Xi proves: capitalism, totalitarianism no contradiction

To absolutely nobody's surprise, China's National People's Congress overwhelmingly approved numerous amendments to the country's Constitution on March 10, eliminating presidential term limits and strengthening the role of the Communist Party of China—and especially that of President Xi Jinping. The largely symbolic parliament voted 2,958 out of 2,963 in favor of the amendment to Article 79 of the constitution, allowing Xi to remain in power indefinitely. The constitution was also amended to officially recognize the new political philosophy of "Xi Jinping Thought." (Jurist) All these changes were of course already promulgated by the CPC Central Commmittee, and approval by the NPC is a mere formality. Xi is now enshrined as the new "paramount leader"—really, China's first since Deng Xiaoping.

China Law & Policy finds that an old-style personalistic dictatorship is being established, as opposed to the bureaucratic party-dictatorship that followed Deng:

Added to China's 1982 Constitution, the term limit provision limits the president and vice-president to two, five-year terms. It was put in place in response to the excesses of the Cultural Revolution and the one-man leadership of Mao Zedong, with its goal to ensure the peaceful transfer of power from one leader to another and eliminate the consolidation of power in one man. But it's repudiation all but guarantees that current President Xi Jinping will continue on as China's leader well past 2023, when his second term was to end. It also signifies that, with the rapid purging of rivals through his anti-corruption campaign, all power now resides with Xi. Gone is China's governing model of a collective Party approach, an approach where Xi would merely be the first among equals, an approach that has ruled China for the last 35 years.

But the inevitable invocation of Mao in this context is misleading—as evidenced by the sanguine attitude of self-proclaimed "capitalist tool" Forbes magazine:

In the near-term, nothing has happened because Xi Jinping was a shoo-in for a second five-year term anyway. That second term began this weekend. The government scrapped term-limits, meaning he can run again in 2023… The country has had a two five-year term policy since the 1990s.

Xi Forever is not Castro's Cuba.

There is an unstoppable culture of capitalism and entrepreneurship in China. Private tech companies have driven much of the new wealth in China. Tencent has over 43,000 well paid, well-educated employees with a net profit margin of 27% as of the third quarter last year. Alibaba has around 50,000 employees today and growing globally.

Billionaire tech founders Jack Ma and Robin Li are revered by the government for what they've accomplished. Warren Buffet and hedge fund billionaire Ray Dalio are like rock stars in China, a country full of retail investors who like putting money to work in the stock market as much as they like gambling in Macao and Las Vegas. Mainland equity markets are being institutionalized. The MSCI A Shares inclusion in the massive MSCI Emerging Markets Index is a recognition of that progress. China is still the largest closed-door economy in the world, but it is opening up at its own pace and many US investment banks will reap the benefits of that as China lowers the entry barriers for foreign banks in the mainland.

Right. "Xi Forever is not Castro's Cuba"—not because there is any greater political freedom in the People's Republic, but because there is greater "freedom" for foreign capital.

All too tellingly, China Labour Bulletin notes that as part of the same restructuring now being rubber-stamped by the NPC is the likely disbanding of the State Administration of Work Safety (SAWS)—China's equivalent of OSHA. Ostensibly, its functions are to be merged into a new Emergency Management Department. But the very names indicate a downgrading of the former's mission, and its subsumation under a body more concerned with national security.

Also a part of the restructuring are constitutional amendments tightening the criminal code and creating "supervisory commissions" to oversee government employees. (Jurist) These are part of Xi's vaunted anti-corruption campaign—but this may be seen as a capitalist purge, in which Xi is eliminating rivals in the state-party apparatus (today linked to control over "state-owned enterprises," and ability to reap lucre), in order to consolidate a personal dictatorship.

So here have what has been called "neoliberalism" in the West under a system that is completely illiberal where political freedoms and pluralism are concerned.

As Chinese Human Rights Defenders states in an analysis of Xi's economic agenda (which is essentially unchaged from that of his post-Mao predecessors): "In the past few decades, this 'China model' has left behind countless people in China, victimized by breakneck growth at the expense of basic protection from discrimination, exploitation, and abuse of power."

This is the context in which we must view Xi's repression of labor and displaced workers and human rights defenders, as well as peasants mobilizing to defend their farms from land-grabbing, and restive minority ethnicities such as Uighurs, Tibetans and Mongols (lest they provide an example to the Han masses). This context also reveals Xi's revival of Maoist nomenclature—such as the CPC's new "Mass Line Campaign"—as Orwellian in the extreme.

This is not Maoism. Whatever Mao actually represented—even if his regime was actually state-capitalist, as the anarchists and unorthodox Marxists would have it—it is safe to say that his totalitarian methods were, at least in intent, aimed at building socialism. Since Deng, totalitarian methods have been aimed at advancing an ever-more savage capitalism. As we've stated, Deng's Tiananmen Square massacre can be seen as a demonstration to foreign capital of willingess to use deadly repression for a stable investment climate, in the style of Chile's Pinochet. With his more aggressive foreign military posture, Xi is preparing to challenge the West rather than to woo it. But he is equally capitalist. The New Cold War between the US and China is unburdened of the ideological baggage of the first Cold War. It is a plain old rivalry between capitalist Great Powers.

Photo: chinaworker.info

  1. China’s new Supervision Law ‘systematic threat to human rights’

    Amenesty International on March 20 warned that China's new Supervision Law is a "systemic threat to human rights." The stated purpose of the new law is to centralize local and provincial supervision bodies in order to limit corruption. However, Amnesty expressed its concerns over the new supervision body, "the Liuzhi system," which creates a body that has the authority to detain government officials with no oversight. The Liuzhi system will run separately from the Chinese judicial system. (Jurist)

  2. China to allow foreign auto-makers to own 100% of local plants

    From Bloomberg:

    China will permit foreign carmakers to take full ownership of their local ventures, offering a trade-talk olive branch and a boost to global manufacturing giants hungry for a bigger slice of the world’s largest auto market.

    Scrapping the current 50 percent ownership cap will benefit electric-car producers like Tesla Inc. first, with the restriction on such businesses lifting as soon as this year. The cap for commercial vehicles will be eliminated in 2020 and the one for passenger vehicles will end in 2022, the agency that oversees industries said Tuesday.

    "Socialism," eh? #MaoWouldShit

  3. #MarxWouldShit

    China Central Television is broadcasting a slickly produced talk show called  "Marx Got It Right." wth the set featuring a blow-up of his bearded visage. Writes the NY Times: "China, the show insists, remains loyal to socialism, despite having as many as 800 or more billionaires, rising high-tech conglomerates and gaping inequalities."

  4. China: ex-Politburo member gets life

    Sun Zhengcai, former member of the Politburo of the Communist Party of China and former Secretary of the Chongqing Municipal Committee, was sentenced to life in prison on May 8 for taking bribes.

    The First Intermediate People's Court of Tianjin found Sun guilty of using his position to help certain individuals and organizations with business operations accepting bribes that totaled 170 million yuan or about $26.7 million.

    At trial he pleaded guilty to the charges and was sentenced to life in prison, deprived of political rights for life and had the proceeds from his illegal conduct confiscated.

    This ruling is a continuation of President Xi Jinping's crackdown on corruption in the government. This has been criticized by some as targeting Xi's political rivals, but the movement has seen more than one million officials punished since the drive to stamp out illicit activity by government officials began. (Jurist)

  5. China: tycoon gets 18 years

    Chinese tycoon Wu Xiaohui was sentenced by the Shanghai No. 1 Intermediate People's Court to 18 years in prison after he plead guilty to charges of fraud and embezzlement. A large portion of his property will also be confiscated. Wu was convicted of embezzling more than $10 billion from those who invested in the insurance company he founded, Anbang, through illegal fundraising. Anbang, which started as a small car insurance company, drew recent attention for its global pursuits of high-profile real estate, including New York's Waldorf Astoria hotel. Anbang's risky moves attracted the scrutiny of the Chinese financial authorities, which seized control of the company in February. Charges were subsequently brought against Wu. Last month, the Chinese government channeled over USD $9 billion into Anbang in an effort to protect its customers from excessive losses. (Jurist)

  6. China’s teachers follow their American colleagues out on strike

    While teachers in the United States have been making headlines with a series of ground-breaking strikes across the country, education workers in China have also been taking collective action over a wide range of issues from low pay, pensions, bonus payments and wages in arrears. Of the 135 incidents recorded on China Labour Bulletin's Strike Map in April, a total of 14, or nine percent, involved education workers, a remarkable statistic given that teachers only make up about two percent of the national workforce in China. Last month saw retired community teachers take to the streets again to demand proper pensions, three separate protests by school teachers in Xi’an over the payment of performance bonuses, and several strikes in kindergartens and other privately-run education institutions over low pay and wage arrears. (CLB, May 4)

  7. China: democracy activist gets 13 years

    A prominent Chinese political campaigner was sentenced to 13 years in prison on July 11. Qin Yongmin was found guilty of "subversion of state power" by the Wuhan City Intermediate People's Court. It appears to be the harshest sentence handed down in China for "subversion" in the past 15 years. The 64-year-old, first imprisoned as a "counter-revolutionary" from 1981-1989, has already spent a total of 22 years behind bars.

    At the time of his arrest in January 2015, Qin was head of the pro-democracy "China Human Rights Watch" group, which circulated online statements denouncing government policies, as well as organizing discussion groups. (AFP)

  8. Attempted coup in Beijing?

    From The Guardian, Aug. 4:

    Rumours have swirled in Beijing in recent weeks that China’s seemingly invincible leader, Xi Jinping, is in trouble, dogged by a protracted trade war with the US, a slowing economy and a public health scandal involving thousands of defective vaccines given to children.

    Xi’s name seemed to have disappeared for a while from the cover of the People’s Daily, replaced with articles about his deputy, Li Keqiang, and large portraits of him were said to have been taken down after a young woman filmed herself throwing ink at his image.

    On 13 July, online reports claimed there was gunfire in central Beijing as a coup unfolded. A cryptic slogan emerged online: "No. 1 will rest while Ocean takes over the military," a reference to a rival politician taking power.

    For now, Xi remains in full control of the government and party, and mentions of him in state-run media are as frequent as ever, but the hearsay is a sign all is not right with China’s most powerful leader in decades.

    "Such rumours may well lack credibility, but they do offer some indication that the disharmony within China’s party elite is increasing," the Hong Kong political analyst Lee Yee wrote in in the online journal China Heritage.

    This week, an essay by a law professor at Tsinghua University, one of the country's top schools, made the rounds on Chinese social media. The essay – Our dread now and our hopes—by Xu Zhangrun offered one of the most direct criticisms of the Chinese government under Xi's direction.

    Referring to Xi only as "that official," Xu accused him of reversing years of reforms, effectively returning China to an era of totalitarian politics and a style of dictatorship last seen under Mao Zedong.

  9. Chinese scholar called home after dissent

    China Change website, in its latest update Sept. 16 notes an escalating clapdown on dissent and political space, with websites closed, cellphones inspected by authorities, internal travel restricted for those with a history of activism, and so on. It includes the following ominous item:

    The author of the widely celebrated, lengthy reflection on the parlous state of affairs in contemporary Chinese political life published in July, Tsinghua University law professor Xu Zhangrun (许章润), was recently called back to China early from his visiting professorship in Japan. Rong Jian (荣剑), another Chinese scholar, saw Xu in Japan on September 7 and reported that Xu told him that "he was forced to go back on the 14th of the month."

    Xu’s essay, 'Imminent Fears, Immediate Hopes,' a portion of which was translated by China Change, and translated in its entirety by Geremie Barmé, was the subject of widespread public discussion in China and abroad, and was featured in a New York Times article for capturing the essence of concerns about China’s current political direction.

    Winning more coverage is the mysterious disappearance of celebrity actress Fan Bingbing. There is speculation she may have been arrested over a tax matter (a frequent cover for political repression), but accounts note she vanished just after posting on social media about her visit to a children's hospital in Tibet. Her usually very active Weibo account has also fallen silent. (SCMP, APThe Guardian, Deadline Hollywood)

    Fan's sometime co-star Feng Xiaogang has apparently also disappeared. Hollywood Reporter notes that Communist Party officials have recently been berating the country's movie stars for encouraging "money worship" among the youth.

    This from the ruling elite of the savage-capitalist state? The chutzpah.

    1. China live-streamer detained for ‘insulting’ national anthem

      A Chinese live-streaming celebrity has been detained for five days for "insulting" the country's national anthem. Yang Kaili, a 20-year-old with tens of millions of followers, had appeared on camera singing the anthem while flailing her arms around. The live-streaming platform, Huya, had earlier taken down her video and banned her channel. Yang, who is also known as Li Ge, has since publicly apologised.

      The Shanghai Police Department said in a statement that she had violated China's National Anthem Law. "Live-streaming platforms are not above the law—the law and moral standards similarly apply there." (BBC News, Oct. 15)

  10. Xi’s ‘socialist’ rhetoric catches up with him

    Well, it seems some idealistic Chinese students are takng Xi's "socialist" rhetoric seriously—much to the dictator's consternation! A fascinating report in the NY Times Sept. 28 recounts this summer's campaign by students from across China who converged on the southern industrial city of Huizhou ro hold protests in support of workers who attempted to from an independent union at Jasic Technology, a manufacturer of welding equipment. "The authorities moved quickly to crush the efforts of the young activists, detaining several dozen of them and scrubbing the internet of their calls for justice — but not before their example became a rallying cry for young people across the country unhappy with growing inequality, corruption and materialism in Chinese society."

    One day earlier, the Times ran a tellingly surreal story about how KFC ran a TV ad campaign in China celebrating 40 years of "reform and opening up" (the catchphrase of Deng's counter-revolution). Corporate communism, eh?

  11. Marxist students in China face repression —suprrise!

    And in another case of actual Marxists being silenced in "communist" China, In Defense of Marxism website reports on the disciplinary measures and threat of actual closure taken against a study group at Peking University. The PKU) Marxist Society has received a letter of reprimand from the campus chapter of the Young Communist League (official youth wing of the CPC) for failing to register as a "student society." The Marxist Society was seemingly under sponsorship umbrella of the YCL, until it began speaking out in solidarity with the Jasic workers in Shenzhen.

    This follows the Aug. 24 police raid on an apartment in Huizhou that had been retned by students who travelled to the area to support the Jasic workers in the neighboring city of Shenzhen. More than 50 students were detained in the raid, according to China Labour Bulletin. It is unclear if they have now been released. According to the report, one student was "disappeared," along with two workers he had been in touch with.

    China Worker website reports that several (ostensibly?) Maoist websites have been shut down by authorities. Among those named are Epoch Pioneer, Red Reference and Mao Zedong Flag.

    We remain curious as to what extent these activists actually revere Mao, as opposed to seeking (not too sucessfully, it seems), an acceptable cover for their activism…

  12. Marxist activist disappeared in China

    A young rights activist who called for China's top university to be transparent about its investigation of a rape case and joined a labor dispute in Shenzhen has not been seen for more than six weeks after she was detained by police. Yue Xin, 22, was taken into custody on August 24 along with about 50 other activists, many of them young Marxists, who were involved in a labour rights protest in Shenzhen. She had earlier accused Peking University of trying to silence her for demanding information about the handling of a sexual misconduct case that led to a student's suicide 20 years ago—one of China's most discussed #MeToo incidents. (SCMP, Oct. 11)

  13. ‘White terror’ at Peking University

    Since August at least nine young Chinese labor advocates have been forcibly detained in cities across the country. On Nov. 9, one graduate, Zhang Shengye, was attacked and dragged into a car at Peking University by several people in black jackets, according to a widely circulated open letter. "The whole of Peking University is like under the white terror now, [the security guards] will come after you even if you were just at the scene where the student activists were distributing leaflets," a student at Peking University told CNN.

  14. ‘Communist’ Xi Jinping champions free markets

    At the current APEC summit in Papua New Guinea, Xi Jinping once again takes a thinly veiled swipe at Trump, saying the "protectionism" is "doomed to failure." (AFP) The "communist" (*cough*) champion of free trade.

    "Xi Jinping Thought" is Mao in rhetoric, Pinochet in practice.

  15. China escalates crackdown on Marxist students

    Qiu Zhanxuan, head of the Peking University Marxist Society, was detained by security forces ahread of an event he was organizing to celebrate Mao's birthday on Dec. 26. He was released after 24 hours, but the university subsequently issued an order to the Marxist Society that he be removed as its leader. More students were arrested when they held a campus protest to oppose this move. (Reuters)

    Yue Xin, who graduated from Peking University last year, has been under secret detention since she was arrested on Aug. 24, along with around 50 other students and youth of the Jasic Support Group (JSG). Yue's current whereabouts and condition are unknown. An online campaign, "Looking for Yue," has been launched to demand her release. (China Worker)

  16. China labor crackdown spreads

    At least five Chinese activists were arrested by police for allegedly “disturbing public order” in what appears to be a coordinated crackdown on labour activism. Wu Guijun, Zhang Zhiru, He Yuancheng, Jian Hui and Song Jiahui were all arrested on Sunday evening. Jian was arrested in Changsha, Hunan province, while the four other activists were detained in Guangdong. Another activist, Lin Dong, is believed to have been picked up by police in Nanning, Guangxi, and subsequently released. The arrests were first reported by China Labour Bulletin and Hong Kong-based Red Balloon Solidarity. More student activists were later arrested in Beijing, bringing the total detained in the new sweep tp some dozen. (HKFP, Jan. 24; SCMP, Jan. 22)

  17. Ai Weiwei: West complicit in China dictatorship

    In a statement on the Gardiner Museum website, artist Ai Weiwei notes the fast-deteriorating human rights situation in China, and calls out the West as complicit:

    The West has pretended to not notice or, more insidiously, has been a willing partner. They are the hidden force behind China’s rise. And while China has become an ever more powerful machine, it still has not changed its authoritarian tendencies.

    The argument often repeated in the West is that strong economic growth in repressive states inevitably lead to the embrace of human rights and democracy. An understanding of the history of dictatorships tells us that this is not a credible assumption. Dictators have never voluntarily relinquished power and control. Change has always come abruptly, either through revolution or another equally disastrous event. There is no precedence for this kind of gradual shift and the West understands this well…

    The West’s apparent conflict with the situation in China is because of its refusal to acknowledge its complicity in creating this monstrous regime… The real problem comes from the West where there is a complete lack of vision and responsibility, only an interest in profiting from the status quo.

    Read more at ArtNet

  18. China textbook purge

    A constitutional law textbook written by one of China's best-known reform-minded legal scholars has been pulled from book shops, apparently the latest text to run afoul of a government campaign against "Western influence." The author, Zhang Qianfan, a professor at Peking University known for his advocacy of constitutionalism and judicial reform, dismissed any suggestion his writing excessively promoted Western ideas as "utter nonsense," and said the academic world should not be politicized. (Reuters)

  19. Shenzhen labor activists formally arrested

    At least three well-known labor activists have been formally arrested in Shenzhen and charged with gathering a crowd to disturb public order (聚众扰乱社会秩序罪).

    The families and associates of Wu Guijun, Zhang Zhiru and He Yuancheng learnt of the charges seperately on Feb. 26 and 27, more than a month after they were detained in a coordinated police action late on the evening of Jan. 20. They are being held in a Shenzhen detention center and are understood to be in reasonable health.

    It is unclear at present exactly what incident the charges refer to because the authorities have told Wu and Zhang to decline the services of the lawyers hired by their families. In addition, family members have been harassed by the authorities and told not to talk to the media about the case. (China Labour Bulletin)

  20. Xi Jinping issues ‘2035 manifesto’

    The Chinese Communist Party announced last month that it will convene a key policy meeting in October. “The fifth plenary session of the 19th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China will be held in Beijing in October,” the press release stated. Attendees will assess the proposals for the next Five-Year Plan that spans 2021 to 2025 “and future targets for 2035.” This is a divergence from the usual five-year model of planning, and is being interpreted as a further sign of Xi cementing his power over the longterm. Xi will turn 82 in 2035. (Nikkei Asian Review)

  21. Xi pledges ‘property rights,’ protections for entrepreneurs

    Shenzhen will strengthen property rights and protection of entrepreneurs, Xi Jinping said Oct. 14 in a speech to marking the establishment of China’s first economic zone in the southern city four decades earlier. The Shenzhen government will get more leeway to pursue reforms and become a “model city for a strong socialist country,” Xi said. (Reuters)

    How do they square it? I mean, really—how do they square it?

  22. China: human rights retreat, property rights advance

    China will now hold children as young as 12 years old criminally liable for crimes deemed “abominable,” according to China Daily. The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC) on Dec. 26 also introduced punishment for intellectual property infringement that could lead to 10 years in prison.

    The Standing Committee said an “abominable” crime would occur

    if a person who has reached 12 years of age but not 14 commits intentional homicide, intentionally hurts another person so as to cause death of the person, or by resorting to especially cruel means, causes severe injury to the person, reducing the person to utter disability, shall bear criminal responsibility if the Supreme People’s Procuratorate decides to prosecute the crime after examination.

    The amendment adds that children aged 14 to 16 can be criminally liable for serious crimes such as murder, rape or drug smuggling.

    Lastly, the amendments create more significant criminal penalties for infringement of intellectual property rights, making the maximum prison term seven to 10 years for trademark and copyright infringement. The law creates penalties for illegally implanting gene-edited or cloned human embryos into humans or animals. These are some of the first and by far most substantial changes to China’s attempts to stop intellectual property theft.

    The amendments will go in to effect on March 1. (Jurist)

  23. Sixth Plenum: further consolidation of Xi autocracy

    At the Sixth Plenary Session of the 19th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, Xi Jinping has further cemented his power, overseeing the passing of a landmark resolution that paves the way for him to secure a third term in office. The resolution on the party’s “major achievements and historic experiences” since its founding 100 years ago, places Xi on the same pedestal as Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. These deliberations are to be rubber-stamped at the 20th National Party Congress to be held next year. (Nikkei Asia, CNN, NYT, The Conversation)

    This continues a trajectory toward an old-style personal autocracy that began with the Third Plenary Session of the 18th Central Committee in 2013.

  24. Where is Yue Xin?

    Since the disappearance of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai after accusing vice premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault, #WhereIsPengShuai has become a viral hashtag. Yet it is now three years since the forced disappearance of Yue Xin, both for her labor activism and protests of sexual assault at Peking University. She made an obviously forced “confession” a year after she disappeared (as Peng Shuai now has), but it is not clear that she was ever released…. So we want to know… #WhereIsYueXin?