They hung on to it for a while, but the National has finally published my review of Evan Osnos' Age of Ambition, which amongst more important things captures the pecuilair mental state of China watching well. Over here.
Remember when I said that the Hong Kong suffrage fight pitted capitalists and Communists against Democrats? Well, you can't get more explicit than this:
On Thursday while visiting Hong Kong, Tsinghua University School of Law dean Wang Zhenmin said China needed to protect the interests of the city’s pro-Beijing tycoons.
“Universal suffrage means the redistribution of economic interests amongst society,” he said. “The business community’s slice of pie will be shared by others. Their interests must be taken into consideration.”
While the business interests that currently dominate Hong Kong politics are “a small group of people, a small group of elites,” he said, “they control the destiny of Hong Kong.”
Looked at another way, maybe this is what you get when you call your leader the 'Chief Executive'. I'm not sure that Dr Wang has any direct connection to the people who will be deciding whether and by how much to vet candidates, but i think itgives a pretty clear general idea of their priorities.
I failed to notice the 200th anniversary of the burning of Washington by British troops during the war of 1812. So, a bit late: here is Admiral Cockburn's declaration of intent to apply booted feet to anterior parts and inscribe nomenclature, following the ravaging of Toronto, or what would be Toronto someday.
Sir – Having been called upon by the Governor General of the Canadas to aid him in carrying into effect measures of retaliation against the inhabitants of the United States for the wanton destruction committed by their army in Upper Canada, it has become imperiously my duty, conformably with the nature of the Governor General’s application, to issue to the naval force under my command, an order to destroy and lay waste such towns and districts upon the coast as may be found assailable.
I had hoped that this contest would have terminated without my being obliged to resort to severities which are contrary to the usage of civilized warfare, and as it has been with extreme reluctance and concern that I have found myself compelled to adopt this system of devastation, I shall be equally gratified if the conduct of the Executive of the United States will authorize my staying such proceedings, by making reparation to the suffering inhabitants of Upper Canada, thereby manifesting that if the destructive measures pursued by their army were ever sanctioned, they will no longer be permitted by the Government.
I have the honor to be, sir, with much consideration, your most obedient humble servant..
etc, etc. They really knew how to make burning, pillage and looting classy in those days.
Nice to see the 'disruptors' disrupting each other. A lot of money got put into what amounts to a global minicab slapdown, so I guess it's time for the bullshit about competition to take a walk. Here's to them both ending up a pile of smoking rubble and final victory to Aardvark Cabs of Ardwick, with Ray, Mohammed and the lads at the controls and 40 a day Lil dispatching. But then maybe the people taken for a ride here are Venture Capitalists, dotcom bubble style.
I've been chatting to local minicab drivers about Uber's operation in Manchester. They don't feel threatened, or tempted. Prices here start at £1.50, and wages are hard for even those VC types to undercut. Uber have allegedly been trying to do this with the bogus guarantee technique: drivers around here are apparently on £10.00 an hour, anything above that gets kicked back to Big Minicab. They don't fancy the deal. Even in slack times, when they're not being robbed of their reward moments, there's always the hope that a fare to the airport will show up, and that's part of what keeps you ferrying people around all day. It means you can fuck off home a bit early, which you can't do if you're on Uber's clock.
Uber, Lyft, Hurnya and whatever don't seem to realise that there's such a thing as a minicab work culture, intensely local and adapted both to the people who work in it and their customers. For one thing, cab driving in the UK isn't about young proto-entrepreneurs learning a bit about life as they ferry fantastic partygoers to fantastic places. It's family-age family guys (mainly) driving old folks to and from the supermarket. That's your bread and butter there, and so far as I know the Uber people haven't bothered to get one supermarket taxi freephone up and running. Also, what's their Estate capacity? You know that thing where every cab company runs a bunch of estate cars as cabs so you can shift a bit of furniture in a hurry or get the second hand cooker back from the charity shop? I don't think Uber do.
We have a number of minicab drivers locally. Remember that petulant rant from one of the 7/7 bombers in his suicide murder video about 'so called Muslims lying under their minicabs instead of Allah, Palestine yadda yadda'? It's like that round here. Three brothers up the road run a cab 24/7 on an informal shift system, sharing the proceeds from slack and busy times. There's another guy who sleeps in the morning, cabs in the afternoon, and pulls on a security guard uniform to do his nightshift. I suspect his life could do with a bit of disruption, though not in the way that Uber & Co mean, to the extent that they are aware that such people exist.
So, anyway, I'm here to tell you that our local ferriers of persons and things are, to quote another modern asinine buzzword, resilient. It's not a great life, but disruption offers nothing better and they have built capacity. Sadly, they are not innovating, but the wankers will just have to live with that. Until, inshallah, they finally run out of money and die.
Hu Shili, Caixin's chief editor, reportedly has a good relationship with Wang Qishan, Xi Jinping's purgemeister general. So we can take this from the top:
While Zhou Yongkang and his relatives were rising to power in the 1990s, the family's ancestral burial ground became a common place for solemn visits by a variety of government officials...
...The stream of visitors seeking to pay respects – and hoping for favors or a career boost – strengthened as Zhou's political career rose. Long lines formed every Tomb Sweeping Day, an annual holiday for remembering ancestors. So many people visited that the local government opened a parking lot outside the village in 2009.
Most visitors were party and government officials. They came from not only nearby Wuxi, but from other Jiangsu cities and Shanghai as well. Some cadres were members of the People's Armed Police. Before leaving, most would ask a Zhou family member to "give a word to senior officer Zhou" on their behalf.
Well, China is an opaque place and more generally the precise power centre of the business/politics/crime nexus constantly shifts, so it's almost reassuring to see something so suggestively Sicilian.
For obvious reasons, there'll be no sitcom about corrupt Chinese officials. Which is a shame, because the material's there:
Mr. Xiao stole from pandas, the court heard. While he worked at the zoo, he diverted outlays for construction to a company that he controlled, including funds meant for a refurbished panda enclosure. Of 30 million renminbi in construction outlays, about 10 million renminbi ended up in his company’s account, the prosecutors said.
Mr. Xiao countered that the new panda enclosure was perfectly good and so there was no reason to split hairs about who got what. It “was finished on time and added luster to the opening of the Olympic Games” of Beijing in 2008, he said at the trial.
Mr Xiao, who was Deputy Director of Beijing Zoo, also said he made money by moonlighting as an unlicensed taxi driver. For some reason possibly connected to paying untaxed wages into a bank account held by your dog, he makes me think of Harry Redknapp. Same kind of dodgy geezer, scoping out the angles.
The Wall Street Journal wonders why China state media has been fairly quiet on Ferguson coverage:
A more likely explanation, however, is that officials feel events in Ferguson are a little too similar to what’s happening in northwestern China’s Xinjiang region, where ethnic tensions between the mostly Muslim Uighur ethnic group and Han Chinese authorities have increasingly boiled over into violence.
“The concern is that, if they report it too much, it might set off a response domestically,” Mr. Qiao says. “The situation is similar to Xinjiang. They don’t want to attract any fire.”
It's interesting that a Chinese scholar sees the situation in Ferguson as that of an occupying power dealing with a restive minority. But I'm not sure that fits, if only because it's a bit superfluous: the Ferguson uprising looks like an absolutely classic mass incident of the kind blogged about here over the years. Fatality caused by abuse of power? Check. Persistent and escalating demonstrations? Check. Massive show of force by authorities? Check. Ferguson is a classic mass incident at the small town level, although the demonstratiors there have shown considerably more restraint. If this was a town of comparable size in China there'd be open combat illuminated by piles of burning police cars. The whole thing would have probably been over by now, too, with demands partially met, compensation incompletely offered, a fatality or two and official vengeance cooling in the fridge before service. I'm going out on a limb here but it just may be that the parallels between Ferguson and the ongoing conversation of violence between the Chinese authorities and the Chinese public has struck Beijing's information managers in a fairly profound way, or at least that it's something they want to chew over beyond the point of churning out boilerplate yah boo propaganda. Coverage of this kind of incident is usually attendant on a decision by the relevant organs. Maybe they're still thinking about it.
And since government everywhere is tending towards the managerial and technocratic – tending towards stability management, in other words - there might even be a kind of genuine fellow feeling in Beijing towards the Ferguson Police Department, Governor Nixon and all those involved in suppressing the disturbances. Governing is difficult. The people are unruly. If only our American friends could acknowledge this. Let's not make their task any harder.
Ensuring we Remember is a campaign by various Chinese groups in the UK to erect a permanent memorial to the 96,000 Chinese volunteers who served in the Chinese Labour Corps during world war one - digging trenches, repairing tanks, erecting barbed wire, bearing stretchers and generally making themselves useful while in harm's way. Some 2-3000 died in the process. Here's the petition. Here's some more background. And here's the campaign video.
This chap is committing the secular sin of having a go at the Kurds, or at east their suitability as recipients of military aid and support. It seems a bit churlish in the circumstances.
The Kurds have to do a lot of ducking and diving in their self-presentation, seeming to be a number of contradictory things at once. Kurds are rugged and self-reliant. At the same time, they are vulnerable and in constant need of help. Kurdish Peshmerga must be seen as basically invincible. Yet if they perform too well, no one will feel the need to supply them with arms. They are very much their own men – and women, too! At the same time, they are representatives of Western values in a hostile part of the world – we may be war weary, but they are on 'our' front line, despite being dedicated anti-imperialists. Or perhaps becauseof that. Their claim to nationhood is based on cultural and historical values and identities. At the same time, it is faultlessly modern and secular in outlook. The Kurds are simultaneously on the verge of statehood, at the edge of oblivion, and the least dysfunctional part of a multi-confessional Iraqi state. They are both the forerunners of a truly modern Middle East and What We Can Salvage from this Horrible Mess.
You have to sympathise. They need us to meet their objectives and we demand so many different and often incompatible things from the Kurds that we're effectively forcing them to live permanently inside a Tony Blair speech. Still, it seems to be working. A bit.
Note: title robbed and recontextualised from here.
More worrying, on Oct. 30 last year, the local intelligence office in the Burmese garrison town of Tang-yan sent a message to the regional command headquarters in Lashio saying that the UWSA was constructing a “radar and missile base” in its area — built in partnership with a Chinese company called Liao Lian, with equipment brought from China, Taiwan and Pakistan, the report asserts. The type of missile being considered is unclear, but given the fact that radars will be installed at the base, it is plausible to assume that it would be something more powerful than what the UWSA has in its current arsenal. The Burmese-language report uses the term taweipyetonggyi, or “long-distance missile.”
Congratulations to the Wa here: the first narco state to get, perhaps, its own ballistic missiles. They'll be so jealous in Mexico.
Here's some epic reporting on Ukranian corruption under Yanukovych. Here's an even more epic long form report on the same subject. The main point is that widespread corruption under post independence governments metastasized under Yanukovych into something far more centralised and systematic. The Ukranian state changed from being a means of facilitating corruption to become a system of theft in itself, and in so doing eventually created an unstoppable opposing coalition. This reminds me a bit of the Italian theory of virtuous minorities: to a certain extent the corrupt need the honest to keep the machinery ticking over and preventing the corruption moving from transactions in which paying parties actually get what they pay for to the kind of situation where people have to pay simply to function. Inter-alia, this is what Xi is trying to prevent in China.
My guess is that things will revert back to steal-more-quietly mode, assuming Putin's engineering of a brother's war doesn't have revolutionary consequences. One advantage here is that a pro-Western orientation changes the framing. Our enemies are kleptocrats. Our friends are embarking on a difficult reform process. They need our encouragement.
A bit of Friday night trivia, but if, like me, you follow football and are fond of the Czechoslovak Legion , you will be pleased to learn that they had their own team, here seen playing in Japan after fighting their way through Siberia and paying their passage home with eight wagonloads of the Czar's gold.
If Putin's basic plan is to put the Ukranian state under more pressure than it can bear, then it may just be working:
"I see little evidence that he wants to change the corrupt system, just that he wants to lead it," says Sobelev. "I think there will be a new Maidan led by the people who come back from the front lines in the east, who have seen the effect that corruption and mismanagement has first hand. And I'd be surprised if all our current political leaders make it through that Maidan with their lives intact."
The great thing about renaissance art was the way in whch it dignified a lot of sleazy goings on; hence the magic of this Caravaggio-fication of a punchup in the Ukranian parliament.
What really makes that work is the quality of the light and the sheer bulk of the individuals involved. By contrast, these folk scrapping in the Taiwanese legislative yuan look too much like kids in the playground. The fake wood panelling doesn't help much either.
What I'd like to see is the Ukranian ruck combined in a diptych with these fellows snoring their way through a plenary session of China's NPA. You could call the whole thing 'discord and unity'.
Following up the CDIC post; whatever they are, they're going global, says Richard McGregor: —
This campaign is moving offshore in a big way. This is interesting on a number of levels. Remember, the party’s anti-graft body has no legal status. It enforces party discipline which extends beyond mere laws. But with this current enquiry, what is effectively an extralegal body is exerting extraterritorial powers. Caixin has already reported how PetroChina’s Canadian investments have been caught up in the Zhou investigation. The CDIC is also dispatching its investigators to other nations in search of the assets of “naked officials,” the term given to officials who have children and spouses living on their families’ ill-gotten gains abroad. Some countries are likely to quietly welcome the CDIC’s help. Just remember how China’s effort to extradite Lai Changxing, the fugitive from the billion-dollar Xiamen smuggling scandal, from Canada was caught up that country’s courts for years after he fled China in 1999. The case severely damaged Sino-Canadian relations for a decade. Countries such as Australia and New Zealand, favorite destinations for “naked officials,” do not want to have bi-lateral relations held hostage to domestic Chinese politics surrounding corruption. Hence, they have an incentive to quietly co-operate with the CDIC. Other counties may do so as well.
You'd have to bet on the UK being among them, given Cameron's China turn.
Elsewhere, and relatedly, the investigation into CCTV continues apace. You'll recall the basic format from previous posts on the Rui Chenggang affair: senior journalists and execs at the station form PR companies which make a simple offering to other companies: pay for good publicity, or pay to avoid bad publicity. Rui appears to have taken this one step further by forming a company which was then taken over by Edelman. Now Edelman's China head has vanished, apparently into police custody. Shortly before that happened, a senior Chinese PR practitioner wrote this:
What happened to Edelman could have happened to any of dozens of local and international PR firms. Rui had made himself a target, and Edelman is the largest PR firm in the world. But the rest of us have now been given a shot across our bows. Either we bite the bullet now, change course and adopt ethical tactics and practices, or we leave our firms, our people, and our livelihoods at the mercy of government caprice. If we don’t, this will happen again, and when it does we will all find that it will not be a single firm in the spotlight – it will be every PR practitioner in China.
Now that would be fun – to watch, at least. But summing up here, we have CDIC poised to run rampant and China business scandals going global in the oil, pharma (through GSK) and public relations sectors. Remember when I used to bang on about China exporting its internal chaos? This is what it looks like.
So on Friday night, China time, a group calling itself the Anti-Communist Party hackers somehow broke into the main state TV channel in Wenzhou and said rude things about the CPC; things that couldn't be erased until viewers re-inserted their smart cards. Things like this:
"Why is Liu Xiaobo of Charter 8 in prison, Communist bandits your words are just unadorned farts, you know the people know that everything you say are just farts."
Technically adroit. Great stunt. But something lacking at the content end, I think. I mean I'm not asking people to commit the collected speeches of Martin Luther King to memory but it does seem like a bit of a wasted opportunity. But that seems to be the hacking thing; the point is to demonstrate technical virtuosity, the message doesn't mean so much.
One thing that opinion polls of what people think of various countries miss is the matter of salience. It's easy to get into a row about the United States because people care one way or another about what it does. People who know that I'm intererested in China think of it as a hobby. I'm that bloke who's interested in China, as opposed to stamp collecting or comics or whatever it may be. When Bo Xilai got busted and it made the news in the UK I was asked in a casual way what all that was about, then. I mentioned CDIC, which I said was a kind of police force that just investigated politicians and officials. A bit like the British Transport Police, only with politicians, not transport. Everyone thought that was a really good idea - China, eh? They know what they're doing, that lot - and then we had another drink and talked about something else.
Anyway, that bit of rambling aside and more for the record than anything else, Caixin has a nice rundown of the structure and personnel of China's discipline inspectors. As we can see, they're not really like the British Transport Police. I would guess that ultimately their historical origins lie in the attempts of various Tsarist era Russian revolutionary organisations to evolve structures that would enable them to resist penetration by the Okhrana, formalised in post revolutionary Bolshevik practice, and, perhaps, transmitted to China through Mao's security chief Kang Sheng, who had a ringside seat at the Yezovzshchina.
That's guesswork. Worth noting at the link is the fact that a lot of the current CDIC structures were put into place under Hu Jintao, which tends to the conclusion that the impetus for Xi's purge has been building for a while and represents a genuine movement within the Party. I've read elsewhere that one of the first things that Wang Qishan did when he became head of the discipline inspectorate was to change its funding structure so that CDICs local organs were paid by central rather than provincial governments. Thus, the cossacks were able to work for the Tsar.
The investigation into Zhou Yongkang has officially begun. Which is to say that the investigation into Zhou Yongkang has actually concluded. What has begun is the choreography around his appearance before people imitating judges, his conviction and his sentence. And what we'll be looking for from all this is some clue as to what the next stage will be. There's an emerging consensus that this clears the decks for major economic reforms in a market-friendly direction. We'll see, but the problem here is that this framing presents a temptation for people to start speculating along the lines of 'at last, Beijing is free to do what I want it to do!' and fill in the details accordingly. While Zhou's takedown clearly contributes to the overall authority of the Xi dispensation in many areas, it's always worth remembering at this point that Zhou, while responsible for overall regime security, seems to have been running a large organised crime family within the higher reaches of the Party, and that this is worth dealing with for it's own sake.
Watching the saga unroll this afternoon I was impressed by how well China's resurrection of the classic Leninist show trial fits in with the multi and social media age. It seems to be a matter of structure, of the unrolling of infographic friendly nuggets of information which slot easily into continuous news cycles while providing endless opportunities for specialist punditry. I've profited modestly from this myself. We all know the media beast needs to be fed. Orthodox Leninist investigative practice can be a very effective way of feeding it, precisely because of the basic predictability of the way in which events are made to unfurl.
Conventionally, the trial should provide a staisfying climax - the event that defines the process - and here Xi and his fellow Leninists let us down. Bukharin wasn't tried, Slansky wasn't tried, Bo Xilai wasn't tried, and Zhou Yongkang isn't going to be tried either. He's going to be disposed of, like the rest of them. Everybody knows this, but I bet every hack in China will be trying to get to whichever third tier city the authorities use to bring down the curtain. While there, they will complain that the proceedings make a mockery of that whole rule of law thing. Well, sure: so why go? Why bother? The whole thing will be the very definition of the caravan moving on, so why bark like the dogs?
A modest suggestion for the relevant organs. Since everybody knows that this is not an investigation and it will not end in a trial, why not structure it as something more engaging, like, say, the last scene in Sunset Boulevard? Have Zhou emerge at the top of the staircase...I'm ready for my close up, Comrade Xi...It's not me, it's the Communist Party that got small...