Xi tightening grip on China’s civil society in effort to ‘institutionalize legitimacy’


Since becoming Chinese president in 2012, Xi Jinping has been tightening his grip on civil society, the military and competing political cliques. Now, as the Communist party prepares for the five-yearly congress that will launch his second term, he is about to give the clearest signal yet of the personal power he has amassed, The FT reports:

Mr Xi will elevate a new generation of loyalists to the nation’s top ruling body at the meeting in mid-October, which has been preceded by months of factional fighting, intrigue and purges. But he will also add to the party’s charter — and the way he makes his mark will be closely watched for signs of a growing cult of personality.

“It’s the institutionalization of the legitimacy of power,” says Kerry Brown, a Chinese studies professor at King’s College London. “Xi Jinping is putting his imprimatur on the body politic.”

Chinese authorities said on Monday that they have handed down maximum fines to the operators of three major social-media platforms in the country for failing to deal with banned content on their sites, CNBC reports:

The affected platforms are Baidu’s online forum Tieba, microblogging site Weibo and Tencent’s massively popular social app WeChat. In August, authorities had said the respective operators were under investigation for cybersecurity violations.

WhatsApp now appears to have been broadly disrupted in China, even for text messages, said Nadim Kobeissi, an applied cryptographer at Symbolic Software, a Paris-based research start-up. The blocking of WhatsApp text messages suggests that China’s censors may have developed specialized software to interfere with such messages, which rely on an encryption technology that is used by few services other than WhatsApp, he told The New York Times:

“This is not the typical technical method in which the Chinese government censors something,” Mr. Kobeissi said. He added that his company’s automated monitors had begun detecting disruptions of WhatsApp in China on Wednesday, and that by Monday the blocking efforts were comprehensive.

China’s rights lawyers have been hit by a new wave of intimidation, adds China Digital Times:*

Two years into the escalated crackdown on rights lawyers that began on “Black Friday” in July 2015, Human Rights Watch highlights a series of inspections of Chinese law firms by the Ministry of Justice in recent weeks, ostensibly meant to “strengthen” and “standardize” their supervision. The group’s warning follows a speech by Justice Minister Zhang Jun calling for “harsh discipline, but much love,”

“While China’s human rights lawyers are no strangers to official harassment, these sudden, invasive probes send an alarming message,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. China’s authorities are putting lawyers on notice that they are subject to the whims of the government.”

Peter Dahlin Credit: China Aid

The Communist regime is also exporting its repression from the domestic realm, according to analysts.

“China has been extending its clampdown — its choking of civil society — throughout the world, and often it is attempting this through official channels such as the U.N. or Interpol,” said Michael Caster, a rights campaigner who was a co-founder of the Chinese Urgent Action Working Group. “Unfortunately, they’re very adept at doing it,” he told The Times:

The Chinese Urgent Action Working Group, which provided seminars for lawyers and legal aid for defendants in China, folded last year after the country’s powerful Ministry of State Security arrested and held Mr. Caster’s colleague, Peter Dahlin, a Swedish citizen, for 23 days.

*A grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy.

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