China's leaders break ranks in lead up to new dawn

There is no parliamentary cut-and-thrust; there are no televised debates or florid, adversarial rhetoric. But China’s leaders are engaged in a vigorous debate about the country’s direction as they jockey for position before next year’s transition of power to a new generation. And, in a rare departure from the disciplined displays of unity that characterise the communist elite, they are beginning to air their differences in public.

“The gap between people holding different opinions is pretty large. It is also evident to the public, which is very rare,” said Qiu Feng, a liberal scholar from the Unirule Institute of Economics in Beijing.

“There are differing views. There were before, but they couldn’t be seen easily. Now leaders have expressed them in public,” said Professor Zhang Ming, of the political science department at Renmin University.


But there are growing hints of an internal debate about the country’s economic and social direction, amid increasing unrest and concerns about economic prospects. Some see this as a choice between the “Chongqing” model and the “Guangdong” model. “This phenomenon is caused by the extremity of China’s social problems,” said Qiu. “On the one hand, over the past 30 years we have seen the emergence of China’s middle class, who now have a stronger appetite for political participation and rights protection. The Guangdong model is focusing on this social structure. On the other hand, [there is] a wealth gap, which is what the Chongqing model is about.”

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  • World Socialist Web Site, December 10

    Over the past month, a series of strikes has taken place in China. While these disputes are still small and isolated, they signal a profound shift. The entry of the working class internationally into struggle during 2011—starting with uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, and spreading to Europe and the protest movement in the US state of Wisconsin—is starting to find its reflection in China.

    Just as millions of workers in Europe and America are confronting austerity and rising unemployment, so the decline in their living standards has been translated into a loss of export orders in China. In turn, sweatshop owners in China, faced with shrinking profit margins, are passing the burden onto workers, provoking the latest industrial unrest.

    Strikes have rocked export factories in the Pearl River Delta of Guangdong province. Some 7,000 workers at the Yue Cheng shoe plant struck on November 17 to defend jobs against the company’s plan to move inland where labour is cheaper. They were joined by hundreds more workers at Top Form, a major underwear maker, and 1,000 workers at a Taiwanese-owned computer accessories plant. In both cases the protests were against excessive hours and low pay.

    More recently, at the Shenzhen Hailiang Storage Products, 4,500 workers have been on strike since Sunday to defend jobs and conditions, as the plant is to be sold to the American-owned hard-drive manufacturer Western Digital. As with other stoppages, Chinese authorities have responded with police-state measures, dispatching riot police to deal with 2,000 workers who occupied the factory.

    The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime is acutely aware that the industrial unrest is different from the wave of strikes over wages that began last year at a Honda auto plant. The latest strikes are not for higher pay, but to defend existing jobs and conditions as employers slash costs on every front and push for longer hours and unpaid overtime.

  • Something extraordinary has happened in the Chinese village of Wukan.

    The Telegraph, By Malcolm Moore, December 13

    Wukan – For the first time on record, the Chinese Communist party has lost all control, with the population of 20,000 in this southern fishing village now in open revolt.

    The last of Wukan’s dozen party officials fled on Monday after thousands of people blocked armed police from retaking the village, standing firm against tear gas and water cannons.

    Since then, the police have retreated to a roadblock, some three miles away, in order to prevent food and water from entering, and villagers from leaving. Wukan’s fishing fleet, its main source of income, has also been stopped from leaving harbour.

    The plan appears to be to lay siege to Wukan and choke a rebellion which began three months ago when an angry mob, incensed at having the village’s land sold off, rampaged through the streets and overturned cars.

    Although China suffers an estimated 180,000 “mass incidents” a year, it is unheard of for the Party to sound a retreat.

    But on Tuesday The Daily Telegraph managed to gain access through a tight security cordon and witnessed the new reality in this coastal village.

    Thousands of Wukan’s residents, incensed at the death of one of their leaders in police custody, gathered for a second day in front of a triple-roofed pagoda that serves as the village hall.

    For five hours they sat on long benches, chanting, punching the air in unison and working themselves into a fury.

    At the end of the day, a fifteen minute period of mourning for their fallen villager saw the crowd convulsed in sobs and wailing for revenge against the local government.

    “Return the body! Return our brother! Return our farmland! Wukan has been wronged! Blood debt must be paid! Where is justice?” the crowd screamed out.

  • New York Times, By Michael Wines, December 16

    WUKAN, China — Each day begins with a morning rally in the banner-bedecked square, where village leaders address a packed crowd about their seizure of the village and plans for its future. Friday’s session was followed by a daylong mock funeral for a fallen comrade, whose body lies somewhere outside the village in government custody.

    It has been nearly a week since the 13,000 residents of this seacoast village, a warren of cramped alleys and courtyard homes, became so angry that their deeply resented officials — and even the police — fled rather than face them. Now, there is a striking vacuum of authority, and the villagers are not entirely sure what to make of their fleeting freedom.

    “We will defend our farmland to the death!” a handmade banner proclaims, referring to a possible land deal they fear will strip them of almost all their farmland. “Is it a crime,” another muses, “to ask for the return of our land and for democracy and transparency?”

    How long they will last is another matter. As the days pass, the cordons of police officers surrounding the village grow larger. Armored trucks and troop carriers have been reported nearby. On local television, a 24-hour channel denounces the villagers as “a handful of people” dedicated to sabotaging public order, with the names of protesters flashing on a blue screen, warning that they will be prosecuted. Many here fear this will all end badly. “The SWAT teams and the police here are acting like they’re crime organizations, not police forces,” said Chen Dequan, a 50-year-old farmer and fisherman. “The entire village is worried.”

  • South China villagers who drove local authorities out score rare compromise in land dispute

    AP, December 20

    BEIJING — Southern Chinese authorities have given in to key demands of protesting villagers after a nearly two-week standoff with police, agreeing in a rare compromise to release detainees and return some confiscated land to farmers.

    Guangdong’s deputy Communist Party secretary Zhu Mingguo told Wukan village protest leader Yang Semao on Wednesday that four villagers being held by police would be released over the next few days, Yang told The Associated Press.

    “So now we are cautiously optimistic,” Yang said.

    The significance of the authorities’ unusual concession in Wukan depends on how the details are played out, but it could affect the way other protests are handled, particularly in the corner of coastal southern China that has seen periodic unrest over the last few years. To Wukan’s northeast, the coastal town of Haimen saw a second day of protests Wednesday over a planned coal-fired power plant.

    Conflicts over land disputes and other issues in much of Guangdong province have been intense because the area is among China’s most economically developed, pushing up land prices.

    Via WaPo Editorial: We all have a stake in China’s real estate bubble

  • The scholar and author discusses if we are entering a new era of Chinese exceptionalism.

    Al Jazeera, January 14

    Reaching for the heavens – China’s expanding ambitions now include sending men to the moon as well as rapid expansion of military capacity on earth. And all the while its economy continues to grow at a rate far outpacing the economies of western nations.

    With increasing confidence, China’s leaders have now stepped to the center of the world stage and for many people in China that is exactly where they should be, given the country’s history and civilisation.

    Does that necessarily mean that we are entering a new era of Chinese exceptionalism or even dominance?

    Professor Zhang Weiwei, served as a translator for one of the key architects of China’s transformation, Deng Xiaoping. He is now an international scholar arguing a case for China as the world’s exceptional civilisation. In his latest book, The China Wave: the Rise of a Civilizational State, he offers a robust rebuttal of critics, especially in the West, who keep emphasising China’s shortcomings.

    Professor Zhang Weiwei talks to Al Jazeera’s Teymoor Nabili about the ‘China model’ and explains where China is going.

    “If China had applied this so-called today’s liberal electoral democracy we would have a peasant government. It would be very nationalist, they would launch war against Taiwan or Japan. The current leadership… is cautious and moderate in its foreign policy, which is in China’s interest, and which is actually also good for the western interests.”

    The (Francis) Fukushima of China?

  • Out of the public eye, China cracks down on another protesting village

    McClatchy, By Tom Lasseter, February 26

    PANHE, China — The old woman walked over to the door and peeked out from behind a blue curtain, looking slowly from one side of the street to other. She muttered to those huddled in the room behind her, “the police will come.”

    The men, who’d been talking about officials stealing their land in Panhe, fell quiet. They knew what a visit would mean — threats, beatings and then getting dragged off by the police.

    In December, a high-profile standoff between residents and Communist Party bosses in a fishing village named Wukan, about 450 miles southwest of Panhe, ended peacefully. That case had some observers wondering if Chinese officials had changed the way they dealt with the intertwined problems of land rights and corruption.

    What happened here suggests otherwise.

    Earlier this month, people in Panhe marched to protest what they said was the theft by local leaders of communal lands. The complaints were met by a crackdown. Police and plainclothes security men hauled away at least 30 people. Villagers said the roundup targeted the protest organizers they’d selected to negotiate with the government.

    “The officials took away all of the young people who were getting on the Internet,” said one farmer, a 50-year-old man who like many interviewed asked that his name not be used for fear of arrest.

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