The Chinese Censorship Party
The unfurling of an anti-Xi banner in Beijing ahead of the congress, sent the censorship system into overdrive; could it one day melt down entirely?
Photo: Markus Winkler; Unsplash.
The day after a brave soul unfurled banners in northwest Beijing calling for the overthrow of “national traitor and thief” Xi Jinping, and sloganeering in true CPC style that the people needed food not lockdowns etc, Bloomberg reported that even the word “Beijing” was banned on social media.
Actually, search engines stopped yielding results for the most important event of the past five years, as well as the country’s paramount leader despite heralding the event in their landing page doodles, as the blog Fei Chang Dao notes.
The blog entry continues:
In the run-up to the [19th] Congress: a search for "Xi Jinping" in 2020 returned almost 6 million results, while the same search the day before the [20th] Congress only returned 22 results.
Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reported that shortly after the banner incident in Beijing accounts with China’s “super app” WeChat – an indispensable item in contemporary China – began to disappear.
Hundreds of complaints posted in a customer-service forum run by WeChat’s owner, Tencent Holdings Ltd., indicated the suspensions were imposed after users posted or reposted images of the protest to their contacts. Some users offered desperate, if somewhat circumspect, apologies.
One user referred to ‘an incident this afternoon’ and apologized for engaging in damaging behavior. ‘Please, I have been using this account for 10 years, with many messages and pictures—very precious to me,’ the user wrote.
Most popular social-media platforms were so scrubbed of content about the government and its leaders it was essentially impossible to gauge public opinion of the party’s leadership.
That’s, frankly, nothing new – simply a ratcheting up of day-to-day control – but according at least one source, it became nigh on impossible to search for General Secretary Xi Jinping online in China, rather like being unable to search for “lettuce” in the UK.
Furthermore, we’re unsure how jobs watching bridges were advertised when the word “bridge” was canceled – which it was because the anti-Xi banners were unfurled from Sitong Bridge in northwestern Beijing – but help on the bridge front was indeed being sought over the weekend it appears:
Peak censorship? Highly unlikely.
The censorial equivalent of a singularity event is still waiting in the sidelines – an informational black hole poised to collapse under its own weight, allowing nothing to escape its event horizon.
After all, consider the day Chinese officials will no longer be able to repeal censorship regulations because the all-powerful AI censorship has been instructed to ban the word “censorship.”
Over to Kubrick the visionary: “I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that.”
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Traders wilt during Beijing proceedings
Perhaps, for once, pessimism over China’s economy and markets rules during the twice-a-decade Party Congress, reports Bloomberg.
The sour Bloomberg take on the big event persisted into this morning (Monday) in the aftermath of Xi’s two-hour speech yesterday in which he:
… signaled no change in direction for two main risk factors dragging down China’s economy – strict Covid rules and housing market policies – providing little lift to a worsening growth outlook.
Xi praised Covid Zero, his no-tolerance approach to containing infections, during a speech opening the 20th Communist Party congress in Beijing on Sunday, although he didn’t reference the virus again in sections laying out plans for the future. His slogans on China’s property market, meanwhile, repeated prior language even as the sector experiences its longest-ever slump due to policies aimed at curbing debt and financial risks.
The backdrop to such pessimism:
The benchmark CSI 300 Index has lost 22% this year, while the offshore yuan has weakened about 11% against the dollar … and the economy is set to grow at a slower pace than the rest of developing Asia for the first time in more than three decades.
‘In the short term, there is little to support any rosier view,’ said Diana Choyleva, chief economist at Enodo Economics. ‘In the longer term, recovery hinges on two factors: whether China will choose a more pragmatic economic path, and the prospects for a warming in US-China relations.’
Yup, go ahead. Wish upon a star.
The Asia Society’s recipe for peace
The Asia Society of the Center on US-China Studies offers advice on how we can avoid a war over Taiwan, which it claims we’re at risk of because …
… As tension rises between the PRC and the United States over Taiwan, strategists on both sides seem to have forgotten the lesson taught years ago by Nobel Prize-winning American game theorist Thomas Schelling: deterring an opponent from taking a proscribed action requires a combination of credible threats and credible assurances.
The terrifying backdrop to the possible implementation of Nobel Prize-winning game theory is overt Chinese aggression against tiny democratic upstart Taiwan, increased defense spending by Taiwan and diminished US military ambiguity on the response to a Chinese invasion.
Deterrence 101: Avoiding war in the Taiwan Strait requires all sides to be deterred – at a minimum, for Taiwan to be deterred from declaring formal independence, the United States to be deterred from recognizing Taiwan as an independent state or restoring something akin to the U.S.-ROC alliance, and the PRC to be deterred from using military force against Taiwan to compel unification. Not only must all sides be threatened with harm for crossing these red lines, but they must also be assured that refraining from crossing these red lines will not lead to catastrophic losses or damage to their interests.
OK, and there’s no real need to break this down in detail: there is no shortage of threats, but assurances? None of these three players trust one another, and no amount of assurances will change that. None of them is listening, but each is watching and the only assurance that might credibly gain traction is mutually assured destruction.
On a side note, Australia’s The Saturday Paper (paywall) suggests that Chinese-speaking former prime minister – and Asia Society head (thats’ the connection with the rest of this entry) – Kevin Rudd is in the running to be Australia’s next ambassador to Washington.
In many ways, it would be a logical step for Australia, but the corridors of power in DC are fully “woke” to the threat of China, which will make Australia’s new Labor government’s efforts to redefine its relations with its Asian neighbors – read China, the great pump of Australian affluence – seem antiquated, if not downright dangerous if they involve appeasement as a response to threats.
Xi the re(per)former
Economist – and frequent Twitter provocateur – Christopher Balding provided a scalding but amusing Twitter-thread take on just how venerated China-watchers frequently get vast CPC get-togethers wrong, and how most of those commentators are still doing the commenting today, despite some ludicrous calls in the past.
Balding cites Reuters, 2012, on how “Xi Jinping, China president-in-waiting signals quicker reform,” The Diplomat, 2014, “4 Reasons Xi Jinping Is a Serious Reformer,” Nicholas Kristof at the New York Times in 2013 on how Xi is looking to jump start China, The Guardian in 2013 on how Xi will open the door to reform in China, and so on.
Fast forward to 2017 and we have Xi’s economic “A Team” according to The Conversation, which included profundities such as the following:
President Xi’s “new era” of Chinese development and economic growth is defined by the reform agenda he laid out when he came to power in 2012. This vision was most clearly articulated in his personal comments on the 60-point policy document that laid out the President’s vision for the governance reform of China.
Back to the “real world” – and there’s nothing in it that will make Wall Street sleep easy at night, or even make much sense to anyone who didn’t grow up coddled in a woolly Marxist comforter – Xi is on a mission – yes, a mission – as translated in today’s Tracking People’s Daily SubStack by Manoj Kewalramani:
… that none have attempted before … We should approach Marxism with a respect for science and in the spirit of seeking truth. We must never waver in upholding the basic tenets of Marxism, the overall leadership of the Party, and socialism with Chinese characteristics.
Dexter Tiff Roberts, writing for The China Project, on the subject of ever-hopeful China watchers, sighs …
And then there is the old two-part and tired argument: that ultimately Xi is a pragmatist willing to take any path that helps makes China strong and prosperous and able to achieve its “great rejuvenation”; and that his heavy-handed consolidation of power allows him to overcome entrenched anti-reform interests before he loosens the reins over the economy and unleashes growth.
“Great rejuvenation” sounds, well, “great,” but Xi is actually overseeing a “Great Regression” – and most Chinese know it – based on a grab-bag ideology that heralds autocracy, autarky and a mythical higher plane of communism (with Chinese characteristics) as the only governance model fit to deal with an increasingly complex world.
The truth is that there really are other ways to deal with the world – perhaps even better ones – and we should be focused on those rather than praying that Xi turns out to be not only right, but a man you’d want to do a deal with.
The Greater Sinosphere
China’s lawless SEZs and a mountain of debt
Blue Shield Casino, owned by the King Romans Group, in the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone in Bokeo Province. Slleong, Creative Commons Zero, Public Domain Dedication.
The South China Morning Post has a feature story on the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone (GTSEZ) …
… a sealed-off gambling town that centres on the Kings Romans Casino, in a remote corner of northwestern Laos, run by the notorious Chinese gangster Zhao Wei. Laos treats the area like an autonomous state, subject to its own rules, which runs on Chinese time, and where the main languages and currency used are also Chinese.
… According to Vice magazine, it is now one of the world’s biggest methamphetamine factories. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime recording [sic] more than one billion meth pills seized in East and Southeast Asia last year.
The story runs as scattered media reports indicate that Laos may be on the brink of a debt default – half of it owed to China for hydropower plants and railway lines and extended by the China Development Bank (CDB) and the Export-Import (Exim) Bank of China.
Claims that Laos is fast slumping into the status of PRC vassal state are likely only somewhat exaggerated.
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Boilerplate bluster or cryptic crossword?
Xi Jinping is the one one in the middle – on stage – speaking to a rapt audience for two hours, as the rest of the world hangs onto his every word for hints of things to come. Photo: Screen grab.
For what it’s worth, Xi Jinping’s windy inaugural speech on the first day of the 20th Party Congress yielded no head-for-the-hills surprises on Taiwan, which was 13th on the secretary general’s 16-point agenda.
If there’s been a shift of any kind, it’s arguably that Xi appears to hint that Taiwan’s reprobate independence activists have been given fair warning and the next step is dealing with foreign influences – primarily the US, but gathering pockets of support elsewhere.
Xi, of course, did not renounce force, but made no mention of a deadline for “reunification” – but then why would he? The twice-a-decade mass conclave is no place to be talking about such things – or about lessons learned from Ukraine, the chief of which is do not give the enemy too long to prepare if you want a fast decisive victory.
Meanwhile, Taiwan’s Chinese-language United Daily News noted that Xi’s speech made no reference to the 1992 Consensus, whereas in the 19th Party Congress address it was mentioned four times. Make of that what you will.
UDN also notes that the 19th Party Congress talk about Taiwan and China being “family” has been replaced with “common development of Chinese (中華) culture” to advance a spiritual meeting of the minds.
Probably along the lines of the spiritual meeting of the minds that has taken place in Hong Kong.
Which is to say – with reference to all the above – if you think Taiwan and its supporters have taken a buffeting from Xi’s China over the last five-year term, You ain’t seen nothing yet.
North buffeted by rain, Hong Kong and Macau on alert
Actually, it’s been raining since Friday even though Nesat – reportedly a default name for tropical storms and typhoons that coalesce too quickly to be named after obscure regional fauna – was moving away from southern Taiwan. Rainfall of up to 1,000 ml was reportedly recorded in some areas – probably the most since 1987.
No fatalities have been recorded, though heavy rain is expected to continue through today as tropical story Nesat takes form as a full-blown typhoon and heads southwest in the direction of northern Vietnam, probably grazing Hong Kong, Macau and Hainan Island on the way.
A per-capita miracle, but will it trickle down?
Many Taiwanese were surprised to learn that the nation was poised to post “the highest GDP per capita in East Asia, beating South Korea and Japan this year,” at least according to South Korean monthly magazine BusinessKorea, citing the latest IMF estimate, in a report that was widely circulated by the Taipei Times among others.
Taiwan’s GDP per capita is expected to increase to US$35,510 this year from US$33,140 last year, the report said.
That would put the nation’s GDP per capita above South Korea’s expected US$33,590 for the first time since 2003 and above Japan’s US$34,360 for the first time ever, it said.
Labor activists such as Roy Ngerng were quick to point out that the “per capita” might look good on paper, but meant next to nothing to the average Taiwanese worker, who is less than abundantly recompensed compared to similarly rich economies worldwide.
Ngerng lays out his argument at more length in The News Lens, a Taiwanese news website, pulling no punches.
The minimum wage of Geneva, Switzerland is nearly five times as high as Taiwan while hospitality workers in Norway and Denmark earn minimum wages about 3.5 times as high as Taiwan. Most other Western European countries have minimum wages about two to three times that of Taiwan. South Korea and Japan have minimum wages 1.9 and 1.6 times that of Taiwan, respectively.
Back to the Neolithic
Photo: Source unknown, via CNA.
Famously (in some quarters), Audrey Tang (Táng Fèng, 唐鳳), currently Taiwan’s Minister of Digital Affairs, upon being asked in an interview when Taiwan became a breakaway province, once answered without missing a beat, “The Neolithic Age, I believe.”
Three years on, Taiwan has found some evidence that Taiwan was home to hominids in the New Stone Age (generally dated 10,000–4,500 BC).
Focus Taiwan reports:
An ancient human skull and femur bone excavated from the Xiaoma Caves belonged to that of a female adult, according to a study by an international team of researchers led by Hung Hsiao-chun (洪曉純), a senior research fellow in the Department of Archaeology and Natural History at Australian National University.
The female shared cranial affinities and small stature characteristics in common with Indigenous Southeast Asians, particularly the short, dark-skinned negritos of northern Luzon in the Philippines, the paper said.
According to the researchers, the populace at one time likely inhabited Taiwan before the Formosan Austronesian-speaking population.
The find may affirm legends circulated by Taiwanese indigenous peoples long before the arrival of Chinese pirates and later the Qing and the KMT – not to mention the Spanish, the Dutch and the Japanese – about “small-bodied, dark skinned people with frizzy hair” who lived in forested mountains or remote caves.
Taiwan’s highest tree – by tape measure, at least
Taiwania cryptomerioides, or Taiwania are related to California Redwoods. Syrio; Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0.
The United Daily News (Chinese) reports that "Tree Seekers" – a team formed by the Forestry Experiment Institute of the Agricultural Council and Chengda (Chéng Dà, 成大) University researchers – are using drone technology to search for trees with a height of more than 65 meters.
That led the seekers to “Peach Mountain Sacred Tree” (Táoshān Shénmù, 桃山神木), also known by its Japanese name Momoyama Sacred Tree – which comes in at a towering in 79.1 meters, at least 20 stories high – in the valley of Sheiba Park.
That makes it the tallest tree measured in Taiwan, so far – but are there more?
Yes is the answer. The "Peach Mountain Sacred Tree" was measured by the Tree Seekers by climbing to the top with a tape measure.
“Ka'alang Giant Tree” – Taiwania cryptomerioides, or Taiwania, an evergreen conifer related to California Redwoods – in the Danda Mountains of Nantou Country, is estimated at 82 meters tall, but is a hazard to climb with a tape measure, according to the university research team.
Sticky rice, brown sugar, a bridge
Given the word “bridge” is currently banned in China, what better occasion to show off this tweet by Special Taiwan of Nantou County’s famed (at least in Nantou) sticky-rice bridge (Nuòmǐ Qiáo, 糯米橋)?
Built in 1940 to replace a wooden bridge built during the Japanese colonial era, the remote location meant that it was constructed by local laborers and with local materials, the mortar created traditionally, using lime, glutinous rice, and brown sugar.
Amazingly, it’s still standing, despite being buffeted by typhoons – nearly devastatingly so in 2004 and in 2009, leading to repairs and a reopening in 2019.
This week in history
An emperor passes away in Beijing
Puyi (溥仪) pictured center, circa 1924. Photo: Public domain.
Aisin-Gioro Puyi (Pǔyí, 溥儀) died on this day, 17 October, in 1967, China’s last emperor. He was 61.
As you might expect, his was a turbulent life: emperor at the age of two, forced to abdicate four years later due to the 1912 Xinhai Revolution and later made Emperor Kangde (Kāngdé, 康德) of Manchukuo, a Japanese puppet state during World War II.
His reign in Manchukuo lasted until the end of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1945, when he fled and was captured by the Soviets, who handed him over to the newly established People's Republic of China in 1949.
A defendant at the Tokyo Trials, he was imprisoned as a war criminal for 10 years, and wrote his memoirs (with the help of a ghost writer, whom we now – as of this month – believe to have been none other than Lao She).
He “was ultimately buried near the Western Qing tombs in a commercial cemetery,” according to Wikipedia.
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