What you are seeing and what you are reading is not what’s happening

Access Archive

Dear Access members,

We’ve got four things at the top for you — the big one is China’s response to charges of widespread human rights abuses of minorities at the United Nations.

Our whole team really appreciates your support as Access members. Please chat with us on our Slack channel or contact me anytime at jeremy@suchina.com.

—Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor-in-Chief

1. ‘There is no such thing as re-education centers.’

Last Friday, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) heard testimony about China, condemning China’s massive social engineering program in Xinjiang that has seen perhaps more than a million Uyghurs disappeared into “re-education camps” as part of an apparent plan to destroy Uyghur culture.

A few hours before today’s session, I sent an email to SupChina subscribers and guessed that the Beijing delegation would be similar to an editorial in the nationalistic rag Global Times titled Protecting peace, stability is top of human rights agenda for Xinjiang.

The Global Times is not the official voice of the Party or government, but in some ways, it represents the Party’s id. The English version of the Global Times also often tries out arguments that sometimes later find their way into government rhetoric. This piece about the “human rights agenda for Xinjiang” does not deny that there are extreme measures being used in Xinjiang. Instead, it justifies “the high intensity of regulations” and ubiquitous “police and security posts” as necessary to maintain peace and ensure future development. A “transition to normal governance” will resume at some unspecified future time, we are assured. The money quote, which the Global Times also tweeted:

Through the strong leadership of the Communist Party of China, the national strength of the country and the contribution of local officials, Xinjiang has been salvaged from the verge of massive turmoil. It has avoided the fate of becoming “China’s Syria” or “China’s Libya.” Xinjiang is operating under the rule of law and ethnic unity. As business recovers, the region’s future is promising.

I expected the Chinese delegation to CERD to make a similar argument.

I was wrong. The delegation completely denied the existence of any camps, abusive practices, or restrictions targeting Muslims, Uyghurs, or any other minorities.

You can watch a three-hour video of the session on the UN website here (the interesting stuff starts about an hour in). There are reports by the Guardian, CNN, the South China Morning Post, the BBC, Quartz, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal (the last two are paywalled). Here are some quotes from the Chinese delegation.

  • “Xinjiang citizens including the Uyghurs enjoy equal freedoms and rights… There is no arbitrary detention, or lack of freedom of religious belief.”

  • “There is no such thing as re-education centers… It must be pointed out that Xinjiang is a victim of terrorism. In an effort to secure the life and property of all ethnic groups in the region, the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region has undertaken special campaigns to crack down on terrorism… With respect to criminals involved in minor offenses, the authorities assign them vocational, educational and employment training centers with a view to assisting in their rehabilitation. They are not subject to any arbitrary detention or ill treatment there.”

  • “The argument that one million Uyghurs are detained in re-education centres is completely untrue.”

  • “On freedom of religious belief, Xinjiang guarantees citizens freedom of religious belief and protects normal religious activities.”

  • “Those deceived by religious extremism…shall be assisted by resettlement and re-education,” he added.

It’s unlikely anyone will be convinced. As Emily Rauhala of the Washington Post tweeted: “China denies the mass detention of Muslims in Xinjiang. Kazakhstan has a growing number of witnesses.” She links to her report: New evidence emerges of China forcing Muslims into ‘reeducation’ camps.

Nathan Vanderklippe of Canada’s Globe and Mail is another reporter on top of this story right now. His latest piece, published over the weekend, is: Exporting persecution: Uyghur diaspora haunted by anxiety, guilt as family held in Chinese camps.

For background on how the story has been building for the last year:

2017

2018

—Jeremy Goldkorn

2. Peak Xi and ‘getting China wrong’

In the email I sent earlier today, I linked to a piece by William H. Overholt — senior fellow at Harvard University’s Asia Center and longtime adviser to the public and private sectors: The West is getting China wrong. The article is extracted from Overholt’s recent book, China’s Crisis of Success, and here is an even briefer extract:

The dominant narrative in the West reads that China has a stable administration run by a ‘president for life’ who is the most powerful leader since Mao Zedong. China has escaped the pressures for political change that transformed earlier Asian miracle economies at similar levels of development. It has consolidated a particularly repressive market Leninism, which is destined to grow rapidly for the indefinite future. And its increasingly centralised economic control and ambitious industrial policies are so efficient that they constitute an unlimited threat to the West.

These arguments are wrong. China has not escaped the pressures of political complexity that forced political reform elsewhere. Rather, those pressures are so powerful that the whole structure of Xi Jinping’s administration is a reaction to those pressures…

…Xi is vulnerable. He disappears from the media for days. An adulatory movie is suddenly curtailed. Portraits are suddenly removed. His bodyguards are suddenly changed. Lawyers and students are increasingly assertive. The annual Beidaihe leadership meeting is contentious.

Read the whole thing. It’s an excellent piece and food for thought, and I just bought his book. Two comments on the extract:

  • Obviously Overholt’s book has been some time in the making, but this article came out exactly when the conventional wisdom in much of the English-language commentary may be shifting, with the recognition that we may have reached peak Xi in terms of his façade of invulnerability.

  • It’s impossible to judge threats to Xi’s power from the little we know about elite Party politics. Mao Zedong himself, from the time of the Yan’An revolutionary base in the 1930s until his death in 1976, spent a great deal of energy fending off real and imagined threats to his power. And Xi has never disappeared from the media “for days” since he has been Party secretary — at most, he has been absent from the top headline of Xinhua and the People’s Daily for 48 hours or so.

—Jeremy Goldkorn

3. Trade war, day 39: China has ‘basically stopped’ buying American soybeans

Last Friday, the trade war reached a new low as the People’s Daily blamed the entire conflict on an American “hegemony-dominated mindset,” and concluded, “No matter what China does, in the eyes of the United States, China’s development has already ‘damaged the supremacy of the United States.’”

Not much has happened since then, but a couple of interesting reports on soybeans, the largest single product caught up in the trade war, came out:

  • The Peak Pegasus ship, which just barely missed the deadline to unload its 70,000-ton haul of Americans soybeans in China before tariffs hit, floated aimlessly at sea for five weeks since then. Voice of America reports that its saga has come to an end, as the soybean transaction was successfully completed at the port of Dalian — with an extra 25 percent fee, of course, totaling $6 million.

  • Future soybean shipments of the size and regularity that Peak Pegasus represented may never resume between the U.S. and China, the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture warned. Han Jun, the vice agriculture minister, said that China had “basically stopped” buying American soy, adding, “Many countries have the willingness and they totally have the capacity to take over the market share the US is enjoying in China. If other countries become reliable suppliers for China, it will be very difficult for the US to regain the market.”

—Lucas Niewenhuis

4. The White Wolf

Last week, an official at the Taipei District Prosecutors’ Office told AFP that investigators had “conducted a search of the Chinese Unity Promotion Party (CUPP)  headquarters and residence of the main suspects for possible violation of the political donations act.”  

  • One of the main suspects is Chang An-lo 张安乐, also known as the White Wolf (白狼 bái láng), who founded the CUPP in 2004 in Shenzhen.

  • The Party is pro-Beijing and pro-unification, and has often been accused of being a front for organized crime, and for being a paid agent of Beijing influence.

  • The White Wolf was leader of the Bamboo Union a.k.a. United Bamboo Gang, UBG, or 竹联帮 zhū liánbāng, the largest triad in Taiwan. Wikipedia says the Bamboo Union members call themselves “businessmen” and see themselves as “patriots” rather than “criminals,” but these are the criminal activities Wikipedia attributes to them: “Drug trafficking, kidnapping, extortion, espionage, protection racket, contract killing, assault, assassinations, illegal gambling, loan sharking, political corruption, human trafficking, prostitution, murder, and organized crime.”

In December 2000, the Washington Post published a profile of the White Wolf, by John Pomfret, author of The Beautiful Country and the Middle Kingdom and occasional SupChina contributor.

We reprint that story with permission — and editor’s updates on relevant details — for Access members.

You’re welcome to copy it and forward it to friends or colleagues — we’ll put it on our public site on Thursday.

—Jeremy Goldkorn


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