News from China in the week to 26 August, including censoring academic articles, Britain’s responsibilities to Hong Kong, Party take over at Tibetan Buddhist centre and US investigates Chinese trade practices.
Britain & China
There has been considerable coverage in the UK and around the world of Cambridge University Press’ decision to unblock articles they had censored in China a few days earlier at the request of the authorities there. The reversal came following a barrage of criticism from academics.
China’s bid to block my journal’s articles is a new attack on academic freedom (The Guardian, 22 August)
Writing about the change of heart by Cambridge University Press on censoring articles in China, Tim Pringle, a senior lecturer in development studies at SOAS and editor of China Quarterly, says:
This attempt to deny access might – just might – be the result of over-reach by Chinese censorship bodies such as the recently created General Administration of Press and Publication. But I fear it is the outcome of a much stronger shade of authoritarian government that excludes voices from outside the party-led system. The evidence of new regulatory, and apparently ideological, constraints on academic freedom and public engagement in China that have emerged since 2012 – under the leadership of Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang– suggest that the parlous state of affairs with regard to academic freedom is policy-driven. What is unprecedented is that its reach has now stretched to international institutions such as Cambridge University Press.
Cambridge University censorship U-turn is censored by China (The Guardian, 22 August)
Chinese intellectuals and bloggers have celebrated Cambridge University’s decision to push back against Beijing’s draconian information controls – but Communist party censors reacted almost immediately to prevent word of the snub spreading in mainland China.
China Quarterly debate a matter of principle (Global Times, 20 August)
In an Op-Ed China’s Global Times, had unsurprisingly backed the original decision to censor the articles in China saying:
Western institutions have the freedom to choose. If they don’t like the Chinese way, they can stop engaging with us. If they think China’s Internet market is so important that they can’t miss out, they need to respect Chinese law and adapt to the Chinese way.
Labour MP: Britain cannot shirk its duty to defend Hong Kong from China’s authoritarianism (New Statesman, 22 August)
Writing in The New Statesman Catherine West MP criticises “the British government’s failure to respond firmly to the jailing of Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow for standing up for democracy”.
Arrests of pro-democracy activists show China is breaching its commitments to the “one country, two systems” agreement.
The Joint Declaration is a legally binding treaty. It is registered with the UN and is still in force. As the UK is a co-signatory, it should be doing all it can to make sure it is upheld. Yet, in late June one of Hong Kong’s most respected democracy activists Martin Lee described the British government as “just awful. I’m afraid I cannot find any kind words to say about that.”
It is not for either China or the UK to unilaterally decide the Joint Declaration is null and void. The people of Hong Kong understand that and are standing up for democracy in the face of adversity. Our Government has a duty to stand by them.
Liu Xiaoming: Chinese investment in the UK is an opportunity not a threat (Evening Standard, 21 August)
In an article in the Evening Standard the Chinese Ambassador to the UK, Liu Xiaoming, said ‘Being open and inclusive has been and must stay one of the keys to Britain’s continued success’.
‘Britain is known to be liberal and open to foreign trade and investment. But these days in the British media we see another picture — a confusing mixture of paranoia about so-called threats of Chinese investment to UK’s national security, of exaggerations about China’s appetite to buy out Britain, and of talks about protection against investment from China. All these are both groundless and harmful.’
China’s deepening institutional decay (East Asia Forum, 20 August)
Carl Minzner, Fordham Law School, writes about the upcoming 19th Party Congress:
China is in transition. And not in a good way. The partially institutionalised political norms of China’s reform era are buckling. Beijing is steadily sliding away from collective authoritarian rule by Chinese Communist Party (CCP) elite towards a more personalised variant wielded by President Xi Jinping alone.
In China, the Party’s push for influence inside foreign firms stirs fears (Reuters, 24 August)
Late last month, executives from more than a dozen top European companies in China met in Beijing to discuss their concerns about the growing role of the ruling Communist Party in the local operations of foreign firms, according to three people with knowledge of the discussions. One senior executive whose company was represented at the meeting told Reuters some companies were under “political pressure” to revise the terms of their joint ventures with state-owned partners to allow the party final say over business operations and investment decisions.
Communist Party takeover threatens Tibetan Buddhist centre’s soul (SCMP, 25 August)
Until now Larung Gar has operated as an independent centre of learning and SCMP reports that since the death of its founder it has been administered in turns by a group of revered khenpos, or senior monks.
But today the academy is facing an existential threat – it will soon to be taken over by a Communist Party committee headed by a local police officer. All six of the appointees are ethnic Tibetans but, as members of the atheist party, are non-believers in Buddhism.
The art of propaganda (The Economist, 25 August)
In 2015 the party’s anti-graft agency noted a gap in President Xi Jinping’s efforts to clean up the government and army (and crush his rivals). How could the public appreciate this heroic struggle without works of art, especially televisual ones, depicting it?
However, as The Economist writes, viewers have plenty of other options if government-sanctioned television bores them. So plots have to have plenty of ‘realistic grit’.
That can muddle the message. Audiences are drawn to the bad stuff. Some viewers conclude that the Communist Party is irredeemably corrupt, not that it is bravely fighting graft.
China’s propaganda machine in overdrive (Al Jazeera, 21 August)
Al Jazeera takes a look at Beijing’s control and censorship mechanisms before the Communist Party’s 19th Congress.
As China’s ruling Communist Party gears up for its 19th Congress, President Xi Jinping is calling on the country’s mediato play their part in touting his grand vision for China, and especially an infrastructure venture called the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
China to use ‘all means necessary’ to defend itself against Trump ‘protectionism’ (Washington Post, 24 August)
China sharpened its rhetoric over the Trump administration’s efforts to investigate its trade practices, vowing on Thursday to use “all means necessary” to defend the country and its companies. Although analysts don’t believe a trade war between the world’s two largest economies is imminent, China’s harsh words underline a recent fraying of the relationship between Beijing and Washington over trade and North Korea.
China’s bullet train revolution (SCMP, 21 August)
China will officially start operation of the world’s fastest train service next month, knocking an hour off the 1,318km journey between Beijing and Shanghai. Seven pairs of bullet trains – named Fuxing, which means rejuvenation – will start operating from September 21, Thepaper.cn, a government-controlled news website, reported on Sunday. National rejuvenation is a slogan promoted by Chinese President Xi Jinping.
New Balance wins record China trademark award (BBC, 24 August)
New Balance has won a record payout in a Chinese trademark case after three local shoemakers were found to have infringed the brand’s “N” logo. A Chinese court awarded the US sportswear firm more than 10 million yuan (£1.2m; $1.5m).
Life in China
Schools for Migrant Children Vanishing as Beijing Combats Population Growth (Caixin, 21 August)
A campaign to clear away improvised buildings and squatter areas from Beijing’s landscape has left thousands of migrant workers’ children in education limbo, as roaring bulldozers turned their classrooms into rubble.
Chinese users posting comments online must register real names (SCMP, 25 August)
South China Morning Post reports on a fresh effort to enforce real name registration for internet users.
Chinese internet users will have to register their real names before they can post comments online from October, the cyberspace regulator said on Friday.
The Cyberspace Administration of China said in a notice about the regulation that online comments had “given rise to the dissemination of false rumours, foul language and illegal information”.
Lele Tao: The ‘online goddess’ who earns $450k a year (BBC, 20 August)
3 films for the BBC by Natalia Zuo on China’s multi-billion dollar live streaming industry.
The first film follows 24-year-old Lele Tao, who chats and sings to her 1 million fans, mostly young men.
Two further episodes:
And finally, some important Scottish panda news…
Britain’s only female giant panda pregnant report (Global Times, 25 August)
Tian Tian, the only female Chinese giant panda in Britain, is pregnant, local media reported in London Thursday. If a cub is born, it would be the first birth of a panda in Britain. Tian Tian, which means Sweetie in Chinese, has failed to produce a cub despite repeated artificial inseminations since her arrival at Edinburgh Zoo in December 2011.
However, we have been here before. Global Times says:
Many female pandas undergo pseudopregnancy and Edinburgh Zoo is using a battery of tests to try to rule it out.