Politics in the De-politicised: TikTok as a Source of China’s Soft Power

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 9, No. 11, November 2021

By Zuza Nazaruk

TikTok logo. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Last year’s “TikTok war” revealed unprecedented hostility of the US government towards the Chinese tech newcomer. The seemingly innocuous software was developed by ByteDance, a Chinese unicorn companyTikTok is a sister app of Douyin, created for the Chinese market. Both apps allow users to share and watch short videos. In July 2020, then-President Donald Trump accused TikTok of a series of breaches, the most serious of which was sharing user data with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) (Levine, 2020). Yet, some experts, including Adam Segal from the Council of Foreign Relations, considered the near-ban a smokescreen to hinder the growth of the most globally successful Chinese app to date (Campbell, 2020). In 2020, TikTok was the most downloaded app globally, with 89 million new users just in the US (Geyser, 2021). To date, 23% of Americans use or have watched TikTok, with an average American user having spent 14.3 hours monthly on the app in 2020 (Tankovska, 2021).

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Is The Persecution Of Falun Gong In China Tantamount To Genocide?

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 9, No. 9, September 2021

By Helen Hintjens, Ph.D.
International Institute of Social Studies in The Hague

Destruction of Falun Gong books during the 1999 China crackdown. Wikimedia/ClearWisdom

“Genocide is a crime for which there has to be proof of a particular hostile state of mind in an individual or in a government body towards a group that qualifies under the Genocide Convention’s or the ICC Statute’s limited set of groups against whom genocide can be committed”.[1]

Since at least 2000, at the behest of Jiang Zemin, President of the PRC from 1993 to 2003, Falun Gong have been labelled a ‘heretical (or deviated) religion’, and its members systematically persecuted through a covert ‘6-10 Office’ group of Chinese government security officers.

In April 2019, the China Organ Harvesting Research Centre issued a report, investigating allegations dating to 2006 that Falun Gong, imprisoned in China on grounds of following an unauthorized religion, were systematically having their organs harvested for use in Chinese medical institutions.  The report concluded that: “the Chinese regime has attempted to systematically annihilate Falun Gong” through such means.[2] Already in 2004, a court case against the Chinese leadership was heard in a Dutch court. The charges were genocide of followers of Falun Gong.[3] The grisly subject-matter of organ harvesting is part and parcel of wider genocide claims, claims that are hardly news any more. The question in this opinion article is not whether Falun Gong members’ organs are being harvested in PRC; of that there is little doubt. The question is rather, is this an example of a state-committed crime of genocide. Continue reading

Defeating China: Five Strategies

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 8, No. 4, April 2020

By Anders Corr, Ph.D.

Fighter jets of the U.S. Navy Blue Angels demonstration squadron fly over the Lincoln Memorial during the Fourth of July Celebration ‘Salute to America’ event in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, July 4, 2019. Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Since 1989, when China massacred thousands of its own people in Tiananmen Square to stop a pro-democracy protest, the country has arguably grown into the world’s most powerful and centralized state. China’s GDP by purchasing power parity (PPP) is approximately $25.4 trillion, while the U.S. GDP PPP is only about $20.5 trillion.[1] One man, Chinese President Xi Jinping, has almost total control of China’s economy and a leadership position for life. China’s authoritarian system, most recently, allowed the COVID-19 virus to become a pandemic. By the time it is controlled, it may have killed up to millions of people.

Compared to Xi Jinping, political leaders in democracies have comparatively little economic power. U.S. President Donald Trump, for example, has only partial control of the smaller (by purchasing power parity when compared to China) U.S. economy, and must be reelected in 2020 to continue his tenure for a maximum of an additional four years.

China’s accelerating economy has fueled its military spending, which increased approximately three-fold since 2008 to $177.5 billion in 2019,[2] not including substantial programs hidden from public sight. Military and political analysts estimate that in the South China Sea and environs, China’s military capabilities already match or exceed those of the United States in many respects, as does China’s diplomatic influence. This puts pressure on the U.S. military to withdraw from the region, claimed as territory by Beijing. Over the next 30 years, China’s global military capabilities could exceed those of the United States, which would make it difficult for the U.S. to pose a credible threat against China’s already ongoing territorial expansion. Europe and Japan are similarly militarily weak when compared with their near competitors, Russia and China respectively. [3]

China’s actions are now indistinguishable from those that would serve a goal of China’s global rule in perpetuity. Hopes for engagement as a strategy to turn China into a democracy have now been dashed. Instead of us changing them, they are changing us through influencing our own political and economic leadership. There is a danger that as China ascends to the world’s most powerful nation, other nations will follow its lead through bandwagoning. The dual and increasing danger of bandwagoning and China’s influence means that a shift in strategy is needed.

Engagement should give way to a more aggressive strategy against China in order to defend freedom, democracy and human rights globally, and to incentivize allies and potential allies to declare themselves on the right side of the dispute before they enter the gravitational field of China’s economic influence.[4]

As argued below, this should include labeling China as not just a competitor, which would imply that all play by the same rules, but as an adversary or even an enemy. Strategies must be calibrated accordingly to defeat the country, and more specifically, its guiding organization, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

There are at least five interrelated and overlapping strategies required to defeat the CCP: 1) Defend, 2) Ally, 3) Contain, 4) Divide, and 5) Democratize. Many of these strategies are overlapping, and have been proposed previously by a range of authors, cited here. They are all underway to some extent in various countries, however they are not being implemented at the scale and intensity needed to win. That should change now, or we risk continued relative weakening against the enemy.

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The Karakax List: Dissecting the Anatomy of Beijing’s Internment Drive in Xinjiang

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 8, No. 2, February 2020

Dr. Adrian Zenz [1]
Senior fellow in China Studies
Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation 

Abstract

Figure 1. The first (redacted) page of the 137-page PDF. Source: Uyghur Human Rights Project.

The “Karakax List”, named after the county of Karakax (Qaraqash) in Hotan Prefecture, represents the most recent leaked government document from Xinjiang. Over 137 pages, 667 data rows and the personal details of over 3,000 Uyghurs[2], this remarkable document presents the strongest evidence to date that Beijing is actively persecuting and punishing normal practices of traditional religious beliefs, in direct violation of its own constitution.

Specifically, the Karakax List outlines the reasons why 311 persons were interned and reveals the cognition behind the decision-making processes as to whether individuals can be released or not. Based on the principles of presumed guilt (rather than innocence) and assigning guilt through association, the state has developed a highly fine-tuned yet also very labor-intensive governance system whereby entire family circles are held hostage to their behavioral performance – jointly and as individuals. Ongoing mechanisms of appraisal and evaluation ensure high levels of acquiescence even when most detainees have been released from the camps.

The detailed new information provided by this document also allows us to develop a more fine-grained understanding of the ideological and administrative processes that preceded the internment campaign. In particular, this research paper carefully reviews the sequence and timing of events during Chen Quanguo’s first seven months in the region. It is argued that Chen must have been installed by the central government, possibly during a meeting at the Two Sessions in Beijing in March 2016 where Xi Jinping, Chen, and Chen’s predecessor in Xinjiang, Zhang Chunxian, were all in the same place. It is argued that Chen’s role in Xinjiang has not so much been that of an innovator as it has been that of a highly driven and disciplined administrator, with a focus on drastically upscaling existing mechanisms of investigation, categorization and internment.

More than any other government document pertaining to Beijing’s extralegal campaign of mass internment, the Karakax List lays bare the ideological and administrative micromechanics of a system of targeted cultural genocide that arguably rivals any similar attempt in the history of humanity. Driven by a deeply religio-phobic worldview, Beijing has embarked on a project that, ideologically, isn’t far from a medieval witch-hunt, yet is being executed with administrative perfectionism and iron discipline. Being distrustful of the true intentions of its minority citizens, the state has established a system of governance that fully substitutes trust with control. That, however, is also set to become its greatest long-term liability. Xinjiang’s mechanisms of governance are both labor-intensive and predicated upon highly unequal power structures that often run along and increase ethnic fault lines. The long-term ramifications of this arrangement for social stability and ethnic relations are impossible to predict.

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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