Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

China and its transition imperatives 16: Xi Jinping’s emerging resolution to the challenge of leadership 4

Posted in macroeconomics by Timothy Platt on March 15, 2015

This is my 18th installment to a new series on China and its recent Party and government leadership transition, looking back over the past two years and more since that formally and officially took place and to now and China’s current situation, and forward. See Macroeconomics and Business, postings 154 and loosely following for Parts 1-12 and for a supplemental posting: Part 12.5. And see Page 2 to that directory for a second, continuation supplement Part 12.6 and for Parts 13-15.)

I wrote in Part 15 about how China’s leadership and their one Party system view their own citizens as both their greatest source of strength and their greatest source of danger. And I wrote there in that context, about how China’s government seeks to actively control the flow of information that goes to their people and that can be shared among them, so as to limit this threat. I then ended that posting by stating that I would turn outward from its discussion in this one, and consider how China seeks to influence and even control the outside conversation as it relates to and reports on China, its government policy or its implementation of that policy, and on the challenges that that nation faces in general. More specifically, I stated at the end of that installment that I would:

• Continue it with a discussion of how China seeks to influence and even control outside news coverage and particularly for what is said in it about China and its one Party system.
• And I added that I would then discuss in that context, how foreign news organizations and at least by outward appearance foreign governments see Xi as following more of a “next in standard succession” approach to attaining supreme leadership in China, missing how he in fact seeks to break and replace that seemingly cookie-cutter standardized mold.
• Then after that, I said that I would reconsider how wide-ranging and far-reaching Deng Xiaoping’s reforms actually were, in opening up China and in creating a climate where private enterprise can survive and thrive – and how his short-term oriented and seemingly more superficial reforms built a foundation for long-term and system-threatening reform pressures to come. And in that context I raise here and will discuss in some detail, the specter of a new generation of young and upcoming entrepreneurs from throughout China who are on a collision course with the old top-down authoritarian vision of power that Xi seems to be following as a continuation of China’s past. And on a more macro-scale I will also discuss the unavoidable implications and consequences of China’s burgeoning economic enterprise zone cities. With these topic threads I very definitely will address the “and forward” clause of my lead-in text at the start of my installments to this series.

I am going to at least begin addressing this list of issues and topics here, but before doing so, I will offer a news update (noting that I am actually writing this posting for upload to the blog server on December 17, 2014.) I wrote in my two supplemental postings: Parts 12.5 and 12.6, as cited at the top of this posting, about recent unrest in Hong Kong over decisions from the central government in Beijing to unilaterally select and determine the full slate of acceptable candidates for election, that Hong Kong citizens can chose from in determining their next local leadership.

When I wrote those series supplements, and particularly when I wrote the first of them, I felt grave concern that elements of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) might be moved in to suppress this peaceful uprising with its umbrella-bearing participants, as was done in 1989 at Tiananmen Square. As of this writing at least, overt protest has settled down and the last of the protest camps have been demolished and removed by local police forces and personnel from other government agencies. But the underlying issues that led to this unrest have not been addressed so it is essentially certain that the same levels and types of concern and dissatisfaction still remain, and for at least as wide a range of Honk Kong’s citizens as entered into those protests when they were actively taking place. So this is all still simmering just below the surface, and that is an important point to remember.

Xi Jinping’s government was able to contain this incident without a show of military force, but that is all he has done – contain for now but without any long-term resolution or any real reduction of tension. And this brings me to a crucial question that the coming year’s news and events will answer. What can and what will he do, and what will he seek to do, to prevent this type of event from happening again? Put somewhat differently but addressing the same point, what can and will Xi do in accommodating the concerns of the people of Hong Kong that would reduce this tension and unrest, but without creating precedents that would come back to haunt him in other parts of his vast and diverse country? Only time will tell; and I will come back to discuss that complex of issues and challenges in future postings as this news story continues to unfold.

And with that, I turn to my to-address list as repeated in the above bullet point, and to the first complex of issues that I raised there:

• How China seeks to influence and even control the outside conversation and what is said about China and its one Party system.

And I begin that by making note of a practice that has been employed for years now in China, in managing the outside press and foreign news reporting, but that has in effect come into its own under the Xi administration for controlling foreign reporters: active, selective denial of visa requests.

• If a reporter seeks out people in China to interview without government and Party approval, or if they seek out news information that the government of China and its one Party system would not want covered, that reporter is actively blocked from continuing that by denial of access.
• If this reporter does acquire what government and Party would see as negative and damaging news information and if they report it through their own country’s news channels, they become persona non grata for future entry into China and are added to a database listing of foreigners who would not be approved for receiving a visa to enter China again.
• If they work as an employee of a specific news organization (e.g. a newspaper such as the New York Times or a televised news channel such as CNN), this fact would be made explicitly clear to that organization, and with warnings that hostile reporting will be treated as such, impacting on the news gathering abilities in China of these news organizations as a whole.
• And in fact, news access and denial threats have also come to be used against news organizations that seek to interview people outside of China who are held to be a threat to that country for who they are and for what they would have to say. Sanctions and threat of sanctions against reporting on, and certainly against meeting with and interviewing the Dalai Lama come immediately to mind in this context, as a working example, where he is seen as a focal point for unrest in China’s Tibet Autonomous Region (Xizang) and among their ethnic Tibetan nationals.

China uses a carrot and stick approach in all of this, rewarding reporting coverage they approve of with greater if controlled greater access, and punishing those who violate their rules with more limited or even entirely blocked access – and certainly within China itself.

I am going to turn to the next item in my above to-address list in my next series installment:

• How foreign news organizations and at least by outward appearance foreign governments see Xi as following more of a “next in standard succession” approach to attaining supreme leadership in China, missing how he in fact seeks to break and replace that seemingly cookie-cutter standardized mold.

And after that, I will address the remaining complex of issues noted above. In anticipation of that, I note here that I have been leading up to that discussion while developing this series and that I will continue doing so in my next installment too. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at Macroeconomics and Business and its Page 2 continuation.

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