Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Bo Xilai: The CCP's Other Wenzhou

The Bo Xilai affair has, without doubt, been China Watcher's flavour of the month, worthy of the very best day time Soaps.

The minutia of the story bears no repeating here for most will be more than familiar with this saga of a flamboyant politician, his scheming wife and murder in the Orient.

But for me the stand-out feature about this whole affair is not the facts of what Bo and his wife did, the way they did it, nor, even, that they got caught. The most telling thing for me is that it took so long.

That fact alone speaks volumes as to the state of the Chinese Communist Party and the inner workings of the elite and, therein, lays the main story; the Bo's relegated to roles of but bit-part walk-on actors.

Corruption, graft, call it what you will, is endemic in China. Everyone is aware of that. Even the Regime routinely calls upon the Chinese people and, most ironically, it's own members to be conscious of and to take all steps to eradicate it.

It affects almost all areas of commerce and is known to be rife in most levels of officialdom. The Chinese press regularly reports the arrest or sentencing of those involved, generally just low to medium level fall guys (two notable and fairly recent exceptions notwithstanding).

It would seem to be a case of who hasn't got their snout in the trough rather than who has.

But despite these “public relations” exhortations and show trials, corruption not only continues unabated but appears to be growing in reach. It protects criminals of all hues, it shields the likes of illicit coal mine owners covering up accidents and even deaths. There is, in other words, little of Chinese society that is not touched by it's clammy hands to some degree.

It is not a new phenomena. It has it's roots farther back than the CCP coming to power. It was an accepted part of Chinese culture for centuries. In Dynastic times it was a deeply held aspiration of many to one day rise to  a position to be able to dip into the pot of gold, to take one's position at the pigs trough. Even poor peasants would sacrifice everything to assist their sons in getting even the most minor of positions in officialdom, for that was the door to money and prestige.

But, corruption in olden days, dynastic days, had a certain savoir faire air of 'honour among thieves', a modern day Mafia Omertà, that was respected not only within the ranks but also from those on the outside looking in. That is no longer the case. 

Stories, too numerous to recount, abound as to examples of it's insidious reach: poor people being dispossessed of their land entitlements, of dying people being refused medical care through the inability to “grease the right palms”. Seemingly, since the demise of the Qing Dynasty the grab for money has become boldfaced and indiscriminate as to it's nature and it's targets.

No longer is it generally seen as being a widely accepted given of Chinese society, it now is but an aberration of a way of life that goes back to Confucian times. The blatant headlong lunge for money and the 'pornographic' flaunting of the wealth so gained, has become an anathema to it's history.

The Bo affair is alarming not for what he did but for the fact that it took so long for the party to “catch” him. It speaks to 'masonic' like collusion at the highest levels of the party, reaching to the very Politburo itself.

In a society like China and within a group like the Chinese Communist Party, with it's inherent nature of suspicion, it would seem to have been impossible given what Bo and his family was doing for him to have gotten away with for so long. Either blind eyes where turned to it or, more than likely, the practice was so widespread to be considered the norm.

The CCP even has an oversight committee called the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection of the Communist Party of China whose responsibility is the investigation and exposure of corruption and malfeasance among Communist Party of China members and to ensure the probity of high officials including members of the Politburo.

The extrapolation of this would mean that the Hus' and the Wens' of the CCP are themselves equally as guilty, be it in practice, or, at least by omission.

As Minxin Pei stated in a recent article in Project Syndicate

Personal misdeeds or character flaws did not trigger Bo’s fall from power; these were well known. He was simply a loser in a contest with those who felt threatened by his ambition and ruthlessness.

He went on to say
Bo, the former Party chief of Chongqing, has come to symbolize the systemic rot and dysfunction at the core of a regime often viewed as effective, flexible, and resilient.

In other words blind eyes were turned and only opened when Bo rose to a position of potential threat. What we therefore are witnessing with the Bo affair is the exposure of the internal rot in the CCP at the very centre, the pinnacle of it's power. A pyramid of rot at the lowest and highest levels. A rot, long perhaps suspected, but one, till now, unexposed as to its insidiousness and pervasiveness .

The errant school boys this time have got away with it. They have been one step ahead of the principal. Able to clear away the empty beer bottles and the spent cigarette butts they have however left the stench of their party for all to smell. Their stories have been agreed, a fall guy has been chosen as temporal sacrifice. This time it has been a close call but not the next.

The Bo Affair will not bring about the immediate fall of the CCP regime. It will not usher in a “Chinese Spring “, as some have predicted, but it does mark the beginning of the end. It marks the start of what will, over the next ten years under Xi's leadership, be a veritable scramble from pillars to posts for ways and means to forestall the inevitable.

A train wreck at Wenzhou last year took the shine off the CCP's 90th Anniversary celebrations.

A 'train wreck “ this year has stripped away the underlying skin to expose an apple rotten to it's core.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Uyghur Question: Violence not the way..

A Hard fought battle...

Twenty years ago the world knew little of the Uyghurs of Xinjiang China. 

Most international Human Rights attention was focused on China's so called “One Child Policy” and the “Tibetan Issue”, the latter as a result of an enigmatic spiritual leader, a western romantic image of monks in saffron robes meditating in Shangri-la and a Hollywood star, all things the “Uyghur Question” did not have going for it to become a cause celebre.

The catalyst for the seeping to the west of greater information regarding modern day Xinjiang and the Uyghurs was China's 'opening up' and the resultant relaxation of foreign tourist restrictions in  the mid 80's which, combined with improvements in travel, made Xinjiang far more desirable and accessible to foreigners.

Informational websites about Xinjiang travel and Uyghur culture and history began to appear, one of the first, the highly popular “Lonely Planet” did much to make Central Asia a 'must see' destination at the time. 

As well, greater academic attention was able to be paid to the region. Three academics that stand out in my mind from that time were Professors Dru Gladney, an American, Colin Mackkaras, an Australian and, a then Ph.D. student from Ohio, Nathan Light, who, at one stage, had the most highly ranked website on the Internet concerning the Uyghur.

A violent incident Baren 1990 and another in Ghulja in 1997, both which the Chinese ruthlessly suppressed, brought about  the springing up of several Uyghur “exile” groups and websites, some purely news based but others representing to varying degrees issues of Uyghur 'nationalism' as well as highlighting Chinese government policies adversely affecting the Uyghur people.

9/11 and the subsequent “War on Terror” provided further discussion/rallying points for the “Uyghur Issue” particularly as China successfully sort to have a little known Uyghur group branded an “International Terrorist Organisation” and several dozen Uyghurs were caught up in the American Coalition intervention in Afghanistan.

Radio Free Asia and to a lesser degree Asia Times Online must be given a lot of kudos as they were very important conduits for bringing the Uyghur cause to a wider wider western audience in the 1990's, particularly American, . Amnesty International was one Human Rights Organisation that gave the issue increasing attention through this period.

Thus, as we entered the second decade of the 21st century the “Uyghur Question” had become widely known. It had the attention of the world press, think tanks, most western governments and all HRO's.

It has been a hard fought battle for Uyghurs and their international supporters to have raised the “Uyghur Question” to a level where today it is arguably equal to that of the “Tibet issue” in top of mind awareness concerning China Human Rights issues.

The west, as a result of this tireless effort, has come to more fully appreciate the problems faced by the Uyghurs in China and the visibility of the cause has continued to rise despite such things as the anti-Muslim backlash post 9/11, and the Chinese Regime's constant rhetoric concerning “Islamic fundamentalism” “terrorism” and “separatism”, utilised as a means of masking or justifying the harsh policies and crackdowns on Uyghur religion, identity and culture.

A possible surrender..

All this achievement, however, runs the very serious risk of coming undone if a recent set of incidents are representative of a new and what would be a very disturbing trend in Uyghur interaction with the Han Chinese.

Uyghur/Han relations go back some two thousand years. In that period these two ethnic groups have run the whole gamut of relations, from extreme violence, perpetrated upon each other, to being allies in wars and vigorous trading partners.

Whilst there is no doubt that racial tensions have always existed and have resulted in occasional racially motivated crimes being committed by Uyghurs on the Han, including murder, the frequency would be no greater than similar crimes in some western countries.

The greater majority of serious incidents, post 1949, that have resulted in Han deaths have been as a result of response by Uyghurs to very specific Chinese government actions and generally has been directed against figures of authority, that is, non civilian targets such as police and soldiers. Without exception  all incidents have resulted ultimately in far greater casualties, fatalities and deaths by judicial means, being sustained by the Uyghurs than the Han Chinese.

The exceptions to this have been the Urumqi riots in 2009, two incidents in Kashgar in July 2011 and the recent Uyghur rampage in Yecheng. In these incidents the very serious violence witnessed  had been initiated by Uyghurs and the targets have been innocent, unarmed Han Chinese civilians, including women and children.

These incidents can not be directly attributable to specific Chinese government actions nor to religious, independence/separatist/terrorist /political motivations, nor are they seemingly organised or seriously planned. They are, without ifs or buts, spontaneous, racially motivated crimes of the most heinous nature, in terms of both the violence used and the number of casualties.

If what we have witnessed since 2009 is in fact a trend developing than all the good work done by so many will come undone very rapidly. The Uyghur cause that has taken over twenty years to be brought to the level of international attention that it now enjoys, and deserves, will be blown away like a dust storm on the Taklamakan.

This will be especially seen in stark contrast to Tibetan self immolations as a method of anti-government protest,  juxtapose to mass murders by Uyghur elements. 

Sympathy, I can assure you, will not side with the Uyghur and perhaps all the Chinese Regime's rhetoric as to terrorism, religious fundamentalism and fanaticism may start to strike a chord of doubt as to the veracity of the 'cause' in the minds of some regardless of the lack of credibility  of these dispersions.

The Chinese government, notwithstanding the recent elevation in the worlds eye of the Uyghur cause, still hold the whip hand in Xinjiang. It is still seemingly impervious to international scrutiny and condemnation, and, as such, any loss of international support for the Uyghur cause will undoubtedly buoy the regime further to more quickly, and by whatever means deemed expedient, finish the work they have been engaged in since 1949, that is, the eradication of the Uyghur as a culture within China.

A bugle call ….

Why all this is happening now is a question I believe no-one is in a position to answer. Of course certain organisations have alluded to the “build up of frustrations” of “pent up rage” in attempt to somehow mitigate what has transpired, but murder, and that is what we are speaking of here, can not be so mitigated. There can be no excuse for the viciousness of these crimes

If this pattern is a trend in the making it must be stopped dead in it's tracks. In the words of the famous, Uyghur Nationalist and exile activist, the late Erkin Alptekin:

“We must emphasise dialogue and warn our youth against the use of violence because it de-legitimises our movement”

But unlike the Tibetans the Uyghur have no one person or group that is universally recognised as providing overall leadership. In fact the “Uyghur” is such an non- homogeneous construct and Chinese control so iron-fisted that such an “Uyghur leader” is unlikely to be found from within. It should be up to more localised 'leaders', secular or religious, from village, town of prefecture level to reign in those within their purview but, given the Chinese government's total iron-fisted control, this is not going to happen as the likelihood of retribution for any who attempt so is a non sequitar.

Uyghur exile groups such as the World Uyghur Congress and Uyghur American Association et al, are not performing this leadership role. Unfortunately, their response to such incidents has been 'knee jerk'. Instead of recognising these incidents for what they are , that is very serious crimes, and immediately calling on Uyghurs to refrain from such actions in the strongest possible terms, as Erkin Alptekin had done previously, they have, nonsensically, attempted to somehow mitigate the events by falling back on old cliches of “pent up frustrations' etc.

This response plays directly into the hands of the Chinese Regime as a recent Global Times article would attest. (Uyghur refuse the label of terrorists' scapegoats

Violence as a response to Chinese policies must not exist in the lexicon of the “Uyghur Question”. Violence against Han civilians is a criminal act, it is not the act of a proud and ancient people but the act of cowards within.

It must be railed against by all actors in the 'Uyghur Question', from Uyghur exiles groups, to the likes of you and I, and it must be done so in the strongest and most unequivocal terms.

The message must somehow be relayed to those elements of Uyghur society who see violence as being justified, be it against Chinese government policy or some perceived 'market place' slight, that this is not the way forward in saving the Uyghur identity, culture and spirit.

We all will do the Uyghur cause no justice by ignoring or attempting to justify such violent response against Han civilians. If we follow that path, either actively or even passively, we give up the moral high ground we have fought so hard and for so long to gain and we play directly into the Regime's hands.