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Open Letter: A Call for Investigation Into HNA Group’s Activities in the US and Likely Corrupt Ties With Top Communist Party Leaders
China Human Rights Accountability Center, August 15, 2017
We are writing this open letter to express our deepest concerns about the highly suspicious activities of the HNA Group (HNA) in the United States, including the lack of transparency of its ownership, the unclear nature of its plan for charity work, and allegations of large-scale corruption. Based on the mandate of the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, other relevant laws, and in the service of public interest, we strongly urge Congress and relevant administrative agencies to investigate and uncover the true nature of the HNA Group, its asset sources, and intended uses in the United States.
Headquartered in the capital city of Hainan Province, an island off mainland China between the South China Sea and the Gulf of Tonkin, HNA Group started in 1992 as a state-owned enterprise doing business primarily in airlines and tourism. It was re-incorporated around 2000 and began expanding its assets rapidly and mysteriously.
In the last decade alone, the HNA Group transformed itself into the largest acquirer of foreign assets in the U.S. and one of the largest worldwide. The HNA Group is heavily funded by Chinese state-owned bank loans, which have enabled it to leverage into completely unrelated business sectors. With acquisitions, its rank in the Fortune Global 500 list climbed from No. 464 in 2015 to 170 in 2017, and is projected to reach the top 100 in 2018. It is reported that HNA Group’s current total assets exceed $150 billion.
HNA’s ultimate target is to be top 10 in the world, according to its CEO Adam Tan. HNA’s sprawling portfolio now includes Ingram Micro, Avalon, Deutsche Bank, and Hilton Worldwide, to name a few. Its transactions and activities involve former White House Communication Director Anthony Scaramucci and other high profile luminaries including George Soros, David Cameron, and Nicolas Sarkozy. However, HNA remains behind a heavy veil, despite its incomprehensible success. It failed to make any clarifications when various journalists repeatedly raised questions about its ownership structure or how it made its fortune.
We are writing this letter out of concern over what appears to be one of the most generous donations to a U.S. foundation in the history of philanthropy, and its potential connections to unprecedented massive corruption.
On January 31,2017, New York Times first reported that HNA’s largest single shareholder was Guan Jun (贯君), a mysterious man in his 30s who is alleged to be tied to China’s anti-corruption czar Wang Qishan. In June, the Financial Times also reported that Guan Jun purchased 29 percent of the company last year from Hong Kong-based businessman Bharat Bhise. Neither HNA nor Bhise revealed how the stake changed hands up to this transaction.
Only after the Chinese and foreign media began to focus on HNA’s ownership did the company finally release an open letter on July 24 to its employees, associates, and consumers; but even then, it did not list Guan Jun as the largest shareholder. When probed about the disappearance of Guan Jun’s share by a reporter from China Business Network, HNA said Guan is a “private investor” who owned some of the company’s shares, which has now been donated to the Cihang Foundation in New York.
This was confirmed by another Financial Times interview with HNA’s chief executive Adam Tan, who told the British newspaper that a Chinese citizen had donated $18 billion of the ownership of HNA—29 percent of the shares of the HNA Group of China—to a private foundation based in New York: the Hainan Cihang Charity Foundation, the company’s charitable arm in the United States. According to HNA, 53 percent of the company is owned by Cihang foundations, including a 22.8 percent stake held by a sister charity in China. The foundation registered with the New York Department of State on December 7, 2016, and it is currently applying for federal tax-exempt status with the Internal Revenue Service. The foundation says it will support a number of efforts, including anti-poverty work. Suspiciously, its three initial directors are all top executives of HNA, as reported by Wall Street Journal.
To put the size of the donation into context, a single donation of $18 billion will make the New York Cihang second only to the Bill Gates Foundation, the largest private foundation in the world. Cihang foundations — the New York Cihang and Hainan Cihang — now hold tens of billions in total assets.
What was not explained, however, was how the donor Guan Jun, a man in his 30s, acquired such a large share of one of China’s biggest companies in the first place. According to Hong Kong corporate filings, Guan Jun’s registered residential address is a simple apartment in what New York Times reporters found was a dingy, trash-laden building in Beijing, while his business address was registered in the “Oriental Aphrodite Beauty Spa”, a street-side salon in a residential neighborhood in western Beijing. Both proved to be very dubious; Guan does not appear to be the owner or resident of those locations. When asked some of these questions by the Financial Times in a telephone call, his answer was “It is inconvenient to answer any of your questions.” This has been his only comment on the record.
In the interview with the Financial Times, Tan made the surprising admission that Guan, and another shareholder, Bharat Bhise, had never really owned the shares, “but had just held the stake for us.” This claim is inconsistent with the HNA spokesperson’s statement. It remains to be examined how these shares were obtained from HNA, a former state-owned enterprise that had undergone government-managed privatization. HNA’s true relationship with Guan Jun also remains unsettled — HNA claims he does not work for the company, but according to media reports, he serves as co-chairman with the son of HNA’s Chairman Chen Feng in a peer-to-peer financing platform owned by HNA.
Doubts about the company’s unclear ownership structure and claims of corruption allegations have recently caused Bank of America to decide not to do any business with the Chinese conglomerate. Meanwhile, the European Central Bank is reportedly investigating HNA’s nearly 10% stake in Deutsche Bank. On top of this, the New York Attorney General pointed out that the group had not registered in the state as a charity, as required by law, and asked it to do so within 20 days or explain why it has not done so.
Although Chinese citizens were prohibited from asking questions about HNA and its business and political affiliations, there is little doubt that this conglomerate needed close ties with senior leaders of the Chinese Communist Party to achieve such spectacular growth. There is no other possible explanation for how HNA could obtain a seemingly unlimited line of credit from all major state-owned financial institutions in China. Most Chinese people are prohibited from knowing the nature of the HNA transactions. Those who are aware of the hidden fact are outraged by such an abnormal transfer of assets — possibly a grand embezzlement of public wealth — but they are too afraid to protest or speak up because they fear the potential backlash from the individuals who genuinely control the HNA assets, who are likely connected to the very top of the communist regime.
For Congress and the administration, HNA’s unprecedented, massive corruption and dubious transfer of large assets to a U.S.-based “charity” should sound an alarm: Cihang foundations control over 53% of HNA, making Cihang a shell holding company of HNA, one of the top companies in the world, not a charity.
We suspect that HNA’s largest shareholder Guan Jun may have acquired his 29.5% share ownership by siphoning public assets through government manipulated privatizations, because public records provide no evidence that he purchased these shares fairly.
Consistent with Guan Jun’s murky identity, only very high level political privileges can explain why HNA was able to grow at a parabolic rate, fueled by bank lending and easy access to hard currency, despite China’s tight capital controls. In addition to alleged connections of Guan Jun with Wang Qishan, HNA’s chairman of the board, Chen Feng was a former PLA officer, worked under Wang Qishan for a project of the now defunct China Agriculture Trust Investment Co., and has “been a delegate to three national congresses of the Chinese Communist Party since 2002, spanning the presidencies of Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping”, as reported by Nikkei. HNA’s business took off when Wang Qishan became Hainan’s Party chief in 2002. In Chen Feng’s most recent public appearance, he accompanied Xi Jinping on Xi’s state visit to the U.K in 2015, where he was received by then-Prime Minister David Cameron on the same stage with Xi.
HNA bypassed scrutiny while acting as a state sovereign investment company. On the other hand, given the opacity of the ownership and its special connections, we are concerned that it could very well be controlled by individuals and families connected with the top of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), operating through a shadowy Guan Jun. Cihang will provide a shelter for CCP leaders’ families to retain their wealth, which they could only have obtained through corruption. Cihang may thus become a beachhead for the CCP to influence the U.S. government and public.
If this is the case, such an entity would be liable for examination per the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, passed in December 2016 (NDAA 2017, section 1261-1265) as the law aims at sanctioning officials or their senior associates who have committed “expropriation of private or public assets for personal gain, corruption related to government contracts or the extraction of natural resources, bribery, or the facilitation or transfer of the proceeds of corruption to foreign jurisdictions.”
Therefore, we ask the U.S. Congress and the administration to support the following:
- Conduct an independent investigation into all transactions and assets held by HNA and its U.S. -based business affiliates in connection with alleged corruption by CCP leaders;
- Conduct an independent investigation of the source of funding for HNA and Cihang’s U.S. operations in connection with alleged corruption by CCP leaders;
- Hold an open hearing through the U.S. Congress regarding the above investigations;
- Suspend approval of HNA’s application for the tax-exempt status until the completion of the above investigations;
- Suspend approval of all HNA’s business mergers and acquisitions in the United States until the completion of the above investigations;
- Audit HNA’s U.S.-based companies, NY Cihang Foundation, and Guan Jun’s donation and suspend their operations in the U.S. until the completion of the above investigations.
Contact: Fengsuo Zhou, Email: email@example.com
China Human Rights Accountability Center was formed in January 2017 by a group of mostly U. S.-based Chinese activists to promote and assist the implementation of the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.
Paul Mooney, Shanshan Zou, Sandra Fu contributed to this letter.
Financial Times: HNA chief shrugs off regulatory and ownership concerns
Financial Times: Who owns HNA, China’s most aggressive dealmaker?
Financial Times: ECB probes HNA and Qatar Stakes in Deutsche Bank
New York Times: Behind an $18 Billion Donation to a New York Charity, a Shadowy Chinese Conglomerate
New York Times: HNA dealing with Scaramucci, first report of Guan Jun
Regulatory filing of AID in Hong Kong, a HNA shell lists Guan Jun as shareholder
Wall Street Journal: HNA has deepened the uncertainties around the New York foundation that is its biggest shareholder by changing its reason for not registering yet with the state.
Bloomberg: Bank of America Halts Deals With HNA Amid Debt Concerns
Wall Street Journal: HNA’s Biggest Shareholder Doesn’t Really Exist Yet
Bloomberg: Don’t fly in the dark, HNA
Bloomberg: HNA’s NYC Charity Owner Told by A.G. to Register With State
HKEJ: The ties that bind: HNA’s Chen Feng and his rise to power
Fortune: You’ve Never Heard of HNA Group. Here’s Why You Will
Nikkei: Questions mount over HNA’s financial engineering
Why HNA is on a buying binge?
Hainan Cihang registration at New York Department of State:
Cihang’s tax filing, 2016
Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act
Chang Ping, May 18, 2017
“Corruption is not just the result of money being misused, but the lack of a fair and transparent mechanism itself.”
God said: “Let there be light,” and then there was light. Xi Jinping said: “A ‘Project of the Century’ must be undertaken,” and then there was “One Belt, One Road.” At the just-completed summit in Beijing, Xi Jinping announced that China will invest hundreds of billions of U.S. dollars in 60 countries to lead in the construction of bridges, railways, ports and energy projects. This venture is known as “One Belt, One Road,” and involves more than 60 percent of the world’s population. It’s projected to transform the global political and economic order, and can be said to be the largest overseas investment project undertaken by a single country in history.
Where does such an unprecedented, magnificent, and spectacular plan come from? How many Chinese were aware of it in advance? Was it critically evaluated? And what was the outcome of the evaluation? Other than Xi Jinping, there is probably no one who can answer these questions. And no one knows if he himself has carefully thought about it. People can at least learn about almighty God by reading the Bible. But the “One Belt, One Road” plan of renewing the world only consists of a few pages of empty speeches and some conference documents. According to Chinese media descriptions, the whole world is heralding the birth of a new savior.
‘One Belt, One Road’: Don’t Ask Me Where I Came From
It’s been 500 years since Martin Luther’s Protestant Reformation, but in China a corrupt “church” still monopolizes everything. Rational Europeans cast a suspicious eye. German Chancellor Angela Merkel did not attend the forum and “join in the festivities,” and the German Minister for Economics and Energy, Brigitte Zypries, who attended the event, criticized the unclear source of capital in China’s acquisition of German companies. Minister Zypries should also see that the lack of clarity does not just apply to the origin of part of the capital, but the whole “One Belt, One Road” project.
Joerg Wuttke, President of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China, said in a recent interview: “I hope China is actually embracing the world and opening up to foreign trade instead of just reaching out.” Risk analyst Andrew Gilholm said: “I don’t think many people are buying the spin that this is all in the name of free trade and global prosperity.” Siegfried O. Wolf, Director of Research at South Asia Democratic Forum in Brussels, was even more candid: “At present there is a lack of an effective platform for ‘One Bridge, One Road’ cooperation between Europe and China. If China is reluctant to build this bridge, and is unwilling to move toward multilateral mechanisms and disregards the values of the European Union based on good governance, rule of law, human rights, and democracy, then European skepticism of ‘One Belt, One Road’ will continue.”
Countries outside Europe aren’t irrational either. U.S. President Donald Trump, a businessman, has adopted a wait-and-see attitude toward China’s Creation Project, and only sent National Security Council Asia Director Matthew Pottinger to attend the meeting. Australia rejected China’s invitation. India boycotted the summit, saying that the “One Belt, One Road” project ignored “core concerns about sovereignty and territorial integrity.” Many of the leaders attending the summit are autocrats who don’t care about the questionable origin of China’s funding, and know the Chinese government doesn’t care how the investment is actually used once it’s given.
Buy One, Give Two Away: Corruption and the Deterioration of Human Rights
Many Chinese believe that Xi Jinping is leading a fight against corruption. What is corruption? Corruption is not just the result of money being misused, but the lack of a fair and transparent mechanism itself. In this sense, the lack of democratic supervision of “One Belt, One Road” is a mechanism for corruption. As with all large projects in China, there is no restriction on power, and this inevitably results in the criminal activities of corruption, rent-seeking, giving and taking bribes and money laundering.
While the Chinese media was obediently singing the praises of “One Belt, One Road” and its benefit to all mankind, a Chinese netizen posted the comment: “Some people lamented that overnight we’ve returned to the Song Dynasty [translator’s note: Song is a homonym for “give away” in Mandarin]. Others asked: the Southern Song Dynasty or the Northern Song Dynasty? Answer: No, it’s not ‘Southern Song Dynasty or Northern Song Dynasty,’ it’s the ‘Eastern Song [Give-Away] Dynasty’ and ‘Western Song [Give-Away] Dynasty!” Without public oversight, an unelected leader can take hundreds of billions of U.S. dollars in taxpayers’ money and give it to authoritarian states. The only thing that taxpayers can do is sneer at and mock it. Can a sane person believe that this is a good thing?
In the process of cooking up “One Belt, One Road,” China’s human rights situation has significantly deteriorated and threatens the whole world. Can all these—the kidnapping of Hong Kong booksellers, the coerced confessions of journalists, NGO workers, dissidents, and activists on China Central Television (CCTV), the disappearance of a Taiwanese human rights worker, and the cruel torture suffered by a large number of Chinese human rights lawyers—make you believe that such a government, which is expanding its economic and political clout through the “One Belt, One Road” program, will bring a New Gospel to mankind?
Chang Ping is a Chinese media veteran and current events commentator now living in political exile in Germany.
This is a Deutsche Welle column. Translated by China Change.
Also by Chang Ping:
China’s ‘Freedom’ Cage, by Chang Ping, 2015.
We’d Be Satisfied With Any Government!, October, 2015.
An interview with Chang Ping:
January 10, 2017
On December 23, 2016, President Obama signed into law “The Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act” (NDAA 2017, section 1261-1265). The law authorizes the U.S. president to levy sanctions against foreign nationals who engage in the following acts: significant corruption, extrajudicial killings, torture, violation of international human rights covenants, and persecution of those who expose government corruption or seek to defend internationally recognized human rights.
The mechanisms it provides to the president to carry out such sanctions include prohibiting or revoking U.S. entry visas or other entry documentation; freezing and prohibiting U.S. property transactions of an individual if such property and property interests are in the United States, come within the United States, or are in or come within the control of a U.S. person or entity.
The absence of democratic election, rule of law, and checks and balances, breeds corruption. As a result, power and money work hand in hand to pillage the people and society.
The Chinese communist regime is unrestrained in violating China’s own law and internationally recognized human rights standards. Its barbaric attack on civil society actors is widely known; forced disappearances, torture in custody, illegal and arbitrary detention, and use of severe prison terms have become routine.
While the regime acts at will to violate its own laws or alter them as it sees fit, it has also established an extralegal apparatus dedicated to human rights persecution, systematically targeting rights defenders.
The Chinese Communist regime uses the promise of profit to turn interest groups in China into violators of human rights — and these human rights violators in turn operate under the shelter of the regime, never punished for their transgressions.
As human rights defenders, we will use this new U.S. law, as well as similar laws that have been and will be passed in other countries, as a tool to bring sanctions against Chinese human rights violators and corrupt officials.
We hereby announce the joint establishment of the China Human Rights Accountability Center (中国人权问责中心).
The Center will conduct the following tasks:
- Collect cases, data, and evidence on Chinese human rights violators and corrupt officials;
- Write reports based on such data and evidence;
- Push the U.S. government to enforce the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, to ensure that specific and effective sanctions are taken against human rights violators;
- Promote the establishment of similar human rights accountability legislation in other democratic countries.
The work of the office will be conducted in the San Francisco Bay Area and in Washington, D.C.
Founders (not in order of importance):
Hu Jia (胡佳), Yaxue Cao (曹雅学), Zhou Fengsuo (周锋锁), Yang Jianli (杨建利), Chen Guangcheng (陈光诚), Teng Biao (滕彪), Han Lianchao (韩连潮), Bob Fu (傅希秋), Fang Zheng (方政), Tong Mu (童木).
(The official website is under construction. Inquiries may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org)
2016年12月23日，美国总统奥巴马签署了全球马格尼茨基人权问责法(The Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act) (《2017财政年度国防授权法》第 1261-1265节)，该法案正式成为美国法律。
Zhuang Liehong, November 23, 2016
“Wukan is a big prison now. Scores of villagers have been detained, including my father. Police patrol the streets and roads, and life is difficult.” – Wukan villager Zhuang Liehong
Wukan, a fishing village in eastern Guangdong Province, occupies an area of about 5,765 acres and has a population of 13,000. Since 1993, corrupt officials have conspired with businessmen to secretly sell off the collectively-owned, arable village land, and pocket the proceeds.
This led to large-scale petitions and protests to defend villagers’ rights from 2009 to 2011. As they fought for their land and for democracy in their village, Wukan residents were faced with extreme hardship, and the local government did everything it could — including plots and conspiracies — to deny and block these demands. In 2011, the authorities launched a crackdown on the village, and a number of the key villagers involved in defending their rights, including myself, were arrested. Xue Jinbo (薛锦波) was treated particularly cruelly, and died in prison.
Under the gaze of international media, then-Party chief of Guangdong Province (and current Politburo member and vice premier), Wang Yang (汪洋), made a show of goodwill, sending Zhu Mingguo (朱明国), then-vice Party secretary of Guangdong, to the village to ease tensions, affirm that the villagers’ demands were legitimate, and promise that the demands would be met. Now, however, it appears that all this was simply the government buying time while the world was watching.
In 2012, after Wukan formed its own democratically-elected village committee, the government used a range of methods to sow discord among villagers, erode the bonds of trust between them, lay traps for the most active village rights defense activists, and manipulate and control public opinion. Four years on, the government has put overwhelming emphasis on “stability maintenance” (meaning police and other security forces), and has not met any of the villagers’ demands for the return of the stolen land. Between 2012 and 2016, the authorities arrested one villager, (Zhang Dejia [张德家]), and sentenced three others — Hong Ruichao (洪锐潮), Yang Semao (杨色茂), and Lin Zuluan (林祖銮) — to prison.
In order to avoid the same fate, I fled to the United States on January 27, 2014, and applied for political asylum. For 85 days between June 19 and September 12, 2016, Wukan villagers organized daily protest marches through the streets, with about 4,000 participants every day.
On September 13, they were violently suppressed by thousands of riot police.
At about 3 a.m. on September 13, a battalion of armed police moved on the village, raiding houses and arresting 13 villagers that the government considered to be the most high-profile, including my father, Zhuang Songkun (庄松坤). Come dawn, thousands of fully-armed People’s Armed Police locked down village street intersections, dividing the crowd and then crushing the protest. They fired countless rounds of rubber bullets, and volleyed canisters of tear gas and shock grenades into the unarmed villagers. Then they began surrounding and violently beating villagers, without regard to whether they were old, women, or children. Faced with this violent, armed suppression, villagers resorted to throwing rocks and bricks. Hundreds of villagers were injured during the conflict, and reports indicate that an old woman died after being shot twice with rubber bullets. Nearly 100 villagers are believed to have been arrested.
Following the incident a large number of armed police, SWAT teams, and plainclothes officers installed themselves on practically every street corner in the village, even organizing patrols along the thoroughfares and back alleys. They severed internet access to block news about what happened from getting out, and stopped Hong Kong and international media from getting in. While all this was taking place, official media published gravely false reports about the suppression of the village. In the nearly three months since then, Wukan has become one big prison. Heavily armed riot police patrol the streets and alleys, members of the village Party committee act as spies, and the arbitrary arrest of villagers continues.
There are multiple indications that the violent suppression of Wukan this time was carried out on the direct orders of the Guangdong provincial government. Reports say that the vice-secretary of Guangdong was commanding the suppression from the nearby city of Lufeng (陆丰市), and that the thousands of riot and SWAT police deployed had been mobilized from the Huizhou Military District (惠州军区). The only one authorized to bring this level of force to bear is the current Guangdong Party secretary, Hu Chunhua (胡春华), so I’m positive that the violent suppression of Wukan was ordered by him.
On September 19, activist Yao Cheng (姚诚), a friend, and I were on our way to the United Nations headquarters in New York City to protest, when we were accosted and harassed by over a dozen men in identical black suits and blue raincoats — apparently national security agents from Chinese premier Li Keqiang’s (李克强) security detail. After we all got into an argument, one of the men took an open letter I handed to him, addressed to the Chinese Consul General in New York. We proceeded to the designated area at the UN and held our protest as planned. The following morning, however, I was shocked to receive a telephone call from the Lufeng public security bureau, who had detained my father, and were forcing him to tell me to keep quiet. On the one hand I was so glad to be in America, yet also realized that my right to express myself freely here is still limited by the Chinese authorities, and my own personal safety is even put at risk.
Wukan is still fraught with tension and conflict: the villagers have had two thirds of their land stolen from them, and this already put their basic livelihood under enormous pressure. Now, the entire area has been turned into a jail. So many villagers have been badly injured and arrested, which is another severe blow. Many families don’t even have the money to pay for proper medical treatment, and now rely on relatives from nearby villages to send them rations just so they can survive.
For all these reasons, I make the following demands of the Chinese authorities:
I. Cease the suppression and detention of Wukan villagers;
II. Release Lin Zuluan, Hong Ruichao, Yang Semao, Wei Yonghan (魏永汉), Zhang Xiangkang (张向坑), Yang Jinzhen (杨锦贞), Yang Shaoji (杨少集), Liu Hanchai (刘汉钗), Hong Yongzhong (洪永忠), Zhuang Songkun, Lin Desheng (林德升) and all other Wukan villagers who sought to defend their legal rights to the village land, and release the body — or, if still alive, the person — of the 80-year-old grandmother who was shot twice at close range with rubber bullets and reportedly killed;
III. Arrange for the immediate medical care of the roughly 100 villagers who were severely injured by riot police, and who are now hiding in their homes attempting to recover;
IV. Return the stolen land to Wukan village;
V. Hold accountable the chief culprit that orchestrated the violent suppression of peaceful Wukan villagers on September 13: Guangdong Party Secretary Hu Chunhua.
Wukan villager Zhuang Liehong (庄烈宏)
November 22, 2016
By Chang Ping, published: October 18, 2015
“Everyone’s already used to it, and that’s precisely the problem.”
Now the United Nations has its own, China-style “big tiger.” The former head of the UN General Assembly, John Ashe, is being charged with taking bribes from numerous Chinese business interests, and was arrested near New York City recently. The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, expressed his shock, requesting the UN’s internal supervisory agency to begin its own procedures. Corruption in any form at the UN, or in the name of the UN, would not be tolerated, he said.
How close this script is to the anti-corruption campaign going on in China. When Xi Jinping expresses surprise at the severity of the corruption at high levels of the regime, Chinese people all know that it’s part of the act—Xi understands officialdom like the back of his hand. I’m sure that Ban Ki-moon is not in quite the same position, but I must still say: Mr. Ban Ki-moon, if you really understood China’s ubiquitous culture of corruption; if you understood how China’s influence on every aspect of the world is increasing; and if you understood the attitude that the UN you lead has toward China, you really wouldn’t be so surprised.
John Ashe received bribes from the Chinese real estate developer Wu Lisheng (吴立胜) to the order of $1.3 million. This money allowed him to push forward a UN project to build a conference center in Macau—with Wu Lisheng’s company as the contractor. Let’s take note of the details surrounding the case exposed by U.S. attorney Preet Bharara: “As alleged in the indictment, for Rolexes, bespoke suits, and a private basketball court, John Ashe, the 68th President of the U.N. General Assembly, sold himself and the global institution he led.” Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was corruption. Just like officialdom in China, it accumulated bit by bit, with gold watches, fine suits, and nights of entertainment.
A Habitat for ‘Tigers’
A few years ago a reporter with The Washington Post told me that in America, one can’t accept a meal from a source being interviewed. I said: What about China? He said that if you tried to stick to this principle in China, you’d lose a lot of sources. I have some foreign journalist friends in China, but I’m too embarrassed to broach this kind of subject with them. It would be as laughable as living in a garbage dump and talking to people about not littering.
A German friend told me that when Chinese and German companies do business together, the Chinese side always demands that the Germans travel to the airport to pick them up, especially when a company leader is coming. The demand is the same even if the airport is several cities and many hours drive away. The Germans are always perplexed. Moreover, the Chinese are only willing to get down to business over a meal. Consulting companies explain it away as Chinese culture—if you want to do business, then fit in.
But picking up company heads from the airport isn’t merely a matter of etiquette; it reinforces the Communist Party’s official culture of hierarchy. In China, restaurants and bars aren’t just places for eating and drinking. In a recent article in ChinaFile, the Beijing-based American writer James Palmer gave a detailed description of the sexual and monetary favors and bribes exchanged in the course of doing business in China. Palmer called the system “The Bro Code,” and it started at the dining table.
A senior journalist at the Hamburg Evening News told me that they’ve received letters from the Chinese consulate on a number of occasions, attempting to interfere in the paper’s reporting. He said that the editorial department usually just ignores them—dictatorships like to interfere in freedom of the press; so the press gets used to it. I responded: If a department of the German government sent you one of these letters, would you also just brush it aside? He admitted that this would indeed be a major scandal, and that the media would lodge a serious protest. Everyone knows that one of the reasons the former German president, Christian Wilhelm Walter Wulff, resigned was because he had made a menacing phone call to the chief editor of Bild-Zeitung, thus interfering in the freedom of the press. Evidently the media in Western countries hold a double standard: on the one hand, they demand that their own democratic governments be upright in all respects, and on the other allow dictatorships to act as they please. Everyone’s already used to it, and that’s precisely the problem.
The Chinese government has been successful in convincing many Chinese people that entertainment and politics can be separated. At a hearing in the U.S. Congress on October 7, Rep. Brad Sherman remarked that China’s control of freedom of expression has already exceeded its national borders, and that Hollywood is now catering to Chinese censors’ tastes.
I speak of these anecdotes, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, because I’m sure you already know that when Xi Jinping goes visiting, even countries like France, the cradle of our modern conceptions of human rights, can be made to shut their mouths and not say a word about human rights and other contentious issues. I just want to let you know, prior to the recent shocking news, the sort of relationship China has had with countries around the world.
Appeasement and Corruption Go Together
Let’s now look at the case of the United Nations. In May this year, I was at an international human rights forum in São Paulo, Brazil. I heard the presentation of an international human rights group supported by the UN that had conducted an investigation of the American military’s abuse of prisoners in custody in Afghanistan. I asked them: why don’t you also go and investigate the even worse abuses in the Masanjia Women’s Labor Camp in China? The response: “China’s hard to deal with.”
I believe that this is also the attitude of the UN. The UN is right to publicly condemn the abuses of the American military; but Mr. Ban Ki-moon, do you really not know about the “black jails” all over China that regularly deal out more inhuman brutality? Why don’t they warrant a mention from you?
Mr. Ban Ki-moon, a couple of weeks ago Xi Jinping was in New York with you speaking at the UN Women conference. But you must surely know that the Chinese police, on the eve of International Women’s Day in March, arrested the “Feminist Five” who had planned to protest against sexual harassment on public transportation. They’re still not free. You must also know that Gao Yu, a journalist and the recipient of UNESCO’s Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize, human rights activist Liu Ping, rights lawyer Wang Yu, and many other women have been locked up by the Chinese government. You must also know the case of rights activist Ms. Cao Shunli, who was arrested in September 2013 en route to attend a meeting of the United Nation’s Human Rights Council. By March of 2014 she died of abuse in custody.
When UN Women says not a word of protest about these incidents, how different is it from the All-China Women’s Federation controlled by the Communist Party? Mr. Ban Ki-moon, when Xi Jinping held a grand military parade on September 3, you accepted the invitation and appeared on the rostrum above Tiananmen Square to observe it. Did you really not see how it resembled nothing other than the military parades held by Nazi Germany 70 years ago? Even Hitler didn’t shut down factory production and seal off the ovens of peasants to engineer “military parade blue” skies.
Mr. Ban Ki-moon, you probably think that these political choices all differ from the question of accepting bribes. But let me tell you, all this is itself a type of corruption, and doesn’t conform to the core values of the United Nations. The Chinese government, just like the real estate developers it works so closely with, believe that everything can be solved with money. Go and ask Mr. Ashe, and he’ll likely say that this is how the corruption started: “I was respecting the customs of the Chinese people.” Playing a round of tennis, accepting a watch…
Even though Xi Jinping can’t live up to it himself, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, I’d like to give you these words to remember: fighting corruption means “going after flies and tigers at the same time.” With all the misconduct around you, you oughtn’t be surprised by the revelation of “big tigers.”
Chang Ping (长平) was the former chief commentator and news director of Southern Weekend (《南方周末》). He writes columns for the South China Morning Post, Deutsche Welle, and a number of Chinese language websites. Forced to leave China and then Hong Kong, he currently lives in Germany.
原文《长平观察：潘基文先生，您不必如此震惊》, translated by China Change.
Present-Day Ethnic Problems in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region: Overview and Recommendations (7) – Governmental Competence and Credibility
By Ilham Tohti, translated by Cindy Carter, published: May 12, 2015
Continued from I. Unemployment, II. Bilingual Education, III. Religion, IV. Ethnic Alienation and Segregation, V. Distrust of Ethnic Minority Officials and Intellectuals, and VI. The Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps.
VII. Governmental Competence and Credibility
There is a vast disparity between economic and social development in Xinjiang and in other regions of mainland China. This disparity extends to the official mindset: at all levels of government in Xinjiang, we encounter a mentality that falls far short of what is needed to govern and manage Xinjiang’s societal complexities.
The class struggle and dictatorial mindset that died out so long ago in other parts of China (particularly in the economically-developed coastal regions) still exists, to varying degrees, in some places in Xinjiang. Compared to other regions of mainland China, Xinjiang retains more aspects of the planned economy: officials at all levels are inclined to be heavy-handed, and local officials have the final say in what crops farmers are allowed to plant. This occurs not only within the Corps: in some areas, it is only within the last year or two that farmers have won the right to manage their own agricultural activities. Uighur farmers in southern Xinjiang are still in the habit of referring to the township government as “The Commune,” because many people don’t sense that tremendous changes have transformed China’s society.
Xinjiang’s cadres and officials have a weak grasp of modern concepts of legality. There is a distinct “generation gap” in the mentality of cadres in Xinjiang’s developed cities, such as Urumqi, and their contemporaries in even more developed regions of China; likewise, there is a “generation gap” in the mindset of cadres in rural southern Xinjiang and cadres in Xinjiang’s more developed northern cities. During the July 2009 ethnic unrest, rural cadres from southern Xinjiang were transferred to Urumqi en masse to help maintain order; their behavior was so boorish that even the local cadres in Urumqi were appalled.
The program to transfer laborers from Xinjiang to Shaoguan in Guangdong Province [where the “Shaoguan Incident” of June 25-26, 2009, took place] started out as a positive and worthwhile endeavor. The way in which it was carried out, however, called to mind coercive methods that were more prevalent in the 1980s: home demolitions, forced relocations, land confiscation, and so on. Poor governance at the grassroots level doomed the program from the start, and bred a climate of suspicion and resistance.
In southern Xinjiang in particular, Chinese cadres are very nearly regarded as “stand-ins” for all Han Chinese, representatives of an entire race of people. As such, if their methods of governing are unjust or inept, conflicts between citizens and officials can easily escalate into ethnic conflict.
Therefore, we may surmise that the quality of Xinjiang’s cadres is a decisive factor in determining how smoothly the government can implement its policies there.
Zhang Chunxian now faces the test of rebuilding the government’s image within the community. There are two aspects to this test: the former is restoring government credibility, the latter is convincing citizens that they will not be punished for exercising their right to free speech.
Regarding the former: Between the Shaoguan incident of June 2009 and the syringe attacks later that year, there were all sorts of rumors flying in both the Han Chinese and Uighur communities. Certainly, this was the result of long-simmering ethnic tensions and mutual distrust, but it also reflected the local government’s approach to handling news and information. Over the years, this approach has eroded public trust in the media and made people unwilling to believe anything the government has to say.
Regarding the latter: in Xinjiang’s peculiar legal environment, people can be punished just for speaking out—and punished very severely. This pervasive, coercive atmosphere of fear still exists.
Xinjiang’s remoteness, an economy still dominated by centralized planning, social development that lags behind other areas of China, and two decades of political upheaval on its periphery have naturally led to the dictatorial mindset that prevails at all levels of Xinjiang’s local government.
In addition, local governments in Xinjiang are tasked with providing jobs to demobilized military officers, which means that a large proportion of Xinjiang’s grassroots cadres are former military officers. Long years of indoctrination about being the “first line of defense,” combined with military working methods, has given rise to a unique governing style among Xinjiang’s lower-level cadres. Particularly in southern Xinjiang, where living and working conditions are difficult, grassroots cadres are selected primarily for their political qualifications and reliability. As for overall mindset and quality of character, these are not even on the list of criteria, and Xinjiang’s limited resources make it impossible to provide systematic training for grassroots cadres spread far and wide.
Since 1997, overall society in Xinjiang has been in a state of high alert against “the three forces” [of terrorism, religious extremism and separatism], thus further strengthening the dictatorial tendencies of Xinjiang’s grassroots cadres. When it comes to dealing with societal and ethnic conflicts, they are resolved to do whatever it takes to smother potential conflict as quickly as possible before it can spread.
Thoughts and Recommendations
- Crack down on corruption. Official corruption in Xinjiang is far more brazen than in other parts of China, and its methods and nature even more vile. The only way to restore people’s confidence in government is to eliminate corruption.
- Conduct training for all cadres in the areas of legal regulations, effective governance, and civilized law enforcement. Supplement this with various and convenient methods of social supervision and public reporting to enhance and improve awareness among Xinjiang’s cadres.
- Enhance information transparency. Learning from the experiences of more progressive areas of China and allowing local media more latitude to function will create a positive atmosphere that empowers the community and boosts public morale.
- When transferring or exchanging cadres, focus on sending cadres to (or accepting them from) the southeastern seaboard region, the major metropolises of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, and similarly developed areas, while reducing the number of cadres from the north. Use the latest ideas and concepts from these developed areas to influence awareness and promote a positive change in local attitudes.
- When recruiting and promoting cadres or civil servants, focus on quality of character, vision, experience and other factors, and place less emphasis on political reliability or obedience.
- At an opportune moment, release a group of intellectuals who have been unfairly detained, unfairly arrested and unfairly convicted—for example, Memetjan Abdulla of the China National Radio Uighur service, or Xinjiang Economic Daily reporter Gheyret Niyaz (Niyaz, an intellectual who grew up in a military family, repeatedly tried to warn local authorities of the danger signs before the July 2009 violence in Urumqi). Releasing some of these individuals as a sign of goodwill would send a positive message to the Uighur community and help to allay some of its pessimism and frustration.
 The Shaoguan incident of June 25-26, 2009, was a violent dispute between Uighur and Han Chinese migrant workers at a toy factory in Shaoguan, Guangdong Province. The dispute began with allegations of the sexual assault of a Han Chinese woman, and escalated into a conflict in which at least two Uighurs were killed and hundreds injured (witness reports and casualty estimates vary.) The Shaoguan incident was likely a contributing factor to the July 2009 ethnic violence in Urumqi. – Translator
- My Ideals and the Career Path I Have Chosen, Ilham Tohti’s autobiographic essay.
- Ilham Tohti’s Statement after Receiving a Life Sentence for Allegedly “Separatist” Crimes, September 25, 2014.
- Ilham Tohti Says, September 17, 2014
- Excerpts from “My West China, Your East Turkestan” — My View on the Kunming Incident, by Wang Lixiong, March 3, 2014
Chinese original: 《伊力哈木：当前新疆民族问题的现状及建议》