Archive for July, 2017

Friday, July 14, 2017

Liu Xiaobo, 1955 – 2017

It won’t be long before Liu Xiaobo‘s first post-mortem biography will be published. But it won’t have the last word. There will be further biographies, and each of them will be contested. That’s because of the man himself, and because of his country. He was a man with a conscience, and his country has been a totalitarian dictatorship for nearly seven decades – if you count the KMT’s martial law in, it’s been a dictatorship for much longer than that.

Liu Xiaobo’s political lifespan lasted for three or four decades. That doesn’t count as long in China. The Communist Party’s propaganda works tirelessly to create and sustain the “People’s Republic’s” population’s imagination of a civilizational history of five or more millenia. And at the same time, the party needs to sustain the notion that the most recent seven decades had been the best in China’s history. Not only the past fourty, after the leadership’s decision to “reform and to open up”, but the past seven decades, including Maoism. CCP propaganda’s aim is to build an image of its rule where the pre- and post-1978 decades are one political unit, without substantial contradictions within.

In all likelihood, Liu Xiaobo had foreseen that trend. Many Chinese dissidents, no matter if opponents of China’s cultural restauration, or opponents of the KMT’s military dictatorship on Taiwan, saw a Chinese complacency at work, considering itself the center of the universe.

Cultural criticism is rarely a rewarding trade, but in China, it can be lethal, as shown in Liu Xiaobo’s case.

Liu’s last camp and prison term, which began in 2009 and ended with his relase on medical parole, with cancer in its final stage, had been based on the accusation that he had “incited subversion of state power”. But the Beijing First Intermediate People’s Court’s verdict – passed on Christmas day of 2009, probably to keep the level of international attention as low as possible –  only reflected the CCP’s fear of Liu, not the likely divide between the dissident and his people. A likely divide only, because in a totalitarian dictatorship, these things are more uncertain than in an open society. Hu Jia, himself a dissident who spent more than three years in prison from 2007 to 2011, noted during Liu’s dying days that only about one out of a hundred Beijingers knew who Liu Xiaobo was. Michael Bristow, the BBC’s China correspondent  in 2011, made a similar observation back then.

The 1980s mostly came across as a period of economic optimism, but accompanied by phenomena that were viewed negatively – particularly corruption, which was one of the factors that propelled the June-4 movement at its beginning.

Liu’s answer to what was frequently seen as China’s ailments was “westernization”. Stays in Western countries seem to have intensified his idea, just as Deng Xiaoping is said to have had his own cultural shock when visiting Singapore, in 1978.

But there lies a difference between the great statesman, and the great dissident. Singapore, a highly developed city state led by a family clan, is a model not only for authoritarian Chinese nationals – Taiwanese law-and-order-minded people tend to prefer Singapore as a holiday destination, rather than “messy” Hong Kong.

Liu Xiaobo’s model of development was Hong Kong of the 1980s. It was also the crown colony that provided the intellectual in his early thirties with some public resonance. In one of the interviews, given by Liu to a magazine named Kaifang at the time, Liu made statements that astonished the interviewer:

Q. Under what circumstances can China carry out a genuine historical transformation?
A. Three hundred years of colonialism.  Hong Kong became like this after one hundred years of colonialism.  China is so much larger, so obviously it will take three hundred years of colonialism.  I am still doubtful whether three hundred years of colonialism will be enough to turn China into Hong Kong today.

Q. This is 100% “treason.”
A. I will cite one sentence from Marx’s Manifesto of the Communist Party: “Workers do not have motherlands.  You cannot take away what they don’t have.”  I care about neither patriotism nor treason.  If you say that I betray my country, I will go along!  I admit that I am an impious son who dug up his ancestors’ graves and I am proud of it.

Both the “insults” and Liu’s expressly stated pessimism probably made for a divide between him and many Chinese (as far as they got to know his story). Or, as Roland Soong, a blogger from Hong Kong, noted next to his translation of the 1988 interview, as of 2010, “I suggest that unless Charter 08 (or any other message) can connect with many people in other social strata, it will remain a mental exercise among ‘public intellectuals.'”

And nothing works in the modern middle kingdom, unless it comes with a festive up-with-people sound. (In that sense, China is globalizing indeed.)

When Soong translated the interview quoted from above, and added his assessment of the Charter 08, the global financial crisis had been wreaking havoc on Western economies for about two years, and at least one of the Charter’s demands had fallen from the tree since: #14 called for

Protection of Private Property. We should establish and protect the right to private property and promote an economic system of free and fair markets. We should do away with government monopolies in commerce and industry and guarantee the freedom to start new enterprises. We should establish a Committee on State-Owned Property, reporting to the national legislature, that will monitor the transfer of state-owned enterprises to private ownership in a fair, competitive, and orderly manner. We should institute a land reform that promotes private ownership of land, guarantees the right to buy and sell land, and allows the true value of private property to be adequately reflected in the market.

There wasn’t necessarily a conflict on this matter, between the party leadership and the authors of the Charter – time will show how the CCP is going to handle the remaining state sector of the economy. But among everyday Chinese people, this demand would hardly strike a chord. Besides, who can imagine a transfer of state-owned enterprises to private ownership “in a fair, competitive, and orderly manner”?

In the Charter’s preface, the authors wrote:

The Chinese people, who have endured human rights disasters and uncountable struggles across these same years, now include many who see clearly that freedom, equality, and human rights are universal values of humankind and that democracy and constitutional government are the fundamental framework for protecting these values.

It was a cautious description of the status quo: Liu and his co-authors understood that only a critical minority would side with them. And indeed, there was more to endure in the pipeline. The educational dictatorship China is now entering encourages anticipatory obedience rather than awareness, and it is likely to succeed. When you keep beating people up long enough – and provide them with a hopeful perspective for the future -, there is little that can help people of conscience to counter the propaganda.

This may be the main difference between Liu and his enemies (and many of his admirers, too): in the eyes of many, only hard power – no matter if you refer to it as “the people’s power” or as the “authorities” -, creates reality. If the realities are good, you don’t need to get involved. If they are evil, you can’t get involved. And when realities come in many shades of grey, you either needn’t or can’t get involved. The power of the powerless is no reality in these peoples’ world – unless they begin to tilt, so that re-orientation appears advisable.

That’s a stabilizing factor, so long as realities remain what they appear to be.  But appearances can be deceiving, often until the very last hour. Who of the Egyptians who ditched their longtime president in 2011, in colossal demonstrations, had known weeks before that he wanted to get rid of him? A mood had capsized. It wasn’t about awareness.

A manipulated and intimidated public tends to be unpredictable, and that can turn factors around that were originally meant to add to “stability”.

China’s leaders feared Liu Xiaobo. They feared him to the extent that they wouldn’t let him leave the country, as long as he could still speak a word. But in all likelihood, they fear China’s widespread, politically tinged, religious sects even more, which have a tradition at least as long as Chinese scholarship. Falun Gong is only one of its latest manifestations.

By suppressing public intellectuals not only before 1978, but after that, too, they provided space for nervous moodiness. The Communists themselves want to “guide” (i. e. control) public awareness, without leaving anything to chance.

But chance is inevitable. Totalitarian routine may be able to cope for some time, but is likely to fail in the long run, with disastrous consequences.

In that light, the CCP missed opportunities to reform and modernize the country. But then, the party’s totalitarian skeleton made sure that they could only see the risks, and no opportunities, in an opening society.

What remains from Charter 08 – for now – is the courage shown by its authors nine years ago, and by the citizens who affirmed it with their signatures.

Each of them paid a price, to varying degrees, and often, their families and loved ones did so, too: like Liu Xia, who had hoped that her husband would not get involved in drafting the Charter, but who would never dissociate herself from him.

Nobody is obligated to show the same degree of courage, unless solidarity or conscience prescribe it. In most cases, making such demands on oneself would be excessive. But those who hate the Lius for their courage – and for lacking this courage themselves – should understand that their hatred is wrong. One may keep still as a citizen – but there is an inevitable human duty to understand the difference between right and wrong. By denying our tolerance toward despotism and by repressing awareness of our own acquiescence, we deny ourselves even the small steps into the right direction, that could be taken without much trouble, or economic hardship.

May Liu Xiaobo never be forgotten – and may Liu Xia find comfort and recovery.

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Updates/Related

再生:致刘晓波, Woeser, July 13, 2017
Rebirth, Woeser/Boyden, July 16, 2017

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Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Chinaplus

Friday, July 7, 2017

Taiwanese Media Reports: Association of International Broadcasters maintains Radio Taiwan International’s Membership, despite Chinese Motion to replace it

Making Taiwan appear “inofficial” has become easy business for Beijing, when it comes to politicians. The row about the country’s inoffical embassy in Nigeria may be one of the recent cases in point.

But influencing journalists doesn’t appear to be quite that easy. A spokeswoman for the foreign ministry in Taipei is quoted as saying that

At this year’s first meeting of AIB’s executive board, the possibility of ejecting RTI to make room for China Central Television [CCTV] was discussed, but RTI vice president Travis Sun’s (孫文魁) proactive handling of the matter has dealt with the situation.

AIB stands for the Association of International Broadcasting, an organization headquartered in Britain, and RTI stands for Radio Taiwan International, Taiwan’s foreign broadcasting service. According to the Taipei Times –  quoting weekly Taiwanese magazine The Journalist – the Chinese motion was rejected after RTI’s protests won the support of British, German, French and Russian committee members.

According to the AIB website, RTI vice president Travis Sun is among the six members of the organization’s executive committee.

According to “The Journalist”,   Travis Sun had been voted into the committee with the highest number of votes. Also according to “The Journalist”, CCTV and other Chinese media had previously been invited to join the AIB, but had declined, because of RTI’s membership. Following China’s motion this month, the AIB secretariat drafted three resolutions for discussion by the executive committtee. One suggested that the Chinese media could enter with an inofficial membership. The second suggested inoffical membership or termination of membership for RTI, and the third suggested to abandon the idea of Chinese media obtaining membership.

It appears that Sun appealed to AIB’S journalistic values to defend RTI’s membership, and successfully so, and all that, apparently, on the phone. According to the Taipei Times, RTI didn’t send personnel to participate in the AIB’s annual meeting in London due to “internal reasons,” instead being represented by personnel from the Taipei Representative Office in the UK. Also according to the Taipei Times, during a June 20 teleconference, Sun had been confronted with the secretariat motions.

Reportedly, Britain, France, Germany (that would be Deutsche Welle‘s committee member), and Russia (i. e. the delegate for RT) decided in RTI’s favor.

The Russian committee member, Alexey Nikolov, is currently serving as the executive committee’s chairman, according to “The Journalist”. The article mentions the “Voice of Russia” as the media organization he represents. That would now be Sputnik News Agency and Radio. According to AIB and RT, Nikolov is RT‘s managing editor, or managing director.

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Related

AIB members

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Updates/Related

Taiwan not abandoned, Sentinel, June 30, 2017

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Thursday, July 6, 2017

Radio Taiwan International Test Transmissions

Radio Taiwan International (RTI) is going to air two analog and two DRM test transmission on shortwave today (Thursday UTC), as posted there with times and frequencies, by Alokesh Gupta.

2016 special QSL for reports on
shortwave transmissions from Tamsui transmitter,
New Taipei (click picture for more info)

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

China’s “Core Interests” are becoming peripheral

With the national security law, it has become even clearer that the term refers to what Chinese leaders see as three sacrosanct rights of the nation,

the New York Times (NYT) noted in July 2015:

maintaining the political system, with unquestioned rule by the Communist Party; defending sovereignty claims and territorial integrity; and economic development.

That represented “a considerable expansion” of China’s previous “core-interest” concept, which had been believed to refer to Taiwan, Tibet, and Xinjiang.

The NYT article described a history of expanding the concept. Earlier this year, probably under the flag of “economic-development core interest”, it has reached South Asia.

Arguing that most of India’s “peripheral countries are also Beijing’s neighbors”, a “Global Times” author wrote on March 21 this year that

When an increasing number of Chinese companies get established in these countries, it is inevitable that Beijing will boost defense collaboration with them to protect not only China’s, but also the region’s interest.

If India tried to “balance China” in the region, rather than being part of the pursuit of China and regional countries for common development, grave consequences would be in the pipeline:

If such tendencies in India continue, China will have to fight back, because its core interests will have been violated. This is not what we hope for, but the ball is in India’s court.

In short: with the core interest of economic development comes defense collaboration abroad.

The core is becoming peripheral.

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Related

Your Sea is our Sea, my Sea is my Sea, July 16, 2015
The Stupid Little Mermaid, March 12, 2009

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