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2004 September 24: Festival of illusions
2004 September 19: Time to saddle up the old horse
It is stunning, to me, how quickly the media reports and their “experts” have been to anoint (or re-anoint) 胡錦濤 Hú Jĭn Tāo as 中國 Zhōng Guó’s new ‘paramount leader’ after 江澤民 Jiāng Zé Mín stepped down as chair of the Central Military Commission of the party and 胡 Hú took his place. As far as I can tell, the reasoning here is the same that described the previous transfer of offices to 胡 Hú as an actual transfer of power. I am perfectly willing to concede that 江 Jiāng now has less power and 胡 Hú more, but that does not mean an actual change in supremacy. The analysts keep forgetting to mention: 鄧小平 Dèng Xiăo Píng surrendered the chair of the CMC to 江 Jiāng in 1989, after 江 Jiāng had already taken over as general secretary from the ousted 趙紫陽 Zhào Zĭ Yáng. But no one actually believes that 鄧 Dèng did not maintain control after leaving that last official post. 鄧 Dèng ran the country, he had the last word, regardless of what his title was. And the title ‘paramount leader’ existed to acknowledge the reality of 中國 Zhōng Guó’s political situation: that a person with no official title could still be the ruler de facto, as 鄧 Dèng clearly was.
So let me point out again that more than half of the Политбюро Standing Committee is made up of 江 Jiāng loyalists, and at the center of it is state Vice President 曾慶紅 Zēng Qìng Hóng, 江 Jiāng’s most trusted lieutenant. Even recent attempts by 胡 Hú to alter policy even slightly have been reversed, in favor of the STATVS QVO ANTE ― which means in favor of 江 Jiāng’s policies. The failure of 曾 Zēng to be elevated to the vice chair of the CMC is perhaps the only telling indicator in this whole barrage of reports. (It might also be informative to know by whom and with what vigor 江 Jiāng was begged to reconsider his decision to resign; but of course he may really have decided to resign, and we would never know whether the resignation or the begging was actually for show.) It may well be that 胡 Hú is making progress in a power struggle within the party, but his faction, if he has one, can hardly be galvanized by what they suppose 胡 Hú will do if he ever gets full power, which he certainly does not have now. Speculations that 胡 Hú and 温家寶 Wēn Jiā Băo are secret reformers, or even that 曾 Zēng is, are empty without any practical results; and of course, the speculation if true must underline the reality that someone else wields power if these secret reformers are not yet engaging in any serious reform. 中國 Zhōng Guó has now a tradition of cloistered rule (to borrow from 日本 Nitupon history), and until someone actually diverges from 江澤民 Jiāng Zé Mín thought (such as it is), or 江 Jiāng actually dies, I will have to suppose that there has been no change in power. In fact, I continue to believe that this is obvious.
I do not believe that rule in 中國 Zhōng Guó (or elsewhere) is simple, or that even in 毛 Máo’s day a single person made all the decisions, or could. And 江 Jiāng is no 鄧小平 Dèng Xiăo Píng, let alone 毛澤東 Máo Zé Dōng. But as long as 江 Jiāng’s policies remain in place and his interests remain protected, then he is still the person with greatest influence. And if his policies remain in place because no one wants to do anything different, then it hardly matters who is in charge.
2003 May 8: The way forward and out
2003 April 10: Taking sides
2003 February 27: The mandate of heaven
1998 May 31
With a record turnout (for 香港 Hèung Góng, anyway, which meant 53% of the electorate), the voters of 香港 Hèung Góng have demonstrated that they care about political liberalization, not simply economic prosperity. Democratic parties have reportedly won three-fifths of the popular vote, and will hold nineteen of twenty contested seats in the new assembly. Normally this would be an undemocratic overrepresentation. In this case, when the twenty elected seats are opposed to forty seats appointed by various means, the democrats will be substantially underempowered. They will be a minority in a body that has very limited powers, and the will of the electorate in 香港 Hèung Góng will be heard, not felt.
Nonetheless, it will be heard. Martin 李柱鉻 Lei Chyu Mīng, Emily 劉慧卿 Lau Wai Hing, and their confederates have made clear that they are not going quietly into this silent 北京 Bĕi Jīng oppression. If the spirit of these pioneers is as indomitable as it feels to me, they will someday be remembered fondly by all of 中國 Zhōng Guó, and thus by all of Earth. 香港 Hèung Góng will be a factory of dissent. In a country where dissidents are routinely imprisoned, a delegate from 香港 Hèung Góng to the central assembly in 北京 Bĕi Jīng has recently stated, unambiguously, that he and his fellow democrat delegates will be a mission for democracy to the rest of 中國 Zhōng Guó. He had no doubt that they would eventually succeed. Listening to him, it was hard to be cynical. There is an energy in 香港 Hèung Góng which suggests that they might in fact succeed.
中國 Zhōng Guó is one of the greatest civilizations the world has produced. It has historically been among the most forward, and its people have proven themselves to be enormous assets to the development of the whole. Those assets are being withheld from us at present. 中國 Zhōng Guó lags sadly behind in its political development. It will be a momentous day for the world when a free, open, just 中國 Zhōng Guó takes its place among the cultures that are carrying us forward. It may be that the democrats of 香港 Hèung Góng can unleash the force of 中國 Zhōng Guó for the good. If they can, we will all be indebted.
1998 June 28
George Bush not only did not care about human rights, he did not have any political reason to. Bill Clinton has a significant constituency devoted to the issue, so in that sense he is better to be entrusted with such advocacy than Bush. But on a personal level, he is proving just as unreliable. Whether he is worried about Al Gore’s fundraising ability, or his own “statesman”ship legacy, his behavior has been everything in office that he (rightly) condemned while campaigning.
Assisting the economic development of 中國 Zhōng Guó may further its political liberalization (though such claims are credible only from dissidents, not from entrepreneurs salivating to do business in the market). Such engagement may be positive. But keeping on the good side of the tyrants has none of its promised benefits. Has it brought about serious political amnesty? Indeed, has it prevented the roundup of dissidents at crucial times (like now)? Has it kept 中國 Zhōng Guó from giving nuclear and missile technology to پاکستان Pākistān? Has it bought effective cooperation in preventing پاکستانى Pākistānī tests?
The protests about his visiting 天安門 Tiān Ān Mén Square during his trip to中國 Zhōng Guó are ill informed. The undesirable symbolism is not in going to the site of the massacre (which had after all a long history prior to 1989), but in having cordial relations with its defenders, and worse, its perpetrators. Be assured that the smiling faces who were warmly greeted by Bill Clinton would mow down prodemocracy demonstrators again, if they were convinced they could get away with it, as 鄧小平 Dèng Xiăo Píng and 李鵬 Lĭ Péng did.
But at last, Bill Clinton did a favor to the people of 中國 Zhōng Guó rather than its rulers, or his own capitalist financial supporters. He spoke, on two occasions, unambiguously against the bogus argument of cultural relativism being (as always) forwarded by tyrants to justify their repression. Human rights are universal, and the rights of the individual are the only path to the rights of the collective. Though his speech was at times absolutionist (ignoring irresponsible attitudes within his own generation on world problems, and within the US electorate on ecological problems) and at times just silly (complaining about drugs and smuggling), for the most part he presented the case for an open and democratic society in precisely the form which would do the most damage to the tyrannical standpoint of 江澤民 Jiāng Zé Mín and company. He was the voice of open society itself, showing tolerance for diversity of opinion even when it went against him, and providing a demonstration to 中國 Zhōng Guó that such leaders can be had. He spoke of principle eloquently, and then practiced it. For that moment at least, any individual in the world could watch and remark that here was an exemplary figure of power, a model of behavior among those who rule. 中國 Zhōng Guó no doubt has many persons who could do better than Clinton easily. Its citizens have only to ask themselves why they should not have such persons in positions of power. 中國 Zhōng Guó deserves a free and open society. This demonstration will, I am convinced, contribute to the development of a free and open society.
1998 July 5
Bill Clinton wrapped up his visit to 中國 Zhōng Guó by finally meeting with democrats. He did so in 香港 Hèung Góng, where his chief contact was of course Martin 李柱鉻 Lei Chyu Mīng, for several years the most prominent activist for democracy in 香港 Hèung Góng, and now in all of 中國 Zhōng Guó. 香港 Hèung Góng is a liberal democratic enclave within the capitalist enclave of 廣東 Gwóng Dùng, which is the third most important metropolis of 中國 Zhōng Guó, behind 北京 Bĕi Jīng and 上海 Shàng Hăi. 上海 Shàng Hăi has long played New York to 北京 Bĕi Jīng’s Washington, but there is no good analogue to 香港 Hèung Góng, not anywhere in the world. 中國 Zhōng Guó has for a year failed to crack down on the liberal society in 香港 Hèung Góng, and 李 Lei and others have continued to speak out forcefully for its expansion to the rest of the rest of the state. The oligarchy in 北京 Bĕi Jīng viewed 香港 Hèung Góng as a tasty morsel, bringing many pleasant health benefits. I think ultimately it may not agree with their constitution.
Clinton is becoming the world’s leading spokesperson for the right of entrenched states against self-determined secession. This is policy for virtually all states in the world, regardless of party in power, as a matter of self-interest. It has long been policy in the U.S. But Clinton has now repeated the formula prominently twice in two weeks. We do not expect the successor of Lincoln to tolerate the departure of state territories, democratically or not. But as he plays rejectionist to Kosova and now 臺灣 Tâi Oân, seemingly going out of his way to assert US objections to geolegal sovereignty for either of these entities, he is flashing the all-clear sign to 北京 Bĕi Jīng and Београд to proceed as they see fit. 臺灣 Tâi Oân is already sovereign, whatever the UN might say about it. Parts of Kosova now have that status as well, owing to a surprisingly successful military and political campaign by the UÇK. These areas are nationally, historically, and lingustically distinct from the states that claim them. 臺灣 Tâi Oân is becoming a native democracy, no longer the refuge of the 國民黨 Guó Mín Dăng. Why should it submit to 北京 Bĕi Jīng authority, regardless of what power controls it? Its only moral obligation is to the standard of justice, not to the 漢 Hàn nation. If 臺灣 Tâi Oân meets the standard, its government is legitimate. If not, then not. The moral issue is that simple. If Bill Clinton cannot articulate so just a proposition, let him at least not lend comfort to the imperial ambitions of the 漢 Hàn government.
1998 July 26
The sheen of гласность accompanying Bill Clinton’s state visit is now almost wholly dispelled. The organizers of democratic opposition continue to suffer persecution and prosecution. It is supposed that the real reason behind the trial and sentencing of Fang Yi Ping was his participation in such organization. But the supposed crime that 中國 Zhōng Guó chose to “legitimize” its arrest and imprisonment of Fang is sufficiently revealing of bad intent. Fang was convicted of helping a dissident (Wáng Xi Zhe) escape the country. Was Wáng a criminal who deserved to be punished? Or was he a troubling voice which 中國 Zhōng Guó wanted to keep within its control? Perhaps 中國 Zhōng Guó should build a new 長城 Cháng Chéng, patterned after the Mauer, where those who wished to opt out of the dictatorial state would be shot summarily. But that would place the barbarian hordes on the wrong side.
1998 August 2
The flooding in 中國 Zhōng Guó has been a disaster in humanitarian and economic terms, clearly. But its greatest long-term effect may be ecological. Any hopes for the pressure mounting on 中國 Zhōng Guó to halt the 三峽 Sān Xiá Dam project have been dashed like so many villagers against submerged rocks. The central government wanted flood control on the 長江 Cháng Jiāng. All of its justifications will now be confirmed.
The economic failures of the eastern bloc, including the appalling famines, are conventionally blamed on central planning and communist theories, but the real culprit was not central planning per se, but the preference of the governments in charge of that planning for first-world industrialization, at too rapid a pace and too high a cost, in total ignorance of and with devastating consequences to the pre-existing agricultural economy. Сталин and 毛 Máo were megalomaniacs who augmented their personality cults with military and industrial strength which they extracted from the subjected populace with no concern for life. The deaths they caused are rightly the focus of concern.
But we should not forget that this crash modernization took (and takes) a great toll on the natural world as well. The 三峽 Sān Xiá project is more of the same ― an extension of the areas in which human civilization will not admit competitors, in which nature is an intrusive enemy to be fought and conquered so that humans can live a convenient, care-free life. 中國 Zhōng Guó is headed down the wrong road with this. On the other hand, it cannot be expected to learn from the mistakes of those who do not admit to mistakes. The economic development schemes employed in the west for so long are still largely supported by the popular will. Westerners enjoying their standard of living have shown too little interest in the ecological consequences of development for any expectation of a change before we reach the abyss. As the economies of the developing world gather speed, they may overtake the western economies only soon enough to precede them over the precipice. If so, it is a warning the west will surely ignore.
1998 August 2
The former administrator of 北京 Bĕi Jīng, 陈希同 Chén Xī Tóng, has been sentenced to sixteen years in prison for corruption and dereliction. Ordinary citizens of the city gave voice to their long-held hatred of 陈 Chén, many calling for his execution. The party congratulated itself for cleaning up government and removing an authority who abused his power to the point of becoming an enemy of the people. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
1998 October 11
Following on the visit by UN Human Rights chief Mary Robinson,中國 Zhōng Guó has signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It was a cynical act, of course. Pro-democracy activist 徐文立 Xú Wén Lì was briefly detained during the visit of Tony Blair. A treaty signed a year ago, on economic and cultural rights, has still not emerged from what passes for a legal system in 中國 Zhōng Guó. And even if ratified, no one believes that the current régime would actually enforce it; even the western democracies don’t enforce these treaties exactly as written. But this commitment will perhaps be of some use constraining a future régime. The democratic-transitional governments that have emerged in the last decade have often bound themselves, by agreement with the departing dictatorship or from misguided legalistic pressure from outside powers, to the legal system established by those departing dictatorships (which, naturally, the dictators never truly were bound to themselves). This is one instance where that may be a good thing.