Sunday, December 15, 2013

Uncle Jang's Death May Not Be Such a Plus for Kim Jong-un

I fear possibly dangerous times ahead in the DPRK.  The late Jang Song-thaek's formidable faction may decide that a highly risky coup attempt may be preferable to death by political purge.  Already a number of North Koreans with connections to China are suspected to have disappeared / gone to ground.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

An Outsider's Perspective on China's Third Plenum

The assumption of power by Xi Jinping and his "Fifth Generation" of leaders marks a first for China's post-1949 generation and those who spent their formative years during the Cultural Revolution.  Of course consistent with Chinese tradition, Mr. Xi has been respectful and affirming of the record of his senior predecessors.  But of course it is expected that as a new and younger leader that Mr. Xi will seek to promote vigorous, fresh new measures to respond to the challenges and opportunities of his era in power and revitalize his Party’s role in China’s modern society of this 21st century.  Traditionally it has been at the third plenary session of a new Central Committee that the stage is set for the introduction of innovative policies that will shape the Chinese Communist Party’s program over the next ten years of the new leadership group’s mandate.  So the third plenum assumes a special character that makes it stand out in China’s political calendar.

The issuing of the Resolution of the Third Plenary session of a newly convoked Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party is also much anticipated by foreign China watchers.  It augurs for new beginnings and new policy orientations and the promise of new political  initiatives to grapple with and interpret for foreign government policymakers and in public fora through the media.  

In some ways it is comparable to the opening of a new session of parliament in Westminster systems or state of the union addresses in presidential systems.  But while the speech from the throne that opens parliament sets out a legislative agenda for perhaps a couple of years, at a third plenary session of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party the proposed political agenda comprises a much longer period.  Moreover, the legislative agenda of a parliamentary session addresses only a few highly specific priorities of the party in power.  It is followed by the detailed drafting of bills that are publicly debated in the legislature and consequently modified (or even rejected altogether) before being brought in to codified law.  Implementation of these specific laws is precisely defined to be  pursued by lawyers and enforced by court orders.  

But the most recent resolution of the Third Plenary Session of the Chinese Communist Party's 18th Central Committee is a much more comprehensive and complicated political proposition.   It comprises economics, politics, culture, society, environment, the military defense and internal security.  All this developed through an extensive process of internal party consultations.  

But unlike bills prepared for parliamentary debate in the West, the documents that will direct the policy reforms indicated in the resolution are not publicly available.  As is the case with legislation proposed in parliamentary systems, these new policy reforms will inevitably discomfit significant vested interests in China today.  But those vested interests have no means to publicly express their principled arguments against the policy changes that will be disadvantaging them.  So it is difficult for the foreign observer to be very clear on the implications of the publicly available documents.  It is more challenging still to expound with much authority on the extent to which these new policies will be able to effectively bring about the promised results.

Chairman Xi in the explanation of tthe Third Plenum’s statement pulbished under his name does clearly set out the serious challenges that his government currently faces.  These overall can be identified in three main aspects: the widening gap between rich and poor in  China, official corruption, and slowing growth rates due to inefficiencies in the state-owned sectors of the national economy.  These are not new problems.  All of these issues have been acknowledged by previous Party leaderships as demanding priority resolution.  All are prominently set out in work reports at National People's Congresses and Chinese Communist Party meetings over the years of Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao's leadership.  But there is consensus that regrettably the gap between rich and poor and the pervasiveness and degree of official corruption have grown considerably worse over time.  And China's rate of economic growth is slowing due to structural deficiencies and future prospects for the economy are not as uniformly rosy as earlier in the process of China’s post-Mao reform and opening.  Now as then the people of China expect that their political leaders must address these issues in a meaningfully effective manner.  So the issue comes down to what will Xi Jinping do differently from his predecessors to satisfy the people’s aspirations and concerns?

The author was a student at university in Shanghai at the time of the famous Third Plenary Session of 11th Central Committee in December 1978.  On the campus of Fudan University it was a period of great enthusiasm for the politics of reform and opening and boundless optimism for China's future.  Throughout China’s great and diverse land, the powerful political charisma of Deng Xiaoping alone went a long way to enforcing compliance with measures that challenged significant elements of the pre-reform political, social and economic status quo.  Moreover, Mr. Deng with his distinguished record of military service enjoyed strong support from the PLA and security agencies which is so critical in China’s Leninist system.

Xi Jinping, unlike Deng Xiaoping is unable to offer the promise of a fresh and new ideology to buttress the implementation of his policy initiatives.  The theoretical bases of the policies enunciated in this Third Plenary Resolution are the same that have guided the Party under the leadership of all of Mr. Xi’s predecessors since Chairman Hua Guofeng.  

To strengthen his political position, Mr. Xi proposes to create a National Security Commission that will concentrate unified authority over security agencies, the police, and the military in the Office of the Party Chairman.  One could expect that there will be vigorous resistance by the present security apparatus to any measures that weaken their existing prerogatives. 

In addition, there are measures afloat to strengthen control of political discourse by cracking down on social media over the Internet, and to more rigorously sanction intellectuals who espouse political perspectives at odds with the Party's authoritarian people's democratic dictatorship.  

These are all  bold measures, not without an element of political risk.

The Third Plenum’s proposal of measures to enhance economic justice are certainly consistent with the legitimating basis for the Chinese Communist Party's assumption of power as the vanguard of the proletariat and true representatives of the workers and peasants in 1949.  Granting genuine ownership by farmers of the land that they till would go a long way in this direction.  But practically speaking so much of the revenue of local governments is based on below value expropriation of rural property, that without this revenue stream local governments would require significant transfers from the Central authorities.  Moreover, extension of the benefits of urban residency to all the people working in cities would also make great demands on Central revenues.  It would mean increasing taxation to affect transfers from rich to poor.  This would be politically very difficult to to bring about.

Similarly, significantly reducing the income of Chinese communist party cadres via stringent crackdown on their lucrative government associated business activities appears infeasible under current conditions.  Related to this, measures such as capital account and interest rate liberalization, opening of state monopoly economic sectors to non-state competition including permitting foreign enterprises to challenge state-owned enterprises in the Chinese market would surely be countered through administrative measures by threatened local authorities.

So, one waits to see how the implementation of the Third Plenum Resolution which promises such fundamental transformations in so many of the intertwined political, economic and social institutions under the leadership of the Standing Committee of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party.

As an outsider, this author cannot conceive of how these administrative measures that would be overseen by Party branches embedded in all of China's institutions can bring such an ambitious but all the same essential political agenda to successful fruition.  After all, what Mr. Xi proposes impinges exactly on the self interest of those called on to bring it to reality! What is really needed is a lot more transparency and honest debate in such a thoroughgoing process.  For this, media that allows for expression of a free market place of ideas is necessary, but it is also impossible under the current stringent controls of the Party Central Committee Department of Propaganda.

Similarly, if the measures necessary to address China's current serious challenges were expressed through publicly available acts of legislation, then a judiciary whose authority transcended the prerogatives of Party Politics and Law committees, to which the police was fully subject, could in fact compel compliance by those powerful elements that would inevitably be discomfited by the government’s reform program.

In the absence of strong charismatic political leadership buttressed by strong support from security agencies and the military, a free press and an independent judiciary are the only mechanisms available to bring about compliance with measures that impact negatively on the wealthy and powerful.  But it is clear from this year’s Party Document  Nine that the current Party leadership sees constitutional government and western bourgeois liberalizing measures as inappropriate to China's socialism with Chinese characteristics and the overall legitimating bases for sustained Chinese Communist Party rule of China.

So from the outsider's perspective the Party leadership is caught between a rock and a hard place.  If the increasing polarization of wealth continues, if people feel more and more betrayed by official corruption on the part of their political leaders, if China's economic growth stalls, naturally demands for new politics will increasingly arise.  Stronger social measures to repress these, including concomitant increase in censorship of public discourse may not be sustainable in the long term.  Already so much of the national budget must be dedicated to maintaining domestic political stability (wei wen).  A return to the high levels of political consensus and patriotic engagement that the author observed in the Shanghai of the late 1970s and early 1980s, comparable he suspects to the sense of social cohesion and political optimism that existed in China in the early years of the current regime in the 1950s, means developing a fresh political program that responds more closely to the way modern Chinese understand themselves as citizens in a global community.

That is to say, to achieve that degree of support from civil society requires a regime whose institutions and public statements are consistent with the social values of Chinese people in China in the 21st century.  In this regard one thinks of Sun Yat-sen in 1911, Mao Zedong in 1949, and Deng Xiaoping in 1978, great historical figures who are able to align themselves with the spirit of the times.

It remains to be seen where Xi Jinping will fit into the pantheon of China’s political leaders in history.  The Third Plenum is where he will begin to form his political legacy.  The challenges he faces are great.  This is an era in China’s political development which again demands strong political vision and the vigour and willingness to stand up to decay, corruption and ossified institutions that do not serve effectively the requirements of a modern society.  All of the great political leaders of China’s glorious past are remembered for their commitment to social justice and modern progress.  

The degree of achievement of social justice and modern progress that occurs in China under the 5th generation of leaders headed by Xi Jinping will ultimately mark their place in Chinese history.

Monday, November 11, 2013

My Take on Justin Trudeau's Recent Comments on China

Justin Trudeau's recent comments on China regardless of how ill-considered they may have been, do reflect the fact that the Liberal Party of Canada has a vision of Canada's relations with China that is quite distinct from the Canadian consensus reflected in the China policies of the NDP and Conservatives.  Since Pierre Trudeau's meeting with Chairman Mao in 1973 through to Jean Chretien's policy of quiet diplomacy with regard to China's gross violations of universal human rights norms, the Liberals have tended to favor the interests of Canadian companies with extensive connections to Chinese Communist business networks over the the overwhelming opinion of most Canadians that the Government of Canada should speak out clearly in defense of Chinese citizens who have been unjustly treated by the Chinese regime simply for standing up for their political and civil rights.  The NDP and the Conservatives have been much more willing to incur the wrath of the Chinese government by demanding explanations for the imprisonment without due process and pervasive reports of torture of human rights defenders, Falun Gong practitioners, and  Tibetans, and Uyghurs denied their language, religious and cultural rights.  The Liberals have traditionally been more friendly to the Chinese Communist leadership.  Justin Trudeau's comments are consistent with the unspoken reality of his Party's stance on the Chinese regime.

Document 9: A ChinaFile Translation | ChinaFile

I had had a notion to translate this myself and post when I "have time" to do it  I am surprised the English language version did not come out sooner.  Anyway this document is definitely worth a read in English by those who cannot read Chinese

Document 9: A ChinaFile Translation | ChinaFile

Since the Party’s Eighteenth National Congress, under General Secretary Xi Jinping’s strong central leadership, the nation triumphantly convened the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the Party’s and nation’s various undertakings have made a good start, and the general mood of the Party and Government has been constantly improving. Cohesion among our nation’s people has become stronger and our confidence in our path, our theory, and our system has become more resolute. Mainstream ideology is becoming healthier and more vigorous. The spirit of the Party’s Eighteenth National Congress and General Secretary Xi Jinping’s series of important speeches have unified the thought of the entire Party, the entire country, and the entire people enormously. The ideological foundation of our united struggle is unceasingly solidifying."

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Lawyers Challenge Judges' Authority in Trial of Chinese Activists -

Lawyers Challenge Judges' Authority in Trial of Chinese Activists -

"Raphael Droszewski, a first secretary of the European Union diplomatic delegation to China, said that he traveled to Xinyu City from Beijing, along with diplomats from the American and Canadian Embassies, in the hope of observing the hearing, but that they were refused entry to the courtroom on Monday."

Date of 3rd Plenary Session of Chinese Communist Central C'tee

@ChuBailiang: Communist Party 3rd Plenum date announced: 9-12 November.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

My Op-Ed in Embassy Magazine today "Canada’s Cyber Conundrum" (non-pay walled link)

"This internationalization of cyber espionage means CSEC not only has to satisfy the hunger of Canadian government departments, including Finance, for purloined data, but is also under pressure from foreign reciprocating agencies to supply its fair share of high quality cyber info to justify Canada’s continuing role in the international consortium."

Friday, August 23, 2013

Bo Xilai’s ‘fair and open trial’ smells like arbitrary rule - My Op-Ed in today's Globe and Mail

Bo Xilai’s ‘fair and open trial’ smells like arbitrary rule - The Globe and Mail

But despite full awareness in China that Mr. Bo, like most senior officials, has accumulated a massive fortune through various forms of kickbacks, he remains very popular among a significant part of the Chinese underclass. While boss of Chongqing, he enacted a number of populist measures in the city of nearly 30 million, including a very visible crackdown on organized crime, providing subsidized housing accessible to ordinary citizens, and extending social welfare measures to migrant workers. People see him as a supporter of the solidarity with workers and farmers that informed the Communist Party's rise to power in 1949.

This is in strong contrast to Mr. Bo's fellow senior leaders, former premier Wen Jiabao and former president Hu Jintao. They periodically made vague promises of respect for democracy, human rights and comprehensive rule of law at some undefined time in the future, when the developmental conditions are "right." But, clearly, that day is not coming any time soon. Instead, the income gap between the party elite and the lower classes gets wider year by year, with no sign of abating. Mr. Bo gave people hope of a developmental model offering more substantive benefits and justice for the rest.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Bad news for me: 7 topics banned for academic discussion in China

The 7 things you can't talk about in China...

Indications of Communist Elite Dissatisfaction with Xi Jinping's Anti-democracy Policies

Outspoken China princeling takes on President Xi (repot in Singapore Straits Imes) 

"Why can't we learn from the Kuomintang (in Taiwan), reform ourselves and get elected, basing our legitimacy on people's authorisation and not on guns and cannon?"

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Ford, Duffy and Chinese scandals

Having been educated in China, and subsequently spending more than 30 years there on and off, I have read a lot of Chinese newspaper reports spinning a convoluted but compelling narrative (based on little hard evidence) alleging serious misconduct by senior Communist officials, a surprising number of whom are depicted as secret agents for the CIA.

Most of these politically titillating accounts, read with considerable fascination during the Cultural Revolution period, were repudiated one by one in the years following Mao Zedong's demise in 1976. I am still waiting for a clear explanation of the mysterious death of Lin Biao, Chairman Mao's designated successor who allegedly died in September 1971. But, 42 years later, I am starting to doubt that patience is in fact its own reward. Oh well.

Recently, however, there have some strange new Chinese media reports to feed one's appetite for this kind of sordid thing.

For example, the official line on how British businessman Neil Heywood died in 2011 due to cyanide poisoning - administered at the behest of the spouse of Bo Xilai, the Communist Party General Secretary in the sprawling city of Chonqing - still doesn't seem to add up. Mr. Bo has been held without charge for over a year. Evidently the matter seems to be informed more by political motives and unknown factors than anything else. I wonder if the Bo matter will ever see credible resolution any more than Lin Biao's death.

But it is interesting that "political motives and unknown factors" have become the leitmotif of recent headlines in the Canadian media, too. Something about the reporting on Rob Ford, Nigel Wright and Mike Duffy seems strangely familiar, though I am more used to reading this kind of thing in Chinese and not in English-language media.

So what have we got here?

Clearly, a lot of people would like to see Mr. Ford cease to be the mayor of Toronto. And if it is true that he bought or was given cocaine, then he couldn't continue to be mayor. After all, under Canada's Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, possession of cocaine can lead to a sentence of seven years in prison. But these serious allegations of cocaine smoking against Mr. Ford him seem fantastic and incredible. It is difficult to imagine that the Mayor could be a periodic visitor to crack houses in Rexdale without it having previously being detected. At the very last, his looming corpulent presence makes him quite a readily recognizable figure. It is astounding that a description of the lurid content of this video was reported in the Toronto Star before the Star was able to post the video on its website.

The bottom line with the Rob Ford media hullabaloo is that there is no verifiable evidence available to demonstrate that he has engaged in illegal behaviour. Moreover, there is nothing to do about it until the video, described in the Toronto Star as showing the Mayor ingesting crack, is available for viewing and response. Latest indications are that the people allegedly holding the video have gone to ground and will never hand it over.

While Mr. Ford may be choleric and intensely reviled by many, he cannot be removed from office over this as things stand. But the damage to his reputation by these media reports about him will probably never be undone, no matter how many times we hear the lawyered incantation that the news agency repeating the allegations have "not seen the video and has not been able to validate any of the claims being made."

On the other hand, revelations by CTV News about the $90,000 gift from Nigel Wright to Senator Mike Duffy is something that warrants police attention. Canada's Conflict of Interest Act states that people commit a serious crime if they give a gift "that might reasonably be seen to have been given to influence the public office holder in the exercise of an official power, duty or function". And for a member of Senate on the receiving end, this could be determined in a court of law to fall into the category of accepting a bribe.

Mr. Duffy owed money to the Receiver-General to reimburse expense claims that had been subsequently disallowed. Mr. Wright helped him out with the repayment. The crux of the matter is: Was there any expectation that Mr. Duffy would render any service in his capacity as senator in exchange for the money?

The fact that Mr. Duffy did not publicly acknowledge the gift early on is a cause for concern. It suggests there may be factors underlying this transaction that have yet to see the light of day. Again, there appear to be "political motives and unknown factors" right, left and centre in this.

It is quite possible that there will never be any public resolution of either the Rob Ford or Mike Duffy stories. I feel uneasy about that. I am used to it in Chinese politics. I am not used to it in Canadian politics.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

My Interview on Sun TV about BC NDP Candidate Frank Huang

I was interviewed by Ezra Levant for the Sun News program "The Source" on May 8, 2013 about the NDP candidacy in BC of Frank Huang who has been alleged to have ongoing connections with the Chinese Communist Party.

My response to Paul Evans on Canada's China policy published in May issue of Literary Review of Canada

In the April issue of In April Issue of the Literary Review of Canada, Paul Evans published an article on Canada's China policy:

The editor of this publication, Bronwyn Drainie, asked me to write a response which was published in an edited version in the May issue. Here is that text (it is not otherwise available on-line insofar as I am aware).

Re: "Dancing with the Dragon" by Paul Evans (April 2013)

Evans suggests that in Canada "debate has been obsessed with a distinction between pursuing commercial and diplomatic opportunities with China versus promoting human rights . . . our domestic debate still rotates around whether we should be having economic relations with a country run by a Communist Party." Evans further hypothesizes that Canada has adopted a policy stance of "cool politics, warm economics" toward the PRC. 

But his assertions do not stand up to scrutiny. Over the years Canada has adopted a highly consistent approach to relations with China. It is the same one articulated by our 1995 foreign policy statement "Canada and the World" based on "three pillars of diplomacy": the promotion of prosperity and employment; the protection of our security, within a stable global framework; and the projection of Canadian values and culture. 

As to the first pillar, Canada wants fair and reciprocal trading agreements with China. We welcome Chinese investment, but as the Prime Minister made clear in his 2012 press conference announcing Government approval of CNOOC's acquisition of Nexen, Canada will not allow the Chinese state to gain control of Canadian economic resources through full acquisition of Canadian resource companies by Chinese state firms. But we do welcome Chinese state firms to invest in them as minority share holders. 

As to the security aspect, Canada will continue to investigate Chinese state espionage in its economic, political and military aspects including cyber-espionage in Canada and to work in multi-lateral fora to encourage the Chinese regime to follow the norms of responsible global citizenship. 

Finally with regard to the third pillar as the 1995 statement puts it: "Canada is not an island: if the rights of people abroad are not protected, Canadians will ultimately feel the effects at home. They understand that our economic and security interests are served by the widest possible respect for the environment, human rights, participatory government, free markets and the rule of law. Where these are observed, there is a greater prospect of stability and prosperity . . . Their observance, therefore, is both an end in itself and a means to achieving other priority objectives."

There is a strong cross-partisan consensus on how Canada should manage relations with the PRC. After all, even the Dalai Lama's honorary Canadian citizenship was achieved through a unanimous resolution of Parliament. 

Evans' attempts to politicize Canada's China policy just doesn't conform with the facts.

Charles Burton 
Brock University

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Further Delay in Trial of Suspect in Death of Miss Liu Qian

In April 2011 the daughter of my friend and colleague, Liu Jianhui of the Central Party School in Beijing died in Toronto.  Liu Qian was 23, a student at York University.  Shortly thereafter, Brian Dickson was arrested for the murder of Miss Liu.  Dickson remains imprisoned.  A lengthy preliminary hearing was held in February 2012.  The full trial was subsequently scheduled to begin on April 2, 2013.

Now I have learnt that the suspect's lawyer successfully achieved a delay in the start of the trial by getting a judge to agree to having mental health assessment of the accused done prior to the trial being held.  This development occurred last Thursday, March 28, the day before the Good Friday/Easter holiday.  It appears that the trial of Brian Dickson will likely be re-scheduled to begin at the end of this year and go over into 2014.  That certainly is some long time after the young woman died in the spring of 2011. Her parents and all of us would like to see closure to the tragedy of the death of this only child of such a good and fine family.  So now we have to wait even longer.

Can anyone explain to me what it going on here?  Is it simply the proclivity of Canadian defence lawyers to seek to delay and delay?  What sort of defence strategy could be behind this?  I would certainly welcome any information from anyone reading this blog post.

In the meantime I feel a very deep sense of unease about all of this.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

My Op-Ed in Globe and Mail today "China’s Communists find Marxism"

My op-ed in the Globe and Mail March 6, 2013: "a fading caretaker regime that has more past than future, unable to stop increasing numbers of citizens from realizing the complete disconnect between the Party’s official ideology, the reality of Chinese politics today and the social values of Chinese young people."

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Thursday, January 24, 2013

China Fraud Accusations: Wesley Clark's Ex-Firm Faces Questions - ABC News

China Fraud Accusations: Wesley Clark's Ex-Firm Faces Questions - ABC News

"Now the China deals Clark helped promote at lavish parties are among those facing scrutiny from the Securities and Exchange Commission as they try and account for the billions of dollars lost in dozens of suspicious stock offerings, which some officials believe represent collectively one of the largest financial scams since Bernie Madoff. Authorities told ABC News that firms serving as middle men who helped promote the Chinese companies are now in the crosshairs."



Friday, January 18, 2013