Posts Tagged ‘Communist Party’

China, Taiwan spar over Chinese diplomat’s invasion threat

December 11, 2017

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FILE PHOTO: A pro-China supporter adjusts a China national flag during a rally calling for peaceful reunification, days before the inauguration ceremony of President-elect Tsai Ing-wen, in Taipei, Taiwan May 14, 2016. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu Reuters

BEIJING/TAIPEI (Reuters) – A threat by a senior Chinese diplomat to invade Taiwan the instant any U.S. warship visits the self-ruled island has sparked a war of words, with Taipei accusing Beijing of failing to understand what democracy means.

China considers Taiwan to be a wayward province and has never renounced the use of force to bring it under its control. The United States has no formal ties with Taiwan but is bound by law to help it defend itself and is its main source of arms.

Beijing regularly calls Taiwan the most sensitive and important issue between it and the United States. In September, the U.S. Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act for the 2018 fiscal year, which authorises mutual visits by navy vessels between Taiwan and the United States.

Diplomat Li Kexin said at a Chinese embassy event in Washington on Friday he had told U.S. officials that China would activate its Anti-Secession Law, which allows it to use force on Taiwan if deemed necessary to prevent the island from seceding, if the United States sent navy ships to Taiwan.

“The day that a U.S. Navy vessel arrives in Kaohsiung is the day that our People’s Liberation Army unifies Taiwan with military force,” Chinese media quoted Li as saying at the weekend, referring to Taiwan’s main port.

Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry said late on Saturday that, while Chinese officials seemed to want to try and win over hearts and minds in Taiwan, they also had been repeatedly using threats that hurt the feelings of Taiwan’s people.

“These methods show a lack of knowledge about the real meaning of the democratic system and how a democratic society works,” the ministry said.

China suspects Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, who leads the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party, wants to declare the island’s formal independence. Tsai says she wants to maintain peace with China but will defend Taiwan’s security.

Influential Chinese tabloid the Global Times, published by the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily, said on Monday China would never back down over Taiwan.

“The Chinese mainland has never given up the option of Taiwan reunification by force, which is clear to people across the Taiwan Strait,” it said in an editorial.

“Li’s words have sent a warning to Taiwan and drew a clear red line. If Taiwan attempts to hold an independence referendum or other activities in pursuit of de jure ‘Taiwan independence’, the PLA will undoubtedly take action,” it said.

Speaking at a daily news briefing on Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said China would continue to maintain the principle of peaceful unification.

“At the same time, we will resolutely safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he told reporters.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Jess Macy Yu; Additional reporting by Michael Martina in BEIJING; Editing by Paul Tait & Simon Cameron-Moore)


The Underclass That Threatens Xi’s ‘China Dream’ — “Low End Workers” Being Swept Out of Beijing — The Marxist Contradictions That Kill Communism

December 5, 2017

Beijing’s mass evictions of migrants cast a chill over Xi’s lofty equality goals

SHANGHAI—As a Marxist thinker who sees the world in terms of titanic struggles between opposing social forces, Xi Jinping has put his finger on China’s main challenge.

It is, he told a Communist Party gathering in October, the conflict between people’s desire for a better life and “unbalanced and inadequate development.” In a commentary, Xinhua News Agency explained that if such a “principal contradiction” is left unresolved, “it can lead to chaos and eventually, as Marx predicted, to revolution.”

The first test of this new dialectic wasn’t long in coming. A fire that killed 19 migrant workers in a tenement on Beijing’s outskirts highlighted the inequalities Mr. Xi was alluding to. Rural migrants built modern Beijing and other megacities as welders and scaffolders, painters and plasterers. They now collect the trash, deliver lunchboxes to gleaming office towers, nanny the babies of affluent families and guard the mansions of the superrich.

The answer from Beijing authorities to the tragedy: flatten migrants’ dilapidated dwellings and expel the capital’s most vulnerable inhabitants.

If this is how Mr. Xi intends to resolve the contradictions that cloud China’s future, expect trouble ahead.

A popular revolt isn’t in the cards. The migrants themselves, dazed and fearful, have mostly submitted to their fate. They have few means to organize. Many simply melted back to their villages

Still, the plight of tens of thousands of refugees, dragging their wheeled suitcases through rubble in subzero temperatures, struck a chord among Beijing’s middle classes. Some donated food and blankets. Critics threw back at authorities the disdainful official appellation for the urban underclass: “low-end population.” Internet censors quickly blocked the term.

A group of lawyers, artists and public intellectuals were so scandalized they circulated a signed petition online that attacked what they called “a serious violation of human rights.”

It remains to be seen how long this sympathy will last. Beijingers in general resent migrants for swamping city services, bringing crime, clogging the streets with unlicensed motorbikes and depleting scarce water resources.

Yet wealthy urbanites have their own jumble of contradictions to resolve. After decades of frenetic economic growth they are demanding cleaner air and safer food. Many are angry at corruption that buys coveted school places and access to hospitals. The social compact in which citizens traded away political freedom for economic prosperity is fraying. Increasingly, a demanding public expects the government to listen and respond sensitively to its grievances.

Mr. Xi has recognized all these pressures, hence his drive to deliver improved living conditions even as the economy slows. So far, he’s scored highly with an anticorruption campaign, along with efforts to combat air pollution and restore blue skies.

The big question facing the Xi administration is whether these contradictions will eventually yield to his style of governance: ruthlessly authoritarian, focused on imposing top-down discipline rather than canvassing diverse views from society below. Beijing has set strict population-control targets and many residents believe authorities used the tenement fire merely as an excuse to squeeze out migrants.

Behind Mr. Xi’s confident narrative about his country’s emergence as a global superpower at the recent 19th Communist Party Congress is a more fragile reality.

China’s invincible rise is a myth. The contradictions have grown big enough to threaten the party’s rule. A deep cleavage between privileged urban dwellers and the rural poor who serve them could limit the country’s economic prospects for decades to come. Half the country pursues Mr. Xi’s “China Dream” of wealth and power; the other half—the ones still picking their way through Beijing’s blitzed slums—could derail it.

On the outskirts of Beijing, people have been packing up and leaving their homes after receiving eviction notices.Photo: Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Scott Rozelle, a professor at Stanford University, has conducted large-scale surveys on education and health care in what he calls “the other China”—rural hinterlands that are home to 500 million people and produce the migrants. Among his findings: Most kids are sick or malnourished and up to two-thirds struggle with combinations of anemia, worms and uncorrected myopia that set them back at school. More than half the toddlers are so cognitively delayed their IQs will never exceed 90.

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Because of rural backwardness, only 24% of China’s labor force has a high-school education. China ranks dead last among middle-income countries in terms of human capital, says Mr. Rozelle.

The West tracks Mr. Xi’s progress by the billions of dollars he spends on ports and high-speed railways for his Eurasian “Belt and Road” megaproject, by the fortunes he lavishes on robotics and other high-tech industries at home and the even larger sums devoted to his naval buildup.

As Mr. Xi himself suggests, these are the wrong metrics. The Marxist contradictions that challenge his rule don’t necessarily require huge spending: $20 on a pair of glasses to correct a child’s blurred vision; $1 for worm medication. But they do demand responsive governance. The evictions in Beijing during the depths of winter have cast a chill over Mr. Xi’s lofty new message.

Write to Andrew Browne at


Apple, Facebook find something to praise China for amid Internet clampdown — “The Chinese government … doing a fabulous job on that.”

December 5, 2017

WUZHEN, CHINA (REUTERS) – Top executives at Apple Inc and Facebook Inc managed to find something to praise Beijing for at an Internet conference in China this week, even as its Communist Party rulers ban Western social media and stamp on online dissent.

China’s World Internet Conference attracted the heads of Google and Apple for the first time to hear China vow to open up its Internet – just as long as it can guard cyberspace in the same way it guards its borders.

The tacit endorsement of the event by top US tech executives comes as China introduces strict new rules on censorship and data storage, causing headaches for foreign tech firms permitted to do business in China and signalling that restrictions banning others are unlikely to be lifted any time soon.

“I’d compliment the Chinese government in terms of leadership on using data,” Facebook vice-president Vaughan Smith said on Tuesday (Dec 5), citing government bodies such as the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) and Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT).

“The Chinese government, the CAC and MIIT are doing a fabulous job on that.”

Facebook and Google are not accessible in China behind the country’s Great Firewall, along with major Western news outlets and social media sites, while Apple is subject to strict censorship. The US firm removed dozens of popular messaging and virtual private network (VPN) apps from its China App Store this year to comply with government requests.

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“The theme of this conference, developing a digital economy for openness and shared benefits, is a vision we at Apple share,” Apple chief executive Tim Cook said on Sunday. The audience cheered him twice – once when he reached the podium, and again when he bowed.

China cracks down on any sign of online criticism of the government which it sees as a threat to social stability and one-party rule.

Some embassies, business groups and foreign firms steer clear of the highly choreographed Internet event, analysts say, because of the perceived propaganda.

But diplomacy seemed to rule the day at the conference, held in the ancient scenic city of Wuzhen in the eastern province of Zhejiang, and neither Smith nor Cook addressed issues of censorship or cyber regulation.

Cook has made frequent trips to China over the past year, as the firm has looked to revive sales in the market and make a push into services that require working with local partners on data storage.

“Companies that have sent high-level delegations to this conference in Wuzhen in the past have often done so because there is some type of significant issue with their access to the market,” said an industry source familiar with the event who declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the matter.

At the event itself, conference guests were treated to a bubble of uncensored Internet in hotels, including access to Google, Facebook and foreign news outlets with specialised codes handed out to guests.

In discussions on topics such as artificial intelligence and tech innovation, overseas executives generally skirted the topic of regulation, though it surfaced at times.

“More people come to Facebook than are in China,” said Facebook’s Smith at a talk on digital economy on Tuesday. “(But) I realise not everyone in the room is familiar with Facebook.”

Jack Ma, chairman of China’s Alibaba Group Holding Ltd which owns Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post, said that foreign tech firms wishing to enter the China market should abide by its laws.

“(Foreign companies) are determined to come. Follow the rules and laws and if you’re unhappy, leave,” said Ma. “This is not a market (where) you can come and go.”


China’s Tech Giants Have a Second Job: Helping Beijing Spy on Its People

December 1, 2017

Tencent and Alibaba are among the firms that assist authorities in hunting down criminal suspects, silencing dissent and creating surveillance cities

HANGZHOU, China—Alibaba Group’s sprawling campus has collegial workspaces, laid-back coffee bars and, on the landscaped grounds, a police outpost.

Employees use the office to report suspected crimes to the police, according to people familiar with the operation. Police also use it to request data from Alibaba for their own investigations, these people said, tapping into the trove of information the tech giant collects through its e-commerce and financial-payment networks.

In one case, the police wanted to find out who had posted content related to terrorism, said a former Alibaba employee. “They came to me and asked me for the user ID and information,” he recalled. He turned it over.


Richard B. Levine/ZUMA PRESS

The Chinese government is building one of the world’s most sophisticated, high-tech systems to keep watch over its citizens, including surveillance cameras, facial-recognition technology and vast computers systems that comb through terabytes of data. Central to its efforts are the country’s biggest technology companies, which are openly acting as the government’s eyes and ears in cyberspace.

Companies including Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. , Tencent Holdings Ltd. and Baidu Inc., are required to help China’s government hunt down criminal suspects and silence political dissent. Their technology is also being used to create cities wired for surveillance.

This assistance is far more extensive than the help Western companies extend to their governments, and the requests are almost impossible to challenge, a Wall Street Journal examination of Chinese practices shows.

Companies including Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. , Tencent Holdings Ltd. and Baidu Inc., are required to help China’s government hunt down criminal suspects and silence political dissent. Their technology is also being used to create cities wired for surveillance.

This assistance is far more extensive than the help Western companies extend to their governments, and the requests are almost impossible to challenge, a Wall Street Journal examination of Chinese practices shows.

Unlike American companies, which often resist U.S. government requests for information, Chinese ones talk openly about working with authorities. Tencent Chief Executive Ma Huateng, also known as Pony Ma, and Alibaba founder Jack Ma both have voiced support for private companies working with the government on law enforcement and security issues.

“The political and legal system of the future is inseparable from the internet, inseparable from big data,” Alibaba’s Mr. Ma told a Communist Party commission overseeing law enforcement last year. He said technology will soon make it possible to predict security threats. “Bad guys won’t even be able to walk into the square,” he said.

In practice, China’s internet giants, which have benefited from trade policies shielding them from foreign competition, have little choice but to cooperate in a country where the Communist Party controls both the legal system and the right to function as a business.

Tencent, the world’s largest online videogame company, dominates Chinese cyberspace with news, video-streaming operations and its WeChat app, used by nearly one billion people to communicate and for mobile payments.

Beijing activist Hu Jia said he bought a slingshot online after a friend recommended it for relieving stress. He paid with WeChat’s mobile-payment feature. Mr. Hu said he was later interrogated by a state security agent, who asked if he was planning to shoot out surveillance cameras near his apartment.

Beijing activist Hu Jia, on left in 2013, says ‘everyone has a spy watching them. That spy is their smartphone.’Photo: Kim Kyung Hoon/REUTERS

A few years earlier, Mr. Hu said, he had messaged a friend headed to Taiwan with the names of activists he might want to see while traveling there. Later, he said, state security agents showed up at the friend’s house and warned him against meeting Mr. Hu’s acquaintances.

“Experience has proven that WeChat is completely compromised,” especially for people on the government’s watch list, Mr. Hu said. “Everyone has a spy watching them. That spy is their smartphone.”

Neither Tencent nor Chinese security officials responded to requests for comment.

Xu Bing describes how he created a fictional film by piecing together footage taken from ubiquitous surveillance cameras recording the daily lives of Chinese citizens. Photo: Xu Bing Studio

When discussing their cooperation with the government, Chinese companies point to disclosures by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, which detailed how U.S. tech and telecommunications companies granted U.S. government agencies access to user data. Earlier, many American phone companies had complied with a secret National Security Agency program to intercept the communications of some U.S. citizens without a court warrant.

U.S. government requests for information about U.S. citizens or legal residents now have to be approved by a court. Chinese police, by contrast, can rely on a search warrant issued by the police themselves.

“I would disagree with the premise that the central government has access to all this corporate data. That’s just not true,” said Joseph Tsai, Alibaba’s executive vice chairman, at the Journal’s D.Live conference in October. “If they want data from you, just like in the U.S., they have to have a reason.”

Alibaba and other tech companies push back if they believe a Chinese government request for data isn’t warranted, said a Chinese police official familiar with the operations of the country’s cyberpolice. He said law enforcement must follow set procedures to gain access to private information.

China’s government, however, has the last word. There is no independent judiciary to approve or review government requests—or for companies to appeal to if they disagree with a demand.

It is unlikely any Chinese company could mount the sort of challenge Apple Inc. did when it refused to comply with a request by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation to unlock the iPhone of a suspect in the San Bernardino mass shooting in 2015.

‘The political and legal system of the future is inseparable from the internet, inseparable from big data.’

—Jack Ma, founder, Alibaba Group

Over the past year, Chinese regulators have ordered three popular internet platforms to stop streaming videos with political content not in line with government policy, and they more recently warned that companies that didn’t comply with new social-media rules would be shut down. Facebook Inc. was banned in China in 2009, without a stated reason.

On June 1, a new cybersecurity law went into effect that requires companies running internet platforms in China to help authorities ferret out content that “endangers national security, national honor and interests.”

That goes far beyond U.S. government demands on internet service providers or platforms, which are required by law to report suspected instances of child pornography when they discover it and take down material that has been found to infringe on copyrights.

Chinese government authorities didn’t respond to requests for comment for this article.

In one of the first significant actions under the new law, China’s Cyberspace Administration this fall slapped maximum fines on Tencent, internet company Baidu and others for allowing users to spread banned content, including “false rumors” and pornography.

Tencent said it “sincerely accepted” the punishment and vowed to do a better job. Baidu outlined a plan to use big data and artificial intelligence to better identify and dispel rumors. A Baidu spokeswoman said the new platform was developed in collaboration with police and other public and private agencies, and was designed to ensure users get accurate information.

‘I would disagree with the premise that the central government has access to all this corporate data.’

—Joseph Tsai, executive vice chairman, Alibaba


Alibaba has data on hundreds of millions of Chinese citizens who use the company and its affiliated services to shop online, stream videos, pay rent, send text messages, make comments on social media and more.

The job of monitoring traffic on these platforms falls to its Alibaba Security Team, whose Chinese name—Shendun—can be translated as “Magic Shield.”

At the company’s Hangzhou campus, computer programs sweep Alibaba’s internet commerce sites and flag anything that might be prohibited, such as guns and pornography, according to current and former Magic Shield agents.

The security team scans the websites for suspicious sales, one former staffer said, such as tea being sold for an exorbitant price, an indication it might really be illegal drugs. Agents then review and remove objectionable content, and in cases of scams such as monetary fraud, will alert the police, the current and former agents said.

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In a video published on the team’s Twitter-like Weibo site, the Magic Shield team is shown working at computer screens. “Guns, rubber bullets, drugs,” the narrator says. “As long as it’s illegal, it will not escape our control.”

The team has assisted police in “several thousand cases,” the video says. The team also is called in to help police with criminal investigations, people familiar with the operations say.

Plans to set up police outposts at tech companies were disclosed in a 2015 posting on China’s Ministry of Public Security website, which said the intent was to “find out about criminal activity at its first instance.”

An Alibaba spokeswoman said the company’s campus includes “a designated meeting space where law-enforcement staff visit occasionally to communicate the latest updates on regulation. If there are established criminal cases, our team will also use this space to discuss the extent of our assistance in those investigations as required by law. There are no police officers stationed on our campus.”

Unlike their Chinese counterparts, U.S. tech companies, including Apple, Facebook and Alphabet Inc.’s Google, routinely disclose their government cooperation in transparency reports.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, front, was applauded by Chinese and American technology CEOs and other executives at Microsoft Corp.’s campus in Redmund, Wash., in 2015. Photo: Ted S. Warren/Press Pool/Getty Images

Google, whose services are mostly blocked in China, said there were 23 Chinese government requests for Google to remove content in the second half of 2016, mostly for national security reasons.

Apple disclosed that more than 35,000 user accounts were affected by 24 Chinese law-enforcement requests in the first half of this year, many in connection with fraud investigations. It said it provided information on about 90% of them.

Chinese companies don’t release any information on the number of requests from the government, the nature of the requests or the compliance rate.

Tencent’s online monitoring operations use computers to filter its streamed videos, news feeds and other online platforms for obscene and politically sensitive content, according to people familiar with the operation.

Self-Policing the Internet

Chinese and U.S. internet platforms face different government standards for policing content.


–U.S.: Responsible for reporting child pornography
–China: Must be removed and reported. Liable for hosting content.


–U.S.: May voluntarily remove, but no legal responsibility to report.
–China: Must be removed and reported. Liable for hosting content.


–U.S.: Online gambling is mostly illegal. Should not accept online gambling ads and must not host, promote or support gambling activities.
–China: Must be removed and reported. Liable for hosting content.


–U.S.: Acquiring or leaking state secrets is prohibited, but re-publication of such material is protected by First Amendment. May voluntarily remove.
–China: Must be removed and reported. Liable for hosting content.


–U.S.: No legal responsibility to report.
–China: Must be removed and reported. Liable for hosting content.

Sources: Stanford Law School, Baker McKenzie

Censors at Chinese companies are responsible for blocking unfavorable references to the Communist Party and senior leaders, as well as foreign news stories casting China in a negative light. Computers are programed to spot thousands of words and phrases and delete most of the offensive content, according to the people familiar with the censorship operations.

Users of Tencent’s WeChat app who run large group chats say they have received automated warnings about politically sensitive content. Some political activists say their WeChat accounts have been suspended or closed for posts critical of the government.

During important political events, staffers with China’s internet regulator set up shop at Chinese content providers to catch anything that might slip through the cracks, people familiar with the operations said. The regulator, the Cyberspace Administration of China, didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Along with access to online data, China’s government wants something else from tech companies—the cloud computing prowess to sort and analyze information. China wants to crunch data from surveillance cameras, smartphones, government databases and other sources to create so-called smart cities and safe cities.

Alibaba’s computers and artificial-intelligence algorithms power a “city brain” in Hangzhou that improves traffic flow and clears the path for ambulances by using mobile mapping and data from traffic cameras to time traffic signals. The company said its cloud and data services also have helped manage aircraft parking in Guangzhou and deploy tour guides in Wuhan.

Chinese President Xi Jinping appeared on a screen during the annual World Internet Conference in Wuzhen, China, in 2016.Photo: Aly Song/REUTERS

The township of Wuzhen hosts an annual internet conference attended by political and technology leaders. Chinese citizens with grievances show up, too, hoping to get their attention. Police now work with Alibaba to use surveillance footage and data processing to identify “persons of interest” and keep them out, local police official Dai Jinming said at a recent conference sponsored by Alibaba.

Inside China’s Surveillance State

–Surveillance Cameras Made by China Are Hanging All Over the U.S.
–China’s All-Seeing Surveillance State Is Reading Its Citizens’ Faces
–Tencent is working with police in the southern city of Guangzhou to build a cloud-based “early-warning system” that can track and forecast the size and movement of crowds, according to a statement from the Guangzhou police bureau.

Maya Wang, a Hong Kong-based researcher for Human Rights Watch, contends the proclaimed benefits of such wired cities mask their true purpose. “This whole safe city idea is a massive surveillance project,” she said.

The government-sponsored Smart Cities Work Committee didn’t respond to a request for comment.

China’s latest five-year development plan calls for 100 smart-city trials to be rolled out next year.

By 2020, the plan says, smart cities will make up a “ubiquitous system” that is expected to “achieve remarkable results.”

— Xiao Xiao and Lingling Wei contributed to this article.


China is exporting authoritarianism globally, and the West is losing the old tools to stop it

November 22, 2017

Xi Jinping’s recent speech was of vast importance to the future of world power  CREDIT: ANDY WONG/AFP

By William Hague
The Telegraph
20 NOVEMBER 2017 • 9:30PM

In Zimbabwe and beyond, our best hope is to reform our own politics to set an example worth following

One of the minor successes of my time as Foreign Secretary was that I managed never to meet Robert Mugabe, despite having to sit only feet away from him at the UN General Assembly. A predecessor, Jack Straw, was severely embarrassed after shaking his hand and was reduced to the much-derided excuse that it had happened in a darkened room.

Since I was required to meet many of the world’s despotic, power-crazed autocrats, giving Mugabe a miss was a relief. He has demonstrated once again the truth that while the power of government to do good is limited, its ability to cause harm is infinite, bringing poverty and hyper-inflation to a country rich in natural resources and human talent.

A predecessor, Jack Straw, was severely embarrassed after shaking his hand and was reduced to the much-derided excuse that it had happened in a darkened room.

Since I was required to meet many of the world’s despotic, power-crazed autocrats, giving Mugabe a miss was a relief.

He demonstrated once again the truth that while the power of government to do good is limited, its ability to cause harm is infinite, bringing poverty and hyper-inflation to a country rich in natural resources and human talent.

Resignation of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe read out to cheers
New Zimbabwe leader could be enforcer known as the Crocodile
The main players in Zimbabwe’s political crisis


For now Zimbabwe celebrates, but questions remain.


For now Zimbabwe celebrates, but questions remain.


Now he has finally been dragged from the presidency, Zimbabweans will be entitled to a moment of hope – that their country can be led in a different way, consistent with democracy, freedom and prosperity.

Many of the bravest of them have struggled for that for decades. The UK and the rest of the Western World can help them.

We have long had ready a worked out plan to give major aid once the country is free of corruption, embezzlement and tyranny.

Yet we have to recognise that our own efforts to support a more democratic Zimbabwe will be based on hopes rather than decisive influence, and that there, and in many other countries, there are powerful forces who either tolerate authoritarian leadership or seek it.

Former British Foreign Secretary William Hague.


Former British Foreign Secretary William Hague.


Mugabe’s successor, Emmerson Mnangagwa, has played a full part in the incompetent and blood-soaked story of the last 37 years.

Significantly, before the military chiefs ordered the tanks to roll last week, it was from Beijing that they apparently sought a green light, rather than London or Washington.

Zimbabweans are thrilled to see Mugabe gone. There are fears, however, about the man who is set to replace the dictator.

If so, the Chinese leadership gave the right answer, but it is a sign that external power over African affairs is steadily moving in their direction and away from the West.

All over Africa, there are foreign ministries, presidential palaces and infrastructure built with help from China.

There is nothing wrong with that in principle, except that such aid comes with few qualms about poor governance, absence of democracy and serious violations of human rights.

The US doesn't seem to care as much about spreading democracy under President Donald Trump. REUTERS/Thomas Peter


The US doesn’t seem to care as much about spreading democracy under President Donald Trump. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

The age in which we westerners could assume that more countries would naturally adopt systems of government similar to our own is over, and the age in which we could require some of them to do so is coming to an end as well.

Turkey is a key example of this, moving in just a few years from seeking to demonstrate the standards of a European democracy to caring little about the remonstrations of the West as authoritarianism takes hold.

And after Iraq and Afghanistan, there is little chance of the United States invading many other places to build a freely governed nation from scratch.

The man considered most likely to replace Robert Mugabe as Zimbabwe’s next president.


In Britain, we all take comfort in Churchill’s maxim that “democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others”, and we share a lazy confidence that others will always find this to be so.

But for the first time since the end of the Cold War, some of the most powerful figures in the world are prepared to challenge this thinking.

The military asking China for permission to overthrow Mugabe marks a turning point in the world order.


The military asking China for permission to overthrow Mugabe marks a turning point in the world order.

The speech of Chinese president Xi Jinping last month to the Communist Party Congress was of vast importance to the future of ideas and power in the 21st Century.

Not only did he declare that China would be ready to take “centre stage” in world affairs by the middle of the century, with “world-class” armed forces, he also argued that “socialism with Chinese characteristics… offers a new option for other countries and nations who want to speed up their development while preserving their independence”.

In other words, the Chinese model of one-party state-led capitalism, with tight ideological control and the use of the new digital economy to enforce citizens’ loyalty, is ready for export to other nations.

After nearly 40 years with an iron grip on power over Zimbabwe, 93-year-old president Robert Mugabe has resigned. Correspondent in Harare Aislinn Laing describes the scenes on the streets there.

What is more, those nations can avail themselves of it without having to bow to the lectures of westerners about governance, rights and debt repayments.

The way will be open to dictators breathing more easily.

In a quarter of a century we will have gone from US presidents being messianic about spreading democracy, to a re-born communism ready to grow again and a US president not exactly motivated by the march of freedom.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson hails Robert Mugabe’s resignation as a chance for Zimbabwe to push for free and fair elections next year.


This does not mean that all is lost. There are African nations that have entrenched their democratic habits and even insisted on them among their neighbours, as the intervention of west African countries in The Gambia showed.

But as more power passes to the East, the ability of what we used to call the “free world” to bully tyrants with sanctions, embargoes or the threat of invasion is receding.

And battered by globalisation and populism, with Russia highly active in fomenting discord within western electorates, our trust even in our own democratic institutions is diminishing.

So what do we do? Of course, we have to strengthen our ability to protect ourselves from both military and cyber attack.

Crucially, however, a reduced ability to lead by muscle and force means we have to lead all the more by the power of example.

If you can’t make people do what you want, you have to rely even more heavily on inspiring them to do it anyway.

That means that if others reduce their standards of respect for human rights, we must refuse to do so.

Most importantly, we have to renew the health of our own democracies.

It will need a radical change to the regulation of social media, forbidding political advertising and foreign influence, and requiring greater balance and diversity in the news.

The persistent feeding of prejudices and prevalence of “fake news” are serious threats to free political choice.

The slow-motion fall of Mugabe, then, is not just a satisfying conclusion to an agony in a faraway country.

It will be another test of which ideas are gaining ground in a gathering struggle – one in which we will need to reform ourselves to win.

– The Daily Telegraph

Russian MPs back law targeting foreign media — “A hybrid war has been declared against us,” Russian Communist Party Leader says

November 15, 2017



MOSCOW (AFP) – Russian MPs on Wednesday backed new legislation that could force foreign media outlets to register as “foreign agents” in a reciprocal response to US pressure on Kremlin-backed TV channel RT.

Lawmakers approved amendments that would allow any international media that receive financing from abroad to be classified as “foreign agents,” a measure previously used only against NGOs.

The Kremlin praised the move as allowing it to offer a “very harsh” response to attacks on Russian media abroad.

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“Any attempts to encroach on the freedom of Russian media abroad… will not remain without response from Moscow — without a very harsh response,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists.

Russia will be able to use the law “to give a timely retaliatory response,” he said.

The law could be used against US media such as Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which receive funding from the US Congress.

Members of parliament have given contradictory statements on whether the law could apply to commercial TV network CNN.

Lawmakers unanimously voted to back the amendments in rushed second and third readings within a few hours on Wednesday.

“A hybrid war has been declared against us and we are obliged to respond,” Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov said in parliament.

The lower house of parliament’s deputy speaker Pyotr Tolstoy told the chamber reciprocal measures were “forced” by the actions of the United States, which he earlier said was spitting in Russia’s face.

“They forced us to take these measures,” he said.

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The amendments now need to be passed by the Senate and then be signed into law by President Vladimir Putin, after which they will enter force immediately.

– ‘Selective measures’ –

The wording of the law is very broad, potentially allowing its use against any foreign media organisation operating in Russia.

Tolstoy told parliament the amendments would not be automatically enforced, but would be selectively applied by the justice ministry.

“You shouldn’t think that after this law enters force… all foreign media in Russia will automatically become foreign agents,” he told parliament.

“We are making it possible… to take selective retaliatory measures — that is the idea of the law, and I hope it will be enforced this way.”

He denied it will affect any Russian media with foreign funding.

Amnesty International has warned the law will allow the Russian authorities “to tighten their stranglehold on press freedom.”

A Russian law adopted in 2012 forces NGOs that have international funding and whose activities are deemed “political” to undergo intensive scrutiny of their finances and staffing and label themselves as “foreign agents” on paperwork and statements.

Many NGOs have closed in response to the legislation.

RT television, which is funded by the Kremlin to give a Russian point of view on international affairs, confirmed Monday it has registered as a foreign agent in the United States, meeting a deadline from the US Department of Justice.

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Washington considers RT a propaganda arm of the Kremlin and told it to register its American operation under the Foreign Agents Registration Act aimed at lobbyists and lawyers representing foreign political interests.

The Moscow-based broadcaster has become a focus of the investigations into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election.

by Anna MALPAS

China’s Xi Says ‘Economic Globalism’ Is ‘Irreversible Historical Trend’

November 11, 2017

By John Hayward

At the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Vietnam on Friday, Chinese President Xi Jinping embraced “economic globalism,” calling it an “irreversible historical trend.”

Xi praised globalism for having “contributed significantly to global growth.” Meanwhile. President Donald Trump denounced unfair trade practices and vowed the United States will not be “taken advantage of anymore.”

“In pursuing economic globalization, we should make it more open, more inclusive, more balanced, more equitable and more beneficial to all,” said Xi in his APEC address.

In another passage, Xi called for an “open economy that benefits all,” advising that “openness brings progress while self-seclusion leaves one behind.”

“China will not slow its steps in opening up itself. We will work together with other countries to create new drivers of common development through the launching of the ‘Belt and Road’ initiative,” said Xi. “We will adopt policies to promote high standards of liberalization and facilitation of trade and investment.”

CNBC praises Xi for emphasizing China’s “environmental goals” and “stepping up China’s global rhetorical leadership on that front since Trump abandoned the Paris climate accord earlier this year.”

That is a striking testament to how adroitly China’s leaders play Western media and take advantage of its obsessions. Anyone who thinks China will cripple its economic ambitions in the manner envisioned by the Paris climate accords is frankly delusional. Chinese leaders know they can easily afford rhetorical flourishes in the service of global arrangements that demand little of them for decades to come. There is no domestic constituency in China that can hold Xi or his handpicked successor accountable for living up to whatever he promises in global forums.

Xi had quite a bit to say about China’s economic agenda during the marathon three-hour speech he gave upon assuming near-dictatorial powers at the recent Communist Party congress. The speech included some uplifting ideas about China becoming a benevolent global leader, but absolutely none of it indicated he was prepared to sacrifice any of China’s interests to please international summit meetings.

That is also true of Xi’s praise for fair and open global economic systems. It only takes a few moments to pull up his APEC speech from last year’s meeting in Peru and find him saying exactly the same things about building an “open and integrated economy” and gushing about how “economic globalization is in keeping with the law of economics and delivers benefits to all.” Let us grant Xi all due credit for rhetorical consistency, but let us also not pretend he just delivered a historic speech brimming with new ideas.

What China does is far more important than what its authoritarian leader says in the latest iteration of decade-old talking points. What China does is make deals that benefit China, generally breaking whatever rules it finds inconvenient along the way. Saying nice things about globalism at summit meetings is easy. It is not as if the Western media sphere makes it tough for Chinese speechwriters to figure out what they want to hear.

The most encouraging signs of actual change to emerge from President Donald Trump’s trip to China so far are the huge volume of trade deals announced on Thursday, and Friday’s announcement from Vice Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao that China will begin increasing foreign access to its enormous financial services market. Both of these developments are direct results of the Trump administration’s unique blend of behind-the-scenes diplomacy, public pugnacity, and fiery eruptions on social media. Zhu’s announcement came only a day after Trump called for the very access China delivered.

The results to date are less than one might have imagined Trump wanted by listening to his past accusations of Chinese market distortion, currency manipulation, and intellectual property theft, but it is also better than nothing and more than what China was inclined to give on its own – or else would have been given during the Obama administration when Xi was giving those nearly identical speeches rhapsodizing about globalization and transparency.

President Trump also spoke at APEC in Vietnam, and while his speech has been portrayed as a sharp nativist contrast with Xi’s soaring globalist poetry, CNBC notes that Trump “similarly called for economic openness.” The difference is that Trump “struck a harsh tone against countries he deemed guilty of ‘chronic trade abuses.’”

“When the United States enters into a trading relationship with other countries or other peoples, we will, from now on, expect that our partners will faithfully follow the rules, just like we do. We expect that markets will be open to an equal degree on both sides and that private industry, not government planners, will direct investment,” said Trump, after praising the achievements made possible by international trade in places like Vietnam, South Korea, Japan, and India at great length.

“Unfortunately, for too long and in too many places, the opposite has happened. For many years, the United States systematically opened our economy with few conditions. We lowered or ended tariffs, reduced trade barriers, and allowed foreign goods to flow freely into our country. But while we lowered market barriers, other countries didn’t open their markets to us,” he charged.

He then made allusions to unnamed countries “embraced by the World Trade Organization, even if they did not abide by its stated principles.” He named China specifically later in his speech, with a combination of unflinching accusations over its past behavior and hope for a better future relationship.

“We can no longer tolerate these chronic trade abuses, and we will not tolerate them,” Trump declared. “Despite years of broken promises, we were told that someday soon everyone would behave fairly and responsibly. People in America and throughout the Indo-Pacific region have waited for that day to come. But it never has, and that is why I am here today: to speak frankly about our challenges and work toward a brighter future for all of us.”

“From this day forward, we will compete on a fair and equal basis. We are not going to let the United States be taken advantage of anymore. I am always going to put America first the same way that I expect all of you in this room to put your countries first,” Trump announced.

It is strange to see so many condemning Trump for failing to embrace the possibilities of global trade when he did exactly that, coupled with warnings that the United States will no longer allow itself to be taken advantage of. Even if China is truly experiencing a change of heart, it reached its current position of strength by doing the things Trump accused it of.

Critics also seem to be missing a point picked up by CNBC’s analysis: Trump was not just complaining about how China has treated the United States. He was issuing a warning to Asian nations tempted to choose China over the U.S. as a trading partner, reminding them how readily China violates or subverts rules that interfere with its aggressive national interests.

If “globalism” requires America to disadvantage itself because we have had it so good for so long, make disproportionate sacrifices to international programs to demonstrate “leadership,” and tolerate abuses no other nation would endure, then globalism is what needs to change, not America.

It is a false choice to say that crude isolationism is the only alternative and bad strategy to let it be known that no one has to work very hard to win or keep America’s business. If these are truly the last days of American hyperpower status, it would be malpractice for our leaders not to use it while they still have it, just as China’s leaders are eagerly planning how to use it once they get it.

China Enlists Western Media to Spread Its Message

November 11, 2017

Tie-ups linked to propaganda arm aid mission to ‘tell Chinese stories well’

Women walk past a roadside poster of Chinese President Xi Jinping in October after the Communist Party granted him a new term and greater authority.Photo: GREG BAKER/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

BEIJING—Xi Jinping wants the media to tell China’s stories better. These days, he is increasingly finding willing partners abroad.

The Chinese leader has exhorted state media to do more to “enable the world to see a multidimensional and colorful China” and present his nation as a builder of global peace and help strengthen China’s influence abroad.

China has for years placed paid English-language state-media supplements in Western newspapers, including The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, and has placed similar advertorials with Australian, Indian and British media.

Under Mr. Xi, Beijing, which often calls Western depictions of its society unfair, has stepped up support for co-productions with foreign partners, including documentary tie-ups spotlighting the country’s culture, technological advancements and infrastructure projects.

One such feature is “China: Time of Xi,” a three-part documentary produced by Discovery channel’s Asia arm that was first broadcast in China in late October, shortly after China’s Communist Party gave the leader a level of authority not seen here since Chairman Mao.

A Discovery Channel’s documentary, shown in this YouTube video, portrays the Chinese Communist Party’s approach to development as a model for the world.

Interspersed in the production are admiring words for Mr. Xi and his policies from people such as Robert Lawrence Kuhn, a host for China’s state broadcaster, and former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who says “Xi Jinping is a leader who dreams very big dreams.”

In one episode, economist Dambisa Moyo praises Mr. Xi’s signature Belt and Road initiative as “one of these incredibly transformative ideas.”

The documentary mentions some of China’s challenges, such as pollution. But there is no mention of more controversial aspects of Mr. Xi’s tenure, such as his crackdowns on speech and dissidents or his moves toward one-man rule.

“It’s not our place to sort of comment on or provide the good and the bad. We don’t look at it that way,” said Discovery representative Karun Arya. “We’re in the business of infotainment.”

Many of these projects receive support from state arms linked to government propaganda departments, including state broadcaster China Central Television. Such partnerships give China more say in how its story is told—with the imprimatur of a respected media outlet or producer.

For foreign media companies, the co-productions offer access to a large potential audience in a country that censors the media and routinely impedes camera crews. The tie-ups also bring new funding opportunities for makers of documentaries, which can be expensive and require funding from multiple partners.

Some producers involved in Chinese joint ventures said that with China’s resources and appetite for enhancing its profile abroad, its deepened interest in documentary work is a welcome development.

Discovery said the “Time of Xi” project was conceived by its team and received help with research and access from China Intercontinental Communication Center, a company belonging to the Communist Party Propaganda Department. CICC, which bought the distribution rights for China and other Asia-Pacific regions outside Discovery’s footprint, didn’t respond to a request for comment on its foreign production partnerships.

People’s Daily, the party mouthpiece, celebrated the documentary as an “in-depth interpretation on China’s development path, ideas and inspirations for the world.”

Vikram Channa, Discovery Networks Asia-Pacific’s vice president for production and commercial partnerships, describes Discovery’s approach as part Hollywood, part journalism. “We are visual, emotive storytellers,” he said. “It’s not CCTV but neither is it BBC or CNN. It’s bang in the middle.”

A poster with a portrait of Chinese President Xi Jinping overlooks a street at sunset in Shanghai in September.Photo: aly song/Reuters

Discovery has been making documentaries in China since 1997, with offerings that include a weekly one-hour special called “Hour China” on topics such as China’s wildlife, technological and engineering accomplishments and culture.

“There are too many stories of conflict, of us versus them,” said Kenny Png, a Singapore-based producer who has worked in China and was involved with postproduction work for “Time of Xi.” As China’s global profile expands, he said, people who work on Chinese co-productions “can help soften the dialogue.”

Production companies working with Chinese partners pick their content carefully, preferring topics such as culture, travel or history. Examples include wildlife and travelogue films such as Disney ’s panda-focused “Born in China” and National Geographic’s “China From Above,” on culture and infrastructure.

“Time of Xi” is rare in its focus on China’s leadership. “We just tend to not do anything about post-1949 history because you’re just asking for trouble,” said a producer, citing the year the Communists came to power.

Even seemingly innocuous topics can prove challenging. In the nature documentary “Big Pacific,” a co-production funded by parties including America’s PBS and CCTV’s documentary channel that premiered this year, an issue arose over images of sealife, according to one of the American producers, John Cullum.

After the Chinese side objected to what it saw as excessive footage from rival Japan, producers addressed such concerns by not stating the location for a segment on orange clownfish filmed in Japanese waters, he said. “That helped,” said Mr. Cullum.

CCTV didn’t respond to a request for comment.

China’s effort to get foreigners to “tell China stories well,” as Mr. Xi puts it, has been particularly on display with its massive “Belt and Road” plan to revive ancient trade routes. To promote the effort, Beijing has held forums for international journalists to guide them on how to create a “splendid chapter of media cooperation” based on Mr. Xi’s foreign-policy vision.

In Jiangsu province, employees of the state-owned broadcaster, Jiangsu Broadcasting Corp., explained in a recent article that foreign hosts are better at telling Chinese stories because they are believable and persuasive.

The company provided the majority of the funding for a series that aired this year on BBC, “Tales From Modern China.” The production, jointly financed by the BBC, highlighted topics such as China’s supercomputers.

When the company works with foreigners, a Jiangsu Broadcasting official said, the company strives to “show a Chinese image full of positive energy.”

— Xiao Xiao contributed to this article.

Write to Te-Ping Chen at

In China’s ‘democracy village’, no one wants to talk any more

November 10, 2017


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A billboard which reads “Advance solidly to execute the strategy of loving the people and enforcing the border. Police and citizens collectively build a harmonious and civilized Wukan”, is shown on a main road leading to Wukan village in China’s Guangdong province October 31, 2017. REUTERS/James Pomfret Reuters

By James Pomfret

WUKAN, China (Reuters) – Surveillance cameras peer at residents from every major street corner. Informants are everywhere, villagers say. And more than a dozen villagers are languishing in prison or detention.

The southern Chinese village of Wukan was once a symbol of grassroots democracy in China. Now, a year after the authorities quelled protests over land grabs and the jailing of a local leader, Wukan is locked in a stifling security squeeze.

A rare visit to Wukan by a Reuters team and interviews with half a dozen villagers and sources familiar with the situation revealed that the village and surrounding area remain tightly policed as the government tries to maintain security at all costs.

Villagers in Wukan once warmly welcomed the media, but many are now afraid of speaking for fear of reprisals.

“There’s nothing left here,” said one young man in Wukan who was edgy and wouldn’t talk for long. “You know what happened,” he added before moving quickly away.

The sources said that a provincial-level “Wukan Mass Working Group” had been set up with about 100 full-time personnel and charged with ensuring “stability” by marshalling a network of informers, security patrols, surveillance systems and floodlights in the village.

In the 1980s, the Chinese government began allowing elections in villages nationwide, although democracy activists say the votes for village committees were rarely free from official influence.

But after a series of protests against local officials in Wukan in 2011, when government offices were ransacked, authorities eventually backed down, allowing the village to hold open elections that became a beacon for democratic hope in China.

But now, Wukan, once famous in China as the “democracy village”, has succumbed to China’s tightening grip over civil society and individual rights, said Zhuang Liehong, a former Wukan protest leader who helped lead an uprising against local authorities in 2011.

“What is happening in Wukan is what is happening in China,” said Zhuang. “It’s a dark reflection of China, with no freedom of expression. No individual rights.”

There was no immediate response from the Guangdong provincial government to faxed questions from Reuters seeking comment.

Under President Xi Jinping, the government has intensified efforts to deepen the reach of the Communist Party into all aspects of life in China. Critics say it brooks no dissent, and has been cracking down on civil society, which it sees as a challenge to central authority.

“When Xi took the reins in 2013, repressing boundary-pushers in civil society was a cornerstone of his political campaign to consolidate power,” Diana Fu of the University of Toronto and Greg Distelhorst of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology wrote in an academic paper on “Grassroots Participation and Repression in Contemporary China”.

With China’s recent leadership transition further consolidating Xi’s power, the next five years will likely see a continuation of tough social stability policies that will have an impact on places like Wukan, some analysts say.

“The party has decided to double down on authoritarianism after the problems they’ve faced,” said Nicolas Bequelin, Amnesty International’s director for East Asia.


During the 2011 protests, Zhuang helped barricade the coastal hamlet of 15,000 people against battalions of riot police. He spoke by telephone with Reuters from New York, where he is now in exile after leaving Wukan in 2014.

Wukan sits in a picturesque region flanked by hills and a deep water harbor, with lush farmland, ponds teeming with fish and shrimp, and the occasional flash of kingfishers.

Its troubles began in the 1990s when swathes of farmland began being sold off to property developers by the village leadership in a series of opaque deals.

In 2011, these problems came to a head, when many villagers began demanding that the land be returned.

    A months-long insurrection against local authorities and riot police put a global media spotlight on Wukan, leading to a rare populist victory in Communist China when the provincial authorities eventually backed down.

The village committee at the center of the land deals was removed and a free election was allowed that saw all seven of the protest leaders voted into public office.

This village committee soon came under pressure from allies of the old leadership seeking retribution, they said. Over the course of the next few years most of the protest organizers left public office, including their leader, Lin Zuluan, who was jailed for corruption last summer.

The protests last year erupted after villagers demanded Lin’s release. Many villagers say the charges were concocted and that a confession by Lin on state television was forced.

The protests ran for several months and were quelled by hundreds of riot police firing rubber bullets, hurling tear gas and beating up villagers with batons, victims and witnesses told Reuters at the time.

Last December, the People’s Court of nearby Haifeng town, which oversees Wukan, sentenced nine villagers to jail terms ranging from two to nine years for a number of charges including illegal assembly, disrupting traffic and spreading false information, according to a notice on its website.

There was no immediate response to a Reuters request for comment from the Lufeng government, which has jurisdiction over Haifeng and Wukan.

    One villager, Zhang Bingchai, was jailed for two years for allegedly spreading false information, the court said. Two acquaintances who knew him said he had spoken about the situation in Wukan, to outsiders on his mobile phone and had posted some images of the crackdown.

Zhuang said his 67-year-old father, Zhuang Songkun, was jailed for three years on a charge of gathering a crowd to block traffic during the protests.

The hard line against the protests reflects the government’s desire to ensure stability, said Xiong Wei, the founder of New Enlightenment, a village advocacy organization in Beijing who has visited Wukan on numerous occasions.

    “And they’ve been very successful,” said Xiong. “No one dares raise their head. But the problems haven’t been resolved,” he added, referring to the land seizures.


Beyond a checkpoint manned by paramilitary police with guns, the main road into Wukan is now lined with giant billboards and colorful flags projecting a new narrative of stability and peace. Propaganda billboards and posters were also displayed around town.

“Advance solidly to execute the strategy of loving the people,” read one, illustrated with a flock of doves flying over uniformed officers clutching rifles as they look across toward a portrait of Mao in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.

“Police and the people build a harmonious and civilized Wukan together,” it read. Another sign urged a “New Ethos”.

Beneath the surface, however, resentment lingers amongst those who spoke to Reuters.

“Wukan has reached a dead end now,” said one villager. “People won’t do anything.”

Back in New York, Zhuang, the exiled former Wukan protest leader, said he’ll keep speaking out.

    He said his mother has been harassed and his house surveilled with cameras. Visitors to his house have been questioned and several detained, he said. His assertions could not be independently confirmed.

All of the other former Wukan protest leaders have since quit their posts, been jailed, or harassed, he said.

“Besides me, there are no voices left. It is silent now.”

(Reporting by James Pomfret; Editing by Philip McClellan)


China jails nine over protests in Guangdong ‘democracy’ village

Nine residents of ‘democracy village’ to serve up to 10 years over unrest sparked by imprisonment of an elected leader and simmering land disputes

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Protesters attend a candlelight vigil in support of China’s Wukan democracy  village outside the Chinese Liaison Office in Hong Kong on Sept. 17, 2017. (Isaac Lawrence/AFP/Getty Images)

Jailed Hong Kong democracy activists win last chance to appeal

November 7, 2017
Pro-democracy activists take part in a protest on China's National Day in Hong Kong, China, Oct. 1, 2017.

Pro-democracy activists take part in a protest on China’s National Day in Hong Kong, China, Oct. 1, 2017.

HONG KONG (Reuters) – A Hong Kong court on Tuesday allowed three jailed young activists, who spearheaded pro-democracy protests that brought much of the Chinese-ruled city to a halt in 2014, a final chance to appeal against their sentences.

Hong Kong’s appeals court jailed Joshua Wong, 21, Alex Chow, 27, and Nathan Law, 24, in August for illegal assembly, a ruling that angered rights activists who fear creeping interference by Communist Party rulers in Beijing in the former British colony.

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(From left) Activists Joshua Wong Chi-fung, Alex Chow Yong-kang and Nathan Law Kwun-chung appear at the High Court. Photo: Dickson Lee

The three are serving six, seven and eight-month jail terms, respectively but have been released on bail.

The trio helped lead the largely peaceful “Umbrella Movement” that blocked major roads for 79 days in 2014, demanding Beijing grant Hong Kong full democracy.

Hong Kong has been governed under a “one country, two systems” formula since its return from British to Chinese rule in 1997, allowing freedoms not enjoyed on mainland China that include an independent judiciary but not a fully democratic vote.

In a short hearing on Tuesday, Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal granted the trio leave to appeal, with the case to be heard on January 16 with the three to remain on bail until then.

The next legal steps will likely be scrutinized closely, with the jailings having shaken confidence in Hong Kong’s vaunted rule of law.

Pro-democracy activists Alex Chow, Joshua Wong and Nathan Law walk out of the Court of Final Appeal in Hong Kong, China November 7, 2017. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

Wong, Chow and Law were sentenced last year to community service for unlawful assembly. However, Reuters reported that Justice Secretary Rimsky Yuen had overruled other senior colleagues to re-open the case and push for a harsher sentence that eventually led to their imprisonment.

“I know the world is having their eyes on us to see whether the judges, our legal professionals, will restore the confidence of our jurisdiction. Or whether it will smash the confidence of the people, not only in Hong Kong but also around the world,” Chow told reporters.

“The verdict given in the future will matter a lot and will redefine whether our constitution – the Basic Law – will value civil liberties more or control stability as claimed by the government.”

U.N. human rights experts urged Hong Kong to respect the rights of the trio, including the legal right to peaceful assembly under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Hong Kong is a party.

“We fear that if their sentences are upheld, this will have the effect of stifling the expression of dissenting opinions, the right to protest and the overall work of human rights defenders,” David Kaye, U.N. special rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and Michel Forst, U.N. special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, said in a joint statement from Geneva on Monday.

“We call on the Hong Kong authorities to respect the independence of judicial powers and the rule of law.”

On Saturday, China’s largely rubber-stamp parliament formally extended a law banning disrespect of the national anthem to cover Hong Kong, another example of a move that critics have said undermines the Chinese-ruled city’s freedoms.