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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.
China Change, September 22, 2018
Unsettling news from China emerges every week in a constant flow — 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
Local Government Debt: Going Bankrupt, or Raising More?
On September 13, the General Offices of both the Chinese Communist Party and the State Council jointly published a document giving ‘guiding opinions’ on limiting the debt that state-owned enterprises can take on. One line that attracted particular note said: “Local Government Financing Vehicles [LGFVs] whose assets are severely insufficient to collateralize their debts and have lost the ability to repay should engage in bankruptcy and restructuring, or liquidation proceedings, according to the law; resolutely guard against ‘Too Big to Fail,’ resolutely guard against the accumulation of risk becoming systemic risk.”
LGFVs are entities established by local governments around China, including fixed asset investment companies, real estate and urban development companies, and urban asset management companies. They invest in municipal construction and infrastructure projects, and are a de facto form of municipal debt (from 1995 to 2009 municipalities in China were forbidden from issuing bonds).
In early 2009 the People’s Bank of China (PBoC) and the China Banking Regulatory Commission (CBRC) issued the policy that gives the regulatory framework for this behavior, which “supports qualified local governments to organize infrastructure financing vehicles, issue debt, medium-term notes, and other financing instruments, in order to expand complementary financing channels for central government investment projects.”
Beijing economist Hu Xingdou (胡星斗) told Radio Free Asia (RFA) that the scale of LGFV debt in China has probably reached 40 trillion yuan, and the bankruptcy of LGFVs will likely cause serious losses among a very large investor base. “In particular, much municipal debt has been funded by Wealth Management Products [WMPs] sold through banks, and many people hold these products in their portfolios. A lot of people may lose their life savings.”
Chinese internet users remarked that bankruptcies in LGFVs equate to a default on the debt, and that a lot of people are going to lose their money. Some estimated that the number impacted in the coming LGFV bankruptcy wave will far outstrip, by an order of magnitude, the recent losses in the peer to peer investment sector, which saw thousands of angry investors protest in cities across China.
Yet even as municipal debt vehicles face bankruptcy, on August 14 the Ministry of Finance put out a circular demanding the rapid expansion of local government infrastructure bonds, which led to a massive rush of issuance. These bonds are the major way local governments finance their infrastructure expenditures. According to Xinhua, as of mid-September, around 200 billion yuan of new debt had been issued, which added to the August new issuance of 428 billion, making total new debt issuance in just 1.5 months over 600 billion yuan.
Why is so much new debt being issued even as the central government is warning against systemic risk and demanding the municipalities unable to support their debt initiative LGFV bankruptcy proceedings? We profess to have no clue.
The Government Wants Chinese to Spend, Spend, and Spend More
On September 20, the CCP and the State Council published a circular providing “a number of opinions” on encouraging more consumer spending: make the public increase their expenditures on food, clothing, accommodations, travel, and more; increase the quality and expand the number of things they spend money on (cultural products, travel, sports, health, retirement spending, housekeeping, education, training, children); create new consumer products, make them spend more online, consume more customized products, and also spend money on ‘smart’ technologies, fashion, and other popular trends. Rural residents are encouraged to up their consumption too.
Any economy is driven by investments, exports, and domestic consumption — but with the extraordinary growth of China’s fixed asset investment being largely exhausted, and exports facing tariffs from the Trump White House, the government seems desperate to boost consumption, even though it has been promoting it for some time now.
Someone in Zhongnanhai is evidently working overtime on these new opinions and demands, which are falling down like snowflakes.
Affirming for the 1001st Time That China’s Judiciary Is the Party’s Judiciary
Lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan noted the following piece of news: that on September 12 the Party Group of the Henan Higher People’s Court issued four circulars expelling from office 48 judges in the court. The circular attributed the decision to the provincial Party’s Organization Department. Liu Xiaoyuan notes that whether required by the provincial Party apparatus or decided upon by the court, going about it this way is against Chinese law. According to the Chinese constitution and the Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Organization of the People’s Courts, court presidents are elected by People’s Congresses at the same level; deputy court presidents, presiding judges, deputy presiding judges, and judges must be appointed and dismissed by the Standing Committee of People’s Congresses at their same level.
Meanwhile on September 17, the Ministry of Justice held a meeting in Yunnan for the promotion of “Party Building Work” among lawyers. Minister of Justice Fu Zhenghua (傅政华) spoke at the convocation, demanding that “the Party must assume comprehensive leadership in lawyer work; implement total coverage of Party Organization and Party Work across the legal field before the end of this year; guarantee the three year goal of Party building having achieved total coverage, total conformity, and total leadership by 2020.”
Is China Moving Muslim Internees to Other Parts of China in the Face of International Outcry?
The Chinese edition of The Epoch Times, a Falun Gong-associated newspaper, recently reported the following: “An official source in China recently obtained information from an associate in the police that over the last few days Uighurs in internment camps in Xinjiang have been distributed to different areas around the country. This work is being conducted with a high level of secrecy, and the travel routes used are all under police and military control. The source told The Epoch Times that 1,500 people were sent to the area he is in, and the police involved were all made to sign confidentiality agreements. The source speculated that, because the government plans to spread the 1-2 millions of Uighurs detainees, they would be sent to different prisons and detention centers, and he expressed the fear that the Uighurs might be killed.”
This reminds us that, in mid-August, there were rumors that internees from Xinjiang were being sent to Jiuquan (酒泉), Wuwei (武威) in Gansu province and Delhi (德令哈) and Golmud (格尔木) in Qinghai. A screenshot of a WeChat conversation describes an unusually heavy presence of security forces at train stations, and the understanding was that Uighurs were being transported.
Uighurs: More Professors Sent to Internment Camps; One Literary Editor Jumped to His Death; Highest Ranking Uighur Cadre So Far Sacked for ‘Corruption’
At least four senior Uighur officials from Kashgar University in Xinjiang have been removed from their posts for “two-faced” activities [i.e. disloyal to the CCP, critical of Party policies, or showing sympathy to targeted ethnic groups]. They include President Erkin Omer, vice president Muhter Abdughopur, and professors Qurban Osman and Gulnar Obul; information about them has been scrubbed from the university’s website. Read more.
According to a report by RFA’s Uighur service: Professor Azat Sultan, former President of Xinjiang Normal University and former chairman of Xinjiang chapter of China Federation of Literary and Art Circles, has been arrested for being a ‘double faced person.’ His whereabouts are unknown.
RFA Uighur service also reported that Keyser Keyum, the editor-in-chief of Literary Translation magazine, jumped from the 8th floor of his office building. It is said that he had received a call from police that day about sending him to ‘re-education’ camp.
On September 21 Xinhua reported that the deputy director of the National Develop and Reform Commission and director of the National Energy Administration, Nur Bekri, was suspected of severe violations of Party discipline and is being investigated by the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection. Hu Ping, a U.S.-based dissident, expressed horror at the news: “Nur Bekri was the chairman of the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region in 2009 during the July 5 incident. In Xinjiang, the only other Uighur to be secretary of the region’s Party Committee was Saifuddin Azizi, and subsequently all Party Secretaries were Han, and the highest ranking Uighurs were only chairmen of the region [not chairmen of the Party Committee of the region]. And now, Bekri himself has been toppled. From this it can be seen how serious the situation is in Xinjiang, and how horrific the plight of Uighurs in China.”
Hu Ping noted that “according to Bekri’s official curriculum vitae, he received a Han education since he was a child and joined the Party in his early 20s. Following the July 5 incident he was promoted to the Central Committee during the 18th Party Congress, but didn’t remain in the Central Committee during the 19th Party Congress, nor become a deputy in the 13th National People’s Congress. It’s clear therefore that he had not been trusted by the Party center for some years already.”
On the second day of the riots in Xinjiang in July 2009, Bekri went on television to criticize Uighurbiz.net, a Chinese-language website run by Professor Ilham Tohti and his students, accusing it of “inciting violence and spreading rumors.” In March 2014 during the ‘Two Meetings’ in Beijing, Bekri told a press conference that the evidence showing that Ilham—arrested in January of 2014—had engaged in splittist activities was conclusive and unquestionable.
Ilham Tohti was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2014 and is currently being held in the Xinjiang No. 1 Prison. There has been almost no word about Ilham circumstances for the last two years, and many now worry about his health.
Moving Ordinary Residents out of Heart of Beijing
A social media post recently noted that following the expulsion of residents and demolition of buildings along Fuyou Street (府右街, the street along the west side of Zhongnanhai) and Xihuangcheng street (西皇城根, adjacent to Fuyou Street), a similar operation on the east side of Zhongnanhai has taken place, expelling residents along Nanchang and Beichang streets (南长街和北长街). The eviction and demolition notices stipulate that state leaders who live on these streets are not the targets of eviction. The post also said: “In the future, Nanchang street, Beichang street, and Fuyou street have all been closed off for regular traffic. According to the plan, in the next one to two years there will be a gradual eviction and demolition of residences on both sides on Jingshan (景山公园), the east of the Forbidden City, along Nanchizi and Beichizi streets (南池子和北池子), around Beihai park (北海公园), and around Shichahai (什刹海), in order to expand the living space for central Party leaders.” The elementary school on Beichang street, as well as Beijing 161 Middle School not far from Tiananmen, will both be relocated and incorporated into other schools.
We drew a rough outline of the area affected by the project based on the social media post:
Twitter User Detained for 10 Days for “Attacking Leaders of the Party and Country”
On September 11, a 42-year old Twitter user in Beijing, Quan Shixin (全世欣), went to the Haidian Public Security Bureau to request permission to demonstrate, and was administratively detained. He was released on September 21. The notice of administrative detention given to her said: “Quan Shixin used internet circumvention methods to attack the Party and state leaders on Twitter, the circumstances being severe. Thus she was administratively detained for 10 days.”
No Foreign Programs in Prime Time, and Foreigners Not Allowed in Key Positions on Chinese TV
On September 20, the National Radio and Television Administration published a draft version (for public comment) of a set of regulations regarding non-Chinese citizen involvement in television, broadcasting, and shows. The regulations apply to those from Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, and the rest of the world. The basic content is as follows: without the approval of the NRTA, TV outlets may not broadcast overseas programs from 7:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.; television stations may not spend more than 30% of their daily broadcast time on foreign films, shows, cartoons, documentaries, or other programs; the screenwriter and director of a program cannot both be foreign persons; male and female lead roles cannot both be played by foreigners; television and film producers who employ foreigners as creative staff must register the contract with the NRTA within five days of its signing.
Foreign television programs are popular in China, and it appears rules of this nature are meant to curb the availability of imported programs and the enthusiasm for them.
When a band in China named Fangu (反骨) [Rebels] applied for a permit to perform in Suzhou and Shanghai, the authorities told them to change their name before they could be approved. The band announced on social media that “due to force majeure, the band has temporarily changed its name to zhenggu (正骨) [Bone Correction], and we ask for your understanding.”
The Berlin Schaubuehne theatrical troupe’s performance of Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People has received a warm welcome in Chinese drama circles, but after three performances in Beijing the original plan to put on another two performances in Nanjing were cancelled. The authorities said that this was due to “technical reasons,” but is it possible that the drama’s storyline and theme felt a little too close to home for the Chinese authorities?
On September 15, the city of Jinan, Shandong Province, held a Rocket Music Festival (火箭音乐节); at one point during the event, when the audience felt particularly moved by the music, they began swaying their bodies together (as often happens at music festivals). At that moment, a police officer dashed onto the stage, stood at the microphone, stopped the music, and delivered a stern warning about public safety. “If you don’t cooperate, we’ll have to stop this performance [this elicited loud laughter]. Everything is subordinate to safety! If everyone is like you just were, then it absolutely cannot proceed. Everyone knows that our country is currently engaged in a special struggle in Sweeping the Black and Eliminating Evil… I’m watching everyone’s behavior from the stage. If there is danger, the performance could be stopped at any moment.”
‘Totalitarian’ Is the Word
Stein Ringen, Professor of Political Economy at King’s College in London, wrote a letter to fellow China analysts, asking that “we set our work straight in language.” “The People’s Republic of China is a totalitarian state,” he wrote. “Of its own kind, to be sure, hence neo-totalitarian, but totalitarian it is. No clarity of analysis is possible without clarity of language. The PRC is not ‘an authoritarian system,’ it is ‘a totalitarian state.’”
At China Change, we began to use the term “totalitarian,” “neo-totalitarian” and “market-totalitarian” in as early as 2013.
Signs of China (1), China Change, September 16, 2018.
August 10, 2018
It is now clear, from numerous reliable sources, that shocking human rights atrocities are being perpetrated in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region of China (XUAR).
The Communist Party authorities have established a large number of political re-education centers in Xinjiang, detaining people without any judicial process, stripping them of their personal liberty, imprisoning them, and detaining them for indeterminate ‘sentences.’ Estimates of the numbers detained range from hundreds of thousands to over a million, primarily targeting Uighurs, but also Kazakhs, Hui people, and other minorities who follow Islam. Among those detainees are peasants, workers, university, college, high-school and middle-school students, teachers, poets, writers, artists, scholars, the head of a provincial department, bureau chiefs, village chiefs, and even Uighur police officers. Uighurs overseas, as well as their family members and Uighur students who return to China after studying abroad — and even Uighurs who have simply visited abroad for tourism — have been particular targets of attack.
Those locked up in detention centers have been forced to sing Red Songs, learn Mandarin Chinese, and study Xi Jinping Thought. Many have been forced to eat pork, drink alcohol, and been force-fed unidentified drugs. Abuse and torture is common in re-education centers, and reports of deaths in custody due to torture have become common. The well-known deaths confirmed to date include Muhammad Salih Hajim (穆罕穆德.萨利阿吉), the renowned Uighur scholar of Islam known for translating the Quran with official approval; Halmurat Ghopur (哈木拉提·吾甫尔), a leading food safety administrator and Communist Party official in Xinjiang; and Ayhan Memet, mother of Dolkun Isa (多里坤·艾沙), the chairman of the World Uyghur Congress. Many children, because their parents were disappeared, have been crammed into orphanages and are now suffering terrible conditions.
According to official Chinese statistics, over 227,000 Uighurs in Xinjiang were criminally arrested in 2017, 8 times the 27,000 recorded in 2016. In 2017, the number of people detained on criminal charges in Xinjiang was 21% of the total in all of China, while Xinjiang’s population is only 1.5% of the country’s.
Further, Communist Party authorities have set up a comprehensive electronic surveillance system trained on the daily lives of Uighurs in Xinjiang. They’ve deployed cameras with facial recognition capabilities, cell phone scanners, a DNA collection system, and a ubiquitous police presence, turning the entire Xinjiang region into the world’s most high-tech Police Garrison. All of the Party’s efforts are directed toward the cultural destruction of the Uighur people, who now face a crisis of survival.
In light of this grave human rights catastrophe, all who value human rights and universal values cannot be silent. We hereby state the following:
- We strenuously protest the CCP’s unilateral barbaric violence, and we demand that the authorities immediately cease the political persecution of Uighurs and other minority peoples, shut down the political re-education camps, and release all prisoners of conscience including Ilham Tohti (伊力哈木.土赫提) and Gheyret Niyaz (海莱特尼亚孜);
- We support the righteous struggle by Uighurs and other minority peoples in XUAR aimed at securing their basic human rights;
- We call upon the U.S. government to continue speaking out about the human rights abuses in Xinjiang, and to put more effective pressure on Party authorities;
- We call upon the United Nations to launch an investigation into what is taking place in XUAR and to publicly censure the CCP’s despicable acts.
Hu Ping (胡平), honorary chief editor of Beijing Spring, New York.
Wang Dan (王丹), founder and director of China Dialogue, Washington, DC.
Teng Biao (滕彪), human rights lawyer, visiting scholar at New York University, Princeton.
Xia Yeliang (夏业良), independent scholar, Washington, DC.
Mo Li (茉莉), teacher, Sweden.
Fu Zhengming (傅正明), scholar, Sweden.
Cai Chu (蔡楚), editor of minzhuzhongguo.org and canyu.org, Mobile, Alabama.
Zhang Yu (张裕), coordinator of the Committee on Imprisoned Writers, Independent Chinese PEN Center. Stockholm, Sweden.
Lü Jinghua (吕京花), deputy chair of Chinese Alliance for Democracy, New York.
Liao Tianqi (廖天琪), president of Independent Chinese PEN Center, Köln, Germany.
Zhang Qing (张菁), chairwoman of Women’s Rights in China, New York.
Liao Yiwu (廖亦武), writer in exile, Berlin, Germany.
Yaxue Cao (曹雅学), editor of chinachange.org, Washington, DC.
Sulaiman Gu (古懿), student, Georgia, USA.
Wang Juntao (王军涛), chairman of the National Committee of China Democracy Party, New Jersey.
Qi Jiazhen (齐家贞), independent writer, Melbourne, Australia.
Chen Weijian (陈维健), chief editor of Beijing Spring, Auckland, New Zealand.
Xia Ming (夏明), professor of political science, CUNY, New York.
Sheng Xue (盛雪), writer, journalist, Toronto, Canada.
Zhou Fengsuo (周锋锁), president of Humanitarian China, New Jersey.
Zhong Jinjiang (钟锦江), chairman of Chinese Alliance for Democracy, Sydney, Australia.
Guo Dongcheng (郭冬成), worker, Sweden.
Cai Yongmei (蔡咏梅), writer, Hong Kong.
Chen Chuangchuang (陈闯创), member of China Democracy Party, New York.
Yang Jianli (杨建利), founder of Initiative for China, Washington, DC.
Pan Yongzhong (潘永忠), secretary general of Federation for a democratic China, Germany.
Chen Pokong (陈破空), political commentator, New York.
Li Weidong (李伟东), director of China Strategic Analysis quarterly, USA.
Zhang Lin (张林), internet writer, New York.
Wang Ce (王策), chairman of Chinese Republican Party, Madrid, Spain.
Li Ruijuan (李瑞娟), journalist and editor, Taipei, Taiwan.
Wuerkaixi (吾尔开希), initiator of Friends of Liu Xiaobo, Taiwan.
Zhao Xin (赵昕), civil rights defender, Bay Area, California.
Su Xiaokang (苏晓康), writer, Washington, DC.
Guo Chen (郭琛), businessman, former chief supervisor of the Association of Taiwanese in Europe, Germany.
Bob Fu (傅希秋), founder and president of ChinaAid, Texas.
Fei Liangyong (费良勇), engineer, member of Federation for a democratic China, Nuremberg, Germany.
Wang Jinzhong (王进忠), deputy chair of Chinese Alliance for Democracy, Tokyo, Japan.
Chen Liqun (陈立群), deputy chair of the National Committee of China Democracy Party, New York.
Ma Yuzhong (马育忠), editor, Xi’an, China.
Fu Sheng (付升), scientist, Xi’an, China.
Cai Shufang (蔡淑芳), Friends of Conscience, Hong Kong.
Ren Wanding (任畹町), founder of Human Rights Defenders, France.
Chen Hanzhong (陳漢中), board director of China Spring Research Foundation, chief supervisor of Chinese Alliance for Democracy, California.
Zhang Jie (张杰), Boxun News journalist, USA.
Hong Zhesheng (洪哲胜), chief editor of Democracy Forum, New York.
Xue Wei (薛伟), manager of Beijing Spring, New York.
China Fails in its Gambit to Use the UN NGO Committee to Silence the Society for Threatened Peoples and Uyghur Activist Dolkun Isa
Andrea Worden, July 10, 2018
During the most recent session of the UN’s Committee on NGOs, China attempted unsuccessfully to have the Committee withdraw the NGO consultative status of the Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) in connection with its support of Dolkun Isa, a human rights activist, German citizen, and president of the World Uyghur Congress. Mr. Isa, a member of STP, received accreditation through the NGO to attend this year’s session of the annual UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) in New York from April 16-27. Despite having received prior approval to attend, Mr. Isa was blocked from entering UN headquarters on April 17 by diplomatic security because of unspecified “security concerns.” Following a subsequent unsuccessful attempt to gain entry into the UN, it took intervention at the highest levels, from at least the U.S. and German Permanent Missions, to finally get Mr. Isa into the building so that he could participate in the UNPFII, but by that time–– April 25–– there were only a few days left in the session.
The Chinese government has for many years accused Mr. Isa of being a “terrorist” but has failed to produce any substantiated evidence to support its accusations. Last year, China requested that UN diplomatic security remove Mr. Isa from UN premises while he was participating in the 2017 meeting of UNPFII, citing, as it did in 2018, “security reasons.” The UN Secretary-General’s 2017 report on reprisals against civil society actors included the incident of Dolkun Isa’s removal from UN headquarters at the behest of China in April 2017 (A/HRC/36/31, para. 29). In February 2018, Interpol removed a longstanding China-initiated red notice (i.e., an international alert) against Mr. Isa.
Having achieved only limited success in preventing Mr. Isa’s participation in the 2018 Permanent Forum –– although China caused a substantial delay, Mr. Isa eventually did gain access to the UN–– China adopted a new tactic, which, had it been successful, would have had long-term consequences for both STP and Mr. Isa. Late in the day on Friday, May 17–– the last working day before the opening meeting of the 2018 second (“resumed”) session of the NGO Committee, the Chinese Permanent Mission circulated a note verbale (i.e., an unsigned diplomatic correspondence) to the Members of the Committee, setting forth its reasons for seeking the withdrawal of STP’s consultative status. Besides a groundless procedural point regarding the accreditation of Mr. Isa, China’s objections to STP’s consultative status can be summed up by this sweeping unsubstantiated accusation in its letter: “Dolkun Isa has been participating, inciting and funding separatism and terrorism for years.”
The May 21 Meeting
At the opening meeting on May 21, China referred (@ 36:30) to its note verbale and requested that the consultative status of the Society for Threatened Peoples be withdrawn. Repeating many of the accusations contained in China’s letter, the Chinese delegate said that China had designated Mr. Isa as a “terrorist” in 2003, and that he was “a terrorist in every manifestation,” and therefore should not have been accredited by the STP to participate in activities at the UN. The Chinese diplomat acknowledged that under the Committee’s procedures, the STP should be given an opportunity to respond (although Mr. Isa himself was not given such an opportunity). A heated discussion followed, consuming a substantial portion of the morning meeting (and thus further delaying the work of the overloaded and backlogged Committee), with the U.S. leading a counter-attack against China for its attempt to make the NGO Committee “an accomplice” to its reprisals against STP and Mr. Isa. Committee Members that are aligned with China, including Russia, Pakistan, Cuba and Iran, predictably expressed concern about the nature of China’s allegations against STP, which they said warranted serious consideration by the Committee. The delegations praised China for following the procedures of the Committee in asking for a response from STP before the Committee decided the matter.
Representatives from the U.S. and Germany (as an observer of the Committee) said that despite repeated requests by their governments to China to provide substantiated evidence for its accusations of “terrorism” against Dolkun Isa, China had failed to produce any credible evidence or actionable intelligence to support its claims. The German representative said that German security authorities “possess no information that [Mr. Isa] might pose a security risk.” Both delegations stressed that the UN would not have issued Mr. Isa a badge enabling him to gain access to the UN if they believed he was a security risk, nor would the U.S. have granted him a visa (Mr. Isa has a 10-year multiple entry visa to the U.S.). The U.S. and Germany said that the allegations against Mr. Isa were unfounded and unsubstantiated and requested that China withdraw its proposal to have STP’s consultative status revoked, and also urged the Committee to not let itself be used as a vehicle for reprisals against NGOs. The EU also opposed removing STP’s accreditation; and the observer from the U.K. cautioned the Committee against “moving at the speed of lightning when attempting to revoke an accreditation,” particularly when it moves “so very slowly” in considering new accreditations, particularly for human rights NGOs.
The German representative also took China to task for the very short notice of its proposal, which was distributed just several working hours before the opening of the session. With respect to STP, he said it was an independent human rights organization registered in Germany that focuses on the rights of religious and ethnic minorities and indigenous peoples, and that it was granted ECOSOC status in 1993. He further stated that Mr. Isa was “correctly registered as a representative for STP.” The German representative also added that “after serious deliberations,” in February 2018 Interpol deleted the red notice against Mr. Isa.
Regarding Interpol’s decision to remove the red notice against Mr. Isa, the Chinese representative said that to China’s knowledge, “this act of cancellation was totally initiated by the Secretary General, who is German, and the director of the legal department of Interpol, who is an American.” He said they “didn’t really consult with the member States, let alone China,” and claimed that it was done out of “political motivations,” and that it was “underhanded,” a “total dark box operation.”
China and the United States exchanged several volleys. In addition to stressing that Mr. Isa posed no security threat, Ambassador Currie of the U.S. said that it was clear what was really going on: China was attempting to silence a human rights defender from a silenced community in China for speaking up for the rights of that group at the U.N. She referenced several accounts about the plight of the Uyghurs in China, including recent reports documenting that hundreds of thousands and possibly up to one million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities were being detained in “re-education camps” in Xinjiang. China responded that the Western media was biased against China, and that “the Chinese government has always paid attention to and protected the rights of all the ethnic minorities, including the Uyghur people” and that Uyghurs in Xinjiang have seen “the best protection of their human rights in history.”
The Chinese delegate also suggested that Ambassador Currie was personally biased, and accused her of getting “emotional” about the issue because of prior work she had done relating to Xinjiang. He added, “I suspect she has close contact with those people.” The U.S. delegation raised a point of order, stating said the Committee had hit a “new low” and that the Chinese representative’s comments were “completely inappropriate.” The Chair of the Committee, Mr. Jorge Dotta of Uruguay, took the point of order and advised the Chinese delegate to “confine himself to concrete aspects of his information about the NGO” and to not go into other unrelated matters, and cautioned, “we mustn’t get into a political discussion.”
STP was given until May 25 to submit its written response to the question from China. China thus not only consumed a significant portion of the NGO Committee’s time and attention at its opening meeting with its vexatious ploy, it also imposed an unwarranted burden on STP, distracting the NGO from its advocacy work at the UN.
Lastly, when the Chair attempted to give the floor to a representative of civil society, China and Russia raised a point of order. They said there wasn’t enough time to hear from civil society, and that the Committee should adhere to its work agenda. China of course was responsible for the delay in the first place with its unfounded proposal against STP, and then invoked “time constraints” to silence the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) from making a statement on behalf of 100 NGOs. Many delegations came to the defense of civil society and ISHR’s right to speak and be heard, particularly given the mandate of the NGO Committee to enable greater civil society involvement with the UN. Fifteen minutes after China raised its point of order, the Chair stated that due to a lack of consensus on the issue, ISHR would not take the floor. China thus consumed more of the Committee’s meeting time with its objection to a civil society statement, which likely would have taken only several minutes to deliver.
The May 30 Meeting
China’s proposal regarding STP’s status was not discussed during the May 25th meeting, but was addressed at the 29th meeting of the Committee held on May 30. The Chinese government (@ 2:05) noted the written response from STP to the NGO Committee’s question, and said that although China’s position–– reflected in the May 17 note verbale and its statements during the Committee meeting on May 21–– “remains unchanged,” it would no longer seek the withdrawal of STP’s consultative status during the current session. The representative of China strongly urged STP to “earnestly fulfill” the commitments it made in its written response, which included respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China and not appointing terrorists as its representative, and to “avoid past mistakes.” He said that China would be “closely following” the organization’s activities in the UN, including the Human Rights Council, and would “take necessary measures in the NGO Committee as appropriate.”
The June 11 Meeting
On Monday, June 11, the Committee gathered for its final meeting of the 2018 second session in order to adopt its report for the session. The meeting opened with an unexpected announcement from the Chair, Mr. Jorge Dotta (@ 00:45). He said he had received a note from the Secretary General of Interpol (Mr. Jürgen Stock) on the preceding Friday. Mr. Stock requested that Mr. Dotta mention to the Committee Members that he had addressed a communication to the PRC delegation “in reference to a statement made by [the PRC] delegation on the 21st of May 2018.” Mr. Dotta told the Committee “he was complying with that request with the understanding that that matter is a bilateral issue to be considered between the delegation of China and the Secretary General of lnterpol.” He said he was “expecting it to be resolved in the best possible manner” and that since the issue was not part of the Committee’s agenda and beyond his mandate, the Committee should proceed with its work.
This incident involving Interpol is an example of the important role played by webcasting the Committee’s open meetings, a new practice mandated by an April 2017 ECOSOC resolution. The webcast enabled Interpol officials to watch for themselves the accusations made by the Chinese delegate, who claimed that the cancellation of the red notice against Mr. Isa was politically motivated. This point of contention between the Secretary General and the PRC delegation would not have been known to the public but for the webcasts of the May 21 and June 11 meetings. The public documents issued relating to the session, including the unofficial written coverage of the meetings
(May 21, June 11) and the Committee’s adopted report, did not mention China’s remarks about the cancellation of the red notice, nor the communication from the Interpol Secretary General to the Committee Chair. Mr. Stock apparently wanted the Committee Members to know that he took issue with China’s statement on the matter. The fact that the current Interpol President, Mr. Meng Hongwei, is Chinese had not deterred the Secretary General from démarching the Chinese delegation. China, however, has yet to retract the baseless accusations it made against Mr. Isa on May 21. This is the shadow side of webcasting: it provides a public platform at the UN for governments to broadcast unfounded accusations against organizations and individuals, without a commensurate opportunity for those attacked to defend themselves.
Although its gambit to have STP disaccredited during the May session was unsuccessful, China has signaled that it is capable of using its position on the NGO Committee to aggressively target currently accredited NGOs. The United States led a forceful defense of Mr. Isa and STP, and civil society more broadly. This was both an inspiring example of what the U.S. and its allies can do for the cause of human rights at the UN, and a sobering reminder of a possible “pushback gap” that may emerge at the Human Rights Council with the absence of the U.S., which had been at the forefront of efforts at the Council to counter China’s increasingly aggressive anti-human rights tactics.
The Geneva-based UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) will review China’s implementation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination on August 10 and 13. CERD is the main UN treaty body that focuses on the rights of ethnic minorities per the provisions of the treaty. The current arbitrary detention (and disappearances) of hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities, and the Chinese government’s relentless drive to wipe out their religious and cultural identity, must be addressed at the Committee’s upcoming review, and civil society voices must be heard. The CERD review and China’s Universal Periodic Review in November might also explain China’s attempt to seek a quick revocation of the Society for Threatened Peoples’ consultative status. Fortunately, China failed, this time.
Andrea Worden is a human rights activist, lawyer, and writer. She has worked on human rights and rule of law issues involving China throughout much of her career, and previously held positions as the Acting Executive Director of Asia Catalyst, Advocacy Director with the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), and Senior Counsel at the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC). Her essays and articles on human rights issues in China have appeared in such publications as the The Pro-Democracy Protests in China: Reports from the Provinces, Yale-China Review, Georgetown Journal of International Law, South China Morning Post, and China Rights Forum, among others.
Follow her on Twitter @tingdc
Background on China and the NGO Committee
The UN’s Committee on NGOs is a standing committee of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), and is supported in its work by the NGO Branch of the Office of Intergovernmental Support and Coordination for Sustainable Development, a division of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA). China has occupied the top spot at DESA for more than 10 years; the current Under-Secretary-General is Liu Zhenmin, a veteran diplomat and official in the PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs. DESA is reportedly widely known as China’s turf.
The NGO Committee is comprised of 19 Member States, which are elected for a four-year term based on the principle of equitable geographic representation. The mandate of the NGO Committee is to consider applications from NGOs seeking consultative status with the UN ––a status that enables NGOs to participate more substantially in the work of the UN than NGOs without such status. The Committee meets twice a year in New York, usually in January (regular session) and May (the resumed session). It makes recommendations on the NGO applications to the ECOSOC, which then votes in July. With a growing emphasis on civil society involvement with the UN, most recently, in connection with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the number of NGO applications has risen significantly over the past several years, leading to an expanding backlog of applications awaiting consideration and other delays in the Committee’s work. Since 2014, the NGO Branch has seen a 75% increase in the number of applications for consultative status received. (Draft Report of the Committee on NGOs on its 2018 resumed session, E/C.2/2018/CRP.59/Rev.1, para.33).
The NGO Committee has long been under attack by some governments, UN officials, and civil society, for behaving more like an “anti-NGO” committee. As noted above, China, along with several other countries on the Committee, actively obstructs the review of applications of certain NGOs, particularly NGOs whose work focuses on human rights. These governments often ask repetitive and inappropriate questions of the NGOs. All that’s needed is just one question from a Member State seeking clarification or additional information to delay consideration of the NGO’s application until the Committee’s next session. Sometimes the questioning, and the deferrals, can go on for years.
In its September 2017 report on China’s interference with the UN human rights mechanisms, Human Rights Watch noted that China’s obstructionism on the NGO Committee is most apparent with respect to “NGOs whose mission focuses on holding governments accountable, acting as watchdogs, or promoting human rights.” HRW included as one example relentless questioning of certain NGOs, including the Society for Threatened Peoples (STP), on China-related information in their quadrennial reports–– a report required of all NGOs with consultative status. STP faced five rounds of questioning, starting in September 2012. In June 2016, STP was asked by the NGO Committee “to elaborate on its position on Tibet.” China further enforces its positions on Tibet and Taiwan in the Committee by holding NGOs’ applications for consultative status hostage until they have scrubbed their websites and reports of any references to Taiwan as a country or Tibet as (historical) Tibet, rather than the PRC-created Tibet Autonomous Region.
Also by Andrea Worden:
China Pushes ‘Human Rights With Chinese Characteristics’ at the UN, Andrea Worden, October 9, 2017.
As the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders Turns 20, China Wages a Multi-Pronged Attack on Rights Defenders, Andrea Worden, March 14, 2018.
With Its Latest Human Rights Council Resolution, China Continues Its Assault on the UN Human Rights Framework, Andrea Worden, April 9, 2018.
Matthew Robertson, June 18, 2018
On a blank sheet of paper free from any mark, the freshest and most beautiful characters can be written; the freshest and most beautiful pictures can be painted.
— Mao Zedong
Extend special invitations to the Autonomous Region Women’s League Propaganda Troupe to visit… important villagers and education-transformation bases to hold ‘thanking the Party, listening to the Party, obeying the Party’ agitation campaigns… Draw the sword and be at the vanguard of stability maintenance…
— Party Committee of the Bayin’guoleng Women’s League
The party has a powerful ability to synthesize experience and come up with methods to deal with challenges. All the brutality, resources and persuasiveness of the Communist system is being used — and is having an effect.
— Party advisor on the anti-Falun Gong campaign
Since around 2014 in China’s northwestern border Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR), the Chinese Communist Party has been engaged in an extraordinary campaign of thought reform, recalling the early years of the People’s Republic of China and subsequent political-ideological campaigns. Hundreds of thousands, and potentially up to a million, Uighur Muslims have been forcibly detained and put through grueling brainwashing sessions aimed at crushing their faith and forcing them to pledge allegiance to the CCP (via its constructions of nationhood and personal identity).
It is notoriously difficult to accurately assess the full scale of such political campaigns, given the secrecy and official obfuscation that surrounds them. Qualitatively, however, it is helpful to compare the current campaign of thought transformation in Xinjiang with the most recent similar campaign in PRC history: the systematic campaign of brainwashing waged against practitioners of Falun Gong. For a variety of complex reasons beyond the scope of this article, the anti-Falun Gong campaign has largely been forgotten in comparisons and analyses with what is now taking place in Xinjiang — though as Harvard scholar Elizabeth Perry wrote about it in 2001: “the launching of a full-scale campaign against a single organization of this sort is indeed unprecedented. Not since the Suppression of Counter-Revolutionaries Campaign in the early 1950s have we seen such sustained national attention directed to the threat of sectarian resistance, and never before have we witnessed an attack of this kind on but a single target.”
Falun Gong, a Buddha-school spiritual and meditation practice that had attracted tens of millions of practitioners through the 1990s, was marked for elimination in 1999 by Jiang Zemin. The decision to destroy the group was reached after years of internal debate between hardliners in the security apparatus and other, more sympathetic officials. Aside from an intense propaganda campaign aimed at vilifying the practice, the Party’s primary method for waging war against Falun Gong was ‘transformation through education’ (教育转化) — a kind of high-pressure thought reform (its own term of art, 思想改造) that involved liberal use of violence and torture against millions in custody. The campaign continues against an estimated 7-20 million practitioners, though at a lower intensity than the early years, to this day.
Judging by a number of the features described below, this campaign may have very well been the training model for what is now taking place in Xinjiang, where the Party has designated the practice of Islam by Uighurs as an extremist threat to regime that must be extinguished by the forcible reform of the thinking of each individual Uighur.
The following comparison is by no means exhaustive, though it does reveal many similarities in the Party’s methods, propaganda, and justifications for both of these campaigns. Such comparison is useful and important for illustrating continuities over decades in the Party’s extraordinarily invasive and brutal mechanisms of social and psychological control, extending to the private beliefs of tens of millions of subjects.
For the Greater Good
The basic justification for detaining innocent people against their will in both campaigns is that it’s in the service of the Party, the nation, and ‘the people.’
In the anti-Falun Gong campaign, this rhetoric went through several phases. In the first place, the Party waged an explicitly ideological attack on Falun Gong. The front page of The People’s Daily was filled with diatribes on the ‘idealism and theism’ of Falun Gong, with the claim that Falun Gong’s teachings of Buddhas and gods, its principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance (真善忍), and the role of personal cultivation in transcending the mortal realm, were false, dangerous, and misleading.
Later, in October 1999, Falun Gong was for the first time called a ‘heterodox teaching’ (邪教 ‘xie jiao’). The term has been used since the Ming Dynasty to designate schools of thought that were not sanctioned by the state and thus considered a threat to state legitimacy. In the anti-Falun Gong campaign, the term was rendered in English as ‘evil cult’ — a misleading translation, perhaps, but one that had a profound impact on Western perceptions of, and sympathy for, Falun Gong.The Party’s rhetoric on Falun Gong is often extreme in its vilification: one of the widely promulgated picturebooks meant to incite hatred of the practice depicts Falun Gong and its founder as suicidal lunatics (dowsing themselves in gasoline, hanging themselves, running around with meat cleavers), or as the grim reaper (in one case leading a young child to her doom), or as goblins, reptiles, and even a caterpillar being severed at the base of the neck with the hoe of a mustachioed proletarian farmer.
The Party has similarly adopted a dual track approach to attacking Uighurs: the legitimacy of their beliefs are both ridiculed and denigrated, and the population is attacked as a dangerous threat to society in need of harsh reform.
Much of the brainwashing of Uighurs is done under the official rubric of so-called ‘de-extremification’ (去极端化). As an article in Chinese Cadres Tribune instructs, “restraining extremism is a new requirement in ethnic religious work for safeguarding long-term peace and social stability in Xinjiang,” citing a Party Central Committee’s Xinjiang Work Conference.
The definition of this activity is stated in a matter-of-fact manner by Baidu Baike, the Wikipedia of China: “De-extremification is a preaching activity carried out in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region to attack religious extremist crimes and contain the spread of religious extremism.” Part of it includes creating propaganda — stage plays, banners, posters, songs — in the form of “rich and interesting cultural activities that the masses of every ethnicity delight in, in order to satisfy the normal religious needs of the masses.” In other words, replacing the practice of Islam by Uighur Muslims with a set of Party-concocted and controlled activities considered ‘normal.’
In practice, the so-called ‘de-extremification’ as it is carried out involves mass incarceration, total environment control, and brutalization aimed at erasing Uighur identity and belief.
Calling Regular Religious Beliefs ‘Extremist’
The extreme methods the regime has adopted to attack these groups would be impossible to justify unless, of course, the targets themselves were ‘extremists’ who posed a threat that had to be neutralized. Their normal religious and spiritual beliefs are thus pathologized as a danger to themselves and society. This discourse appears in both campaigns.
Falun Gong is said to destroy families, collect money, and cause social chaos. Li Hongzhi, the founder of the discipline, is said to exercise literal mind control over those who practice it. The aspirations of quietude and disattachment from the cycle of desire found in actual Falun Gong meditation and practice? This “persuades people to give up all ‘desires, ideals and pursuits’…and concentrate on Falun Gong exercise to ‘transcend the secular world,’” thus spreading a “negative and idealistic philosophy of life among the people,” People’s Daily said. A propaganda image in the “Criticise and Expose ‘Falun Gong’ Picture Book” book shows practitioners “meditating contentedly, oblivious as their lives crumble around them.”
In the case of Uighurs, the threat to society is claimed not to be through inactivity, but alleged terrorism. “The number of violent terrorists in custody under 30 years old is 54.9%,” says a November 2015 paper in the Journal of Xinjiang Police College. “Because they are naive and unsophisticated and their worldviews are still in a period of formation, they are easily subject to the allure and coercion of extremist so-called ‘jihad martyrdom to enter Heaven’ (圣战殉教进天堂), they listen and watch violent terrorist videos and madly carry out all manner of violent terrorist criminal acts.”
Chinese police journal articles on the attacks against Uighurs in Xinjiang invariably make reference to 911, the global war on terror, and the supposed common struggle China faces in dealing with its own domestic terrorist population.A similar tactic of rhetorical association was used to justify the anti-Falun Gong campaign, identifying Falun Gong as a cult along the lines of the Branch Davidians or Scientology, so as to forge dark, stigmatizing associations in the minds of potential sympathizers, and allow the torture and brainwashing to proceed unimpeded and unremarked upon.
The new labels concocted by the Party are used to replace the self-definition of the target groups. “Extremist Religion is Not Religion,” one Xinjiang Daily headline barks, just as People’s Daily announces that “Falun Gong Is An Evil Religion, Not a Belief.”
Thus, the world is told that Uighurs = terrorists and extremists, and Falun Gong = cultists, and that the Party is dealing with the problem in a firm but humane manner.
Hitting Them Where it Hurts
The religious character of both Falun Gong and Uighur Muslim beliefs has given the CCP a rich menu of choices for attacking, humiliating, and degrading their targets. Party security operatives have latched onto what their victims consider sacred images, ideas, or practices, and proceeded to defile them and, most importantly, force the target populations to defile them, as a way of weakening their will, engendering helplessness, and breaking their faith.
In the anti-Falun Gong campaign, police in train stations attempted to identify the Falun Gong practitioners traveling to the capital to protest by placing on the ground an image of the founder of the practice, Master Li, who is considered a holy figure, and forcing them to trample on it. Those who did so were allowed through, while those who refused were identified and incarcerated. Similar ‘tests’ are conducted on Falun Gong practitioners in detention, to ensure that they are truly ideologically transformed.
The attacks on the religious practices of Uighurs include: bans on beards that are too long and on veils, both of which are “deemed to promote extremism”; attempts to stop Uighurs fasting during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan; forcing Uighur shopkeepers to sell alcohol and cigarettes; and even restrictions on Uighur funerary practices through ‘burial management centers.’
In a surgical provocation clearly intended to infuriate and humiliate, a guard in a newly build brainwashing center in Hotan, southern Xinjiang, told detainees that Uighur women historically eschewed underwear, braided their hair to attract partners, and were promiscuous.
“It made me so angry,” a detainee interviewed by Gerry Shih said. “These kinds of explanations of Uighur women humiliated me. I still remember this story every time I think about this, I feel like a knife cut a hole in my chest.”
Blaming Foreign Forces
No political-ideological campaign in China would be complete without the invocation of hostile foreign forces, meddling behind the scenes and misleading the masses. This propaganda narrative is being used in the case of Uighurs, as it was against Falun Gong.
In the case of Uighurs, the People’s Daily says that “we must be vigilant of foreign forces using religion to infiltrate and conspire to carry out the ‘four transformations’ and ‘splittism.’” Party media regularly reports that the incidents of domestic terrorism in Xinjiang — often, it seems, by desperate Uighurs seeking revenge against the regime for previous injustices — are said to have been plots hatched by foreign terrorist groups.
Of Falun Gong, Xinhua writes: “According to those Western anti-China forces which have never given up their attempt to ‘Westernize’ and ‘break up’ China and those domestic and foreign hostile forces which do not want to see a prosperous and powerful China, the Falun Gong cult organization is a political force which may be able to create disorder in China and to subvert China’s state power.”
In both cases, a certain awkward tension can be detected between the two sets of claims against each target: they’re accused simultaneously of secular goals (splittism for Uighurs, vague political ambitions for Falun Gong), and also quite conflicting religious goals (Islamic martyrdom for Uighurs, ritual suicide to enter heaven for Falun Gong — a concept that is, of course, not part of the practice).
Apparently it is the sheer magnitude and ferocity of the propaganda that is relied upon to square those circles.
Brutality Concealed Under the Color of ‘the Law’
Though both the campaigns involve arbitrary incarceration, violence, torture, theft of personal property, and deep violations of individual psychological sovereignty through thought reform, mostly conducted through extralegal public security mechanisms, they have been justified in the language of the law. In the case of the anti-Falun Gong campaign, there was a more sophisticated attempt to actually codify the Party’s actions in legislation and judicial interpretations of this legislation (though any lawyers who sought to challenge the constitutional basis of this are violently ejected from courtrooms and in some cases subjected to the same methods they were objecting to).
The true nature of what goes on in the detention facilities constructed for dealing with these problem populations is never revealed in official sources. Official accounts of thought reform in Xinjiang, like those uncovered through the dedicated efforts Canadian law student Shawn Zhang, make broad reference to activities like ‘military training,’ ‘education in gratitude toward the Party,’ ‘singing red songs,’ and even the pedestrian categories like ‘professional ethics’ and ‘safe manufacturing.’
These prosaic expressions conceal the more tawdry and brutal reality of the experience. Gerry Shih documented this in an interview with Bekali, a 42-year-old Kazakh citizen who was swept up in the campaign while in Xinjiang for business. Bekali was strapped to a “tiger chair,” a common torture device used in Communist Party imprisonment facilities; he was also hung by his wrists against a wall, forcing him to stand on the balls of his feet. He was denied food, and had his religion and people insulted, and was locked in a room with 8 others. Another prisoner, Kayrat Samarkan, reports that prisoners were put in an iron body-suit as punishment for disobeying guard commands, while others were locked in a tiger chair for 24 hours.
A typical Falun Gong torture report reads similarly: “[James] Ouyang was arrested again in April after going to Tiananmen Square to show his support for Falun Gong,” The Washington Post wrote in 2001. “This time, he said, police methodically reduced him to an ‘obedient thing’ over 10 days of torture… [He] was stripped and interrogated for five hours. ‘If I responded incorrectly, that is if I didn’t say, ‘Yes,’ they shocked me with the electric truncheon’… the guards ordered him to stand facing a wall. If he moved, they shocked him. If he fell down from fatigue, they shocked him.”
Other medieval, hair-raising torture reported to be in wide use against Falun Gong to elicit repentance statements include: bamboo under fingernails, burning the legs with a hot iron, scolding with boiling water, electric batons repeatedly inserted into vaginas and mouths, and more.
Tales of this kind of extreme torture do not appear to have emerged from Xinjiang, though it may only be a matter of time. The need to hit transformation rate targets set by higher-ups likely contributed to the level of brutality used against Falun Gong, and given that similar quotas are being dictated in Uighur transformation work, security cadres may find that more violent methods are required to achieve their ends.
What’s clear in both cases, at least, is that the transformation campaigns have been carried out in a premeditated, systematic manner, with a vast build-out of re-education centers or extensions and renovations to existing centers. Adrian Zenz has been able to hint at the scale of the operation in Xinjiang by analyzing bid proposals for re-education center construction, and it is well documented that similar facilities were custom built or expanded for the express purpose of transforming Falun Gong — the build-out of a ‘prison city’ around the Masanjia Labor Camp by Bo Xilai, for instance, is a notorious example.
‘It’s For Your Own Good’
According to the Communist Party, the subjects of their coercive ideological ministrations are, simply put, idiots. This is another crucial justification for locking them up and brainwashing them.
In the anti-Falun Gong campaign, Falun Gong practitioners are claimed to be weak-willed, uneducated failures at life who were taken in by the slick messaging of a qigong guru. (The Party could of course not justify the detention and thought reform of individuals with levels of post-secondary education far above the general population in China, or who were themselves Party cadres, intellectuals, businesspeople, and so on.)
As long as the vast majority of Falun Gong practitioners were just simpletons who had been taken in, they simply required the nurture of the Party to break out of the mind control, return to embrace of the Party, and once again be productive members of society.
Uighurs are also talked down. Those in detention are said to “have not been through systematic education; their level of knowledge is low, their manner of thought naive and prejudiced, shortsighted, delusional and conceited; they are unable to distinguish right and wrong, beautiful and ugly, good and evil; they lack their own views and emotions, blindly following others and easily accepting of illegal religious activities and the reactionary propaganda of ethnic splittist ideology.”
Therefore, of course, “the vast majority are lured or forced into involvement in violent terrorist activities.” They’re thus invited, through participation in Maoist-inspired rituals like singing red songs, small group sessions, self-confession, and repentance, to join ‘the big socialist family’ (社会主义大家庭).
There are numerous other similarities between the two campaigns, both in technique and justification. This includes: the use of oral agitators; the ‘bangjiao’ (帮教) or ‘assistant’ system, where individuals already transformed are assigned to targets who they then accompany, persuade, and sometimes discipline, in order to transform them; the obsessive taxonimization of targets for allocating transformation resources against; the incessant sloganeering; the use of retired cadres as ideological bastions; the dichotomization of ‘science’ versus belief; the mobilization of ignorant members of the citizenry against the targets; and tragically, the widespread use of transformed individuals part of the target population, who have adopted the new Party-created identity, and now join the Party in assimilating more of their former brethren.
This battery of techniques were first used against their own new members in Yan’an, then later against intellectuals, rightists, and ‘counterrevolutionaries,’ Falun Gong practitioners, and others in the New China. Now, the Party brings over 70 years of practice and refinement of these techniques to a minority Turkic people in Xinjiang.
Just as in the Falun Gong case, the goal of all this activity seems simple enough: to erase the religious (and in the Uighur case, cultural and ethnic) identities of the target peoples and forcibly assimilate them into the Party’s vision of normalcy. In other words, to make every Chinese subject legible, homogeneous, and manageable.
 巴音郭楞蒙古自治州人民政府网站 [Internet]. [cited 15 Jun 2018]. Available: https://web.archive.org/web/20180615215749/http://zwgk.xjbz.gov.cn/jj503/html/jj503-2100-2017-00005.htm; with thanks to Adrian Zenz for references to this and many other other official sources.
 Pomfret J, Pan PP. Torture is breaking Falun Gong; China systematically eradicating group. Washington Post. 2001; A1.
 Though the work of assiduous scholars like Adrian Zenz and others have performed a great service by building a partial picture. Cf. Zenz A. “Thoroughly Reforming them Toward a Healthy Heart Attitude” – China’s Political Re-Education Campaign in Xinjiang. Available: https://www.academia.edu/36638456/_Thoroughly_Reforming_them_Toward_a_Healthy_Heart_Attitude_-_Chinas_Political_Re-Education_Campaign_in_Xinjiang
 Perry EJ. Challenging the mandate of heaven: popular protest in modern China. Crit Asian Stud. Taylor & Francis; 2001;33: 163–180.
 See chapter three in Gutmann E. The slaughter: mass killings, organ harvesting, and China’s secret solution to its dissident problem. Prometheus Books Amherst; 2014.
 Cook S. The Battle for China’s Spirit: Religious Revival, Repression, and Resistance under Xi Jinping. Freedom House; 2017. p. 9.
 These ideas come out most clearly in the early months of the anti-Falun Gong propaganda given prominent placement in People’s Daily, with credit to Caylan Ford for this insight. Cf. Xinhua, ‘Analysis of Falun Gong leader’s malicious fallacies’, July 22 1999; Xinhua, ‘CPC Central Committee forbids Party members to practice Falun Gong,” July 23 1999; PLA, Armed Police support government ban on Falun Gong,” July 24 1999; Xinhua, ‘Falun Gong criticized by scientists and practitioners,’ July 25 1999; Xinhua, “People’s Daily on struggle between materialism and idealism,” July 27 1999;
 Lu Renjie et al., “Criticise and Expose ‘Falun Gong’ Picture Book” [揭批“法 轮 功”板“画” ] China Writers Publishing House (February 2003)
 中共伊宁县委、县政府. 实施“四大活动”推进“去极端化”工作. 中国党政干部论坛. April 2016; 98-100.
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 Xinhua, “Xinhua Commentary on political nature of Falun Gong,” August 1 1999
 From Caylan Ford and Stephen Noakes, “Unsanctioned Religion in an Athiest State: Falun Dafa as Alternative Morality” (forthcoming chapter in edited volume)
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 This data comes from surveys of Falun Gong in the 1990s in Wuhan, Beijing, and elsewhere. Cf. 法轮功武汉学员修心健身效果部分调查 【明慧网】 [Internet]. [cited 15 Jun 2018]. Available: http://www.minghui.org/mh/articles/1999/7/18/%E6%B3%95%E8%BD%AE%E5%8A%9F%E6%AD%A6%E6%B1%89%E5%AD%A6%E5%91%98%E4%BF%AE%E5%BF%83%E5%81%A5%E8%BA%AB%E6%95%88%E6%9E%9C%E9%83%A8%E5%88%86%E8%B0%83%E6%9F%A5-5643p.html; similar findings are present in the work of David Ownby in a general demographic analysis of practitioner composition in North America, cf. Ownby D. Falun Gong and the Future of China. Oxford University Press, USA; 2008. p. 138
 于力 et. al (2015), pp. 13-14.
 新疆穆斯林网 [Internet]. [cited 15 Jun 2018]. Available: http://www.xjmuslim.com/ztbd/2015-12/20/content_481620.htm
Matthew Robertson is a translator and contributing editor for China Change. He was recently a research fellow with the Human Rights Law Foundation in Washington, D.C. He begins a PhD in political science at the Australian National University in 2019.