Tag Archives: China

Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption drive not a factional struggle, or not one we recognize?

Cheng Li, director of the Thornton China Center at Brookings, and his assistant director Ryan McElveen argue at China-US Focus that Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption drive is genuinely the most significant ever in the People’s Republic of China.

They also seek to refute speculation that Xi is simply trying to eliminate competitors from one or more other factions and concerns that the campaign is damaging the economy.

While Xi’s campaign has been deep and pervasive, it has not been excessive. A large number—but only a small percentage—of officials have been affected. China has over 5,000 officials who rank at the vice minister level or above. Of those officials, only 32 have been arrested, amounting to only roughly one-half of 1 percent of high-ranking officials.

Although the primary leaders of the campaign—namely Xi Jinping and Central Commission for Discipline Inspection Chief Wang Qishan— are both princelings in the faction led by former President Jiang Zemin, their factional association has not been a major driver of the campaign. In fact, the four largest corruption cases (namely Bo Xilai, Liu Zhijun, Xu Caihou and Zhou Yongkang) have all involved heavyweight leaders in the Jiang camp.

Despite having targeted these members of his own camp, it is also unlikely that Xi has strained his relationship with his two main patrons, former President Jiang and former Vice President Zeng Qinghong. Instead, he has most likely made a deal with them. Yet the majority of the prominent members of the Jiang camp, including some who were very close to Bo Xilai, Liu Zhijun and Xu Caihou, still remain in power.

If they’re right, this would seem to undermine a narrative I heard recently from Japanese analysts including Tetsuo Kotani, who argued in a recent speech in Beijing that some of China’s recent external activities—for example introducing the East China Sea ADIZ—reflect concessions to factions under pressure in the anti-corruption drive. As I heard it (and not just from Kotani), the idea is that Xi was seeking to solidify power through eliminating some “tigers” who hold sway over large networks of cadres, but that this upset some in the military and oil industry systems. Thus what neighboring countries have called “provocations” or “assertiveness” from China have been to some extent side-effects of domestic power plays. The PLA Air Force gets an ADIZ, and the oil industry gets to deploy its platform near Vietnam.

This explanation always seemed a little too neat and tidy to capture the full story, and the Brookings writers make a decent case. But reality is very likely to be somewhere in-between or something entirely different, and it seems unlikely that there is simply no “factional” play or rival-elimination going on in the anti-corruption campaign. Cheng Li and Ryan McElveen make a concise case that the highest-profile individuals to fall came from the same Jiang Zemin–oriented network as Xi and Wang Qishan. But what if this is not the salient division, and what if different battle lines have been drawn that aren’t captured by asking who’s loyal to Jiang or Hu Jintao?

A truly comprehensive anti-corruption campaign would have to be much, much bigger than what we’re seeing, so there must be a reason some people are targeted and some are not. Indeed, former Politburo Standing Committee No. 2 Wen Jiabao and Xi himself have been shown to have family members with immense wealth. There are clearly choices made on whom to target, and political analysts clearly don’t know exactly how they’re made.

Asia in Obama's 2014 State of the Union: We're Still Number One

President Barack Obama’s 2014 State of the Union does not emphasize Asia, except as a competitor. Last year’s post is here.

Opening comments

Asia got scant attention in this State of the Union. Japan was not mentioned at all, which has been a kind of norm for Obama. China came up twice as a competitor (once along with Europe). Myanmar/Burma was dropped in with Tunisia as places where the United States is helping those who work toward democracy. Neither North Korea nor South Korea came up at all.

From a U.S.–China relations standpoint, the speech was almost neutral. If it had any message, it was that the United States intends to compete with China on the international economic stage. Since Japan and South Korea got no mentions explicitly, it was essentially impossible to avoid reaffirming U.S. commitment to its East Asian allies. The mention of U.S. humanitarian assistance in the Philippines was welcome, but I would have campaigned to slip China in somewhere, whether in substance or a friendly (as opposed to competitive) note.

The humanitarian assistance note was one possible venue for this. Obama could have mentioned that the United States, alongside China and Japan, performed disaster relief operations. Now only the South Korea would be left out of the lovefest, but China would get a nice note and there could be no accusation of “Japan passing.”

The speech avoided using the term “rebalance” and gave no mention of Australia, for instance. Instead, Obama cited a “focus on the Asia-Pacific.”

Asia was not the only region that one might claim was overlooked, as Mexico’s former ambassador to China, Jorge Guajardo, notes on Twitter: “Mali, Burma, Tunisia & Ukraine merit mentions in SOTU (not to mention Israel, Iran, Afghanistan) but not a single country in Latin America.”

Egypt also did not come up, rankling some. As has been the pattern, this was not a major foreign policy speech except to rally support for the interim deal with Iran. Still, it seems to me there are too few, not too many, signals to China and East Asia, and I hope to see more soon.

Country mentions in 2009-14 SOTUs

Asia Mentions: 

Here are the results of your efforts: The lowest unemployment rate in over five years. A rebounding housing market. A manufacturing sector that’s adding jobs for the first time since the 1990s. More oil produced at home than we buy from the rest of the world – the first time that’s happened in nearly twenty years. Our deficits – cut by more than half. And for the first time in over a decade, business leaders around the world have declared that China is no longer the world’s number one place to invest; America is.

Let’s do more to help the entrepreneurs and small business owners who create most new jobs in America.  Over the past five years, my administration has made more loans to small business owners than any other.  And when ninety-eight percent of our exporters are small businesses, new trade partnerships with Europe and the Asia-Pacific will help them create more jobs.  We need to work together on tools like bipartisan trade promotion authority to protect our workers, protect our environment, and open new markets to new goods stamped “Made in the USA.”  China and Europe aren’t standing on the sidelines.  Neither should we.

Our alliance with Europe remains the strongest the world has ever known.  From Tunisia to Burma, we’re supporting those who are willing to do the hard work of building democracy.  In Ukraine, we stand for the principle that all people have the right to express themselves freely and peacefully, and have a say in their country’s future.  Across Africa, we’re bringing together businesses and governments to double access to electricity and help end extreme poverty.  In the Americas, we are building new ties of commerce, but we’re also expanding cultural and educational exchanges among young people.  And we will continue to focus on the Asia-Pacific, where we support our allies, shape a future of greater security and prosperity, and extend a hand to those devastated by disaster – as we did in the Philippines, when our Marines and civilians rushed to aid those battered by a typhoon, and were greeted with words like, “We will never forget your kindness” and “God bless America!”

Here, on the White House annotated feed, a picture of Obama with Chinese President Xi Jinping appeared on screen while the president mentioned the “focus on the Asia-Pacific.” In lieu of a spoken signal, this is something positive.

Screen Shot 2014-01-29 at 12.19.40 PM

Foreign policy sections, first one on trade

Let’s do more to help the entrepreneurs and small business owners who create most new jobs in America.  Over the past five years, my administration has made more loans to small business owners than any other.  And when ninety-eight percent of our exporters are small businesses, new trade partnerships with Europe and the Asia-Pacific will help them create more jobs.  We need to work together on tools like bipartisan trade promotion authority to protect our workers, protect our environment, and open new markets to new goods stamped “Made in the USA.”  China and Europe aren’t standing on the sidelines.  Neither should we.

It’s not just oil and natural gas production that’s booming; we’re becoming a global leader in solar, too.  Every four minutes, another American home or business goes solar; every panel pounded into place by a worker whose job can’t be outsourced.  Let’s continue that progress with a smarter tax policy that stops giving $4 billion a year to fossil fuel industries that don’t need it, so that we can invest more in fuels of the future that do.

“Foreign policy and national security section”

Citizenship demands a sense of common cause; participation in the hard work of self-government; an obligation to serve to our communities.  And I know this chamber agrees that few Americans give more to their country than our diplomats and the men and women of the United States Armed Forces.

[AFGHANISTAN AND AL QAEDA]

Tonight, because of the extraordinary troops and civilians who risk and lay down their lives to keep us free, the United States is more secure.  When I took office, nearly 180,000 Americans were serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Today, all our troops are out of Iraq.  More than 60,000 of our troops have already come home from Afghanistan.  With Afghan forces now in the lead for their own security, our troops have moved to a support role. Together with our allies, we will complete our mission there by the end of this year, and America’s longest war will finally be over.

After 2014, we will support a unified Afghanistan as it takes responsibility for its own future.  If the Afghan government signs a security agreement that we have negotiated, a small force of Americans could remain in Afghanistan with NATO allies to carry out two narrow missions: training and assisting Afghan forces, and counterterrorism operations to pursue any remnants of al Qaeda.  For while our relationship with Afghanistan will change, one thing will not: our resolve that terrorists do not launch attacks against our country.

[NEW THREATS]

The fact is, that danger remains.  While we have put al Qaeda’s core leadership on a path to defeat, the threat has evolved, as al Qaeda affiliates and other extremists take root in different parts of the world. In Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, and Mali, we have to keep working with partners to disrupt and disable these networks. In Syria, we’ll support the opposition that rejects  the agenda of terrorist networks. Here at home, we’ll keep strengthening our defenses, and combat new threats like cyberattacks.  And as we reform our defense budget, we have to keep faith with our men and women in uniform, and invest in the capabilities they need to succeed in future missions.

We have to remain vigilant.  But I strongly believe our leadership and our security cannot depend on our military alone. As Commander-in-Chief, I have used force when needed to protect the American people, and I will never hesitate to do so as long as I hold this office.  But I will not send our troops into harm’s way unless it’s truly necessary; nor will I allow our sons and daughters to be mired in open-ended conflicts.  We must fight the battles that need to be fought, not those that terrorists prefer from us – large-scale deployments that drain our strength and may ultimately feed extremism.

[APPROACH ON DEFENSE, CLOSE GUANTANAMO]

So, even as we aggressively pursue terrorist networks – through more targeted efforts and by building the capacity of our foreign partners – America must move off a permanent war footing.  That’s why I’ve imposed prudent limits on the use of drones – for we will not be safer if people abroad believe we strike within their countries without regard for the consequence.  That’s why, working with this Congress, I will reform our surveillance programs – because the vital work of our intelligence community depends on public confidence, here and abroad, that the privacy of ordinary people is not being violated.  And with the Afghan war ending, this needs to be the year Congress lifts the remaining restrictions on detainee transfers and we close the prison at Guantanamo Bay – because we counter terrorism not just through intelligence and military action, but by remaining true to our Constitutional ideals, and setting an example for the rest of the world.

You see, in a world of complex threats, our security and leadership depends on all elements of our power – including strong and principled diplomacy.  American diplomacy has rallied more than fifty countries to prevent nuclear materials from falling into the wrong hands, and allowed us to reduce our own reliance on Cold War stockpiles.  American diplomacy, backed by the threat of force, is why Syria’s chemical weapons are being eliminated, and we will continue to work with the international community to usher in the future the Syrian people deserve – a future free of dictatorship, terror and fear. As we speak, American diplomacy is supporting Israelis and Palestinians as they engage in difficult but necessary talks to end the conflict there; to achieve dignity and an independent state for Palestinians, and lasting peace and security for the State of Israel – a Jewish state that knows America will always be at their side.

[IRAN]

And it is American diplomacy, backed by pressure, that has halted the progress of Iran’s nuclear program – and rolled parts of that program back – for the very first time in a decade.  As we gather here tonight, Iran has begun to eliminate its stockpile of higher levels of enriched uranium.  It is not installing advanced centrifuges.  Unprecedented inspections help the world verify, every day, that Iran is not building a bomb.  And with our allies and partners, we’re engaged in negotiations to see if we can peacefully achieve a goal we all share: preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon

These negotiations will be difficult.  They may not succeed.  We are clear-eyed about Iran’s support for terrorist organizations like Hezbollah, which threaten our allies; and the mistrust between our nations cannot be wished away.  But these negotiations do not rely on trust; any long-term deal we agree to must be based on verifiable action that convinces us and the international community that Iran is not building a nuclear bomb.  If John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan could negotiate with the Soviet Union, then surely a strong and confident America can negotiate with less powerful adversaries today.

The sanctions that we put in place helped make this opportunity possible.  But let me be clear: if this Congress sends me a new sanctions bill now that threatens to derail these talks, I will veto it.  For the sake of our national security, we must give diplomacy a chance to succeed.  If Iran’s leaders do not seize this opportunity, then I will be the first to call for more sanctions, and stand ready to exercise all options to make sure Iran does not build a nuclear weapon.  But if Iran’s leaders do seize the chance, then Iran could take an important step to rejoin the community of nations, and we will have resolved one of the leading security challenges of our time without the risks of war.

[THAT TRANSITION GRAF]

Finally, let’s remember that our leadership is defined not just by our defense against threats, but by the enormous opportunities to do good and promote understanding around the globe – to forge greater cooperation, to expand new markets, to free people from fear and want.  And no one is better positioned to take advantage of those opportunities than America.

[LIST OF REGIONS NOT MENTIONED AT LENGTH]

Our alliance with Europe remains the strongest the world has ever known.  From Tunisia to Burma, we’re supporting those who are willing to do the hard work of building democracy.  In Ukraine, we stand for the principle that all people have the right to express themselves freely and peacefully, and have a say in their country’s future.  Across Africa, we’re bringing together businesses and governments to double access to electricity and help end extreme poverty.  In the Americas, we are building new ties of commerce, but we’re also expanding cultural and educational exchanges among young people.  And we will continue to focus on the Asia-Pacific, where we support our allies, shape a future of greater security and prosperity, and extend a hand to those devastated by disaster – as we did in the Philippines, when our Marines and civilians rushed to aid those battered by a typhoon, and were greeted with words like, “We will never forget your kindness” and “God bless America!”

We do these things because they help promote our long-term security.  And we do them because we believe in the inherent dignity and equality of every human being, regardless of race or religion, creed or sexual orientation.  And next week, the world will see one expression of that commitment – when Team USA marches the red, white, and blue into the Olympic Stadium – and brings home the gold.

My fellow Americans, no other country in the world does what we do.  On every issue, the world turns to us, not simply because of the size of our economy or our military might – but because of the ideals we stand for, and the burdens we bear to advance them.

Key documents on Biden's trip to Asia (in progress)

This is a collection of U.S. government releases and other key documents on Vice President Biden’s trip to Japan, China, and South Korea this week. I will try to update it as more documents emerge. These are in close to chronological order, though I don’t guarantee I got all the timezone conversions right. Please e-mail or comment if I’m missing anything big.

Full text: Speech by Minister Cai Mingzhao at #cybersummit2013, Nov. 5, 2013

The EastWest Institute released the full text of State Council Information Office Minister Cai Mingzhao’s speech this morning at Stanford. The following text was produced by optical character recognition based on the English-language PDF original. The Chinese version is available in PDF here.

Making Joint Efforts to Maintain Cyber Security

Keynote speech at the Fourth World Cyberspace Cooperation Summit
Cai Mingzhao
Minister of the State Council Information Office of China
November 5, 2013, Stanford University

Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,

First of all, I would like to thank the EastWest Institute for inviting me to this summit, and giving me the opportunity to visit the beautiful campus of Stanford University. Today, I would like to share two of my aspirations with you. The first is that the Chinese people should have a safe and reliable cyberspace that provides them with positive energy as they strive to achieve their dreams. The second is that participants to this summit can reach a consensus on how to deal with the many challenges to cyber security and, through our joint efforts, make new progress in promoting international cooperation on this vital issue.

China first accessed the Internet on April 20, 1994 via facilities based in the United States. Ever since then, the Chinese people have derived enormous. benefit from the Internet. There are more than 600 million Internet users in China today and the Internet has becorne indispensable in people’s work, study and everyday life. Popular access to the Internet has played a significant role in China’s reform and opening up efforts and helped to build and strengthen the connections between China and the rest of the world.

The Chinese government has been working hard to enhance Internet development by devising appropriate policies and providing a favorable market environment and a sound legal framework. We see the Internet as a major driving force that is helping to transform our development pattern and adjust our economic structure. Just recently, the government issued a policy designating information consumption as a major focus of the campaign to boost domestic demand. We will further improve the Internet infrastructure, pursue the “Broadband China” project, and try to achieve an annual 30-percent increase in new-type information consumption.

The development of the Internet in China is very encouraging. Internet-based IT businesses have become a pillar of the economy, contributing 10 percent of China’s GDP. In 2012, the value of e-business transactions carried out in China reached US$1.4 trillion. New web applications are being launched all the time. More than 80 percent of Chinese Internet users use social networking services. Chinese citizens have opened nearly 1.3 billion micro-blog accounts. The mobile Internet, cloud computing, big data, the Internet of Things and other cutting-edge ideas are encouraging innovation and providing huge business opportunities.

Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,

The Chinese government has always placed great emphasis on cyber security. Maintaining cyber security is an important part of China’s national strategy and is high on the government agenda. We always believe that while development is the ultimate goal, security is the guarantee of achieving that goal. Without a secure environment, development will be weak and transient.

China faces serious cyber threats. Between January and August this year, more than 20,000 websites based in China were modified by hackers and more than 8 million servers, 14 percent more than during the same period last year, were compromised and controlled by overseas computers via zombie and Trojan programs. These activities have caused severe damage to our economy and the everyday life of the people. More than 80 percent of Chinese Internet users have fallen victim to cyber attacks at some time or other. The annual economic losses run to tens of billions of US .dollars a year. Cyber crimes, especially Internet fraud, are on the rise year by year and the Internet is increasingly associated with illegal and criminal behaviors. Illegal and harmful materials such as online pornography are affecting young people and have become an issue of great concern to the public.

China supports various efforts to maintain cyber security. Like many other developing countries, China faces greater cyber security challenges than developed countries. As a result, we are very keen to continue working together with other countries to maintain cyber security. We are ready to expand our cooperation with other countries and relevant international organizations on the basis of equality and mutual benefit.

To maintain cyber security, we need to show respect for national sovereignty over cyberspace. The Internet is global, but at the same time it belongs to different countries. Sovereign states have primary responsibility for maintaining order in cyberspace. It thus follows that respect for national sovereignty over cyberspace is an important prerequisite for maintaining international cyber security. Given the differences in levels of economic development, cultural traditions, laws and regulations, each country naturally has its own concerns regarding cyber security. We should respect each country’s public policies on order and security in cyberspace.

To maintain cyber security, we need to build a robust legal system. Just as in the real world, activities in cyberspace need to be governed by law. Every country has a duty to contribute to the creation of a legal framework that will maintain cyber security, punish criminal activity, protect basic rights such as the right to privacy, and promote technological innovation and fair competition in the marketplace. All countries should protect their citizens’ rights to use the Internet in accordance with the law, and citizens should make use of the Internet according to law, because only on this basis can the international community establish order in cyberspace. If each country governs its cyberspace well, incidents that harm overall cyber security can be minimized. Although China has made positive efforts to improve its laws governing cyberspace, we recognize that we still have a long way to go. We want to enhance communication with other countries and learn from them how to build a legal system for cyberspace more scientific and more effective.

To maintain cyber security, we need to strengthen international cooperation. In cyberspace, all countries face the same problems and ultimately share the same fate. Cyber security should be built on the basis of coexistence and cooperation, as cooperation is the only way to achieve win-win solutions to shared problems. The international community should tackle difficulties and challenges together, strengthen communication and exchanges, improve mutual understanding, and jointly shoulder the responsibility for maintaining cyber security.

To strengthen international cooperation and safeguard cyber security; we should take action rather than to be content with empty talks. I, therefore, would like to put forward three proposals today.

Firstly, we should lay down international rules for behavior in cyberspace. We should first define some basic rules guiding behavior in cyberspace that can be observed by all countries. On this basis we should, step by step, create a fair and transparent mechanism for the governance of cyberspace. The definition of basic behavior rules would not only place restraints on all parties, but would also provide protection for the rights of all parties. The international community should, as soon as possible, begin discussions within the framework of the United Nations to promote the process of defining international behavior rules for cyberspace.

Secondly, we should explore effective means to tackle urgent problems. Cyber security involves a number of issues of common concern, such as cyber attacks, viruses and cyber terrorism, as well as issues of concern to specific parties, such as information security and cultural security. I suggest that we give full play to the role of the UN Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) in the field of information and telecommunications in the context of international security, identify pressing problems in global security, explore ways and means to solve them, and make clear the direction of actions for all governments and parties concerned. We should start with the problems that are easiest to solve so as to accumulate practical experience that can be applied to more difficult issues in the future.

Thirdly, we should create communication channels to facilitate international cooperation. Dealing with cyber security often involves various government departments and social organizations. To handle problems more efficiently, each country should designate specific government departments or other institutions to establish mechanisms that can quickly respond to calls for international cooperation. This could serve as the substantive action for promoting international cooperation. The National Computer Network Emergency Response Technical Team Coordination Center of China (CNCERT) has established cooperative relations with 91 organizations in 51 countries and regions and has signed cyber security cooperation memoranda with 13 international organizations. From January to September 2013, the Center received and dealt with a total of 583 requests from international emergency response organizations and other cyber security related organizations. Among them, 106 requests were from the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team. We welcome friends from all over the world to cooperate with the Center.

Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,

The United States and China are Internet giants. We share many common interests and there is enormous scope for cooperation. Our two countries have set up a working group on cyber security within the framework of the China-US Strategic Security Dialogue. We should make good use of this mechanism to carry on dialogue and negotiations on common concerns relating to cyber security so as to increase mutual understanding, keep our differences under control and expand cooperation.

We have already seen positive results from China-US cyber security cooperation. One example is the law enforcement cooperation between the police forces of our two countries. In June 2011, a joint US-China police operation cracked the world’s biggest Chinese-language pornographic website, the Sunshine Entertainment Alliance. A US-based culprit and 12 suspects located in China were arrested. Closing down the Sunshine Entertainment Alliance was a successful cooperation by Chinese and US law enforcement agencies targeting cross-border cyber crime. Cooperation between civil society organizations has also made substantial progress. Four years ago, I recommended to Mr. John Edwin Mroz four possible fields in which the EastWest Institute, the Internet Society of China and CNCERT could cooperate. My suggestion received a positive response from Mr. Mroz and our cooperation has yielded two results. The report, Fighting Spam to Build Trust, issued jointly by EWI and CNCERT in 2011, was a groundbreaking collaborative effort by 34 Chinese and American experts that followed two years of research and discussion. Another report, Frank Communication and Pragmatic Cooperation in Combating Harmful Hacking, to be made public during this summit, embodies the insights and reflections of Chinese and American cyber security experts. It represents another major contribution made by experts from both countries towards maintaining cyber security.

Experience teaches us that where there is action there will be results. Let us join hands to build a safer cyberspace with our wisdom and efforts.

Finally, I would like to wish the Fourth World Cyberspace Cooperation Summit every success.

Thank you all!

Among China expats today, echoes of Orwell's time in Burma?

At the recommendation of a friend in Beijing, I’ve been reading George Orwell’s Burmese Days. Coincidentally, Jane Perlez of The New York Times recently traveled to the real town Orwell was stationed in that inspires the novel’s setting. She calls the book “a scathing portrait of the imperious attitudes of the British, from this former colonial outpost on the banks of the mighty Irrawaddy River.” Some of those imperious attitudes sound strikingly similar to, if far more strident than, the complaints and judgments of some expatriates in Beijing.

NYT picture of the house Orwell lived in. Click for story and full size.

NYT picture of the house Orwell lived in. Click for story and full size.


One of the central tensions of the novel, which I haven’t finished (and so neither did I read the end of Perlez’s story, where she got back to the plot), is that one Englishman, named Flory, is unusually sympathetic to the Burmese, while the rest of the European population is savagely racist and dismissive. This passage pretty much sums it up.

There was an uneasiness between them, ill-defined and yet often verging upon quarrels. When two people, one of whom has lived long in the country while the other is a newcomer, are thrown together, it is inevitable that the first should act as cicerone to the second. Elizabeth, during these days, was making her first acquaintance with Burma; it was Flory, naturally, who acted as her interpreter, explaining this, commenting upon that. And the things he said, or the way he said them, provoked in her a vague yet deep disagreement. For she perceived that Flory, when he spoke of the ‘natives’, spoke nearly always in favour of them. He was forever praising Burmese customs and the Burmese character; he even went so far as to contrast them favourably with the English. It disquieted her. After all, natives were natives—interesting, no doubt, but finally only a ‘subject’ people, an inferior people with black faces. His attitude was a little too tolerant. Nor had he grasped, yet, in what way he was antagonising her. He so wanted her to love Burma as he loved it, not to look at it with the dull, incurious eyes of a memsahib! He had forgotten that most people can be at ease in a foreign country only when they are disparaging the inhabitants.

The life of an American or European expatriate in Beijing is categorically different. We are not colonial authorities, nor is urban China so terribly exotic compared to other global cities. But the tension is real between people who seek only to complain and disparage, and those who seek to understand and engage. That tension can frequently be recognized even within individuals. What today’s reality in Beijing shares with Orwell’s account is a language of separation.

In this second passage, Orwell laments the assault on a European’s own dignity that occurs when he or she is bound by colonial social norms. In the plot, Flory had decided to betray a non-European friend, because to stand with him would have led to great problems for him among the Europeans.

It is a stifling, stultifying world in which to live. It is a world in which every word and every thought is censored. In England it is hard even to imagine such an atmosphere. Everyone is free in England; we sell our souls in public and buy them back in private, among our friends. But even friendship can hardly exist when every white man is a cog in the wheels of despotism. Free speech is unthinkable. All other kinds of freedom are permitted. You are free to be a drunkard, an idler, a coward, a backbiter, a fornicator; but you are not free to think for yourself. Your opinion on every subject of any conceivable importance is dictated for you by the pukka sahibs‘ [a term for Europeans as a ruling class in the British empire] code.

Again, things are very different. But is there a degree of groupthink among China watchers? Are there times when taking the side of the Chinese people or government in a political argument is a kind of taboo? I think so.

Back to the novel.