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Battling the Tiger: Combating corruption in the Sino-world

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After the Eighteenth National Congress of the Communist Party of China, a new round of anti-corruption campaign has been going on. With almost fifty provincial officials, more than 600 director-level officials and more than 200,000 petty officials snared, this campaign is being conducted in a harsh way on a large scale.

More importantly, as Vice Primer WANG Qishan pointed out, the ultimate goal is to reach the “would not think of it”stage from the current “would not dare”stage. In order to realise this goal, the passive control and surveillance measurements which have been carried on over decades may not be able to meet the demand. What should be prior taken into consideration is institutional designs for a clean government.

If we look for a successful example for China on anti-corruption reform, Hong Kong may be a good one. During the 1960s, with the increasing population and the rapid expansion of manufacturing industry, Hong Kong was faced with a similar situation which corruption was wide-spread around the force and the community in mainland China nowadays. (Manion, 2004)And yet since 1974 when the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) was created, the anti-corruption interventions has empowered to accomplish the transformation. This commission, according to the Basic Law, functions independently and is directly accountable to the Chief Executive. (Scott, 2011

So the paper is conducted by analysis on causes of corruption and anti-corruption measurements in mainland China, followed by the evaluation and comparison of Hong Kong and mainland China. Though sharing a Chinese culture, great difference remains between each other. Especially when we focus on the anti-corruption achievement, Hong Kong, considered as the freer market from government intervention, has incredible achievements in combatting institutionalised corruption while China, during two decades of anti-corruption campaign, remains one of the most corrupt countries.

This paper considers the rooted causes and problems of the anti-corruption strategy in mainland China. By introducing the incidence of Chen Xitong and the general situation on state personnel corruption, it argues extent, forms and characteristics and the institutional loopholes of Chinese government. Meanwhile, the process of the transformation in Hong Kong will be illustrated empirically and compared with the process in mainland China. The key part——ICAC will be evaluated. And the suggestions of establishing such commission in mainland China will be introduced and tested. The main researching method is new institutionalism by focusing on the institutional design and informal practice in mainland China.

The definition of corruption

Corruption, simply speaking, means the abuse of power for illegal monetary transaction. One of the most comprehensive definitions that by a short simply wording incudes both a public and private sector corruption comes from a Vienna-based prof. Anis H. Bajrektarevic: “Seemingly victimless, hidden trade-off between influence and gain” (Bajrektarevic, Palermo Treaty system, Addleton NY, 2011). The World Bank defines (public) corruption as the abuse of public office for private gains. However, when it comes to a definition in concrete terms which contain too much connotation.(Girling, 1997) In addition, the causes and the results of public-private sector corruption are diverse. It can be traced in governments and civil societies, which include economic systems, administrative systems, judiciary systems and so on. (Harris, 2003) No matter how broad and complicated the concept is, it can reflect rules and violators who against those rules can be identified and punished. (Gambetta, 1999)

In the Chinese context, there are two major definitions that can be applied to China in the transition period. For those who are in favor of a tough enforcement and party disciplinary, they would like to provide a more broad-based definition which includes public offices, public interest and public opinions factors. By contrast, for those who are in favor of an effective effacement and market efficiency, they would focus on the abuse of public office. (Sun, 2004) Though there is no formalistic answer to the question on what the definition is, this paper would use a definition corresponding with the Chinese context. The corruption is defined as the abuse of authority or the public power by occupants in the government or the party to gain private interests. This interpretation narrows down to the public office level that focuses on the abuse of public power in the political activities.

Corruption in Mainland China

The process of corruption in China after 1949 can be roughly divided into two periods. There is the classical communist period from 1949 to 1976 and the socialist market from 1976 to the present. (Harris, 2003)

From 1980 on, the development of corruption took place together with the legitimating of financial pursuit, delegation of power to an individual or an agency, fast expansion of the market economy, deficiency of the Party’s discipline as well as delaying in introducing regulatory control and required on time legislative renewal. (Kwong, 1997)

One case disclosure shocked the public. That is that the mayor of Beijing——Chen Xitong was found directly engaging in bribe taking, with numerous bribe givers and huge material rewards. Even for Chen Xitong, whose downfall is often interpreted as political, the size of his booty warranted his fate. Two private villas, where Chen spent his leisure time and kept his mistresses between January 1993 and February 1995, cost the public nearly Y40 million in maintenance fees, and Y1.05 million in catering expenses. According to Sun (2004), “The villas were filled with luxuries ranging from gold doors and agate floors to extensive maintenance and security. Eventually, he was sentenced to 16-year jail term. ”(p. 148).

In Alan Liu’s categories, the forms of corruption in mainland China can be roughly divided into three groups. The first one is universal in all political systems including bribery, embezzlement and abuse. The state property is still a main target but not the only one. Instead, it is the greater inducement from and dependence on the market that now defines the forms and methods of violation. The second type is related to the economic reform, such as accounting violation and privilege seeking. When decentralisation was carried on gradually, autonomy and increasing resources have facilitated corruption dynamically. Precisely, there is linkage between economic liberalisation and corruption. Third one is resulted from moral degradation in a broad way. Sun (2004) states that “even here the marketplace has stimulated distinctive forms of moral deviation in recent years.”(p. 51).

Causes of corruption in China

The growth of corruption is considered as a policy outcome.(Gong, 1997)It results from mainly the economic reform in an unconscious way during the reforming and opening period. In general, economic reform which is for market development and economic growth, has built up the advantageous condition for the explosion of corruption. Increasing business opportunities, the looser economic policies and the higher payoffs motivated officials to get involved in corruption.

To break through the planned economy which made the economy in China stall market economy was introduced to China 30 years ago. Wedeman (2012) states “this reform help China accomplish an economic miracle,” which also makes China lie on the top in the international community. As the continuous development of market economy and reform and opening going deeper, corruption has come out as an ineluctable social phenomenon.

During the reform of economy, market competition is one of the most important factors which cannot be underestimated. When analysing the relationship between market economy and corruption, both western and Chinese scholars found out the paradox. There is a negative correlation between economic growth and corruption. Firstly Paolo Mauro, followed by other economists, found that the higher the rate of corruption is, the lower the rate of development is. Empirically, they drew out a conclusion that when the rate of corruption increases one point, it results in the reduction of one percent in economic growth. Theoretically, this statement also can be correct because equality and justice are the key factors of market competition. However, this kind of developmental corruption model cannot successfully reflect the facts in Mainland China where we can see the increasing corruption rate together with the fast development of market and economic growth. Some severe realities are quite obvious. The number of officials corrupting keeps increasing. The involvement in business field of governmental officials is enlarged. Corruption, originally a concealed individual behaviour, is turning into an organised collusion such as Shanghai Gang. (Gong, 1997)

As I mention before, there is a paradox about the relationship between market economic growth and corruption. Admittedly, corruption keeps developing in Mainland China together with the rapid growth economy. Gong Ting (1997) uses a conceptual framework which is the interactions of formal and informal practice from new institutionalism to give the explanation. She believes that corruption, as an informal practice, is actually a production of formal practice with loophole. They are interactional to some extent. To stamp out corruption, the starting stage should be on the amendment towards formal practice such as legal framework, judicial system and institutional design.

As for the judicial system, she also points out that the wide spread of corruption is facilitated by the way the courts are organized and supervised. The courts, in mainland China, are not different from other governmental agencies. They are not independent. The local government decides the finances of the courts. Senior judges are nominated by the local CPC Committee and endorsed by the local People’s Congress, meaning judges whose decisions are seen to violate Party policy may be discharged or otherwise punished. The courts are subject to the extra-legal authority of the Political-Legal Secretary of the local Party Committee, which deals with difficult and important cases referred to it. (Manion, 2004)

Anti-corruption strategy in Hong Kong

What makes Hong Kong’s economy successful? Several points below are worthy being remarked such as low tax collection, freedom in market competition, a relatively efficient legal system, an efficient and effective network on transportation and communication and “a competent workforce working along with a pool of enterprising entrepreneurs”described by Howlett (1997, p.47) (as cited in Manion, 2004). Those factors not only significantly contribute to the economic development in Hong Kong but also enable Hong Kong’s economic wealth which does good to combatting corruption as the government can afford the salaries of civil servants and enough human and financial resources can be committed. (Quah, 2003)

Different from the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection of the Communist Party of China (Zhongjiwei), the ICAC operates independently in terms of structure, power, finance and personnel. Before 1997, there was a direct access between its Commissioner and the Governor. After July 1997, the ICAC is directly responsible to the Chief Executive. So far, the ICAC has developed into three major functions which are investigation, prevention and education to fight against corruption in Hong Kong. (Scott, 2011)

The Structure of the ICAC

As for its structure, there are main three unequal branches and the Administration Branch. Among the three departments, the largest one which is the Operation Department takes the responsibility of the investigative function. The over nine hundred employees takes up 73% of the ICAC human resource. The head of the Department also serves as the Deputy Commissioner, assisted by two Directors who are in charge of the government sector and the private sector respectively. The second largest one is the Community Relations Department. The two divisions of this Department are mass media and the public. It has 202 staff which is 16% of the total staff in the ICAC. Intensive education projects are conducted in schools and business sectors. In addition, it also builds up a close relationship between mass media and district organisations in order to raise the public awareness and gain their support towards the anti-corruption movement. The smallest department is the Corruption Prevention Department (CPD), taking up 4% of the total employees in the ICAC. In concrete terms, the objectives of the CPD is to inspect the practice and procedures of government and public bodies. Also, it takes the responsibility of making amendments and suggestions on the working methods. Training for civil servants is also offered by the CPD for the purpose of prevention. Apart from these three departments, there is a separated administration department. It is in charge of human and financial resources and general matters such as accommodation and technologic service. Besides, an advisory committee is to examine the work of each department.

The ICAC also has its own recruitment practice. The employees are recruited out of the control of the Public Service Commission, which makes the staff of the ICAC separate from other governmental sections. During the recruitment process, the ICAC itself takes the whole responsibility of promotion, screening, interviewing and other process. As for the financial fund of it, by the 2001/2002 financial year, its budget has reach 81 times compared from the first year when it was established. This rapid increasing in budget reflects the strong will of the government on the support of the ICAC anti-corruption enforcement. (Quah, 2003)

Comparison on Anti-corruption Strategy in Mainland China and Hong Kong

Institutional Designs

The main difference in mainland China and Hong Kong is the anti-corruption agencies. In Hong Kong, the ICAC is an independent agency with power and increasing budget. More importantly, the Commissioner of the ICAC is directly answerable to the Chief Executive, which makes the ICAC a separated agency apart from other governmental departments. (Harris, 2003) However, in mainland China, unclear boundary exists between the party and government branch. Junctional jurisdictions are dominated by communist party committee generalists at each level. The second point is the institutional design. In Hong Kong, one of the three important methods of anti-corruption is the prevention through institutional design is; in mainland China, certain economic reform policies actually stimulate corruption. Reorganisation of procedures to reduce incentives for corrupt transaction has been shown recently. Finally, the analysis will go back to the basic ground of anti-corruption strategy which is the constitutional design. This essential difference lies in the two different regimes. Hong Kong has a functioning rule of law regime and effective civil liberty while mainland China is conducted by a rule of law regime less constructively and neglect of civil liberty. (Manion, 2004)

Hong Kong’s institutional design not only focus on the enforcement measures but also pays high attention to the prevention by offering suggestion. The ICAC’s Corruption Prevention Department is to study the work procedures in governmental departments to identify opportunities for corruption. (Manion, 2004) Having studied and analysed, suggestions would be offered so as to reduce the possibility of corruption by redesigning the working procedures. Further, after the suggestions are given, the Department is still in charge of checking the effectiveness of the suggestions, making sure the new design would not offer ground for new chances for corruption. The function as consultant is one of the key and unique notion of this department, especially when the government is on its way to draft and amend legislative text and policies. To a great extent, this function makes sure the anti-corruption movement starts from the beginning level where new laws are introduced for an incentive purpose.

Also in mainland China recently, more attention has been paid towards designing incentive structures from the original forcemeat stage. In Anhui province in 2000, the “taxed for fees” reform was adopted from the perspective of being incentive. The reform is to reduced possibility of corruption in the township governments and villages by reforming the basic collection system. It replaces a single agricultural tax, capped at about 7 percent of income and collected by higher level governments, for various fees and charges levied by township and village administrations. Compared with the previous regulations against illegal fees in 1990s, Manion (2004) described that “the reform frees officials at the rural grassroots level from fee collection and makes corruption at the township and village more difficult.”(p. 205) In 2003, this reform was successfully adopted nationwide, becoming a good example in mainland China of transforming to the incentive structure.

According to policy analysts, the key part of institutional design in Hong Kong is the independence of the ICAC and it is what mainland China should emulate when reforming the anti-corruption strategy. This refer to the exclusive anti-corruption mission of the agency: “The ICAC is not embedded in the civil service or any other larger organisation with multiple goals”. Among this, the most important is the police force remaining independent, especially in the 1973 context of a public perception of that department as the most corrupt of all. Agency independent worked in Hong Kong primarily because this agency design worked as a signal, a public announcement of an “equilibrium switch”——but it worked especially well in a particular context. With corruption structured this way, the creation of an agency that effectively rejected the police as anti-corruption agents helped legitimate the government effort and enlisted ordinary citizens as voluntary enforcers. Independent was complemented by power, also an element of agency design: the ICAC was given strong investigate powers and considerable financial resources.

Legal Framework

Difference also lies in the law set in Hong Kong and mainland China. The reasons behind it are partly contributed by the different policy choices which illustrate different experience and views. From a perspective of a higher degree, however, basic difference on constraints of power should be noticed.

A solid legal foundation has become the base of Hong Kong’s anti-corruption reform. Two important legislative context have to be introduced. The Prevention of Bribery Ordinance was strengthened in 1971. It provided with a clear definition by including “unexplained income or property”which can serve as the evidence of corruption practices. Clarity, stability, scope and whether it is easy for application, all the points above greatly influence on whether and how a corrupt official can be punished according to law. (Quah, 2003)

To build up a clear legal basis, several points should be well defined. Legal clarity, breadth, stability, and ease of application all contributed to a situation where corrupt officials were routinely punished according to law. And the public confidence of the anti-corruption enforcement is also, to some extent, basing on whether the law is harsh without loopholes.

On the contrary, in mainland China, the main force on combatting corruption is centralised by the CDIC which plays as a leading and administrative role. But as for the legal system itself, it remains weak.

What depletes the development of law and a legal-based authority in mainland China? One point should be noticed that under the leading of the CDIC, the investigation and punishment are conducted within the party system. This makes lag when a criminal case is transferring into the prosecution process. So the agency design which makes anti-corruption enforcement outside the criminal procuratorates system may be one of answers to the question above. (Gong, 2004) Besides, the law making process is also not propitious. The first criminal code was passed in 1979. Then comes rapid changes on political economy which forced law makers refine the law with taking lots of new factors into consideration. The role of law and its distinction between party leadership shows a fundamental contradiction in mainland China. The law should serve as a powerful tool to fight against the abuse of official power. (Manion, 2004)

Conclusion

China’s path of corruption is actually quite similar to the process in Hong Kong, rapid growth in population and economic transition. By viewing Hong Kong as a good example of mainland China, we can find basically one main loophole which is the ambiguity of power between the party and judiciary from both legal and institutional prospective. If mainland China are going to set up an independent agency like ICAC in Hong Kong, a clear boundary must be well-defined. First of all, as for the institutional setting, it is to avoid the interference from the government and the party in order to ensure authority and transparency of this agency. Second, it is to reduce delay when a corruption crime transferred from the investigation of the party to the prosecutors. Further, even though the “fight against tigers”movement achieve success for the current situation, refining the present legal framework still remains the determinant.

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East Asia

China’s soft power and its Lunar New Year’s Culture

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Authors: Liu Hui & Humprey A. Russell*

As a common practice, China has celebrated its annual Lunar new year since 1984 when the leaders of the day decided to open mysterious country in a more confident and transparent way. So far, the lunar new year gala has become a part of Chinese cultural life and beyond. The question then arises why China or its people have been so thrilled to exhibit themselves to the world, as its economy has already impressed the world by its rapid pace and tremendous capacity.

As it is well-known, in international relations, peoples from different cultural and ethnical backgrounds need to enhance their understanding which eventually leads to mutual respect and tolerance as the key to the world peace and stability. China is well-aware of this norm. As a rising power with 1.3 billion people, it is necessary for China to introduce its culture and notion of the peaceful rise to the audiences globally. Joseph Nye, Jr., the founder of the concept of the soft power, has argued: “The currency of soft power is culture, political values, and foreign policies. During the information age, credibility is the scarcest resource.”In light of this, China has been steadily involved in cultural promotions abroad.

China is an ancient civilization but diplomatically it is a new global player in terms of its modern involvement into the world affairs, particularly in terms of reform and openness. Yet, since China has aspired to rejuvenate itself as one of the leading powers globally, it is natural for the world en bloc to assume Beijing’s intention and approach to the power transition between the rising power like itself and the ruling powers such as the United States and the G-7 club. Consider this, China has exerted all efforts to project but not propagate its image to the world. Here culture is bound to play the vital role in convincing the countries concerned that “culturally China has no the gene of being a threat to other peoples,” as Chinese President Xi has assured. The annual lunar gala is evidently a useful instrument to demonstrate Chinese people, culture and policies as well.

Culturally speaking, the Chinese New Year celebrations can be seen as follows. In a general sense, similar themes run through all the galas with the local cultural and ethnical ingredients, for instance, Chinese opera, crosstalk and acrobatics, as well as the lion-dancing or the dragon-dancing from time to time. Yes, the galas play the role of promoting the Chinese communities over the world to identify themselves with the Chinese culture which surely strengthen the cultural bonds among the Chinese, in particular the younger generations. Moreover, the dimension of the Chinese culture can be found beyond the country since its neighbors like Japan, Vietnam, South Korea and Malaysia, as well as Chinese communities in many other areas also perform those arts at the holiday seasons. The message here is clear that China, although it is a rising great power, has never abandoned its cultural tradition which has emphasized the harmony among the different races and ethnics.

Recently, the lunar new year celebrations across China have invited professional and amateur artists from all over the world. Those foreign guest artists and many overseas students studying in China have been able to offer their talents in either Chinese or their mother tongues. No doubt, this is a two-way to learn from each other because Chinese performers are benefited from the contacts with their counterparts globally. In terms of public diplomacy, Beijing aims to send a powerful and sincere message to the world: China can’t be in isolation from the world because it has aspired to be a great and inclusive country as well. To that end, the rise of China is not going to challenge the status quo, but will act as one of the stakeholders.

As usual, realists have difficulties and even cultural bias to accept the rhetoric from a country like China since it has been regarded by the ruling powers of the world as an ambitious, assertive and communist-ruled country with its unique culture. To that challenge, the Chinese government and the people have done a great deal of works to successfully illustrate Chinese practice of harmony at the societal level idealized by Confucius’ doctrines. This social harmony is made possible only by the realization of the Taoist ideal of harmony with nature – in this case, harmony between humans and nature. This explains why panda and many other rare animals are now viewed as new national symbol of China. Although they are unnecessarily an indispensable part of the lunar new year gala, the viewpoint is that the rise of China would not be completed at the cost of the ecological environment like many other countries did in history.

Practically speaking, the lunar new year celebrations are being conducted in a rich variety of ways such as concerts, cuisines, folk entertainments and even forums and receptions around the world. Major global commercial centers have also served to create a Chinese holiday atmosphere, adapt to the needs of Chinese tourists, attract active participation from local residents, and provide such diversities of cultural and social events. What is worth mentioning is that some Chinese-North American non-profit, non-partisan organizations are beginning to celebrate Chinese lunar gala in partnership with other local counterparts. For instance, the Chinese Inter-cultural Association based in California, recently hosted a Chinese New Year party in a Persian restaurant in partnership with a local non-profit, non-partisan organization called the Orange County Toastmaster Club, part of Toastmaster International. Also, in another Chinese New Year celebration that was open to people of all races in Pasadena, two Americans played the guitar and sang songs in fluent Chinese! Both galas were attended by people of all racial backgrounds around the world. Given this, it is fair to say that China’s soft power supported by its annual lunar new year festival is on the rise globally with a view to promoting mutual respect and friendship among the peoples of various cultural, ethnical and racial origins.

Yet, though the impressive feats are achieved, it has noted that China still has a long way to go in terms of its twin-centennial dreams. First, as a developing country with its unique culture, it is necessary for China to promote its great ancient culture abroad, but it is also imperative to avoid “introducing” China rashly into the globe. Essentially, soft power is more the ability to attract and co-opt than to use force or give money as a means of persuasion. Thereby, it is the very ability to shape the preferences of others through appeal and attraction. As cross-cultural communication is a long process, Nye admitted a few years ago, in public affairs, “the best propaganda is not propaganda.”

This is the key to all the countries. In 2014,President Xi formally stated, “China should increase its soft power, give a good Chinese narrative, and better communicate its messages to the world.” In light of this, Chinese lunar new year gala surely acts as soft power to project the image of China internationally.

* Humprey A. Russell (Indonesia), PhD candidate in international affairs, SIPA, Jilin University.

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China’s step into the maelstrom of the Middle East

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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The Middle East has a knack for sucking external powers into its conflicts. China’s ventures into the region have shown how difficult it is to maintain its principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other states.

China’s abandonment of non-interference is manifested by its (largely ineffective) efforts to mediate conflicts in South Sudan, Syria and Afghanistan as well as between Israel and Palestine and even between Saudi Arabia and Iran. It is even more evident in China’s trashing of its vow not to establish foreign military bases, which became apparent when it established a naval base in Djibouti and when reports surfaced that it intends to use Pakistan’s deep sea port of Gwadar as a military facility.

This contradiction between China’s policy on the ground and its long-standing non-interventionist foreign policy principles means that Beijing often struggles to meet the expectations of Middle Eastern states. It also means that China risks tying itself up in political knots in countries such as Pakistan, which is home to the crown jewel of its Belt and Road Initiative — the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

Middle Eastern autocrats have tried to embrace the Chinese model of economic liberalism coupled with tight political control. They see China’s declared principle of non-interference in the affairs of others for what it is: support for authoritarian rule. The principle of this policy is in effect the same as the decades-old US policy of opting for stability over democracy in the Middle East.

It is now a risky policy for the United States and China to engage in given the region’s post-Arab Spring history with brutal and often violent transitions. If anything, instead of having been ‘stabilised’ by US and Chinese policies, the region is still at the beginning of a transition process that could take up to a quarter of a century to resolve. There is no guarantee that autocrats will emerge as the winners.

China currently appears to have the upper hand against the United States for influence across the greater Middle East, but Chinese policies threaten to make that advantage short-term at best.

Belt and Road Initiative-related projects funded by China have proven to be a double-edged sword. Concerns are mounting in countries like Pakistan that massive Chinese investment could prove to be a debt trap similar to Sri Lanka’s experience.

Chinese back-peddling on several Pakistani infrastructure projects suggests that China is tweaking its approach to the US$50 billion China–Pakistan Economic Corridor. The Chinese rethink was sparked by political volatility caused by Pakistan’s self-serving politics and continued political violence — particularly in the Balochistan province, which is at the heart of CPEC.

China decided to redevelop its criteria for the funding of CPEC’s infrastructure projects in November 2017. This move seemingly amounted to an effort to enhance the Pakistani military’s stake in the country’s economy at a time when they were flexing their muscles in response to political volatility. The decision suggests that China is not averse to shaping the political environment of key countries in its own authoritarian mould.

Similarly, China has been willing to manipulate Pakistan against its adversaries for its own gain. China continues to shield Masoud Azhar (who is believed to have close ties to Pakistani intelligence agencies and military forces) from UN designation as a global terrorist. China does so while Pakistan cracks down on militants in response to a US suspension of aid and a UN Security Council monitoring visit.

Pakistan’s use of militants in its dispute with India over Kashmir serves China’s interest in keeping India off balance — a goal which Beijing sees as worthy despite the fact that Chinese personnel and assets have been the targets of a low-level insurgency in Balochistan. Saudi Arabia is also considering the use of Balochistan as a launching pad to destabilise Iran. By stirring ethnic unrest in Iran, Saudi Arabia will inevitably suck China into the Saudi–Iranian rivalry and sharpen its competition with the United States. Washington backs the Indian-supported port of Chabahar in Iran — a mere 70 kilometres from Gwadar.

China is discovering that it will prove impossible to avoid the pitfalls of the greater Middle East. This is despite the fact that US President Donald Trump and Saudi Arabia’s powerful Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman seem singularly focussed on countering Iran and Islamic militants.

As it navigates the region’s numerous landmines, China is likely to find itself at odds with both the United States and Saudi Arabia. It will at least have a common interest in pursuing political stability at the expense of political change — however much this may violate its stated commitment to non-interference.

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Chinese extradition request puts crackdown on Uyghurs in the spotlight

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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A Chinese demand for the extradition of 11 Uyghurs from Malaysia puts the spotlight on China’s roll-out of one of the world’s most intrusive surveillance systems, military moves to prevent Uyghur foreign fighters from returning to Xinjiang, and initial steps to export its security approach to countries like Pakistan.

The 11 were among 25 Uyghurs who escaped from a Thai detention centre in November through a hole in the wall, using blankets to climb to the ground.

The extradition request follows similar deportations of Uyghurs from Thailand and Egypt often with no due process and no immediate evidence that they were militants.

The escapees were among more than 200 Uighurs detained in Thailand in 2014. The Uyghurs claimed they were Turkish nationals and demanded that they be returned to Turkey. Thailand, despite international condemnation, forcibly extradited to China some 100 of the group in July 2015.

Tens of Uyghurs, who were unable to flee to Turkey in time, were detained in Egypt in July and are believed to have also been returned to China. Many of the Uyghurs were students at Al Azhar, one of the foremost institutions of Islamic learning.

China, increasingly concerned that Uyghurs fighters in Syria and Iraq will seek to return to Xinjiang or establish bases across the border in Afghanistan and Tajikistan in the wake of the territorial demise of the Islamic State, has brutally cracked down on the ethnic minority in its strategic north-western province, extended its long arm to the Uyghur Diaspora, and is mulling the establishment of its first land rather than naval foreign military base.

The crackdown appears, at least for now, to put a lid on intermittent attacks in Xinjiang itself. Chinese nationals have instead been targeted in Pakistan, the $50 billion plus crown jewel in China’s Belt and Road initiative that seeks to link Eurasia to the People’s Republic through infrastructure.

The attacks are believed to have been carried out by either Baloch nationalists or militants of the East Turkestan Independence Movement (ETIM), a Uighur separatist group that has aligned itself with the Islamic State.

Various other groups, including the Pakistani Taliban, Al Qaeda and the Islamic State have threatened to attack Chinese nationals in response to the alleged repression of Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

ETIM militants were believed to have been responsible for the bombing in August 2015 of Bangkok’s Erawan shrine that killed 20 people as retaliation for the forced repatriation of Uighurs a month earlier.

The Chinese embassy in Islamabad warned in December of possible attacks targeting “Chinese-invested organizations and Chinese citizens” in Pakistan

China’s ambassador, Yao Jing, advised the Pakistani interior ministry two months earlier that Abdul Wali, an alleged ETIM assassin, had entered the country and was likely to attack Chinese targets

China has refused to recognize ethnic aspirations of Uyghurs, a Turkic group, and approached it as a problem of Islamic militancy. Thousands of Uyghurs are believed to have joined militants in Syria, while hundreds or thousands more have sought to make their way through Southeast Asia to Turkey.

To counter ethnic and religious aspirations, China has introduced what must be the world’s most intrusive surveillance system using algorithms. Streets in Xinjiang’s cities and villages are pockmarked by cameras; police stations every 500 metres dot roads in major cities; public buildings resemble fortresses; and authorities use facial recognition and body scanners at highway checkpoints.

The government, in what has the makings of a re-education program, has opened boarding schools “for local children to spend their entire week in a Chinese-speaking environment, and then only going home to parents on the weekends,” according to China scholar David Brophy. Adult Uyghurs, who have stuck to their Turkic language, have been ordered to study Chinese at night schools.

Nightly television programs feature oath-swearing ceremonies,” in which participants pledge to root out “two-faced people,” the term used for Uyghur Communist Party members who are believed to be not fully devoted to Chinese policy.

The measures in Xinjiang go beyond an Orwellian citizen scoring system that is being introduced that scores a person’s political trustworthiness. The system would determine what benefits a citizen is entitled to, including access to credit, high speed internet service and fast-tracked visas for travel based on data garnered from social media and online shopping data as well as scanning of irises and content on mobile phones at random police checks.

Elements of the system are poised for export. A long-term Chinese plan for China’s investment in Pakistan, dubbed the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), envisioned creating a system of monitoring and surveillance in Pakistani cities to ensure law and order.

The system envisions deployment of explosive detectors and scanners to “cover major roads, case-prone areas and crowded places…in urban areas to conduct real-time monitoring and 24-hour video recording.”

A national fibre optic backbone would be built for internet traffic as well as the terrestrial distribution of broadcast media. Pakistani media would cooperate with their Chinese counterparts in the “dissemination of Chinese culture.”

The plan described the backbone as a “cultural transmission carrier” that would serve to “further enhance mutual understanding between the two peoples and the traditional friendship between the two countries.”

The measures were designed to address the risks to CPEC that the plan identified as “Pakistani politics, such as competing parties, religion, tribes, terrorists, and Western intervention” as well as security. “The security situation is the worst in recent years,” the plan said.

At the same time, China, despite official denials, is building, according to Afghan security officials, a military base for the Afghan military that would give the People’s Republic a presence in Badakhshan, the remote panhandle of Afghanistan that borders China and Tajikistan.

Chinese military personnel have reportedly been in the mountainous Wakhan Corridor, a narrow strip of territory in north-eastern Afghanistan that extends to China and separates Tajikistan from Pakistan since March last year.

The importance China attributes to protecting itself against Uyghur militancy and extending its protective shield beyond its borders was reflected in the recent appointment as its ambassador to Afghanistan, Liu Jinsong, who was raised in Xinjiang and served as a director of the Belt and Road initiative’s $15 billion Silk Road Fund.

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