Monday, 30 June 2014

The Revolutionary Committee of the Chinese Guomindang (中国国民党革命委员会 / 中國國民黨革命委員會)

The Revolutionary Committee of the Chinese Guomindang (RCCG; simpl. 中国国民党革命委员会; trad.: 中國國民黨革命委員會; pinyin: Zhōngguó Guómíndǎng Gémìngwěiyuánhuì) is one of the eight non-Communist Parties of the People's Republic of China. It was founded in 1947 by a left-wing faction of the Guomindang. It is a member of the United Front under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). It is committed to the construction of "socialism with Chinese characteristics" and to the peaceful reunification of China and Taiwan. 

The Origins of the RCCG

The Guomindang was founded in 1912 by Sun Yat-sen, the revolutionary who had advocated the overthrow of the Qing dynasty and the establishment of the Republic of China (ROC). Sun's aim was to modernise China according to his Three Principles of the People, i.e., Nationalism, Democracy, and Socialism. After the 1911 revolution led by Sun's followers and the proclamation of the Republic of China, the Guomindang became China's first democratically elected parliamentary majority. 

However, in 1912 general Yuan Shikai seized power, and in 1913 he plotted the assassination of Song Jiaoren, a prominent Guomindang politician, and outlawed the Guomindang. Sun Yat-sen and many members of his party were forced to flee or go underground. As I explained in my post about the Leninist roots of the Guomindang, Sun Yat-sen realised that the 1911 revolution had created a Republic only in name. The Guomindang was too weak to defend the Republic against Yuan Shikai and, after his death in 1916, regional warlords.

At this point, Sun became convinced that the only way to achieve national unity and implement his Three Principles was to reorganise the Guomindang, establish a strong army, and impose a period of military rule during which China could be prepared for full economic reconstruction and democratisation. 

Sun turned to Moscow for  help. He was impressed by the ability of the Russian Communists to create a powerful revolutionary state and a strong military. Sun did not agree with the main principles of Communism: class struggle and the dictatorship of the proletariat. However, he wanted to emulate the Bolsheviks' revolutionary methods in order to achieve his own goals.

In 1923, Sun Yat-sen and Adolf Joffe, the Comintern representative, negotiated the so-called First United Front between the Guomindang and the Chinese Communist Party (June Grasso, Jay P. Corrin, Michael Kort: Modernization and Revolution in China, 1991, p. 89). This alliance made Soviet-Guomindang cooperation possible. The Soviets helped the Chinese revolutionaries with arms, funds, and training. Thanks to Soviet help, Sun Yat-sen established the Whampoa Academy (Huangpu), headed by Chiang Kai-shek, and improved discipline within the party's ranks, according to the Soviet model.

However, the CCP-Guomindang alliance split the Guomindang into a right-wing and a left-wing faction. Chiang Kai-shek, for instance, was a staunch anti-Communist. In 1923, he was asked by Sun Yat-sen to visit Moscow. The Soviet regime left a negative impression on Chiang. "I became more convinced then ever that Soviet political institutions were instruments of tyranny and terror and basically incompatible with Kuomintang's political system", he wrote in 1957 (Chiang Kai-shek: Soviet Russia in China, 1957, p. 20). In a letter to Liao Zhongkai from 1924, Chiang warned against the Communists: "The Russian Communist Party, in its dealings with China, has only one aim, namely, to make the Chinese Communist Party its chosen instrument. It does not believe that our Party can really cooperate with it for long for the sake of ensuring success for both parties" (ibid., p. 23).

Thursday, 26 June 2014

China-Taiwan Relations: The '1992 Consensus'

Over the past few years Taiwan's Guomindang administration and China's Communist government have sought to deepen cross-strait dialogue and improve relations between the two sides. The meeting between Zhang Zhijun, the chief of China's Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO), and Wang Yuqi, the chief of Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), as well as Zhang's current visit to Taiwan show that the two parties are committed to taking cross-strait relations to a new level. Ma Yingjiu, the chairman of the Guomindang, has repeatedly defended the so-called '1992 Consensus' as the basis for cross-strait dialogue. PRC's state-run media China Daily echoed this view in a 2012 article, arguing that "the 1992 Consensus will be the proven foundation for future peaceful cross-Straits relations".

But what is exactly the 1992 Consensus and what does it mean for the development of China-Taiwan relations?

"Liberate Taiwan", "Retake the Mainland": China-Taiwan Relations Before 1992

In 1949, the Guomindang government, defeated by the Communists, retreated to Taiwan, which was the last province under the full jurisdiction of the Republic of China (ROC). In Beijing, Mao Zedong proclaimed the People's Republic of China (PRC). Both the PRC and the ROC saw themselves as the only legitimate government of all China. 

Chiang Kai-shek, the leader of the Guomindang, believed in his sacred mission of retaking the mainland from the Communists. He not only continued to build up the military, but also hoped to encourage armed anti-Communist revolts on the mainland (Martin Edmonds / Michael Tsai: Defending Taiwan, 2013, p. 181). Mao Zedong, on his part, wanted to 'liberate' Taiwan by force. 

However, the Cold War, American military aid to Taiwan, and the Cultural Revolution, froze the situation. The two regimes remained isolated from each other. However, both governments continued to uphold the principle that there was only one China and that Taiwan was part of China. They disagreed, however, on which of them was China's rightful government.  

In the 1970s the death of both Mao and Chiang ushered in a new era. Their successors, Chiang Ching-kuo (pinyin: Jiang Jingguo) in the ROC and Deng Xiaoping in the PRC shelved the plans to use force to bring about unification. Chiang Ching-kuo focused on the development of Taiwan's economy and society (see Dennis V. Hickey: Foreign Policy Making in Taiwan, 2006, p. 111), while Deng Xiaoping proposed the famous 'one country, two systems' formula, which would have given Taiwan broad autonomy - including the right to elect its own government independently and to maintain its own army - as a special administrative region of the PRC (Suisheng Zhao: Across the Taiwan Strait, 2013, p. 132). 

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Tensions in Taiwan Rise as China's Zhang Zhijun Arrives in Taipei

Zhang Zhijun, Minister of China's Taiwan Affairs Office, arrived this morning at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport. This is the first ministerial-level visit of a mainland official on the island. During his four-day visit he will be meeting his Taiwan counterpart, Wang Yuqi ( 王郁琦), as well as "experts, college students, farmers, fishermen, members of minority groups, religious people, businessmen [and] spouses from the mainland" to discuss with them mainland-Taiwan issues. 

While China's privately owned newspapers such as the Nanfang Daily have not given much space to Zhang's Taiwan visit, state-run media have highlighted it as a landmark event in cross-strait relations. "Against the noises and tricks trumpeting sentiment against the mainland and cross-Straits cooperation on the island," writes China Daily, "may Zhang's visit clear confusions and boost mutual trust between the two sides". 

Zhang's visit is seen by the Chinese Communist Party and Taiwan's Guomindang as a follow-up to the historic meeting between Zhang and Wang Yuqi in mainland China in February this year. That was the first official meeting between the two sides after the end of the Civil War in 1949 and the retreat of Chiang Kai-shek's forces to Taiwan. 

Chinese media are trying to present a harmonious picture. CCTV stated that Zhang Zhijun was welcomed by Taiwan's people after his arrival at Taoyuan Airport. 

Yet, harmony is not the right word to describe the reaction of the Taiwanese public to Zhang's visit. It is impossible to estimate how the majority of Taiwanese feel about the visit and whether they are at all interested in it. But there are certainly many groups and organisations that are voicing their opposition to closer China-Taiwan ties. 

Before noon pro-China and anti-China groups gathered at Taoyuan Airport, the first to welcome Zhang Zhijun, the latter to protest against China's influence on Taiwan. Members of Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU), a pro-independence party, raised banners directed against Zhang Zhijun and undemocratic cross-strait policies: "Zhang Zhijun, go back to China!" (張志軍滾回中國), "The future of Taiwan will be decided by the Taiwanese people" (台灣前途由台灣人決定). Pro-independence groups have also launched a Facebook page called "We decide our own future". According to Liberty Times Net, individuals who are believed to be members of Taiwan's triads threatened and even beat TSU protesters. The thugs managed to escape. The victims of the assault claimed the police didn't do enough to protect them and seize the culprits. 

(source: Wikipedia)

Outside the airport, pro-China groups were waving flags of the PRC and installed banners with slogans such as "Compatriots on both sides of the strait are Chinese"(兩岸同胞都是中國人), and "Taiwan is an inalienable part of China" (台灣是中國不可分割的一部分). 

Yesterday night, pro-democracy activists, among them Lin Feifan, a leader of the Sunflower Student Movement, gathered at Novotel, a 5-star hotel near Taoyuan Airport. However, this morning the hotel staff broke into their room and forced them to leave the building. The scene was recorded by one of the activists and soon went viral. The hotel management was accused of having evicted the activists because they were planning actions of protest against Zhang Zhijun.

However, in the afternoon Novotel issued a statement explaining that "today's event is related to the fact that the number of people staying in the said room did not correspond to the number of people who had checked in, according to the hotels records. The guests who rented that room had been seen walking on the fire escape, in the main hall, and coming in and out of the building many times during the night. In view of the hotel's regulations and after taking into consideration the security of our guests, we made several attempts to talk to them, but they gave us no reply". According to the hotel, the staff asked the activists to show them their passports, but they refused. The video shot by the activists seems to confirm the hotel's version.

Zhang Zhijun's visit, far from being the proof of improving cross-strait relations, highlights the dangers of a CCP-Guomindang agreement. 

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

A Japanese Man's Struggle For Taiwan's Independence, and What it Tells us About Taiwan's Democracy

Yesterday Kenji Tanabe, a 39-year-old Japanese national, joined a demonstration organised by the Protect Taiwan Referendum Alliance (公投護台灣聯盟), an association that advocates Taiwan independence. A group of about ten men gathered at a rotary in the centre of Jiayi City waving banners written in Chinese, English and Japanese. According to the Liberty Times Net, Tanabe was waving a Japanese flag and called in Japanese: "Long live Taiwan's democracy!" (台灣民主萬歲)

Kenji Tanabe's name hit the headlines in May 2010, when he came to Taiwan, climbed Mount Yu (玉山) and raised a banner on which was written: "Support Taiwan independence" (支持台灣獨立建國). He also took part in pro-independence rallies. 

Monday, 23 June 2014

My Friend Was Assaulted in Australia

Today I'm really angry. A friend of mine just told me that she was assailed by a man, who not only robbed her, but also punched her, apparently without any reason. She is a flight attendant and was spending a day in Perth after a flight. At around 5 pm the man assaulted her, took her shopping bag and hit her. Her eye was badly injured and now it's displaced. She may need surgery to fix it. 

I feel so sorry because I cannot do anything for her. Actually, she is really brave and perhaps she doesn't even need my help. But I'm just so upset. I didn't expect something like this to happen in Australia, let alone in the afternoon. She went to the police, and they told her that such crimes usually don't happen in that area of the city. But they couldn't do anything. 

My stay in Hong Kong wouldn't have been so great if I hadn't met her. She showed me a lot of interesting places and was always very nice to me. I can't believe that someone has done this to her. I really hope that she will recover as soon as possible, and that the Australian police may catch and punish that man. 

We should always be careful when we travel. I myself have been involved in dangerous situations a few times. Once, I was waiting for a night train in Heidelberg, Germany. The platform was empty. Then a man came. He was carrying two huge black bags and had a foreign accent. He asked me where I was going. After chatting for a few minutes, he asked me if he could travel with me (that is. I said my ticket was just for one person and there was my name on it. But he insisted. Luckily, the train approached and we got in. When the guards came, the man said that I had his ticket and we were travelling together. I explained that that wasn't true and showed the guards my ticket. Suddenly, the man jumped out of his seat and shouted at me: "You f*** Italian! You're just a cheap, f*** Italian!". The guards had to call the border police and took him away. 

Sunday, 22 June 2014

The Armed Forces Museum of the Republic of China (Taiwan)

A couple of days ago I was walking from Ximending to Taipei Main Station when suddenly I came across a number of ... cannons and bombshells - an unusual sight in the middle of the city. I took a closer look at them and, after reading an explanation label, I realised I was standing in front of the Armed Forces Museum (AFM; Chinese: 國軍歷史文物館, literally: Museum of the Historical Relics of the National Army).

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Pro-Democracy Hong Kong Websites Brought Down By Massive Hacking Attacks

On Wednesday 18 Next Media, Hong Kong's largest media company, was the target of an unprecedented hacking attack that paralysed some of its most prominent websites, such as that of the popular newspaper Apple Daily. Tim Yiu, Next Media's chief operating officer, said that he received the first reports of massive attacks at around 2 am. According to Eric Chen, the president of Apple Daily Taiwan, the company had reinforced its web defences against hacking following attacks in February, but the last attacks were so strong that the system was overwhelmed. The Hong Kong website of Apple Daily was able to resume operations only after 12 hours, while its Taiwan edition was affected less severely.

Apple Daily head office in Taipei (source)

It is not clear who is behind the attacks, but many suspect that they were launched on Beijing's initiative or by pro-Beijing groups. Jimmy Lai, the founder of Next Media, stated that he didn't want to speculate, but that "whoever is behind it, it’s obvious that he wants to muzzle the voice for the referendum". 

Jimmy Lai's group has been a prominent advocate of the Occupy Central movement, a pro-democracy initiative that wants to pressure Beijing into introducing the system of universal suffrage for the next Hong Kong Chief Executive elections in 2017. Tensions between the pro-democracy camp and the pro-Beijing camp have escalated in recent weeks, as Beijing issued a white paper reasserting that the Hong Kong SAR is subordinate to the central government. 

The fact that on June 14 the website of Occupy Central suffered a cyber attack seems to be no coincidence. The organisers had called for an unofficial online referendum, scheduled for June 22, to ask Hong Kong's citizens to choose the voting system for the 2017 Chief Executive Elections. Jimmy Lai had taken part in a daily walk in support of Occupy Central's referendum

On Wednesday Apple Daily issued a statement on its Taiwanese website.: 

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Taipei Before and Now - Hengyang Road from the Qing Dynasty to the Present

At first sight Hengyang Road (衡陽路) doesn't seem to be a particularly interesting street. You are indeed unlikely to even notice it, immersed as it is in the jungle of buildings and roads in Taipei Main Station area. However, the appearance is deceptive. In fact, Hengyang Road is a fascinating example of all the changes and upheavals Taipei has gone through over the last two hundred years. 

In the late Qing era, Hengyang Road was known as "Stone Memorial Archway Street" (石坊街) because of the memorial arch that stood there. In the picture below, you can see the arch, whose name was Commonweal Memorial Arch (急公好義坊). At the end of the road, you can still see the West Gate (Ximen), which was demolished by the Japanese in 1905. The picture also shows the structure of typical Qing Dynasty streets of Taipei, with the simple two-storey buildings and the tile roofs. 

The Commonweal Memorial Arch was built on the 13th year of the reign of the Guangxu Emperor (1887) to commemorate Hong Tengyun (洪騰雲). Hong was an immigrant from Quanzhou Prefecture in Fujian Province. He came to Taiwan as a 13-year-old boy in 1824, following his father, a merchant who settled down in Bangka (or Mengjia, 艋舺) and became wealthy thanks to his thriving business with Quanzhou and Xiamen. 

He and his son were known for their social engagement. In 1880 Hong Tengyun donated a sum of money to Taipei so as to build an examination hall (考棚) in the northeastern part of Taipei Walled City (close to present-day Taipei Main Station). In 1887, the Governor of Taiwan Liu Mingchuan petitioned the Guangxu Emperor to allow him to build a Memorial Arch in honour of Hong Tengyun. 

The Commonweal Memorial Arch still exists, but it is now in a different place. When the Japanese built the Taipei Park (now 228 Peace Park) in 1908, they moved the memorial arch next to one of the park's entrances. 

Taipei Police Raid Popular Nightclub 'LUXY'

On June 14 LUXY, a popular nightclub located in Taipei's Da'an District, as well as two pubs located in Zhongshan District, were the target of a massive police raid directed against drug-traffickingTaipei District Prosecutor's Office, Taipei Police Department, units of the Criminal Police and the Police Bureaus of Zhongshan, Da'an and Wanhua districts organised the operation jointly. Furthermore, Taiwan's Customs Office lent the police 16 detection dogs. 

At midnight the police staged a fake inspection at LUXY. At 3 am three public buses stopped at Zhongxiao East Road, where the nightclub is located. But instead of normal passengers, 300 hundred policemen came out of the vehicles and raided the club, taking off guard the drug dealers and their clients. Other 380 policemen were deployed in Zhongshan District. 

A total of 90 people were detained, 4 of whom were wanted criminals. 5 people were arrested on charges of drug possession, as they carried with them ecstasy, marijuana, ketamine and other substances. A South African citizen was taken into custody for staying in Taiwan for six years with an expired visa. The entire operation lasted until 5 am

Monday, 16 June 2014

Beautification by Destruction - The Demolition of Japanese Buildings in Taipei

When I first came to Taipei I didn't know much about its history. One thing I did know, though: Taiwan had been under Japanese rule for half a century and Taipei had been the capital of the colony. But when I walked around, I wondered why there were barely any Japanese buildings. If you go to Macau, for instance, you find thousands of houses from the Portuguese colonial era. But in Taipei, all the streets seemed not to be older than 60 or 70 years. I just came to the conclusion that Taipei must have been a colonial backwater, a small village, and that present-day Taipei had been entirely constructed after 1945.

It was only after reading some books and seeing old pictures that I realised the Japanese had built a lot, and that indeed many of today's roads and thoroughfares had been created during the colonial era. It's just that after 1945 most of these buildings were torn down, with the exception of  the most representative ones. 

Something similar can be seen in many cities in the Chinese-speaking world. In Hong Kong, the majority of the old colonial buildings were demolished without mercy. Even historic treasures like the Hong Kong Club did not escape destruction.

In Beijing, too, many buildings were sacrificed to the rush for modernisation. The famous hutongs, narrow alleys dating back to the Yuan Dynasty, were its most prominent victims. As Duncan Hewitt writes in Getting Rich First: Life in a Changing China (2010):

[In 1997 a] drive across Beijing could take on a nightmarish quality, as on one memorable late-night taxi ride, when the faint yellow glow of the street lamps lit up a seemingly endless scene of destruction: for many miles, the half-demolished skeletons of courtyard houses lined the road on both sides, like the remnants of some particularly brutal battle. This, I later discovered, was the beginning of the construction of the new traffic artery, known as ‘Peace Avenue’ ... A joke did the rounds that Beijing was the only place in the world where you had to phone a restaurant before going out for dinner, not to reserve a table, but to check that the building hadn’t been demolished.

In Taipei, too, houses were demolished to make space for modern ones. In some cases, like that of the demolition of the Huaguang Community, there were massive protests. But it's hard to say whether these protests were a consequence of the love for the historic heritage, or rather of the anger of the owners who were to be forcibly relocated.

Most of the time, though, the demolitions of Japanese buildings go entirely unnoticed. For instance, only a few years ago old houses in Taipei's Roosevelt Road were demolished in order to build a small park. Therefore, in Taipei as well as in Hong Kong and mainland Chinese cities, the characters 拆除 (demolish) have become a symbol of the annihilation of the past.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Beijing's White Paper and Hong Kong's Political Crisis

On June 10 the Information Office of the State Council of the People's Republic of China issued a white paper aimed at clarifying the concept and implementation of the "one country, two systems" model in Hong Kong. 

The document shocked many Hong Kongers, who believe that Beijing is trying to restrict their freedom and autonomy and bring the former British colony in line with the policies of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The white paper in fact bluntly reaffirms that the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) is subordinate to the central government. According to the white paper, "the central government exercises overall jurisdiction over the HKSAR, including the powers directly exercised by the central government, and the powers delegated to the HKSAR by the central government to enable it to exercise a high degree of autonomy in accordance with the law. The central government has the power of oversight over the exercise of a high degree of autonomy in the HKSAR".

The paper further reiterates that Hong Kong's autonomy is granted and supervised by Beijing:

As prescribed in the Constitution of the People's Republic of China and the Basic Law of the HKSAR, the organs of power by which the central leadership directly exercises jurisdiction over the HKSAR are the NPC [National People's Congress] and its Standing Committee, the president of the state, the Central People's Government, and the Central Military Commission. The NPC decided on the establishment of the HKSAR, formulated the Basic Law of the HKSAR to prescribe the system to be instituted in the HKSAR, and has the power of amendment to the Basic Law. The NPC Standing Committee has the power of interpretation regarding the Basic Law of the HKSAR, the power of decision on revising the selection methods of the chief executive and the Legislative Council of the HKSAR, the power of supervision over the laws formulated by the legislative organs of the HKSAR, the power of decision on the HKSAR entering a state of emergency, and the power of making new authorization for the HKSAR. The HKSAR comes directly under the Central People's Government, and its chief executive is accountable to the Central People's Government. The Central People's Government appoints the chief executive and the principal officials, is responsible for foreign affairs relating to the HKSAR in accordance with the law, and issues directives to the chief executive. The Central Military Commission is the leading body of the Hong Kong garrison, and performs defense and other duties. The central authorities perform overall jurisdiction and constitutional duties as prescribed in the Constitution of the People's Republic of China and in the Basic Law of the HKSAR, and exercise effective administration over the HKSAR (my emphasis).

Beijing's statement came after years of growing tensions between a part of Hong Kong's population and the Communist leadership on the mainland. Most especially, Occupy Central, a movement demanding the implementation of universal suffrage by the next Chief Executive elections in 2017, has angered Beijing. Although the movement is inspired by the tactics of peaceful civil disobedience of Mahatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King, the CCP as well as pro-Beijing groups and media in Hong Kong have tried to portray its initiators as unpatriotic and their actions as a damage to Hong Kong's stability and wealth. Plenty of editorials in state-run media are spreading this view. For instance, in an article published on the Hong Kong edition of China Daily last year, Zhao Bajun explained:

the fundamental political contradiction in Hong Kong has intensified. The struggle between the patriot camp and the opposition camp is entering the decisive stage. Faced with the "Occupy Central" campaign, Hong Kong is at stake. Benny Tai Yiu-ting, the initiator of "Occupy", has emphasized that the campaign is like a "nuclear bomb" in order to threaten the central government. If Beijing doesn't allow the "pan-democracy" camp to have "genuine" universal suffrage in 2017, the latter will ignite the "nuclear bomb", destroying Hong Kong as an international financial center and the city's economy. Though it isn't a real nuclear bomb so its explosion wouldn't cause any material damage to the US Consulate-General in Central, its economic consequences for American business will be as terrible as to other nationalities' business in the same area (my emphasis).

It is obvious that nationalism is one of the main rhetorical weapons used by the CCP against Hong Kong's pro-democracy activism. Last year, in response to Occupy Central's requests, Qiao Xiaoyang, chairman of the National People’s Congress Law Committee, declared that all candidates for the post of Hong Kong's Chief Executive must "love the country, love Hong Kong". Since patriotism cannot be measured objectively, this is likely a way for the CCP leadership to have the last word on who can rule Hong Kong.

The white paper came as a surprise to many people in Hong Kong. Alan Leong, leader of the pro-democracy Civic Party, said that the document "is a sea-change to our understanding of what 'one country, two systems' should be." The Hong Kong Bar Association issued a statement warning that the rule of law in Hong Kong will be harmed if judges must fulfil 'patriotism' requirements which would make them dependent on Beijing's approval. Many people also fear that the central government is going back on its promise to maintain Hong Kong's system intact for 50 years after the handover in 1997. 

However, Hong Kongers may have misinterpreted the Basic Law, or they have chosen to misinterpret it in order to comfort themselves. In fact, what is stated in Beijing's white paper is nothing new, and it doesn't represent a change from past policies. As Ralf Horlemann explained in a book published in 2002, Hong Kong's Basic Law is subordinate to the PRC Constitution. 

Based on the concept of 'One Country Two Systems' China drew up the Basic Law as an ordinary piece of legislation under art. 31 of the Chinese constitution in order to establish a Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong under Chinese sovereignty. The Basic Law is therefore not a constitution in its own right and it is misleading to describe it as a 'mini-constitution'. The HKSAR is not a federated unit within the Chinese state with its own autonomy or indeed its own state authority. As art. 12 BL clearly spells out, Hong Kong is a 'local administrative region' of China. All residual powers lie in the Central People's Government and such powers as are delegated to the HKSAR are revokable according to the provisions the Constitution of the PRC, art. 60. 1 As an autonomous region it only enjoys those powers which the CPG has delegated to it ... China could at any time unilaterally amend, substitute or even abolish the Basic Law, without Hong Kong's agreement, indeed against its express wishes, although China is legally bound by the obligations it entered into when signing the Joint Declaration. However, China's legal obligations under the Joint Declaration might be difficult to enforce by international courts. (Horlemann 2002, pp. 86-87, my emphasis)

Therefore, the white paper simply confirms what had already been known for years. Hong Kong's degree of autonomy depends solely on Beijing's goodwill. The Basic Law was drafted to please the Hong Kongers and the international community, and to guarantee a smooth handover. Moreover, it is possible that the CCP genuinely wanted to maintain Hong Kong's freedoms. However, these freedoms and autonomy were restricted and had a fixed temporal limit. In 2047, in fact, the "one country, two systems" experiment will come to an end, and Beijing alone will decide on the future of Hong Kong. 

As long as the Hong Kongers did not openly challenge the government or ask for more democracy, Beijing was willing to maintain the current system. But the demands for universal suffrage and the open challenge to the central authority have unnerved the PRC leadership. 

17 years after the handover, Hong Kong is still the only place in China where the June 4th anniversary can be celebrated publicly, and where the world's first June 4th museum has been opened, so far without retaliations. But the memory of Tiananmen highlights the tensions and contradictions between Hong Kong and Beijing.

25 years ago, the CCP chose to end by force the public display of dissent that could challenge its leadership. It did so without remorse, and without wavering. Now, Beijing is quiet and loyal, while Hong Kong is a troublemaker. History has already shown what could happen. And if it happened, it should not come as a surprise. 

Alan Hoo Hon-ching, the chairman of the Basic Law Institute, recently told the South China Morning Post that the Occupy Movement might prompt the central government to implement the controversial National Security Bill, which deals with acts of "treason, secession, sedition, subversion against the 
Central People’s Government, or theft of state secrets" and with the prohibition of "foreign political organizations or bodies from conducting political activities in the Region [and] from establishing ties with foreign political organizations or bodies". The Bill was shelved in 2003 due to massive protests. Alan Hoo Hon-ching mentioned the terrorist attacks in Xi'an and Kunming, and the chaotic situation in Thailand, as examples of popular unrest that might prompt Beijing to intervene in Hong Kong to prevent destabilisation.

Zhou Nan, former director of China's state-run Xinhua News Agency, told reporters that the Occupy Central movement is illegal and that the People's Liberation Army might intervene to take control of the situation. “We could not allow Hong Kong to turn into a base to subvert China’s socialist regime under the guise of democracy", he said.

As we know, this scenario is not entirely unlikely. Ultimately, like in 1989, it is only force that determines the pace and direction of political change. 

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Pinyin vs Wade-Giles, or China vs Taiwan

In the past I have been asked why in some of my posts I write Guomindang while in others I write Kuomintang. Both have the same meaning and pronunciation, but the different spelling is indeed confusing. The same thing can be said for other names, such as Kaohsiung vs Gaoxiong, or Taichung vs Taizhong. I must admit that I have been quite inconsistent. So far I haven't made a clear choice between the Taiwanese and the Chinese way to write these names.

But why are there different ways to write Chinese characters using Latin letters? And which one is better?

Map of Taiwan. The names are written with the Wade-Giles system

Wade-Giles, Pinyin, and the Chinese Civil War

When contacts between China and the West intensified in the 19th century, Europeans were confronted with a big issue: how to transliterate Chinese names? For instance, if a Westerner wanted to write a book about China for a Western audience, he had to mention Chinese persons and places. But how could one use the Latin alphabet to render all these exotic names?

For a while, Europeans did it intuitively, but that created a lot of confusion since everyone could write Chinese names as they pleased. The need for a coherent system was therefore felt among scholars and politicians. 

In the second half of the 19th century, Thomas Francis Wade, a scholar and British ambassador in China, created a transliteration system which in 1912 was improved by Herbert Allen Giles, a China expert and a diplomat. It became known as the Wade-Giles system, and it was the prevalent system used in China until the 1950s, and in the West until the 1980s (Gao 2009, p. 376). Most of us who attended school in the 1990s can still remember our textbooks using the Wade-Giles spelling, like in the name Mao Tse-tung. And we all know the word Kung Fu. These are all examples of Wade-Giles spelling. 
This system is in itself coherent and it works perfectly if you know it well. Originally, however, it was created for sinologists, and this results in a lot of complex and sometimes not very intuitive rules. For instance, one feature of the Wade-Giles system is “the representation of the unaspirated-aspirated stop consonant pairs using apostrophes: p, p', t, t', k, k', ch, ch'. The use of apostrophes preserves b, d, g, and j for the romanization of Chinese languages containing voiced consonants, such as Shanghainese (which has a full set of voiced consonants) and Min Nan”.

This means that, for example, the word 中國 (China) is written Chung-kuo, and the word 重慶 is written Ch'ung-ch'ing. It must be noted that Wade-Giles was created in order to render the sounds of all Chinese dialects and not just those of Mandarin Chinese, hence the complexity of this system.

When the Guomindang government (in this post I've chosen this spelling) retreated to Taiwan in 1949, the Wade-Giles system continued to be used on the island, and indeed it is still used there. But in mainland China, the Communist government created a new system: pinyin. It was introduced in the late 1950s and it is now used as the international standard. According to pinyin, 中國 is written Zhongguo, while 重慶 is written Chongqing. 

The Wade-Giles vs pinyin issue is not just a matter of linguistics. It has both political and practical implications. 

Recently, The Economist has published an article that highlights the sensitivity of language issues in cross-straits relations. In 2009, the Guomindang administration led by Ma Yingjiu decided to introduce the pinyin system to Taiwan, in order to 'integrate' Taiwan with the rest of the world. But, according to the magazine, many Taiwanese do not like pinyin because it was developed in Communist China. Moreover, they fear that this is just another strategy used by Ma Yingjiu in order to bring Taiwan and China closer.

This diatribe proves that in Taiwan it is very hard to talk about simple things such as a romanisation system when China is involved. In fact, pinyin has become a political issue. Many Taiwanese will indeed say they don't like pinyin just because they don't like mainland China, though probably they have never studied this system. On the other hand, some people in China are suspicious of Wade-Giles, because they identify it with 'imperialism'.

Is Pinyin Better than Wade-Giles?

Let me make this clear. Both systems work, therefore neither of them is 'better'. Some people claim that pinyin is 'inconsistent', arguing that foreigners in China cannot read pinyin names like Dongzhimen (东直门 / 東直門) or Gongyixiqiao (公益西桥站 / 公益西橋).

Friday, 6 June 2014

The 1972 Shanghai Communique and China-United States Relations

In the 1960s the United States and the People's Republic of China (PRC) had no diplomatic relations. Washington continued to recognise the Republic of China on Taiwan as the sole legitimate government of the whole of China. The unstable situation in East Asia contributed to the maintenance of this situation. The Korean War and the Vietnam War caused frictions between the US and the PRC, as the Beijing regime felt threatened by the West. At times war between the two powers seemed a real possibility.

This favoured Chiang Kai-shek's Guomindang regime on Taiwan. The Americans needed the island as a military base for the war in Vietnam and as a resting place for soldiers on leave (Davison 2003, Chapter 6).  However, in the late 1960s Washington and Beijing began to realise they could use each other to contain the Soviet Union. Under Leonid Brezhnev's leadership Moscow pursued an aggressive foreign policy in Asia, Africa and South America that deeply unsettled both the US and the PRC. US President Richard Nixon advocated a Sino-American entente. He sent Henry Kissinger, his National Security Advisor, on a secret trip to China. After prolonged negotiations, Kissinger and PRC Premier Zhou Enlai drafted a joint unofficial document, which would later become the Shanghai Communique. 

Although the US and the PRC had no official diplomatic relations yet, Washington signalled its changed stance towards China when it let be known that it would support a PRC's bid for a seat at the United Nations. The seat had so far been held by the Republic of China as the only representative of China. On October 25, 1971, the UN General Assembly transferred China's seat from the Republic of China to the People's Republic of China (Dillon 2010, pp. 347-348). The Guomindang was humiliated and angry, while the Chinese Communists celebrated, as they could, for the first time, participate in international politics. 

Afterwards, the US and the PRC were ready to complete the process of reconciliation. In the morning of February 21, 1972, Richard Nixon arrived in Shanghai, where he met Mao Zedong and Premier Zhou Enlai. He toured Shanghai and Hangzhou, visited the Great Wall, was entertained by the Cultural Revolution ballet and took part in various cultural activities. On February 28, the US and the PRC issued a joint statement, the so-called Shanghai Communique, which formed the basis for the subsequent Sino-American talks aimed at normalising relations (ibid., p. 348). 

The communique stated that both the US and the PRC opposed hegemony and aggression. In the context of the time, Washington and Beijing referred to the threat coming from the Soviet Union, though the document did not refer to it explicitly. 

It should also be noted that the Taiwan issue is mentioned in the Communique and it is considered the most important obstacle to the normalisation of US-PRC relations. China stated that there is only one China, that the PRC is the sole government of China, and that Taiwan must be 'liberated' by the PRC. The US acknowledged the PRC position, but it ambiguously stated that there is only one China and Taiwan is part of China, without, however, explicitly stating that Taiwan should be part of the PRC.

Here is the full text of the communique:

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Il Movimento dei Girasoli - Il Futuro dei Rapporti fra la Cina e Taiwan

Il 18 marzo, un gruppo di 300 studenti ha occupato il parlamento della Repubblica di Cina (Taiwan) per protestare contro la ratificazione dell'Accordo Bilaterale sul Commercio in Servizi che avrebbe sancito una maggiore integrazione economica fra la Cina e Taiwan. Intorno alle 21:00 ora locale, gli studenti hanno forzato un cordone della polizia e sono entrati dentro l'edificio, occupando la sala centrale dove si tengono le sedute dell'organo legislativo. Gli studenti in questo modo hanno espresso la loro opposizione nei confronti della ratificazione del patto sino-taiwanese che, secondo loro, violava i principi democratici e di trasparenza dell'isola-stato.
Questa forma estrema di protesta è stata la culminazione di un lungo periodo di tensioni e controversie che iniziarono il 21 giugno del 2013 con la firma a Shanghai dell'Accordo Bilaterale sul Commercio dei Servizi fra la Cina e Taiwan. Secondo quanto riportato dal ‘Taipei Times, l' accordo prevede che 64 settori dell'economia taiwanese vengano aperti agli investimenti cinesi, mentre la Cina aprirebbe 80 settori agli investitori di Taiwan. Fra i settori che Taiwan liberalizzerebbe vi sono i trasporti, il turismo, e la medicina cinese tradizionale, mentre Taiwan avrebbe accesso a quelli della finanza, della vendita al dettaglio, dell'elettronica, dell'editoria e delle agenzie di viaggio della Cina. Secondo l'accordo, le agenzie di viaggio cinesi potrebbero aprire un numero limitato di filiali a Taiwan con il diritto di offrire servizi solo ai cittadini taiwanesi e non a stranieri e cittadini cinesi. Gli investitori cinesi potrebbero aprire e gestire alberghi e ristoranti nell'isola; inoltre, potrebbero aprire e gestire saloni di bellezza e da parrucchiere, ma solo avendo come dipendenti cittadini taiwanesi.  Mentre il settore dell'editoria della Cina verrebbe completamente aperto agli investitori taiwanesi, i cinesi potrebbero acquisire solo il 50% della proprietà di aziende taiwanesi del suddetto settore. Per quanto riguarda i servizi finanziari, le aziende taiwanesi potrebbero investire liberamente solo a Shanghai, Shenzhen, e nella provincia cinese di Fujian.
Il patto commerciale era fortemente caldeggiato dal PCC (Partito Comunista Cinese) e dal Guomindang (Partito Nazionalista Cinese), il partito di governo di Taiwan. Era, però, sin dall'inizio osteggiato dai partiti di opposizione e da una gran parte dell'opinione pubblica dell'isolaMolti taiwanesi, infatti, temevano che l'apertura economica alla Cina avrebbe avuto ripercussioni negative sia sulle piccole e medie imprese sia sulle strutture democratiche del paese. In particolare, il fatto che il Guomindang e il PCC avessero raggiunto un accordo a porte chiuse suscitò enormi resistenze nella società civile che si sentì raggirata ed ignorata. Subito dopo la firma del patto, il parlamento taiwanese fu lacerato dai dibattiti fra la maggioranza di governo e l'opposizione, la quale cercò di bloccare la ratificazione del trattato. Il 21 giugno i deputati dell’opposizione occuparono la camera legislativa scandendo slogan come «il Partito Nazionalista Cinese e il Partito Comunista Cinese stanno affossando l’economia di Taiwan». 
Continue reading on L'Indro

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Selling Out Taiwan to the PRC - The United States' Complicity

This year marked the 35th anniversary of the signing of the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA). The document was passed by the United States Congress and signed into law by President Jimmy Carter. The official US-Taiwan position is that the TRA is a cornerstone of the friendship between the two countries. But the reality is very different. 

Anti-Chinese rhetoric has it that China is an imperialistic, aggressive country that wants to annex Taiwan by force. But this is just one side of the coin. The complicity of the United States in selling out Taiwan for a short-term geopolitical and subsequently economic advantage has been systematically downplayed by mainstream media. If Taiwan faces a mortal threat and must negotiate with the PRC from a weak bargaining position, it is because the United States accepted the PRC version of the Taiwan issue. This left Taiwan not only diplomatically isolated and psychologically humiliated, but it also left it alone in case of an attack from the mainland. As the United States does not recognise the Republic of China as a sovereign state, it cannot sign a mutual defence treaty with it, and therefore it is likely that in case of war the US will not intervene. 

In the next posts, I will first provide a few documents that demonstrate the development of US-PRC relations prior to 1979. Afterwards, I will talk about the Sino-American negotiations of the 1970s, the normalisation of relations between the two sides, and the TRA. I will show how the US government engaged in secret talks with the PRC leadership bypassing the US Congress and not informing the public; how it sacrificed Taiwan to geopolitical considerations; and how it endorsed the PRC's claim to Taiwan. 

Hong Kong Artists Bring Back the Memory of the 1989 Tiananmen Incident

As the 25th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Incident (known in the Chinese-speaking world as 六四事件, or June 4th Incident) nears, the Beijing government tightens its grip on the country to prevent any form of public commemoration. A crackdown on lawyers, rights activists and journalists launched by the leadership in Beijing will make sure that no one dares disrupt the peace and tranquillity of a political system that cannot afford to face the past, for fear that its whole edifice might crumble as soon as a word too much has been spoken. 


Even the giant Google can't protect itself against the wall of silence, as its internet services have been partly blocked. The company has been struggling for years against China's censorship, and its attempts to circumvent government control have not been successful

Just a few days ago, a new system of surveillance was introduced in Beijing bus stations; passengers of long-distance buses have to show their identity cards when they exit the bus. This anti-terrorist measure may also be designed to prevent suspect people from gathering at Tiananmen Square on the anniversary of June 4th. 

The collective amnesia about those wild days of experimentation with a new radical form of freedom and individual self-determination is keenly felt by some Chinese citizens who had the chance to live abroad and free themselves from the historical narrative constructed by the CCP leadership in order to give coherence to its mission as the only legitimate and enlightened government of the whole of China. 

In an article recently published on Foreign Policy, a Chinese who studied in the United States expressed his concern over the inability of the PRC leadership to allow an open discussion about the 1989 Tiananmen incident. "The 1989 Tiananmen protests," he writes, "lack an official account or a chapter in our history books -- not even a sugarcoated one for us to dispute. Baidu Baike, China's Wikipedia, doesn't contain an entry for the year 1989, and names and places such as Zhao Ziyang and Tiananmen Square are permanently or seasonally blocked on the Chinese Internet."

He stresses that copying the Western political model is not the main objective of his criticism of the leadership's handling of June 4th:

The immense interest among those [born after 1989] who are in the know has not translated into active discussion, let alone action. Not all of us think it was wrong to use force against the protesters. And we certainly do not all think China should adopt Western-style democracy. But whatever our views are, we dare not openly discuss them online, in public forums or even in private chats. 

But while mainland China is enshrouded in a veil of state-sanctioned silence, the tiny enclave of Hong Kong is still the only place in the PRC where the June 4th Incident can be discussed and commemorated. On April 26, the very first June 4th permanent museum opened in Hong Kong's Tsim Sha Tsui. Some Hong Kongers already took to the streets as a prelude of the Tiananmen vigil that will be held on June 4th.

Yesterday, a group of Hong Kong artists distributed copies of a 1989 edition of the Hong Kong pro-Communist newspaper Wen Wei Po (文匯報). The paper, founded in 1948, has always been known for its pro-Beijing line. But in 1989, the editors surprisingly sided with the Tiananmen protesters and opposed the use of force against them. The board was subsequently sacked and replaced by a less opinionated one. 

The artists distributed exactly this old editorial in order to bring back the memory of the events. Some passers-by were sceptical, believing that the incident happened a long time ago. Others became interested in the history of the Tiananmen protests after reading Wen Wei Po's articles. But there were also people who didn't know what the Tiananmen incident was about. One of the artists said that a passer-by had asked him if June 4th was the day of Hong Kong's handover to the PRC.