News from China in the week to 2 September, including date set for 19th Congress, plans for ‘flying train’ and UK PM calls on Xi to do more to curb N Korea.
The big political news of the week was the announcement that the CCP’s twice-a-decade get together (the party’s 19th National Congress) will start on 18th October. Speculation about what will happen at this crucially important meeting will now reach fever pitch, with the key question on everyone’s minds being how much will Xi Jinping be able to strengthen his position as ‘the core’ of China’s leadership.
China Has Set Oct. 18 For Its Communist Party Congress. Here’s What To Expect: Parallels (National Public Radio, 31 August)
Endless meetings have emphasized to the party rank and file the importance of “upholding the authority” of the party leadership and refraining from making “improper comments” about party policies. This month, for example, Xi’s protégé Cai Qi, now party boss of Beijing, exhorted the capital’s officials to venerate Xi’s compiled speeches as “the most important book on your desk, your main reference work, and your source of mottoes.” As previous party congresses have done for previous leaders, including Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin, the 19th may formally enshrine “Xi Jinping Thought” in the party’s charter.
China Sets Date for Party Congress as Xi Looms Even Larger (Wall Street Journal, 31 August)
Observers say the personnel shuffling at this year’s congress could have far-reaching implications for China’s political future—particularly if Mr. Xi upends party conventions established in recent decades to ensure regular and orderly power transitions. Party insiders expect Mr. Xi to try to sideline rivals, including potential successors, and pick close associates to replace a cohort of top officials due to retire this year under customary age limits.
Ahead of the Congress, propaganda chiefs are going into overdrive to reinforce to make sure Chinese people know what a great job their President is doing.
‘A whirlwind of charisma!’: China propaganda blitz hails Xi, the Great Statesman (The Guardian, 1 September)
October’s twice-a-decade congress marks the end of Xi’s first term as China’s paramount leader and with the event just weeks away, Beijing’s propaganda apparatus is working overtime to sing his praises. As part of that PR offensive, a string of big-budget “documentaries” – in reality slick, state-funded advertorials – have received a prime-time billing. Earlier this summer, one such serieshailed what it portrayed as Xi’s relentless assault on corruption and – despite a notorious crackdown on human rights lawyers and activists – his bid to advance the rule of law.
Chinese universities tighten ideological control of teaching staff (SCMP, 28 August)
A group of China’s top universities have set up Communist Party departments to oversee the political thinking of their teaching staff after the colleges were criticised amid the government’s tightening ideological control on campuses.
The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the party’s powerful disciplinary watchdog, last week published “rectification reports” on eight top-tier universities it inspected this year.
Chinese Textbooks Get a Few Shades Redder (Sixth Tone, 30 August)
New liberal arts textbooks will appear on the desks of all first-year primary and middle school students across the country this September — with a fortified dose of patriotic flavor.
Drinking Tea with China’s ‘National Treasure’: Five Questions (Chuang
A fascinating, and amusing, transcript posted online of a recent encounter between feminist activists and police in Guangzhou, a southern Chinese city, shows Public Security officers trying to interrogate and force the activists to leave the city.
As the blog notes, title is a double play on words. First, ‘being invited to drink tea’ (被请喝茶) colloquially refers to interrogation by police or other agents of the party-state. Second, the Domestic Security Department (国内安全保卫局 or simply 国保) of the Ministry of Public Security sounds the same as ‘national treasure’ guobao (国宝).
As the 19th Congress draws closer it’s likely that increasing numbers of people will be taken in to have tea with public security officers.
Internet regulations prompted by threats (Global Times, 27 August)
Flourishing development of China’s Internet industry has proved that the country’s increasingly stringent cyberspace regulations have not stifled innovation and refuted mounting criticism from the West, experts said. “The Internet is a public good which could also be used by terrorists and criminals. If a country has no strict and effective censorship to control the Internet, the government cannot protect the security of its people,” said Xie Jiangyong, an associate professor at the Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications.
China announces plans for ‘flying train’ that can travel up to 2,500mph (The Independent, 31 August)
The state-owned China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) has claimed it plans to develop the next generation of trains, which can travel at speeds of up to 2,500mph. China already has the largest network of high speed trains in the world, and is obviously keen to continue outstripping the competition. CASC officials have said they will work with more than 20 other research institutes, both domestic and international, in the quest to create the proposed 2,500mph trains.
China’s Grocery Trolls Make Giant Piggy Banks of Wal-Mart and Carrefour (Bloomberg, 24 August)
A sprawling new Food Safety Law has spawned a cottage industry of professional complainers who sue food manufacturers and retailers over infractions big and small.
India and China end Himalayan border stand-off (BBC, 28 August)
India and China have agreed to pull their troops back from a disputed border area after a tense stand-off that lasted more than two months. China said India would withdraw personnel while Beijing would “continue its sovereignty rights”.
North Korea missile over Japan: China blames US and South Korea for provoking Pyongyang (The Independent, 29 August)
China has warned the US and South Korea not to provoke North Korea and called for restraint from all sides after Pyongyang fired a missile that flew over Japan and landed in waters off the northern region of Hokkaido.
Britain and China
On a visit to Japan the British PM called on China to do more to help solve the North Korean problem.
Theresa May: China should curb North Korea’s ‘outrageous’ missile ambitions (The Guardian, 30th August)
Calling the firing of the missile, which triggered emergency sirens as it flew over the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido before breaking apart over the sea “outrageous” and “a provocation”, May urged the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, to do more. “China has, I think, a very key role to play in terms of the pressure it can bring,” May said.“I have said this to President Xi, other have as well. We think that China has a role to play and we’d encourage China to do everything it can to bring pressure on North Korea to stop this.”
Her comments did not impress China’s nationalist paper Global Times. As The Guardian reported, there was a strong attack on the PM in the Chinese language version of the paper. This was not repeated, as far as I can see, in the English language version, suggesting the comments were intended mainly for domestic consumption.
Theresa May’s tough talk on Korea exposes weakness, says Chinese media (The Guardian, 31 August)
“May’s Conservative party lost many seats, turning her into a vulnerable prime minister,” argued an editorial in its Chinese language edition. “Weak people often look for opportunities to show their ‘strength’.”
“Perhaps prime minister May doesn’t know much about the Korean peninsula. Her comments sounded just like a rehashing of Washington’s rhetoric,” the notoriously undiplomatic newspaper continued, claiming that many Chinese citizens felt “puzzled” at British meddling in Asian affairs.
“If the British government genuinely wants to protects its business and investment interests in the region, it should speak and act cautiously … rather than pointing fingers and making irrelevant remarks,” added the article which was headlined, ‘Beijing does not need London to teach it how to deal with North Korea’.
Life in China
Beijing Told to Cut PM2.5 by One-Fourth This Winter (Caixin, 1 September)
With cold weather and its accompanying burst of choking air pollution on the way, the central government has ordered Beijing and a number of other northern cities to cut their respective PM2.5 concentrations by 25% this fall and winter. Authorities released a detailed accounting system that holds a city’s mayor or even its top official — the party secretary — responsible for failing to achieve emission-reduction targets.
Culture and history
Families who’ve lived in old Chinese town for generations being kicked out to make way for tourists (South China Morning Post, 28 August)
Close to 4,000 households are being forced out of a centuries-old town on the western edge of the Pearl River Delta by their local government, which has teamed up with an investment firm to turn it into a tourist attraction. It’s not what the residents of Chikan’s old town expected when the nearby Kaiping diaolous – fortified, multi-storey dwellings – were put on the World Heritage List by Unesco in 2007.
Stories selected by Paul Gardner