So being part of the senior management at a gigantic Chinese state oil company has become opertionally akin to being a member of some forlorn partisan band arranging a rendezvous in a distant forest
CNPC sources said that high-level managers are so worried about these investigations that they have drawn up a contingency plan for filling any position left vacant after a CDIC inspection. As part of the plan, all mid- to upper-level company managers must contact department heads daily. Anyone who does not report is considered gone, and replaced the next day by a pre-approved successor.
.It's fairly safe to say at this point that the stability question in Chinese politics has changed from 'how safe is the Party from external challenge' to 'is the Party beginning to put itself under destabilizing internal strain'. There must be at least several hundred thousand people in important or significant jobs in China now wondering if this is going to happen to them. So how well do these jobs get done?
There are not many curently metrics available by which we can judge this - fluctuations in London property prices might be one - though it might be worthwhile examining this in the light of China's ongoing attempts to extinguish the last remnants of anything conceivably definable as dissident activity. If the Party feels the need to subject itself to internal pressure it won't tolerate even the most rudimentary external challenge.
The saga of Gove’s downfall is fascinating because it’s a real-life parable about politics, media, education and the general public. If you had been consuming the media in the past few years, you could be excused for thinking that Michael Gove was tremendously popular because the overwhelming majority of commentators in the press presented him as the saviour of our schools. Possibly this slavish devotion made Gove and the government think that while there may be a few grumbles, everything was going along swimmingly.
This was the same mistake the Gang of Four made in the succession battle around Mao's death. They thought they were safe because they controlled the propaganda organs and came to believe their own story as it was reflected back at them. There's a similar tale in the way Gove politicised Ofsted beyond repair, much as the Gang thought the institutions they controlled were simply instruments of their will. And in the way that both the Gang and Gove surrounded themselves with sycophants, while writing off the professionals as enemies of the revolution.
In both cases, everybody hated them. The Gang of Four woke up to this after the demonstrations at Zhou Enlai's funeral, but by then it was too late. There's no sign Gove woke up to it at all, though even Sky were mumbling over whether the whole Free schools thing had got a bit out of control around the time of the so-called "Trojan Horse" scandal.
A day onwards, I still think Mark Galeotti has the best explanation for what happened to flight MH 17.
More generally, the whole situation in Eastern Ukriane reminds me of stuff like this (selected at random) that we see from time to time:
He told the Mail: "We have let down boys over the years. The school system does not value enough of the traditional male things like competition. Boys are finding it increasingly difficult to cope where things are uncertain for them, specifically around competition or the use of physical strength.
"They have found the skills have been feminised. What seems to have been beaten out of them is any enthusiasm for anything. Some boys are resorting to gangs, which present a world where basic male instincts hold sway."
Mr Sewell recommends more outdoor adventure. But anyway, if you want to see the consequences of a properly masculinized culture at work, head over to the Donetsk People's Republic, where young men have the opportunity to be competitive in masculine company under masculine leadership, pursue outdoor adventures, and demonstrate their physical strength and mastery of various forms of technology, including those pertaining to shooting down airliners. I mean, it's Sporadically Lethal Top Gear over there. Yet despite the grip of firm masculine virtues on local society, they still seem to like forming gangs.
It transpires that the theorist of the Proptestant work ethic was a right laugh when he was pissed:
It transpires that as a young professor Weber ‘suffered from obsessional thoughts and, especially after nights of drinking, sometimes imagined for the whole day that he was Jumbo the elephant and lived in a zoo’. This was fairly often because ‘alcohol-tinged male company, even without deeper friendships, seems to have been what excited him par excellence’. According to those who knew him best, there was ‘a quite elemental kind of sociability in Weber: he was a buddy with all his soul, a buddy for the moment thought capable of creating happiness; a drinking pal, a song mate, an accomplice in furious story-telling and boasting’.
I suppose you could argue that there's a Protestant Drink Ethic going on here. At any rate, he really seems to have worked at getting drunk and then playing the big-I-am with all the 'furious story telling and boasting'. And none of it seems to have had much to do with pleasure.
So how does Chinese e-commerce communicate with the Chinese peasantry? Basically, it does the old time rural Communist Party thing, ie it gets a pot of paint and heads to the nearest village wall. In some cases, what it does is adapt the old CPC technique of designating 'model villages'
As of 2013, there are officially 20 “Taobao villages” in China. To be on the list, at least 10% of the village’s households need to be operating online stores, and the total annual village e-commerce revenue must exceed $1.6 million.
Wall slogans used to say things like 'abort when you should or we will take your house and cow' and 'those who are poor should be ashamed' and suchlike pithy expressions of the government's will. So 'To get rich, build roads first. To shop, search on Baidu first' is a decided improvement.
China's controlled media culture hasn't stopped it developing a phenomena familiar in Western media, namely the celebrity anchor:
At just 31 years old, Rui Chenggang has emerged as the media face of Chinese capitalism: young, smart and, to the dismay of some, deeply nationalistic.
His nightly financial news program attracts 13 million viewers on China Central Television, the nation’s biggest state-run network, where Mr. Rui puts tough questions to Wall Street chiefs and Chinese economists while also delivering a dose of optimism about China’s outlook.
That was from 2009. Here's Rui profiled by the BBC in 2012:
At 35, he's already a veteran of the annual Global Economic Forum in Davos.
He's been going every year since he was 22. His book is filled with photos of him with people such as Warren Buffett and Bill Gates. His private conversations contain references to them, too: "Rupert (Murdoch) told me... Henry (Kissinger) said..."
If he comes across in all of this as being a bit of a dick, that's also his reputation in China. But anyway, Rupert and Henry can't help him now:
Quoting an unnamed insider, Caixin.com said on its website that prosecutors took Rui away directly from the workplace without notifying the news program. Caixin said Rui had been scheduled to appear on the nightly newscast Friday, and his absence was conspicuous, as a second microphone remained on the set. The show is usually anchored by two people.
This is connected to the Guo Zhenxi affair, which I blogged about here, in which the director of CCTV's business coverage stands accused of using it to fuel a huge extortion racket. Presumably the Discipline Inspectors suspect Rui of having some role in the caper.
His last book, by the way, was called Something for Nothing.
UPDATE: The NYT quotes a local journalism professor to the effect that Rui was arrested for economic crimes committed in a professional capacity, ie by the ordinary police, not by the Discipline Inspectors, though the case still seemns to be connected to Guo.
More importantly, it seemsto revolve around a PR company Rui founded in 2002, which was later bought out by the Edelman Group: The co-founder of the company went on to head Edelman's China operations and to work closely with CCTV. I've seen other reports that if you wanted to get onto CCTV then you hired Mr Rui's PR company, and, perhaps, Edelman. It may also have been a good way to protect yourself from negative publicity by the channel, but we'll see. That being the case, it'll be interesting to see how many foreigners and foreign businesses took part in the caper. Also, this:
Pegasus found a studio for CCTV 2 that was 200 yards away from the main venue during the winter 2009 session of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and that was apparently praised by Tony Blair, the former British prime minister, for being “the most cozy and comfortable studio in all of Davos,” the report said.
That's got to be the ultimate Blair quote.
It seems that one does not dick around with a country whose football team just beat Brazil 7-1:
Diplomatic relations between Germany and the US plunged to a new low after Angela Merkel's government asked the top representative of America's secret services in Germany to leave the country.
Given that Germany has assumed de-facto political leadership of Europe I can sort of understand why it has become an intelligence target. Without getting all fourth reichy about it, I'd quite like to know what Germany plans to make of its new eminence.
But you get that kind of intelligence the old-fashioned diplomatic way; by getting prominent Germans mildly drunk in a confidential setting and asking them. I'm sure conservative Germans in particular would be pleased to drone on at great length to their attentive American friends about the constructive role Germany intends to play, etc, etc.
I notice that the current US ambassador to Germany seems to have got the job because he funnelled a lot of money Obama's way and I wonder if the trend to appoint campaign donors rather than professional diplomats to major Embassies may be a contributing factor to snafus like this. For one thing, they're less likely to know what's actually going on in their own mission. For another, they are less likely to have any specific knowledge of the country they're posted in or have experience in leading a classic open source diplomatic intelligance gathering effort. Instead of finding someone who could talk to the Germans and listen to them, Obama rewarded a donor. Instead of gaining inside knowledge by generating a rapport with informed local actors, they hired some local doofus to spy for them and bugged the Chancellor's phone.
The Telegraph has a good piece on the GSK corruption scandal in China, which we now learn was first sparked when a number of detailed allegations were about the company's head of China operations were sent to GSK's chief executive along with a sex tape of him in action with his ernai.
The amorous Mr Reilly was sent to China with a brief to 'bring about a dramatic increase in the firm’s revenues'.
A randomly chosen post from the China Medical News blog implies what this means in practice:
It is widely acknowledged by Chinese authorities that many of the problems in the current Chinese healthcare system stem from overservicing. Hospitals obtain about half their income from sales of drugs and also rely for income on the use of expensive and often unnecessary tests and procedures. Doctors in turn are given incentives in the form of bonuses and quotas to prescribe more drugs and more expensive drugs.
For wider background, check out the articles compiled under the blog's corruption tag.
This piece, from the same blog, is also on point:
Hong Kong has a British NHS-inspired publicly-funded health service that remains efficient, good value for money and corruption free. China, on the other hand, has ditched its Soviet-era state-run 'health for the masses' system and replaced it with a state-owned user-pays system that is run on private lines.
Moving back to the GSK case, it is alleged that the video was made by a Ms Vivian Shi, apparently hired by the company for government relations work on the grounds that her father, a senior cadre in Shanghai, had served as mentor to, Meng Jianzhu who is Zhou Yongkang's successor as head of China's police, judiciary and internal security forces. It's interesting that GSK decided it needed that sort of political cover.
It seems that Mr Reilly unwisely decided to investigate Ms Shi and hired local corporate investigator and ex-Reuters hand Peter Humphrey to do the job, with – perhaps in hindsight – predictable consequences.
But now Coulson has been delivered into the hands of a penal system which the tabloid papers consistently targeted for being 'soft' and 'too liberal' on prisoners who were not really being punished fro their crimes.
His new reality includes wearing prison-issue underwear previously worn by other inmates.
Welcome, Andy Coulson, to the world you made. At least to the extent that prison is a harsher environment than it used to be.
Elsewhere Rolf - or 'Harris' as he is now officially known, spoken with a moue of disgust - got just shy of six years. Talking about it with Mrs Treasure it emerged that both of us felt the tiniest bit sorry for him, not for good or justifiable reasons but entirely because of childhood memories. Old Rolfie had the knack of making young people happy, until he actually got his hands on them.
Nice illustration of the paradox of protest, Hong Kong style:
The calm and poise of the demonstrators Tuesday seemed to help reassure the business community that future protests would not severely disrupt commerce, resulting in a 1.55 percent rise in the Hong Kong stock market on Wednesday. But while the protesters disproved government warnings that their activities would lead to chaos, their civil behavior could also lead to an impression that they are manageable, which could limit the pressure they are able to bring to bear on the government for changes.
Allied with this is that the pan-democrat mainstream is still stuck in the mindset of Hong Kong as a business city and couch many of their arguments in terms of maintaining the impartial rule of law and the territory's excellent recent record on fighting corruption, and the contribution these make to Hong Kong as a place to do business. Of course, the pan-democrats also tend towards decency on social security, rights at work and similar issues, but these are usually very much a subsidiary part of the general argument.
This is like bringing cake to a knife fight. The local tycoonocracy like nice impartial rule of law things too, or at least they like to pay lip service to them, but they'd also be quite happy with a PRC style insider business culture, not least because so long as they support Beijing, they are among the insiders. This is not much different from the way business lobbies anywhere, but what we have in Hong Kong is the Communists and the Capitalists united against the Democrats - a very 21st century line up.
The Democrats themselves tend to be a bit on the fissile side, which is why Beijing should follow Anson Chan's advice in the article at the link and allow pro-democratic candidates to stand. In fact, it should ensure that as many as possible do so. In the 2012 Hong Kong Legislative Council elections, the pan-democrats won an absolute majority of the vote - 56% - but it was split between four or five parties. The pro-Beijing - or maybe more appropriately 'accomodationist' vote - trailed at 42% , but most of that went to the DAB, the main pro-Beijing party, which became the biggest elected component of Legco. A repeat of this process in the elections for Chief Executive would solve the Hong Kong democracy 'problem' quite nicely from China's point of view.
A bit more on the background of Occupy Hong Kong's territory-wide straw referendum, which is due to end on Sunday, from Suzanne Pepper:
So discouraged were they after May 6 that they had set themselves the lowest possible bar for success. They said that if turnout did not reach at least 100,000 for their online citywide plebiscite, then scheduled for June 20-22, the three of them would have to contemplate defeat. They planned to retreat for a period of quiet contemplation and soul searching as to why their leadership had failed.
Instead, one day into the exercise, they could announce that 400,000 people had come forward. With another week yet to go, they were contemplating not failure but a huge success. By Sunday evening, June 22, the turnout was over 700,000.
If they'd left it at that point it would have been a brilliant coup. But because of huge Ddos attacks on its voting site, Occupy decided to let the vote roll out for another week. The number who participated now stands at just under 750,000, at time of writing. In other words, the numbers voting have gone down from roughly 350,000 per day over days one and two to 50,000 over five days. Not precisely a dribble, but hardly a torrent.
Part of the point of protest actions is that they have a representative function: they're the tip of the spear. And the bigger the protest, the bigger the implied shaft behind the tip. It would have had an incredibly strong impact if the voting had cut off at 700,000 over two days and who knows how many more people banging at the doors. They could have leveraged the ddos attacks against the voting site into outrage that Hong Kongers were being denied a vote even in a straw poll.
Now we do know 'how many more' – not that many. Voting in the Occupy referendum was secure, simple and easy to negotiate. By phone or internet, it takes maybe thirty seconds (Occupy set up physical polling booths as well for people who like or need to do it in person). By the time the vote ends people will have had eight days to take a minute out of their schedule to do something which, physically, doesn't amount to much more than a bit of clicktivism, amid massive local publicity. If you can't be bothered to do that then you're firmly in the can't be bothered column.
So instead of giving the impression of heading a mass movement of Hong Kong citizens who will not be denied a meaningful choice in their selection of Chief Executive, Occupy has revealed that maybe 15% of Hong Kong's adult population actually care enough about the issue to get minimally involved. In letting the vote drag on for so long, Occupy has shown its opponents the exact size of the spear it is holding, and it isn't big enough.
Meanwhile the counter-attack from the establishment coalition – Beijing, local tycoonocracy, multinational corporations – has already begun, led by the accountants.
So, those rumours, the ones we were maybe reluctant to believe after everything else came out, have been confirmed:
One witness was cited in the report as saying he “wore huge rings that he said were made from the glass eyes of dead bodies” held in the mortuary there.
The investigation heard the entertainer claimed to have "interfered with the bodies of deceased patients".
Dr Sue Proctor, who led the investigation into his abuse at LGI, said a student nurse recalled a conversation with Savile in which he claimed he performed sex acts on the dead.
There's more: A couple of years ago Channel 4 released a transcript of a 1991 'in the psychiatrist's chair' interview with Savile:
After his mother's death he spent five days with her body before the funeral and claimed it was the happiest time of his life, when quizzed by Dr Clare Savile claims that in those days she was "all mine"...
..."I'd much rather that she hadn't died but it was inevitable therefore it had to be. Once upon a time I had to share her with a lot of people. We had marvellous times but when she was dead she was all mine, for me. So therefore it finished up right, you understand, and then we buried her."
Earlier on in the interview he goes on about having 'ultimate freedom' - "I've managed to handle complete and ultimate utter freedom." Perhaps this can be interpreted not just as 'I've got away with terrible things you don't know about' but also as 'I've got away with terrible things you can't even begin to imagine.'
If anyone tells you that kids in China don't know anything about the Cultural Revolution, show them this.
Most kids don't dress up as Red Guards for graduation – quite a lot go in for cosplay or traditional Chinese costume – but this has been around for a while. It was the bad boy writer Wang Shuo who pointed out back in the nineties that while the Cultural Revolution was indeed a horrible episode, he personally had a lot of fun as a Red Guard. Free food, free travel, an official license to raise hell, every proximate authority figure terrified of you and a good time had by all of the gang.
This sort of thing will clearly continue to appeal, especially since constraints of a different but arguably just as constraining nature still exist today. Here's a recent account of a successful Gaokao factory in Henan:
For senior students, the day begins at 5:30 am and lasts until 10:10 pm, with every hour punctuated by the incessant ringing of bells that announce classes, break times, self-study periods, extracurricular activities and dormitory time.
Here's another institution of the same sort. It wouldn't be hugely surprising if a few students emerged from that kind of setup with a general wish to run amok and a specific urge, to say, lob a few especially annoying teachers out of a window; and the means to express that wish semi-covertly within in a licensed opportunity for a bit of hedonism appear to be to hand.
It just occurred to me that maybe the best film about the Cultural Revolution was If...
Here's a useful account of Occupy Hong Kong's so far successful attempt to turn the whole SAR into a giant, real-time open-air civics lesson. Ultimately, if the movement's specific demand that candidates for Hong Kong's first full suffrage elections are chosen by the public is rejected, then that's when they plan to do some actual occupying, of the Central financial district.
This prospect has led to something of a freakout by local pro-Beijing groups. Weird as it seems, that video isn't entirley unrepresentative of how the local business community are viewing the prospect.
Good news from China's judicial system is rare enough to be worth noticing:
In a landmark ruling with far-reaching implications for survivors of domestic violence, China’s Supreme People’s Court (SPC) has overturned the death sentence of Li Yan (李彦), a 43-year-old woman who killed her husband in November 2010. The case has been sent back to the Sichuan High People’s Court for retrial.
...China’s judiciary has been paying increased attention to domestic violence in recent years. By January 2013, the SPC had created a domestic violence task force to consider the issue of domestic violence in criminal cases. In February 2014, the court held a press conference to announce that domestic violence occurs in one in four Chinese households, and one in 10 homicides are the result of domestic violence.
It's fairly clear from this that China's supreme court wanted the sentence reversed, and eventually got it. China has been executing fewer people in recent years as a matter of policy so this might be as much about that as domestic violence.
I think there may also be a kind of reverse-perverse incentive involved in both the death penalty and domestic violence issues, in that so much of China's justice system is subject to political direction, the judiciary may be more willing to act in areas where it can assert itself.
Anyway, this is where the good news ends.
So Gerry Conlon died today, and people have been mentioning that Lord Denning wanted him hanged, irrespective of the eventual verdict that he was innocent. And there is of course his finding while presiding over the Court Of Appeal that the Birmingham Six that they should not be allowed to make their case since it was unthinkable – at least in the sense of 'reasons of state mean that it must not be thought about.'
Fun fact. Thirty or more years ago an idealistic Chinese law student, known for widespread ties to radical and democratic circles, was given the job of translating Lord Denning's works and judgements. What effect must it have had on this hopeful young fellow to encounter a distinguished jurist from the home of the mother of parliaments – and the currently fashionable magna carta, no less – who thought it served the public interest for the state to bury its embarrassing mistakes? And one who liked to do so in the character of the 'people's judge', no less.
We lost the chance to find out last week when no-one questioned Li Keqiang, the idealist in question, who decided at some stage against a life of dissent and in favour of rising to the position of China's premier and who visited Britain last week in this capacity.
And what a visit. Chinese premiers, Li among them, like to do urbane and at times it sounded like he'd be more comfortable if we dialed down the flattery a bit. The British are supposed to be a high suzhi people, after all.
The two are not precise equivalents, but in terms of protocol Li is roughly coterminous with George Osborne. Both are number 2 in the government and both are broadly responsible for the economy. When Osborne went to China he got to meet a vice premier slated for retirement in 2017 and, basically, a bunch of guys. Li got the Queen, a meeting with the PM and the sort of care and attention generally given to a very rich uncle, who might be interested in, say, making the city of London a world centre for yuan trading.
The thing is, China would be very interested in doing this anyway. Beijing wants the yuan traded internationally, and where better? Some of the deals announced since Cameron and Co. decided on a love in with Beijing seem distinctly iffy. The thing is though that all the legitimate deals would have gone through since the Chinese side believes it stands to make a handsome profit from them. China may discourage economic ties with countries that it believes have act in a consistently hostile way, but it doesn't cut off its nose to spite its face. This is why the supposed 'deep freeze' Britain was cast into after the PM met the Dalai Lama isn't relevant. Opening London to yuan trading would in itself more than cancelled out that particular gesture. And the supposed deep freeze made no difference at all to Sino-British trade and investment, both of which increased handily in both directions over that time. The behaviour of the British government here is just not fully explicable in economic terms. For some other reason it simply wants to become closer to China. I dunno. Are we seeing a hedge against the US here?
It may be just a matter of how the government rolls. A government so relentlessly cruel to the powerless should be expected as a matter of course to be obsequious to those it believes have more power than it does. At any rate, what we did this week handed Beijing quite a considerable propaganda coup. More importantly, it will be viewed as a new normal from Zhongnanhai's perspective. From now on, any attempt to step back and inject a little dignity into Sino-British affairs will be interpreted as hostility simply on the basis that it is slightly less effusive than what went on before. So a considerable margin of freedom of action in regard to China has been lost in pursuit of a bunch of deals that would have been done anyway.