Archive for October 2010
A crown prince is anointed in a vast kingdom facing vaster stresses. China is in a fragile state
Oct 21st 2010
“With you in charge, I am at ease,” Mao Zedong is supposed to have told his successor, Hua Guofeng. It proved a disastrous choice. Mr Hua lasted a couple of years before being toppled in 1978. A decade later succession plans once again unravelled spectacularly, against a backdrop of pro-democracy unrest. Only once, eight years ago, has China’s Communist Party managed a smooth transfer of power—to Hu Jintao. Now a new transition is under way. The world should be nervous about it for two reasons: the unknown character of China’s next leader; and the brittle nature of a regime that is far less monolithic and assured than many foreigners assume.
The man ordained to take over Mr Hu’s twin roles as party chief in 2012 and president the following year is hardly a household name. On October 18th Vice-President Xi Jinping was given a new job as vice-chairman of China’s Central Military Commission, which Mr Hu heads. This is a position for leaders-in-waiting. The portly son of one of Communist China’s founders, little known to the outside world until a few years ago, Mr Xi is preparing to take the helm of a country with the world’s second-biggest economy and its biggest armed forces—and which is in the midst of wrenching social change.
Quite how he has risen so high in a party that, for all its growing engagement with the world, remains deeply secretive, is unclear. Mr Xi’s appointment was eerily similar to the recent anointing of Kim Jong Un in North Korea: he too was made vice-chairman of a military commission after a closed-door party conclave, without public explanation. China’s leaders at least offered a sentence on Mr Xi’s appointment, albeit at the end of an arid 4,600-character communiqué after the fifth party congress.
On the positive side, Mr Xi has held some big posts in the most economically dynamic and globally integrated parts of the country: the coastal provinces of Fujian and Zhejiang as well as, briefly, Shanghai. He is a relatively cosmopolitan figure. His wife is a popular singer. But it is impossible to assess how well qualified he is to run the country or how assured his succession is. On the face of it, one engineer whose father was denounced during the Cultural Revolution is handing over to another. But Mr Xi is a relative newcomer to the inner circle; he has not served as long as Mr Hu had in 2002. There are plenty in the party who resent the rise to power of well-connected “princelings” like Mr Xi. A two-year transition will be a test.
All this one day will be yours
All the same, it is the immensity of the task, not the obscurity of the man, that should make the world nervous. For all their outward expressions of unity, there are signs of disagreement among Chinese leaders over what the country’s priorities should be—both on the economy and on political reform.
The economy is sprinting along by Western standards, but China faces a hard adjustment to wean itself off excessive investment and exports in favour of more reliance on consumption. The communiqué unveiled guidelines for a new five-year economic plan (see article). This calls for a more sustainable pace of growth, with wage-earners getting a bigger share of the national income. This would be good for China and the world, helping to narrow the trade surplus that annoys America so much. But the change will not be painless. Exporters fear business will suffer if wages soar or the yuan rises fast. Powerful state-owned enterprises, used to cheap credit, land and energy, will resist threats to these privileges.
As for political reform, Chinese leaders have talked about democracy for the past 30 years, but done little. Rapid growth and the spread of the internet and mobile phones have enabled Chinese citizens to communicate, vent their grievances and pursue their dreams more freely than before, so long as they do not attack the party. But some are now demanding more say in how the country is run. In the past few weeks China’s more liberal newspapers have enthused about calls by the prime minister, Wen Jiabao, for “political reform”. Conservative newspapers have censored them.
There is next to no chance of the cautious Mr Hu bringing in big reforms before he steps down. This week’s communiqué hailed the “political advantages of China’s socialist system” and mentioned political reform only briefly, saying—as Chinese leaders so often do—that it will require “vigorous yet steady” effort. Even Mr Wen, who will step down at the same time as Mr Hu, has wanted to move at glacial speed.
Expect paranoia and you may be pleasantly surprised
Might Mr Xi speed things up? There is no shortage of conservatives arguing for caution, but there is also a pragmatic argument for change: China’s economic gains could be jeopardised by a failure to loosen the party’s hold. Explosions of public discontent, fuelled by resentment of government callousness towards ordinary citizens, are becoming increasingly common in villages, towns and cities across the country. The (admittedly patchy) official data show a more than tenfold increase in the annual number of large protests and disturbances since 1993, with more than 90,000 cases reported in each of the past four years. In the past China’s leaders have relied on growth to secure social stability. If and when a more serious slowdown strikes, popular grumbles could increase.
The right path for Mr Xi should be clear: relax the party’s grip on dissent, lift its shroud of secrecy and make vital economic reforms. But the rest of the world would be unwise to assume that reason will prevail. In times of uncertainty, the regime is wont to appeal to nationalist sentiment. Large anti-Japanese protests erupted during the latest party meeting. America and the West have also been subjected to tongue-lashings. The party meeting called on officials to strengthen “the country’s comprehensive national power”.
Too many Westerners, including those urging trade sanctions over the yuan, assume that they are dealing with a self-confident, rational power that has come of age. Think instead of a paranoid, introspective imperial court, already struggling to keep up with its subjects and now embarking on a slightly awkward succession—and you may be less disappointed.
Xi who must be obeyed
China’s Communist Party anoints Xi Jinping as the country’s next leader. He will have his work cut out
In order to be taken seriously, sometimes “thumping the table is better than not thumping”, Xi Jinping reportedly said when he was a relatively little known provincial chief. On October 18th Mr Xi, who is now vice-president, was anointed as China’s leader-in-waiting. Yet earning the respect of his fractious Communist Party, let alone a sceptical public, will require a lot more than table-bashing. Mr Xi’s eventual grip on power is by no means assured.
For years China’s Communist Party has mulled over the idea of allowing a modicum of open competition for its top job. But on October 18th the party leadership made clear that this time its succession arrangements would leave nothing to chance. At a secretive meeting it appointed Vice-President Xi Jinping to a senior military post. In the party’s coded language this means he will begin taking over as China’s leader in two years’ time.
It had long been assumed that Mr Xi, who is 57, would get the top job, and that this would be signalled by making him vice-chairman of the party’s Central Military Commission. President Hu Jintao was given the same job in 1999, three years before he took over as party chief. Last year, however, with three years to go before Mr Hu’s expected move towards retirement and no announcement on Mr Xi, some had begun to wonder whether the party might be preparing a different way of transferring power. When the party’s 370-strong Central Committee began a four-day annual meeting at a heavily guarded Beijing hotel on October 15th, it was far from certain that Mr Xi was about to be anointed. But the party has stuck to tradition. The commission, it tersely said, would be “augmented” by the inclusion of Mr Xi.
This adds little to Mr Xi’s power (the armed forces will remain under Mr Hu and his generals). But it clearly signals that the party believes that Mr Xi should replace Mr Hu as general secretary in late 2012. Mr Hu is not obliged to step aside then. But since 1993 the position of party chief has gone hand-in-hand with that of president. Mr Hu is required to step down as president in March 2013. There is no rule saying when he must step down as military chief. But precedent suggests he will also hand this role to Mr Xi by 2014.
Mr Xi cannot afford to relax. His grooming may look similar to that undergone by Mr Hu before he began taking over in 2002, but there are crucial differences. For one thing, Mr Hu’s appointment was decided not by his predecessor, Jiang Zemin, but by Deng Xiaoping, the political giant of the post-Mao era, who died in 1997. Such was Mr Deng’s authority that even five years after his death Mr Hu remained firmly on track to replace Mr Jiang. Mr Xi’s career path, by contrast, was decided by the far less imposing Mr Hu, with input from the now retired and doddery Mr Jiang. The transfer of power to Mr Hu was the first smooth succession in communist China’s history. The handover to Mr Xi may not be the second.
Mr Hu also had longer to brace himself, having joined the Politburo’s Standing Committee—the handful of people who run China—a decade before his elevation. Mr Xi will have had only five years there by 2012. Mr Hu impressed Deng in the 1980s with his toughness as a party chief in rebellious Tibet. Mr Xi might seem to have had a cushier career, as leader of two rich coastal regions—the provinces of Fujian and Zhejiang—with seven months in 2007 as party chief of Shanghai.
Mr Xi’s family background will also be a mixed blessing. He is the son of the late Xi Zhongxun, a veteran of the party’s early days and a senior official under Deng who was purged during the Cultural Revolution. This makes him a member of what the Chinese sometimes call the “princeling party”, a loose-knit group composed of the offspring of the communist era’s founding fathers and other leading officials. Princelings are liked by some party leaders because they often appear dedicated to keeping the party in power. But their huge influence offends many others.
Mr Xi’s career has clearly benefited from his connections. He graduated from Beijing’s Tsinghua University in 1979 with a degree in engineering (which most Chinese leaders have). China was then emerging from the post-Mao era’s first succession crisis, with Deng busy nailing the political coffin of Mao’s heir, Hua Guofeng. Mr Xi landed a job as an assistant to the defence minister, one of his father’s friends. This soupçon of military experience has been played up in his official biography, which says he was an “officer on active service”.
But Cheng Li of the Brookings Institution, a Washington think-tank, says Mr Xi’s family ties proved a handicap in 1997. At a party congress, delegates’ dislike of princelings contributed to his gaining the lowest number of votes in a (largely rigged) election for membership of the Central Committee. In 2007 Mr Xi is said to have gained the highest number of votes in a straw poll conducted at the Central Party School, an academy for top cadres, on possible candidates for the Politburo. But Mr Li says Mr Xi would not have done so well had the 400-odd high-ranking participants been asked who should be a member of the Politburo’s Standing Committee—much less who should be Mr Hu’s successor.
And these are troubled times in which to be taking over. There are signs of serious disagreement among China’s elite over whether the party should change how it rules, at least a bit, to give people more say in who leads them. Since August the prime minister, Wen Jiabao, has made several comments on the importance of political reform. Other leaders have kept conspicuously silent on the issue, while conservative newspapers (including national dailies in Beijing) have censored his remarks. Rarely since the early 1990s has the party-controlled press appeared so divided. Liberals in Beijing have stepped up public demands for a loosening of the party’s grip, even as the authorities have detained dissidents for celebrating the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo, an imprisoned activist.
Mr Xi is among the silent ones. Some liberals, nonetheless, are encouraged by his father’s reformist credentials. They also point to his record in the provinces, where he gave strong encouragement to private enterprise. While in Zhejiang province, Mr Xi encouraged a team of senior researchers from Beijing to write a six-volume work called the “Zhejiang Experience and its Implication for the Development of China”. It stresses the importance of setting up party cells in private enterprises (by the end of 2004, it boasts, almost 99% of private firms with three or more party members had done so). It also highlights experiments with grassroots democracy, within the party and local governments. Mr Xi has apparently not done much to push this. Oriental Outlook, a Beijing magazine, reported this month that Zhejiang’s best-known such experiments, in Wenling city, had not taken off elsewhere because of meagre interest among local officials.
Mr Xi is said to be an affable man. But there was a hint of irascibility in February 2009 when he told a group of Chinese in Mexico that “well-fed foreigners with nothing better to do” were “pointing their fingers” at China. In an interview with China’s state television network, CCTV, in November 2003, Mr Xi elaborated on the benefits of table-pounding when dealing with aberrant officials. “If you don’t thump the table you can’t frighten them”, he said. Most Chinese are more familiar with the beguiling smile of his wife, Peng Liyuan, whose syrupy folk songs made her famous long before Mr Xi emerged.
By official reckoning, Mr Xi will head a “fifth generation” of communist leaders (after Mao, Deng, Jiang and Hu—Hua Guofeng having been too short-lived politically to count). Even if the chemical engineer Mr Xi (with a doctorate on China’s rural economy) looks little different from his predecessor (a hydraulic engineer), others of his generation are in less of a technocratic mould. Some have studied in the West. But this does not guarantee them popular support in a country with a fast-growing middle class with burgeoning aspirations.
“I nearly spilt water all down my shirt. Are you trying to give me a fright?” replied Mr Xi in 2002 when asked by a reporter whether he was a leader to watch out for. He has good reason to be nervous.
AP by Elaine Kurtenbach
SHANGHAI — Across Eastern Europe, Russia, Kazakhstan and the Gobi Desert — it certainly was a long way to go without getting lost.
Four driverless electric vans successfully ended an 8,000-mile (13,000-kilometer) test drive from Italy to China — a modern-day version of Marco Polo’s journey around the world — with their arrival at the Shanghai Expo on Thursday.
The vehicles, equipped with four solar-powered laser scanners and seven video cameras that work together to detect and avoid obstacles, are part of an experiment aimed at improving road safety and advancing automotive technology.
The sensors on the vehicles enabled them to navigate through wide extremes in road, traffic and weather conditions, while collecting data to be analyzed for further research, in a study sponsored by the European Research Council.
“We didn’t know the route, I mean what the roads would have been and if we would have found nice roads, traffic, lots of traffic, medium traffic, crazy drivers or regular drivers, so we encountered the lot,” said Isabella Fredriga, a research engineer for the project.
Though the vans were driverless and mapless, they did carry researchers as passengers just in case of emergencies. The experimenters did have to intervene a few times — when the vehicles got snarled in a Moscow traffic jam and to handle toll stations.
The project used no maps, often traveling through remote regions of Siberia and China. At one point, a van stopped to give a hitchhiker a lift.
A computerized artificial vision system dubbed GOLD, for Generic Obstacle and Lane Detector, analyzed the information from the sensors and automatically adjusted the vehicles’ speed and direction.
“This steering wheel is controlled by the PC. So the PC sends a command and the steering wheel moves and turns and we can follow the road, follow the curves and avoid obstacles with this,” said Alberto Broggi of Vislab at the University of Parma in Italy, the lead researcher for the project.
..”The idea here was to travel on a long route, on two different continents, in different states, different weather, different traffic conditions, different infrastructure. Then we can have some huge number of situations to test the system on,” he said.
The technology will be used to study ways to complement drivers’ abilities. It also could have applications in farming, mining and construction, the researchers said.
The vehicles ran at maximum speeds of 38 miles per hour (60 kilometers per hour) and had to be recharged for eight hours after every two to three hours of driving. At times, it was monotonous and occasionally nerve-racking, inevitably due to human error, Fredriga said.
“There were a few scary moments. Like when the following vehicle bumped into the leading one and that was just because we forgot, we stopped and we forgot to turn the system off,” Fredriga said.
By Scott Mcdonald, Associated Press
BEIJING – A spokesman for the Beijing court that upheld an 11-year prison sentence for Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo denounced the award on Friday in the latest indication China will brush aside international calls for his release.
The unidentified spokesman for the Beijing Municipal Higher People’s Court, quoted by the official Xinhua News Agency, said giving the peace prize to Liu was a rude interference in China’s judicial sovereignty.
His comments are the latest in a series in China’s state-run media denouncing the prize and accusing Western countries of trying to interfere in China’s internal affairs.
China has accused the West of using the Nobel Prize to undermine China and called Liu a criminal. Liu, a literary critic and activist, is serving an 11-year sentence for subversion after co-authoring a bold appeal known as Charter 08 calling for reforms to the country’s single-party Communist political system.
Since the peace prize was awarded Oct. 8, Liu’s wife, Liu Xia, has been under house arrest and her phones have been cut off. Dozens of activists have reported being detained or harassed by police over the award and warned not to use it to make trouble.
“China’s judicial organs will strictly follow Chinese law and the court verdict, which has come into effect, to execute the punishment given to Liu,” the spokesman was quoted as saying.
President Barack Obama other world leaders and Nobel laureates have called for Liu’s release.
The spokesman rejected that, saying Liu had been fairly tried and sentenced.
“We strongly oppose some people making arbitrary criticism on China’s judicatory with double standards,” the spokesman said.
In addition to Liu Xia, others who have been detained or have been unreachable include Ding Zilin, the spokeswoman for Tiananmen Mothers, a group she founded for people whose children were killed in the crackdown on the 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations centered on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square
Dissident author Yu Jie has also been put under house arrest, the advocacy group Human Rights in China said in a statement.
“The continuing crackdown confirms the seriousness of human rights abuses in China and the need to speak out against these abuses,” said Sharon Hom, the executive director of the group. “If the Chinese authorities persist in their actions, they will only further display their lack of confidence and undermine their assertions of progress.”
Chinese authorities have refused to say which law gives them the right to hold Liu Xia under house arrest and prevent her from meeting with journalists.
The government’s response also appears to indicate that China will not let Liu Xia or any others leave the country to accept the award for Liu Xiaobo at a ceremony in Norway on Dec. 10.
Beijing’s anger has extended to the Norwegian government. It canceled meetings with government officials and demanded an apology from the Nobel committee, some of whose members are appointed by Oslo but which operates independently.
Liu also was imprisoned for taking part in the Tiananmen protests and for advocating democratic reforms in the early 1990s.
AP by Lolita C Baldor
WASHINGTON — Political bloggers in Vietnam are under a round of cyberattacks designed to block their websites, a sign of the widening use of targeted hacking to stifle government dissent worldwide, according to a new analysis by U.S. computer experts.
More than 15,000 infected computers are involved in the attack on just a handful of websites, and a “group of young people of Vietnam” has claimed credit. The attack coincides with a police crackdown in Vietnam on bloggers critical of the government.
But the analysis done by Atlanta-based SecureWorks, an Internet security firm, was not able to determine if the hackers were operating independently or at the behest of the Vietnamese government or Communist Party. The new analysis was obtained by The Associated Press.
The cyber strikes in Vietnam raise worries that such high-tech, carefully-aimed efforts to stamp out political criticism — potentially by foreign governments — are now expanding well beyond Eastern Europe, where cyber attacks used for political intimidation flared several years ago.
While using a network of computers to take down websites is fairly common, the latest attack is more targeted than most, said Joe Stewart, director of malware research for the SecureWorks Counter Threat Unit. Stewart said the strikes show there is a growing trend to use such attacks to send a political message, rather than to simply extort money — as has been done in other parts of the world.
“It is clear that the purpose of the botnet is to silence critics of the Vietnamese political establishment where their voices might reach beyond the borders of Vietnam,” said Stewart in the analysis.
Vietnamese police arrested two bloggers over the past week. A third blogger, Nguyen Van Hai, continues to be detained, even after serving his 30-month jail term. Hai, known as Dieu Cay, was charged with tax evasion and sentenced to jail after encouraging people to protest at the Olympic torch ceremonies in Ho Chi Minh city shortly before the Beijing Olympics. He had been critical of Chinese and Vietnamese government policies.
SEOUL (Reuters) – North and South Korea exchanged gunfire across their heavily armed land border on Friday, the South’s military said, despite an apparent thaw in tensions on the divided peninsula in the past few months.
The rare exchange of fire took place a fortnight before the leaders of the world’s 20 top economies meet for a G20 summit in the South Korean capital Seoul, about 100 km (60 miles) south of the demilitarized zone.
The South’s defense ministry said in a statement none of its troops were hurt, and there had been “no more unusual activity by the North.” A South Korean military official said the army had put on heightened alert.
It was not immediately clear what was behind the skirmish, but in the past the North has carried out similar provocations around the time the South has hosted prominent international events.
YTN television said, however, it was unlikely that the North had deliberately fired across toward the South only hours before families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War were due to be reunited for the first time.
The North Korean frontline guard post fired two shots toward a South Korean guardpost across the DMZ and the South returned fire with three shots, a joint chiefs of staff official said.
The South Korea military official said he had not received any communication from the North. A United Nations team will be sent to the area on Saturday, he added.
The North Korean shots were fired at a frontline unit in Cheorwon in the eastern province of Gangwon.
The last time the two Koreas were exchanged fire was in January, the they fired artillery round at disputed sea border.
Relations between the two Koreas, still technically at war after signing only a truce to halt hostilities in the 1950-53 Korean War, sank to the lowest level in years in March with the torpedoing of the South’s warship, killing 46 sailors.
South Korea and the United States said the North was responsible for the sinking, but Pyongyang denied any role.
In the past few months, tensions have eased on the peninsula with the South sending aid to its impoverished neighbor, and on the weekend the two sides will resume the reunions.
But the border skirmish and news that North-South military talks had broken down showed that the two sides were still far apart, and underlined there was little chance of a resumption any time soon of stalled talks on the North’s nuclear arms program.
South Korea rejected the North’s proposal for more military talks and said it wouldn’t return to the negotiating table until its neighbor admitted responsibility for the sinking of the warship.
“When looking back on the history of the North-South relations, it is very hard to find a precedent in which one party rejected the talks proposed by the other party even when the bilateral relations reached the lowest ebb,” the North’s KCNA state news agency reported.
“This was because the rejection of dialogue precisely meant confrontation and war.”
This weekend’s resumption of family reunions, which were last held over a year ago, was the most tangible sign yet of a thaw in tensions. Earlier this week, South Korean government sent its first delivery of aid to the North in more than two years.
SEOUL, Oct. 29 (Xinhua) — The military of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) fired two shots toward a South Korean military guard post near the inter-Korean border in Hwacheon, Gangwon Province, late Friday, Seoul’s Ministry of National Defense confirmed to Xinhua.
The shooting took place at around 17:26 local time (0826 GMT), the ministry said.
It has not been confirmed whether the shooting was accidental, but South Korean side immediately returned three shots, the ministry’s press office told Xinhua.
Intel president and chief executive officer Paul Otellini and Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Hoang Trung Hai officially opened the plant, the size of five-and-a-half football fields, at an industrial park in southern Ho Chi Minh City, the company said.
‘The Vietnam assembly and test facility will play a key role in our success by becoming a cornerstone of Intel’s ability to deliver new innovative products to markets around the world in volume,’ Mr Otellini said.
‘Our customers around the world will use the products from this factory to build world-changing technology.’
Intel also said its investment ‘opens up extensive opportunities for economic development in Vietnam.’