Chinese President Xi Jinping has talked about making arduous efforts to achieve what he calls the “Chinese dream” (Zhongguo meng) – a great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.
Participating in a CNN discussion on the concept, Wu Jianmin, a former Chinese ambassador to the United Nations, said, “Reemergence of China is the Chinese dream.” He expanded, “China used to be a leading nation in the world for many. many centuries. But in the past two centuries, China lagged far behind the industrialized countries. Chinese were down and out. Chinese always dream of better future.”
More interestingly, Ambassador Wu said “we need rule of law and democracy” in the definition of the Chinese dream adding, “Rule of law and democracy is the goal of our political reform” and “Xi Jinping was very clear on that. We need rule of law and democracy.”
I had an experience of a different kind of Chinese dream the other day when I attended a talk by a visiting Chinese professor of history. His topic was the Cultural Revolution in his region. For more than half an hour, he went into details about the existence of factions and their nature during the Cultural Revolution and how these had impacts on the society. The Chinese professor had collaborated with an American professor in researching on the issue and published a series of articles in international research journals. I thought he was forthright on issues, including in calling the Chinese regime a totalitarian one.
As he ended his remarks and after the chair had taken advantage of his being the chair and thus asking the first question, the next question was posed by an elderly gentleman who asked whether the many articles that he had written were solely in English or also available in Chinese and accessible to the Chinese people in China. The Chinese professor responded that these were available at his university but not to the general public in China.
This question was followed by others about how the Cultural Revolution was being explained to the Chinese students currently and whether he could use terms such as “dictatorship” (which one questioner said he had used during his presentation here) while teaching to his students in China.
The Chinese professor responded that he was part of a committee discussing content of a text book for high school students in China and that Cultural Revolution was covered in just three pages. He said he would not be able to use terms like dictatorship in China. In short, it was clear that only sanitized versions of such issues were being made accessible to the Chinese people.
As I sat listening to these I began to realize the existence of another Chinese dream; projecting two versions of China – one for the Chinese public and the other to the international community.
Internationally, over the years China has loosened up and has been making aggressive attempts to project a more open image. Chinese scholars and diplomats have changed their language of discourse. State Councilor Yang Jiechi.who is also the Director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Leading Group of the CPC Central Committee said it as much in a signed article in Qiushi (Seeking Truth), the flagship magazine of the Communist Party of China (CPC), on August 16, 2013: “With the layout being more comprehensive and more balanced, China’s diplomacy under new circumstances displays such features as rich ideas, clear priorities, firm positions, flexible approaches and distinctive styles.”
The article had the interesting title, “Innovations in China’ s Diplomatic Theory and Practice Under New Conditions.”
Today, Chinese scholars particularly (like the professor that I mention here) can be seen to take a more independent line on developments in China, in conferences outside of China. China scholars outside also have comparatively better access to information in China than before. English language Chinese official media can be occasionally seen to be addressing issues that are still taboo to Chinese.
But the above seem to be a strategy aimed at fulfilling another Chinese dream: to create an image of an open China to the outside world while continuing to maintain a firm grip within China.
The same strategy is being applied to the issue of Tibet. On the one hand, China tries to create an image of development and happiness in Tibet to the outside world; on the other Tibetans in Tibet are increasing finding greater restrictions to their day to day life, let alone their political and other grievances being addressed by the Chinese leadership.
Therefore, today there are two Chinese dreams; the one being experienced by President Xi Jinping and the other by the international community about China. I guess the truth will be known only after China wakes up to the reality from the dream.
Here are a few reasons for this.
Although we saw “political structural reform” as one of the buzz-phrases at the Congress, there was no indication that this reform would apply to communities that the People’s Republic of China proclaims as its ‘ethnic minorities.’ And, even as “scientific outlook on development” was incorporated into the Party’s Constitution, we found nothing to indicate that a “people first” spirit would be applied to Tibetans when it comes to matters relating to their destiny. A statement after the first meeting of the new Politburo on November 16, 2012, said: “The foremost political task is to concentrate the mind of the Party, the nation and people of all ethnic backgrounds onto the congress’s spirit…” But the spirit of the Congress is only to consider the economic side of the equation, namely “the building of a moderately prosperous society in all respects.” As the spirit of Tibetans is in crisis, with 74 confirmed incidents of self-immolation, this is a tragically narrow approach.
Another indication that Tibetans are given lesser weightage is the decrease in the number of Tibetans in the Party’s 18th Central Committee. In the past few Party Congresses, there were at least two Tibetans among the 200 plus members of the Committee. This time only one Tibetan is included. He is Pema Thinley, the current head of the Tibet Autonomous Region Government, and he was a member of the official Chinese delegation during the eighth round of discussions with the Dalai Lama’s envoys in 20087. If members of the Central Committee are ‘elected,’ then the reduced weightage it is an indication about the thinking of the majority Chinese members; if they were ‘selected,’ then it reflects the thinking of the Party itself. To be noted, there are four Tibetans who serve as alternate members in the Central Committee, the largest number we have had to date.
Speaking of representation, the most visible position that an ‘ethnic minority’ secured this time is that of being a member of the Secretariat of the Central Committee. This honor is bestowed on Yang Jing, a Mongolian. He already serves as the Minister in the State Ethnic Affairs Commission and a Vice Minister of the Central United Front Work Department. Otherwise, no ‘ethnic minority’ finds a place among the deputy secretaries, or standing committee members of the 18th Central Commission for Discipline Inspection], or the 25-member Politburo, not to talk of its Standing Committee.
In his first speech as the General Secretary of the Party, Xi Jinping, on November 15, 2012, acknowledged that: “In the new situation, our Party faces many severe challenges.” However, the growing social tension, including between Chinese and Tibetans, is a reality that the Chinese leaders will have to deal with, even as Xi says, “…Chinese people have opened up a good and beautiful home where all ethnic groups live in harmony and fostered an excellent culture that never fades.”
Culturally and psychologically, too, the ‘ethnic minorities’ seem to be considered more for their token value than substance during the Congress. Much of the reference to them during this historic 18th Party Congress was about their pictorial value for their “exotic garb.”
As we witness the historic and historical development in Tibet today, including the self-immolations by Tibetans, the following statement by Xi Jinping during his acceptance speech acquires a deeper meaning. “It is the people who create history. The masses are the real heroes. Out strength comes from the people and masses.” I believe the Tibetan people are really creating history and Beijing might want to listen.
Ling Jihua, the current head of China’s Central United Front Work Department that is the key organization managing Tibetan affairs, finds a place in the Central Committee, as was the case with his predecessors. But it is interesting that Zhu Weiqun, the Executive Deputy Minister of the UFWD, who handled day to day affairs on Tibet, does not find a place in the Committee although he was a member of the 17th CPC committee. This is all the more surprising when we consider that the former head of the UFWD, Du Qinglin, is in the new Central Committee. Du is older than Zhu Weiqun (born in November 1946 while Zhu was born in 1947), indicating that age may not have been a consideration.
It remains to be seen who will oversee organizations like the China Tibetan Culture Protection and Development Association, which Beijing has set up for their soft power outreach on Tibet. Zhu Weiqun was its Vice- President and Secretary General since 2004.
In the coming months, we may see the appointment of members of the Central Tibet Work Coordination Group or the Leading Group on Tibetan affairs, and depending on their background, we might get an idea of how the party sees the Tibetan issue. In the past, security considerations seem to have dominated in the composition of membership of the Group.
In his acceptance speech, Comrade Ji Xinping concluded,“China needs to learn more about the world, and the world also needs to learn more about China.” I would add that China and the new Chinese leaders need to learn much more about the Tibetans, too.
For more please read ICT’s special report: “China’s new leadership and Tibet” >>
Last night was “foreign policy night” in the third and final presidential debate between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama
A 15-minute segment was devoted to the subject of “The Rise of China and Tomorrow’s World” by moderator Bob Schieffer. Unfortunately, we got very little insight into the candidates view of China’s role in the world or how they would approach China overall.
Yesterday’s blog hoped that Obama and Romney would touch on issues of democracy, human rights, territorial ambitions and Tibet. Instead, the candidates used this foreign policy topic to steer the conversation back to domestic themes. China became a vehicle to talk about trade, manufacturing, industrial policy, taxes, etc.
The New Yorker’s always insightful Evan Osnos writes that this is troubling:
The absence of a discussion of human rights will not go over well in the American human-rights community or with Tibetan groups. For the moment, however, in Beijing it is being greeted with pleasure. China takes careful note of vocabulary—the Foreign Ministry keeps track of the mentions of specific words—and the erosion of human rights from the candidates’ priorities will be taken as a sign, as foreign-affairs specialist Zhu Feng put it, that economic issues are “something they really care more about now than human rights or security.”
A Beijing-based Chinese economist agreed: “Chinese officials will be satisfied by the debate, as the China topics were trade and currency, and neither candidate mentioned human rights, so it was quite friendly towards China.”
However, there were a couple of interesting moments that provided a window into each man’s thoughts on China.
First, President Obama opened up with the view that “China’s both an adversary but also a potential partner in the international community if it’s following the rules.” The use of “adversary” certainly got noticed in Beijing, and according to Foreignpolicy.com’s Josh Rogin, appeared to contradict his own Administration’s messaging on U.S-China relations. Rogin cites a speech by Secretary of State Clinton in 2009 where she distances the Administration’s approach from those who would label China an “adversary.” Of course, the Administration’s posture has evolved over three years in response to a more globally assertive posture by Beijing. Perhaps Obama’s choice of words reflects that evolution.
It is also interesting that he used the phrase “potential partner,” which implies China is not a partner now. This also is a different tone than that expressed by his Administration, and will also be noticed in Beijing (if not first by his Treasury Secretary).
For his part, Governor Romney tacked away from Obama’s comments, saying, “We don’t have to be an adversary in any way, shape or form. We can work with them. We can collaborate with them if they’re willing to be responsible.” This is similar to Obama’s approach, by putting the onus back on Beijing to choose whether it wants to be a responsible partner. At the same time, experts pointed to this as a softening of Romney’s tone on China. It seems to have been welcomed in Beijing.
Romney also said, “China has an interest that’s very much like ours in one respect, and that is they want a stable world. They don’t want war. They don’t want to see protectionism… So they want the economy to work and the world to be free and open.”
For one, Romney assesses that the Chinese don’t want protectionism even as he has previously accused them of practicing it, when he called China “cheaters” and promised to “crack down” by labeling them as currency manipulators.
For another, Romney’s claim that the Chinese want the world to be “free and open” raises eyebrows, given that China is consistently rated by Freedom House as the “worst of the worst” among the world’s most repressed society. (This notion is cleverly displayed in TIME magazine’s recent cover story on Xi Jinping: The Next Leader of the Unfree World.) But perhaps Romney meant to refer to free and open commercial markets.
Overall, it was revealing that the Middle East dominated the debate. While China got one-sixth of the time, that was more than Europe, Latin American and Africa combined. My reaction to the topical allocation in the debate can be summed up by a Tweet last night by the ever-witty @RelevantOrgans (a Twitter handle that satirizes the Chinese Communist Propaganda Bureau):
But this missed opportunity to have a serious debate on China policy doesn’t mean it’s the last chance for such a debate. Tonight, four third party candidates will participate in a debate in Chicago – Jill Stein of the Green Party, Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party, Virgil Goode of the Constitution Party and Rocky Anderson of the Justice Party. Let’s see what they have to say on China.
Lastly, I offer a reminder to urge the candidates to respond to ICT’s 2012 Tibet questionnaire, in which they tell voters what their Tibet policy would be. We have heard from one candidate (Obama) but not heard from the others we asked (Romney, Stein, Johnson). Our page gives you tips for how to contact the campaigns via e-mail, Facebook and Twitter.
A common political mantra in the People’s Republic of China these days is the ‘scientific outlook on development,’ coined by President Hu Jintao in 2003. Behind it lies a long history of dead-weight pseudo-Marxist theory in the form of its ideological forbearers the ‘Three Represents,’ which was Jiang Zemin’s ‘important thought,’ before which there was ‘Deng Xiaoping Theory‘, and before that there was ‘Chairman Mao Thought‘ – all part of China’s modern ideological history going back to the May 4th Movement of 1919, when slogans about the primacy of science also abounded.
Simply put, a ‘scientific outlook on development’ refers to the Chinese central government’s agenda of controlling and even ‘engineering’ development, where prosperity and ‘social harmony’ – to quote another Chinese political buzzword – are quantifiable, and therefore attainable. In other words, ‘Scientific outlook on development’ is a slogan propagated by China’s leaders, who are nearly all, er… scientists.
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