China’s regime more Maoist, workers more restive

Friday, May 22, 2015 9:30 A.M.–11:00 A.M.   The Jamestown Foundation Seventh Floor Board Room 1111 Sixteenth Street, N.W. Washington, D.C. 20036

Like Mao, Xi Jinping has made the preservation of the power of the Communist Party his overriding goal, notes a leading analyst. His motive appears partly to be to counter the growing demands of the new, large middle class, created by China’s recent transformation. In doing so, however, Xi runs the risk of reversing many of the extraordinary advances that China has made since the reforms introduced in the late 1970s and early 1980s by Mao’s successor, Deng Xiaoping, the leader who opened up China to the rest of the world, Willy Lam writes for Prospect:

Deng used to say that “economic construction is the centre of the work of the party,” a repudiation of Mao’s belief that ideology trumps economics. Xi, however, has given equal billing to economics, on the one hand, and ideological rectitude on the other. As the ultra-conservative newspaper Beijing Daily put it: “The fate of the CCP depends on whether it can defend the battlefield of ideology and thought.”

Xi’s appeal to nationalism has been popular with the young. And, for the moment, the repressive apparatus of the state seems to be working, notes Lam, an Adjunct Professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong:

However, as the American sinologist David Shambaugh argued in a much-discussed article earlier this year, the way the police-state apparatus has targeted “the press, social media, film, arts and literature, religious groups, the Internet, intellectuals, Tibetans and Uighurs, dissidents, lawyers, NGOs, university students and textbooks” demonstrates how fearful the regime has become.

“While it would be foolish to predict the demise of the Communist Party in China any time soon, Xi’s faithful impersonation of Mao,” Lam says, “coupled with his failure to offer a new vision of how China might develop into a modern, democratic state, means that he is unlikely to be judged favorably by history—or by China’s growing middle class.”

china labourAbout a third of the reported protests in China over the past year are over labor issues, notes Anita Chan, a research professor at the Australia-China Relations Institute, University of Technology, Sydney. Most are staged by workers from China’s countryside who migrated to cities in search of work, she writes for Yale Global Online:

They make up about 60 percent of China’s industrial workforce, providing almost all the workers in the export industries that fill stores around the globe with goods. Guangdong Province, just north of Hong Kong, contains the biggest concentration of such factories in China and has witnessed the largest surge in worker protests…..Thanks to the proximity to Hong Kong, Guangdong’s labor activism is the country’s most vibrant. Two decades ago Hong Kong NGOs quietly crossed the border into Guangdong and set up labor NGOs. Trying to avoid the authorities, the NGOs advised workers about illegal labor practices. Since then, indigenous Chinese-run labor NGOs, worker centers and pro bono advisers on labor law have sprung up throughout the province. As a result, Guangdong workers tend to have a better understanding of their legal rights than elsewhere in China.


Anita Chan is a research professor at the Australia-China Relations Institute, University of Technology, Sydney. She is also co-editor of The China Journal. She has published a dozen books, the latest of which are Walmart in China, Labour in Vietnam, and Chinese Workers in Comparative Perspective.

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West should do more to help Ukraine: civil society a ‘locomotive’

euro east pship civil-society-forumLooking over their shoulders at Russia, the European Union and six former Soviet neighbors patched up their differences to renew vows of cooperation in the interests of peace and security at a summit on Friday, Reuters reports:

Meeting in Riga 18 months after the last Eastern Partnership gathering sparked the Cold War-style tug-of-war over Ukraine, Kiev and other aspirants to the European club won offers of aid and hopes of visa-free travel to the EU that fell short of promises of EU membership.

Despite sympathy from some EU leaders, especially in the east, who urged firmer commitments to eventually bringing the most pro-Western states into the bloc, the EU’s big powers are wary of provoking Russian President Vladimir Putin and of burdening the Union with impoverished and unstable new members.

“Nobody promised the Eastern Partnership will be the automatic way to membership in the European Union,” said former Polish prime minister and summit chairman Donald Tusk. The EU remained committed to its partners despite “the last year’s intimidation and even war”. Given internal divisions, the outcome was “maybe the maximum we can achieve today”, he added.

euro eastern partnershipNevertheless, the summit’s results are likely to confirm perceptions of the European Union as a foreign policy weakling.

The West should do much more to help Ukraine, according to The Economist:

IN A LEADER this week we argue that the West should treat Ukraine like it treated Poland in the early 1990s. Poland has had bucketloads of aid and economic assistance thrown at it since the 1990s, its economy booming as a result. Ukraine, on the other hand, has received hardly any at all. ….In the 1990s, Ukraine did not benefit from this help. Instead, its economy was mired in botched privatisations and corruption (all of this is explained well in a new book by Anders Aslund of the Atlantic Council, a think-tank). It made much less progress in reforms than did Poland.

belarus Ales BialiatskiAccording to Ales Bialiatski (left), chairman of the Belarusian Human Rights Centre “Vyasna” and Vice President of the International Federation for Human Rights, civil society will be the ‘locomotive’ that pulls the EaP countries towards the European Union and its values.

He was addressing the EU’s Eastern Partnership Civil Society Conference, which brought together over 300 experts and civil society representatives from different countries, providing a platform for representatives of civil society, non-governmental organisations and think-tanks to debate numerous pressing issues regarding the EaP:

The conference took place on 20-21 May in Riga, and was organised by the Latvian Institute of International Affairs (LIIA), the Centre for East European Policy Studies (CEEPS) and the Latvian Transatlantic Organisation (LTO) in cooperation with the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum. The conference is supported by the European Commission, the Latvian Foreign Ministry, the Secretariat of the Latvian Presidency of the Council of the European Union, the Black Sea Trust (which is a project of the German Marshall Fund of the US), and the National Endowment for Democracy.

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EU: Seek release of Gulf dissidents

nabeelrajabEU High Representative Federica Mogherini should publicly urge Gulf countries to release immediately and unconditionally activists detained for exercising their rights, Human Rights Watch said in an open letter to her today. GCC states’ crackdown on freedom of expression and association has resulted in the imprisonment of hundreds of activists and dissidents in Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates:

In Bahrain, the rights situation continues to deteriorate. Some EU member states and Members of the European Parliament have called for the immediate and unconditional release of the prominent rights activist Nabeel Rajab (left). ….In Saudi Arabia, the human rights activist Waleed Abu al-Khair and the blogger Raif Badawi are among those serving lengthy prison sentences for their peaceful criticism of the authorities….. In the United Arab Emirates, which claims to be a world leader in combating extremist ideologies, the human rights lawyers Mohamed al-Roken and Mohamed al-Mansoori and 67 other defendants were convicted in 2013 of attempting to overthrow the state and sentenced to prison in a mass trial. ….

Adopting the EU’s Strategic Framework for Human Rights and Democracy in June 2012, EU foreign ministers pledged that the EU will continue “to throw its full weight behind advocates of liberty, democracy and human rights throughout the world.

“Despite the EU’s oft-stated commitment to human rights, it hasn’t so much thrown its weight behind advocates of human rights in the Gulf as nervously wagged its finger,” said Lotte Leicht, EU director at Human Rights Watch. “The EU should take inspiration from the courage of detained GCC activists, and call for their immediate release.”

“If the EU excludes its major trading partners in the oil-rich Gulf states from its oft-stated commitment to human rights, it will rightly be accused of hypocrisy,” Leicht said.

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Ethiopia’s repressive ruling party set for easy poll win

ethiopia cartoonEthiopia’s ruling party is expected to secure an easy victory in elections this weekend, underlining its vice-like grip on politics in Africa’s second most populous country, The Financial Times reports:

A decade of double-digit growth and stable rule has made the east African economy hugely attractive to foreign investors. Although the government led by prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn is pursuing a popular, ambitious infrastructure program and reducing poverty, its authoritarian rule and frequent political crackdowns could imperil its long-term success, analysts warn.

The government claims that a record 36.8 million people have registered to vote – 95% of those eligible, and a 15.3% rise on the 2010 elections, the Guardian reports:

On that occasion the opposition won one seat of 547 in the national legislature and captured just 8% of the popular vote. While a less crushing defeat is expected this time, analysts are not predicting significant gains for fragmented, uninspired opponents that have wilted under the EPRDF’s glare.

Hallelujah Lulie, an Ethiopian researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, said: “There is no one simple reason … However, the narrow political sphere, the weakened opposition and the aggressive campaign for the government by the state could be the major factors.”

“The political space has been closed,” said Yilekal Getinet, leader of Semayawi, the “Blue Party” in Ethiopia’s Amharic language and one of the main opposition parties, AFP reports:

“Many journalists, political activists, civil society leaders have been sent to jail or forced to leave the country,” he declared.

At Semayawi’s headquarters, activists claimed widespread intimidation by the ruling party. “Our people are detained, harassed by EPRDF members and uniformed police. We asked the municipality frequently to make demonstrations, rallies, meetings and they denied us every time,” party activist Solomon Tessama said.

“The main problem is that the government and the party are not separate. The media, the security, the finances are under their control. On the ground, there are no free and fair elections.”

The EPRDF has ensured that there is little risk of protest. Despite Ethiopia’s 10 percent growth in GDP in the last decade, poverty is still rife, CSM adds:

Many Ethiopians complain about inflation, woeful public services, spreading corruption, and restrictions on civil rights. But having learned its lesson from past elections, particularly in 2005, that prompted widespread protests, the government has clamped down this year. Previous attempts at mobilization by activists have been snuffed out by well-organized and ruthless security services.

Unlike the previous regime, the government uses force sparingly and effectively, says Ermias Abebe, a former political scientist at Addis Ababa University. “One good blow, one fast blow, and everybody gets quiet,” he says.

Only one member of the 547-strong parliament is from the opposition, the FT adds.

“Most of these [opposition parties] are not serious parties: these are one-man parties, they are accomplices…gimmicks,” Beyene Petros, leader of the biggest opposition coalition Medrek, told the Financial Times in an interview at his party headquarters in the capital Addis Ababa.

He says senior party officials are regularly attacked, prevented from campaigning and that many candidates have been unfairly disqualified from running. One Medrek member committed suicide by self-immolation last month, protesting political harassment.

“The EPRDF group is really politically manipulative, kind of a mafia group which does everything to make sure that there is a victory. It’s a single-party dominated system…a dictatorial kind of government,” said Mr Beyene.

In making the shift from a relatively little-known politician and technocrat to an influential leader, Hailemariam also silenced critics who had feared instability at the handover from Meles, who had ruled after toppling dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam in 1991, AFP notes:

Less charismatic than his mentor, the former water engineer represents a new generation of leaders set apart from the old guard from the northern Tigray region who were the core of the guerrilla war against Mengistu.

“Some signs suggest his control over the security forces is low,” an analyst of the Ethiopian government said. “He understood that he is a man of consensus between different groups.”

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Can expats restore Venezuela’s failing narco-state?

vzla flagOn May 18, the Wall Street Journal reported that U.S. prosecutors are in the process of investigating a number of high-up Venezuelan officials for their alleged involvement in turning Venezuela into a cocaine-trafficking and money-laundering hub, writes Carl Meacham, director of the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.

Among those being investigated is Diosdado Cabello, president of Venezuela’s congress and arguably the second most powerful person in Venezuela—long suspected for involvement in clientelistic relationships with transnational criminal organizations operating in Venezuela’s borders, he adds:

Colombia, Brazil, and the Organization of American States all have a stake in stability, democracy, and rule of law in Venezuela. But they have yet to stand behind ongoing U.S. efforts to hold Venezuela accountable for the impunity, corruption, and crime taking place within its borders.

But without their engagement, the situation will only deteriorate further and the inevitable infighting that will ensue within Chavismo will reach a fever pitch, potentially spurring a full-on internal crisis in Venezuela. And that could have implications for regional energy security, stability, and migration, particularly with Colombia.

vzla chavez maduroThe economic crisis, unprecedented crime wave and political expression may explain why so many Venezuelans are desperate to leave. But the problem of Venezuela’s emigration levels is overlooked, according to Srdja Popovic and Victoria Porell of the Center for Applied Non-Violent Action and Strategies (CANVAS).

Tomás Paéz, a sociologist from Universidad Central de Venezuela, reports that 1.6 million Venezuelans now live abroad, a mind-boggling 6 percent of the population. More than 90 percent of these people emigrated after Chávez came to power in 1999, they write for Foreign Policy’s Democracy Lab:

Building a new Venezuela will require more than a change of power. It will also need a government that is broadly representative of all of Venezuela’s people. When the change comes — whether this year or later — the country’s new leaders should not attempt to impose a narrow agenda upon a bitterly divided population. What politicians and civil society need to work toward is building unity — and preparing a climate for young, educated Venezuelans to return is a great start.

On May 17, Venezuela’s opposition parties held a legislative primary, setting the stage for a potentially divisive vote later this year. The election date has yet to be set, though National Electoral Council (CNE) officials say it will take place during the fourth quarter of 2015, Rachel Glickhouse writes for the Council of Americas:

vzla lopezThe Andean country faces a host of challenges, from the region’s highest inflation rate to food shortages to a crackdown on opposition figures; with several high-profile figures—including politician Leopoldo López (left)—still behind bars. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro currently rules by decree.

The Democratic Unity (MUD) coalition represents 29 opposition parties and occupies around a third of National Assembly seats. During the upcoming vote, the legislature’s 167 seats are up for grabs, and polls show the opposition could even gain control of the National Assembly, reports The Miami Herald. For example, an April Datanálisis survey found that the opposition holds a 20-point lead over the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). RTWT

There are 89 prisoners being held for political reasons, according to a Venezuelan non-governmental organization. Among them are two other mayors from the opposition: Daniel Ceballo and Antonio Ledezma, as well as former mayor and opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez.

“The government feels threatened,” said Harold Trinkunas, senior fellow and director of the Latin America Initiative in the Foreign Policy program at Brookings Institution. “The Venezuelan government is increasingly arbitrary in the use of the law to target the opposition. There is an old joke in Latin America: ‘For my friends, anything; for my enemies, the law.’ (The) Maduro administration practices that.”

Failing narco-state

“It’s clear that Venezuela has become a narco-state,” CSIS’s Mecham concludes. “And as narco-state and failing-state increasingly overlap, international condemnation is more important than ever. Though the risks of weakening Maduro’s government are real, the risks of letting him continue unchecked are still greater.” RTWT

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