President Xi Jinping is poised to make a historic power grab as China’s legislator gather to approve changes that will let him rule indefinitely and undo decades of efforts to prevent a return to crushing dictatorship.
This year’s gathering of the ceremonial National People’s Congress has been overshadowed by Xi’s surprise move to end constitutional two-term limits on the presidency. The changes would allow Xi, already China’s most powerful leader in decades, to extend his rule over the world’s second-largest economy possibly for life.
The move is widely seen as the culmination of the 64-year-old Xi’s efforts since being appointed leader of the ruling Communist Party in 2012 to concentrate power in his own hands and defy norms of collective leadership established over the past two decades. Xi has appointed himself to head bodies that oversee national security, finance, economic reform and other major initiatives, effectively sidelining the party’s No.2 figure, Premier Li Ueqiang
Once passed, the constitutional amendment would upend a system enacted by former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping in 1982 to prevent a return to the bloody excesses of a lifelong dictatorship typified by Mao Zedong’s chaotic 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution.
“Deng Xiaoping’s abolishment of lifetime tenure for the leadership and more institutionalized transitions in power are very much in question,” said Li, a politics expert.
Passage of the proposed constitutional amendment by the congress’ nearly 3,000 handpicked delegates is all but certain. But observes will be looking to see how many delegates abstain from voting as an indication of the reservations the move has encountered even within the political establishment. At the same time Mr. Xi Jinping is enlarging the scope of China’s ambitions, being aware that no country in the Asian region, with the exception of India, can possibly stand in the way of it fulfilling its ambitions. Each succeeding week brings fresh evidence of how anarchic the international global order has become. Quite a few nations, including many of the newer ones, are seeking a new salience in the affairs of their region, aiming to establish their dominance. This is one cause for many of today’s turmoil.
The unfortunate aspect is that while there is greater clarity on the new challenges that nations face, the international system is unable to come up with sustainable solutions to deal with these multiple challenges. For instance, currently the US is seen to be incapable of playing a balancing role in Asian affairs, and to have ceded ground to China. China appears unrivalled in Asia at present given its military might and economic power. The only opposition in the Asian region to China today comes from India.
India and China both adhere to a rules-based international order but a wide gap separates their perceptions what constitutes the international order. This has more than ordinary significance today even as global powers are beginning to shift their stance and a “balance of power” approach is no longer the norm. For Asia, this is proving to be a destabilizing development, affecting peace in the region as the US is no longer willing to take on responsibilities for peace.
It is China that is now beginning to set the rules in accordance with its interests and values. China is enlarging the scope of its ambitions, being aware that no country in the Asian region, with exception of India, can possibly stand in the way of fulfilling its ambitions. The Belt and Road Initiative is only one manifestation of its growing ambition. All signs point to China seeking avenues for global control and dominance, exploiting the weaknesses and inequalities that currently plague the international system. There is, thus, almost a surreal quality in the statements and announcements put forward by other Asian nations on how to limit China’s vaulting ambitions. The Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, and the seeking of an early conclusion of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea at the ASEAN Summit in New Delhi fall into this category. It may have been intended to buttress ASEAN’s position on their dispute with China, but I believe that it is unlikely to have any kind of impact. China in my opinion, for its part, is busy turning the South China Sea into its “military outpost” and does not really care about its neighbors and their opinion about China’s ambitions.
At the party congress, Xi Jinping, now the undisputed and unquestioned leader of both the party and the state, declared many times the dawn of a “new era” an era of socialism with Chinese characteristics . Xi further talked of China’s pre-eminence in the east and described its rising “comprehensive national power” as leading on to global status. Not explicitly stated, but intrinsic to China’s belief, is that it is a big country with extensive economic, military and political might, and that it expects other smaller, less powerful countries to accept its leadership.
China is thus poised to set its compass to become a ideologically revisionist and an expansionist major power; one that aims to create more strategic space that would compel regional powers to defer to, and accommodate, its wishes with an exception of India so far. China has already fired its opening salvos shifting focus from the East and South China Sea to the Indian Ocean. It is steadily enlarging its concept of “expanded strategic space” from land to sea. If continuity of policy is dependent on the vision of one individual in this case President Xi the party statute is set to be amended to ensure continuance of Mr. Xi as President for further terms beyond 2023, so as to ensure strong and stable leadership until the middle of the 21st century. Therefore India has every reason to feel concerned and to be on its guard.
Simultaneously, China has consciously set about damaging India’s relations with neighbors, including most recently Nepal and the Maldives. India’s relations with some of its other neighbors have also suffered due to Chinas machinations, mainly through the provision of economic incentives, promises of infrastructure development, and certain “unseen benefits”. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor which strategically provides China an opening to the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean, for instance, has both an economic and a strategic imperative.
Doklam in Bhutan during 2017, and the Maldives this year are in my opinion just “test cases” in China’s determined bid to enlarge its “strategic space”. The Doklam standoff, notwithstanding India’s claims, has created a degree of uncertainty about India’s ability to match China’s ambitious inroads into India’s neighborhood. The Maldives imbroglio has led to the distancing from India of a long term dependent ally-the Maldives, which now seems to be moving into China’s orbit. China already has a lookout in the southern most archipelagos of the Maldives and is currently seeking to establish a “joint ocean observation station” in one of the northern atolls, giving China a vantage point overlooking the main shipping lanes in the western Indian Ocean. There are already reports of increased deployment of Chinese skips in the Indian Ocean Region, and reports of frequent underwater movements of Chinese submarines to designated ports in the Indian Ocean Region apart from the establishment of naval bases in Djibouti and Gwadar.
In the meantime, China is offering ‘a new choice’ or model for developing countries to follow. This posits a direct challenge to the democratic model followed by India which emphasizes a more liberal order. Alongside systematic moves made to diminish India’s image in the region, and its resort to ‘salami tactics’, China hopes to strike a blow against India without engaging in an open conflict. Consequently, India needs to urgently come up with a pre-emptive strategy to prevent China from succeeding in its efforts. India should position itself suitably, in dealing an alternative model that is much less threatening to countries in the region. The attempt should be to counter China’s vision of international relations that puts a premium on expanding and flexing its military capabilities and provides dubious economic benefits under the rubric of trade and market access with an alternative model. It must urgently in my opinion restrict China’s present ascendency in regard to port infrastructure and maritime commerce in the Indian Ocean that is giving China an advantage in regional affairs.
We have to realize that India is the only bulwark in Asia to counter Chinese designs and expansionism and therefore I see it as our duty to support India wherever we can. India alone can prevent a further expansion of China’s “strategic space” and a Chinese takeover of the entire region.
As Calvin・Farel and Inventive Ventures have given you now an insight on China’s country borders and its strategy for the region we would like to continue with China’s digital borders. Within its digital borders, China has long censored what its people are allowed to read and say online. Recently, it is increasingly going beyond its own online realms to police what people and companies are saying about it all over the world.
For years, China has exerted digital control with a system of internet filters known as the Great firewall, which allows the authorities to limit what people see online. To broaden its censorship efforts, Beijing is now venturing outside the Great Firewall and paying more attention to what its citizen are saying on non-Chinese apps and services.
As Part of that shift, Beijing has at times pressured foreign companies like Google and Facebook, which are both blocked in mainland China to take down certain content. At other times, it has bypassed foreign companies entirely and instead directly pushed users of global social media to encourage self-censorship.
This effort is accelerating assist, President Xi Jinping consolidates his power. Zhang Guanghong recently discovered the changing online landscape firsthand. Mr. Zhang, a Chinese human rights activist, decided last fall to share an article with a group of friends in and outside China that criticized Mr. Xi. To do so, he used WhatsApp, an American app owned by Facebook that almost nobody uses in mainland China.
In September, Mr. Zhang was detained in China; he is expected to soon be charged with insulting China’s government and the Communist Party. The evidence, according to his lawyer, included printouts of what Mr. Zhang share and said in the WhatsApp group. That information was likely obtained by hacking his phone or through a spy in his group chat, China tech experts said, without involving WhatsApp. Mr. Zhang ‘s case is one of the first known examples of the Chinese authorities using conversations from a non- Chinese chat app as evidence, and it sends a warning to those on the American platform, which is encrypted, that they could also be held accountable for what’s been written or said there. “China is increasingly throwing its weight around”, said Joshua Rosenzweig, an analyst at Amnesty International.
As Mr. Xi asserts himself and the primacy of Chinese geopolitical power, China has also become more comfortable projecting Mr. Xi’s vision of a tightly controlled internet. Beijing had long been content to block foreign internet companies and police the homegrown alternatives that sprouted up to take their place, but it is now directly pressuring individuals or requesting that companies cooperate with its online censorship efforts. That puts many American tech giants in a tricky position, especially those that want access to China’s vast internet market of more than 700 million users. In the past these companies have typically gone to great lengths to gain a toehold in China. Facebook for example created a censorship tool it did not use and released an app in the country without putting its name on it. Apple is moving data storage for its Chinese customers into China and last year took down software that skirts China’s internet blocks from its China App Store. Google recently said it would open a new artificial intelligence lab in the country.
Often, these companies have little recourse when pressured for help by Beijing. China leaned heavily on major internet companies when Gou Wengui, a Chinese tycoon in self-imposed exile, went on Facebook and YouTube to accuse a number of Chinese officials of corruption. Chinese officials last year complained to Facebook and Google, which owns YouTube, according to people familiar with the events who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the issue publicly. Facebook suspended Mr. Guo’s account. In a statement, the company said the account published the personal information of others without their consent, which violated the platform’s policies. A spokeswoman declined to comment on whether Beijing’s complaints played a role. The Chinese authorities have also successfully persuaded Google to pull down content that had been available around the globe. The Chinese government asked Google’s services to take down 2290 items in the first half of last year, according to the company’s statistics. That was more than triple the number it requested in the second half of 2016, which itself had set a record. Content related to terrorism made up a substantial portion of the material China asked Google to take down, according to its data. The majority of China’s recent takedown requests focused on video on Youtube, the data showed. A Google spokesman said the company would not comment further on specific takedown request.
Chinese officials may have even bigger censorship ambitions. At a major Chinese internet conference last year, Mei Jianming, a Chinese antiterrorism expert, said Beijing should put more pressure on companies like Twitter. The goal would be to get them to change their terms of service so they could restrict posts by groups that Beijing considers subversive, like the World Uyghur Congress, which seeks self-determination for the people of the Western Chinese region of Xinjiang.
Sometimes, Chinese internet users also push foreign companies to censor themselves in the country, nurtured by sentiments on China’s propaganda channels. Daimler for example, the German carmaker, apologized in February after its Mercedes Benz brand posted an inspirational quote on Instagram, a Facebook owned platform, that it attributed to the Dalai Lama. China views the Tibetan Buddhist leader as a champion of independence for Tibet, and Mercedes Benz faced withering criticism from Chinese internet users who shared those views. Mercedes Benz erased the post even though few people in China could see it because Beijing blocks Instagram. Still criticism continued. The People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party, branded Mercedes Benz an “enemy of the people”. That sounds crazy but it is true! China is Mercedes Benz’s single biggest car market, accounting for about one quarter of sales.
“China is getting stronger”, said Lokman Tsui, a professor at the School of Journalism and Communication at the Chinese University of Hong kong , and a former Google employee. “They’re getting more and more confident in putting pressure on these platforms.” China is also requiring individuals to police what they say on global social media. In a prominent conviction last year of a human rights activist, Lee Mingche, the Chinese police used writing that he had posted on Facebook from Taiwan as evidence against him.
“The fact that China is punishing people for critical content published outside China to audiences not based in China is of course a concern”, said Mr. Rosenzweig, the Amnesty International analyst.
The case of Mr. Zhang, the Chinese individual under scrutiny for what he posted on WhatsApp, could indicate a further extension of China’s reach. The Chinese police have previously focused on activists for what they say on foreign social media, but Mr. Zhang’s case seems to be one of the first in which someone has been charged for spreading articles on WhatsaApp. Because WhatsApp is encrypted and run by a foreign company, it is generally considered a safer platform than the China-based messaging app ‘WeChat, with more than 1 billion users.
Mr. Zhang’s lawyer, Sui Muqing, said he was surprised when the police presented him with printouts of articles and comments from Mr. Zhang. “They didn’t get the information from Kim, but they have it”, Mr. Sui said. “That was what we found so weird. None of us knew how they were capable of getting that data and whether WhatsApp has become unsafe.
Experts said the information was likely gleaned from somebody within Mr. Zhang’s WhatsApp group or by accessing Mr. Zhang’s phone directly, not by hacking WhatsApp. Chinese officials formally blocked WhatsApp in mainland China about the time of Mr. Zhang’s detention.
A spokeswoman for WhatsApp said the Chinese authorities did not have backdoor access to its encrypted messages. China’s Ministry of Public Security did not respond to requests for comment.
When we talk about technology and the internet, people normally pine for them and look forward to a future that will promote liberalization but people neglect the fact modern authorizationism also rises with the development of technology, which makes wider and deeper control possible. Therefore we should do everything possible to prevent China from becoming the world leaders in artificial intelligence.