Monday, December 20, 2010

Wikileaks and China’s Next Top Duo

Contributed by Cathy Zhu

Two wikileaked conversations from 2007 have brought China’s fifth generation leadership back under the spotlight. Xi Jinping, has been considered “heir” to Hu Jintao ever since his appointment to vice chairmanship of the Central Military Commission (October 18, 2010). Li Keqiang, China’s current Executive Vice-Premier, is speculated as Premier Wen’s likely successor. Recent Wikileaked cables include two conversations these two leaders respectively had with US Ambassador Clark J. Randt back in 2007, when both of them were provincial party secretaries. Recent press commentary suggest that these conversations were surprisingly revealing to the international community.

Li Keqiang was formerly party secretary of Liaoning Province, one of China’s poorer regions. Candidly admitting that China’s GDP figures were “man-made” or “for reference only”, he claimed to use electricity consumption, volume of rail cargo, and amount of loans disbursed as indicators of Liaoning’s economic health. Demystifying the party slogan “harmonious society”, he translated the term into policy as creating jobs for Liaoning residents. He admitted that corruption was the gravest concern of most Liaoning residents. Besides increasing transparency and supervision, Li added prison tours as part of public official education--taking incumbent bureaucrats to visit former corrupt party officials in prison. (Wikileak accessible here.)

As party secretary of one of China’s richer provinces, Xi Jinping faced different concerns. With a relatively low income gap and the one of highest GDP per capita’s among China’s provinces, Zhejiang’s residents were more worried about how to invest their savings in context of China’s undeveloped financial sector. Among healthcare, education, and housing, work styles of party officials was apparently a concern of Zhejiang residents, but not something that people would “take to the streets” for. The Guardian highlights the paragraph in which Xi discusses his preference for Hollywood WWII movies, saying that clearly demarcate between good and evil, unlike certain recent Chinese movies that “neglect the values they should promote”. (Wikileak cable accessible here.)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The North Korea Debacle

Contributed by Ian Chan

It seems like a never-ending nightmare for diplomats and military officials on both sides of the pacific: North Korea conducting some military action unilaterally and then threatening to respond to any acts of self-defense, the U.S. escalating exercises with South Korea, and China calling for "all sides to show restrain". But following the the recent shelling of Yeonpyeong Island, a South Korean military base that caused the death of several civilians and soldiers, there seems to be some change in this dynamic.

Following the shelling, South Korea responded in force and sent out fighter jets to patrol the area, the U.S. sent in the USS George Washington, a aircraft carrier that is a potent symbol of power in the Yellow Sea, and China has called for emergency consultations by inviting a North Korean official to Beijing. However, under all that diplomatic language there seems to be more. As the State Department cables released by WikiLeaks to international newspapers show, there seems to be a gradual shift in China's view of the North Korean regime and its unwavering support for its neighbors. This shift in view, according to the cables, go all the way to the top, and reveal a distancing that has never been seen before.

The leaks show that officials increasingly recognize that the alliance is not bringing any benefits to the Chinese, that the North's nuclear activity is a threat to the world, that the North is like a "spoiled child", that China can handle at least 300,000 refugees from a possible regime collapse, and that Beijing would be alright with a unified peninsula under the government in Seoul. These views, coupled with China's push for a renewal of the six-party talks and emergency consultations, seem to signal a change in stance.

But wait a second, experts in the region and historians have also noted that often even private remarks made by Chinese officials to foreign diplomats maybe more complex than they seem and that a significant shift in China's policy is unlikely, especially under an outgoing leadership. With the foreign policy stances of the possible successor to Hu Jintao, Xi Jinping, unknown to the world, there seems to be a small chance that there will be any official change until 2012. Moreover, China does not like to cave to pressure, in particular American, and the presence of a fully operational and supplied aircraft carrier carrying military exercises so close to its coast must be unsettling for a fledgling nation that feels it is being trapped and boxed in by the U.S. Furthermore, the 60th anniversary of the Korean War will remind the Chinese of their heroic sacrifices for their communist comrades during the conflict and will no doubt be used as a nationalistic rallying cry by the regime in Beijing to shore up domestic support.

Therefore, given these two contrasting views, the only conclusion that could be drawn is that the region remains as volatile as ever, and its players are complex and unpredictable. Kim Jong-il, North Korea's ailing leader, is rumored to be posturing to secure a smooth transition for his third son, Kin Jong-un, which has added to the instability in the regime. The South, under the right-wing government of Lee Myung-bak, has stepped up its defense and hard-line tone. The U.S. and China, in the meantime, will likely continue their proxy jabs and disagree on process and substance. Regime change may be coming, but no one knows how that would happen, and that should be worrying to the international community.

Sources: The Guardian, The Washington Post

Chinese capitalists vs African workers

Contributed by Ying Jiang

A recent New York Times report on a shooting incident at a Chinese-owned Zambian coal mine, Collum Coal, reveals a glimpse of Western impression of Chinese dealings with some of the African governments. In this incident, mine workers who are dissatisfied with wages and erratic work schedules demonstrated their anger by crowding a closed mine shaft, resulting in gun shots from supervisors in (apparently) self-defensive actions. Aside from wage issues, work place safety is also a prime concern.

While the mine-owners denied any wrong of their own, it has become a more common sentiment among Zambians that foreign companies such as Collum Coal exploit and abuse, rather than help and develop, their host country, often protected by a corrupt government. In this case, the words of the Zambian president Rupiah Banda, in an attempt to state that it's unfair to single out the Chinese (foreign companies), sounded absolutely ridiculous. On the other hand, the Times tries to balance its report by incorporating a somewhat humane, West-acceptable response from the Chinese Embassy.

It is ironic that China, a nation which sometimes still wallow in a self-image of the exploited and plundered for its early 20th century encounters with Western powers, has to role-play the exploiter towards countries down the ladder of development. Does this say anything about the evolution of capitalism?

Source: NYtimes