 a day and sometimes double that, a princely sum in a country where the average annual income was $1,740 in 2015, according to the World Bank.

They are also most exposed to the chemicals.

Most Chinese planters grow the Cavendish variety of banana which is favoured by consumers but susceptible to disease.

Hmong and Khmu workers douse the growing plants with pesticides and kill weeds with herbicides such as paraquat. Paraquat is banned by the European Union and other countries including Laos, and it has been phased out in China.

The bananas are also dunked in fungicides to preserve them for their journey to China.

Some banana workers grow weak and thin or develop rashes, said Phonesai Manivongxai, director of the Community Association for Mobilizing Knowledge in Development (CAMKID), a non-profit group based in northern Laos.

Part of CAMKID’s work includes educating workers about the dangers of chemical use. “All we can do is make them more aware,” she said.

This is an uphill struggle. Most pesticides come from China or Thailand and bear instructions and warnings in those countries’ languages, Reuters learned. Even if the labelling was Lao, some Hmong and Khmu are illiterate and can’t understand it.

Another problem, said Phonesai, was that workers lived in close proximity to the chemicals, which contaminated the water they wash in or drink.

A woman puts leftover bananas in a cart next to a packing line at a banana plantation operated by a Chinese company in the province of Bokeo in Laos April 25, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Silva 

In a Lao market, Reuters found Thai-made paraquat openly on sale.

However, some workers Reuters spoke to said they accepted the trade-off. While they were concerned about chemicals, higher wages allowed them to send children to school or afford better food.

There is no guarantee the government’s crackdown on pesticide use in banana production will lead to potentially harmful chemicals being phased out altogether.

As banana prices fell following a surge in output, some Chinese investors began to plant other crops on the land, including chemically intensive ones like watermelon.

Zhang Jianjun, 46, co-owner of the Lei Lin banana plantation, estimated that as much as 20 percent of Bokeo’s banana plantations had been cleared, and said some of his competitors had decamped to Myanmar and Cambodia.

But he has no plans to leave. The environmental impact on Laos was a “road that every underdeveloped country must walk” and local people should thank the Chinese, he said.

“They don’t think, ‘Why have our lives improved?’. They think it’s something that heaven has given them, that life just naturally gets better.”

Copyright Reuters 2017

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Beijing brings order to its colonial “Savage Reservations”

Turpan Bazaar in Xinjing, in February, 2017. Photo by Sergio Tittarini via Flickr, Creative Commons

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
April 1, 2017

Beijing is reaching back into the excesses of Maoist Stalinism and forward into the high-tech social control of Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” to try to contain the restive natives of its colonial outposts, Tibet and Xinjiang.

And Beijing’s problems with its occupied territories don’t end there. After a farcical process to “elect” a new governor for Hong Kong, the stage is set for more grief for Beijing from the territory’s people, who increasingly feel themselves culturally and philosophically divorced from the Mainland.

Lhasa, Tibet, in October 2015. Photo by Laika ac/Flickr/Creative Commons

Beijing has beefed up its campaign of cultural genocide – no other phrase adequately describes what is happening – in both Xinjiang and Tibet since Xi Jinping came to power in 2012 as China’s Communist Party leader and President.

The campaigns are not quite the kind of cultural dislocation and reprogramming foreseen by Huxley in his 1932 novel “Brave New World.” But the effects are similar, and Beijing has been swift to understand and adopt the opportunities for the control and management of its dissident citizenry offered by technological innovations.

For example, authorities in Xinjiang issued orders in February that all vehicles – not just new ones — must be equipped with GPS trackers. The system will allow police to pinpoint the position of cars and trucks at any time. “The car is the main means of transportation of terrorists, and is often also used by them as a weapon,” said the police statement. “It is imperative that we move to a GPS and electronic license plate system to manage vehicle positioning.”

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At the same time, about 40,000 high-definition surveillance cameras with riot-proof protective shells had been installed throughout Xinjiang. Nearly 17,000 were installed in the territorial capital, Urumqi, the state-run Xinhua news agency has reported.

Since the middle of last year these campaigns have shifted into a higher gear. The intensified repression appears to be only partly in response to unrest on the ground, and primarily to reaffirm Xi’s well-established reputation as an uncompromising autocrat ahead of confirmation later this year for a further five years at the helm.

Many of the tactics used by the Chinese regime to culturally, politically and economically destablize the Tibetans and the Uighers would be familiar to the old Communist dictators Mao Zedong and the Soviet Union’s Joseph Stalin.

Indeed, the repression campaigns appear be largely successful. There has been little trouble in Xinjiang since the last serious outbreak of civil unrest in 2009, when nearly 200 people died in fighting between Uighers and Han Chinese, and during the intervention of security forces.

In Tibet and the Tibetan regions of Sichuan province there was a rash of self-immolations in 2012 by Buddhist monks and nuns protesting Beijing’s destruction of monasteries and monastic life. There were seven such suicides in 2015 and three in 2016. The International Campaign for Tibet says the first one this year was on March 18, when a farmer and former monk, Pema Gyaltsen, set himself on fire in Kham in the Tibetan region of Sichuan. He may have survived the suicide attempt, and his relatives and supporters have been detained and beaten by police.

At the same time, Human Rights Watch says there is a massive campaign underway to remove monks and nuns from Buddhist monasteries and communities in Sichuan’s Larung Gar and Yachen Gar. The local government has ordered the monks running Larung Gar to reduce the number of monks from the estimated 15,000 to 5,000. To enforce this order on March 12 the local authorities began the demolition of nearly 3,300 homes associated with the monastery.

Meanwhile scores of nuns evicted from monasteries have been subjected to “re-education” that amounts to psychological abuse. Human Rights Watch says one video on social media shows young Tibetan women with shaven heads, who appear to be nuns, dressed in military clothes and drawn up in military ranks. They are chanting words from a propaganda song used by the authorities. “The Tibetans and the Chinese are daughters of the same mother, the name of the mother is China.”

Another video on social media shows a dozen Tibetan nuns in religious robes dancing and singing on a stage in front of what appear to be Chinese officials. They are singing “The Song of the Emancipated Serf,” another Maoist propaganda hit. Tibetan novices usually make a vow to refrain from singing or dancing when they become nuns. The performance thus seems to be an attempt at humiliation aimed at breaking the nuns’ religious dedication.

Beijing accuses the Tibetans, most of whom are devout Buddhists, of being separatists and mired in archaic superstition. The native Muslim Uighers of Xinjiang are also accused of “splittism” – separatism — by Beijing, but it also says they harbour Islamic terrorists. Beijing has managed to get an acquiescent Washington to agree to designate some Uigher groups as “terrorist organizations.
Meanwhile in Xinjiang, the regional Communist Party Secretary, Li Jianhua, has cited the example of Donald Trump’s putative Muslim travel ban to justify a clampdown on Islamic practices considered “manifestations of extremism.” These include men wearing beards, women wearing veils and anyone opting for Islamic weddings and divorces instead of civic procedures.

The campaign of repression in Xinjiang has been stepped up since the issuing of a video last month, purportedly by the Islamic State group. The video detailed official actions against Uigher Islamic observance, and then showed Uigher-speaking fighters vowing to “shed blood like rivers” in Xinjiang.

And in both colonial territories – China took full control of Xinjiang (“New Frontier”) in 1949, and invaded and occupied Tibet in 1950 – Beijing has intensified programs to move Han Chinese settlers into the outposts. This is both to provide work and opportunities for Han Chinese who need employment, but also to make the Tibetans and Uighers into politically irrelevant minorities. The Uighers are already a 46 per cent minority among Xinjiang’s 21 million people. Beijing insists that 90 per cent of the just over 3 million people living in Tibet are still Tibetans. But the exiled Tibetan religious leader, the Dalai Lama, believes the Han Chinese population is much larger, and increasing daily, in large part because of the opening of the first railway line into Tibet in 2006.

Much of the apparent success of Beijing’s campaign of repression and cultural dislocation seems to be the work of one man. Chen Quaguo was the Communist Party secretary in Tibet from 2011 until the middle of 2015, when he was appointed party boss in Xinjiang. Australian professor of politics and Asian studies at Melbourne’s La Trobe University, James Leibold, and Adrian Zenz, lecturer at the European School of Culture and Theology in Korntal, Germany, have studied and written extensively about Chen’s methods.

One of Chen’s most successful strategies has been to give a modern twist to an ancient system of urban district surveillance and control. Such systems go back to the Roman Empire and perhaps earlier. District-level party snoops were at the heart of Mao’s command and control system, and to a large extent still are.

Chen, however, has adopted what is known as “grid-style social management.” This involves building and manning a police outpost to cover an area of up to 500 meters in radius in order to monitor the 400-or-so people living in that block. In order to give the impression that these outposts are just shelters for the local kindly bobby on the beat, they have phone battery re-chargers for the public and even umbrellas for those caught in rainstorms.

But the police posts, say Leibold and Zenz, “are equipped with the latest anti-riot equipment, and, in some cases, high-tech surveillance equipment such as face and voice recognition software, which is used to track suspects and even build profiles of likely troublemakers.” The purpose of the grid monitoring posts, said an article in a state-controlled Xinjiang newspaper, is “complete coverage without any chinks, blind spots, or blank spaces.”

Beijing’s investment in this tight network of surveillance and control in its colonial outposts is massive. Zenz and Leibold say that Chen oversaw the building of 698 police outposts in the Tibetan capital Lhasa alone during his tenure. The system is now being applied to other Tibetan towns and cities, and even out into villages.

In the Xinjiang capital Urumqi there are nearly 1,000 police outposts. Again, the grid monitoring system us being set up in other Xinjiang cities, and especially in areas where the Uighers still outnumber the settler Han Chinese.

It has, of course, taken a massive increase in manpower to manage this intense program of social control. The two academics reckon that about 200,000 Communist Party officials are being dispatched to village and rural areas to keep an eye on the Uighers. They have also studied government recruitment advertisements and calculate that 31,000 additional police officers were taken on in Xinjiang last year, three times the number recruited in 2015. Leibold and Zenz also reckon that Xinjiang’s total security budget was the equivalent of about $30 billion in 2015.

So far, Beijing has been constrained from using similar tactics in Hong Kong by the “one country, two systems” agreement by which the former British colony was returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997. But that has not discouraged Beijing from taking every opportunity to undermine or discard the rapid advance to democracy, and maintenance of the British-style independent judiciary and rule of law Hongkongers were promised in the handover agreement.

Beijing’s contempt for meaningful democracy was on display again last weekend when a new governor, known as the “Chief Executive” was selected by a 1,194-member “election committee.” The committee is dominated by people who for one reason or another are beholden to Beijing. In the run-up to their final vote for the Chief Executive, the committee members look to Beijing-controlled media and the speeches of Communist Party leaders to learn what is expected of them. This time, the message from Beijing was clear. It’s favourite from among the three candidates was Carrie Lam, the departing head of the Hong Kong civil service, and the fourth governor picked by Beijing since the handover nearly 20 years ago.

The last three Chief Executives have been disasters to varying degrees and all have been down the list of the leaders Hongkongers would have chosen given the chance. It appeared there might be a change in the system in 2014 when a proposal for a popularly elected Chief Executive was on the table. However, that fell through the floor when Beijing insisted there could only be a free elected if the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party first decided on the list of candidates.

Tens of thousands of young pro-democracy activists occupied Hong Kong’s main commercial centres for nearly three months and this upwelling of discontent pushed the territory’s legislature to reject the Beijing proposal. So now Beijing has total control of picking the governor, and will doubtless be happy to continue with this system for as long as it can.

The prime qualification for becoming Chief Executive is “loving China,” which means in this context not doing anything of which the Chinese Communist Party does not approve. It is very difficult for a Hong Kong Chief Executive to do that and also keep the confidence of Hong Kong’s 7 million people. Most of them cherish their liberties and polls show a growing proportion – now well over 50 per cent – think of themselves either as exclusively Hongkongers or Hongkongers first and Chinese only second.

Beijing likes to blame these sentiments on un-reconciled leftovers from British colonialism or people infected by “foreign” propaganda. The reality is that the vast majority of the young people who took to the streets in 2014 and those who continue to demand democratic reform were either toddlers at the time the British left or have been born since 1997.

In her first speech after her “election” Lam said her first task will be to “reunite Hong Kong people.” That job was immediately made more difficult when within hours of her taking office police laid charges against at least nine people, including two members of the legislature, involved in the 2014 demonstrations.

It is hard to dismiss the notion that the timing of these charges is politically motivated and that Beijing is pulling the strings on the Hong Kong police force. There are now several examples of Mainland Chinese police kidnapping or otherwise spiriting over the border people from Hong Kong who they wish to detain and question. Also, Hong Kong has a very efficient judicial system, and the mere fact that it took nearly three years to bring the charges against the demonstrators speaks volumes. The timing of the charges suggests too that everyone – Lam included – was being told that any moves on political reform in Hong Kong are a matter for Beijing and Beijing alone.

The Chinese Communist Party may come to regret that position just as it may come to regret its oppression in Tibet and Xinjiang. All of the serious or successful political revolutions in China in the last 160 years have begun in the Cantonese region of southern China, of which Hong Kong is a part.

 

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2017

Contact Jonathan Manthorpe, including for queries about syndication/republishing: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

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Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. He is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan,” and has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

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China tackles air pollution

Smog is seen over the city during haze weather in Tianjin, China, January 3, 2017. Picture taken January 3, 2017. REUTERS/Stringer

Smog is seen over the city during haze weather in Tianjin, China, January 3, 2017. Picture taken January 3, 2017. REUTERS/Stringer

 

January 7, 2017

People wearing masks dance at a square among heavy smog during a polluted day in Fuyang, Anhui province, China, January 3, 2017. China Daily/via REUTERS

People wearing masks dance at a square among heavy smog during a polluted day in Fuyang, Anhui province, China, January 3, 2017. China Daily/via REUTERS

SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China plans cuts in major sources of air pollution including sulphur dioxide and will promote more public transport in large cities, the government said, as the country’s north grapples with a lingering smog crisis.

The world’s second-largest economy will cut sulphur dioxide, a key contributor to air pollution produced by power plants and industry, by 15 percent by 2020, China’s State Council, the country’s cabinet, said in a five-year plan paper on January 5.

As well as capping industrial emissions, China would raise the share of public transport to 30 percent of total traffic in major cities by 2020 and promote cleaner, more efficient fuels, the new plan said.

China is in the third year of a “war on pollution” to tackle the legacy of more than three decades of untrammeled economic growth, but it has struggled to meet air quality standards or to prevent occurrences of the hazardous smog like the current episode.

An environment ministry spokesman said on Thursday that excessive resource use was “a bottleneck holding back China’s economic and social development”, and the situation remained grave.

RelatedHuman Rights: There’s an App for that, by Jonathan Manthorpe   Column

An air quality monitor atop the United States Embassy in China  confirmed for the Chinese people what they instinctively knew:  their government lies to them. It has instigated a middle class protest that has the ruling Communist Party scurrying to respond on air pollution.

Smog has lingered over large parts of northern China for most of the last two weeks, caused by increased coal use for winter heating as well as “unfavorable weather conditions,” even though overall concentrations of small, unhealthy airborne particles known as PM2.5 fell 6 percent during 2016, according to environment ministry data.

The paper says emissions will be controlled through stricter emissions caps on large industries, adjusting China’s industrial structure and widening the range of companies required to curb pollution. Vehicle emissions will also be curtailed through tighter fuel standards.

The new 2016-2020 “energy saving and emissions cutting” plan also made commitments to boost recycling and shut energy-guzzling firms that fail to meet efficiency standards. It also vowed to use “market mechanisms” to fight waste and pollution.

In a separate announcement on Friday, the ministry said power generators and paper mills in Beijing, Hebei and Tianjin would be part of a pilot “emissions permit” scheme to be set up in the region later this year.

The government said last November that the country would create a nationwide emissions permit system covering all major industrial sectors by 2020.

Eventually companies will have to buy permits to cover their excess emissions. China wants highly polluting sectors like thermal power and papermaking, as well as sectors suffering from overcapacity, to be covered by the end of 2017.

Copyright Reuters 2017

(Reporting by David Stanway; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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Human Rights: There’s an App for that

A chimney of a power plant is pictured among smog as a red alert for air pollution is issued in Beijing. REUTERS/Stringer

A chimney of a power plant is pictured among smog as a red alert for air pollution is issued in Beijing. REUTERS/Stringer

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
January 7, 2017

At the heart of one of the most effective and simple human rights campaigns of recent years is a box on a roof in Beijing.

In its quiet way, that box has confirmed for the Chinese people what they instinctively knew; that their government lies to them consistently about the state of the country.

It has also been an instigator of a middle class protest movement that has sent the ruling Communist Party scurrying to respond.

Indeed, it is easy to imagine scenarios in which that unassuming rooftop box trips a chain of falling dominoes that drives the Communist Party from power.

The box is an air quality monitor and it was installed in 2008 atop the United States Embassy in the diplomatic Chaoyang district of Beijing, a couple of kilometres from Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. The original idea behind setting up the monitor was to provide information to embassy staff and other Americans about Beijing’s notorious air polluting smogs. The monitor was set to Tweet out air quality readings every hour, and thus give recipients some opportunity to protect themselves against the worst pollution.

According to a Peking University study, close to 3,000 people die prematurely each year in Beijing because of air pollution, which regularly hits more than ten times the level the World Health Organization considers safe. Nationwide in China, smog kills nearly two million people, mostly as result of burning coal to fuel China’s power grid and the archaic industries behind its economic revolution of the last 30 years.

Related story: China tackles air pollution, by Reuters

SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China plans cuts in major sources of air pollution including sulphur dioxide and will promote more public transport in large cities, the government said, as the country’s north grapples with a lingering smog crisis.

This week in Beijing and the surrounding province was typical. In much of northern China on Monday the pollution level hit 400 micrograms per cubic meter of air. The WHO identifies the tiny particles known as PM 2.5 as the most dangerous because they can cause lung disease and even enter the blood stream. The organization says 25 PM 2.5 micrograms per cubic meter of air is the safe level.

On Wednesday the Beijing authorities issued a “red alert,” saying air pollution was at the highest level and hazardous to health. Smog brought down visibility to less than 50 meters, and many flights had to be cancelled. At Tianjin, the port city 100 kilometres from Beijing, 2,000 people were stranded on a cruise ship for two days because the smog was too thick for the vessel to be able to dock safely. Indeed, on Tuesday the maritime safety authorities stopped harbour traffic in all three of China’s main northern ports because of smog.

For years, the Chinese authorities have conducted an Orwellian campaign of disinformation aimed at convincing people not to believe the evidence of their eyes and wheezing lungs. Then, along came the monitor on the roof of the U.S. embassy, whose hourly Tweets were quickly picked up and rebroadcast by local groups, such as Air Quality in China (aqicn.org) on their own sites. Beijing residents quickly decided that the readings from the U.S. embassy roof were a good deal more reliable and accurate than the fanciful figures put out by Chinese authorities. For example, a comparison of the readings from the U.S. embassy monitor and those taken by local authorities at the nearby Chaoyang Agricultural Exhibition Centre show that the readings from the embassy roof are regularly 50 per cent higher, and often much more.

The popularity of the U.S. embassy readings and the implicit criticism from Beijing residents that they didn’t believe a word the Chinese authorities were telling them bit deep.

As is often the case with the Chinese Communist Party, its first instinct when challenged by its citizens or anyone else is to strike out. The authorities ordered the embassy to stop releasing the air monitor data, saying “such readings were illegal.” When that didn’t work and the embassy stuck to its guns, Chinese state-controlled media mounted a massive campaign of propaganda articles explaining in copious detail why the U.S. embassy readings were so much higher than those from the local authorities’ monitors.

In November, 2014, as Beijing was about to host the summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum, the authorities leaned on the people running the Air Quality in China web site and forced them to stop running the readings from the U.S. embassy monitor. Over three years later, that ban is still in force, though the aqicn.com site still has the readings from the nearby Chaoyang Agricultural Exhibition Centre monitor.

But even as the Communist Party was trying to gallop over public criticism of both air quality and the party’s dishonesty about the situation, it was beginning to take the matter seriously. China’s air quality and other pollution issues were at the core of a distinct shift in social awareness around 2013.

For years China has experienced extraordinary levels of social unrest that go largely unseen and unrecorded in the West. The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), the main think tank gathering information and offering advice to China’s government, collects information on riots and another incidents of communal unrest. It pays particular attention to what are called “mass incidents,” which are defined as riots involving more than 1,000 people and which require riot squads or other violent police action to restore order.

The CASS used to publish each year the number of such incidents, but gave up doing so around 2011, after the number had stuck for several years at around 180,000 incidents over a 12 month period. That’s close to 500 riots a day on average, and even though CASS no longer publishes the figures, people in the know say the annual numbers have not changed much in the last five years.

What has changed, though, is the reasons for this tide of riots. Until about 2013 the vast majority were spurred by popular unhappiness at some piece of corruption or other venal act by local party officials, or their relatives or cronies. But about four years ago that changed and the main cause of riots became public outrage at China’s deadly reality of air, water and soil pollution. It is not only China’s air that is deadly. Most food and water are contaminated by toxic heavy metals. Chinese who can afford it spend large amounts of money buying imported food and bottled water from countries with strong food safety regulations.

In an essay late in 2013, David Roberts, the former Regional Strategic Advisor for USAID-Asia, noted that earlier that year the Chinese authorities had set up sensitive air quality monitors capable of reading pollution levels about 500 micrograms of PM2.5 per cubic meter in over 70 cities around China. At the same time, Beijing announced plans to spend billions of dollars on pollution reduction and announced ambitious targets to clean up the air in China’s major cities.

(The Americans have kept pace and installed roof-top monitors in all their consulates across China.)

Improvements cannot come fast enough for Chinese city dwellers. A major question for the authorities is how patient the citizenry will be. The evidence from this week is that citizens in Beijing in particular are at the end of their tether.

Although the air pollution levels in Beijing were especially bad this week, the capital has been under a pall of smog for close to a month. It is so bad that many children have fallen sick, and are coughing and wheezing. Early in the week people began sharing their experiences and outrages on a social network site called WeChat. On Wednesday, an online petition was set up demanding that the authorities install air filtration systems in the capital’s schools. Within 24 hours the site had attracted an audience of about 500,000 and nearly 3,000 peopler had made comments.

The capital city government reacted swiftly to this growing public movement and has now promised to equip Beijing’s schools with air filtration systems. It is an abrupt about face from just over a year ago when the city authorities said such systems could not be installed because of inadequate electricity supplies in most schools. And, anyway, with children barging in and out of school doorways all day long such a system would be ineffectual anyway.

It remains to be seen, of course, whether the Beijing authorities or the administrations in other Chinese cities follow through on the promise. And the greater problem of China’s toxic industries and power plants remains. But for one of the first times in modern history, the Chinese regime has had to listen and respond to citizens’ concerns. That’s a step forward from which it will be hard for the Communist Party to retreat. And a significant role in that achievement was played not by loud banging on about human rights from outside China, but by a box on a roof.

 

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2016

Contact, including queries about syndication/republishing: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

 

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Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. He is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan,” and has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

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Beijing’s imperial ambitions run aground on legal reefs

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
July 16, 2016

Chinese dredging vessels in the waters around Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. U.S. Navy photo, Public Domain

Chinese dredging vessels in the waters around Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. U.S. Navy photo, Public Domain

The ruling this week by the Permanent Court of Arbitration, that China’s claim to sovereignty over about 90 per cent of the South China Sea is invalid and unlawful, will have profound effects on the tenor and timbre of the growing power struggle in Asia.

The 497-page decision by the five judges under the authority of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is a sharp and humiliating rebuke to Beijing, which for two decades has been strutting and preening as the self-appointed natural super power of the region.

The judgement says there is no legal backing for Beijing’s claim to most of the South China Sea, across whose waters about half the world’s merchant shipping travels every day. China’s construction of seven islands on reefs and islets it claims, is entirely illegal. And Beijing is responsible for unacceptable environmental damage to coral reefs and other submarine features, as well as devastating effects on marine wildlife by its rapacious fishing fleets.

Beijing’s response this week was to dismiss the court and its judgement as “null and void,” while government-owned media issued thinly disguised threats of a military response if any serious challenges are made to its territorial claims. These threats were aimed at Washington, which has not only affirmed the traditional maritime rights of freedom of passage by sending warships and naval flotillas through waters claimed by China, but is also giving military support to China’s neighbours.

Beijing may dismiss the judgement, but it cannot avoid the authority of the decision. The government of President Xi Jinping must now recognise that what is on the line is Beijing’s trustworthiness as an international partner in everything from trade deals to the working of the UN Security Council. In all likelihood Beijing will, for a while at least, lower the tone of its rhetoric on its territorial claims and probably pull back from its head-butting with its neighbours, Vietnam and the Philippines in particular. What Beijing won’t do, however, is abandon the seven illegal military outposts. Beijing thinks a generation down the road and believes that, in the end, the reality of occupation trounces the law. That strategy has worked well on its colonial occupation of Tibet and Xinjiang, the denial of promised democratic rights to Hong Kong, and would be used with equal utility if Beijing could ever get its hands on the island nation of Taiwan.

The U.S., distracted by a bizarre presidential election campaign that is shrouded in foreboding for the future of the country’s global stature, will not move to assert the court’s ruling. Neither will the Southeast Asian countries whose maritime territory China contests. Beijing has managed to make the South China Sea territorial disputes a hugely divisive issue among the 10 countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The Chinese government has used its overpowering economic relationships with non-affected ASEAN states such as Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Myanmar to ensure there is no consensus on how to address Beijing on the issue or even to agree to discuss it.

Nevertheless, China’s imperial pretensions, and its heavy investment in the last two decades in building a modern and threatening high seas navy, have received a significant check. It is also an important piece of symbolism that on this occasion Beijing’s military advances have been confronted by the international rule of law, rather than a military push-back of some kind from the U.S. or Japan.

The weakest link in the apparent power of the Chinese regime at home and abroad is that it does not believe in the rule of law. Specifically, it does not believe that the Communist Party regime is subject to the same rules as ordinary Chinese. At home, there is plenty of evidence that the regime is doomed unless it accepts the rule of law and all the political and social consequences that flow from that. On the international front, this decision by the Permanent Court of Arbitration presents Beijing with perhaps its clearest choice in recent years between being a dependable player on the world stage, or deciding that the road to super power status travels through confrontation and bullying.

It is that low road that brought Beijing to this humiliating court judgement.

Beijing has sought confrontations with Tokyo, its ancient adversary, over claims to Japan’s Senkaku Islands, but has been wary of pushing too hard against the economic and military muscle of its island neighbour. Even so, Japan is alarmed at China’s aggression. The significant victory in this week’s elections by the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to open the way for constitutional changes that will allow Japan to play a more overt military role in the region in concert with allies such as the U.S., Australia and countries of Southeast Asia.

The Chinese government has been far more aggressive and assertive against what it sees as the easily cowed nations to the south. It the last few years Beijing’s navy, coast guard and fishing fleets operating as maritime militias have invaded the economic zones in the South China Sea claimed by Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and even Indonesia, over 1,200 kilometres from the Chinese mainland.

Beijing’s imperial posturing reached something of a zenith in recent months as it constructed seven islands on rocks and reefs in the Paracel and Spratly chains of islets. Some have now been equipped with airfields and all are garrisoned with soldiers or paramilitaries. Most, if not all, have missile defence systems and radar facilities that Beijing could use to impose an air defence identification zone (ADIZ) over the 3.5 million square kilometre South China Sea if it chooses to do so.

With some poetic justice, it is the push-back by the weakest of those littoral states, the Philippines, which has given Beijing a drubbing and changed the future course of regional power politics.

In 2013, after Chinese ships roughly expelled Philippines’ fishing boats from havens in Scarborough Shoals, an area of the South China Sea clearly within Manila’s 200 nautical mile “exclusive economic zone” (EEZ), the administration of then president, Begnino “Noynoy” Aquino decided to take Beijing to court. Manila asked the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague, founded in 1899 and the world’s oldest institution for settling international disputes, to rule on Beijing’s claims and behaviour in the South China Sea.

From the start, Beijing refused to have anything to do with the judicial proceedings, which it dismissed as a “farce,” despite having ratified UNCLOS in 1996. The court therefore took into consideration public statements Beijing has made about its claim that the South China Sea and its islets and reefs have been Chinese territory “since ancient times.” Of particular import in the Beijing case is the map of the South China Sea marked with a “nine-dash” line that appears to show nearly 90 per cent of the sea as Chinese territory. This map was produced in 1947 by the Kuomintang government of China that was defeated in the civil war by the Communists in 1949.

Modern Beijing has always been purposefully ambiguous about what it claims the “nine-dash” line represents. The strength with which Beijing affirms its claims depends entirely on how firmly they are challenged. Sometimes Beijing suggests it has full sovereignty over the area within the line. At other times the suggestion is that, although Beijing claims the Spratly and Paracel islets, it has only economic interests in the fisheries and submarine oil and gas reserves in the bulk of the region.

A central strand in the court decision is to clarify several of the questions stemming from the creation of UNCLOS in 1982 about the degrees of sovereignty that accompany ownership, occupation and use of islands, islets, rocks and reefs. As such, this is a precedent-setting judgement that has profound implications world-wide for nations that base territorial and economic claims on possession of maritime outcrops. That includes Canada’s claims in the Arctic, some of which are challenged by Russia, Denmark and the U.S.

The court’s 15 main findings fall into three areas. The first deals with the status of “historic rights” under the UNCLOS regime, the second with the degree of sovereignty imparted by possession of rocks and reefs versus islands, and the third with China’s behaviour in the South China Sea.

The panel’s first assertion is that by ratifying and therefore accepting the dominance of UNCLOS in 1996, Beijing voluntarily erased all its “historic rights” in maritime regions. Beijing cannot, said the judgement, accept UNCLOS and assert its old territorial claims at the same time.

Throughout its escapades in the South China Sea, Beijing has acted as though the islets, rocks and reefs it claims in the Paracel and Spratly chains give it full sovereign rights. These would include the surrounding 12 nautical miles (22 kilometres) of territorial waters, and, more significantly, the 200 nautical miles (370 kilometres) exclusive economic zone. It is this surrounding 370 kilometre EEZ, covering rich fishing grounds and what look like significant submarine oil and gas reserves, that has been asserted by Beijing to justify its claim to 90 per cent of the South China Sea right down to Indonesian territorial waters.

The court says, in effect, that China’s claim is bunk. All of the islets in the Spratly chain are what the panel defines as rocks. The judges’ criteria are that unless a maritime feature in its unaltered state can sustain human habitation or economic life, it is a rock that does not give EEZ rights, only the 12 nautical miles of territorial waters. China’s massive illegal construction project in recent months to build seven islands does not change that, say the judges. Even if the Spratly islets do belong to China, said the judgement, they are within the Philippines’ EEZ, whose claim predominates outside the 12 nautical mile of territorial waters.

That passage will make uncomfortable reading for Japan, which claims a 200 nautical mile EEZ around Okinotorishima, a man-made research station on a coral atoll 1,740 kilometres south of Tokyo in the Philippine Sea. The judgement makes it clear there is no foundation for Japan’s EEZ claim.

In the third area of the judgement the panel is highly critical of the behaviour of Chinese forces and agencies. It was illegal in 2011 for China to interfere with Philippines oil and gas surveys in the Reed Bank northeast of the Spratly Islands, say the judges. The judgement only deals directly with complaints by the Philippines, so it does not address the incident in 2014 when the Chinese moved an oil exploration rig into waters south of the Paracel Islands claimed by Vietnam. The judgement suggests that action by Beijing, and others where Chinese ships have purposefully damaged oil exploration gear being used on behalf of Vietnam, were also illegal.

Equally illegal, says the court, have been the operations of Chinese fishing fleets within the 200 nautical mile EEZ of the Philippines coast. Even more unbecoming has been Chinese treatment of Philippine fisherfolk, when the perils of the sea demand mutual support among seafarers irrespective of nationality. Chinese Coast Guards’ denial of access to the sanctuary of a lagoon in Scarborough Shoal in the Spratlys was unacceptable, says the judgement.

As well as declaring Beijing’s island-building illegal, the panel also looked at the effects of this construction and of its industrial-scale fishing operations. The judges concluded Beijing’s dredging operations to build its island military bases caused “severe harm to the coral reef environment.” More “severe damage” to threatened species and the environment has been caused by China-flagged fishing vessels harvesting giant clams, turtles and coral.

Ironically, the conclusive victory for the Philippines’ case causes problems for the country’s new president, Rodrigo Duterte, who was inaugurated last month. One of his election promises was to improve relations with China, which had soured under the administration of his predecessor, President Aquino. Duterte is hungry for Chinese investment in infrastructure, especially for a railway network he lusts to build. He says he’s open to reviving bilateral talks with Beijing over joint exploitation of the resources in the contested area of the South China Sea. But thus far, Beijing insists Manila disavow the arbitration court’s decision before there can be bilateral negotiations. Duterte cannot go that far without risking a backlash from outraged Filipinos.

And Beijing too risks a backlash. In recent years the party’s propaganda machine has invested heavily in stirring up nationalist fervour in support of its territorial claims, in large part to divert attention from the economic slump and the endemic outlandish corruption of senior officials and their relatives. The proud image of a militarily rampant China has found much support – though there are also very many thoughtful Chinese who find it distasteful and dangerous. If Beijing now finds it necessary to slink away from its boastful bluster, there is no telling how the public will react.

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2016

Contact: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com. Please address queries about syndication/republishing this column to jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

Link:

Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague, decision.

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Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. He is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan,” and has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

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Taiwan tells China not to fear democracy

Paramilitary policemen hold weapons as they provide security near the Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China June 4, 2016.   REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

Paramilitary policemen hold weapons as they provide security near the Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China June 4, 2016. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

By J.R. Wu
June 4, 2016

TAIPEI (Reuters) – On the anniversary of China’s bloody crackdown on student-led protests in and around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, Taiwan’s new president told China on Saturday that democracy is nothing to fear.

Tsai Ing-wen said in a Facebook post on the 27th anniversary that Taiwan could serve as an example to China.

Tsai said in the run-up to Taiwan’s elections earlier this year that she had seen people from China, as well as the Chinese territories of Hong Kong and Macau, mixing with crowds in Taiwan.

“These many friends, after experiencing things for themselves can see that in fact there’s nothing scary about democracy. Democracy is a good and fine thing,” wrote Tsai, who took office last month.

China sent in tanks to break up the demonstrations on June 4, 1989. Beijing has never released a death toll but estimates from human rights groups and witnesses range from several hundred to several thousand.

The subject remains all but taboo in China, where President Xi Jinping is overseeing a broad crackdown on rights groups and activists.

Taiwan tells China not to fear democracy Above, a flag-raising ceremony at the Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China June 4, 2016.   REUTERS/Damir Sagolj.

Taiwan tells China not to fear democracy Above, a flag-raising ceremony at the Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China June 4, 2016. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj.

Tsai also said in her Facebook post about the Tiananmen crackdown’s anniversary that nobody could deny the material advances China had made under the Communist Party.

However, China would win even more respect internationally if it gave its people even more rights, wrote Tsai, who is from Taiwan’s pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party.

Taiwan is the only part of the Chinese-speaking world which holds free elections, and Tsai risks upsetting Beijing with her frank remarks on Tiananmen.

China has never renounced the use of force to bring what it views as a wayward province under its control and is deeply suspicious of Tsai. Chinese officials have accused her of pushing the island towards formal independence.

In Beijing, security was tight at Tiananmen Square, with long lines at bag and identity checks. The square itself was peaceful, with hundreds of tourists stopping to take photos in the early summer sun.

While most state media made no mention of the sensitive anniversary, the English version of popular Beijing-based tabloid the Global Times wrote in a commentary that people in China had put the events of 1989 behind them.

“The annual hubbub around the June 4 incident is nothing but bubbles that are doomed to burst.”

China dismissed a statement by the U.S. Department of State on the political turbulence in 1989, urging the United States not to harm bilateral ties, the official Xinhua news service reported.

Tsai said Taiwan understood the pain caused by Tiananmen because Taiwan had similar experiences in its struggle for democracy, referring to repression under the martial law enforced by the Nationalists over the island from 1949 to 1987.

“I’m not here to give advice about the political system on the other side of the Taiwan Strait, but am willing to sincerely share Taiwan’s democratic experience,” she said.

In Hong Kong, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997 and is the only place on Chinese soil where June 4 commemorations are tolerated, around 125,000 people attended the main candlelight vigil in Victoria Park, according to organizers’ estimates, which local broadcaster RTHK said was the lowest attendance since 2008.

The police estimated attendance at 21,800.

In a sign of persistent tensions around Hong Kong’s future and its relationship to mainland China, an activist shouting for Hong Kong independence tried to rush the stage at the vigil.

A number of university students boycotted the main vigil and instead held separate on-campus events discussing the city’s current political situation instead of just commemorating the events of 1989.

Reuters estimated about 2,000 people attended events at local universities.

Pro-Beijing groups cordoned off areas near Victoria Park where they set up mainland Chinese flags and shredded yellow umbrellas to symbolize Hong Kong’s 2014 street protests that called for democratic reforms but failed to achieve them.

Copyright Reuters 2016

(Additional reporting by Faith Hung, and Ben Blanchard in BEIJING, Venus Wu, Teenie Ho, Tris Pan, Sue-Lin Wong, Hera Poon, Joyce Zhou and Clare Baldwin in HONG KONG; Editing by Paul Tait and Hugh Lawson)

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Since Tsai Ing-wen was elected president of Taiwan in January, the Chinese regime of Xi Jinping has done everything it can to inflame cross-strait relations by goading her into making an outraged response. Tsai, who was inaugurated President of the island nation of 23 million people on May 20, has refused to react in the way Beijing wants.

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Hong Kong activists split over Tiananmen Square

For the first time, Hong Kong’s Federation of Students, a coalition of student unions, will not take part in the Victoria Park demonstrations. Instead, it will help organize a number of events and demonstrations confronting democracy and even independence in Hong Kong’s future.

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
June 4, 2016.

By ryanne lai/香港人一條心/Flickr, Creative Commons

A candlelight vigil in Hong Kong in 2009, on the 20th anniversary of the June 4 incident. Photo by Ryanne Lai/香港人一條心/Flickr, Creative Commons

There will be many fewer people this year at Hong Kong’s annual demonstration to mark the anniversary of the 1989 crushing by the army of the student protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square and many other city centres around China.

But the Beijing government should take no comfort from the decision by many student organizations in Hong Kong to boycott the annual gathering, which has regularly seen 100,000 people or more gather for a night-time vigil at Victoria Park in the city’s Causeway Bay district.

The students have decided that the Victoria Park demonstration, with its emphasis on seeking democratic reform in China, does not meet their aspirations. The students want democracy or even independence for Hong Kong. They don’t care much what happens in China and they don’t think it’s their responsibility.

This schism in the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong should be more concerning for Beijing than the old mass protests every June 4. It stems from the fact that more and more of Hong Kong’s 7.2 million people do not identify themselves as Chinese citizens. They think of themselves culturally and politically as Hongkongers. These feelings are especially strong among the young, which means that this identity crisis is likely to intensify as the years pass.

For the first time, the territory’s Federation of Students, a coalition of student unions, will not take part in the Victoria Park demonstrations. Instead, it will help organize a number of events and demonstrations confronting democracy and even independence in Hong Kong’s future.

Chow Shue Fan, one of the student organizers, told Singapore’s “The Straits Times” newspaper this week: “The candlelight vigil is calling for a democratic China. But we don’t think we are Chinese and so we don’t have a responsibility to remember June 4. Whatever significance it holds for China, it means nothing to us.”

In another interview Chow added that he considers the candlelight vigils to be “part of a package to indoctrinate participants” into believing they are Chinese and that their political fate is inexorably linked to that of China.

It is true that the leading figures of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement have usually presented themselves as Chinese patriots whose only problem is the autocratic, anti-democratic instincts of the Chinese Communist Party. They shy away from notions of Hong Kong independence and say the best path to assuring the territory’s autonomy is to promote democracy in China.

This strategy does not impress many of the Hong Kong-nationalist students and young people. An editorial in one student newspaper this week went so far as to characterise the June 4 vigil old guard as “pimps and bawds in a brothel.”

This development is an indictment of the way Beijing has handled its relations with Hong Kong since the territory was handed back to Chinese sovereignty in 1997 after 156 years of British colonial rule.

Several pollsters and university projects have kept track of Hongkongers perception of themselves since 1997. At the time of the handover and for a short period afterwards there was a surge in Chinese patriotism, but since then there has been a steady decline in Hongkongers’ attachment to the mainland, even though about 95 per cent of them are ethnic Chinese. Instead, more and more of the territory’s people identify themselves either as exclusively Hongkongers – 40 per cent — or Hongkongers first and Chinese second – 27 per cent. Only 18 per cent of Hongkongers identify themselves as exclusively Chinese.

Yet at the time of the handover Hongkongers had high expectations that Beijing would stick to its agreement with London, allow the territory to continue running itself “with a high degree of autonomy,” observe the continuation of the British-style rule of law, and facilitate the swift transition to full democracy.

That has not happened. Early on, Beijing made it clear that the rule of law applies in Hong Kong only so long as it does not challenge the supreme power of the Chinese Communist Party.

Beijing allowed the autonomy of Hong Kong’s administration and legislative assembly to continue. However, this was only because Beijing ensured it controlled the governors – known as the Chief Executive – and that a majority of the members of the legislature were business people economically dependent on their commercial relations with China.

As for the democracy timetable, well that kept disappearing into the future. Matters came to a head in 2014 when Beijing released a ruling on the direct election of the Chief Executive in 2017. The ruling was that candidates must be “patriotic” and would have to be approved by Beijing.

This sparked what became known as the “Umbrella Revolution,” as protesters, mostly students, occupied two commercial centres in Hong Kong and brought them to a standstill for weeks. The demonstrations got their name because protesters used their umbrellas to fend off tear gas used against them by the police.

These protests closed down the Central business district on Victoria Island and Mongkok in Kowloon for 79 days. These mass occupations and the political debates among the protesters fixed the notions of Hong Kong’s cultural and political separateness from China that had been building since the handover.

The umbrella protests effectively put an end to the plans, however constrained, to directly elect the Chief Executive next year. However, it was a Pyrrhic victory. Beijing will carry on using a committee of its sycophants to “elect” the governor, and is probably quite happy that it will not have to manipulate anything as complex as direct elections for the foreseeable future.

This was not the first time since the handover that Beijing has had its plans foiled by the mass opposition of Hong Kong people. When, at Beijing’s behest, the Hong Kong government attempted to introduce a highly restrictive anti-subversion law in 2003, at least 500,000 people took to the streets in a peaceful march through the city’s main business district. The peacefulness of the march and the participation of very many middle class people not usually associated with the pro-democracy movement made its impact even more powerful. The Hong Kong administration shelved the legislation and has not tried to reintroduce it.

There was another mass protest in 2012 when, again at Beijing’s insistence, the Hong Kong government tried to impose a “patriotic education curriculum” into schools. Again there was a public outcry, and the government backed down.

So this year may mark the beginning of the end of the era of the June 4 vigils, which began in 1989 when at least one million Hongkongers took to the streets in protest when the news of the massacre in Tiananmen Square began to filtre through. And in the following months, Hong Kong became an important sanctuary and escape root for Chinese pro-reform demonstrators who managed to avoid the dragnet by Chinese authorities.

But that was all a generation ago. Hong Kong’s new activists were in their cribs or not even born in 1989. For them, the reality of Beijing’s repression is here and now, and it is trying to impose on them a cultural and political heritage that they find alien and unacceptable.

Beijing will probably find that the new Hong Kong is far more difficult to manage and control than the old one.

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2016

Contact: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com. Please address queries about syndication/republishing this column to jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

 

Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. He is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan,” and has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

~~~

Real journalism is not free. If you value evidence-based, non-partisan, spam-free information, please support Facts and Opinions, an employee-owned collaboration of professional journalists.  Details here.

 

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

 

Posted in Also tagged , , |

Beijing tests mettle of Taiwan’s Iron Lady President

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
May 28, 2016

A television in a sales showroom features Taiwan's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson and presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen during a televised political debate in Taipei, Taiwan, January 8, 2016. REUTERS/Olivia Harris

A television in a sales showroom features Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson and presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen during a televised political debate in Taipei, Taiwan, January 8, 2016. REUTERS/Olivia Harris

Since Tsai Ing-wen was elected president of Taiwan in January, the Chinese regime of Xi Jinping has done everything it can to inflame cross-strait relations by goading her into making an outraged response.

Tsai, who was inaugurated President of the island nation of 23 million people on May 20, has refused to react in the way Beijing wants. She is far too experienced a politician, especially in dealing with the slippery fish in Beijing, to be easily trapped into saying things that can be use against her, especially with Taiwan’s indispensable ally, Washington.

Xi and his boys certainly didn’t plan it this way, but all that their bully tactics in the last four months have done is reinforce what ought to have been evident to everyone for many years.

The relations between Taiwan and China are not a threat to regional security because Taiwan’s people want to keep their status as an independent country. They are a threat because of the imperialist instincts of the Beijing regime, which, without any historic, legal, moral or political justification, claims to own the island and its people.

The friction in this fault line in Asian security is growing not because Tsai and her pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) won for the first time both the presidential and parliamentary elections in January.

The tectonic plates are grinding because Xi in Beijing is a belligerent and vengeful autocrat who is trying to use manufactured patriotism to divert public attention from the economic, social and political failures of his regime.

Beijing has sneered and questioned the sincerity of Tsai’s commitments to maintain stable relations with China; statements made in both her victory speech in January and at her inauguration a week ago.

A major reason a clear majority of Taiwan’s voters elected Tsai and the DPP was the party’s pledge to revive the economy and lessen its dependence on trade with China. But within hours of Taiwan’s election day Beijing made it clear it intends to use every weapon in its arsenal to foil the new government’s efforts to rebuild the island’s economy. This crass and indefensible attack on the internal affairs of a foreign country has continued Beijing’s bile is not just institutional. It has shown it can and will abduct Taiwanese citizens anywhere and at any time it chooses.

The personal attacks on Tsai have become more and more pointed. A few days ago a senior Beijing official responsible for China’s relations with Taiwan wrote in state-controlled media that Tsai is not fit to lead a government because she is a women, and therefore temperamentally unsuited to the task.

In fact, there are few elected leaders around today who have come to office with as many accomplishments or essential experience as does Tsai. She is a lawyer who got her first degree at Taiwan’s National University, went on to do a masters degree at Cornell and gained her doctorate at the London School of Economics. On her return to Taiwan she taught law for several years before being spotted as one of the brightest and best of her generation by then-President Lee Tung-hui of the Kuomintang party. Lee was the island’s first Taiwanese president and also the first directly elected leader. In the 1990s Tsai worked for him both as a national security adviser and as a drafter of China policy. She also negotiated Taiwan’s entry in 2000 into the World Trade Organization.

When the DPP’s Chen Shui-bian won the presidency in 2000, Tsai became the main adviser on relations with China. This marked Tsai’s transition to political commitment to the DPP. She has been through the political mill, running unsuccessfully both for mayor of New Taipei, and for president, before her victory in January.

She has a wealth of political, economic, diplomatic and administrative experience.

Tsai has taken some risk in the very measured statements she has made about her approach to cross-Strait relations. Tsai has repeated that she wants to maintain the status quo in relations with Beijing and that she will respect the agreements made by the previous Kuomintang government of Ma Ying-jeou with China.

This has been disappointing for many of her supporters, who want to call Beijing’s bluff and move to have the reality of their independence recognized internationally.

But Tsai’s measured caution is not enough for Beijing. It has ranted against the “ambiguity” of her statements. In particular, Beijing officials have railed against her for not explicitly recognizing the so-called “1992 Consensus.” In this agreement Taipei and Beijing said there is “One China,” but without saying what that entailed. For Taipei it meant there is one China, but Taiwan is not part of it. For Beijing it means Taiwan is a renegade province and should submit to China’s sovereignty or risk military invasion.

Tsai comes to office with an ambitious five-point plan to revive Taiwan’s economy and enhance the island’s social structure.

Taiwan has a formidable international reputation for high-tech innovation. But in recent decades Taiwanese companies have followed the international trend and moved their manufacturing and assembly operations to China. Tsai wants to reverse this and to encourage development of new specializations in such areas as biotechnology that are not dependent on supply chains involving China

In the same vein, she wants to lessen Taiwan’s dependence on exports to China by expanding the island’s reach into the Southeast Asian and Indian markets. Tsai is also intent on seeking membership in the U.S.-led, 12-member Trans-Pacific Partnership, and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which includes the 10 countries of Southeast Asia, China, India and Japan.

Her problem is that Beijing has a long history of using its economic muscle to blackmail other countries not to admit Taiwan to trade or other international organizations without China’s agreement.

Beijing has made it clear it intends to continue its economic warfare against Taiwan. Soon after the DPP’s election victory Beijing announced it was cutting the number of Chinese tourists allowed to visit the island. This did not have the desired effect, as many Taiwanese breathed a sigh of relief. The Chinese visitors have become notorious for their ill manners and arrogance, just as they have in Hong Kong, where the administration had to plead with Beijing to cut the visa quotas so as to avoid a serious backlash against the tourists.

In Taiwan, Chinese tourists had swarmed famous attractions like Sun Moon Lake and the Taroko Gorge in such numbers that local visitors have been driven out. And in the National Palace Museum the ill manners and discourtesy of the Chinese tourists reached the level where museum staff found it necessary to post dozens of notices with information about how to behave in a public place.

If Beijing’s tourist gambit misfired, another ploy did not. Taiwan has formal diplomatic relations with only 21 countries. Most nations have downgraded their diplomatic representation in Taipei as the price of having full bilateral relations with Beijing. Several small countries, however, found regularly switching diplomatic relations between Taiwan and China was a very profitable business. During his eight-years in office former Taiwan President Ma negotiated an unofficial end to this “dollar diplomacy.” But in March, the small African state of Gambia, which had previously recognized Taiwan, announced it was establishing diplomatic relations with Beijing. This move clearly came after pressure from China and is undoubtedly intended as a warning to Taipei that Beijing will step up its efforts to enforce Taiwan’s diplomatic isolation.

There was an even nastier example of Beijing’s vengeful nature in April, when Kenya was persuaded to force 45 Taiwanese on to planes to China. The 45 had been implicated in a fraudulent telemarketing scheme aimed at China. All were tried in Kenya and most acquitted. But China told the Nairobi government it wanted the Taiwanese, claiming they are Chinese citizens. Kenya herded the first batch of eight Taiwanese onto a China-bound plane on April 8. When another 28 Taiwanese, being held in jail, heard what had happened they barricaded themselves in their cells, Kenyan police stormed the prison and took the prisoners to the airport.

Taipei accused China of “extrajudicial abduction,” but Beijing insists it has the right to detain and try the Taiwanese.

Beijing’s abuse has also been aimed directly at Tsai. A long and thorough assessment of her was published this week in the International Herald Leader, a subsidiary of the state-controlled Xinhua news agency. The article was written by Wang Weixing, a council member of the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait, Beijing’s arms-length organization for dealing unofficially with Taipei. Wang is also head of the foreign military studies department of the People’s Liberation Army Academy of Military Sciences.

What caught contemptuous international attention this week was that half way through the essay Wang comments that “as a politician who is single, Tsai is unencumbered by feelings of love, and is without constraints of a family or the need to care for children, her political style and action strategy commonly incline toward emotionalism, individualism and extremism.”

The article concludes that “Tsai Ing-wen’s personality is clearly two-faced.”

While the reaction has focused on Wang’s misogyny, his overall judgement on Tsai should give Beijing cause for concern. He described a very tough, determined and experienced person who will not be easily manipulated by Beijing and who is a formidable opponent.

For Tsai, her major day-to-day problem will be satisfying the expectations of the people who voted for her and the DPP. In 2014 thousands of mostly young Taiwanese occupied the parliament, the Legislative Yuan, to block an expanded free trade deal with China planned by the Ma administration. The protesters succeeded, but also established that as well as being deeply suspicious of economic relations with China, young Taiwanese are confident of their own identity and are increasingly frustrated that their nationhood is not internationally recognized.

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2016
Contact: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com. Please address queries about syndication/republishing this column to jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

Correction, May 30:  Tsai Ing-wen ran for mayor of New Taipei, not Taipei, as stated in the original column. New Taipei was called Taipei County until 2010 and is in fact the large area around downtown Taipei, the capital.

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Links:

Translation of Tsai Ing-wen profile, by Wang Weixing, International Herald Leader, a subsidiary of the state-controlled Xinhua news agency: http://solidaritytw.tumblr.com/post/144997215206/aratspla-officials-contentious-tsai-ing-wen

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China’s leader Xi Jinping is facing serious criticism from within the ruling Communist Party as the time approaches when he must be reconfirmed as party boss and the country’s president. Since being selected by the party at the end of 2012 for China’s two top posts, Xi has raised hackles by using an anti-corruption drive to remove his political rivals, fostering an unseemly cult of personality, ramping up censorship and suppressing of dissent, and grasping more personal power than any leader since Mao Zedong.

SOUTH CHINA SEA (Jan. 15, 2016) The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG 54) conducts a live fire gunnery exercise with its 5-inch .54-caliber gun. Curtis Wilbur is on patrol in the 7th Fleet area of operations in support of security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt.j.g. Jonathan Peterson, Public DomaineChina’s island building in defence of nuclear missile submarines

China’s island building in the South China Sea shows the challenges awaiting America’s next president. Forget the Islamic State group and the quagmire of the Middle East. Asia and the confrontation with China is where the real threat to North American interests lie. Indeed, the situation is fast approaching something that looks strikingly similar to the Cold War with the Soviet Union.

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Familiarity with China breeds contempt in Hong Kong

The only surprise in the Monday night clashes between Hong Kong police and demonstrators demanding self-rule is that it hasn’t happened before.  In all likelihood the Mong Kok riots herald increasingly violent clashes as Hongkongers vent their frustrations with Beijing’s refusal to keep its promises of political reform and the steady erosion of the territory’s freedoms. The Chinese government has only itself to blame for the alienation of Hong Kong’s seven million people.

Beijing bristles as Taiwan prepares to elect pro-independence opposition

Taiwan’s voters are preparing for a rocky ride as they appear set to elect an opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration dedicated to preserving the independence of the island and its 23 million people. If the voters in next year’s presidential election do what they are now telling pollsters they intend, the result will excite anger in Beijing and send a frisson of anxiety through the corridors of power in Washington.

Jonathan Manthorpe is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan.”

 

Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. Manthorpe has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

~~~

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China’s island building in defence of nuclear missile submarines

“China is clearly militarizing the South China Sea, and you’d have to believe in the flat Earth to think otherwise” —  Adm. Harry Harris

SOUTH CHINA SEA (Jan. 15, 2016)  The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG 54) conducts a live fire gunnery exercise with its 5-inch .54-caliber gun. Curtis Wilbur is on patrol in the 7th Fleet area of operations in support of security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt.j.g. Jonathan Peterson, Public Domaine

SOUTH CHINA SEA (Jan. 15, 2016) The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG 54) conducts a live fire gunnery exercise with its 5-inch .54-caliber gun. Curtis Wilbur is on patrol in the 7th Fleet area of operations in support of security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt.j.g. Jonathan Peterson, Public Domain

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
February 26, 2016

Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia/Wikimedia commons

It has been a long and expensive quest, but Beijing has now found a way out of Washington’s straightjacket aimed at blocking China from becoming an imperial power.

For the last 30 years or more, the barrier to China being able to project naval power into the Pacific and Indian oceans has been the control by the United States and its allies of the chain of islands and archipelagos stretching from northern Japan to the Philippines. This “first island chain” has effectively hemmed in Beijing’s navy by keeping eagle eyes on its every move.

Now Beijing has found a way around that barrier by first claiming sovereignty over most of the South China Sea, and now constructing islands with military installations and airstrips in maritime territory claimed by Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei.

When Beijing first began making claims to own 90 per cent of the South China Sea, claims that clearly had no legal or historical merit, the immediate calculation was that China lusted after the submarine oil and natural gas reserves, and the abundant fish stocks. The claim has generated strong push-back from Washington, which insists on the right of free passage across the sea, which carries some 25 per cent of global maritime trade worth over $5 trillion each year.

But the massive program in the last two years of dredging, island building, and military construction on previously untenable shoals and islets right down to Indonesia – about 1,200 kilometres from Chinese territory – has put a whole different complexion on this enterprise. Admiral Harry Harris, commander of the U.S. forces in the Pacific, this week told America’s House Armed Services Committee that China has created more than 1,200 hectares (3,000 acres) of artificial land in the last two years. At least half a dozen of the man-made islands have military bases, most with airstrips, and at least one is home to a squadron of fighter aircraft.

“China is clearly militarizing the South China Sea, and you’d have to believe in the flat Earth to think otherwise,” said Adm. Harris. The admiral added that in order to match China’s increasingly capable naval and air power the U.S. needs “weapons systems of increased lethality that go faster, go further and are more survivable.” He said he is only able to deploy 62 per cent of the attack submarine patrols he needs to be sure of keeping the Chinese forces under control.

A key piece of the puzzle of deciphering Beijing’s intentions came this week with the discovery that China had built a high-frequency radar station on Cuarteron Reef, in the Spratly Islands and midway between southern Vietnam and Malaysia’s Borneo states. Cuarteron Reef is about 1,000 kilometres (600 miles) from the nearest undisputed Chinese territory at Hainan Island.

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Chinese dredging vessels in the waters around Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. U.S. Navy photo, Public Domain

Chinese dredging vessels in the waters around Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. U.S. Navy photo, Public Domain

The supposition is that China is preparing to enforce an air defence identification zone (ADIZ) over the whole of the South China Sea. It has already done this in the East China Sea as a tactical move in its spurious claim to Japan’s Senkaku Islands.

What is emerging is that Beijing is constructing a network of military bastions in the South China Sea to protect its base for its fleet of nuclear missile armed submarines at the southern tip of Hainan Island. The base at Yulin is in massive caves constructed in the sea cliffs and is capable, according to U.S. and Indian intelligence estimates, of housing 20 Type 094, or Jin Class submarines, each carrying 12 intercontinental ballistic missiles. The nuclear missile submarines, known as SSBNs, are able to leave and return to the base submerged, making it hard to spot them from U.S. patrol aircraft or spy satellites.

By taking military control of the South China Sea and attempting to cow the other littoral states, Beijing is trying to ensure it can deploy its SSBNs into the Pacific and Indian oceans without them being detected by the U.S. and its allies.

The South China Sea offers several deepwater passages into the Western Pacific, the major one being the Luzon Strait between Taiwan and the Philippines. But there are others between the Philippines and Malaysia and Indonesia. To get to the Indian Ocean remains more of a problem. The most direct route is through the Malacca Strait, which is well guarded by Washington’s ally, Singapore. To cut the number of times its warships have to transit the Malacca Strait choke point, Beijing has sought port visit privileges, including for its submarines, with Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

China’s naval ambitions are alarming several of its neighbours and driving them into the arms of the U.S. Much to Washington’s delight, China’s rampant military expansion has given Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, the reason he wanted to water down the country’s “pacifist constitution,” imposed after the Second World War. The re-interpretations and amendments to the constitution allow Japanese forces to play a far more assertive role in partnership with allies.

In Southeast Asia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand and even old enemy Vietnam are boosting their military relations with Washington as a bulwark against what looks to them like Beijing’s dream of imperial expansion. However, Beijing has been clever at exerting divide-and-rule pressure among the 10 countries of South East Asia. China has used its economic and political muscle on Laos and Cambodia in particular to ensure that the countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have been unable to develop a common front against Beijing. U.S. President Barack Obama hosted the ASEAN leaders at a landmark summit in California on February 15 and 16. The hope was to develop a united front on the South China Sea issue, and to solidifying economic ties as the group forms a common market modelled on the European Union, and as the Trans- Pacific Partnership free trade agreement approaches completion. Progress on the economic issues was solid, but less so on political matters.

The mere fact that the summit happened underlines the reality that Asia and the growing confrontation with China will loom ever larger on the radar screen of whomever takes over the White House from Obama. It is to be hoped that when the U.S. votes later this year its citizens have in mind the real challenges for the next president. Forget the Islamic State group and the quagmire of the Middle East. Asia and the confrontation with China is where the real threat to North American interests lie. Indeed, the situation is fast approaching something that looks strikingly similar to the Cold War with the Soviet Union.

Washington’s attack submarines are already engaged with the Chinese navy in “The Hunt for Red October” cat-and-mouse games they used to play with the Soviets under the North Atlantic. Those tensions will only increase as Beijing tightens controls over the sea-lanes to Hainan Island and deploys more and more nuclear missile SSBNs.

The situation is all the more dangerous because Beijing’s belligerence is a sign of the weakness of the regime. Weak regimes make mistakes.

Since it gave up the spiritual draw of communism three decades ago, the Chinese regime has relied almost totally on economic growth for its political legitimacy. That period has come to an end because the ruling Communist Party refuses to make the fundamental political and administrative reforms necessary for the economy to move forward. Those reforms require the party to give up its exclusive hold on power by accepting such things as the rule of law, and effective oversight of the administration. Instead, the party appears ready to go down with the ship rather than plug the leaks and repair the engine while there is still time.

To keep itself afloat, the Communist Party under President Xi Jinping is using two lifeboats. One is a massive expansion of authoritarianism. Chinese people have not been subject to the same kind of repression and restrictions since the days of Mao Zedong. And Xi is nothing if not an equal opportunity dictator. Foreign non-governmental organizations and even foreign companies investing in China are finding their China operations under increasing restrictions and bans.

Xi’s other lifeline is that age-old last refuge of a scoundrel: nationalism. Since he came to power as Communist Party boss and President over the winter of 2012, Xi has pursued an assertive and sometimes aggressive foreign policy aimed at convincing China’s 1.3 billion citizens that they belong to a powerful nation whose footsteps make the ground shake and other nations tremble. His first efforts were to goad Japan, China’s historic enemy. This was an obvious target because Chinese schoolchildren are indoctrinated at an early age with hatred of the Japanese, even though it was Japanese investment and technology that has made China’s “economic miracle” possible.

But supplanting the U.S. as the arbiter of peace and security in Asia has become Xi’s dream for China.

What we are seeing now has developed from another of Beijing’s imperial territorial ambitions; to take possession of the island nation of Taiwan and its 23 million people. But the U.S. has domestic legislation requiring it to aid the defence of Taiwan if the island is attacked. Thus for about 25 years China’s military planners have worked on the premise that in order to successfully invade Taiwan, they must first be able to deter or defeat any rescue bid by U.S. forces.

China’s building of a large fleet of attack submarines — now thought to number over 60 – is a major element in trying to make the seas unsafe for U.S. warships. Even more effective and a lot cheaper has been China’s development of a whole range of anti-ship missiles, which make elements like U.S. aircraft carrier battle groups very vulnerable.

The Chinese military planners could not go very far down this road, of course, before having to take into account that both China and the U.S. are nuclear powers. China insists it would never be the first to use nuclear weapons, though only useful fools, fellow travellers and agents of influence would believe that pledge to be of any real value. But China’s problem is that if it were to be attacked by nuclear weapons, it has not had a serious second-strike capability. This phrase will be familiar to those who lived through the Cold War, but what it means is the ability to deter a nuclear attack because the enemy will know for sure you will have enough nuclear weapons that survive to be able to strike back.

China has worked hard to remove this weakness by making its nuclear weapons highly mobile and building safe sanctuaries for them in mountainsides. The most effective second-strike nuclear weapons, however, are on ballistic missiles in SSBN submarines. The dream of Chinese military planners has been to ensure the U.S. will never attack them with nuclear weapons because the Pentagon will know that lurking somewhere in the waters off California or New England are Chinese SSBNs.

When China first started developing SSBNs they were part of the Northern Fleet and based at Xiaopingdao in the Bohai Gulf. The problem with this location was that in order to go on patrol the submarines had to go through the shallow waters of the Yellow Sea, where they could be detected by the U.S. and ally South Korea. The other route was to go through the East China Sea, which is also shallow, and to risk detection by the Americans and Japanese allies on the Ryukyu Islands.

Hence the move to Yulin on Hainan and the push to turn the islets and reefs of the South China Sea into a network of bastions to protect the base.

Washington and its allies will now have to try to check Beijing’s South China Sea move, unless, of course, the U.S. administration is prepared to see itself overshadowed in Asia and its allies put at risk of Beijing’s tantrums.

Adm. Harris said this week he wants more submarines and better weapons to be able to keep the Chinese in check. Another development already underway is much closer military relations between Washington and Manila. This is essential if effective surveillance of the Luzon Strait is to be maintained. That will also require closer co-ordination with the Taiwanese military. It will probably work in Washington’s favour that Tsai Ing-wen has been elected President of Taiwan at the head of a majority Democratic Progressive Party government. The previous government of President Ma Ying-jeou, the Kuomintang whose ideology was dominated by Chinese who fled to the island in 1949 when the communists captured China, was far too interested in creeping into favour with Beijing to be trustworthy. Tsai and her party are dedicated to maintaining Taiwan’s independence, and can be expected to see a stronger partnership with the U.S. as a guarantee of that hope.

Other U.S. allies in Asia are beefing up their navies in order to be effective partners. Australia, for example, this week published a defence white paper envisaging a large increase in its air, land and sea forces, including 12 submarines and nine anti-submarine frigates. This move is bold because China has become Australia’s largest trade partner, especially as a buyer before the latest recession of Australian natural resources.

A Chinese government spokesman said Beijing regretted the Australian plans, which she said reflected “a Cold War mentality.”  She may be right, because that seems to be the appropriate frame of mind.

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2016

Facts and Opinions is employee-owned and relies on the honour system: enjoy one free story. If you value independent, no-spam, no-ads,expert journalism, support us with a minimum of .27 per story, a $1 day site pass, or $20 per year. Donate below. Please respect our copyright. Details here.

Jonathan Manthorpe is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan.”

Contact: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com. Please address queries about syndication/republishing this column to jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

References and further information:

Watch:  U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon flies over new islands in South China Sea — U.S. Navy video

Watch: Asia Maritime Transparence Initiative, Center for Strategic & International Studies video

 

 

From F&O Archives:

China’s war for Asian domination going well, JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
April 2, 2015

China manufactures islands to back its sovereignty claims. JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
September 10, 2014

Beijing takes another major step to control the South China Sea, JONATHAN MANTHORPE, International Affairs, May 23, 2014

Facts and Opinions is employee-owned and relies on the honour system: enjoy one free story. If you value independent, no-spam, no-ads,expert journalism, support us with a minimum of .27 per story, a $1 day site pass, or $20 per year. Donate below. Details here.

 

Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. Manthorpe has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

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Real journalism is not free. If you value evidence-based, non-partisan, spam-free information, please support Facts and Opinions, an employee-owned collaboration of professional journalists.  Details here.

 

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

 

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How coal left scars on a Chinese town

By Jason Lee
January, 2016

An elderly villager walks along a railway, which is used to transfer coal, in front of a coal gangue hill outside Shuanghe coal mine from the state-owned Longmay Group on the outskirts of Jixi, in Heilongjiang province, China, October 24, 2015. To match story CHINA-COAL/JIXI    Picture taken on October 24, 2015. REUTERS/Jason Lee

An elderly villager walks along a railway, which is used to transfer coal, in front of a coal gangue hill outside Shuanghe coal mine from the state-owned Longmay Group on the outskirts of Jixi, in Heilongjiang province, China, October 24, 2015.  REUTERS/Jason Lee

Jixi, China (Reuters) — The northeast mining city of Jixi bears the scars of China’s slowing economy and ailing heavy industry.

Giant mounds of unsold coal sprout weeds in the makeshift depots marking nearly every junction, and bitter Siberian winds blow sulphurous dust through streets peopled by laid-off miners.

“This is a coal city and there is nothing else,” said Xin Qinling, a former miner now responsible for dwindling shift rotas at Jixi’s depleted Zhengyang coalmine.

State-owned Longmay Group, which owns most of the collieries in Jixi, including Zhengyang, has been making losses since 2012.

The company said in October it would adopt a “wartime work atmosphere” and cut its 248,000 headcount by as much as 100,000 by year-end, more than the entire labour force of the U.S. coal sector.

As a state firm, it still has to grapple with its various “social responsibilities”, including the pensions of 180,000 retirees as well as the upkeep of 42 hospitals and 130 schools in the region.

With Chinese economic growth dipping to a 25-year-low and government waging a “war on pollution”, the plight of Jixi, near the Russian border in the province of Heilongjiang, is echoed across China’s coal belt.

The Luan Group in Shanxi province, another of China’s big state miners, said in October that it had no choice but to cut output and put some workers on extended unpaid leave.

The industrial provinces of Liaoning, Shanxi and Heilongjiang were China’s slowest-growing provinces in the first half of the year.

“Many laid-off miners went elsewhere,” said Xin.

Wang Xianzheng, head of the China National Coal Association, said in July that coal firms throughout the country have been slashing wages by as much as 30 percent.

His association surveyed 85 coal firms and found that almost half were struggling to pay staff, and many had failed to keep up with mandatory pension and health insurance contributions.

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Copyright Reuters 2015

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