Chinese Scholars Are Calling For Freedom And Autonomy – How Should Western Universities Respond?

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 8, No. 1, January 2020

By John Fitzgerald, Swinburne University of Technology [1]

Red Guard political slogan on Fudan University campus, Shanghai, China, toward the close of the Cultural Revolution (Spring 1976). ‘Defend party central with blood and life! Defend Chairman Mao with blood and life!’ Source: Wikimedia

In stifling free and open inquiry, China’s universities are being faithful to the party’s Marxist values and authoritarian principles. Universities in the West could display similar backbone by standing up for the values and principles of their own communities, including academic freedom and institutional autonomy, when they deal with education authorities in China. People in China who value freedom and critical inquiry expect nothing less of us.

On December 18, 2019, China’s Ministry of Education announced the latest in a series of revisions of national university constitutions to ensure that the party takes pride of place in their management, curriculum, and international engagements. Public attention was drawn to changes in the charter of Fudan University when footage went viral of students singing their school anthem in protest at the damage done to their school constitution. The Ministry of Education had deleted two phrases from the Fudan charter still preserved in the old school anthem: ‘academic independence and freedom of thought.’[2]

Clearly students in China think academic independence and freedom of thought are worth preserving.  Do scholars in the West agree? If so, how can they help to  defend the fundamental principles and values under assault in Xi Jinping’s China? Continue reading

Scientific Publishers Disregard International Law

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 12, December 2019

By Clive Hamilton

Republic of China’s 11-dash line, which succeeded the 9-dash line in 1947. Secretariat of Government of Guangdong Province, Republic of China – Made by Territory Department of Ministry of the Interior, printed by Bureau of Surveying of Ministry of Defence. Now in Sun Yat-sen Library of Guangdong Province, People’s Republic of China. Source: Wikimedia

Why are prestigious scientific journals endorsing China’s illegitimate territorial claims?

Times Higher Education reports that journals including Cells, Diversity and Distributions, Molecular Ecology, New Phytologist and Plos One have published maps of China that incorporate the ‘nine-dash line’, hand-drawn on a map in 1947 that marked out China’s claim to virtually all of the South China Sea and the islands and reefs within it.

China’s assertion of jurisdiction within the nine-dash line—including the right to its rich resources and deployment of its navy and maritime militia to force other long-term users out of the sea—has raised military tensions and prompted a series of maritime disputes. Filipino fisherman can no longer trawl around Scarborough Shoal, which is within the Philippines exclusive economic zone. Vietnam has been forced to abandon oil exploration in its zone after pressure from Beijing.

When the Philippines challenged China’s claimed jurisdiction within the nine-dash line, an arbitral tribunal was constituted in The Hague under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. In July 2016, the tribunal delivered a ‘sweeping rebuke’ of China’s behaviour in the South China Sea. The tribunal ruled that there is ‘no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources within the sea areas falling within the “nine-dash line”.’

Yet prestigious scientific journals are disregarding international law and legitimizing China’s claim by publishing maps showing everything within the nine-dash line as belonging to China. This legitimization process is subtle propaganda, part of Beijing’s campaign to slowly and invisibly induce the world to accept its claim.

The maps occur in articles that have no bearing at all on the South China Sea, such as ones covering the distribution of butterflies, trees and grasses in China, and are included solely as political statements.

The insertion of the nine-dash line in an article in Palgrave Communications, owned by Springer Nature, was gratuitous because its subject is the development of agriculture in China since ancient times. As if anticipating objections, the paper carries a ‘publisher’s note’ at the end. It reads: ‘Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.’ Continue reading

The Legitimacy of U.S. “Intervention” in Hong Kong and East Turkistan

By William R. Hawkins

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 12, December 2019

This photo taken on May 31, 2019 shows a watchtower on a high-security facility near what is believed to be a re-education camp where mostly Muslim ethnic minorities are detained, on the outskirts of Hotan, in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region. As many as one million ethnic Uighurs and other mostly Muslim minorities are believed to be held in a network of internment camps in Xinjiang, but China has not given any figures and describes the facilities as “vocational education centres” aimed at steering people away from extremism. (Photo by GREG BAKER / AFP via Getty Images)

On the surface, the Hong Kong Democracy and Human Rights Act and the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act seem similar. Both condemn oppression in the People’s Republic of China and declare that American values of human rights, democracy and religious freedom are the proper norms on which Beijing’s actions will be evaluated. Violation of these standards will bring sanctions against those held responsible and could affect how the broader relations between the PRC and the U.S. will be conducted going forward.

The situations in the Hong Kong Special Autonomous Region and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (East Turkistan) are different as are particular measures in the two bills. The legislative efforts are, however, united in a common concern seen on both sides of the aisle. Americans cannot look askance from what happens in China without betraying their own values.

The U.S. interest in Hong Kong’s autonomy, prosperity and liberty (all seen as interconnected) goes back to the United States-Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992 which states “Support for democratization is a fundamental principle of United States foreign policy.” The British turned Hong Kong back to China in 1997 after governing the city since 1847. Though Hong Kong was not a democracy, it became one of the great cities of the world due to the culture of freedom and Western values conveyed by the British. In 1984, when London and Beijing negotiated Hong Kong’s future, the Chinese pledged that “The current social and economic systems in Hong Kong will remain unchanged, and so will the life-style” for 50 years. The British hoped that in another half century, the Communist regime would reform itself in positive ways, even perhaps out of existence. Unfortunately, as Hong Kong nears the half-way point of this special status, Beijing seems more of a threat than ever before. Under the arguably megalomaniac General Secretary Xi Jinping whose “China Dream” is to wield dominant global power by 2049 (the centennial of the Communist takeover), the “one country, two systems” balance will end with the rule of just one system, communism. Continue reading

Forget Presidential Politics: Sri Lanka’s Green Movement Is Its Best Hope Against China

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 11, November 2019

By Bertie Harrison-Broninski

Pumps dredge sand to reclaim land at the site of a Chinese-funded 1.4 billion USD reclamation project in Colombo on December 5, 2017.
Half of the reclamation project to build Colombo Financial City, previously known as Colombo Port City, has been completed, with Sri Lanka hoping to turn it into an international financial centre with special laws protecting foreign investment. / AFP / LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI / Getty Images

Sri Lanka, like many countries in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), is not powerful enough to resist China on political or economic grounds – but hope lies in its burgeoning environmental movements.

This Saturday (November 16th), Sri Lankans go to the polls to elect a new president. The frontrunners are Sajith Premadasa, current Minister for Housing, Development, and Cultural affairs, and Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the ruthless military leader who played a large part in defeating the ‘Tamil Tigers’ during Sri Lanka’s civil war. Both have family ties to ex-presidents: Premadasa’s father, Ranasinghe, was president 1989-1993, and Rajapaksa’s brother, Mahinda, was from 2005-2015.

International media has largely focused on the geopolitical implications of the Rajapaksas regaining power. Mahinda Rajapaksa is seen as a key player in initiating China’s current economic ‘debt trap’ over Sri Lanka, which has now led to 99-year leases on territory around Hambantota Port and Colombo, where China is constructing an entire ‘Port City’. A President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa would rightly be seen as a return to China-friendly Sri Lankan foreign policy after President Maithripala Sirisena’s more US-aligned years in office. Continue reading

War In The Taiwan Strait Is Not Unthinkable: Some Will Lose More Than Others

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 11, November 2019

By Grant Newsham

Screen capture of Chinese state media video of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops training for an assault on Taiwan’s presidential office. Pictured is a mock building at the Zhurihe military base in China, that mimics the actual building in Taipei. The video aired July 5, 2015. CCTV via Apple Daily.

Whether anyone actually ‘wins’ a war is a philosophical debate.  The Germans and Japanese in 1945 might have thought wars do indeed have winners.  But perhaps it’s better said that in most conflicts some parties ‘lose more than others.’

Such would be the case if Beijing attempted to militarily subjugate Taiwan.  And Xi Jinping just might do so.  He declared in a January 2019 speech that “we (China) do not promise to renounce the use of force and reserve the option to use all necessary measures (to take Taiwan.)”[1]

The Battle for Taiwan would have truly global consequences, akin to the invasion of Poland by the Soviets and Germans in 1939.

However, much of the debate over a Taiwan Strait conflict focuses on preparation for and conduct of the PRC’s attack: whether Beijing will or won’t attack, what an attack might look like and Taiwan’s ability to defend itself, whether the US will or should get involved and whether it ought to sell Taiwan ‘this or that’ weapon.  Such discussion is useful, but the actual consequences and longer-term ripple effects of a fight over Taiwan deserve much more attention.[2]

This paper examines key aspects of what happens once the shooting starts, and the follow-on global economic and political effects.  The envisioned scenario is a full-scale PLA assault against Taiwan, but it’s worth noting that even a ‘limited’ assault–such as against one of Taiwan’s offshore islands–may not stay limited for very long: given Beijing’s oft-stated determination to take all of Taiwan, an off-shore island assault would only constitute a tactical objective in the march on Taipei, and would also have serious and wide-ranging political and economic consequences.

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China and the War of Shipyards and Factories

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 10, October 2019

By William R. Hawkins

Chinese aircraft carrier group, including J-15 fighters and helicopters, trains in the South China Sea in late December, 2016. Visual China Group via Getty Images.

Satellite images show that China is making rapid progress in building its new Type 02 aircraft carrier at the Jiangnan Shipyard in Shanghai. The Type 02 is a larger design than Beijing’s first two carriers which were based on Soviet-era light carriers of about 67,000 tons and which lacked catapults for launching first-rate fighters. They used “ski jumps” to put planes into the air, limiting them to the small, short-range J-15 “Flying Shark” fighter-bombers. The Russian-built/China modified Type 01 can only carry 24 of these warbirds, though the China-built 01A, which is about to deploy, may be able to carry a few more. The Type 02 is a much larger design more in line with American carriers. At an estimated 80,000+ tons, it will be able to carry 40+ fighters as well as supporting aircraft such as early warning and control planes. In comparison, the typical U.S. Navy carrier has 60+ fighters along with other support aircraft. They are also nuclear-powered which the Chinese carriers are not. This does not mean, however, that American naval-air superiority is assured. Continue reading

An Oligarch, A Think Tank And The Rise Of American Kleptocracy?

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 10, October 2019

By Bertie Harrison-Broninski

Industrialist Len Blavatnik, left, and former U.S. President Bill Clinton speak at the Film Society of Lincoln Center 40th Anniversary Chaplin Award Gala at Lincoln Center in New York, U.S., on Monday, April 22, 2013. Clinton presented Barbra Streisand with the award honoring her work in film. Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Ukrainian-born billionaire Lenonard Blavatnik has ignited controversy once again with his lavish donations to British and American institutions. This time, it is by giving $12 million to the Council of Foreign Relations (CFR), an influential thinktank with close ties to senior business, government, intelligence and foreign-policy communities in the US.

The move has prompted a series of open letters signed by “U.S., European and Russian foreign policy experts and anti-corruption activists”, who fear that such donations are “a means by which Blavatnik exports Russian kleptocratic practices to the West”. Many of them are CFR members themselves, and their letters are rounded off with footnotes demonstrating Blavatnik’s links to Putin’s inner circle and questioning the sources of his wealth. Their second letter states that the impact of the donation “extends far beyond the potential value of the money…beyond even CFR. That impact will touch upon the health of American democracy.”

None of this will come as any surprise to those who have followed Blavatnik’s spending over the past 15 years. While his philanthropy has seen him knighted by the Queen in the UK and hailed by some as one of the world’s most generous benefactors, his donations within political and educational spheres have repeatedly led to scrutiny and protest.

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Arctic Enterprise: The China Dream Goes North

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 9, September 2019

By Jonathan Hall

Arctic Ocean, ship on Barents Sea. Getty.

Until recent years, harsh weather and unmanageable navigation routes have precluded all but the most determined crews from venturing through the Arctic. As climate change continues to take effect, however, warming temperatures are opening up the region to new opportunities. In 2017, for example, merchant ships were able to pass through a shipping lane, known as the Northern Sea Route (NSR), for the first time without icebreaker escort.

The NSR has since been discussed as a logistical windfall that will revolutionize the world of international shipping. The often-cited reasoning is the potential 5,000 mi (8,000 km), or 10-15 days saved in transit, as compared to more traditionally used routes such as the Strait of Malacca, or the Suez Canal. While the NSR is only open three months per year, climatologists predict it will be traversable for 9 months out of the year by 2030, and completely ice free within the next two decades. As these changes are coming into effect, no state seems to understand the geopolitical advantage a strong presence in the Arctic will bring more so than the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Continue reading

What The Philippines Must Do To Defend Itself From China

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 9, September 2019

By Sannie Evan Malala

A Philippine flag flutters as the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) is seen anchored off Manila bay on June 26, 2018. – A US aircraft carrier visited the Philippines on June 26, the third such call in four months, as its admiral hailed America’s “enduring presence” in a region where China’s military build-up had raised tensions. Ted Aljibe / AFP / Getty Images.

The Philippines is strategically located in Southeast Asia, at the fault-line between Communist China and the democratic nations of the Americas and Europe. In the north is East Asia, full of wealthy market democracies in increasing conflict with China. To the southwest are countries seeking to defend their exclusive economic zones from China, including Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei. As China’s power grows, the fault-line is widening and trying to straddle the middle will only result in our falling into the chasm. The Philippines must choose a side – subservience to China or joining a coalition of the willing in defense of each country’s independence and democracy from the Chinese hegemon. The Philippines has yet to take advantage of its full potential and has become economically poor and militarily weak, primarily due to corruption, internal armed struggle, and its growing relationship with China. For the Philippines to avoid being a satellite of China, this is what we must do. Continue reading

Nasif Ahmed: Hong Kong Independence

“Hong Kong Independence”, by Nasif Ahmed.

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