In favor of lifetime rule for Xi

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An argument for lifetime rule for Xi

Robert Lawrence Kuhn is an interesting man: He has a Ph.D. in the anatomy of the brain, but once worked on the “Systematic Theology Project” for the Worldwide Church of God, a cult-like organization, and he produces a TV series about theology, philosophy, and science called Closer to Truth. He made a fortune in 2001 selling a financial firm that he founded to Citigroup. But he’s best known to China-watchers as America’s most reliable praise singer of Chinese Communist Party leaders.

Kuhn has written a bunch of articles and books about the leadership, most famously the biography The Man Who Changed China: The Life and Legacy of Jiang Zemin. The book was a best seller in China, but “readers in the West don’t seem convinced” was the verdict (paywall) of former Wall Street Journal correspondent Matt Pottinger (who is now the top Asia hand in the Trump administration’s National Security Council). Pottinger also noted that some reviewers “panned the 709-page book as a fawning work of hagiography,” and that Kuhn does not speak Chinese, nor did he interview Jiang Zemin even once for the book.

Whatever you think of his work, Kuhn is a reliable transmitter of the image that the Party would like to have outside China. So I was especially interested to see what he has to say about China’s proposed removal of presidential term limits.

Here we have it: an article titled Xi Jinping’s power has a purpose — one person to see China through its development plans, in the South China Morning Post. Despite the headline, Kuhn has some doubts about the move — this is his concluding paragraph:

All factors considered, I am not saying abolishing term limits is absolutely good for China. I am saying it may be good — because of China’s special conditions and Xi’s special capabilities — but if it is good, it’s just for this once, and it’s just for so long. That’s the best case. I’m rooting for Xi.

Kuhn’s hopes for “the best case” rest on this argument:

  • The “new era” — Kuhn uses Xi’s wording — is “marked by economic, social and global complexities,” which requires “firm and consistent leadership, making moot inner party struggles and even mitigating political gossip, facilitating focus on the tasks of governance and development.”

  • Entrenched interest groups are resisting change, so installing Xi for life sends the message “that all must get with the programme, because you can’t outwit or outwait Xi.”

  • Xi’s ambitious plan to bring about “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese people” means that “China cannot afford ‘downtime’ to accommodate a change of leadership.”

  • The international media is misguided, according to Kuhn, focusing on term limits instead of on the “fundamental changes going on in China — this year, innovation, streamlining of government, facilitation of business (cutting bureaucracy and reducing taxes), rural revitalization and rural land reform.”

This argument is exactly the line of reasoning I have heard from many Chinese friends. I don’t personally share their faith in Xi’s unique omnipotence, but I’d love to be proved wrong.

An X-ray satellite to probe most violent corners of the universe

Here’s a story about Chinese innovation that Kuhn might like: Science magazine reports that last week in Beijing, China’s National Space Science Center “began detailed design studies for a satellite that would round out an array of orbiting platforms for probing x-rays from the most violent corners of the cosmos.”

  • The enhanced X-ray Timing and Polarimetry (eXTP) mission will be China’s most expensive space science satellite yet, “with an estimated price tag of $473 million.”

  • Chinese scientists “are becoming leaders in the field of x-ray astrophysics,” according to astrophysicist Andrea Santangelo, who is eXTP’s international coordinator, but the project is highly collaborative, involving more than 200 scientists from 20 countries.

  • The eXTP mission will launch around 2025 if everything goes according to plan.

  • Finding evidence to support Albert Einstein’s “predictions about how light and matter interact in the powerful magnetic fields associated with certain neutron stars” is one of the aims of the project. Read the whole Science article for more on the science behind it.

What a way to celebrate International Women’s Day!

Internet censors decided to celebrate March 8 by shuttering the social media accounts of the influential online group Feminist Voices 女权之声. Jiayun Feng has more on this unwelcome development on SupChina.

‘Cautious hope ahead of U.S.-North Korea meeting’

Between Trump and Kim, who knows what will happen after the American president announced that he intends to accept the North Korean leader’s invitation to a meeting. I have two reading suggestions:

The first is a statement from the International Crisis Group, which expresses cautious hope but warns that without “serious preparation by all sides,” the summit might fail and that “could quickly take the crisis back to the brink.”

The second is a New York Times guide (paywall) to “seven big things to understand about Trump’s talks with North Korea.” The initial one is that “short-term, it reduces the risk of war,” but the other six are not nearly so positive, including the chaotic state of the State Department, and the fact that the two sides do not even agree on what they will talk about.

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Have a great weekend!

—Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor-in-Chief


  • Servers in caves in Guizhou: A new third front?
    Tencent’s CEO, Pony Ma, announced that his company will dig caves in the mountains of remote Guizhou Province, where it will maintain its servers. Apple’s new China data center is also in Guizhou. The move may be seen as a cyber-age version of the Mao-era “Third Front Movement,” which relocated defense factories to China’s interior.

  • Property tax in China by 2019?
    Real estate has long been a favorite investment of ordinary Chinese people, as the country’s bubbly housing market is free of property taxes. That may change in 2019, as Ministry of Finance officials told reporters that a “real estate tax law” was being drafted and may be reviewed as soon as later this year.

  • Trump’s trade war begins: Are targeted tariffs on China next?
    Trump held a signing ceremony at the White House, where he proclaimed that American tariffs on imported steel and aluminum would take effect in 15 days. Next, a far more consequential review of China’s intellectual property practices may soon give Trump reason to impose tariffs on a wide range of Chinese imports.


  • Two Sessions: China’s biggest annual political ritual begins in Beijing
    The National People’s Congress (NPC) and National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) kicked off their annual meetings in Beijing on March 5. Of note this year: even tighter choreography of the meeting, as legislatures sat in silence but burst into applause at the mention of the proposed policy to abolish President Xi Jinping’s term limits.

  • Two Sessions: Beijing budgets for international influence
    China’s military budget increase of 8.1 percent has grabbed attention and raised alarm overseas, but Chinese state media insists that “China’s military lags well behind other major countries.” Meanwhile, China is planning on spending 15.6 percent more on diplomacy, for a total of $9.45 billion.

  • Will China’s next overseas port be in Djibouti?
    China has bought or otherwise gained ownership of a striking number of ports around the world in the past year, and the phenomenon is connected to China’s nascent network of overseas military bases. Now reports have emerged that the Doraleh Container Terminal in Djibouti may be next, after the country ended a contract with a Dubai-based company last month.

  • The good, the bad, and the ugly: International Women’s Day in China
    A review of reading for International Women’s Day, and more on Chinese Students and Scholars Associations in the U.S. and Xi Jinping’s power grab.



Click HereViral videos in China, March 5-9, 2018

What is China watching? Our selection this week: An airport falls apart, a “homemade” ice rink, some imitation art, and an artist turning characters into drawings!


I was asked to teach English at a Chinese orgy

Our February piece about swinging in China reminded a reader of a similar experience he had in Guangdong in 2002. He wrote about it for The Standard in Hong Kong in 2005, published under the headline “Lust in translation: ‘Will you help me to practice my English?'” An edited version is republished here with the author’s permission.

Sinica Podcast: China’s authoritarian revival, explained by Carl Minzner

A law professor and specialist on Chinese governance at Fordham University discusses his recent book, in which he argues that China’s authoritarian revival has put an end to reform and will hamper China’s rise.

One China journalist’s quest to amplify female voices in media

The Greater China Female Experts Open Directory is a crowdsourced list of some 400 experts in a wide range of China fields. “I’ve always been a feminist and looked for ways to not only raise awareness for women’s issues, but also find solutions to them,” says its creator, Joanna Chiu. We asked her about the list and her other projects, including a women writers collective called NüVoices.

The Bookworm Literary Festival returns to Beijing

After a one-year hiatus, the international Bookworm Literary Festival — an independent, privately funded literary festival organized by a foreign-language bookstore in Beijing — is returning for its 11th edition, from March 8 to 25. SupChina is a sponsor this year: Check out these four events put together by SupChina editor Anthony Tao, including a Sinica Podcast live taping.

Are the Oscars finally breaking into China?

The telecast of the Academy Awards may have suffered a record ratings low last Sunday, but in China, Oscars-nominated movies are gaining more traction, as winning an Academy Award helps Chinese companies burnish their credentials in their collaboration with Hollywood studios and their tapping into overseas film markets. Also in Pang-Chieh Ho’s film column this week, a look at the patriotic movie Operation Red Sea, the latest in what will be a long line of “main melody films.”

Kuora: Why do technocrats dominate China’s political elite?

We’re turning the wayback machine all the way back to 2010 — and to one of Kaiser’s first answers on Quora, which is particularly timely now, with China’s political leaders currently gathered in Beijing for the annual Two Sessions: Why do Chinese political leaders have engineering degrees whereas their American counterparts have law degrees?

The Caixin-Sinica Business Brief, episode 39

This week on the Business Brief: A donkey-hide dustup, a shark-smuggling case near Ecuador, an IPO for video site iQiyi, the prospects for an IPO for smartphone maker Xiaomi, and the future of private conglomerate CEFC China Energy, whose founder and chairman has been placed under investigation.

Mingbai: What do Chinese kids watch on TV?

If you grew up in the English-speaking world, you were probably shaped by Disney, Sesame Street, or Cartoon Network. You also probably don’t know what kids in China were watching all this time. Today’s Mingbai introduces two kids’ TV shows that everyone in China knows, one from the 1990s and one from the 2000s: Big Head Son and Small Head Dad (大头儿子和小头爸爸) and Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf (喜羊羊与灰太狼).

‘Only sorry they got caught’: New details about LiAngelo Ball and UCLA players arrested in China

One of the biggest China sports stories of the past year concerned three UCLA basketball players — LiAngelo Ball, Jalen Hill, and Cody Riley — who shoplifted from three stores in Hangzhou in advance of a season-opening showcase game. New details have emerged, including information that exposes President Trump’s claim to have helped negotiate for the players’ release.




Several Kunqu performers apply makeup backstage prior to a performance in Suzhou. Kunqu (昆曲 kūnqǔ), also known as Kun opera, is one of the oldest and most refined Chinese opera styles, with origins in the Ming dynasty (1368–1644). The Peony Pavilion and The Peach Blossom Fan are examples of famous Kunqu productions that are still popular today.

Jia Guo