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China 70 years from now

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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In my opinion, after the 19thCPC National Congress, two changes characterize the new form of Communist China: the amendment to the Party’s Constitution, with the phrase “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” introduced directly by current President Xi Jinping. The other change is the new autonomous dimension of the Party’s ideology and hence of its practice.

 This is the “miracle” promised to China by President Xi Jinping in his speech on the 40th anniversary of China’s Reforms started by Deng Xiaoping. A miracle that has in fact made China ready for a “new start”, while “the Party has strengthened China’s new pride” – after the mistakes of the “Cultural Revolution”, in particular – while the economic and social reforms could anyway lead to “sudden storms”.

 Therefore China will not allow separatisms – “not even an inch of our Motherland can and will be separated from China”. Hence a hegemonic China, but “without seeking hegemony”.

 The instrument to put an end to contemporary hegemonism, in a context in which President Xi Jinping uses again Mao Zedong’s “Three Worlds Theory”. The capitalistic and developed World, which includes the “two empires” -the two superpowers – and the two client States, and finally the Third World that will be led by China.

 Hence China as owner of an economic development that “poses no threats to others”. On the contrary, and precisely for this reason – as President Xi Jinping maintains – “no one is currently in a position to dictate to China what should or should not be done in the world”. In its essence, this is exactly the “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics” that President Xi Jinping wants to reaffirm both nationally and internationally.

 Again according to the current CPC’s tradition, the origin is to be found in Marx’, Engels’ and Lenin’s ideology, but above all within the project redeveloped by Mao Zedong, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao.

 As can be seen, after Lenin the traditional sequence of Chinese points of reference for Marxism-Leninism was over. It continued with Mao and was later resumed – after the Four Modernizations – temporarily a few years ago.

 Nothing has been decided yet. A Great Helmsman is still needed to guide, orient and direct the Socialist modernization of China.

 Hence, there is no actual link between the Russian tradition of Communist revolution and the Chinese one.

 This is also understandable: Russia wanted to follow the capitalist West so as to later destroy it – albeit it failed in this regard – while China was mainly concerned with the Third World, to which Communist Russia certainly did not belong. Later Russia accepted the Cold War, the useless “paper tiger”, in which China has never believed. Finally it imitated capitalism, without ever having a real potential to do so,  while China was building its rational (and national) Socialism in rural areas, without imitating – at least after the Great Leap Forward from 1958 to 1961 – the European capitalist accumulation, nor the huge massacre of the Russian Bolsheviks’ crazy “rural reforms” between Crimea and Ukraine.

 Hence, currently President Xi Jinping think that the result of implementing his Thought is the definitive “sinicization” of Socialism and the Party.

 The effects of this new operational and political tradition by President Xi Jinping are seen – first and foremost – in the greater efficacy of the Chinese government.

 President Xi Jinping’ Socialist government adapts to Chinese society – in view of transforming it – fitting like a glove on a hand.

 The doctrinal and abstract tradition of Chinese Marxism-Leninism ended precisely with President Xi Jinping’s action. Currently the Chinese Nation and its historical project, namely Socialism, are the same thing.

 Progress towards Socialism -now inherent in the fabric of the Party, of the State and of society – is the same as the peaceful and multilateral reaffirmation of the Chinese Nation as such.

 Pragmatism, above all adherence to the reality of Chinese society, but together with a profound modernization of the system, of society and of the CPC itself.

Hence, President Xi thinks that there are currently four goals at reach. Firstly, Socialism with Chinese Characteristics that now, thanks to President Xi Jinping, is fully embedded in China. Secondly, the Party’s ideology, which is always falling within the State’s competence and is hence responsible for the Nation’s and People’s national evolution, but now merges national interest with Socialism. Thirdly, the reaffirmation of the Party’s role on the State, which may still be lagging behind President Xi Jinping’s project. Fourthly, the Party’s culture, which is the one and only guidance for the Party itself.

 In other words, this means strengthening the Party’s culture to improve its role as an example, as policy line and as future direction.

 According to President Xi Jinping, the Party’s primary goal for the whole Chinese Nation, and not only for its proletariat, is the improvement and, above all, the current consolidation of the People’s living conditions.

 Wellbeing is one of the goalsof “President Xi Jinping’s policy line” that dominates the Party, in addition to the gradual construction of a Great Country for everybody (no limitation to China’s military and strategic prestige) and a Strong Country (no limitation to Socialist China’s geopolitical projection). Also a Civil Country (no limitation to the people’s cultural and ideological evolution) shall be constructed and a Democratic Country (the maximum representation, within the Party, for all the voices of Chinese society), as well as a Harmonious Country, i.e. without the typical imbalance of society with respect to the evolution of its political direction. “Productive Forces” and “Relations of Production”, just to put it in Marxist terms.

   Hence the Party dictates the policy line and the Chinese harmonious society adapts it to every condition and situation.

 It is in this sense that today, under President Xi’s leadership, we can speak about a particular “China’s Renaissance”.

 A mass Renaissance – just to recall Antonio Gramsci’s theories -that hence avoids the problem of being – like the Italian national Risorgimento- a “reform led by the elites alone” and limited in its scope and purposes.

 Hence national and cultural mass renaissance, spread among all classes of the People, the Party and the Nation.

 We should not believe that this historical phase is based on a limited, artificial or ad hoc memory.

 As early as July 1921, when the Communist Party of China was established in Shanghai, the founding members included Li Dazhiao, the founder of the Research Association on Marxism.

 From the beginning, there was an independent study on the dialectic of classes and on historical materialism, based on Chinese material conditions.

 Hence the study was focused on the specificities of the possible Chinese Communist revolution, as well as on the autonomy of the national and social thought. Maximum attention was paid to the classics of Marxism, while the Russian Bolsheviks were still unable to define their own way, between global revolution in capitalist countries and what could already be perceived, namely “Socialism in one country”.

 As early as August 1921, a few days after the Party’s foundation, Zhang Guotao established the Secretariat of Chinese Workers.

 From the beginning – and this is a sign that persists and, indeed, is strengthening even today – the workers’ representation and the Party were almost the same organization that overlapped. It never happened in the history of any Communist Party.

 Hence no Stalinist “transmission belt”: the trade union and the Party were both inside the Chinese society and transformed it every day, without the old-fashioned separation between “reforms” and / or “revolution” – the sign of a rough thought and, to many extents, not typical of Chinese wisdom, in which every change and every revolution are either large or small. It depends but, however, it is not a subjective evaluation.

 Also the relationship between the newly founded Communism and the Chinese national movement strengthened from the beginning. There was not the long discussion between the national and progressive movement and the proletarian movement that was the basis for the evolution of the European, Western and Russian Communist debate.

 Sun Yat-Sen’s Kuomintang immediately opened its doors to Chinese Communist trade unionists, who characterized the trade union movement far beyond the limits of their Party.

Another anomalous tradition of Chinese Marxism compared to the West, as well another root of the bond between the Party and the Masses, that President Xi Jinping still passionately emphasizes.

 In 1922 Mao Zedong, Liu Shaoqi and Li Lisan organized trade unions and mass strikes, not only of the Communist workers – as in the West – but in the Hunan Province. Again in July 1922, the Chinese Communists decided to collaborate with the then progressive nationalism of Sun Yat Sen and the Kuomintang, even in opposition to Mao, who did not fully agree.

 That choice was at the origin of both the CPC’s nationalist roots – without delays and rhetoric – and of certain ideological infiltrations that Mao Zedong tried to later use or eliminate.

 A problem that President Xi Jinping has definitely solved.

 A very severe problem, i.e. adapting without imitating and, hence, without absorbing the contradictions of Western capitalism, which is still in Xi Jinping’s mind.

 Only in 1923 did the CPC and the CPSU sign a mutual collaboration agreement.

 When, while referring to Russians, Deng Xiaoping spoke about the “enemies of the North”, he was still the spearhead of an old tradition of Chinese Communism.

 In 1923, however, the CPC officially adopted the “Russian policy line”.

  At the time, Mao Zedong joined the Central Committee and actively collaborated with the Kuomintang.

 Nevertheless, the price paid by the Kuomintang was very high: in January 1924 the CPC became part of the Kuomintang itself, albeit with three clauses: the alliance with the USSR; the stable unity of action with the Communist Party; the equally stable mass action with peasants and workers.

 Three factors that led to the end of Sun Yat Sen’s nationalist movement – except for new and powerful allies.

 In that case there was no obvious “entryism”, as we say in the jargon of European Communism: in China, Mao’s CPC was a Party entrenched within the masses it stably represented and connected with what the Marxists – probably somehow naively – still defined “national bourgeoisie”.

 As early as 1924, in Shanghai the CPC decided to step up “mass work”, while preserving its organization independent of the Kuomintang.

 The national bourgeoisie and the so-called “compradora” bourgeoisie merged in China-and hence in the Kuomintang. Therefore the CPC needed to become autonomous and work with every part of the revolutionary bourgeoisie.

 Unlike what happened in Europe during the same period,  when the national Communist Party either stood as the enemy of everyone – and above all of the progressive bourgeoisie – or rendered itself useless by remaining in a sort of splendid and useful isolation.

 Or it accepted unity with everyone, thus starting to lose itself and its political autonomy.

 The Canton Merchants’ Corps Uprising of August 1924 – in which the merchants were supported by Great Britain -was initially a rebellion against a new tax imposed by the government, which everyone also considered an expression of the USSR.

 The uprising was repressed, but the CPC’s struggle to avoid being identified as a simple offshoot of Russia was successful.

 On that occasion, the Kuomintang’s Central Bank was created.

  It happened in Canton, while, shortly afterwards, China found itself in four areas dominated by weak military coalitions.

 That was the real and empirical connection of Socialism with national unity in China.

 Without unity of the Chinese people – apart from the identities imposed by colonialism (and by some “friendly” country, currently as in the past) – there could be no unity of the nation and, hence, of Socialism itself which, if not led by the People’s Party of China, would inevitably repeat the “century of humiliation”.

 Finally, in early May 1925, Mao Zedong was elected President of the rural federation, always under the then national and progressive aegis of the Kuomintang.

Hence without an analysis of the peasant conditions – which is not mere productive “backwardness”, according to the old Russian Bolsheviks – there is no Chinese Communism not referring directly to a specific and material analysis of the peasant conditions.

 Hence we cannot reduce the peasant issue to a trivial theme – not by chance used both by the Russian Bolshevik Communists in their heinous “reforms” and by capitalists of the 1960s, the years of “take-off” and “underdevelopment”.

 Rural areas were not tantamount to underdevelopment. They were tantamount to exploitation, if anything.

 Without underdevelopment, what could we eat?

 Hence, as already seen, the CPC was born within the union and realistic context of the protection of needs of a wide majority of people, mainly rural, while maintaining a sound political and ideological class identity – as is still the case today.

 In 1928, Chiang Kai-Shek’s troops, the Kuomintang, occupied Peking.

 In that year, again referring to the rural masses, the CPC ordered the “Autumn Harvest Uprising”, thus triggering and resolving the problem of the true origin of class struggle in China, i.e. the clash between poor peasants and landowners.

 In 1929, the law confiscating the lands of Xing’guo and the new Civil Code were enacted. Hence the confiscation of State lands and of those belonging to landowners started.

 The war against Japan, which had invaded Manchuria, began.

 In February 1936, the Red Army marched towards Shiensi and recruited thousands of peasants, also with the support of the local warlord.

 The CPC asked not to requisition the lands of those who had fought against Japan.

 Nation and People, but also Socialist transformation of the economy. All three things together – as is currently the case.

 After many acts of war, also the tragic Nanjing massacre took place.

 A cruel slaughter of local inhabitants by Japan.  350,000 civilians were annihilated.

  China’s main cities were conquered by Japan, which meanwhile had established the capital in Peking.

 In 1943 the war was not over yet: the CPC adopted the so-called policy line of the “Resolution of the Many Traditional  Problems”, under Mao’s direct supervision.

  In 1945 Mao’s positions at the CPC Congress gained the upper hand in Ya’an – hence the policy line of the coalition government.

 Therefore the CPC’s essential political issue was solved, i.d. the national bourgeoisie that had become part of the Party. Also the social issue was solved, with the autonomous leadership of the CPC, which dealt with the great agrarian reform. There was also the military and strategic issue that, at the time, was already outside the CPSU scope. Finally uniqueness of power after the evident defeat of the Kuomintang.

 Almost the same as today.

 In 1948, the Chinese People’s Bank was established as issuing bank.

 In particular, it guaranteed the funds necessary for the companies to reach the goals of the five-year plan.

 Autonomy from the global financial cycle, when needed – as is currently the case.

 In 1949 the Red Army returned to the liberated city of Shanghai.

 What about the Belt and Road Initiative? Today’s Long March? What role does it currently play?

 It is largely a legacy of Hu Jintao and of the solution of the Chinese border issue by Jiang Zemin.

 At predictive level, it is a matter of 65 countries with a maximum trade totalling 2.5 trillion US dollars over ten years, with a project like this one that is expected to amount to 26% of the current Chinese foreign trade.

 An opportunity to find a way out, to remove dangerous land borders and to finally put an end to China’s estrangement from contemporary world.

 Not a “Cold War”, but a gradual multilateral and bilateral integration.

 Hence making the energy supply safe for China with the Belt and Road Initiative, as well as getting out of the spiral between monetary QE and commercial expansion, only thanks to the huge dimension of the Belt and Road Initiative, and finally finding an outlet for foreign direct investment that China desperately needs.

 A current sum of factors responding to the three policy lines with which the Party was founded: national interest at first, unity of the Nation and economic development.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

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Hong Kong: No more China’s disheartened capitalism, please

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Hong Kong’s unrest started in June 2019. It was triggered by the plans to allow extradition to mainland China. Critics felt this could compromise judicial autonomy and jeopardise free-speech legacy.

Until 1997, Hong Kong was under the British rule as an overseas territory (effectively a colony), but then returned under the mainland China jurisdiction. Under the Deng’s “one country, two systems” arrangement, it has considerable autonomy, and Hongkongers (Mandarin: 香港人) enjoy comparatively more civic rights.

The controversial bill was finally withdrawn in September 2019. Under the slogan ‘too little too late’, the demonstrations continued, growing even larger. Protesters now demand full democracy and an independent inquiry into police actions.

Lately, clashes between police and activists have turned worryingly violent; police firing rubber bullets and occasionally even live rounds, while protesters counter-attacking officers by throwing stones and petrol bombs.

Generational and Class struggle is back?

What still remains rather underreported are social and generational dimensions of the protests. Hence, it indeed feels to comment on some distorting interpretations and oversimplified views.

As an illustration, one can take reporting such as James A. Dorn’s columns (eg. “If protesters want to protect Hong Kong’s way of life, they must win the war of ideas”). This author is cited as a China specialist. Essentially, he is a senior fellow of the Cato Institute, a conservative think tank similar to The Heritage Foundation, which often declares Hong Kong the “world’s freest economy”, even though Hong Kong’s working class endures horrid living conditions here.

Authors like him allude to a “war of ideas” and do criticise socialism with Chinese characteristics, even though China has made tremendous economic progress and enjoyed political stability. One wonders why such views and opinions about Hong Kong or China should be considered or adopted.

China has not dictated how the US or other Western countries should run their economies or political systems, nor has it solicited advice from these free market theoreticians or think tanks. China has lifted at least half a billion people out of poverty, helping to alleviate poverty globally.

Another country which has done exceptionally well and which has not subscribed to neoliberal dogma but retains strong state control of the economy and political freedom is Singapore.

Hong Kong’s main problem is that the sacrosanct free market has become a political excuse for government non-interference, allowing tycoons and big businesses to freely game the system, gorge themselves on Hong Kong’s resources and create large wealth disparities that have contributed to our current social and political instability.

This neither alleviated the suffering of Hong Kong’s working class nor solved the housing problem. Rather it has allowed tycoons to profit. The city needs tax reform so that government revenue does not rely on land sales.

The policy of non-intervention has led to tycoons and big businesses privatising necessities like housing, health care, education and, through the Mandatory Provident Fund, retirement savings. This benefits the private sector at the expense of the public.

Driven by an unrestrained greed, someone wishing to monetise, gambles with our future. Simply, compare the Gini for Hong Kong of 1997 and of today, and see yourself.

Massive social costs to enrich few – Parasites among us

Nowhere in the world is housing as unaffordable and nowhere has it made property developers as wealthy. Allowing markets to set prices only reinforces the housing crisis, as does letting local and foreign investors buy up property despite the housing shortage. Another absurdity is calling for more free competition to break up the property cartel.

As professor Anis H. Bajrektarevic observed and compared: “… it seems that the narrative by which the ‘freedom’ obsessed and spoiled capitalist youth is fighting the big egalitarian communist apparatus is overly simplified and is, thus, short in capturing the truth… It is [what is happening last months in Hong Kong] closer to an outcry of excluded and pauperised youth – quite similar to the one on the streets of Europe, whose protests faded away years ago … [Well] educated but disfranchised youth that feels the generational warfare replaced the social welfare… The Hongkongers are not fighting against the egalitarian ideas or system. Quite to contrary, they are bitterly opposing social inequality and endemic generational exclusions. The very tomorrow of European society might be – prudently or violently – decided on the streets of Hong Kong.”

A low-tax regime mostly benefits the landlord class and big business. Hong Kong residents actually pay among the highest taxes in the world in the form of high rents and housing prices, yet they have scant social safety nets. A wealth tax and more progressive taxes should be imposed to generate government revenue, instead of relying on land sales.

Hong Kong needs the opposite of the free-market dogma, so we can have more humane living conditions and social stability. Or as a former Vice-chancellor of the Hong Kong University wonderfully captured: “Neither violence, nor Beijing, can fix City’s housing shortage and lack of a social safety net.”

Many Hongkongers have lost out due to economic changes, and many have deep-seated distrust of mainland China. The Hong Kong government must first address their social exclusions and financial insecurities, enhancing all-generational debate before it can work on fostering a sense of Chinese identity.

 From our partner International Affairs

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China struggles to fend off allegations of debt trap diplomacy

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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Desperate for cash, Tajikistan is about to sell yet another vital asset to China at a time that countries like Sri Lanka and the Maldives are demanding renegotiation of debt settlements that either forced them to surrender control of critical infrastructure or left them with unsustainable repayments.

The pending Chinese acquisition of  a stake in Tajikistan’s aluminium smelter, coupled with earlier tax concessions to Chinese companies that would substantially reduce the trickle down effect of investments for the troubled Tajik economy, suggest that China has yet to fully take account  of frequent criticism of its commercial approach to Belt and Road-related projects.

The Washington-based Center for Global Development warned last year that “23 of 68 countries benefiting from Belt and Road (BRI) investments were “significantly or highly vulnerable to debt distress.”

The centre said eight countries — Tajikistan, the Maldives, Pakistan, Djibouti, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Mongolia, and Montenegro — were particularly at risk.

“There is…concern that debt problems will create an unfavourable degree of dependency on China as a creditor. Increasing debt, and China’s role in managing bilateral debt problems, has already exacerbated internal and bilateral tensions in some BRI countries,” the report said.

Progress on the construction of a road in Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor, a narrow strip in the east of the country that touches the Chinese border and separates Tajikistan from Pakistan and Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, may explain China’s seeming insensitivity to the concerns of beneficiaries of the People’s Republic’s largesse.

The road would link the corridor to Central Asia in the north and Pakistan’s Chinese-built Arabian Sea port of Gwadar in the south, a crown jewel in China’s infrastructure- and energy driven Belt and Road initiative.

To be sure, the road has local rather than geopolitical significance for workers building the road and the region’s shepherds as documented by anthropologists Tobias Marschall and Till Mostowlansky.

The road creates temporary employment for labourers. For shepherds, it facilitates access to mountain pastures.

For China, the stakes are geopolitical and economic.

The road would not only facilitate commerce with Central Asia as well as traffic from Gwadar but also construction of shorter pipelines as well as a fibre optic cable.

Perhaps more importantly, it would together with a military base in Tajikistan and Chinese cross border operations in the corridor itself, facilitate the movement of troops in China’s gradual projection of military power beyond its borders, particularly in regions adjacent to its troubled north-western province of Xinjiang.

The road’s potential military significance raises questions about the sustainability of a presumed division of labour between Russia and China under which Russia shoulders responsibility for security in Central Asia while China concentrates on economic development.

Ironically, if the examples of Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Pakistan and Malaysia coupled with anti-Chinese sentiment in Central Asia, fuelled in part by the brutal crackdown on Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang, are anything to go by, China’s approach to Belt and Road-related development could turn out to be a threat to its broader geopolitical ambitions and regional security policy.

Sri Lanka recently demanded that China return control of Hambantota port.

Sri Lanka became the poster child of allegations that China was pursuing debt trap diplomacy when it two years ago surrendered to China control of the port as part of a deal to reduce the country’s debt payments.

China lent Sri Lanka US$5 billion between 2010 and 2015 for infrastructure projects that included development of Hambantota at interest rates of up to 6.3 percent.

By comparison, World Bank and Asian Development Bank rates on soft loans range from 0.25 to three percent.

“The perfect circumstance is a return to the norm. We pay back the loan in due course in the way that we had originally agreed without any disturbance at all,” said newly appointed Sri Lankan prime minister Ajith Nivard Cabraal.

Similarly, the foreign ministry of the Maldives said earlier this month that it was seeking to restructure its Chinese debt.

“Borrowings by the previous government were unreasonable and put us in difficulty. But we can solve this mess through diplomatic means,” said foreign minister Abdulla Shahid.

Last month, former president Abdulla Yameen was jailed for five years and fined US$5 million for corruption during his term that ended late last year. Mr. Shahid’s government has accused China of land grabs during Mr. Yameen’s reign.

In a rare success, Malaysia earlier this year negotiated a one third reduction in the cost of a US$15.7 billion Belt and Road-related rail project.  In a further concession, China agreed that 70 percent of the workforce would be Malaysian and that Malaysian contractors would get 40% of the civil works.

China has repeatedly been accused of employing Chinese rather than local labour for Chinese-funded projects along the Belt and Road and importing materials from China rather than sourcing them locally.

The government of Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan has been less successful than its Malaysian counterpart.

It recently bowed to Chinese pressure to revive hundreds of projects initially suspended after it came to office in 2018.

The appointment of a retired lieutenant general as head of a new authority overseeing the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) that groups Belt and Road-related projects reflected China’s wariness towards messy Pakistani politics and preference for dealing with the country’s military.

With Sri Lanka as the anti-thesis, analysts suggest that China is determined to make Pakistan a success story.

“The big battle at the moment is about CPEC’s reputation, and Beijing cares about salvaging that. They need to show BRI has been a success, that it hasn’t put Pakistan’s economy in trouble and that there isn’t a backlash. If they can’t do it in a context like this, it suggests that there is something flawed in the model,” said Pakistan and China scholar Andrew Small.

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Standing up to China: Czech mayor sets a high bar

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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A Czech mayor’s refusal to endorse Beijing’s One China policy potentially sets a high bar as Western powers grapple with how to respond to allegations of excessive use of violence by police against Hong Kong protesters and the implications of leaked documents detailing a brutal crackdown in China’s north-western province of Xinjiang.

Prague mayor Zdenek Hrib rejected a sister city agreement between the Czech capital and Beijing in late October because it included a clause endorsing the One China policy, which implicitly recognizes China’s sovereignty over Taiwan, as well as Hong Kong and Tibet.

Mr. Hrib argued that the agreement was a cultural arrangement and not designed to address foreign policy issues that were the prerogative of the national government.

The mayor’s stance has since taken on added significance against the backdrop of US President Donald J. Trump’s signing of legislation that allows for the sanctioning of Hong Kong officials, embarrassing Communist party leaks that document repression in Xinjiang, the election of a new Sri Lankan government that intends to adopt a tougher policy towards China, and simmering anti-Chinese sentiment in Central Asia and beyond.

Mr. Hrib’s rejection was in fact a reflection of anti-Chinese sentiment in the Czech Republic as well as opposition to the pro-China policy adopted by Czech president Milos Zeman.

To be sure, Mr. Hrib, a 38-year old medical doctor who interned in Taiwan, was shouldering little political or economic risk given Czech public anger at China’s failure to fulfil promises of significant investment in the country.

On the contrary, Mr. Hrib, since becoming mayor in mid-2018, appears to have made it his pastime to put Mr. Zeman on the spot by poking a finger at China.

Mr. Hrib visited Taiwan in the first six months of his mayorship, flew the Tibetan flag over Prague’s city hall, and rejected a request by the Chinese ambassador at a meeting with foreign diplomats to send Taiwanese representatives out of the room.

Beijing’s cancellation of a tour of China by the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra in response to Mr. Hrib’s provocations forced Mr. Zeman to describe the Chinese retaliation as “excessive” and his  foreign minister, Tomas Petricek, to declare that “diplomacy is not conducted with threats.”

Perhaps more importantly, M. Hrib was taking a stand based on principles and values rather than interests. In doing so, he was challenging the new normal of world leaders flagrantly ignoring international law to operate on the principle of might is right.

“Our conscience is not for sale,” said Michaela Krausova, a leading member of the governing Pirate Party of the Prague city council. Ms. Krausova and Mr. Hrib’s party was founded to shake up Czech politics with its insistence on the safeguarding of civil liberties and political accountability and transparency.

While couched in terms of principle, Mr. Hrib’s stand strokes with newly installed Sri Lankan president Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s intention to wrest back control from China of the island’s strategic Hambantota port that serves key shipping lanes between Europe and Asia.

Hambantota became a symbol of what some critics have charged is Chinese debt trap diplomacy after Sri Lanka was forced to hand over the port to China in 2017 on a 99-year lease because the government was unable to repay loans taken to build it.

“I believe that the Sri Lankan government must have control of all strategically important projects like Hambantota. The next generation will curse our generation for giving away precious assets otherwise,” Mr. Rajapaksa said.

Fears of a debt trap coupled with the crackdown on Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang, which targets not only Uighurs, but also groups that trace their roots to Central Asian countries, have fuelled anti-Chinese sentiment in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan.

“Given that China is likely to continue to expand its presence, further irritating local publics, the temptation of opposition groups to exploit such anger will only grow. If that happens…the anti-Chinese demonstrations that have taken place to date will be only the prelude to a situation that could easily spiral out of control, ethnicizing politics in these countries still further,” said Central Asia scholar Paul Goble.

Beyond Xinjiang, anti-Chinese sentiment in Central Asia is fuelled by some of the same drivers that inform Czech attitudes towards China.

The shared drivers include unfulfilled promises, idle incomplete Chinese-funded infrastructure projects, widespread corruption associated with Chinese funding, and the influx of Chinese labour and materials at the expense of the local work force and manufacturers.

Beyond Xinjiang, Central Asians worry about potential debt traps. The Washington-based Center for Global Development listed last year two Central Asian nations, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, as risking China-related “debt distress.”

Warned China and Central Asia scholar Ayjaz Wani: “Chinese principles in Central Asia are hegemonic. China has always interacted with Central Asian states without regarding their cultural identities, but according to its own vested interests… However, the ongoing anti-China sentiments may be coming to a tipping point.

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