The Communist Party of China (CPC) – in the phase in which it is governed by Xi Jinping and by Prime Minister Li Kekiang – is changing rapidly. This is a geopolitical and strategic factor of great importance also for Europe and the United States.
Just a few years before its centennial, the Party founded in Shanghai in 1921 is still a “hircocervus”, both for the Communist tradition resulting from the Third International and for the evolution and, sometimes, the disappearance of the Communist Parties in power in the Soviet Union, in its Eastern European satellite countries and in many Asian countries.
Indeed, the CPC is both a large mass Party and a political organization that, following the Third International’s tradition, presides over the State and defines its political direction.
Lenin thought of a small Party of militants and officials who developed the policy line and, through the State, imposed it on society.
In fact, in the Soviet Union, the CPSU destroyed itself by entering civil society. Conversely, in China, the CPC grows stronger by acquiring and selecting the best elements of society and representing the great masses inside and above the State.
We can here recall the sarcastic smiles and the biting jokes that the CPC leaders – and, at the time, the Deng Xiaoping of the “Four Modernizations” was already in power – reserved for Gorbachev paying an official visit to China while the “Tien An Mien” rebellion of the students who wanted “democracy” was underway.
As is well-known, the repression was very harsh. The CPC does not delegate to others the power to reform the Chinese society.
Hence a Party like the CPC, which is fully traditional in its relationship with the State and the masses, appears to be completely new in turning itself into a mass organization, thus also remaining the source for legitimacy of the Chinese State.
The Chinese official sources tell us that, when it was founded in 1921, the Party counted only fifty members.
Today – considering that the CPC has been able to understand the new phase of globalization – it counts 87.7 million members, one every sixteen Chinese citizens.
More than the population of the whole Germany.
75% of the current members are male; 43% have at least a high school diploma; 30% are farmers, shepherds and fishermen; 25% are employed, 18% are retired, but only 8% are civil servants.
On the contrary, the 50 or more probably 57 founding members of the CPC in Shanghai were all members of the ruling classes, with 27 students, 11 journalists and 9 professors.
In 1949, when the Chinese Communist Party was already controlled by Mao Zedong and took power by wiping out the nationalists, the members were almost four millions.
From the outset the CPC has chosen the best of the Chinese society, by changing its targets year after year: sometimes intellectual elites or, in other years, rural masses and working classes.
The traditional dilemma of “Red” versus “Expert” that the CPC would never solve, not even in the harshest moments of the “Great Cultural and Proletarian Revolution”.
With Deng Xiaoping, who put an end to the phase of the “Red Guards”, by often sending them to terrible work camps, the CPC reached a 50% of technicians, specialists, teachers and “experts”.
Currently the university students are 40% of the Party’s new recruits.
A CPC that does not renounce at all to be a mass Party, but also organizes the elites: it is one of the most significant traits of what the Chinese leaders called “Socialism with Chinese characteristics”.
Furthermore, Xi Jinping no longer wants a Party “taking everyone on board” or joining militants without qualifications, but he tends to gradually turn the CPC into a more selective organization than it currently is.
The selection is always conducted silently by the Party that listens to the candidates’ friends and colleagues and asks them whether they are “frugal”, “honest” and “correct”.
For the sources of the CPC inspectors, silence and secrecy are a must.
Otherwise, the Party will “not forget this.”
All State companies and all foreign companies have a Party unit inside them and this allows better relations between companies and State power.
Hence if we were to analyze the CPC according to Giovanni Sartori’s modern theory of political Parties, we should say that the Chinese Communist Party is both a “social brokerage body” and a “mechanism of representation”.
The Soviet Communist Party (CPSU) collapsed because it played only a social brokerage role, but was not representative, while the CPC is expanding because it plays both roles effectively.
The goal set by Xi Jinping is to create a “moderately prosperous society”.
It is the evolution of Xi Jinping’s theory of the “Four Comprehensives” announced in early 2015.
The Four-pronged Comprehensive Strategy is based on the following Four Comprehensives: “comprehensively build a moderately prosperous society”; “comprehensively deepen reform”; “comprehensively govern the nation according to law” and “comprehensively strictly govern the Party”.
It is worth recalling that moderate prosperity is a fully Confucian concept. Said moderation is that of the equilibrium of man’s faculties and of the relationship between mind and desire. It is not an anti-Epicurean “moderation” in the Western sense.
Hence the primary factor is prosperity.
According to the usually reliable Chinese official statistics, over the past thirty years 700 million Chinese have come out of poverty.
Currently this happens mainly in rural areas, after Deng Xiaoping’s dismantling of rural communes – indeed, the First Modernization was the agricultural one.
Chinese farmers, however, account for 56-68% of the total population or for 12-14% of the world’s population.
Nevertheless Deng’s modernization of rural areas did not fully work and, in the early 1990s, the Chinese rural society was still stratified, impoverished and characterized by low productivity, while the cities grew disproportionately and weighed ever more on rural resources.
Cities and rural areas, the two terms of Mao Zedong’s theory both within Communist China and in foreign policy – the two extreme of the Third International’s eternal dilemma, from the 1932-33 rural crises in Ukraine until Stalin’s famine of 1950.
Hence Xi Jinping, who knows that the crisis of the Chinese rural world has certainly not disappeared with the semi-privatization of land and prices, has sent 770,000 officials and Party leaders to Chinese rural areas to eradicate poverty and hence stabilize said areas even politically and socially.
This avoids the excess of rural population reforming a kind of Lumpenproletariat in the urban suburbs.
With terrible effects on China’s political and social stability.
A society with excessive income differences is never “harmonious” – just to use a Confucian concept that has now become typical of the CPC.
And the operation has worked – at least for the time being.
In fact, from 2013 to 2016, other 56 million people living in rural areas came out of poverty – and the process to which Xi Jinping attaches particular importance is going on.
With a view to having a CPC functioning as a backbone of the State and, at the same time, of civil society, corruption must be eradicated – as we have seen since Xi Jinping has been in power.
Approximately one million Party officials punished, in various ways, for corruption until 2016 and as many as 210,000 already punished in 2017 alone.
Currently Xi Jinping is the ultimate arbiter of the Party and its members’ careers – perhaps even Mao Zedong never had such power.
However, instead of destroying all his competitors, Xi Jinping is creating a new blood of young executives, all coming from the CPC, who will quickly replace the old satraps of bureaucracy.
Besides repressing corruption however, the mechanism of political scrutiny needs to be renewed and strengthened, as the CPC is doing.
Created when the CPC was founded, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) has always had very strong power, but it was abolished in 1969 following the Party’s well-known internal struggles.
It was revived in 1977 and – as happened since 1949 – it has been included in the Party Constitution.
Even before Xi Jinping’s rise to power, from 1982 to 1986 the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection expelled 25,000 Party members and imposed a series of disciplinary sanctions on other 67,000 CPC members.
A structure that has never reduced its specific powers and is the arbiter of the main careers inside the Party and the State.
In Xi Jinping’s mind the fight against corruption – which, with his leadership, has reached unimaginable levels and has hit high-ranking executives, such as Bo Xilai and Ling Jihua – the cleansing inside the Party combines with the refoundation of the Party’s working style and the strengthening of internal discipline.
The Politburo’s “Eight Guidelines” of December 2012 already pointed to a sober and modest lifestyle for all officials and leaders. Furthermore, Li Keqiang has imposed new standards for the transparency of public budgets and reduced the number of government approvals and authorization for spending, thus eliminating evident possibilities of generating bribes.
Currently the CPC inspectors are included – often secretly – in all government bodies and in all regional and local structures.
The system is such that the inspectors are directly responsible for the mistakes or “oversights” of the various Party and government members’ behaviours.
Before Xi Jinping’s rise to power (and before Wang Qishan, his anti-corruption Chief) the incentives to national or local officials and leaders were based on reaching specific economic targets. Nowadays the granting of cash prizes or of career advances is linked to the overall behaviour of officials and, above all, to their honesty – which overlaps with loyalty and obedience to the Party, the Central Committee and, obviously, Xi Jinping’s line.
Moreover the inspections have the strictly political purpose of safeguarding the Central Committee’s joint and centralized authority and leadership.
Xi Jinping knows all too well that any corruption activity is a de facto form of secession from the “political centre” – as demonstrated by the studies on organized crime in the South of Italy.
Hence return to the Party’s centralism, without the “federalist” nonsense that is destroying Europe; maintenance of the CPC leadership role on the whole Chinese society and of Xi Jinping’s role as undisputed leader of the Communist Party of China.
Three factors which are closely interwoven.
So far there have been 12 cycles of inspections within the Party – inspections regarding the CPC organizations at all levels, State companies, banks and financial companies, as well as universities.
The revision of part of the Constitution has started from this process of political and moral restructuring.
The next 19th National Congress will constitute the last and final Sinicization of Marxism.
A stronger and more authoritative CPC, but, above all more integrated in civil society – and here is the novelty compared to the Third International’s Western tradition.
Hence development of Socialism “with Chinese characteristics”, which means Socialism in a society that has not been industrialized by the national bourgeoisie, but by foreigners – a society which is largely rural, while Marxism thinks above all of industrial workers (that is highly traditional), while Western socialism has inherited the most radical aspects of the bourgeois Enlightenment.
The aim of this CPC exercise – made authoritative by the struggle against corruption – is that of Xi Jinping’s “moderately prosperous” society, namely a balanced progress of the economy and of political organization, as well as of the cultural, social and environmental evolution.
Hence self-control of the Party, and – for the first time in the CPC history – reaffirmation of a typical concept of the Western political tradition, namely the “rule of law”.
As recently stated by Xi Jinping at the Interpol General Assembly in Beijing on September 26 last, China’s inclusion in Interpol is a tool for building a world integrated collective security system both strategically and for the repression of personal crimes and offences.
The new security – and here Xi Jinping spoke of international policy between the lines – shall be common, global, cooperative and sustainable in the future.
Hence support for the security of developing countries and perception by all actors of the others’ interests.
We could speak here of Confucian geopolitics.
Thinking also of the others is not a difficult process. The issue lies in changing the thinking style and putting ourselves in other people’s shoes, to avoid excessive reactions and, above all, dangerous for the best interest of nations, i.e. world stability.
Hence, stability and security at internal level, with the centralization and moralization of the CPC; security and stability in the international context, with Xi Jinping vigorously defending globalization in Davos, against the resurgence of economic nationalism in the United States; security and centralization of the Chinese interests in Central Asia, which will soon become the launching pad of China as great global power, far beyond its already significant economic potential.
Deeper meanings of the Hong Kong protests: Is China a gamechanger or yet another winner?
Does our history only appear overheated, while it is essentially calmly predetermined? Is it directional or conceivable, dialectic and eclectic or cyclical, and therefore cynical? Surely, our history warns. Does it also provide for a hope? Hence, what is in front of us: destiny or future?
Theory loves to teach us that extensive debates on what kind of economic system is most conductive to human wellbeing is what consumed most of our civilizational vertical. However, our history has a different say: It seems that the manipulation of the global political economy – far more than the introduction of ideologies – is the dominant and arguably more durable way that human elites usually conspired to build or break civilizations, as planned projects. Somewhere down the process, it deceived us, becoming the self-entrapment. How?
One of the biggest (nearly schizophrenic) dilemmas of liberalism, ever since David Hume and Adam Smith, was an insight into reality: Whether the world is essentially Hobbesian or Kantian. As postulated, the main task of any liberal state is to enable and maintain wealth of its nation, which of course rests upon wealthy individuals inhabiting the particular state. That imperative brought about another dilemma: if wealthy individual, the state will rob you, but in absence of it, the pauperized masses will mob you.
The invisible hand of Smith’s followers have found the satisfactory answer – sovereign debt. That ‘invention’ meant: relatively strong central government of the state. Instead of popular control through the democratic checks-&-balance mechanism, such a state should be rather heavily indebted. Debt – firstly to local merchants, than to foreigners – is a far more powerful deterrent, as it resides outside the popular check domain.
With such a mixed blessing, no empire can easily demonetize its legitimacy, and abandon its hierarchical but invisible and unconstitutional controls. This is how a debtor empire was born. A blessing or totalitarian curse? Let us briefly examine it.
The Soviet Union – much as (the pre-Deng’s) China itself – was far more of a classic continental military empire (overtly brutal; rigid, authoritative, anti-individual, apparent, secretive), while the US was more a financial-trading empire (covertly coercive; hierarchical, yet asocial, exploitive, pervasive, polarizing). On opposite sides of the globe and cognition, to each other they remained enigmatic, mysterious and incalculable: Bear of permafrost vs. Fish of the warm seas. Sparta vs. Athens. Rome vs. Phoenicia… However, common for the both was a super-appetite for omnipresence. Along with the price to pay for it.
Consequently, the Soviets went bankrupt by mid 1980s – they cracked under its own weight, imperially overstretched. So did the Americans – the ‘white man burden’ fractured them already by the Vietnam war, with the Nixon shock only officializing it. However, the US imperium managed to survive and to outlive the Soviets. How?
The United States, with its financial capital (or an outfoxing illusion of it), evolved into a debtor empire through the Wall Street guaranties. Titanium-made Sputnik vs. gold mine of printed-paper… Nothing epitomizes this better than the words of the longest serving US Federal Reserve’s boss, Alan Greenspan, who famously quoted J.B. Connally to then French President Jacques Chirac: “True, the dollar is our currency, but your problem”. Hegemony vs. hegemoney.
House of Cards
Conventional economic theory teaches us that money is a universal equivalent to all goods. Historically, currencies were a space and time-related, to say locality-dependent. However, like no currency ever before, the US dollar became – past the WWII – the universal equivalent to all other moneys of the world. According to history of currencies, the core component of the non-precious metals’ money is a so-called promissory note – intangible belief that,by any given point in future, a particular shiny paper (self-styled as money) will be smoothly exchanged for real goods.
Thus, roughly speaking, money is nothing else but a civilizational construct about imagined/projected tomorrow – that the next day (which nobody has ever seen in the history of humankind, but everybody operates with) definitely comes (i), and that this tomorrow will certainly be a better day then our yesterday or even our today (ii).
This and similar types of collective constructs (horizontal and vertical) over our social contracts hold society together as much as its economy keeps it alive and evolving. Hence, it is money that powers economy, but our blind faith in constructed (imagined) tomorrows and its alleged certainty is what empowers money.
Clearly, the universal equivalent of all equivalents – the US dollar – follows the same pattern: Bold and widely accepted promise. What does the US dollar promise when there is no gold cover attached to it ever since the time of Nixon shock of 1971?
Pentagon promises that the oceanic sea-lanes will remain opened (read: controlled by the US Navy), pathways unhindered, and that the most traded world’s commodity – oil, will be delivered. So, it is not a crude or its delivery what is a cover to the US dollar – it is a promise that oil of tomorrow will be deliverable. That is a real might of the US dollar, which in return finances Pentagon’s massive expenditures and shoulders its supremacy.
Admired and feared, Pentagon further fans our planetary belief in tomorrow’s deliverability – if we only keep our faith in dollar (and hydrocarbons’ energized economy), and so on and on in perpetuated circle of mutual reinforcements.
These two pillars of the US might from the East coast (the US Treasury/Wall Street and Pentagon) together with the two pillars of the West coast – both financed and amplified by the US dollar, and spread through the open sea-routs (Silicone Valley and Hollywood), are an essence of the US posture.
This very nature of power explains why the Americans have missed to take the mankind into completely other direction; towards the non-confrontational, decarbonized, de-monetized/de-financialized and de-psychologized, the self-realizing and green humankind. In short, to turn history into a moral success story. They had such a chance when, past the Gorbachev’s unconditional surrender of the Soviet bloc, and the Deng’s Copernicus-shift of China, the US – unconstrained as a lonely superpower – solely dictated terms of reference; our common destiny and direction/s to our future/s.
Winner is rarely a game-changer
Sadly enough, that was not the first missed opportunity for the US to soften and delay its forthcoming, imminent multidimensional imperial retreat. The very epilogue of the WWII meant a full security guaranty for the US: Geo-economically – 54% of anything manufactured in the world was carrying the Made in USA label, and geostrategically – the US had uninterruptedly enjoyed nearly a decade of the ‘nuclear monopoly’. Up to this very day, the US scores the biggest number of N-tests conducted, the largest stockpile of nuclear weaponry, and it represents the only power ever deploying this ‘ultimate weapon’ on other nation. To complete the irony, Americans enjoy geographic advantage like no other empire before. Save the US, as Ikenberry notes: “…every major power in the world lives in a crowded geopolitical neighborhood where shifts in power routinely provoke counterbalancing”. Look the map, at Russia or China and their packed surroundings. The US is blessed with its insular position, by neighboring oceans. All that should harbor tranquility, peace and prosperity, foresightedness.
Why the lonely might, an empire by invitation did not evolve into empire of relaxation, a generator of harmony? Why does it hold (extra-judicially) captive more political prisoners on Cuban soil than the badmouthed Cuban regime has ever had? Why does it remain obsessed with armament for at home and abroad? Why existential anxieties for at home and security challenges for abroad ? (Eg. 78% of all weaponry at disposal in the wider MENA theater is manufactured in the US, while domestically Americans – only for their civilian purpose – have 1,2 small arms pieces per capita.)
Why the fall of Berlin Wall 30 years ago marked a beginning of decades of stagnant or failing incomes in the US (and elsewhere in the OECD world) coupled with alarming inequalities. What are we talking about here; the inadequate intensity of our tireless confrontational push or about the false course of our civilizational direction?
Indeed, no successful and enduring empire does merely rely on coercion, be it abroad or at home. The grand design of every empire in past rested on a skillful calibration between obedience and initiative – at home, and between bandwagoning and engagement – abroad. In XXI century, one wins when one convinces not when one coerces. Hence, if unable to escape its inner logics and deeply-rooted appeal of confrontational nostalgia, the prevailing archrival is only a winner, rarely a game-changer.
To sum up; After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Americans accelerated expansion while waiting for (real or imagined) adversaries to further decline, ‘liberalize’ and bandwagon behind the US. Expansion is the path to security dictatum only exacerbated the problems afflicting the Pax Americana. That is how the capability of the US to maintain its order started to erode faster than the capacity of its opponents to challenge it. A classical imperial self-entrapment!!
The repeated failure to notice and recalibrate its imperial retreat brought the painful hangovers to Washington by the last presidential elections. Inability to manage the rising costs of sustaining the imperial order only increased the domestic popular revolt and political pressure to abandon its ‘mission’ altogether. Perfectly hitting the target to miss everything else …
Hence, Americans are not fixing the world any more. They are only managing its decline. Look at their (winner) footprint in former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria – to mention but a few.
When the Soviets lost their own indigenous ideological matrix and maverick confrontational stance, and when the US dominated West missed to triumph although winning the Cold War, how to expect from the imitator to score the lasting moral or even amomentary economic victory?
Neither more confrontation and more carbons nor more weaponized trade and traded weapons will save our day. It failed in past, it will fail again any given day.
Interestingly, China opposed the I World, left the II in rift, and ever since Bandung of 1955 it neither won over nor (truly) joined the III Way. Today, many see it as a main contestant. But, where is a lasting success?
(The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is what the most attribute as an instrument of the Chinese planetary posture. Chinese leaders promised massive infrastructure projects all around by burning trillions of dollars. Still, numbers are more moderate. As the recent The II BRI Summit has shown, so far, Chinese companies had invested $90 worldwide. Seems, neither People’s Republic is as rich as many (wish to) think nor it will be able to finance its promised projects without seeking for a global private capital. Such a capital –if ever – will not flow without conditionalities. The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the BRICS or ‘New Development’ – Bank have some $150 billion at hand, and the Silk Road Infrastructure Fund (SRIF) has up to $40 billion. Chinese state and semi-private companies can access – according to the OECD estimates – just another $600 billion (much of it tight) from the home, state-controlled financial sector. That means that China runs short on the BRI deliveries worldwide. Ergo, either bad news to the (BRI) world or the conditionalities’ constrained China.)
Greening international relations along with a greening of economy – geopolitical and environmental understanding, de-acidification and relaxation is the only way out.
That necessitates both at once: less confrontation over the art-of-day technology and their monopolies’ redistribution (as preached by the Sino-American high priests of globalization) as well as the resolute work on the so-called Tesla-ian implosive/fusion-holistic systems(including free-energy technologies; carbon-sequestration; antigravity and self-navigational solutions; bioinformatics and nanorobotics). More of initiative than of obedience (including more public control over data hoovering). More effort to excellence (creation) than struggle for preeminence (partition).
Finally, no global leader has ever in history emerged from a shaky and distrustful neighborhood, or by offering a little bit more of the same in lieu of an innovative technological advancement. (Eg. many see the Chinese 5G as an illiberal innovation, which may end up servicing authoritarianism, anywhere. And indeed, the AI deep learning inspired by biological neurons (neural science) including its three methods: supervised, unsupervised and reinforced learning can end up used for the digital authoritarianism, predictive policing and manufactured social governance based on the bonus-malus behavioral social credits.)
Ergo, it all starts from within, from at home. Without support from a home base (including that of Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Tibet), there is no game changer. China’s home is Asia. Its size and its centrality along with its impressive output is constraining it enough.
Hence, it is not only a new, non-imitative, turn of technology what is needed. Without truly and sincerely embracing mechanisms such as the NaM, ASEAN and SAARC (eventually even the OSCE) and the main champions of multilateralism in Asia, those being India Indonesia and Japan first of all, China has no future of what is planetary awaited – the third force, a game-changer, lasting visionary and trusted global leader.
To varying degrees, but all throughout a premodern and modern history, nearly every world’s major foreign policy originator was dependent (and still depends) on what happens in, and to, Russia. It is not only a size, but also centrality of Russia that matters. It is as much (if not even more), as it is an omnipresence of the US and as it is a hyper production of the PR China.
Ergo, it is an uninterrupted flow of manufactured goods to the whole world, it is balancing of the oversized and centrally positioned one, and it is the ability to controllably destruct the way in and insert itself of the peripheral one. The oscillatory interplay of these three is what characterizes our days.
Uyghur asylum seeker puts international community on the spot
Ablikim Yusuf, a 53-year old Uyghur Muslim seeking a safe haven from potential Chinese persecution, landed this week in the United States, his new home.
But Mr. Yusuf’s perilous search that took him from Pakistan to Qatar to Bosnia Herzegovina where was refused entry and back to Qatar highlighted China’s inability to enforce its depiction of the brutal clampdown on Turkic Muslims in its troubled, north-western province of Xinjiang as a purely domestic matter.
Mr. Yusuf’s case also spotlighted the risk of increased mass migration in a world in which ethnic and religious minorities increasingly feel existentially threatened by civilizationalist policies pursued by illiberal and authoritarian leaders as well as supremacists, racists and far-right nationalist groups.
By choosing Qatar Airways and making Doha his first point of landing after leaving his residence in Pakistan, Mr. Yusuf further underscored the fragility of Muslim acquiescence in the Chinese clampdown and called into question application of Qatar’s asylum law. With the adoption of the law, Qatar last year became the first Arab state to legalize asylum.
While Mr. Yusuf is fortunate to have ended his ordeal with his arrival in the United States, his case accentuated the hypocrisy of the Trump administration that has demonized migrants and refugees and “weaponized” US human rights policy.
Mr. Yusuf’s plight serves the United States as it fights an escalating trade war with China and has made the clampdown in Xinjiang one of the opportunistically selected cases of human rights violations it is willing to emphasize.
Mr Yusuf put Qatar and the international community on the spot when he last weekend posted online a mobile phone video pleading for help hours before he was slated to be deported from Doha’s Hamad International Airport to Beijing.
The plea generated thousands of retweets by Uyghur activists and won him assistance from an American human rights lawyer and ultimately asylum in the US.
If deported to China, Mr. Yusuf would have risked being incarcerated in a re-education camp which has been an involuntary home for an estimated one million Uyghurs in China as part of what amounts to the worst assault on a faith in recent history.
China said last month that the majority of the detainees in what it describes as vocational training facilities had been released and “returned to society” but independent observers say there is no evidence that the camps are being emptied.
Mr. Yusuf decided to leave his home in Pakistan for safer pastures after Pakistan became one of up to 50 countries that signed a letter in support of the clampdown.
Concerned that Pakistan, the largest beneficiary of Chinese Belt and Road-related investment, could deport its Uyghur residents, Mr. Yusuf travelled on a Chinese travel document rather than a passport that was valid only for travel to China. China’s issuance of such documents is designed to force Uyghurs to return.
The travel document provided cover for Qatar’s initial decision to return him to China rather than potentially spark Chinese ire by granting him asylum. International pressure persuaded Qatar to give Mr. Yusuf the opportunity to find a country that would accept him.
China’s clampdown in Xinjiang is but the sharp edge of a global trend fuelled by the rise of leaders across the globe in countries ranging from the United States to China, Russia, India, Hungary, Turkey and Myanmar who think in civilizational terms, undermine minority rights, wittingly or unwittingly legitimize violence, and risk persuading large population groups to migrate in search of safer pastures.
Hate crimes have gripped the United States with critics of President Donald J. Trump charging, despite his explicit condemnation this week of white supremacism, that his hardline attitude and language when it comes to migrants and refugees has created an enabling environment.
Violence against Muslims in India, home to the world’s second largest Muslim community, has increased dramatically with 90 percent of religious hate crimes in the last decade having occurred since Narendra Modi became prime minister.
Some 750,000 Rohingya linger in Bangladeshi refugee camps after fleeing persecution in Myanmar while Islamophobia has become part of US, European and Chinese discourse and Jews in Europe fear a new wave of anti-Semitism.
Italy took efforts to counter migration that are likely to aggravate rather than alleviate a crisis a step further by adopting a law that would slap fines of up to US$1.12 million on those seeking to rescue migrants adrift at sea.
The Chinese clampdown that bars most Uyghurs from travel and seeks to force those abroad to return has so far spared the world yet another stream of people desperate to find a secure and safe home. The risk of an eventual Uyghur exodus remains with the fallout of the Chinese re-education effort yet to be seen.
Mr. Yusuf could well prove to be not only the tip of the Uyghur iceberg but of a future global crisis as a result of an international community that not only increasingly has turned its back on those in need but also pursues exclusionary rather than inclusionary policies.
China’s risky bets
China’s infrastructure and energy driven US$1 trillion Belt and Road initiative involves risky bets across a swath of land populated by often illiberal or autocratic governments exercising power without independent checks and balances.
Seeking to reduce risk, China is bumping up against the limits of its own long-standing foreign and defence policy principles, foremost among which its insistence on non-interference in the domestic affairs of others, the equivalent of the United States’ preference for stability rather than political change.
Anti-corruption sentiment fuelled the 2011 popular Arab revolts that toppled the leaders of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen and are at the root of current anti-government protests across the globe in countries as far flung as Brazil, Haiti, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Russia, Zambia, the Czech Republic, Albania and Romania
China’s risks were evident in the wake of the fall in 2011 of Col. Moammar Gaddafi when the post-revolt Libyan authorities advised China that it would be low on the totem pole as a result of its support of the ancien regime.
The risks are also evident with Baloch militants targeting Chinese assets and personnel in Pakistan.
To minimize the risk and expand its aggressive domestic anti-graft campaign, China’s top anti-corruption body, the Communist party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), is embedding inspectors in Belt and Road projects, who will be based in recipient countries.
The move helps China counter allegations that it exploits corruption in recipient Belt and Road countries to further its objectives.
Anti-corruption is a signature policy of president Xi Jinping and has allowed him to purge senior Chinese leaders as well as tens of thousands of low-level bureaucrats.
The CCDI is building on the success of a pilot project in Laos where it embedded in late 2017 inspectors in a US$6 billion railway project being built by state-owned China Railway Group. The anti-graft officials, working with the Chinese company, established a joint inspection team with their Laotian counterpart.
The question is whether the anti-corruption effort in countries like Laos or Central Asian nations that consistently rank in the bottom half of Transparency International’s corruption index will bump up against China’s non-interference principle.
Or in other words, can China successfully guard against corruption in Belt and Road projects without pressuring recipient countries to adopt broader transparency and anti-corruption measures?
“How can you strike hard on corruption here at home and give a free hand to Chinese people and business groups [that are] reckless abroad?” CCDI’s director-general for international co-operation La Yifan asked in a Financial Times interview.
Mr. La said China had organized seminars with more than 30 countries to link up anti-corruption regulators. “That is my dream, that we create a network of law enforcement of all these Belt and Road countries,” he said.
Imposing transparency and anti-corruption in Belt and Road partners would be the equivalent of all kinds of environmental, safety and human rights criteria that the United States haphazardly and opportunistically maintains in dealings with foreign countries that have been severely criticized by China.
China has long prided itself on what it terms win-win economic situations in which it imposes commercial terms that often primarily benefit the People’s Republic.
The terms, coupled with the clampdown on Turkic Muslims in China’s province of Xinjiang, has fuelled anti-Chinese sentiment in Turkey and Central Asia with their close ethnic and cultural ties to the troubled Chinese region.
Turkish officials highlighted these sensitivities by denying Chinese media reports that president Recep Tayyip Erdogan had praised the success of Beijing’s brutal approach in Xinjiang during a recent visit to China.
Muslim nations have largely remained silent about the clampdown that amounts to the most frontal assault on a faith in recent history or in some instances even tacitly endorsed it.
In the absence of democracy, “governments can manage their pro-Beijing stance without informing their public, but a pro-Beijing policy over the Uyghur issue can barely be sustained in Turkey. Turkey is still a functioning democracy and total control of the public is not possible. Besides, there is a very strong Uyghur lobby and public sentiment towards the Uyghurs in Turkey,” said Turkish Centre for Asia-Pacific Studies director Selcuk Colakoglu.
Taking its anti-corruption campaign global, raises the broader question of whether it would threaten a pillar of autocracy that China’s non-interference principle has de facto sought to perpetuate.
Political scientists Alexander Cooley and John Heathershaw argue that what they call the instruments of global authoritarianism — an army of largely Western bankers, lawyers, brokers and intermediaries that park illicitly gained monies in off-shore accounts and manage the investment of those funds – help keep autocrats in power.
The success of the globalization of China’s anti-corruption effort as well as its campaign to significantly reduce graft at home, would establish autocrats’ ability to satisfactorily deliver public goods and services alongside brute power as the cornerstone of their sustainability.
In doing so, it would give greater meaning to China’s assertion that it does not want to fundamentally alter the established multi-lateral world order but rather make it more equitable and more a reflection of a world that is multi- not unipolar.
It would also cement China’s model of economic reform and state capitalism without political liberalization as the example autocratic and authoritarian regimes want to emulate even if the jury is out on whether autocrats can remain relatively clean without a system of independent checks and balances.
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