Critical open letter highlights ‘paranoia’ within China’s ruling party


A series of extraordinary outbursts of public criticism of Chinese President Xi Jinping in recent weeks has raised the question of whether his crackdown on dissent is backfiring, the Washington Post reports:

In an essay on the ChinaFile website, Columbia University professor Andrew Nathan argued that there is a Chinese tradition of “loyal remonstrance” from within the leader’s camp: The fact that some of the criticism [was posted on the website of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the anti-corruption body] suggests Xi’s most fervent supporters are among those most worried about the path he has taken.

“I do not, however, expect Xi to back down,” adds Nathan, a National Endowment for Democracy board member. “More often than not in Chinese history the remonstrator lost his head. When his warnings came true, so did the leader who ignored them.”

Xi’s security forces have overseen a far-reaching inquisition to root out the culprits behind a critical letter, resorting to measures that have drawn more attention than the letter itself. They have detained at least 11 people, including relatives in China of two exiled writers accused of spreading or promoting the letter, the New York Times adds:

Xiao Qiang (right), an adjunct professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who monitors Chinese media for the website China Digital Times, attributed the response in part to the letter’s unusual phrasing. “Bluff or true, this tone sounds more like coup plotters talking to the leader they want to depose, rather than an open letter with dissenting political views,” he said.

“The response has shown how jittery they are,” said Kerry Brown, professor of Chinese politics at King’s College, London. “The fear seems to be that these views might be taken as representative of real elite figures.”

Political analyst Willy Lam said the government’s heavy-handed crackdown highlighted the level of paranoia within the Xi administration that the letter’s content could resonate if allowed to spread to a wider audience within mainland China, adds China Digital Times [a National Endowment for Democracy grantee]:

“The sentiments do overlap with what many people who are critical of Xi Jinping think,” the Chinese University of Hong Kong academic said. “If you add the people affected by the anti-corruption campaign and also relatively liberal cadres who are unhappy about the personality cult being built around Xi Jinping, then it’s quite a substantial number of party cadres.”

Loss of control

Xi Jinping wants full control, and for the letter to appear on a domestic website marked a loss of control,” said Zhang Ping, a Chinese journalist and rights advocate living in Germany, whose siblings have been detained in southwest China as part of the investigation, The Times adds:

Mr. Zhang, who writes under the pen name Chang Ping, said two younger brothers were held by the police in Sichuan Province after his immediate family and even distant relatives were told to tell him to remove from the Internet an essay he wrote condemning the detentionof a Chinese journalist, Jia Jia, possibly over the letter. Mr. Zhang said his younger sister was also missing, almost certainly detained. Mr. Zhang said it would be impossible to take down the essay, which was published on a Chinese-language website of Deutsche Welle, the German news service.

China’s growth will be at the bottom of Beijing’s target range this year and decline further in 2017 amid slower growth in the Asia-Pacific region, according to an annual economic outlook published by the Asian Development Bank.

It’s time to worry about something much more likely: political failure, analysts note (HT: FPI). At the root of the problem is the reluctance of Chinese leaders to finally implement the economic overhauls they promised, starting with the closure of “zombie” state enterprises.

That China has no good options, and only a choice among painful ones, reflects the underlying structural problem in the Chinese economy—one that will take many years to fix, according to Council on Foreign Relations analysts Benn Steil and Emma Smith write for The Wall Street Journal.

“The economy was tooled to support grossly overoptimistic expectations of foreign demand for Chinese exports,” they add. “Retooling it to encourage domestic demand will require time and a willingness by the Chinese government to allow businesses to die so that more promising ones may live.”

China analysts tend to use mirror imaging, ignore China’s lack of transparency and use of subterfuge, and neglect the fact that the Chinese military advocates no differentiation between peace-time and war-time use of cyberwarfare, according to a new paper by the US Congressional Research Service (CRS). Written by Ian E. Rinehart, a CRS analyst in Asian affairs, the report – The Chinese Military: Overview and Issues for Congress – warns of misreading Chinese tea leaves and argues the US Congress must begin to examine “a Chinese way of war.”

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