Tag Archives: beijing

Lam to the slaughter? Beijing, activists draw lines as new CE elected in Hong Kong

Carrie Lam easily won election as Hong Kong’s fourth chief executive Sunday, but running the country without a democratic mandate may prove more difficult.

Last weekend, Hong Kong’s residents were supposed to be enjoying universal suffrage for the first time in history. 

Instead, pro-democracy activists, over months of protests in 2014, rejected Beijing’s attempt at introducing a ‘Chinese’ vision of democracy that would have permitted Hong Kong’s citizens choose from among several pre-approved candidates. Those protests, which culminated in the ‘Occupy Central’ movement (also known as the ‘umbrella movement,’ a nod to the ubiquitous yellow umbrellas that protesters carried), effectively halted the adoption of a new elections law. So, on March 26,the same panel of business and civic leaders that have elected the special administration region’s executive for the last 20 years also elected Hong Kong’s chief executive in 2017.

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RELATED: Hong Kong — one country and one-and-a-half systems?

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The result? The 1,194-member Election Committee chose Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥), an experienced bureaucrat who has for the last five years served as chief secretary for administration — the most senior official in the Hong Kong government after the chief executive. Lam enjoyed the heavy, if unofficial, support of the central Chinese government. Given that the business professionals who dominate the Election Committee have much to lose by alienating Beijing, Lam became in recent months the heavy favorite to win. Opponents almost immediately mocked Lam, an increasingly unpopular administrator, for winning 777 votes — the number ‘seven’ is Cantonese slang for an impotent penis.

On paper, Lam is well positioned to lead Hong Kong. Continue reading Lam to the slaughter? Beijing, activists draw lines as new CE elected in Hong Kong

Why Kazakhstan should have won the 2022 Winter Games


It’s official — the International Olympic Committee has awarded the 2022 Olympic Winter Games to Beijing.China Flag Iconkazakhstan

Ultimately, China’s successful bid faced little competition after Oslo and several other finalist cities withdrew from consideration after cost considerations and other hassles. Beijing, which was bidding to become the first city to host both the Summer and Winter Games, already hosted the 2008 Summer Games as a way to prove its mettle as a host city, and it has already built much of the Olympic infrastructure it would need to host again — sparing its sole competitor, Almaty, from the task of building stadiums that, as in most Olympic host cities, lay fallow for decades thereafter. Kazakhstan has relatively little experience at throwing international events, and it certainly doesn’t have the budget that China (or Russia’s 2014 Sochi Winter Games) could have promised.

Nevertheless, Kazakhstan would have been the first central Asian country ever to host either the winter or the summer games, and by 2022, it will gather experience through hosting the 2011 Asian Winter Games and the 2017 Winter Universiade. It also had the benefit of offering real snow, unlike Beijing, a fact that its proponents reiterated throughout the competition.

While Almaty’s selection might have raised more uncertainty than Beijing’s, it would have more greatly fulfilled the Olympic Charter’s stated purpose:

The goal of the Olympic Movement is to contribute to building a peaceful and better world by educating youth people through sport practised in accordance with Olympism and its values.

Central Asia has long been overshadowed by its neighbors Russia (which controlled the region when all five of its countries were swept into Soviet Union) and China (which is home to the region’s largest and most dynamic city, Urümqi). But its location has made it incredibly important to global trade and geopolitics — and, in the 21st century, to Russia, to China or to the United States, a leverage that Kazakhstan and its neighbors have used to great effect, and it that’s what Kazakh diplomats mean when they speak about their country’s ‘multi-vector’ foreign policy.

It’s hard to think of a region of the world so little understood and even more rarely considered than central Asia, and Almaty’s selection as the site of the 2022 Winter Games would have drawn a rare and welcome spotlight on Kazakhstan, specifically, and central Asia generally — warts and all.

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RELATED: As Putin blusters over Kazakhstan,
what follows Nazarbayev?

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And there are a great many warts. Kazakhstan has been ruled by the same man, the 75-year-old Nursultan Nazarbayev, since 1989 when the country was still a republic in the Soviet Union. Despite duly conducted show ‘elections,’ it’s not a democracy and, also like China, it’s received harsh international condemnation for human rights abuses. Under Nazarbayev, Kazakh nationalism (vis-à-vis Russian nationalism) has been a greater priority than ethnic or sexual minority rights. Its sudden oil wealth, developed over the past two decades, has boosted the odd architecture of Astana, the country’s new capital, and widening corruption (it ranked 126 in the latest Transparency International rankings of corruption perceptions — worse than China’s ranking of 100 but better than Russia and the other four ‘stans’ of central Asia). Its dependence on petrodollars, as oil prices remain subdued, demonstrates just how much the economy should diversify. Its record on press freedom is very poor, but not quite as poor as Beijing’s. On balance, Kazakhstan is no worse than China when it comes to human rights and democracy and, on many vectors, it’s a less repressive country than China.

Of course, Kazakhstan (a country of 17 million people) doesn’t boast one of the world’s largest economies. Yet, at between $212 billion and $231 billion, it’s more than three times larger than the closest central Asian alternative, Turkmenistan. For all of Nazarbayev’s failings, he personifies Kazakh pride at clawing back their own nation-state after centuries of Russian colonization and economic subjugation that began in the early 1700s. Nazarbayev has used his petro-fueled bully pulpit to call for more ambition among the Muslim world, scolding the World Islamic Forum in 2011 for dragging its feet on modernizing. He’s a hero among the nuclear non-proliferation set because of his decision to give up Kazakhstan’s nuclear weapons — a policy that Nazarbayev has skillfully used to generate goodwill on the global stage and in the international media.

Perhaps most importantly, with Russian designs on its near-abroad ever more menacing in president Vladimir Putin’s third term, from Ukraine to Georgia, central Asia has also felt some uneasy pressure from Moscow. Leading Russian politicians hungrily eye Kazakhstan, especially the northern plains where many ethnic Russians currently reside (ethnic Russians comprise nearly 24% of the population). There’s a real question as to whether Kazakhstan will remain a stable, independent country in the coming post-Nazarbayev era — Putin could easily take advantage of turmoil if the political transition to the next generation of leaders isn’t smooth.

Almaty, still the country’s mountain-dazzled cultural and financial center (but no longer the capital since 1997), lies in the far southeastern corner of the country, closer to China and Kyrgyzstan (and even Tajikistan and Uzbekistan) than Russia. That’s one reason why the country, just six years after independence, moved its capital to the northern steppe, transforming sleepy Akmola into a city of over 850,000 today — that’s certainly some feat for a country aiming to erect Olympic infrastructure in the next seven years.


Moreover, choosing Beijing doesn’t rid the Olympic committee of its woes with respect to human rights and autocracy — China’s record is arguably worse than Kazakhstan’s on both counts. Given that there are around 50 Chinese cities with populations at least as large as Chicago, it’s somewhat disappointing that Beijing wants two bites at the same Olympic apple. China is far more diverse and culturally engaging that its urban eastern coastline. Urümqi, in Muslim-majority Xinjiang, or the mountainous (and snowy) Tibetan plateau, one suspects, were off-limits due to the government’s anxiety that separatists might try to hijack the games for political purposes.

Critics note that the 2008 Beijing ceremony, like the 2014 Winter Games in Russia, did little to promote human rights, and they point to the egregious conditions of foreign workers in Qatar, which is (for now) hosting the 2022 World Cup, despite the ongoing tumult over corruption at FIFA. Handing the 2022 Games to Beijing will do just as little to influence Chinese behavior.

But there’s a strong case that Kazakhstan would have been more susceptible to international influence — it’s not a member of the United Nations Security Council, for one, and Nazarbayev has gone to great lengths to portray his rule as just, if not always liberal or democratic. He’s sensitive to international pressure on democracy and human rights, considered renaming the country to eliminate its status as ‘just one of the ‘-istans’ in Eurasia, and his government nearly went into a tailspin when a comic mock-u-mentary portrayed the country in a silly, provincial light.

Of course, the 2022 Winter Games would have been a Nazarbayev legacy project, from start to finish, but no less than they’ll now be a showcase for China’s ruling Communist Party — in 2022, China’s leader Xi Jinping (pictured above with Nazarbayev) will be prepared to step down after a decade in power.

But they’re also a project that could have bolstered Kazakhstan’s independence and transformed the image of central Asia worldwide. It’s difficult to think of another Olympic ceremony, short of the Barcelona Summer Games in 1992, that could have had as much transformative value — not even the pending 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, the first games to be held in Brazil or in South America.

Handing the 2022 Winter Games to Almaty would have highlighted a region with has a unique culture and a storied Silk Road history at the crossroads of world history. This more intimate understanding is precisely why the Games exist, and Beijing’s selection marks a wasted opportunity to further fundamental Olympic goals.

Hong Kong: One country, one-and-a-half systems?

Downtown Hong Kong from Victoria Peak

Normally, an unofficially referendum conducted online isn’t worth paying much attention — just ask the residents of Venice who organized a deeply flawed, overwrought poll on Venetian independence that attracted just 135,000 participants after initially claiming 2.4 million.Hong Kong Flag IconChina Flag Icon

But it’s worth noting the ongoing online referendum that the Hong Kong-based ‘Occupy Central with Love and Peace’ has organized, because it’s one element of a larger struggle between democracy activists and Beijing that could have major repercussions — not only for Hong Kong, but for the future political development of Macau, the Chinese mainland and, possibly, Taiwan.

Occupy Central’s chief goal is to open the nominating process for the 2017 election of Hong Kong’s chief executive. Hong Kong’s Basic Law, promulgated prior to the 1997 handover to govern the Hong Kong special administrative region, provides for the eventual democratic election of a chief executive. It’s a development that dates back over two decades to the negotiations between the British and Chinese governments over the 1997 handover. Ten years ago, Chinese officials finally relented and committed to some form of universal suffrage for the 2017 race.

Trouble began brewing earlier this month, however, when Beijing released a provocative ‘white paper’ on Hong Kong that took an aggressive posture with respect to Hong Kong’s future:

Published by the State Council Information Office, the unprecedented white paper states that “many wrong views are currently rife in Hong Kong” with regard to the “one country, two systems” principle that governs the territory’s relationship with Beijing. Some residents are “confused or lopsided in their understanding” of the principle, it adds.

“The high degree of autonomy of the HKSAR (Hong Kong Special Administrative Region) is not full autonomy, nor a decentralized power,” said the paper. “It is the power to run local affairs as authorized by the central leadership.”

Local media have gone so far as to describe the white paper as an outright repudiation of the ‘one country, two systems’ principle that has guided China-Hong Kong relations since Deng Xiaoping (邓小平) coined the concept in the 1980s during the initial handover negotiations. Continue reading Hong Kong: One country, one-and-a-half systems?

Fifth Generation: Who is Xi Jinping?

This is the seventh and final post in a series examining the Chinese leaders named to the Politburo Standing Committee during the 18th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (中国共产党) that concluded November 14.  Prior installments on Zhang Gaoli here, Zhang Dejiang here, Liu Yunshan here, Yu Zhengsheng here, Wang Qishan here and likely future premier Li Keqiang here

In many ways, there’s not much I can add to what the world’s press has already written about Xi Jinping (习近平) in the past 24 hours, who’s been the newest figure on the world scene since becoming the general secretary of the Party yesterday and, in a bit of a surprise, also the chairman of the Party’s Central Military Commission.  He is expected to take over before March 2013 as China’s president, thereby fully succeeding Hu Jintao (胡锦涛).

There’s much we already know about Xi — starting with the fact that much of the world’s press and other policymakers find Xi leagues more expressive and relatable than Hu.

Xi is a ‘princeling’ — the son of Xi Zhongxun, a revolutionary hero, former vice premier and Politburo member, who was purged during the Cultural Revolution, but returned to help Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s to develop parts of Guangdong provide as special economic zones.  When Xi Zhongxun was purged from the leadership in the 1960s, however, and Xi Jinping was just 15 years old, he was sent off to a remote village in Shaanxi province in the center of China.

As Robert Lawrence Kuhn writes in How China’s Leaders Think, Xi Jinping’s time in the ‘wilderness,’ so to speak, has now become part of his mythology:

Xi Jinping spent the next six years in this harsh, poor rural area — chopping hay, reaping wheat and herding sheep as a member of a local work unit.  He lived in a cave house, as was the local custom.  But he adjusted well to his new life, impressing older colleagues with his enthusiasm to labor long and hard, and with his personal modesty.  He built a reputation for endurance by winning wrestling matches with farmers, and by carrying ‘a shoulder pole of twin 110-pound buckets of wheat for several miles across mountain paths without showing fatigue.’

Xi did not lose his love of studying, however: by night, he would read thick books in the dim light of kerosene lamps.  The locals liked to go to his cave to listen to his stories about history and the world beyond the mountains.  Everyone, old and young, enjoyed chatting with him.

I’m not sure whether this is just so much hagiography for the next ‘paramount leader’ of the world’s largest country, but there’s no doubt that the young Xi certainly made an impression, and Xi was soon off to Beijing’s prestigious Tsinghua University, where he studied engineering.  Xi also holds a doctorate in law.

He spent much of his early career in Fujian, a province of nearly 37 million people on the Chinese coast just north of Guangdong province.

In 2002, Xi became the Party secretary of Zhejiang province, the province that lies immediately south of Shanghai, is home to 54 million people and is generally one of China’s most prosperous provinces, with double-digit growth rates during much of Xi’s tenure.  Kuhn reports that Xi was untainted by allegations of corruption and, indeed, had ‘zero tolerance’ for corruption and dishonesty — a fact that bodes well at a time when the Party’s been struck with corruption scandals that touch everyone from outgoing premier Wen Jiabao to the disgraced former Party secretary of Chongqing municipality, Bo Xilai.

Although Xi was appointed Party secretary of Shanghai municipality in 2007, he was appointed in the same year to the Politburo Standing Committee, and he quickly left the Shanghai position to assume the PRC vice presidency where, among other duties, he was responsible for overseeing the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.

Notably, his wife is Peng Liyuan, who until very recently was more well-known in China than Xi.  Peng is a popular singer and entertainer with the People’s Liberation Army (she’s technically a major general).  Perhaps even more interesting, however, is that Xi’s first wife, Ke Lingling is the daughter of a former Chinese ambassador to the United Kingdom, and Ke still lives there today (and not in China).

But there’s also much we don’t know about Xi, notably in the way he hopes to lead the People’s Republic of China over the next decade.   Continue reading Fifth Generation: Who is Xi Jinping?

The role of women in the CCP: just so much ‘beautiful scenery’?

The 18th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (中国共产党) concluded today, but the photo above comes from a plucky photo essay at China People’s Daily, entitled ‘Beautiful Scenery,’ and depicts 14 photos of women delighting at various moments during the Congress.

As stated in the slideshow: ‘beautiful ritual girls, female reporters and delegates to the Party congress become beautiful scenery during the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China.’

Hat tip goes to Kathleen McLaughin, who’s been keeping a daily diary of the Congress for Foreign Policy, and who argues that gender disparity in China is perhaps getting worse, not better:

While 521 women serve as delegates in this party congress — 23 percent of the total, up from 18 percent a decade ago and higher than the 20 percent that women make up in the U.S. Senate — the members of China’s ceremonial electorate have far less influence over the process than their U.S. counterparts.

Gender discrimination often seems to be getting worse in China: Although a large percentage of Chinese women are employed (70 percent, compared with 25 percent in India), urban Chinese women earn about 67 percent of what men make, according to a 2010 survey from the All-China Women’s Federation. This summer, women in Guangzhou shaved their heads in protest of growing discriminatory policies around the country that require girls to score higher than boys on college entrance exams.

The Party hasn’t historically been incredibly welcoming to women, and in its history, it has yet to elevate a single woman to the Politburo Standing Committee, the chief governing body of the Party (and, accordingly, the Chinese government).  The members of the Politburo Standing Committee are likely to be announced by the end of this week.

One woman with an outside chance of being named to the Politburo Standing Committee is Liu Yandong (刘延东), who’s been a member of the Politburo (the only woman currently serving on the Politburo) since 2007 and who has served as a state councilor since 2008.  Liu (pictured immediately above) is a ‘princeling,’ as her father is Liu Ruilong, a former vice minister of agriculture, and she’s been close to outgoing Chinese leader Hu Jintao (胡锦涛) for three decades — notably, they worked together with the Party’s youth league in the 1980s.     Continue reading The role of women in the CCP: just so much ‘beautiful scenery’?

Fifth Generation: Who is Wang Qishan?

This is the fifth in a series of posts examining the Chinese leaders expected to be named to the Politburo Standing Committee during the 18th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (中国共产党) that kicked off November 8.  Prior installments on Zhang Gaoli here, Zhang Dejiang here, Liu Yunshan here and Yu Zhengsheng here.

Of all the potential new members of the Politburo Standing Committee, no one has a more assured spot than Wang Qishan (王岐山), who is expected to be the economic policy supremo of the next generation of leadership of the People’s Republic of China.

The only question is whether he’ll be elevated to executive vice premier under the likely new PRC premier, Li Keqiang (李克强), which had seemed likelier earlier in the summer and autumn, but now seems more uncertain, according to party sources.

The Congress concluded on Wednesday, with the Politburo Standing Committee members to be named today or tomorrow.

Wang, age 64, has served as the vice premier for economic, energy and financial affairs since 2007, when he became a Politburo member as well.

Previously, from 1989 to 1997, he was vice governor, then governor of the China Construction Bank, one of the world’s largest banks and indeed one of the world’s largest corporations.  As vice governor of Guangdong province in 2007, he was instrumental in the liquidation of the Guangdong International Trust and Investment Company, which, according to Robert Lawrence Kuhn in How China’s Leaders Think, signaled to the world that China was serious about developing market mechanisms that could bring discipline to the financial sector.

As such, he developed keen ties with former leader Jiang Zemin (江泽民), but his real patron among the older leadership is Jiang’s former premier, Zhu Ronghi (朱镕基), who, before his elevation to the premiership in 1998, served as vice premier and as the governor of China’s central bank (Wang served a brief stint as vice governor there as well).

Wang served as the Party chairman of Hainan province — the tropical island at the south of the Chinese mainland that stylizes itself as China’s Hawaii — from 2002 to 2003.  Hainan is, itself, an interesting story of Chinese internal growth — formerly part of Guangdong province until 1988, China’s leaders separated Hainan as its own province and designated it a ‘special economic area.’  Despite being seen as something of an economic backwater for centuries, its economy has grown in leaps and bounds, even by Chinese standards, in the past decade, and China hopes to transform it into an international tourism destination within the next decade.

He thereupon served as the mayor of Beijing from 2003 to 2007 and handled much of the preparation for the city’s hosting of the 2008 Summer Olympics.

Kuhn reports that Wang is a humorous and sophisticated rising star:

When the Olympics was approaching, a distinguished American financier asked for [Wang’s] business card.  “You won’t need my card,” Wang, then Beijing mayor, said with a smile. “If the Olympics is successful,” he joked, “I’ll be too high to help you — and if it’s not successful, I won’t have a phone!”

Wang, perhaps more than Li, China’s current ‘paramount leader,’ president and Party general secretary Hu Jintao (胡锦涛) or the expected new Chinese leader, Xi Jinping (习近平), is at ease with the international media — check out his interview with U.S. secretary of state Tim Geithner and Charlie Rose.  So Wang will likely have a major role to play in U.S. foreign relations as well, especially given the key economic issues involved in the U.S.-China relationship.

Named to the Time 100 in 2009, Wang was greeted with glowing praise from former U.S. treasury secretary Henry Paulson: Continue reading Fifth Generation: Who is Wang Qishan?

A commie in wolf’s clothing?

It has not been the best week for newly elected Hong Kong chief executive Leung Chun-ying, who’s already garnered loud criticism for appearing too close to Beijing — and he was the “popular” candidate!

Protesters gathered earlier this week in Hong Kong after Leung visited — on just the day after his election as chief executive — Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong:

“Beijing blatantly interfered in our election,” said retiree Lam Sum-shing, 69, who was wearing a green army uniform and a mask with Leung’s photo. “I’m wearing this to show he will be a yes man for Beijing. He was not chosen by the seven million Hong Kong people, he was chosen by 689 pro-Beijing elitists.”

Given that Hong Kong residents fiercely guard their autonomy under the “one China, two systems” rubric whereby prior freedoms under British colonial rule — press freedom, economic liberalization, rights to assembly — are meant to continue for at least 50 years in the special administrative region, this was perhaps not Leung’s smartest move — especially given the rumors during the election campaign that Leung was a secret member of the Chinese Communist Party.

China’s leadership has promised full elections among the Hong Kong populace in the next election in 2017. Continue reading A commie in wolf’s clothing?

Asia’s wealthiest man endorses Tang

Coming after a week in which the leadership of People’s Republic of China seemed to indicate that Hong Kong’s next chief executive should be the man who commands overwhelming public support, Leung Chun-ying, one of two vaguely pro-Beijing candidates in the three-person March 25 race for Hong Kong’s next chief executive, Li Ka-shing, Asia’s wealthiest man, has endorsed the one-time frontrunner, businessman Henry Tang, Leung’s opponent. 

Tang has long been thought to be the favorite of Hong Kong’s local development and business elite, and Li’s public support may sway undecided local Hong Kong players to support Tang, whose one-time inevitability has eroded in the face of lackluster campaigning skills, charges of infidelity, a swarm of bad publicity over building an unapproved basement in his current building (and blaming the illicit building project on his wife) and scandal engulfing the current chief executive, Donald Tsang.

Li’s endorsement, which follows comments from Chinese premier Wen Jiabao last week that Hong Kong should result in a leader who has the support of the “vast majority” of the people in Hong Kong, sets up a dynamic that pits a candidate backed by local developers (Tang) against another candidate (Leung) now seen to be favored by Beijing over Tang.  Continue reading Asia’s wealthiest man endorses Tang

Xi’s just not that into you

The too hot-to-handle race for Hong Kong’s third chief executive is now so electric it’s verboten to report on the race on the Chinese mainland.

In fact, China and Hong Kong may have stumbled into one of the most (accidentally) democratic elections in the Middle Kingdom’s history, as everyone scrambles to determine which candidate is truly favored by Beijing.

The March 25 race is all the more relevant considering that Hong Kong affairs fall within the portfolio of Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, the presumptive heir to outgoing Chinese President Hu Jintao, who will step down in 2013.

Three candidates are running for the post, which will be vacated by current chief executive Donald Tsang on July 1:

  • Henry Tang, a businessman who began the race as the favored Beijing candidate as well as the favorite of local Hong Kong developers;
  • Leung Chun-ying, another pro-Beijing candidate who has become the popular favorite, notwithstanding his pro-Beijing sentiment; and
  • Albert Ho, an anti-Beijing candidate of the Democracy Party who has no shot of winning;

The election is not an exercise in direct democracy (or even representative democracy), but rather a decision of the Election Committee, an electoral college of 1,200 Hong Kong SAR residents, which will vote on the basis of Hong Kong business interests as well as the interests of the top leadership echelon of the People’s Republic of China.

In other words, the chief executive will have to be acceptable to both the local business elite as well as to the PRC leadership.

And amid tawdry revelations at every turn of the scandal, there are conflicting signs about the PRC brass’s favorite.

Increasingly, though, in a turn worthy of Yes, Minister, it appears that the unofficial pro-Beijing candidate (Leung) could now be, unofficially, Beijing’s official candidate.

Instead of the officially official candidate (Tang).

Continue reading Xi’s just not that into you