By Phelim Kine, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Phelim Kine is the New York-based deputy director of the Asia division at Human Rights Watch. The views expressed are his own.
It’s the Chinese government’s Nelson Mandela problem.
When news broke of Mandela’s death on December 5, China’s state media joined in the global torrent of tributes for the former political prisoner turned beloved president of South Africa. President Xi Jinping praised Mandela as “an accomplished politician of global standing,” while state-owned China Central Television described him as “an old friend of China.” Glaring omissions in those early tributes were references to “freedom,” “democracy” and any mention of Mandela as a Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
That was no accident. For the ruling Chinese Communist Party, observing Nelson Mandela’s death is a fraught exercise in verbal contortions to distance him from China’s own imprisoned Nobel laureate and advocate for peaceful social change: the writer Liu Xiaobo.
On December 11, China’s state-owned Global Times went on the offensive with an accusation that “Western media” had “deliberately cast a light on the imprisonment of Liu and praised him as ‘China’s Mandela.’” The objective? To deflect from the striking parallels between the globally revered former South African president and the quiet, self-effacing Chinese writer in Jinzhou Prison in northeastern Liaoning province.
GPS speaks with International Crisis Group analyst Yanmei Xie about recent tensions in East Asia, China’s air defense identification zone, and what it means for U.S. ties with Beijing.
What exactly is the air defense identification zone that China has announced?
The air defense identification zone, announced last month, covers a set of islands – called Diaoyu by China and Senkaku by Japan – whose sovereignty is hotly disputed by the two countries. Beijing has demanded that from now on, aircraft entering the zone have to report their flight plans, maintain communication and show identification, or “China’s armed forces will adopt defensive emergency measures to respond.”
What’s behind the move?
Challenged at sea, Beijing could be hoping to assert greater control over the contested islands by unilaterally establishing administrative rights over the airspace above them. It has already been eroding Japan’s administration of the disputed waters by regularly dispatching patrol vessels to the area since the Japanese government purchased three of the islands from a private owner in September 2012.
The move may also have been driven by the People’s Liberation Army’s desire to expand its power projection. The PLA for years has been arguing that Japan’s air defense identification zone unfairly restricted Chinese military aircraft’s movement and advocated for the establishment of one of its own.
China’s sudden declaration, however, is puzzling in light of its foreign policy goals. Just a month ago, Chinese President Xi Jinping in a high-profile speech, stated that “safeguarding peace and stability in the neighboring region is a major goal” of the country’s diplomacy.
By Jeffrey W. Hornung, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Jeffrey W. Hornung is an associate professor at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Honolulu, and an adjunct fellow with the Office of the Japan Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. The views expressed in this article are his alone.
China’s more assertive posture in regional territorial disputes took a new turn at the weekend with its decision to implement an Air Defense Identification Zone. At a time when tensions in the region are already high due to a lingering territorial dispute between China and Japan, China’s action has escalated tensions in the East China Sea. Now, with Beijing apparently demonstrating a fundamental misunderstanding of diplomacy with its neighbors, the region is forced to confront provocative and potentially destabilizing behavior.
On November 23, China’s defense ministry unilaterally announced the establishment of the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone. According to the new rules for conduct in this ADIZ, any aircraft flying into China’s ADIZ is required to submit flight plans to Chinese authorities, maintain two-way radio communication, and keep radar transponders turned on. Should a plane refuse to follow these instructions, China’s military will “adopt defensive measures.”
ADIZs are, by themselves, not controversial, acting as early-warning perimeters for self-defense. But while there are no international rules concerning their size or establishment, China’s action is provocative for two reasons. First, it may be attempting to set new rules for aircraft flying above waters considered a state’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Second, it chose to establish an ADIZ that overlaps considerably with those of both Japan and Taiwan as well as a sliver of South Korea’s. Provocatively, included in China’s ADIZ are territorial disputes it maintains with Japan over the Senkaku Islands (Diaoyu in Chinese) and with South Korea over Ieodo (Suyan Rock in Chinese).
By Michael Mazza, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Michael Mazza is a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. The views expressed are his own.
It’s difficult to know precisely what was behind China’s decision to institute an East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) at the weekend. Chinese claims to the contrary, it is clearly meant to up the pressure on Japan in the two countries’ dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, over which the ADIZ extends. Internal Chinese political dynamics may also be at work here; President Xi Jinping, for example, must be benefitting from taking a strong stance vis-à-vis Japan. But whatever the reason for the creation of the ADIZ at this time, Beijing may ultimately regret it – and not only because it increases the likelihood of a violent incident over the East China Sea.
First off, the move needlessly antagonizes Taiwan and South Korea. The fact is that it puts a wrinkle into recently stable cross-Strait relations, as Taiwan also claims sovereignty over the Senkakus (known as the Diaoyutai in Taiwan), and it now has an overlapping ADIZ with the mainland.
The ADIZ is even more surprising in the context of China-South Korea relations, which have looked particularly warm of late. Seoul’s quarrels with Japan over history have been at their worst in recent months, and Beijing has effectively stoked that fire. But China’s new ADIZ overlaps with South Korea’s; covers the disputed Socotra Rock (which both countries claim as within their own exclusive economic zone); and may extend a bit too close for comfort to Jeju Island, where South Korea is building a major naval base. In one fell swoop, Beijing has reminded Seoul that South Korea has more in common with Japan than it normally likes to admit.
By Fareed Zakaria
China’s leaders have promised “unprecedented” market-oriented reforms that are “comprehensive,” “economic, social and political.” We will have to wait and watch to see what that means but, for sure, it means no moves toward democracy. It will likely involve administrative changes that make China’s bureaucracy more efficient, effective and honest. Local courts, for example, long dominated by corrupt local politicians, are likely to be streamlined, perhaps with the creation of an American-style federal circuit.
In fact, so far, the country has actually moved in the opposite direction politically, clamping down on the Internet as part of a Maoist campaign against dissent. One participant described this as a strategy that “moves left politically so that you can move right economically.” He said it mirrored Deng’s approach, which is summarized in a joke that he once instructed his driver to turn on the left signal while turning the car to the right.
By Elizabeth Economy, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Elizabeth Economy is C.V. Starr Senior Fellow and director of Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. The views expressed are her own.
In the aftermath of an apparent suicide attack in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on October 27 that injured dozens of people and killed five (including three involved in the attack), Chinese authorities moved quickly to label the incident terrorism and to arrest a handful of suspects who reportedly helped plot the attack. In the process, word leaked out that those involved were from Xinjiang, a Muslim-dominated region in the far northwest of China. For decades, Xinjiang, itself, has been the site of often-violent ethnic strife between the Muslim Uyghur majority and the Han Chinese minority. Uyghur discontent, however, has rarely spilled over into other parts of China. Now, Chinese authorities are claiming that Uyghur extremists have, for the first time, taken their cause to Beijing.
Assuming this suicide attack was, in fact, a premeditated terrorist attack and not simply an act of individual desperation – an assumption many in and outside China continue to question – the government’s next step will likely be to crack down in Xinjiang itself. Past violence in Xinjiang has been met by Beijing with highly repressive policies, mass arrests, and demonstrations of military and police force. In fact, the Tiananmen incident occurred while Beijing was already in the midst of a government-directed crackdown on online activists in Xinjiang. Even more moderate approaches have fallen flat. In May, for example, residents of one county in Xinjiang were the beneficiaries of more than 100 government-sponsored lectures on ethnic relations during “ethnic harmony education month.” The following month, 35 people died in ethnic violence in that same county.
By Robert Daly, Special to CNN
Editor's note: Robert Daly is director of the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States at the Woodrow Wilson Center. The views expressed are his own.
At noon on October 28, an SUV exploded in front of Beijing's Gate of Heavenly Peace, or Tiananmen. Five people were killed and forty injured. The symbolic nature of the site, as well as the timing of the violence – China's Communist Party is about meet to set the country's direction for the next decade – make the explosion more important than a bombing would be in another Chinese city in a less sensitive season. The bus bomb that killed 16 in Wuhan in February, 1998, for example, did not get as much attention.
Not that Monday's tragedy has been widely covered in China. The site of the fire was barricaded and cleaned within hours. Chinese censors were just as thorough in scouring China's Internet for mention of what should have been the day's major story.
We will probably never know the intentions of the people in the SUV, but it appears that that this was either a murderously clumsy self-immolation or a terrorist attack. Beijing has declared that it was terrorism and has five suspects in custody who have confessed to planning it.
By Sarah Cook, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Sarah Cook is a senior research analyst for East Asia at Freedom House and author of report The Long Shadow of Chinese Censorship, which was released October 22 by the National Endowment for Democracy’s Center for International Media Assistance. The views expressed are her own.
The efforts of China’s leaders to prevent its citizens from circulating information inconvenient to the ruling Communist Party are well known. But while censorship is a daily reality for media outlets inside mainland China, their counterparts abroad are increasingly finding themselves under pressure as well.
China’s leaders, it seems, have become more ambitious in their attempts to control the news.
Take last year, when reports surfaced that China’s ambassador to the United States met with Bloomberg’s editor-in-chief to try to persuade the outlet not to run a story about the finances of Communist Party leader Xi Jinping’s family. Last May, meanwhile, popular Taiwanese talk show host Cheng Hung-yi resigned after station executives allegedly tried to stop his program from touching on topics sensitive to Beijing. And back in 2011, reportedly at Beijing’s urging, a court in Hanoi sentenced two Vietnamese citizens who practice Falun Gong to prison for transmitting radio broadcasts about human rights abuses and corruption from their farm to listeners in China.
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By Global Public Square staff
China has brought us a new English word: "Airpocalypse."
The northeastern city of Harbin was paralyzed last week by terrible smog and air pollution. Visibility was down to just a few meters. Highways and schools were closed, the airport was shut down. Pedestrians could barely get around. The images are a vivid reminder of the impacts of industrial growth, especially when powered by dirty fuels like coal, which accelerates not only pollution but also climate change.
The latest report from the United Nation’s scientific panel says it is “extremely likely” – more than a 95 percent probability – that human activity was the dominant cause of the temperature increases of the last few decades. Another study, published in Nature, showed that we are on track to reach unprecedented highs of temperature by 2047. Findings showed the coldest year in the future would be warmer than the hottest year of the past.
So, if the science is not really in dispute, why is it so difficult for us to actually do something about it? There’s a clever explanation. To understand it, we need to tell you about one more study. This one is a game –but one played with real money.
By Fareed Zakaria
China scholars have noted in recent years that the Communist Party is deeply concerned about its legitimacy and grass-roots appeal. That led many to believe it would address these issues by opening up its political system, with political reforms that would accompany economic reforms. Instead, it appears that the party is choosing older, Mao-era methods of crackdowns, public confessions and purification campaigns.
Over the past 30 years, the Chinese Communist Party has extraordinary accomplishments to its credit. In the past decade alone, the average person’s income has close to quintupled, and the country now has the world’s second-largest economy. But perhaps because of this success, many of the challenges China faces are ones in which economics cannot be separated from politics. Addressing concerns about pollution, for example, means slowing industrial growth. Moving toward a more sustainable development model means taking money from state-owned — and politically connected — companies.
By Guy de Jonquières, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Guy de Jonquières is a senior fellow at the European Centre for International Political Economy. This article is based on his recently published paper, Who’s Afraid of China’s High-Tech Challenge?
Some of the sheen may be wearing off China’s miracle growth story as it faces a growing array of economic challenges. But the country’s drive to become an innovation powerhouse and global leader in science and advanced technologies continues to inspire shock and awe abroad.
China has already overtaken the United States and Japan to become the largest recipient of patent applications and is forecast to outstrip the U.S. as the biggest source of scientific publications by 2020. Its universities turn out about 2 million engineering graduates annually, more than any other country.
Beijing’s plans are more breathtaking still. The most far-reaching is the Strategic Emerging Industries initiative, which is backed by state funding of as much as $2 trillion over five years and aims to leapfrog today’s global leaders in sectors such as clean energy, information technology, biotechnology, advanced manufacturing and new materials.
However, as so often in China, all is not quite as it seems. Surging national patent applications, it turns out, have been spurred less by an explosion of innovation than by numerical government targets for filings and lavish state incentives to ensure they are met. This looks suspiciously like a case of “Never mind the quality, just feel the weight.”
By Richard Wike, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Richard Wike is Director of Global Attitudes at the Pew Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter @RichardWike. The views expressed are his own.
After a remarkable run of economic expansion that has lifted tens of millions out of poverty, the Chinese public is waking up to the side effects of progress. True, much of the growing middle class is pleased to have achieved some degree of material comfort. But that same middle class is increasingly asking tough questions about the costs of economic growth and the fairness of the system that produced it. And the record setting levels of pollution this week in the northeastern city of Harbin, where schools and the airport have been shut, will only intensify scrutiny of President Xi Jinping’s government in the run up to next month’s meeting of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee.
Harbin, a city of 11 million people, was essentially closed Monday and Tuesday as thick smog raised concentrations of PM2.5, the most dangerous airborne particles for health, to more than 30 times the level considered safe by the World Health Organization. Air pollution tends to be worse in the winter, and many now fear a repeat of last January’s “airpocalypse,” which brought impenetrable smog and record breaking toxicity levels to Beijing and other major cities.
And air pollution wasn’t the only thing on Chinese minds this year – water pollution generated some grisly headlines throughout the country – and around the world – as thousands of pig carcasses floated down the Huangpu River, through the center of Shanghai, threatening the city’s water supply. Factor in the fact that China has had more than its share of highly publicized food safety issues, including Chinese food producers implicated in scandals involving poisonous infant formula, toxic rice and rat meat disguised as mutton, and it is easy to see why public concern is growing.