Archive for ‘Internal politics’

08/05/2017

The bullies of Urumqi: The extraordinary ways in which China humiliates Muslims | The Economist

CHINESE officials describe the far western province of Xinjiang as a “core area” in the vast swathe of territory covered by the country’s grandiose “Belt and Road Initiative” to boost economic ties with Central Asia and regions beyond.

They hope that wealth generated by the scheme will help to make Xinjiang more stable—for years it has been plagued by separatist violence which China says is being fed by global jihadism. But the authorities are not waiting. In recent months they have intensified their efforts to stifle the Islamic identity of Xinjiang’s ethnic Uighurs, fearful that any public display of their religious belief could morph into militancy.Xinjiang’s 10m Uighurs (nearly half of its population) have long been used to heavy-handed curbs: a ban on unauthorised pilgrimages to Mecca, orders to students not to fast during Ramadan, tough restrictions on Islamic garb (women with face-covering veils are sometimes not allowed on buses), no entry to many mosques for people under 18, and so on.

But since he took over last August as Xinjiang’s Communist Party chief, Chen Quanguo has launched even harsher measures—pleased, apparently, by his crushing of dissent in Tibet where he previously served as leader. As in Tibet, many Xinjiang residents have been told to hand their passports to police and seek permission to travel abroad. In one part of Xinjiang all vehicles have been ordered to install satellite tracking-devices. There have been several shows of what officials call “thunderous power”, involving thousands of paramilitary troops parading through streets.

Last month, new rules came into effect that banned “abnormal” beards (such as the one worn by the man pictured in front of the main mosque in Kashgar in south-western Xinjiang). They also called on transport workers to report women wearing face veils or full-body coverings to the police, and prohibited “naming of children to exaggerate religious fervour”. A leaked list of banned names includes Muhammad, Mecca and Saddam. Parents may not be able to obtain vital household-registration papers for children with unapproved names, meaning they could be denied free schooling and health care.

Residents have also been asked to spy on each other. In Urumqi, the region’s capital, locals can report security threats via a new mobile app. People living in Altay in northern Xinjiang have been promised rewards of up to 5m yuan ($720,000) for tip-offs that help capture militants—over 200 times the local income per person.

Across Xinjiang residents have been asked to inform the authorities of any religious activities, including weddings and circumcisions. The government is also testing its own people’s loyalty. In March an official in Hotan in southern Xinjiang was demoted for “timidity” in “fighting against religious extremism” because he chose not to smoke in front of a group of mullahs.

Mr Chen is widely rumoured to be a contender for a seat in the ruling Politburo in a reshuffle due late this year. Displays of toughness may help to ingratiate him with China’s president, Xi Jinping, who has called for “a great wall of iron” to safeguard Xinjiang. Spending on security in Xinjiang was nearly 20% higher in 2016 than the year before. Adverts for security-related jobs there increased more than threefold last year, reckon James Leibold of La Trobe University and Adrian Zenz of the European School of Culture and Theology at Korntal, Germany.

Uighurs have been blamed for several recent attacks in Xinjiang. In one of them in February, in the southern prefecture of Hotan, three knife-wielding men killed five people and injured several others before being shot dead by police (local reports suggested the violence occurred after a Uighur family was punished for holding a prayer session at home). Officials may be congratulating themselves on the success of their tactics; reported large-scale attacks by Uighurs inside and outside Xinjiang have abated in the past 18 months. Yet as in Tibet, intrusive surveillance and curbs on cultural expression have fuelled people’s desperation. “A community is like a fruit,” says a Uighur driver from Kashgar. “Squash it too hard and it will burst.”

Source: The bullies of Urumqi: The extraordinary ways in which China humiliates Muslims | The Economist

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08/03/2017

The partition of India: “Viceroy’s House” is an antidote to colonial triumphalism | The Economist

THE fetishisation of British Imperialism is inescapable. Last December, Theresa May cited the East India Company as an example of Britain’s historical trading prowess. Contestants on a recent season of “The Apprentice”, an entrepreneurial reality show, created batches of “Colony Gin”; Marks & Spencer, a retailer, included an “Empire Pie” as part of its Gastropub collection. This nostalgia is borne out by a YouGov poll from 2016, which found that 44% of respondents are proud of Britain’s colonial history.

Those colonised, though, see the empire rather differently. A charge sheet of Britain’s efforts in India—and every territory colonised can produce an equivalent—might list partition, the man-made Bengal famine in 1943 (which resulted in an estimated 3m deaths), the wretched labour system of indenture and the looting of state wealth. Partition alone resulted in 1m deaths and created 15m refugees in a matter of weeks; Hindus and Sikhs fled their homes in what was the become the Muslim state of Pakistan, while Muslims in India took flight in the opposite direction.

“Viceroy’s House”, a new film written and directed by Gurinder Chadha, seeks to document Britain’s role in partition and the cleaving of the Punjab region. In the final months of the Raj, Lord Mountbatten (Hugh Bonneville) arrives to oversee the transfer of power to Hind Swaraj (Indian Home Rule), and reconcile the demands of independence leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru with those of Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Sir Cyril Radcliffe (Simon Callow)—who had never set foot in India before—is drafted in to assess how 175,000 square miles, home to 88m people, should be split. Ms Chadha carefully balances high politics with its impact on ordinary citizens; relations between Hindu, Sikh and Muslim staff become tense as the prospect of annexing India’s Muslim-majority regions emerges.

The film is good in exposing the Machiavellian motives behind this rushed decision, as well as the gut-wrenching suffering that followed (the house, which “makes Buckingham Palace look like a bungalow”, becomes a camp for the displaced). It is not perfect, however. “Viceroy’s House” absolves everyone—Lord Mountbatten, the British, Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims—of blame for the suffering. Some critics have complained that it does not give any attention to the Indian independence struggle, or catalogue the horrors of British rule. These are deserving of films in their own right; Ms Chadha’s decision to focus her lens solely on how partition unfolded is a wise one.

With millions of people involved in the story of partition, “Viceroy’s House” was always going to be a tricky undertaking, likely to be deemed unsatisfactory by many. Ms Chadha tells the story of this multifaceted moment in the region’s history through the lens of one building, framing it as the tale of “the people’s partition” rather than dealing in factionalism and blame. She has subverted the period-drama genre—how many period dramas close on a shot of a desperate refugee camp?—to produce something akin to a “Dummy’s Guide to partition”.

Yet even as a superficial primer, “Viceroy’s House” fills a gap in Britain’s collective consciousness and cultural memory. In the canon of modern British films about India, partition features in “Gandhi” (1982) and “Midnight’s Children” (2012) but gets scant treatment elsewhere. “Viceroy’s House” stands out from these offerings as a British film narrated with heart, soul and profound sadness by a Punjabi film-maker with a personal investment in the story: the closing credits reveal that Ms Chadha’s grandmother lost a child to starvation while fleeing to India.

It will be hard for some to maintain a sense of nostalgia and triumphalism for Britain’s empire after watching “Viceroy’s House”: Ms Chadha intersperses the drama with Pathé news footage of communal violence and Churchill’s dejected newscasts explaining the collapse of law and order. The film has ensured that partition, which is rarely taught in British high schools, has a place in the nation’s shared public culture again. Too right. Partition is as much a part of modern Britain—home to 700,000 Indian and Pakistani Punjabis, many of whom are the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of partition—as butter chicken, saag paneer, naan, bhangra and Bollywood.

Source: The partition of India: “Viceroy’s House” is an antidote to colonial triumphalism | The Economist

03/02/2017

In Punjab, jobless youth take a chance with anti-establishment party AAP | Reuters

Twenty seven-year-old Rupinder Kaur Ruby is a political novice but her message is clear: jobs for young people.

Grabbing the microphone, the law student tells a few hundred supporters in a dusty village square in the northwest Indian state of Punjab that the ruling parties have failed them.

“Punjab is not in a good place. And the youth are the most affected. They want to fight back,” she said, raising her fist to cheers, as the crowd covered her in garlands before heading off to canvass for votes in a state election on Saturday.

Ruby is one of several inexperienced candidates her Aam Aadmi (Common Man) Party is fielding to tap anger among an increasingly aspirational but frustrated youth, and to challenge Prime Minister Narendra Modi as his party heads into five state polls over the next month starting with Punjab.

A strong showing by AAP, which won a handful of seats in Punjab in the 2014 general election and governs the city-state of Delhi, would serve as a mid-term warning for the still-popular Modi as the economy fails to fulfil expectations.

The young in Punjab have been hit hardest by factory shutdowns, amid allegations that corruption has hastened the economic decline of a relatively rich state of 28 million people bordering Pakistan.

Unemployment tops voter concerns there, according to a recent poll, and young people are less and less willing to work their parents’ fields in the state known as India’s “bread basket”.

GENERATIONAL SHIFT

Most recent opinion polls show Congress, India’s main opposition party, in the lead in Punjab, ahead of AAP which has been criticised by rivals for failing to flesh out how it would boost employment were it to come to power.

But Ruby’s party is most popular among the young, reflecting a generational shift in India that poses a problem for Modi as newer parties seek to capitalise on the lack of jobs.

Nearly two-thirds of India’s 1.3 billion people are under 35 – a demographic “bulge” that will create the world’s largest working-age population before 2050.

Despite average annual economic growth of 6.5 percent between 1991 and 2013, India added less than half the jobs needed to absorb new entrants into the workforce.

The incumbent Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) party that rules Punjab alongside Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, and Congress, have governed the state alternately for decades with a focus on Sikhism, the state’s dominant religion, and farm subsidies.

Those priorities resonate less among the young, and now all the main parties are promising free smartphones and 2,500 rupees ($37) a month for the unemployed.

“The other parties are all the same,” said 30-year-old Jaskaran Sharma, who works as a truck driver in the Middle East and was helping with Ruby’s campaign in between jobs.

“She is energetic, and young people understand the system,” he told Reuters in the village of Teona.

Punjab’s official unemployment rate in 2015/16, at 6 percent, was above the national average of 5 percent, according to the Labour Bureau, although economists say the figures do not reflect the true picture.

Levels of underemployment are higher; only 17 percent of Punjab’s population earns a regular wage.

VOLUNTEERSAAP, which scored surprise wins in local elections in Delhi in 2013 and 2015 on a broad anti-corruption platform, is led by 48-year-old Arvind Kejriwal, a former tax inspector who hopes to expand into other regions by channelling anger over unemployment.

AAP workers like Ruby, daughter of a local government retiree, have built young teams to fan out across villages and campaign door-to-door.

“We depend on our volunteers. This is a ground-up campaign,” she told Reuters over tea and biscuits, while young men snapped photos with her.

Ruby has the lowest declared wealth, at 175,000 rupees ($2,600), of any candidate in the state, according to reports. The 10 poorest candidates are from AAP, although the party has also chosen several well-off politicians as candidates.

“The youth are looking for change, and for that they are going to take a risk with AAP,” said Ashutosh Kumar, a professor of political science at Panjab University.

The ruling party, led by the wealthy Badal family, still commands support among older generations and better-off farmers, while Congress is attracting voters who see AAP as inexperienced.

Sitting outside the office of his SAD party in the Badal heartland of Lambi, landlord farmer Bagga Singh said Kejriwal was a “traitor” who had fooled people.

The protest vote boosting AAP would peter out, he predicted, because the Badals had established skill centres, curbed corruption and job creation would soon pick up.

Still, he acknowledged more needed to be done.

“Young people don’t want to work in agriculture. The margins are down and they don’t want the hard work,” the bearded 70-year-old said, wearing a pink Sikh turban. “They want to sit in an air conditioned office.”

($1 = 67.4900 Indian rupees)

Source: In Punjab, jobless youth take a chance with anti-establishment party AAP | Reuters

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20/01/2017

Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen aspires to create ‘new era’ of peace with Beijing | South China Morning Post

Taiwan aspires to create a “new era” of peace with mainland China, which should set aside the baggage of history and have positive dialogue, Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen said in a letter to Pope Francis, adding military action could not resolve problems.

The issue of self-ruled and proudly democratic Taiwan has shot to the top of the international agenda since US President-elect Donald Trump broke with decades of precedent in December by taking a congratulatory telephone call from Tsai.

Pope Francis hails ‘good’ relations with China after getting gift from Xi Jinping

That, along with subsequent comments by Trump that the one-China policy was up for negotiation, has infuriated Beijing, which views Taiwan as a wayward province, to be bought under its control by force if necessary.

Mainland China is deeply suspicious of Tsai, whose ruling Democratic Progressive Party espouses the island’s formal independence, a red line for Beijing, and has cut off a formal dialogue mechanism with Taiwan.

In her January 5 letter to the Pope, released by her office on Friday, Tsai said upholding peace across the Taiwan Strait called for goodwill and communication.

Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen continues call for Beijing talks but refuses to accept ‘one China’ principle“

Based on many years of experience in cross-Strait negotiations during my political career, I am convinced that military action cannot resolve problems,” Tsai said.

“Taiwan and mainland China were once embroiled in a zero-sum conflict that caused tension in the region and anxiety among our peoples.In contrast, today people on the two sides of the Taiwan Strait enjoy stable lives and normal exchanges under peaceful separate governance.

”China’s priests wary of Vatican’s Beijing olive branchTaiwan was committed to maintaining its democracy and the status quo of peace, but would not bow to pressure, she added.

“I urge the governing party across the Strait, together with the governing party in Taiwan, to set aside the baggage of history and engage in positive dialogue,” Tsai said.

The Vatican is one of only a handful of countries which still maintains formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, although the Pope is trying to heal a decades-old rift with mainland China where Catholics are divided between those loyal to him and those who are members of a government-controlled official church.

Tsai said she sought to live up to the Pope’s words on nonviolent action.

“As the first female president in the ethnic Chinese world, I aspire to live up to your words as I devote myself to enhancing the well-being of the Taiwanese people and creating a new era for cross-Strait peace.”

Source: Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen aspires to create ‘new era’ of peace with Beijing | South China Morning Post

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16/01/2017

Why do Indians vote for ‘criminal’ politicians? – BBC News

Why do India’s political parties field candidates with criminal charges?

Why do the voters favour them despite their tainted past?

Political scientist Milan Vaishnav has been studying links between crime and democracy in India for many years now. His upcoming book When Crime Pays offers some intriguing insights into what is a disturbing feature of India’s electoral democracy.

The good news is that the general election is a thriving, gargantuan exercise: 554 million voters queued up at more than 900,000 stations to cast their ballots in the last edition in 2014. The fortunes of 8,250 candidates representing 464 political parties were at stake.

The bad news is that a third (34%) of 543 MPs who were elected faced criminal charges, up from 30% in 2009 and 24% in 2004.

Fiercely competitive

Some of the charges were of minor nature or politically motivated. But more than 20% of the new MPs faced serious charges such as attempted murder, assaulting public officials, and theft.

Now, India’s general elections are not exactly a cakewalk.The Indian politicians facing criminal charges

Why do many India MPs have criminal records?

Politics and the barrel of the gun

Over time, they have become fiercely competitive: 464 parties were in the fray in 2014, up from 55 in the first election in 1952.

The average margin of victory was 9.7% in 2009, the thinnest since the first election. At 15%, the average margin of victory was fatter in the landslide 2014 polls, but even this was vastly lower than, say, the average margin of victory in the 2012 US Congressional elections (32%) and the 2010 general election in Britain (18%).

India’s elections are fiercely competitiveAlmost all parties in India, led by the ruling BJP and the main opposition Congress, field tainted candidates. Why do they do so?

For one, says Dr Vaishnav, “a key factor motivating parties to select candidates with serious criminal records comes down to cold, hard cash”.

The rising cost of elections and a shadowy election financing system where parties and candidates under-report collections and expenses means that parties prefer “self-financing candidates who do not represent a drain on the finite party coffers but instead contribute ‘rents’ to the party”. Many of these candidates have criminal records.

There are three million political positions in India’s three-tier democracy; each election requires considerable resources.

Many parties are like personal fiefs run by dominant personalities and dynasts, and lacking inner-party democracy – conditions, which help “opportunistic candidates with deep pockets”.

‘Good proxy’

“Wealthy, self financing candidates are not only attractive to parties but they are also likely to be more electorally competitive. Contesting elections is an expensive proposition in most parts of the world, a candidate’s wealth is a good proxy for his or her electoral vitality,” says Dr Vaishnav, who is senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.Political parties also nominate candidates with criminal backgrounds to stand for election because, simply put, they win.

During his research, Dr Vaishnav studied all candidates who stood in the last three general elections. He separated them into candidates with clean records and candidates with criminal records, and found that the latter had an 18% chance of winning their next election whereas the “clean” candidates had only a 6% chance.

Many Indians vote on lines on identity and religion

He did a similar calculation for candidates contesting state elections between 2003 and 2009, and found a “large winning advantage for candidates who have cases pending against them”.

Politics also offers a lucrative career – a 2013 study showed that the average wealth of sitting legislators increased 222% during just one term in office. The officially declared average wealth of re-contesting candidates – including losers and winners – was $264,000 (£216,110) in 2004 and $618,000 in 2013, an increase of 134%.

‘Biggest criminal’

Now why do Indians vote for criminal candidates? Is it because many of the voters are illiterate, ignorant, or simply, ill-informed?

Dr Vaishnav doesn’t believe so.

Candidates with criminal records don’t mask their reputation. Earlier this month, a candidate belonging to the ruling party in northern Uttar Pradesh state reportedly boasted to a party worker that he was the “biggest criminal”. Increasing information through media and rising awareness hasn’t led to a shrinking of tainted candidates.

Dr Vaishnav believes reasonably well-informed voters support criminal candidates in constituencies where social divisions driven by caste and/or religion are sharp and the government is failing to carry out its functions – delivering services, dispensing justice, or providing security – in an impartial manner.

“There is space here for a criminal candidate to present himself as a Robin Hood-like figure,” says Dr Vaishnav.

Clearly, crime and politics will remain inextricably intertwined as long as India doesn’t make its election financing system transparent, parties become more democratic and the state begins to deliver ample services and justice.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has suggested state funding of polls to help clean up campaign financing. Earlier this month, he said people had the right to know where the BJP got its funds from. Some 14% of the candidates his BJP party fielded in the last elections had faced serious charges. (More than 10% of the candidates recruited by the Congress faced charges). But no party is walking the talk yet.

Source: Why do Indians vote for ‘criminal’ politicians? – BBC News

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06/01/2017

Xi Jinping is busy arranging a huge reshuffle | The Economist

EVERY four years the United States holds an election that can change national policy and unseat many decision-makers. Every five years China holds a selection process that can do the same thing. Communist Party officials tout it as evidence of a well-ordered rhythm in their country’s politics. This year it may turn out as unpredictable as America’s election in 2016.

The people up for re-selection are the 350-odd members of the party’s Central Committee, the political elite, along with its decision-taking subsets: the Politburo, the Politburo’s Standing Committee (a sort of inner cabinet) and the army’s ruling council. The choice of new leaders will be made at a party congress—the 19th since the founding one in 1921—which is expected to be held in Beijing in October or November, and at a meeting of the newly selected Central Committee which will be held directly afterwards.

Party congresses, which are attended by more than 2,000 hand-picked delegates, and the Central Committee meetings that follow them, are little more than rubber-stamp affairs. But they are of huge symbolic importance to Chinese leaders. They matter for three reasons.

First, they endorse a sweeping reshuffle of the leadership that is decided in advance during secretive horsetrading among the elite. The coming congress will be Mr Xi’s first opportunity to pack the Central Committee with his own allies; the outgoing one was picked in 2012, when he took over, not by him but by the people then running the country, including his two predecessors. After previous congresses held five years into a leader’s normally ten-year term—that is, those convened in 2007 and 1997—it became clear who that leader’s successor was likely to be. If the coming meetings are like those earlier ones—a big if—they will give a strong clue to Mr Xi’s choice of successor and start the transition from one generation of leaders to another.

Second, congresses can amend the party’s constitution. China’s leaders like the document to give credit to their favourite ideological themes (and Mr Xi is particularly keen on ideology). When Jiang Zemin stepped down as party chief in 2002 his buzzwords were duly incorporated; so too were those of his successor, Hu Jintao, five years later. Mr Xi’s contribution to party-thought—such as on the need to purge it of corruption while strengthening its grip—is likely to gain similar recognition.

Third, congresses are the setting for a kind of state-of-the-union speech by the party leader, reflecting an elite consensus hammered out during the circulation of numerous drafts. In the coming months, Mr Xi will be devoting most of his political energy to ensuring that his will prevails in all three of these aspects. His authority in the coming years will hugely depend on the degree to which he succeeds. Preparations for the gatherings are under way. They involve a massive operation for the selection of congress delegates. On paper, this is a bottom-up exercise. Party committees down to village level are choosing people who will then choose other representatives who, by mid-summer, will make the final pick. Thousands of party members are also scrutinising the party’s charter, looking for bits that might need changing.It may sound like a vast exercise in democratic consultation, but Mr Xi is leaving little to chance. Provincial party bosses are required to make sure that all goes to (his) plan. Over the past year, Mr Xi has appointed several new provincial leaders, all allies, who will doubtless comply.

Hands up who likes XiT

hose chosen to attend the congress will follow orders, too, especially when it comes to casting their votes for members of the new Central Committee. And the newly selected committee will stick even closer to script. The processes that lead to its selection of the party’s and army’s most senior leaders are obscure—a bit like the picking of cardinals in the Vatican. But an account in the official media of what happened in 2007 suggests that at some point in the summer, Mr Xi will convene a secret meeting of the current Central Committee and other grandees for a straw poll to rank about 200 potential members of the new Politburo (which now has 25 members). This is called “democratic recommendation”, although those taking part will be mindful of who Mr Xi’s favourites are.

Candidates for the Politburo must fulfil certain criteria, such as holding ministerial rank. For the coming reshuffle, Mr Xi has added a new stipulation: faithful implementation of his policies. For all his power, Mr Xi has struggled with widespread passive resistance to his economic reforms. To ram home the importance of obedience, Mr Xi recently held what he called a “democratic life session” at which Politburo members read out Mao-era-style self-criticisms as well as professions of loyalty to Mr Xi as the “core” leader (as the party decided last October to call him).

By August, when Mr Xi and his colleagues hold an annual retreat at a beach resort near Beijing, the initial lists of leaders will be ready. Probably in October, the Central Committee will hold its last meeting before the congress to approve its documents. The “19th Big” will start soon after, and will last for about a week. The first meeting of the new Central Committee will take place the next day, followed immediately by the unveiling before the press of Mr Xi’s new lineup (no questions allowed, if officials stick to precedent).

The process is cumbersome and elaborate, but over the past 20 years it has produced remarkably stable transfers of power for a party previously prone to turbulent ones. This has been helped by the introduction of unwritten rules: a limit of two terms for the post of general secretary, and compulsory retirement for Politburo members if they are 68 or over at the time of a congress. Mr Xi, however, is widely believed to be impatient with these restrictions. He has ignored the party’s hallowed notion of “collective leadership”, by accruing more power to himself than his post-Mao predecessors did.

If precedent is adhered to, five of the seven members of the Politburo’s Standing Committee, six of its other members and four of the 11 members of the party’s Central Military Commission (as the army council is known) will all start drawing their pensions. In addition, roughly half the 200-odd full members of the Central Committee (its other members, known as alternates, do not have voting rights) will retire, or will have been arrested during Mr Xi’s anti-corruption campaign. This would make the political turnover at this year’s gatherings the biggest for decades, akin to changing half the members of the House of Representatives and three-quarters of the cabinet.

Until late in 2016 there was little to suggest any deviation from the informal rules. But in October Deng Maosheng, a director of the party’s Central Policy Research Office, dropped a bombshell by calling the party’s system of retirement ages “folklore”—a custom, not a regulation.

The deliberate raising of doubts about retirement ages has triggered a round of rumour and concern in Beijing that Mr Xi may be considering going further. The main focus is his own role. Mr Xi is in the middle of his assumed-to-be ten-year term. By institutional tradition, any party leader must have served at least five years in the Standing Committee before getting the top job. So if Mr Xi is to abide by the ten-year rule, his successor will be someone who joins the Standing Committee right after the coming congress.

But there is widespread speculation that Mr Xi might seek to stay on in some capacity when his term ends in 2022. He might, for instance, retire as state president (for which post there is a clear two-term limit) but continue as party general-secretary. He faces a trade-off. The more he breaks with precedent, the longer he will retain power—but the more personalised and therefore more unstable the political system itself may become. Trying to square that circle will be Mr Xi’s biggest challenge in the politicking of the year ahead.

Source: Xi Jinping is busy arranging a huge reshuffle | The Economist

06/01/2017

‘Yeti’ Prints Suggest Humans Settled in Tibet More Than 7,000 Years Ago – China Real Time Report – WSJ

A cluster of ghostly hand- and footprints on a mountain north of Lhasa offers evidence that humans scratched out a permanent existence in the thin air of Tibet much earlier than commonly thought, according to a new study.

Some locals believe the prints, pressed into an ancient slab of limestone located 14,000 feet above sea level near the present-day village of Chusang, were left behind by mythical beasts. A team of researchers say that the impressions were left by people and that they offer intriguing clues to the puzzle of Tibetans’ ethnic origins.The researchers, whose latest findings are published in the latest issue of Science, say they’ve now developed a clearer picture of the site’s significance. According to their calculations, Chusang was very likely used by inhabitants of a nearby year-round settlement between 7,400 and 12,700 years ago — at least 2,200 years before permanent villages are believed to have been established elsewhere on the Tibetan Plateau.The researchers used radiocarbon dating and other, more advanced tests to determine the age of rock and dirt samples taken near the prints, according to the report.

There are no other reliably dated sites on the central, high-elevation part of the plateau,” said Mark Aldenderfer, a University of California, Merced who lead the study along with geologist Michael Meyer, from the University of Innsbruck.

By positing an earlier date of settlement on the Tibetan plateau, the study is likely to be controversial in Chinese archaeological circles. It could also irk Communist Party officials, for whom the question of where Tibetans came from is freighted with political significance.

Pushing back against advocates for Tibetan independence, the Chinese government recently began arguing that Tibet has been a part of China, not just during the imperial era, but “since ancient times.” The effort to prove that claim has led state-affiliated scholars to reach past China’s first, and some say largely mythical, dynasty, the 4,000-year-old Xia, to a neolithic culture called the Yangshao that existed in China’s Yellow River basin between 7,000 and 5,000 years ago.

Some pottery shards and other artefacts found on the Tibetan Plateau appear similar to remnants of the late Yangshao — proof, these government-backed scholars say, that China and Tibet are branches of the same civilization.“Early history has abruptly become of far greater importance to the issue, and specifically to the Chinese side,” said Robert Barnett, director of the modern Tibet studies program at Columbia University. Previously, Mr. Barnett said, the government had dated its claims over Tibet to the Yuan Dynasty, established by Mongolian leader Kublai Khan in 1271.

A 2015 paper on human settlement of the Tibetan Plateau written by Chinese archaeologists, also published in Science, supports the Yangshao timeline. It says that people didn’t start living in year-round settlements on the plateau until the development of agriculture and herding in what is now Qinghai province around 3,000 B.C.The new paper, however, suggests that migrants bearing pottery and other elements of Yangshao culture into the Tibetan regions would have encountered indigenous inhabitants, according to Mr. Aldenderfer.

“Our argument is fairly simple: There were people on the Tibetan Plateau before these ceramics and other influences came in from lower elevation locations,” he said.

There are 19 handprints and footprints of various sizes pressed into the Chusang limestone, which is believed to have formed by deposits from a now extinguished hot spring. The site was discovered in 1996 by University of Hong Kong geographer David Zhang, who was not part of the Aldenderfer team.

An image of one of the hand prints, taken in 2006. PHOTO: MARK ALDENDERFER“

Locals took me there and said [the prints] were left by a yeti,” Mr. Zhang told China Real Time, referring to the mythical creature better known in the west as the Abominable Snowman.

Mr. Zhang, who said he had seen a copy of the report but not its supplementary material,  disagreed with the conclusions of the new study. He cited tests he conducted that measured when quartz crystals from an ancient hearth found near the prints were last exposed to light. From that, he concluded that the evidence of settlement is closer to 20,000 years old.

Chusang was most likely one of several seasonal sites that people traveled to from primary settlements at lower elevations, he said.

Mr. Aldenderfer said Mr. Zhang’s measurements, taken in 2002, came from a different part of the Chusang site and that his testing methods were outdated. He said it would have taken an improbably long time to travel on foot from Chusang to a base camp at a low elevation.

The existence of smaller handprints suggests children also spent time at the site, he said.

Life would have been hard, with people forced to survive by hunting and foraging wild barley in temperatures only slightly warmer than they are now, but the area also would have had its advantages, Mr. Aldenderfer said.

A view to the north of the valley below the hot springs.
A view to the north of the valley below the hot springs. PHOTO: MARK ALDENDERFER

“It’s a really cool place. It’s perched on a mountainside, and when you’re sitting at the hot spring that has the hand- and footprints, it has an absolutely fabulous view of the valley below,” he said. The hot spring would have offered warmth, and possibly even a chance to bathe, he said.

Source: ‘Yeti’ Prints Suggest Humans Settled in Tibet More Than 7,000 Years Ago – China Real Time Report – WSJ

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16/12/2016

Taiwan fears becoming Donald Trump’s bargaining chip | The Economist

BY THE end of this month, say Chinese officials, work will be completed on a big upgrade of facilities at a monument to one of the scariest moments in the recent history of relations between China and the United States: an upsurge of tensions in the Taiwan Strait in the mid-1990s that saw the two nuclear powers inching towards the brink of war.

The structure is a concrete tower on an island in the strait, just off the Chinese coast. Atop it more than 100 generals watched a mock invasion of Taiwan by China’s army on a beach below. “Unite the motherland, invigorate China”, says a slogan in gold characters down the side of the building. The meaning of these words at a place where tanks and troops once stormed ashore with warplanes streaking overhead is: we want Taiwan back, by force if necessary.

The building work involves an expansion of the tower’s car park, improvements to the road up to it and other changes to make the place on Pingtan Island in Fujian province more tourist-friendly. The timing may be fortuitous. On December 11th America’s president-elect, Donald Trump, in an interview with Fox News, questioned what China regards as a sacred underpinning of its relationship with America: the principle that there is but “one China” (which, decoded, means that the government of Taiwan is illegitimate). China, bristling with rage, may well seek to remind its citizens, as well as America, of what happened when that principle was last challenged by the United States with a decision in 1995 by its then president, Bill Clinton, to allow his Taiwanese counterpart, Lee Teng-hui, to pay a private visit to America. Handy, then, that Pingtan will be able to handle extra busloads of visitors to that hilltop where China’s brass surveyed the pretend assault.

Relations between China and America are far less precarious than they were during those tense months, when China fired dummy missiles near Taiwan and America sent two aircraft-carrier battle groups close to the island to warn China not to attack it. China, though enraged by Mr Trump’s remarks (and a congratulatory call he took from Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, on December 2nd), is unlikely to take retaliatory action unless Mr Trump continues to challenge the notion of one China after his inauguration on January 20th.

The chip is down

Taiwan has been in the doghouse anyway since Ms Tsai took office in May. China has cut off channels of communication with the island to show its displeasure with her own refusal to embrace the one-China idea. But Ms Tsai may have reservations herself about the way Mr Trump phrased his one-China scepticism. “I don’t know why we have to be bound by a one-China policy unless we make a deal with China having to do with other things, including trade,” he said. Mr Trump listed ways in which America was being “badly hurt” by China, such as by the fall in the value of its currency and its island-building in the South China Sea. He accused China of “not helping us at all with North Korea”.

Many Taiwanese worry that this could mean their island will be treated by Mr Trump as a bargaining-chip. Memories are still fresh in Taiwan of secretive dealings between America and China during the cold war, which resulted in America severing diplomatic ties with the island in 1979. Ms Tsai’s government has avoided direct comment on Mr Trump’s remarks. Apparently to avoid raising tensions with China, she has also avoided public crowing over her phone call with Mr Trump.

Mr Trump’s remarks would have riled the Chinese leadership at any time. But they are particularly unwelcome at this juncture for China’s leader, Xi Jinping. He is absorbed by preparations for crucial meetings due to be held late in 2017 at which sweeping reshuffles of the Politburo and other Communist Party bodies will be announced. Those trying to block his appointments would be quick to seize on any sign that he is being soft on America over such a sensitive matter as Taiwan. Should Mr Trump persist in challenging the one-China idea, the risk of escalation will be even greater than usual in the build-up to the conclaves—all the more so, perhaps, given Mr Xi’s insistence that differences between China and Taiwan “cannot be passed on from generation to generation”. Hawkish colleagues may say that it is time to settle the issue by force.

Street protests in China against America or Taiwan would also make it more difficult for Mr Xi to compromise: he would fear becoming a target himself of Chinese nationalists’ wrath. But the risk of this may be low. Since Mr Xi took over in 2012 there have been no major outbreaks of nationalist unrest, partly thanks to his tightening of social and political controls (including locking up ever more dissidents).

Sun Zhe of Tsinghua University says people are unlikely to demonstrate over Taiwan “because they understand the new rules, the new emphasis on political discipline in the last few years.” He says a lot of people in China still admire Mr Trump for his wealth and his unexpected political success. They think that “he wants to make a deal with China.”

In Taiwan, some take comfort in the difficulty Mr Trump would face in changing the terms of America’s relations with Taiwan, such as by announcing a permanent end to arms sales. These are guaranteed by the Taiwan Relations Act, which was passed by Congress in 1979 to reassure Taiwan that America still had an interest in the island’s defence, despite the severance of official ties. Many Republicans sympathise with Taiwan and would be reluctant to support any change to that law (itself a challenge to the one-China idea with which China has—very grudgingly—learned to live).

They might also take solace in what appears to be a change in the Chinese government’s tone since the war games 20 years ago. In April Global Times, a newspaper in Beijing, published a poll showing that 85% of respondents supported unifying China with Taiwan by force, and that 58% agreed the best time would be within the next five years. It was reportedly chastised by China’s internet regulator for “hyping sensitive events” by running such a survey.

Source: Taiwan fears becoming Donald Trump’s bargaining chip | The Economist

07/11/2016

China and Taiwan struggle over Sun Yat-sen’s legacy | The Economist

FOR decades Taiwan’s rulers have paid their respects from afar to Sun Yat-sen, also known as Sun Zhongshan: “father of the nation”, founder of the Kuomintang (KMT) or Nationalist Party, and first president of the Republic of China.

In a ritual called yaoji, they face towards Sun’s mausoleum in Nanjing, 800km (500 miles) to the north-west in China, and offer fruit, burn incense and recite prayers.

Now that links across the Taiwan Strait are better, Sun-worshippers may make the pilgrimage in person. On October 31st it was the turn of the KMT’s chairwoman, Hung Hsiu-chu. But not only do some Taiwanese adore Sun. Museums in his honour also exist in Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore and Penang. He has a memorial park in Hawaii, where the great republican spent his teenage years, and a plaque in London, where he lived in exile from 1896-97. Most striking of all, he is admired by the Chinese Communists, who “liberated” China in 1949 from KMT rule.

In the Communist telling, Sun is the “forerunner of the democratic revolution”. As one visitor to his mausoleum put it this week: just as one sun and one moon hang in the sky, “there is only one father of the country.” There may be more Zhongshan Streets in China’s cities than Liberation Avenues. To mark this month’s anniversary of Sun’s birth 150 years ago, the state is minting a set of commemorative coins, including 300m five-yuan (75-cent) pieces that will go into circulation. It is a signal honour for a non-Communist. The party views Sun as a proto-revolutionary.

He makes an unlikely hero. Sun spent much of his life not in the thick of action but abroad. Half-a-dozen revolts that he helped organise against an ossified Qing dynasty were failures. As for the Wuchang uprising of October 1911, the catalyst for the end of three centuries of Manchu domination, he learnt of it from a Denver newspaper. He was back at the head of China’s first republican government early the following year, but merely as “provisional” president. Lacking the military strength to pull a fractured country together, he said he was the place-warmer for a strongman, Yuan Shikai. The nascent republic soon shattered and Yuan crowned himself emperor. Pressure from Western powers and Japan exacerbated China’s bleak situation. By 1916 Sun was back in exile again, in Japan.

For all that, Sun had brought down a rotten empire. For years he had raised the alarm over China’s direction, denouncing the Manchus and the rapaciousness of external powers. All his life, Sun had strived for a new republican order to turn a stricken China into a modern nation-state.

His ideas were hardly systematic, but he never deviated from the priorities of fostering national unity among Chinese, promoting democracy and improving people’s livelihoods—his “Three Principles of the People”. While railing against foreign depredations, he called for Chinese to embrace Western freedoms and rights (Sun’s messianic drive may have derived from his version of Christianity). His was an astonishingly more cosmopolitan world-view than that displayed by today’s Chinese leaders.Yet the longest-lasting impact of Sun on Chinese political life derives from something different. In the early 1920s he listened to advisers from the Soviet Union, which had won his admiration by renouncing territorial claims in China. He reorganised the KMT along Leninist lines, giving himself almost dictatorial powers (in Leninspeak: “democratic centralism”). The immediate effects were striking: an alliance between the KMT and the young Communist Party and a northward military advance in 1926 under Chiang Kai-shek, Sun’s heir, that toppled the warlords who were then wreaking havoc. Sun had died of liver failure the year before. He did not live to experience the brief national unity that Chiang imposed, nor the parties’ fatal split and descent into bloodshed, nor their struggle over Sun’s mantle.

Follow the Sun

And his legacy today? Consider that among his three principles, the two 20th-century dictators, Mao Zedong in mainland China and Chiang Kai-shek on Taiwan, gave a damn only about the first, national unity, on which, by their standards, they must be judged poorly. Sun’s Leninist party organisation—never one of his hallowed principles—had a far more profound impact on the two autocrats, and still does on China’s rulers today.

In Taiwan dictatorial KMT rule began crumbling a few years after Chiang’s death in 1975. Democratic development since then, including within the KMT, and the growth of a prosperous civil society, seem in line with Sun’s second and third principles relating to democracy and prosperity. But as for the first, a Chinese nationalism: forget it. Sun’s portrait still hangs in schools and government offices, and looks serenely down on the frequent fisticuffs in Taiwan’s parliament. But after resounding defeat in elections early this year, the KMT struggles for relevance on an island that is proud of its separateness from China. If there is any echo of Sun’s idealism, it is in the student “Sunflower Movement”, which wants to keep China at bay. For many Taiwanese, the Republic of China, Taiwan’s official name, is a figleaf for independence; Sun is an old ineffectual ghost. The current president, Tsai Ing-wen of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party, performed no yaoji this year.

And China? Democratic centralism still prevails—exemplified by the party’s monopoly on power, Xi Jinping’s autocratic rule and the suppression of dissent. Were Sun to speak from his tomb, he might remind Mr Xi how, under the Communist Party, national unity, real democracy and even broad-based prosperity remain elusive. He might point out, too, that when Sun adopted Leninism it was to advance rather than trump his beloved principles. In his final will, Sun wrote: “The work of the revolution is not done yet.” “Blimey,” he might now say: “Couldn’t you think of trying something different?”

Source: China and Taiwan struggle over Sun Yat-sen’s legacy | The Economist

04/11/2016

Xi Jinping gets a new title | The Economist

COMMUNIST leaders relish weird and wonderful titles. Kim Jong Il, the late father of North Korea’s current “Great Leader”, was, on special occasions, “Dear Leader who is a perfect incarnation of the appearance that a leader should have” (it doesn’t sound much better in Korean). China’s rulers like a more prosaic, mysterious epithet: hexin, meaning “the core”.

Xi Jinping—China’s president, commander-in-chief, Communist Party boss and so forth—is now also officially “the core”, having been called that in a report issued by the party’s Central Committee after a recent annual meeting.

The term was made up in 1989 by Deng Xiaoping, apparently to give his anointed successor, Jiang Zemin, greater credibility after the bloody suppression of the Tiananmen Square protests. Just as Mao had been the core of the first generation of party leaders and Deng himself of the second, so Mr Jiang was of the third. (Hu Jintao, Mr Xi’s predecessor, was supposedly offered the title of fourth-generation core but modestly turned it down.)

Being core confers no extra powers. Mr Xi has little need of those; he is chairman of everything anyway. Status, though, is what really matters in China (Deng ruled the country for a while with no other title than honorary chairman of the China Bridge Association). And Mr Xi seems to be finding that all his formal power does not convey enough. Early this year, in what looked like a testing of the waters, a succession of provincial party leaders kowtowed verbally to Xi-the-core. But the term soon disappeared from public discourse. Its revival makes it look as if Mr Xi has won a struggle to claim it.

That may augur well for him in his forthcoming battles over the appointment of a new generation of lesser officials (the peel?) at a party congress next year. Mr Xi wants to replace some of the 350-odd members of the central committee with his own people, while keeping as many of his allies as he can. In a sign that he might be able to do that, officials have started dismissing as “folklore” an unwritten rule that members of the Politburo have to retire at 68. The rule is commonly known as “seven up, eight down” (qi shang, ba xia), meaning 67 is fine, 68 is over the hill. Getting rid of it would seem to open the way to the non-retirement of several of Mr Xi’s close allies, notably 68-year-old Wang Qishan, who is in charge of fighting graft. It might even pave the way for Mr Xi’s own refusal to collect his pension when his second (and supposedly final) term as party chief is up in 2022, and he will be 69.

There is another parallel between political language now and in 1989. The recent meeting eschewed the party’s usual practice of tying current events to the triumphs of earlier Communist history and instead set the scene by referring mostly to the congress in 2012, when Mr Xi became leader. Another time when the party ignored history in this way was after the Tiananmen killings, when it wanted to draw a veil over what had just occurred and signal a fresh, dictatorial start. Mr Xi seems to be saying, implicitly, that a new era has begun with him, core among equals.

Source: Xi Jinping gets a new title | The Economist

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