Posts tagged ‘Vladimir Putin’

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Belarus, Russia: together, but not THAT together (yet)

The following is a translation of a Guanchazhe newsarticle, published on February 23.

Main Link: Lukashenko: no Merger with Russia at any Time

News bubbled last week that “Belarussian president has agreed to a merger with Russia”. It also caused a former NATO secretary‘s “concern”, who demanded on that occasion that Belarus protect itself against “Russian threats.”

“白俄罗斯总统同意与俄罗斯合并”的消息上周传得沸沸扬扬,还引来了北约前秘书长的“关怀”,借此要求白俄罗斯保护自己免受“俄罗斯威胁”。

Belarussian president Lukashenko personally rebuked the rumor on February 22, stating the importance of national sovereignty and independence. He also said that as president, he would not merge Belarus into another country at any time.

对于这一传言,白俄罗斯总统卢卡申科2月22日亲自辟谣,他重申了国家主权和独立的重要性,并表示作为总统,任何时候都不会将白俄罗斯并入他国。

According to the Belarussian president’s press office on February 22, Lukashenko said on that day, while inspecting the Military Academy of Belarus and having exchanges with the academy’s teachers and students, that “national sovereignty and independence are the most important achievements we have made now. To have become the first president of this sovereign and independent state is something that makes me proud and happy.”

据白俄罗斯总统新闻局22日消息,卢卡申科当天在视察白俄罗斯共和国军事学院并与该学院师生进行交流时表示:“主权和独立是我们当今取得的最重要成就,我为能成为这个主权国家的第一任总统感到骄傲和高兴。”

Concerning speculation abroad that Belarus could merge into Russia, Lukashenko asked back: “What kind of people could allow such things to happen, after having established and lead an independent country? Would you destroy it with your own hands by letting it become part of another country? Poland or Russia? I will never take this road.

对于外界有关白俄罗斯并入俄罗斯的猜测,卢卡申科反问:“什么样的人会在建立和领导独立国家之后,允许这样的事发生?你会亲手去摧毁它,让它成为其他国家的一部分吗?波兰还是俄罗斯?我永远不会走这条路。”

Lukashenko emphasized that he had clear boundaries that he would never cross, among them, as the most important one, that of defending his country’s sovereignty and independence. He appealed not to pay attention to foreign conjectures that Belarus could lose its sovereignty and independence.

卢卡申科强调,自己有明确的不能逾越的界限,其中最重要的界限就是守卫本国的主权与独立。他呼吁,不要去理会外界关于白俄罗斯会失去其主权和独立性的猜测。

However, he said on the same day that “Russia is our important friend. No matter how many contradictions and disputes we may have, we and Russia will always be together.”

不过,他当天也表示:“俄罗斯是我们重要的朋友,无论我们有多少矛盾和争执,我们和俄罗斯永远在一起”。

Before, there had been rumors abroad that “Belarusian president Lukashenko has announced preparations to merge with Russia,” even with people relating that he had said that “tomorrow there can be a merger into Russia, no problem.”

此前,外界曾盛传“白俄罗斯总统卢卡申科宣布准备与俄罗斯合并”一事,甚至有人转述卢卡申科的话说:“明天就可以并入俄罗斯,没问题”。

Guanchazhe online checked on many Russian and Belarusian official media reporting that Lukashenko had not announced a “Belarusian-Russian merger,” but had made a vigorous statement about the two countries’ union (Guanchazhe note: the original word was объединение, meaning union or unification, translated as integration by Russian media.)

观察者网查证多家俄媒与白俄罗斯官方媒体报道,卢卡申科并没有宣布“白俄合并”,而是对两国联合(观察者网注:原文объединение意为联合、统一,俄媒译为一体化)进行了积极表态。

Reacting to the sentence of “merger tomorrow”, TASS quoted Lukashenko’s original words as being “provided that you are prepared, we can have a union tomorrow (объединиться вдвоем), that’s no problem. But are the Russian and Belarusian people well prepared? (но готовы ли вы),” “if well prepared, we will fulfill the will of the people.”

针对那句“明天就合并”,塔斯社援引卢卡申科说法,其实原话是这样,“只要你们准备好,明天我们就可以联合(объединиться вдвоем),这点没有问题,但是白俄罗斯人和俄罗斯人们准备好了吗?(но готовы ли вы)”,“如果准备好了,我们将履行人民的意志。”

According to Belarusian newsagency belta.by reporting, Lukashenko had previously also reiterated that sovereignty was sacred and could not be violated.

据白方官媒白俄罗斯通讯社(belta.by)报道,卢卡申科此前也重申了主权神圣不可侵犯。

Meanwhile, Russian president Vladimir Putin had vaguely commented about “Belarusian-Russian integration”, discussing his opinion about “independence” and saying that “there is no completely independent country in the world. No matter if they are big or small countries, today’s world is interdependent.”

俄罗斯总统普京则对“白俄一体化”进行了模糊表态,他谈到了自己对“独立”的看法,称“世界上不存在完全独立的国家,无论是大国还是小国都是如此,现代世界相互依存。”

On February 22, Lukashenko also mentioned the INF treaty. He said that Russia had not violated the treaty in question, and voiced concern that America could deploy missiles after its withdrawal [from the treaty]. He believed that this could create a very big threat to Belarus. He said that Belarus would need to consider countermeasures.

22日,卢卡申科也谈及了《中导条约》问题,他表示,相信俄方未违反相应条约,并对美国在退约之后可能在欧洲部署导弹表示担忧,认为这将对白俄罗斯造成很大威胁。他表示白俄罗斯需要与俄罗斯共同思考如何采取回应措施。

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Related

We are no scroungers, BelTa, March 1, 2019
How the EU lost Ukraine, Der Spiegel, Nov 25, 2013

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Friday, December 21, 2018

2018 Headlines (1) – Vladimir Putin’s Annual Year-End Press Conference

Among other issues, the marathon Q & A session reportedly touched upon the 40th anniversary of China’s reform-and-opening policies, and on the Kuril Islands, the southernmost of which are contested between Japan and Russia.

A record number of 1,702 journalists had registered for Russian president Vladimir Putin‘s annual press conference at Moscow World Trade Center on Thursday local time, Guanchazhe online reported on the same day. This constituted a new record number. The article also contains the presidential press secretary’s revelation that Putin had set aside three days to prepare for the event, and that he had studied relevant material until late at night.

The following are excerpts from the article. Links within blockquotes were added during translation.

Main Link: Live Broadcast of Putin’s Annual Press Conference: Russia assesses China’s Reform and Opening Positively (普京年度记者会直播:俄罗斯积极评价中国改革开放)

December 18 is the 18th anniversary of China’s reform and opening. Putin said at the press conference that Russia assessed the changes positively that had happened in China.

18日,中国改革开放刚刚迎来40周年。普京在记者会上表示,俄罗斯积极评价中国发生的变化。

[Subheading]

The Xinhua reporter1) asked: “How do you evaluate the 40th anniversary of China’s reform and opening, and the development of Sino-Russian trade relations?”

新华社记者提问称:“您如何评价中国改革开放40周年以及中俄经贸关系发展?”

Putin said that Russia evaluated the changes and the efforts made for economic development positively. Bilateral trade between the two countries had reached 10,000,000,000 100,000,000,000 USD. The inseparably close relationship between China and Russia was useful for world peace and stability.

普京表示,俄罗斯积极评价中国发生的变化以及在经济发展上所做的努力。两国双边贸易今年达到1000亿美元。中俄两国的紧密关系对世界和平稳定都有益。

[Subheading]

Putin said that the Russian government planned to begin three-percent growth from 2021 on, and Russia’s goal was to become the world’s fifth-largest economy.2)

普京表示,俄罗斯政府计划从2021年开始实现3%的经济增长,俄罗斯目标是成为世界第五大经济体。

He also said that Russia’s 2018 unemployment rate was predicted to drop from 2017’s 5.2 percent to 4.8 percent. Russia’s gold and foreign-exchange reserves had increased by 7 percent, reaching 464,000,000,000 USD. Russia’s inflation rate in 2018 would exceed the four-percent target, reaching about 4.1 or 4.2 percent.

他还表示,2018年俄罗斯失业率预计从2017年的5.2%降至4.8%。俄罗斯黄金外汇储备增加7%,达到4640亿美元。俄罗斯2018年全年通胀率将超过4%的目标水平,达到4.1%-4.2%左右。

Putin emphasized at the same time that the country needed a breakthrough, for which resources were required. Russia’s government and administrative agencies were making efforts to this end. Therefore twelve national projects in the fields of science, education and health had been established.

同时,普京强调,国家需要突破。为此需要资源,俄罗斯政府和行政机关正致力于此,因此在科学、教育和卫生保健领域设立了12个国家项目。

[Subheading]

Concerning the matter of returning the islands contested between Russia and Japan, Putin believed that when it came to signing a peace treaty between Russia and Japan, security issues mattered most. Russia expressed worries about American deployment of anti-missile systems in Japan.

对于归还日俄争议岛屿一事,普京认为,在俄日签署和约的问题上,安全问题最为重要。俄罗斯对美国在日本部署反导系统表示不安。

According to article 9 of the Soviet-Japanese Joint Declaration, the islands of Shikotan island and the Habomei islands could be returned to Japan, but only after a peace treaty had been signed.

根据《苏日共同宣言》的第九条条款规定苏联政府同意把色丹岛和齿舞诸岛归还给日本,但条件是在签署和平条约之后才真正归还给日本。

The Soviet Union’s and Japan’s parliaments approved this declaration in 1956, but when Japan and America signed the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security in 1960, the Soviet Union cancelled the obligation to return these islands. On January 27, 1960, a Soviet government memorandum stated that only when all foreign troops were withdrawn from Japan, there would be a return of the islands to Japan.

1956年苏联和日本两国议会批准了这份宣言。但作为对1960年日本和美国签订的《日美安全保障条约》的回应,苏联取消了归还这些岛屿的义务。1960年1月27日苏联政府备忘录中写道,只有在所有外国军队撤离日本的条件下这些岛屿才将归还给日本。

ABC News reported on Thursday that

The press conference, however, is heavily curated. The Kremlin press service proposes questions beforehand, and decides who will be called on to speak. Follow-up questions are not permitted, allowing Putin to disarm all but the sharpest queries and make assertions that can’t be challenged. The audience is overwhelmingly friendly and often breaks into applause.

And RFE/RL wrote, also on the same day, that

[t]he Russian president cast Russia’s sluggish economy in a positive light, while calling for improvements.

When Putin took back the presidency (or the “candidacy” for it) from his straw man Dmitry Medvedev in 2011, now defunct foreign radio service “Voice of Russia” quoted political scientist Vyacheslav Nikonov as saying that

There were mentions of ambitious goals which are in fact not quite that ambitious, such as becoming one of the world’s five largest economies. I believe Russia will be up to that if it develops with seven per cent growth. I believe that we can become the fifth-largest global economy and the biggest in Europe by 2020.

In that light, even one of the calls for improvement seems to constitute a postponement.

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Notes

Footnote 1) No Xinhuareporter seems to be included in the Kremlin’s English-language transcript of the press conference. However, the Russian-language transcript does include one (English translation by Google Translate):

Вопрос: Здравствуйте, Владимир Владимирович. Я корреспондент агентства «Синьхуа».

Question: Hello, Vladimir Vladimirovich. I am a Xinhua correspondent.

Мой вопрос именно о Китае. Состоялось торжественное собрание по случаю 40-летия проведения политики реформ и открытости. На нём Председатель Си Цзиньпин призвал довести до конца все меры, связанные с реформами и открытостью. Как Вы оцениваете изменения, произошедшие в Китае за эти годы?

My question is about China. A solemn meeting on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the reform and opening up policy was held. On it, President Xi Jinping called for the completion of all measures related to reform and openness. How do you assess the changes in China over the years?

И ещё. Россия и Китай приблизились к отметке двустороннего товарооборота в 100 миллиардов долларов США, и при этом российский экспорт в Китай вырос на 44 процента и оказался на 10 миллиардов долларов больше, чем импорт из Китая. Довольны ли Вы развитием российско-китайских отношений в этом году? Спасибо.

And further. Russia and China approached the bilateral trade turnover of $ 100 billion, while Russian exports to China grew by 44 percent and were $ 10 billion more than imports from China. Are you satisfied with the development of Russian-Chinese relations this year? Thank.

В.Путин: Действительно, это знаковый рубеж. Не знаю, сможем ли мы выйти на 100 миллиардов или нет, но мы приблизились к этому. Это уже, в принципе, показатель, действительно. Надо будет посчитать в начале следующего года общий объём товарооборота, но где-то в районе 100 миллиардов он будет, и это само по себе достижение. И конечно, мы не можем не быть довольны этим результатом. Но это производный результат от состояния российско-китайских отношений, от роста уровня доверия стран между собой.

Vladimir Putin: Indeed, this is a landmark. I don’t know if we can reach 100 billion or not, but we are close to that. This is, in principle, an indicator, indeed. It will be necessary to calculate the total volume of trade at the beginning of next year, but it will be somewhere around 100 billion, and this is an achievement in itself. And of course, we can not be satisfied with this result. But this is a derivative result from the state of Russian-Chinese relations, from the growth of the level of trust between countries.

Мы работаем и в двустороннем формате, и очень надёжно, мы решили все проблемы, которые доставались нам ещё со времён Советского Союза, и двигаемся дальше. Мы работаем не только в сфере экономики, но и в сфере безопасности, мы сотрудничаем очень активно на международной арене, и российско-китайское взаимодействие на международной арене, безусловно, является фактором, оздоровляющим международную обстановку, фактором стабильности и прогнозируемости развития ситуации на мировой арене.

We work in a bilateral format, and very reliably, we have solved all the problems that have come to us since the days of the Soviet Union, and move on. We work not only in the economic sphere, but also in the field of security, we cooperate very actively in the international arena, and Russian-Chinese interaction in the international arena is undoubtedly a factor improving the international situation, a factor of stability and predictability of the development of the situation in the world.

Мы положительно оцениваем изменения, которые произошли в Китае. Я считаю, что для такой страны, как Китайская Народная Республика, с миллиардом тремястами миллионов населения, очень важна стабильность и прогнозируемость, в том числе и во внутренней политике, включая и кадровую составляющую. Председатель Си Цзиньпин принял решение, и товарищи из КПК его поддержали в этом направлении, и думаю, что Китай поступил правильно, стабильность гарантирует поступательное развитие Китайской Народной Республики.

We appreciate the changes that have occurred in China. I believe that for a country like the People’s Republic of China, with a billion three hundred million people, stability and predictability are very important, including in domestic policy, including the personnel component. Chairman Xi Jinping made the decision, and the CCP comrades supported him in this direction, and I think that China did the right thing, stability guarantees the ongoing development of the People’s Republic of China.

Footnote 2) The wording, according to en.kremlin.ru:

By the way, you mentioned the projected 2 percent growth for the next two years. Yes, in the next years, 2019–2020, two percent each, but from 2021, the Government is already planning 3 percent, and then more. Therefore, I strongly hope that we will manage to do all this. Some fluctuations are probably possible, but, I repeat, the most important thing is that we need… Do you see what we need to do? We need to join another league of economies, and not only in terms of volumes. I think that taking the fifth place in terms of volume is quite possible. We used to rank fifth in terms of the economy, in purchasing power parity, and we will do it again, I think. However, we need to ascend to another league in terms of the quality of the economy. This is what our national projects are aimed at.

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Friday, March 16, 2018

OPCW: the Place to Investigate a Nerve Agent sample

One can only wish Sergei Skripal and his daughter a good and complete recovery. Skripal once helped a good cause, and suffered for it in the past. He deserves gratitude, and all former agents living under similar circumstances as he does (or did, until March 4), deserve protection. One thing is for sure: Russia’s political culture encourages lawlessness in the name of “patriotism” – suspicions as aired by Britain’s foreign minister Boris Johnson*) aren’t made up out of thin air. But a plausible narrative is still just a narrative, and even thick air is still only air.

In situations like these, anger and “highly likely” accusations are useless at best, and highly likely, they are damaging for all parties involved.

If Jan von Aken‘s comments in a Deutschlandfunk interview on Thursday are something to go by, there would be no need for the escalation that is under way – at least not yet. The established procedure would be to turn to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), to get their assistance in clarifying any situation which may be considered ambiguous or which gives rise to a concern about the possible non-compliance of another State Party with the chemical weapons convention. In the Skripal case, Russia would have to answer to the OPCW’s executive committee “as soon as possible, but in any case not later than 10 days after the receipt of the request” to clarify.

What Theresa May said on Wednesday is anything but evidence:

Mr Speaker, on Monday I set out that Mr Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with a Novichok: a military grade nerve agent developed by Russia. Based on this capability, combined with their record of conducting state sponsored assassinations – including against former intelligence officers whom they regard as legitimate targets – the UK Government concluded it was highly likely that Russia was responsible for this reckless and despicable act. And there were only two plausible explanations. Either this was a direct act by the Russian State against our country. Or conceivably, the Russian government could have lost control of a military-grade nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others.

In a conflict, the two immediate parties are rarely the best candidates to sort things out – not, when there is a history of conflict, or when, as the Economist has put it, Britain’s relationship with Russia is poisoned already.

Britain’s ultimatum for an explanation from Moscow had been contemptuously ignored,

writes the Economist. That may be so. Many Russian citizens have their rights ignored, too. But on a day-to-day basis, few people in the West would care. And if I were a Russian, I would probably find the British ultimatum just as comtemptuous – no matter if pro-Putin, anti-Putin or either.

After a first round of escalations, London now seems to be doing the right thing: they have sent (or will send) a sample of the Novichok nerve agent to the OPCW. That looks like a promising first step. The OPCW should also take care of further procedures, if there should be a chance to come to real conclusions.

Van Aken believes that both the British prime minister and the Russian president may have an interest in the current escalation. But May’s chances to rise to the “challenge” don’t look great, and Putin is going to “win the elections” anyway.

Rather, both of them appear to have concluded that they must serve their constituencies with instant certainties.

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Note

*) “The message is clear: We will find you, we will catch you, we will kill you – and though we will deny it with lip-curling scorn, the world will know beyond doubt that Russia did it.”

Monday, March 27, 2017

Populism in China (1): The Downfall of Bo Xilai

There is no Weltinnenpolitik yet, but there are cross-civilizational trends.

The City of Red Songs

There would be no second chance. Gerhard Schröder, former chancellor of Germany, was in a hurry in June 2011, on the sidelines of a forum in southwestern China’s metropolis of Chongqing. He was therefore lacking the time to attend one of the red-song nights that were customary there. But he still pleased his interlocutors with a German proverb: Where people sing, you can settle down – wicked people sing no songs.

In full, the red-songs custom advocated by Chongqing’s party chief Bo Xilai was Singing revolutionary songs, Reading classic books, telling stories and spreading mottos. There would be nine more months of that before Bo Xilai was toppled by his CCP comrades.

A Hudong article explained the activity at the time. It was a mass concept, started in Chongqing in 2008, which was greeted with enthusiasm there, and elsewhere in China. The concept wasn’t outdated, because

if a country and a nation have no correct thought and advanced culture, it will lose its backbone. The current deep changes of the economic system, the structure of society, and the profound adjustment of interest patterns must be reflected in the ideological field. There is diversity in peoples’ minds, and although the mainstream is positive and healthy, while some peoples’ material life conditions have improved, spiritual life is somewhat empty. To change that condition, and to ensure a safe passing of the torch in the cause of the party and the country, the red flag must be righteously upheld, the ideology of Marxism must be consolidated in its guiding position within the ideological field, and the attractiveness and the cohesive power of socialist ideology must be strengthened.

一个国家和民族没有正确的思想、先进的文化,就会失掉主心骨。当前,经济体制深刻变革、社会结构深刻变动、利益格局深刻调整,必然反映到意识形态领域。人们的思想日趋多元多变多样,虽然主流积极健康向上,但一些人物质生活改善了,精神生活却有些空虚。为了彻底改变这种状况,保证党和国家的事业薪火相传,必须理直气壮地举红旗,不断巩固马克思主义在意识形态领域的指导地位,增强社会主义意识形态的吸引力和凝聚力。[Links within these lines omitted.]

According to the HuDong article, CCP politbureau member and Chongqing party secretary Bo Xilai (薄熙来) had deplored the phenomenon of young people who sang decadent songs (唱 .. 靡靡之音, chàng mímí zhī yīn), who were reading “fast-food” kinds of literature (读 .. 快餐文化, dú kuàicān wénhuà), told “low and vulgar stories” (讲 .. 低俗故事, jiǎng dīsú gùshì), and “spread pornographic or dull scripts/pieces” (传 .. 黄段子、灰段子, chuán huáng duànzi, huī duànzi).

So, apparently, there were dirty songs, too. Maybe things weren’t as simple as Schröder had believed. At least one  reader and forum commenter of China’s Huanqiu Shibao didn’t trust Schröder’s expertise and wrote:

OK, listen [to the red songs], you won’t comprehend them anyway. It will be as if you were listening to folk songs.

听吧,反正听不懂,就当听民歌了

The “Chongqing Model” was controversial, at least in the perceivable medial public of China. The party elite wasn’t entirely in love with Bo’s pretentious neo-Maoism. A vice president of Law School at China University of Political Science and Law was quoted by the English-language party mouthpiece “Global Times”:

There have been 104,000 “Red Song Concerts” in Chongqing, with 80 million participants. It cost 1,500 yuan ($231) per person for onsite renting and costume expenses, 210 million yuan in total. Adding in the offwork compensation and transportation the final cost is 270 billion [sic – probably means million – JR] yuan. Why don’t they use the money for health insurance?

Bo Xilai’s “Populism”, 2007 – 2012

At the grassroots, however, Bo’s leadership style appears to have worked (maybe it still does). The Chongqing Model wasn’t just about folklore, red or otherwise.

Chongqing (Sichuan province) residents set off firecrackers today, celebrating the execution of the provincial-level city’s former chief justice Wen Qiang (文强), cqnews.net reported in July 2010. The Wall Street Journal explained:

Wen Qiang was put to death following the rejection in May by China’s Supreme Court of an appeal of his conviction on charges including bribery, shielding criminal gangs, rape and inability to account for millions of dollars in cash and assets, according to Xinhua news agency. Xinhua didn’t say how Mr. Wen was executed.

Punching black crime and uprooting vice (拳打黑除恶) was the name of the campaign that cost Wen his life – according to the historical records as Bo would have it, he and his police chief Wang Lijun not only battled against gangs, but infiltrated cadres, too.

The now defunct website Chinageeks published an English translation of Zhang Wen, a former chief editor of the Xinhua magazine Globe:

Bo Xilai and the “northeast tiger” Wang Lijun entered Chongqing and started a war and began a “battling corruption and evil” movement that has gradually begun to spread nationwide and worldwide. This action is in line with the people’s wishes, and at the same time, also in line with what central authorities wish.

At first, the public opinion was very one-sided; no one could find any fault with Bo. The controversy and difference of opinions came with the case of Li Zhuang. Proponents of the democratic rule of law questioned and criticized the legality of Chongqing [court] proceedings, but Bo Xilai’s supporters hold that punishing lawyers who defend “bad people” is appropriate.

Bo Xilai’s wife Gu Kailai is a high-level lawyer who has been working for many years. The two have been together for many years and Bo himself was once the head of the Ministry of Commerce, and thus often negotiated international legal issues with foreign opponents. Because of this, Bo Xilai should have a solid conception and knowledge of the law.

But in the end, in the Li Zhuang case, the organs of justice in Chongqing left a bad impression that they might violate legal procedures. Precisely because of this, some people’s opinions on Bo Xilai changed dramatically. I myself once wrote an essay expressing pity that Bo Xilai hadn’t turned out to be the sort of high-quality modern politician [we had hoped].

Chongqing was a small pond for a big fish – Bo Xilai appeared to have hoped for a permanent seat in the CCP’s central politburo, but landed the job as party secretary of Chongqing instead. Chongqing wasn’t an insignificant city, but it was far from where central Chinese power was. Only an alernate politburo membership linked him to Beijing. From 2008, his Maoist song events raised nationwide attention, and even beyond China – Henry Kissinger apparently leapt at the chance Schröder had missed.

In 2011, Bo Xilai started his second campaign for a permanent seat at the CCP’s top table. While the Economist found Bo’s style refreshing, it noted nervously that

The region’s party chief, Bo Xilai, is campaigning for a place on the Politburo Standing Committee in next year’s leadership shuffle. He looks likely to succeed. Like every other Chinese politician since 1949, he avoids stating his ambitions openly, but his courting of the media and his attempts to woo the public leave no one in any doubt. Mr Bo’s upfront style is a radical departure from the backroom politicking that has long been the hallmark of Communist rule and would seem like a refreshing change, were it not that some  of his supporters see him as the Vladimir Putin of China. Mr Bo is a populist with an iron fist. He has waged the biggest crackdown on mafia-style gangs in his country in recent years. He has also been trying to foster a mini-cult of Mao, perhaps in an effort to appeal to those who are disillusioned with China’s cut-throat capitalism.

Bo didn’t appear to aim for the top job as secretary general, the Economist noted, as that position appeared to have been reserved for Xi Jinping. Indeed, Xi succeeded Hu Jintao as party secretary general in autumn 2012, and as state chairman in March 2013.

Bo Xilai’s plans didn’t work that smoothly. In November 2011, a British citizen, Neil Heywood, died in a hotel in Chongqing. Given that Chinese courts don’t work independently from the party, the circumstances of his death can’t be considered resolved. A Chinese court found Gu Kailai, Bo Xilai’s wife, guilty of killing Heywood, and after only one day in court, she got a suspended death sentence.

The BBC‘s China editor Carrie Gracie tried to shed light on the circumstances of Bo Xilai’s rise and fall, and the role Heywood’s death played in the latter, but didn’t find too many interlocutors. Instead, she presented a Rocky Horror Picture Show of elite power struggles with Chinese characteristics. Bo Xilai as the avenger of the common man, a crashing, media-savvy scourge of organized crime, who addressed the public directly, without party media filtering. That hadn’t happened since Mao’s days – “think Donald Trump”.

With support from local police chief Wang Lijun, who fancied leading roles in martial-arts television, too, Bo had exercised a regime that labeled opponents as mafiosi and not only jailed them, but expropriated them too, in favor of Chongqing’s budgets.

It isn’t contested that Bo Xilai and Wang Lijun prosecuted the real or supposed gangsters’ advocates, too, with questionable means. Gracie quotes one of these advocates, Li Zhuang (see above, Zhang Wen’s criticism of Bo Xilai), as Li describes how he was arrested by Wang Lijun personally:

The scene was so over-the-top, loads of police cars surrounding the plane, riot police in helmets and camouflage, armed with submachine guns. I asked, “Why the big show? Is it Obama’s state visit or are you capturing Osama Bin Laden?”

We were surrounded by a huge scrum of reporters. He wanted to show his authority on camera. He was in a trench coat, hands in his pockets. He said: “Li Zhuang, we meet again.”

There were admirers of Bo and Wang, there were critics and enemies, and there were people who detested the two. But at the grassroots, the fans appeared to be numerous. According to Gracie, there are still many.

Making inconvenient lawyers disappear was no unique feature of Bo Xilai, however. The party leadership with Xi Jinping at the core has been proving for years that to them, the rule of law is a theroretical nicety they may or may not care about.

Gracie reduces the causes of conflict between the noisy polit-soloist Bo Xilai and the basically “collectivist” leadership in Beijing on a personal rivalry between princeling Bo and princeling Xi.

Certainly, top politicians’ egos can hardly be overestimated, and when they are Chinese, ostentatious modesty shouldn’t fool anyone.

But Xi alone wouldn’t have gotten Bo under control. Neither with the sudden Neil-Heywood scandal – that became known as the Wang-Lijun incident in China after the police chief fled into the next US consulate and being passed on to the central authorities from there (but only after having spilled the beans). Nor otherwise.

The question suggests itself if Bo Xilai’s career wasn’t finished in summer 2011 anyway, given wide-spread disapproval among the party elite, of his egotistic leadership style in Chongqing.

“Unity is strength” was one of the “red songs” Bo Xilai had them sing in Chongqing (above: October 8, 2009). But it wasn’t only the Xi faction that saw a lack of just that on Bo’s part. Bo was putting himself forward, and that had been a taboo during all the post-Mao years.

He didn’t denigrate his leading comrades – appearances like that of Donald Trump as a campaigner, cursing fellow members of his political class, would have been inconceivable. But putting himself into the limelight (and casting it away from others) amounted to the same thing, by Chinese standards. Besides, given his anti-corruption renown, sanctimonious as it may have been, could have threatened his “comrades”. A tribun within their ranks – that couldn’t work.

Xi Jinping and his predecessor Hu Jintao are said to be rivals. But within the Hu camp, Bo’s populism didn’t seem to resonate either. On the contrary: Wen Jiabao, chief state councillor (aka “prime minister”) during the Hu Jintao era, had been a tireless, even if unsuccessful, advocate of political reform, way beyond economics or technology.

At a press conference in March 2012, after the closing ceremony of the annual “parliament” plenary sessions, Wen warned that China wasn’t immune against another cultural revolution. That John Garnaut, an Australian correspondent in Beijing, got the opportunity to talk with Hu Dehua, one of Hu Yaobang’s sons, may also count as an indication that the comparatively liberal factions in the party leadership were at least as sick of Bo Xilai’s revolutionary operas, as were the Xi supporters.

Garnaut, two weeks after Wen’s press conference, in an indirect account of his conversation with Hu Dehua*):

Hu Dehua told his father how pessimistic he felt about his country’s future. Hu Yaobang agreed that the methods and ideologies of the 1987 anti-liberalization movement came straight from the Cultural Revolution. But he told his son to gain some historical perspective, and reminded him that Chinese people were not joining in the elite power games as they had 20 years before. He called the anti-liberalization campaign a “medium-sized cultural revolution” and warned that a small cultural revolution would no doubt follow, Hu Dehua told me. As society developed, Hu Yaobang told his son, the middle and little cultural revolutions would gradually fade from history’s stage.

From there, everything went fast. Still in March, Bo was dismissed as Chongqing’s party chief. He also lost his alternate membership in the politburo. In summer 2012, his wife Gu Kailai got her commuted death sentence, and in September 2013, Bo was sentenced to life in prison – based on the usual charges for unrigged politicians: corruption.

Is there a Chongqing Heritage?

At first glance, Bo Xilai’s “populism” or “Maoism” is finished. But Bo counted as a champion of many Chinese from the political left. A comment in German weekly Die Zeit, in September 2013, saw the verdict against Bo as a signal from the top that resistance against economic reform was futile.

To assess Bo Xilai’s political heritage objectively. The CCP may be beyond the era when beaten opponents were airbrushed from all photos and records. But the question about how publicly or privately-owned China’s economy should be might impose itself with any questions about Bo Xilai, and the now seven-member standing committee of the politburo can’t use such questions.

A political scientist of Beijing University, He Weifang (贺卫方), hinted at problems in assessing the Chongqing Model’s performance, from 2007 to 2012:

It is generally believed that the so-called “Chongqing Model” is mainly shaped by three aspects: “red culture” on the political level, “targeted actions against dark and evil forces in Chongqing“, and the reduction of the income gaps between the poor and the rich. The most criticized aspects are the former two, although there is support for the two of them in Chongqing and elsewhere. The third aspect isn’t that controversial. However, all data published concerning the efficiency of the measures taken to narrow the income gap are actually issued by the Chongqing authorities, and therefore lacking neutral assessment. Also, we can see that the whole process is strongly government-led, whose focus isn’t on creating a market logic of equal opportunities. If this approach will or will not lead to mistakes in financial policies, including the rural land policies‘ impartiality, is also questionable. And then there are concerns about life today being lead on future earnings, short-term inputs being made to curry favor with the public, which may come at high future costs.

答:一般认为,所谓的重庆模式主要由三方面内容构成:政治层面上的红色文化,执法层面上的“打黑除恶”以及民生方面的缩小贫富差距。最受诟病的是前两者,虽然在重庆和其他地方,似乎也有一些人人对于“唱红”和“打黑”表达支持。第三方面内容相对较少争议。不过,那些举措究竟对于缩小贫富差距产生了怎样的效果,目前得到的信息都是由重庆当局发布的,缺少中立的评估。另外,我们可以看到整个过程是在政府强势主导下进行的,其重点并非创造机会均等的市场逻辑。这种做法是否会带来财政决策中的失误,包括重庆所推行的农村土地政策的公正性,都是大可怀疑的。还有寅吃卯粮的隐忧,短期内的高投入讨好了民众,但是却需要未来付出巨大的代价。

If Bo Xilai was a populist, one of Donald Trump’s kind, or Putin’s, or Neil Farage’s, or whoever, one has to ask oneself how much influence he has maintained over Chinese politics to this day. After all, populists like Geert Wilders aren’t ineffective, merely because they can’t lay their hands on the imperial regalia.

When looking at European populism – that’s only a snapshot, of course -, one can get the impression that populists may not be elected, but they do leave marks on politics, from Merkel’s Willkommenskultur back to the traditional Christian Democrats’ policies, and Britain’s Brexit, implemented not by its original proponents, but by Theresa May, who had used to be a lukewarm supporter of Britain’s EU membership.

Populism is hardly ever the common peoples’ business, but that of the elites. The battles are fought within the political class, as observed by Hu Yaobang in the late 1980s. That is about as true in Europe. However, these battles within the superstructure may create or intensify certain trends in the public mood – and once policies have moved sufficiently into the “populist” direction, the support for these parties wanes, and the electorate turns back to the long-established parties. After all, Joe Blow doesn’t want to look like an extremist.

When Xi Jinping announced China’s new role as a guardian of free trade at the Davos forum in January, German Handelsblatt China correspondent Stephan Scheuer hailed the party and state leader’s “dressing-down for populists”. In Davos, Xi had become “a pioneer of fair-minded globalization”.

What could be beginning to show in China is a comparatively strong Maoist component in propaganda, as long as this doesn’t come at the cost of China’s privileged, and as long as this doesn’t require substantial reallocation of means or wealth to poor classes of population, or laggard regions. But whenever the name “Bo Xilai” should appear in any token event, the exorcists will be just around the corner.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The U.S. Democrats’ Red Herring: Blaming the Russians

Mattathias Schwartz of The Intercept suggests a statement different from the one US President Obama actually made at his last press conference. That statement, as scripted by Schwartz, would have deviated from the actual statement indeed. But it wouldn’t have provided America with moral and political leadership, as the teaser suggested.

The Intercept's presidential statement

The Intercept’s presidential statement

There’s no question to my mind that Donald Trump and his supporters (professionals and “ordinary people”) have made substantial contributions to brutalize the campaign, and political culture. But there is no question either that the Democratic Party’s establishment has shown its contempt for democratic principle, by pushing Hillary Clinton‘s nomination campaign, at the expense of Bernie Sanders‘. Clinton and her supporters showed quite the “sense of entitlement” once ascribed to China’s leader Xi Jinping.

That – not the Russian exposure of it – is the problem.

Were there American media that exposed the Democratic National Committee’s conduct? I haven’t heard of any. There was no Bob Woodward of our times who would have dug up that pit. The American media didn’t perform. They didn’t pick up their essential role. Moscow simply filled the vacuum.

Maybe that’s what Obama should have said (if he could have). He could have tried to talk some sense into those democrat functionaries (and press people) who are now trying to make the public forget their own role in their candiate’s undoing.

Obviously, there’s no reason to thank the Russian leadership for what they did. But there is no reason to flame them, either. America wasn’t treated like a banana republic this year, it acted like one.

If you want more of the same, shoot the messenger. But if you want democracy that works, do your homework.

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