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SINOTE of 2018: Year in review

It is the conceit of every generation to believe that its experience is unique. This is partly because it fails to understand the lessons of history and partly because it has no idea what the future holds. The year 2016, now finally at an end, underscored this basic human dilemma.
The Observer view on the prospects for 2017
by Observer editorial, from, 20170101

Well, the year 2018, now finally at an end, underscored this basic human dilemma, again.

China Rules

Max Fisher: The New York Times conceived of China Rules, a special project, as a way to answer a deceptively simple question: How did China do it? The nation has defied Western norms, and expectations, to become the world’s second-largest economy and the newest superpower. Almost a year in the making, and with collaboration from nearly all corners of the newsroom and correspondents around the world, the project explores how and why China achieved its stature.

PART 1: The Land That Failed to Fail
by Philip P. Pan, from, 20181118

China has veered between these competing impulses ever since, between opening up and clamping down, between experimenting with change and resisting it, always pulling back before going too far in either direction for fear of running aground.
Many people said that the party would fail, that this tension between openness and repression would be too much for a nation as big as China to sustain. But it may be precisely why China soared.

PART 2: How China’s Rulers Control Society: Opportunity, Nationalism, Fear
by Amy Qin & Javier C. Hernández, from, 20181125

The government has offered education as a path to social mobility, unleashed private enterprise by removing Confucian and Marxist stigmas against the merchant class and cultivated a potent brand of nationalism, blending pride and humiliation into a narrative of restoring Chinese greatness.
But for many Chinese, those incentives are only part of the calculation. So, too, are the costs of rejecting the party’s bargain.

PART 3: Money and Muscle Pave China’s Way to Global Power
by Peter S. Goodman & Jane Perlez, from, 20181125

Under the muscular leadership of President Xi Jinping, China has cast off previous restraints, rejecting deference to an American-dominated global order as an impediment to national revival. In matters of commerce and national security, China is competing with the United States, even in traditional American spheres of influence.

PART 4: China’s Economy Became No. 2 by Defying No. 1
by Keith Bradsher & Li Yuan, from, 20181125

China succeeded by creating its own model. It borrowed some Western ideas while rejecting others. It opened itself to the world when necessary, and put on the brakes when it chose to. It set goals and backed them with government money. It freed its people to make and spend money, but it forbade them to ask for a better deal. Entrepreneurs built modern China, and the Communist Party kept them in line.

PART 5: The Road to Confrontation
by Mark Landler, from, 20181125

At 95, Mr. Kissinger, not surprisingly, takes the long view. Together, he said, the United States and China exert such power, and are capable of inflicting such unthinkable destruction, that they owe it to the world to find a path toward “partial cooperation.”
“We have to make the effort of moving in that direction,” he said.
Harking back to his session with Mr. Bannon, Mr. Kissinger added, “I cannot guarantee that that will be the result.”


Re-Education Camps In China’s ‘No-Rights Zone’ For Muslims: What Everyone Needs To Know
by Lucas Niewenhuis, from, 20180822

1. Overview
2. Timeline of recent reporting, from October 2017 to present
3. Re-education camps: What we know “Crimes” and punishment • Prominent Uyghurs detained • UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
4. China’s response “There is no such thing as so-called ‘re-education camps’ in Xinjiang”
5. Why now? Chen Quanguo • Belt and Road • “Stability”
6. The bigger story: Global significance Uyghurs abroad • Experimental surveillance • International response • Journalist harassment

by John Sudworth, from, 20181024

China is accused of locking up as many as a million Uighur Muslims without trial across its western region of Xinjiang. The government denies the claims, saying people willingly attend special “vocational schools” to combat “terrorism and religious extremism”. But a BBC investigation has found important new evidence of the reality - a vast and rapidly growing network of detention centres, where the people held inside are humiliated and abused. Using detailed satellite analysis and reporting from a part of the country where journalists are routinely detained and harassed; China correspondent John Sudworth offers his in-depth report on China’s Hidden Camps.
Audio: The Documentary Podcast

‘We’re a people destroyed’: why Uighur Muslims across China are living in fear
by Gene A. Bunin, from, 20180807

… I spent the best part of 18 months precisely among those “bad Xinjiang people”, both in Xinjiang itself, and in inner China. During that time, I spoke to hundreds of Uighurs, the majority of them male restaurant workers, businessmen, small-time traders and street-food cooks, as well as their families…
The phrase adem yoq (“everybody’s gone”) is the one I’ve heard the most this past year. It has been used to describe the absence of staff, clients and people in general. When referring to people who have been forced to return to their hometowns (for hometown arrest, camp or worse), it is typical to say that they “went back home”.
The concentration camps are not referred to as “concentration camps”, naturally. Instead, the people there are said to be occupied with “studying” (oqushta/öginishte) or “education” (terbiyileshte), or sometimes may be said to be “at school” (mektepte).

China’s Government Has Ordered a Million Citizens to Occupy Uighur Homes. Here’s What They Think They’re Doing.
by Darren Byler, from, 20181024

… less attention has been paid to the mobilization of more than a million Chinese civilians (most members of the Han ethnic majority) to aid the military and police in their campaign by occupying the homes of the region’s Uighurs and other Muslim minorities, and undertaking programs of indoctrination and surveillance, while presenting themselves as older siblings of the men and women they might then decide to consign to the camps.

Xi Jinping’s War on the Uighurs.
by The Little Red Podcast, from

Part 1: The Witnesses
‘We seem to be normal, but we are not.’ A United Nations human rights panel says it has credible reports that more than a million Uighurs are being held in reeducation camps in the northwestern Chinese province of Xinjiang. As evidence emerges of massive human rights violations from satellite photos, procurement bids and state-run news reports, the voices that have not yet been heard are those of Uighurs themselves. In this episode, Louisa and Graeme hear how the close-knit Uighur community in the Australian city of Adelaide have become long-distance witnesses to an unfolding human rights catastrophe that has torn their families apart. One brought his motherless children to the interview; others brought lists of missing friends and relatives. As they wrestle with anxiety and guilt, they’re now starting to raise awareness of their plight.
Part 2: The New Frontier
The language used by the Chinese state in Xinjiang pathologises Islam, seeing it as an “ideological virus” which needs eradication by transformation through education. In recent days, China has publicly justified the mass internment of Uighurs as necessary in its struggle against the “three evils” of terrorism, separatism and religious extremism. In part 1, Louisa and Graeme heard testimony from Australian Uighurs describing how Uighur communities are being destroyed by mass detentions. In part 2, they explore the Chinese Communist party’s historical relationship with its New Frontier with Sydney University’s David Brophy and the Australian National University’s Tom Cliff.
Part 3: The Endgame
“Domestically I don’t think the Uighur culture will survive.” China now acknowledges the existence of mass indoctrination camps in Xinjiang - which it calls ‘vocational training centres’ - after months of denial. Its latest propaganda campaign showcases Uighurs inside the camps thanking the Party for teaching them skills and saving them from Islamic extremism. In this episode, Louisa and Graeme are joined by Nury Turkel, chairman of the Uyghur Human Rights Project, and James Leibold of La Trobe University to explore the reasons behind the Communist Party’s about-face. The traditional Uighur way of life now faces an existential threat inside Chinese borders, both through standardisation campaigns and the despatch of a million (largely Han Chinese) citizens into Uighur homes.

A New Cold War?

Vice President Mike Pence’s Remarks on the Administration’s Policy Towards China
by Mike Pence, from, 20181004

… I come before you today because the American people deserve to know… as we speak, Beijing is employing a whole-of-government approach, using political, economic, and military tools, as well as propaganda, to advance its influence and benefit its interests in the United States.
America had hoped that economic liberalization would bring China into greater partnership with us and with the world. Instead, China has chosen economic aggression, which has in turn emboldened its growing military.
Nor, as we hoped, has Beijing moved toward greater freedom for its people. For a time, Beijing inched toward greater liberty and respect for human rights, but in recent years, it has taken a sharp U-turn toward control and oppression.
To put it bluntly, President Trump’s leadership is working; and China wants a different American President.
These and other actions, taken as a whole, constitute an intensifying effort to shift American public opinion and public policy away from the America First leadership of President Donald Trump. But our message to China’s rulers is this: This President will not back down – and the American people will not be swayed. We will continue to stand strong for our security and our economy, even as we hope for improved relations with Beijing.

The Crisis in U.S.-China Relations
by Richard N. Haass, from, 20181019

Competition between the U.S. and China need not be “a four-letter word,” as Matthew Pottinger, the senior staff member on the National Security Council responsible for Asia, has said. A reasonable goal would be managed competition that allows for limited cooperation. For now, however, the Trump administration has adopted a confrontational approach without making clear what it seeks to achieve. It has thus ignored Clausewitz’s prudent advice—that battle should be joined only “as the means towards the attainment of the object of the War.”

Is this the Beginning of a New Cold War?
by A ChinaFile Conversation, from, 20181211

Ali Wyne: The purpose of noting the Cold War analogy’s limits is not to diminish the scope of the China challenge, but to suggest that the United States will need to manage it differently than it did the Soviet threat.
Yuen Yuen Ang: The United States and China have more in common than both sides realize and are willing to admit.
1. In fact, it wasn’t autocracy that made China great again.
2. Economically as well, America and China overlap.
3. One final irony is that America and China face a common enemy: climate change.
Lindsey Ford: For the United States and China to manage this competition without allowing it to spiral into conflict—a goal that should be shared by both nations—asking over what exactly the two countries are competing and what it would mean for the United States or China to “win” becomes incredibly important.
Susan Thornton: Despite the current swirl of breathless pronouncements, there is not and will not be a “new Cold War” with China. There are several reasons why:
1. …it is unlikely that the U.S. will convince the rest of the world—or even part of it—that China wants to destroy the capitalist world and disrupt all rival influence…
2. The nature of the competition with China is mainly economic…
3. Most importantly, China is not interested in having a Cold War, nor is it willing to sacrifice its national development goals…
Oriana Skylar Mastro: In short, the contours of the competitive relationship are different from those that existed during the Cold War. This is important to understand, not for the sake of reassuring Beijing, but to avoid relying on strategies that worked against the Soviet Union that are unlikely to work against Beijing.
Abraham M. Denmark: So what exactly are China and the United States competing over, and what would it mean to win (or lose) that competition? U.S.-China competition is over two interrelated concepts: power and order.
Evan Medeiros: The Cold War is the wrong historical analogy to use in explaining U.S.-China dynamics. This is not meant to deny or minimize competition in U.S.-China relations. Rather, the Cold War framework obscures more than it clarifies about bilateral dynamics and, thus, diminishes the complexity of the challenge for U.S. policymakers.

Inside China’s audacious global propaganda campaign
by Louisa Lim & Julia Bergin, from, 20181207

… over the past decade or so, China has rolled out a more sophisticated and assertive strategy, which is increasingly aimed at international audiences. China is trying to reshape the global information environment with massive infusions of money – funding paid-for advertorials, sponsored journalistic coverage and heavily massaged positive messages from boosters. While within China the press is increasingly tightly controlled, abroad Beijing has sought to exploit the vulnerabilities of the free press to its advantage.


Imminent Fears, Immediate Hopes
by Xu Zhangrun, translated by Geremie R. Barmé, from, 20180724

Below I offer an overview of the major causes of anxiety and panic in contemporary China under eight topics.
1. Fear One: Property Tremens
2. Fear Two: Putting Politics Back in Command
3. Fear Three: Class Struggle, Again
4. Fear Four: A New Closed-Door Policy
5. Fear Five: Excessive International Aid
6. Fear Six: Repression of the Intelligentsia
7. Fear Seven: A New Arms Race and the Danger of War, Including Another Cold War
8. Fear Eight: The End of Reform and a Return to Totalitarianism
In outlining the above anxieties and the broadly felt sense of panic I have focussed on the domestic political realm — I have not expanded my considerations to discuss matters related to the economy or trade (including the question of massive tax cuts), nor have I touched on the provocative themes of democracy and rule of law. Below I will confine myself to offering a series of concrete policy suggestions [that is, Hopes] that I believe are of timely importance.
1. The First Hope: Put a Stop to Empty Grand Gestures and Wasteful International Largesse
2. The Second Hope: Put an End to Diplomatic Extravagance
3. The Third Hope: End the Privileges of the Party Nobility
4. The Fourth Hope: End the System of Luxury Provisioning
5. The Fifth Hope: Require Officials to Divulge their Personal Assets
6. The Sixth Hope: Put a Stop to the New Personality Cult Immediately
7. The Seventh Hope: Restore Term Limits for the National Presidency
8. The Eighth Hope: Overturn the Verdict on 4 June

China’s Leaders Confront an Unlikely Foe: Ardent Young Communists
by Javier C. Hernández, from, 20180928

… the Huizhou activists represent a threat the authorities did not expect. Carrying portraits of Mao and singing socialist anthems, they espoused the very ideals that the government fed them for years in mandatory ideological classes, voicing grievances about issues like poverty, worker rights and gender equality — some of communism’s core concerns.

#MeToo in China: ‘If we lose, there might be no more women speaking out for years’
by Yuan Yang, from, 20181206

#MeToo was late to begin in China but exploded on social media in 2018. The movement has already exposed several professors at China’s top universities, as well as leading to the resignation of Shi Xuecheng, a monk who headed China’s Buddhist Association. As in the west, the campaign seeks to expose those wielding their power through sexual harassment. But people speaking up here also face the threat of censorship and even persecution from the state.
Xianzi, who wishes to be known by her nickname, not only spoke out against one of her country’s highest-profile alleged perpetrators, state media TV host Zhu Jun; she is also the first accuser to take her case to court in a civil lawsuit claiming infringement of personal dignity.

China’s Bizarre Program to Keep Activists in Check
by Jianying Zha, from, 20181224

Recently, the Beijing police took my brother sightseeing again. Nine days, two guards, chauffeured tours through a national park that’s a World Heritage site, visits to Taoist temples and to the Three Gorges, expenses fully covered, all courtesy of the Ministry of Public Security. The point was to get him out of town during the 2018 Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, held in early September. The capital had to be in a state of perfect order; no trace of trouble was permissible. And Zha Jianguo, a veteran democracy activist, is considered a professional troublemaker…
This practice is known as bei lüyou, “to be touristed.” The term is one of those sly inventions favored by Chinese netizens: whenever law enforcement frames people, or otherwise conscripts them into an activity, the prefix bei is used to indicate the passive tense. Hence: bei loushui (to be tax-evaded), bei zisha (to be suicided), bei piaochang(to be johned), and so on. In the past few years, the bei list has been growing longer, the acts more imaginative and colorful. “To be touristed” is no doubt the most appealing of these scenarios, and it is available only to a select number of troublemakers.

Breaking Eggs Against a Rock
by Ian Johnson, from, 20180927

How does Lin exist for some Chinese but not for others? How can dissidents know of her, while most people remain ignorant?
To understand this, we have Censored, a new book by Margaret Roberts, a professor of political science at the University of California at San Diego. It provides the clearest and most convincing explanation of how information is controlled in today’s China…
As for consumers, Roberts says they are controlled through “friction” and “flooding.” As she puts it, censorship in China is primarily a “tax on information, forcing users to pay money or spend more time if they want to access the censored material.”
One of Roberts’s important insights is that people aren’t willing to pay much for information, either in time or money, unless it is immediately pertinent to their lives…
A major advantage of this policy is that most people aren’t aware of it. This drives a wedge between the elites and the masses, who are too busy and generally uninterested in politics to search for banned material. “By separating the elite from the masses,” Roberts writes, “the government prevents coordination of the core and the periphery, known to be an essential component in successful collective action.”