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Matthew Robertson, October 11, 2018
China’s rapidly expanding interest in researching and applying artificial intelligence has been widely noted. Last year, the Chinese government published a plan to become a world leader in the field by the end of the next decade; billions of dollars are being funnelled into AI startups; and China is competing head-to-head with industry in the United States on the cutting edge of the field.
What makes AI developments in China so different from those in the United States, however, is that as with any technology, if it can be used by the Chinese Communist Party to strengthen its grip on power or further its panoptistate, it will.
This is almost a truism, of course, and military adoption of new technologies applies just as well to the U.S.
The real difference is that in China, exploitation of new technologies is almost always attendant with human rights abuses. The area of AI may end up becoming a particularly grim demonstration of this principle, if current trajectories continue.
And researchers from the West may have already given China a significant helping hand. Witness the case of the French research institute Inria’s (French Institute for Research in Computer Science and Automation) collaboration with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and in particular its assistance in developing the technology underpinning one of China’s AI ‘unicorns,’ Cambricon (寒武纪).
Cambricon, the company featured in Science’s February 2018 profile of the burgeoning AI sector in China, was supported and spun out of the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Computing Technology (中科院计算所). Their flagship AI chip, the Cambricon-1A, hit the market last year and has been incorporated into Huawei smartphones, among other products.
It was one of Inria’s researchers, Olivier Temam, who was instrumental in helping to lay the technical foundations of Cambricon’s breakthroughs.
“Cambricon’s founding team came from academia, and I myself was a professor and doctoral tutor at the Computing Institute of Chinese Academy of Sciences,” writes Chen Tianshi (陈天石), Cambricon’s co-founder and CEO. He goes on to thank Inria and and long-time academic collaborators Chen Yunji (陈云霁) and Olivier Temam.
Temam’s LinkedIn profile describes him as a senior research scientist at Inria from September 2004 to May 2014.
The three — Chen Tianshi, Chen Yunji, and Olivier Temam — have collaborated on a dozen journal and conference papers, including many that won best paper awards. With names like “DianNao: A Small-Footprint High-Throughput Accelerator for Ubiquitous Machine-Learning” and “ShiDianNao: Shifting Vision Processing Closer to the Sensor.”
It is papers like this that underlie innovations in AI chip development that Cambrion built its company on.
The chip architecture has another highly useful feature for China’s security authorities: use in image recognition systems for filtering and processing the bucketloads of data collected by the Communist Party’s pervasive surveillance apparatus.
VOA quoted a Cambricon employee in June 2018 commenting on a provider of surveillance cameras to the Party, Hikvision:
“A staff member at Cambricon, another Chinese company that provides the government technical support for security needs, told VOA that major video surveillance companies in the Chinese market are working with the government and that government authorities can access the information from any company at any time.”
The engineer remarked that surveillance technology, in attempting to identify ethnic minorities, might “consider beards, facial, and head accessories.”
There is as yet, at least as far as China Change could discover, no public evidence that Cambricon’s chips have been used to drive surveillance technologies.
Its chips, however, have been listed as among those that Hikvision could make easy recourse to.
When the subject is reported in the Chinese media, surveillance technology is just another one of the potentially lucrative uses that Cambricon can exploit, alongside self-driving cars and cloud computing.
Along with Inria, MIT has also begun collaborating with iFlytek, a Chinese company whose AI technologies are being deployed by the security apparatus.
“Authorities are collaborating with iFlytek, a Chinese company that produces 80 percent of all speech recognition technology in the country, to develop a pilot surveillance system that can automatically identify targeted voices in phone conversations,” Human Rights Watch wrote in an October 2017 report.
HRW shows clearly how iFlytek has marketed the security uses of its technology, including deep relationships with official entities that have helped the authorities build the Golden Shield Project, one of the key components of China’s surveillance apparatus.
The MIT relationship with iFlytek was announced in June 2018.
Olivier Temam did not respond to an email requesting comment. Since July 2018 he has worked at Google — a somewhat ironic move given the context.
Under the guidance of Google’s former AI chief, Fei-Fei Li (李飞飞), the company opened an AI lab in China. Aside from meeting Google’s own research needs, the institution will without doubt also help fertilize China’s own AI ambitions and talent.
Li, born in Beijing in 1976, immigrated to the United States at 16 and went on to gain a BS from Princeton and a PhD from Caltech. She was appointed as AI leader and Chief Scientist at Google while on sabbatical from Stanford where she was a full professor, and while there became among the most outspoken opponents of Google cooperating with the Pentagon.
“Weaponized AI is probably one of the most sensitized topics of AI — if not THE most. This is red meat to the media to find all ways to damage Google,” Li wrote in an internal email seen by The New York Times.
But Silicon Valley, for one reason or another, does not seem to be as intent on opposing all forms of cooperation with the Chinese Communist Party and its appurtenances.
Google recently discontinued its contract with a Pentagon artificial intelligence program, saying that “we couldn’t be assured that it would align with our AI Principles,” but it has shown no qualms developing the Dragonfly search engine, in cooperation with the Chinese government, which would aid the official internet censorship regime. Meanwhile, Google has been recommending security keys manufactured by a Chinese company that has deep ties with the PLA and government.
Matthew Robertson is a Research Fellow in China Studies at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. He was previously a translator and editor with China Change.
Google Recommends Product From a Chinese Company with Communist Party and Military Ties for its ‘Advanced Protection Program’, Matthew Robertson, August 23, 2018.
China Change, October 8, 2018
This weekly bulletin is NOT a news summary of the week, but a reading of ‘signs’: signs of quickening changes and shifting ground. Not every new development is suited to a fully fleshed-out analysis, and as with so much in China, many reports cannot be immediately confirmed or properly evaluated. Nevertheless, while each individual brush stroke may not be decisive, we hope that upon stepping back a fuller picture would emerge. Sign of China catalogues and contextualizes these items so as to grow an awareness and keep a record of sort. As incomplete as it is destined to be, we hope the series is edifying and useful. — The Editors
Pence’s Speech and Two Emblematic Chinese Responses
On October 4th, during the ‘golden week’ of the National Day of the People’s Republic of China, the U. S. Vice President Mike Pence delivered a speech that laid out in full the Trump administration’s views of China and the Chinese communist regime. You should watch it in full, but the editor of China Change has offered a crude summary of the speech: “Pence’s speech in a few words: the United States has done nothing to hurt China for more than 100 years. If it weren’t for America’s help, where would China be today? Not only do China’s leaders seem ignorant of what’s good for them, but they repay these favors with low and despicable acts in order to walk all over us and squeeze us dry. This is just asking for a good beating.”
One academic tweeted: “This one is going down in the history books. Not because of any soaring feats of oration or anything like that. But this marks a fundamental shift. Four decades of American policy has been overturned. Today is the end of an era.”
“The Sino-U.S. trade war has gotten to the point where America’s president and vice president have both stepped out to speak. All the while, the Chinese side has left the matter to just three spokesmen from the departments of defense, trade, and foreign affairs.”
“In the past, whenever the U.S. and China had some conflict, Chairman Mao himself would confront the other side. Today the American vice president Pence has come knocking at our door; can’t we find a leader of our own, someone a bit higher in rank than a spokesman [to come out and say something]?”
“Comrade Zhang” had observed the conspicuous absence of his country’s leaders in the diplomatic arena and felt something amiss. It’s a feeling the censors didn’t want him to have.
A Chinese human rights lawyer, disbarred by the authorities earlier this year, said after Pence’s speech, “Our prevailing attitude is silence. Going back a few years, you may have been able to find throngs of people filled with indignation at America’s actions. Such is the change.”
The Curious Case of Meng Hongwei
Sometimes in late September, Meng Hongwei (孟宏伟), president of Interpol and the Deputy Minister of Public Security, boarded a plane in Stockholm and returned China. Three days ago his wife reported him missing to French authorities. She had been receiving threats via phone and other venues. On Sunday, within an hour after Grace Wang gave a press conference in Lyon, the Chinese authorities announced that Meng was “under investigation by the National Supervision Commission for alleged violation of the law.”
Meng’s Interpol presidency was a cherished prize for China, representing China’s attempt to use the international organization for its own political purpose.
Meng’s term as Interpol chief expires in November 2020. The fact that the Chinese leaders were compelled to take down Meng at the steep price of ruining their credibility indicates the emergent nature of the matter involving Meng. It’s clear that Meng knew his trip back to China was an ominous one, and made arrangements with his wife that deviated the Party’s protocols: to publicize his disappearance and appeal to international help, instead of staying silent and “trusting the Party” (相信党). What Meng did is no less than to betray the Party. Maybe it is a matter of problematic loyalty. A Deputy Minister of Public Security knows too much and is involved in too many high-stake issues. His allegiance became questionable, and therefore he had to be pulled back at all costs. This is the only reasonable explanation we at China Change can come up with.
We will refrain from wallowing in the rich irony and absurdity of the event, but there are a few points to register:
- People who hold positions in international organizations, regardless of their position or nationality, should perform their duties as independent individuals, rather than as representatives of their respective countries. But the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) affords none of its members such independence, Meng Hongwei among them. As far as the CCP is concerned, he is the Party’s man above all, and the Party can sanction him at any time as it sees fit, even during his Interpol term.
- It follows that Meng Hongwei, in his capacity as Interpol chief, was inevitably subject to the Party’s directives and control.
- Meng Hongwei’s mafia-style abduction sends a stark message to the international community: totalitarian China does not conform to international procedures and is incapable of participating in world affairs as a normal country.
- Almost exactly a year ago, Xi Jinping attended the 86th Interpol general assembly in Beijing and delivers a keynote speech emphasizing “cooperation, innovation, the rule of law and win-win results and build a universal and secure community of shared future for mankind.”
The next time Xi Jinping, or any Chinese leader, speaks at any international event, whether at the UN, the Davos Forum, or at international and regional summits, about globalization, climate change, free trade, world peace, think of what the Meng Hongwei episode says about China and just laugh .
In another report, RFI quoted the Japanese-language edition of Business Journal, which on Oct. 1 said it had found via CCP diplomatic channels that the Party elite had given up on resolving the Sino-U.S. trade frictions in the short term. From internal documents it was revealed that the children of senior Communist Party officials have been ordered not to study in the United States, and those already in the U.S. will be called back to China.
One analysis offered by the Business Journal of the order is that the Chinese government is worried that the high-ranking children could be held hostage by Washington. Another speculation is that the CCP has recalled its cadres’ children to shore up their loyalty — officials whose offspring and assets are in the territory of the United States may not have the Party-state’s best interests in mind. The CCP may wish to avoid the Three Kingdoms-era conundrum of “being present in the Cao camp while serving the Han at heart.” (身在曹营心在汉)
Former President of Xinjiang University Sentenced to Death
According to Radio Free Asia Uighur service, former president of Xinjiang University, Professor Tashpolat Tiyip has been sentenced to death with two year reprieve for ‘separatism.’ The two sources cited by the RFA report, one was the political director of the Federation of Literary and Art Circles in Xinjiang and the other from a police station in Kashgar Prefecture, learned the sentence of Professor Tashpolat Tiyip from a 90-minute internal, ‘cautionary’ film.
According to Baidu encyclopedia, Professor Tashpolat Tiyip was born in 1958, a scientist in geoscience and remote sensing, and enjoyed a special allowance for experts by the State Council. He was dismissed in March 31, 2017, and that probably was also the time when he was arrested.
Another report has it that Kurban Mamut, the 68-year-old retired editor-in-chief of Xinjiang Culture magazine, was taken to a “re-education camp” in February 2018.
In a 4-minute video, Torchlight Uyghur Group compiled an incomplete list of Uighur public figures who have been given staggering sentences or sent to camps, including scholars, scientists, intellectuals, writers, artists, educators, and businessmen.
News from Xinjiang continue to roll in daily: grim, bleak, and desperate. Journalists noted (here and here) that, on government websites, officials’ resumes have been altered to remove their positions at “vocational schools.” By inference, the city of Atush alone, with a population of 200,000, has at least seven such “schools.”
Two weeks ago, we wrote in the second issue of Signs of China that the Uighurs detained in concentration camps were being transferred to other parts of China. There were only bits and pieces of information available at that point, but now the news has been confirmed via various sources.
The situation is developing on a large scale and with shocking speed. Radio Free Asia reported that since the beginning of September, the Xinjiang authorities started deporting Muslims held in so-called “deradicalization education centers” and “vocational schools” to other regions. According to a number of Muslims in Xinjiang who spoke on condition of anonymity, the transfer has targeted Uighurs in Kashgar, Hotan and other places in southern Xinjiang, as well as Kazakh communities in the Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture in the northern part of the province. The number of people being moved could be as high as 200,000 or 300,000.
Police Given Authorization for Unlimited Access to Internet Privacy
China’s Ministry of Public Security recently released its “Public Security provisions on public Security organs internet security, supervision, and inspection,” effective Nov. 11.
According to the Provisions, the public security organs are cleared to inspect companies that provide internet access, internet data centers, content distribution, domain name services, online information, and the like.
Reasons for inspection include looking into whether or not the company has taken measures to follow laws pertaining to the recording and retention of user registration and login information; whether it is taking relevant preventative measures to control the publishing and transmission of information prohibited by law or administration regulations; or whether they have recorded the user data in hosting or virtual space leasing.
In other words, Chinese police are now authorized by government regulation to walk into any internet firm and copy everything on their servers at will. They have had such unfettered access to domestic internet companies already; now it’s every company without exception. Even foreign companies like Apple and Amazon have handed over server access to their Chinese partners after China’s Internet Security Law was promulgated June 1, 2017.
Growing Industrial Pepper: For Hot Pot or for Pepper Spray
Starting in the spring of 2018, in dozens of towns and villages across Guizhou Province, farmer started receiving instructions and training from commercial technicians teaching them how to plant a new kind of industrial pepper, RS-3. It is currently the hottest pepper that can be produced as a crop, and it is reportedly best cultivated in Yunnan and Guizhou, where there is dry soil and ample sunlight.
The county of Zhenning (镇宁) has planted about 10,000 mu (about 1,500 acres) of RS-3 with assistance from the Guizhou Red Star Development Company (贵州红星开发公司). A total of 100,000 mu are planned. The county’s Party secretary personally inspected a number of planting “bases” to ensure that the crop had reached or exceeded the issued quota.
In the city of Panzhou, the Guizhou Huikangyuan Agricultural Technology Co., Ltd. (贵州汇康源农业科技有限公司) reached an agreement with farmers in several townships to cultivate 21,000 mu of the industrial pepper. It is also being grown in Puding.
One mu of land can produce 3,000 to 4,000 kg of RS-3 pepper. The developers are covering initial investment costs for the farmers, and will also purchase the crop at a fixed price. Agriculture materials such as seedlings, fertilizer, fluorescent films, and pesticides are being provided by county governments.
The neighboring province of Yunnan is also growing a variety of industrial pepper — 150,000 mu and still expanding, per one report. The province first began growing them in spring 2017.
These peppers are too hot to be consumed by people or animals. Farmers picking the crop must wear protection to avoid touching the pepper directly and causing damage to their hands. If the fruit is broken and the juice comes into contact with skin, it will cause burning that lasts four to six hours.
Speaking with the Chinese state media, one technician claimed that industrial peppers are widely used in the food industry. But netizens were quick to point out one particular usage: “More importantly, industrial peppers are of great use in military and defense application, such as counter-terrorism and riot prevention.”
According to one report, China “gets almost all of its red pepper, chili oleoresin, and capsaicin from India. India is the world’s largest pepper producer, and is at the forefront in industrial pepper extraction technology.”
Chinese Staple Crop Production Takes a Sharp Dip
According to the Weibo account of the China National Grain and Material Reserve Bureau, as of Sept. 25, total purchases of grain in major producing areas — Hebei, Jiangsu, Anhui, Shandong, Henan, and Hubei — amounted to 48.139 million tons, a year-on-year decrease of 22.406 million tons.
Major rice producers of Zhejiang, Anhui, Fujian, Jiangxi, Hubei, Hunan, and Guangdong reported total acquisitions of 7.689 million tons of long-grained rice, a 1.155-million ton decrease compared with the same period last year. Total production of rapeseed was 1.104 million tons, a 137,000-ton decrease. (Thanks to Tian Beiming [田北铭] for providing this information on Twitter.)
In July, the General Office of the State Council issued a notice to deploy a nationwide inspection of the quantity and quality of policy food stocks. The scope of the inventory includes central reserve grain, minimum purchase price grain, national temporary storage grain, national one-time reserve grain, local grain reserve, and the quantity and quality of commodity grain stored in policy food enterprises. The purpose is to verify “the true reliability of these stocks.” March 2019 will be the statistical reporting date of the food inventory inspection.
Disgruntled PLA Veterans Clash With Military Police in Shandong
During the National Day celebrations, hundreds of veterans waving flags of the PRC and the Party gathered in Pingdu, Shandong Province, to protest the police brutality and the blockage of their attempts at appeal. They prepared wooden sticks in advance for each man to defend himself with.
On Oct. 5, the veterans occupied the Pingdu Agricultural Technology Market and spent the night there. On the 6th, their representatives met with government officials. Negotiations apparently failed, since in the afternoon, the police violently clashed with the protesters. The police used tear gas and pepper spray to disperse the crowd, while the veterans fought back with fire extinguishers and their sticks. Over a thousand more special policemen were deployed, and the veterans were effectively routed that evening. Only about a dozen of them remained in the square. Surrounded by large numbers of police, they too were forced to leave as darkness set in.
On Oct. 7, veterans from other regions arrived in Pingdu. News reports indicate that Shandong Province has mobilized police and even contracted security personnel from all over the country to confront them. Newly shipped riot gear, such as batons and helmets, have been unpacked and put into use on the streets. The situation is still in progress.
On Oct. 11, 2016, nearly 10,000 veterans surrounded the Central Military Commission building in Beijing, demanding the government give them fair benefits and treatment, shocking the Party elite. This incident led directly to the establishment of the Ministry of Veterans Affairs on April 16, 2018. The Chinese government’s response seems to be a combination of placating them with money and arranging for a number of them to receive public employment.
Many observers believe that these PLA veterans are defenders of the system. Provided their immediate wishes are satisfied, they wouldn’t hesitate to become the regime’s thugs.
Live video footage of the protests are currently available on WeChat and other video sharing platforms. While having confirmed the authenticity of the events from other sources, we appreciate the comprehensive reportage provided by Twitter user @lifang072.
A Reality Check on October 5
Lest we forget the nature of political life in China, this WeChat post directs our attention to two events, both of which occurred decades ago on the 5th of October.
The first were the famous “five regulations” issued in a document by the CCP Central Committee and the State Council on October 5, 1993. These regulations stipulated that Party and government leaders at or above the county (division) level were not allowed to operate business enterprises or use their powers to benefit spouses, children, or other relatives and friends; in addition, officials were not allowed to work part-time and receive any remuneration in economic entities, buy or sell stocks, receive monetary gifts or securities at official events; or use public funding for entertainment.
Today, 25 years later, there are no officials in China who are not corrupt, and the country has all but set the curve for corruption worldwide.
Second, the People’s Republic of China signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights at the United Nations on October 5, 1998. Today, 20 years later, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate has died after a long period of languishing in prison; political dissidents have been jailed and sentenced to severe punishment; human rights lawyers are disappeared and tortured; civil society organizations’ public welfare activities have been brought under strict control. Millions of Uighurs and other Muslims have been locked up in concentration camps; house churches have been suppressed or forced to disperse. The words and actions of virtually every citizen are subject to the eyes and ears of an omnipresent panopticon.
As with the case of Meng Hongwei, we are seeing increasing use of enforced disappearance, torture, and unnatural death as means of solving internal power entanglement.
There are those who are, ostensibly, trying to determine whether the problem lies with Xi Jinping or the system itself. We think they’ve had more than enough time to reach a conclusion.
Signs of China (1), September 16, 2018.
Signs of China (2), September 22, 2018.
Signs of China (3), September 30, 2018.
China Change, September 30, 2018
Unsettling news from China emerges every week — on social media, in reports, and from our own sources in the country. Not every new development is suited to a fully fleshed-out analysis, and as with so much in China, many reports and developments cannot be immediately confirmed or properly evaluated. Nevertheless, while each individual brush stroke may not be decisive, upon stepping back a fuller picture begins to emerge. China Change catalogues and contextualizes these items so as to keep a growing awareness of changes in China. — The Editors
‘Public-private partnerships’ 2.0: la chasse à courre
Chinese officials have come out with a string of comments recently that have spooked private companies. The first was a “senior financial figure” Wu Xiaoping (吴小平), who advised that “the private sector in China has already completed its task of assisting state sector economic development, and it should now gradually diminish in importance.” This was shortly followed by vice-minister of the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, Qiu Xiaoping (邱小平), saying that private enterprises must implement the “democratization of management, with the participation of workers led by the Party organizations of private enterprises,” and that “workers and enterprises must work together to create mechanisms for co-creation of benefits, sharing of benefits, and sharing of risks.” This process appears to be already underway.
On September 26, The Economic Daily (《经济日报》) defended the practice of SOEs buying stakes in troubled private companies and becoming the controlling owners. The paper argued that private companies encountering difficulties should turn to SOEs to be rescued — and indeed there have been many private companies that have already “sold” control rights to SOEs or state capital to survive. “The introduction of new SOE shareholders in listed private enterprises and the reform of mixed ownership are very much in the same direction. Both are in order to stimulate enterprise vitality, improve production efficiency, and achieve mutual benefit and win-win results.” Yet the author neglected to delve into the institutional reasons as to why private enterprises in China are facing such peril. “According to the chief economist of China Merchant Bank, all 11,000 businesses that went bankrupt between 2016 and the first half of 2018 were private,” Huang Yasheng wrote in an op-ed in The New York Times.
In a September 27 article titled “Vigilance against new public-private partnerships under the banner of ‘sharing’”, Hu Deping (胡德平), the son of the former Party secretary Hu Yaobang (胡耀邦), voiced unease and opposition to the above prescriptions and maladies. He cited a certain ‘Document 15’ from 1991 meant to encourage the development of private enterprise. Hu concluded that, “At a time when the private sector is in such difficulty, I feel that what’s happening in some places differs starkly from what people thought they understood clearly yesterday. Problems that have been understood clearly and resolved previously are now being brought back in a new form. There’s still a wish to crush private enterprise and force them into public-private partnerships. If this becomes a trend, and none dare to criticize it, then the consequences will be frightening.”
Just a few days ago, an essay titled “Wandering in the land of one’s ancestors” began spreading on the Chinese internet, despite being repeatedly censored and deleted. Who is said to be wandering on the land of their ancestors? China’s private enterprises — because the country doesn’t belong to them. A 60 year-old businessman lamented, as the author explained it: “After so many years of doing business and experiencing so many trials and tribulations, this is the first time that death has felt so close to his business: he suddenly felt like a wanted fugitive and pursued by tax, environmental, industrial, and urban management authorities, even neighborhood committees. In order merely to survive, his enterprise debt has been levered up to a degree that would wake him in his dreams. His company is walking on a tightrope. If short sellers attack him in the market, or a bank tries to pull one of the loans, the company could collapse overnight.”
The author writes: “Chinese SOEs occupy over 70% of the resources, but generate less than 30% of GDP, whereas in the four decades of reform the private economy contributed at least 50% of China’s GDP, 60% of the tax base, 70% of the technological innovation, and more than 80% of urban employment. Even in 2017, the peak year of the targeted tightening of supply-side reforms, private industrial enterprises outperformed state-owned industrial enterprises, getting an overall return on net assets of 19.6%, versus less than 10% return on net assets by SOEs. If private enterprises can be liquidated and banished at any moment, is there any other outcome than a net loss for society?”
The author continued: “It is no accident that China’s economy has been on a downward spiral since 1956 when joint public-private operations came into effect. By 1978 China’s GDP’s accounted for only 1.8% of global GDP, and the national economy was on the verge of collapse.”
The article features numerous graphs and data points.
The reason private companies can be ‘beaten’ at a moment’s notice, the author writes, is because of their ‘identity,’ or the nature of their ownership. The fact that the enterprises are private means that they’ll always be outsiders and exiles in China. The author asks: “Why can’t we put aside the debate about the ‘identity’ of who owns the means of production? Why can’t all enterprises simply follow the law across the country, work hard, serve this country, and be equally treated, honored and praised? Why is that so hard?”
It’s very hard. Because it’s the equivalent to demanding that China changes its political nature, establish a functioning rule of law, protect private property rights, and enshrine liberty and equality before the law. For the Communist Party, this is a hard ask indeed.
123 Hong Kong-listed SOEs amend their charters to give the Communist Party sweeping control over companies
Hong Kong’s Apple Daily reported that, from March 2017 to today — a period of about 18 months — 123 Hong Kong-listed SOEs have amended their articles of association to expand the power of their Party committees without limit, including eight blue-chip companies: Commercial Bank of China (939), Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (1398), Bank of Communications (3328), Bank of China (3988), CITIC (267), Sinopec (386), PetroChina (857), and China National Petroleum Corporation (1088). The state-owned companies involved included Conch Cement (914), China Jiaotong Construction (1800), and China Huarong (2279), among others.
The revised constitution stipulates that the companies must set up Party Committees: “The Party Committee will play a core leadership role, taking charge of the direction, managing the overall situation, safeguarding implementation, ensuring supervision of the implementation of Party and state policies in the company, and implement the major strategic decisions of the Party Central Committee and the State Council.”
The revised constitution also gives the Party Committee the power to override the board. “When the board makes major decisions, it must first listen to the opinions of the Party Committee.” Also, executive appointments and dismissals also fall into the hands of the Party.
Aren’t they just writing into articles of association what they already practice?
Xi embarked on a tour of northeast China this week. He visited the Heilongjiang Agricultural Reclamation and Construction Jiansanjiang Administration (黑龙江农垦建三江管理局), an important grain production base; in Qiqihar, he visited China First Heavy Group (中国一重集团), the old industrial base of China’s planned economy; he went to Chagan Lake in Jilin and the oil fields in Liaoning; he also went to Lei Feng Memorial Hall.
One may as well say that Xi was on a trip strengthening the symbolism of the Maoist era.
He also visited the Zhongwang Group (忠旺集团), a private enterprise in Liaoning, and said that the Party has always encouraged private economic development, and has promoted policies supportive of the private sector. Huh? Does China’s Chairman-of-Everything not know that private companies in China are falling off the cliff?
Of the 30 minutes of CCTV’s Evening News (新闻联播) on September 30, 25 minutes were dedicated to Xi Jinping’s inspection tour of the three northeastern provinces. One of the recurring watchwords was ‘self-reliance.’ Chinese must be self-reliant on grain, self-reliant in industry, etc.
Observers noted that whenever the Party was faced with serious political and economic challenges on the one hand, and become isolated internationally, it called for ‘self-reliance.’ The phrase first appeared in 1941, when the Party mobilized its people to grow opium in Nanniwan, near Yan’an, in the Party’s Shaanxi-Gansu-Ningxia base. The second time it was used was in 1960 during the great famine, and the third time in 1975 during the Cultural Revolution. This is the fourth occasion. Those who study China can reflect for themselves on the meaning of those four occasions.
Throughout his trip in the three provinces, Xi Jinping talked about ‘rejuvenating the Northeast.’ In the course of his visit, he even held a seminar on the very topic. The fact is that the economies of the three provinces — Liaoning, Jilin, and Heilongjiang — have been deteriorating for a long time now (read more), exhibiting the weakest economic growth numbers in China, and likely exhibiting decline over the last few years.
Less discussed is the bureaucracy, corruption, and mafiazation of the northeastern political sphere. In 2016 Sina Finance published an article titled ‘How bureaucratism has destroyed the northeastern economy,’ which was quickly deleted. The article however is still visible on some discussion forums.
None of these hard facts has made into Xi Jinping’s photo ops and the state media verbiage.
On the other hand, China’s grain crisis has been a major topic of public discussion recently, and research indicates that China is headed for serious food supply problems in the years ahead. On September 21, Xi led the Politburo in its ‘eighth collective study session’ to discuss the implementation of his rural revitalization strategy.
On September 26, the State Council issued the ‘Strategic Plan for Rural Revitalization’ (2018-2022), the first basic principle of which is to “adhere to the Party’s control over rural work,” and “ensure that the Party always assumes full control of the overall situation in rural work, coordinates all parties, and provides a strong political guarantee for rural revitalization.”
No reporting bad economic news
Chinese regulators in recent days have demanded that online finance websites like Sina Finance and Phoenix Finance be suspended and rectified. ‘Big V’ financial commentators on Weibo have also been commanded one-by-one to stop posting. Media reporters revealed that almost every web portal received notice from the Central Propaganda Department to cease reporting in six categories of news: 1) Disclosure of declining economic data, 2) Local government debt risks, 3) The adverse effects of Sino-US economic and trade frictions, 4) Data showing a decline in consumer spending, 5) Inflation and economic stagnation, and 6) Hot social trends. All such reports are to be strictly censored, the notice said.
The New York Times has a detailed report on this.
Once again, a campaign against ‘bourgeois liberalization’
Global Times said CCP has new rules that will “expel members who express support for bourgeois liberalization online.” We ran through the article twice trying to find out just what ‘bourgeois liberalization’ is. We didn’t find a definition but we did learn what behaviors can lead to expulsion under the label: “opposing the Party’s decisions on reforms and opening-up through online platforms,” “speaking out against the Party’s major principles online,” and betraying faith in the Party without discarding Party membership.
Also, criticizing problems like corruption, or the gap between rich and poor is also ‘bourgeois liberalization.’
Beijing-based historian Zhang Lifan (章立凡) said that the bourgeois liberalization being talked about now appears to be referring to freedom of thought outside the scope of the regime. “The ruling party has become the biggest landlord and the biggest capitalist in China; the crony capitalists are the real bourgeoisie, and they treat those who think and speak critically of them as ‘bourgeois liberalists.’” Zhang continued: “Raising once again the idea of anti-bourgeois liberalization is due to the Sino-US trade war of late, which brought out a lot of divergent views from within the party, and so now they’re clamping down on public opinion.”
Deng Xiaoping was the one who invented the term “anti-bourgeois liberalization,” because he was afraid that the opening up and reform he had championed would lead to the erosion of the Party’s ideology. In 1987, there was a national “anti-bourgeois liberalization” campaign in response to vibrant discussions of democratic values on university campuses.
Mass trials in Xinjiang; Uighurs are being shipped to other provinces
Many thanks are due to Twitter user @uyghurspeaker who has been translating reports from RFA’s Uighur service into both English and Chinese. We post below some of his tweets edited for clarity:
Kunes County, Ili, is reported to be holding mass trials in internment camps, sentencing around 500 prisoners on each occasion. Officials asked the inmates: “Will you eat halal or non-halal foods?” Those who answered “halal” were sentenced to 3-5 years. (link)
Mass trials are also taking place in camps in Tokkuzak, Kashgar. At least 50 people per day have been sentenced for 3-15 years. Nejmidin, the political commissar at the Bulaksu police station, said that he escorted a group of convicts to prison in Chinese provinces three weeks ago. (link)
These RFA reports about mass sentences in internment camps are consistent with recent news of railways closed-off in Urumqi, Gansu, and Qinghai for the purpose of dispatching Uighurs throughout prisons in China. That is, it appears the authorities are handing down sentences, then sending Uighurs to prisoners around the country. We first noted The Epoch Times’ reports of such news in Signs of China (2).
A RFA Chinese report, citing a Uighur service report on September 28, says that in a township in Kashgar, policemen were taking local Uighurs in internment camps to other provinces in China. They said the transfer started early this month.
The Chinese railway and Urumqi tourist bureau announced that “due to adjustment to the operation schedule of passenger trains,” starting October 22, the railway will not sell train tickets going to or leaving Xinjiang. It didn’t say when service will resume.
The Uighur writer and activist Ilshat Kokbore writes: “We’ve already heard some things about this. The farthest they’ve transferred Uighurs is to prisons in Heilongjiang.” Heilongjiang is China’s northernmost province, bordering Siberia.
More Uighur elites sentenced or sent to camps
According to an RFA report, Halmurat Ghopur, president of the Xinjiang Food and Drug Administration’s Department of Inspection and Supervision in the regional capital Urumqi, was taken into custody in November 2017 and is being held in an unknown location for “acts against the state,” sources in exile told RFA’s Uighur Service earlier this year. He was recently given a two-year suspended death sentence for exhibiting “separatist tendencies,” according to an official source.
According to a RFA Uighur-language service report, Sattar Savut, chief in the education bureau, and Yalkun Rozi, a writer, critic, and editor, as well as three others, were charged with separatism for teaching children about Uighur cultural figures. Sattar’s sentence was given with two years of reprieve, while Yalkun was reported to receive a life sentence.
‘Where are my family members?’
Member of the Uighur diaspora initiated a YouTube series in which overseas Uighurs tell stories of their loved ones who have gone missing, been tortured, or died in internment camps.
How much money do Chinese officials have in the United States?
The United States recently announced sanctions on PLA lieutenant general and director of the military’s Equipment Development Department, Li Shangfu (李尚福), because the department he led violated American sanctions by buying military equipment from Russia. The sanctions on Li include a visa ban that restricts him, and his agency, from U.S. financial transactions and access to any assets in the jurisdiction of the United States.
Some have asked: is there any evidence of the much-talked-about notion that high-level Party officials and relatives have assets in the United States? The Weibo account ‘Los Angeles Landlord’ (“洛杉矶房东”) recently reminded everyone of a case as a way of answering this question: “A shocking case took place in the San Francisco Bay Area last year, where a certain Tiffany Li (李凡妮) was charged with murder of a man. Bail of $70 million was put up. Tiffany’s Li’s mother, Li Jihong (李继红), traveled from China to the United States and submitted to the court real estate assets of $62 million, as well as $4 million in cash for the bail. This was the eighth largest bail amount in the history of the U.S. court system.”
According to the reporting of Apple Daily last year, a California property insurance company’s investigation revealed that Tiffany Li and her mother, personally and in a trust, had multiple properties in San Mateo and the elite areas of Hillsborough and Burlingame.
Internet users are adamant that Tiffany Li’s mother, Li Jihong, is the younger sister to Li Jinai (李继耐), former director of the General Political Department of the PLA.
The example of the Li family highlights why sanctions against characters like Li Shangfu might cause unease and panic among senior Communist Party officials who have family and vast wealth in the United States.
Men in Black on Tiananmen Square
PRC National Day is upon us (it falls on October 1), and security officers are now out in force on Tiananmen Square. The following video clip was posted online, showing the conspicuous ‘undercover’ officers in black suits, with black umbrellas. What is the purpose of the latter? So that if anything happens on the square, they can quickly open their umbrellas, cover the scene and prevent it from being seen or photographed.
Signs of China (1), September 16, 2018.
Signs of China (2), September 22, 2018.
Economics Professor Expelled for ‘Politically Harmful’ Expressions, Including Estimate of Staggering Cost to Maintain the Communist Party Apparatus
China Change, August 21, 2018
Yang Shaozheng (杨绍政), a couple of months shy of 49, was for 11 years a professor of good standing in the College of Economics at Guizhou University. He taught game theory and advanced microeconomics, focused his research on optimization theory and mechanism design theory, and managed numerous provincial- and state-funded research projects. On August 15, however, Guizhou University made a decision to expel him for “long-running publication and spreading online of politically mistaken speech, writing a large number of politically harmful articles, and creating a deleterious influence on campus and in society.” He was also guilty of “being unrepentant” and refusing to accept “educational help.”
Prior to this, last November, Yang was suspended from teaching and banned from advising graduate students. According to a personal statement he published online, Yang repeatedly approached the administration and the university’s Party Office to demand a formal statement of reasons for the sanctions. In each case he was fobbed off or refused. His written appeal to the university president was ignored.
Around the same time, Yang’s WeChat account and his blog were shut down, leaving him cut off from all public communication channels to express his views.
Last November, Yang submitted to New Tang Dynasty Television, a station affiliated with Falun Gong, a persecuted spiritual practice, a short article titled: “Can We Really Leave the Party Out of Our Economic Research?” (《我们经济研究中政党真的可以被忽略？》) The essay said: “Party personnel as well as the staff of some non-Party mass organizations are sustained by the taxes of the citizenry plus the state’s revenue. They are across the government, the military, mass organizations, state enterprises, educational and cultural institutions, and the organs responsible for Party Affairs. Their number exceeds 20 million; the cost to maintain them, including the loss of wealth caused by maintaining them, is estimated at 2 trillion yuan annually, with every Chinese carrying a burden of roughly 15,000 yuan each.”
Yang published the more detailed analysis, with the full title: “How the Estimate of All of Mainland China’s Government, Party, Mass Organization and State Enterprise Annual Costs Coming to 2 Trillion Was Calculated,” though it has since been deleted from his Sina blog.
In the article, he wrote that in two different economic systems — with all else being equal — one of them that had to “provide for that many regime officials would become increasingly impoverished. As long as nothing changes, the society that has to sustain the more government officials will ultimately collapse.”
Yang Shaozheng pointed out that despite the problem being so important for the future of the country, in China it is a forbidden area of enquiry and a blindspot in the public realm. Interestingly, in the article Yang described how several scholars pointedly avoided the topic at an academic conference he attended on political economy. During the tea break he brought up the question of Party expenditures to other scholars. Fudan University professor Zhang Jun (张军), gave no response; Zhejiang University professor Zhang Xukun (张旭坤) said he was worried that there may be State Security (国保) officers on site; Chongqing University professor Pu Yongjian (蒲勇健) said: “You understand what’s going on. If you’ve got the courage, go research it.”
In 2005, a researcher named Mu Zhengxin (穆正新) published an essay, which was widely disseminated, titled “The Chinese Communist Party is the Most Expensive Political Party” (《最昂贵的政党是中国共产党》). Mu calculated the expenditures on maintaining the Party apparatus, which he narrowly defined as Party organs and projects that have been set up just for the Communist Party and that are operated with funds from state revenue. The organs included in his calculations are: 1) The Party Committees, disciplinary committees, and consultative conferences at every level of government; 2) The specialized Party organs in schools and universities; 3) Organizations set up by the Communist Party, including the All-China Federation of Trade Unions, the All-China Women’s Federation, the All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce, as well as the Party’s youth organizations and numerous, countless other variants; 4) Party organs in police, military, and paramilitary systems, as well as courts and procuratorates; 5) The Party Affairs units inside state-owned enterprises; 6) The Party organs and expenditures for propaganda projects that go on inside Party mouthpiece media; 7) Overseas united front and propaganda work.
Mu Zhengxin’s calculations indicate that the Party’s annual expenditures on the above, just to sustain the Party, came to about 226 billion yuan. Ten years later, all signs indicate that such expenditures have, rather than decreasing, expanded enormously, possibly well beyond that dedicated to the educational system — and certainly far outstripping the budget dedicated to healthcare. Inquisitive readers are invited to examine the Chinese government’s budget for themselves.
Yang Shaozheng’s figures included not merely the costs of sustaining the Party apparatus, but also the loss associated with the constant drain of these costs (including the massive corruption that takes place).
As to Communist Party expenditures, in 2012 the Peking University professor of law He Weifang (贺卫方) wrote on Weibo: “The Party’s treasury cannot be confused with that of the country. Party cadres cannot derive their income from the national treasury, and instead should be supported by the Party’s own fees. Taxpayers pay their taxes to a secular national government, not a Holy Party.” (Professor He’s original post has likely been expunged entirely; the only online traces of it are in forwarded messages like this.) On March 27, 2016, He Weifang proposed on Weibo that national budgetary support be withdrawn from the Communist Youth League.
These demands are of course feeble without a transformation of the political system. The effect they do achieve, however, is to remind the public and the scholarly community to consider these issues. We look forward to Professor Yang Shaozheng and other Chinese or foreign political economists engage in detailed studies and calculations on this issue.
Prior to the Communist Party’s 19th Party Congress in October 2017, Yang was twice called in for ‘chats’ by the Public Security Bureau in Guizhou Province. He told Radio Free Asia in an interview: “The first was on September 19. They said that during the 19th Party Congress I had to keep my mouth shut. I couldn’t speak, couldn’t write anything online, and couldn’t say anything political during class. I said to them at the time: what you’re doing here is illegal according to our national constitution. The second time they came to me was the very evening of the opening ceremony of the 19th Party Congress, at about 9:00 p.m. They first accused me of spreading rumors. I asked them where I was supposed to have spread rumors and demanded that they present the facts. They had no facts to present. In the end they told me explicitly that I had to shut up, and then asked whether I’d do so or not. I told them clearly that I wouldn’t be quiet. They froze my Weibo account. I told my students about what happened.”
Yang Shaozheng’s writings on websites inside China have been blocked or purged, and now only a few of his articles are available on some sites outside the country. In 2012 when Yang’s personal page “Statecraft for the People” (经世济民) on KDNET, a popular Chinese-language website, was deleted without prior notice, he wrote to the website administrator: “Today it was my website that was unconstitutionally disappeared; tomorrow I myself may be, unconstitutionally and without reason, also disappeared; and you, among many others, may also have their websites or books disappeared, or be disappeared yourselves.”
An overseas human rights activist told China Change that, over the weekend, Yang Shaozheng and his family were attempting to travel to Hong Kong when they were intercepted at the border. China Change has been unable to contact Yang so far.
Over the last few years, numerous university professors have been expelled, pulled from classes, sacked, or had their Party memberships rescinded, among other punishments, for their transgressions of thought and speech. A sampling of such cases over the last two years includes:
- Deng Xiangchao (邓相超), the vice dean of the School of Art at Shandong Jianzhu University, who was forced to retire in January 2017 after he forwarded a number of posts making fun of Mao Zedong on Mao’s birthday;
- Zhai Jiehong (翟桔红), associate professor in the law school at the Zhongnan University of Economics and Law in Wuhan, who in May 2018 had his Party membership cancelled and was suspended from teaching after criticizing the constitutional amendment (to remove the tenure limit on the head of state in China);
- You Shengdong (尤盛东), a professor of international trade at Xiamen University, who in June 2017 was sacked after being informed on by students for making statements in class that were “opposed to the socialist value outlook”;
- Li Mohai (李默海), an associate professor and director of the political department in the political-law school of Shandong Institute of Business and Technology, who was sacked in July 2017 for “publishing incorrect speech online”;
- Shi Jiepeng (史杰鹏), an associate professor of classical Chinese at Beijing Normal University who in August 2017 was expelled for “publishing incorrect views online over a long period of time,” “crossing the red line of ideology management, violating political discipline, and causing severe damage to the reputation of the university”;
- Xu Chuanqing (许传青), an associate professor at Beijing University of Civil Engineering and Architecture who in September 2017 was subject to administrative punishment after being informed on by students in his Probability Theory class for “making inappropriate comparisons between Japanese and Chinese people and giving free reign to his personal dissatisfaction.”
Liu Shuqing (刘书庆) and Zhang Xuezhong (张雪忠), two university professor who are also human rights lawyers, were also deprived of their teaching qualifications. Liu Shuqing was disbarred from practicing law, and while Zhang Xuezhong has managed to keep his license, he’s been unable to practice due to the university’s concerted interference. Recently Zhang, a law professor, received a harsh warning from the police for publishing a proposal for drafting a new constitution by citizens that aimed to help create a modern political system in China.
In July, the Tsinghua University law professor Xu Zhangrun (许章润), in Japan as a visiting scholar, published a lengthy essay titled “Imminent Fears, Immediate Hopes” which carried out a thoroughgoing critique of — and expressing his deep concern about — Chinese political and social life. In writing the essay, he seemed to have made preparations for whatever would come to him, again showing that in China today, the freedom of expression of intellectuals is deeply imperiled.
In early August, Sun Wenguang (孙文广), a retired professor from Shandong University was set upon and dragged away by half a dozen police officers, who barged into his home while he was in the middle of an interview with Voice of America. The recording cut off live as he was hauled off. He was illegally detained for several days before being allowed to return home, and since then hasn’t been able to speak with journalists. A VOA journalist and news assistant who visited him previously were also temporarily detained.
In September 2017, Professor Yang Shaozheng, no place to publish, no blog to write, and unable to have a social media account inside China, came to Twitter. Few knew who he was. He posted screenshots of his writings and published them on his feed as though speaking to himself. His inaugural tweet reads, “The more I think, the more distressed I become. It’s hard to pursue the truth; it’s hard to speak the truth; and it’s hard to be a truthful person. Being able to freely express ourselves, without terror, is our dream.”
Xu Zhangrun’s China: ‘Licking Carbuncles and Sucking Abscesses’, China Change, August 1, 2018
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Xiao Man, August 9, 2018
China’s online P2P lending platforms are currently being rocked by one crisis after another, with media and the public calling a crash, collapse, and high storm in the sector. A large number of investors who have lost their principal entirely have recently flooded into Beijing to petition for redress. To shield the financial institutions from the public rush, Beijing police set up barricades on August 6, grabbing anyone they thought suspicious and loading them into rows of passenger coaches they had lined up on the Second Ring Road.
Video and photographs show buses, full of petitioners, along the shoulder of Beijing’s Second Ring Road; police were also stationed nearby in large numbers. China’s Banking Regulatory Commission, the Bank of Beijing, Bank of China, and other major financial institutions were the focus of the police defense measures. Some reports also say that a number of important financial agencies in Beijing received instruction to establish patrols inside and outside their buildings and strictly prevent outsiders from entering. Employees of the banks were instructed not to stop and make a spectacle of the intrusion, and that they had to wear their employee badges at all times.
In June, China’s supervisory and regulatory agencies embarked on a clean-up of online financial platforms, resulting in the liquidation of over 100 P2P lending platforms, business closures, flight of executives, and the cessation of redemptions for investors. A full-blown domino effect had taken hold by the end of July; within the first week of August, 42 P2P companies went bankrupt, sparking the mass protests by investors attempting to recoup their capital.
As the Financial Times explains, after 40 years of reform and opening to the world, the Chinese have capital they wish to invest, but are dissatisfied with simply leaving it in the bank. Nor are they happy with the “wealth management products” offered by banks. But due to China’s political system, the financial system is monopolized, and the development of the internet and in particular smartphones gave investors and lenders the ability to rapidly find platforms matching them with borrowers for their capital. This allowed some degree of financial liberalization and ‘inclusive finance’ (普惠金融).
China’s peculiar national circumstances have resulted in the rapid development of internet commerce, with both good and bad companies in the mix — and to a degree, growth in the sector has been distorted. The result has been that investors face risks beyond those expected in a normal market economy — they must also bear the risks of the gaps and loopholes in regulation caused by the political system. There are both good and bad P2P lending platforms in China. Many of them, in order to gather capital, have deceived investors by trumpeting their connections to officialdom. Some of them do legitimate business, while others are simply Ponzi schemes. Further, the deterioration of economic conditions in China has led some projects that initially appeared viable to become insolvent and unable to return investor capital. Finally, the government policy of deleveraging has resulted in a lack of liquidity in the market, making it impossible for some of these platforms to source new funding to pay out creditors.
Because many P2P platforms were endorsed by local governments — or claimed they were backed by state enterprises and took out advertisements on CCTV and other state media — they won the trust of investors. By 2016, 160 million Chinese had taken part in P2P investment; by 2018 the P2P market had grown to a value of over 7 trillion yuan [Translator’s note: according to DBS Group Research, the figure was 1.2 trillion yuan ($175 billion) by 2017]. In the first half of this year, the legally responsible individuals at over 700 lending platforms absconded, leaving investors unable to get back their capital. The sums involved extend into the hundreds of billions of yuan. In particular beginning from early June, 150 P2P platforms have defaulted on payments to creditors.
On June 14, the chairman of the China Banking Regulatory Commission, Guo Shuqing (郭树清) said the following at the Lujiazui Forum: “When anyone offers you a yield above 6%, you need to ask questions; when it’s above 8%, it’s very dangerous; if it’s above 10% then you need to be ready to lose all your capital.” Yet the warning came too late. The platforms that quickly unraveled included both state-backed and private enterprises; some P2P companies stole their customers’ funds, while others had liquidity problems causing defaults. The majority of investors with losses regarded themselves as ‘financial refugees’ and hoped the government would take a stance and resolve the problem, taking responsibility for the absence of supervision. They sought to converge on the key financial institutions in Beijing, and hold demonstrations and assemblies to put pressure on the authorities to make them whole.
Apart from retail investors extending credit, P2P lending platforms were a major source of funding and liquidity for small-sized enterprises that were unable to get loans from banks. When the platforms buckled, these companies also lost their source of funding, which further accelerated the collapse of other P2P platforms.
Scholars in China have pointed out that China to this day has still failed to develop a mature system for extending credit to businesses and individuals, and despite this the government began allowing the development of P2P lending platforms — effectively a dereliction of duty as regulators. Though the Beijing police managed to strangle the first wave of protests in its crib, the essence of the problem hasn’t been resolved. From now on, P2P lending platforms will become a new problem affecting China’s social stability.
This article was published in Radio France Internationale on August 7, 2018, translated by China Change.