Ethnic Affairs Conference - Wang-Blinken Call - Covid Origins Report - Xi Thought: China's Socialist Democracy - SoE Profits

I am doing something a bit different today. I’m beginning with Sunday’s People’s Daily, since it carried a detailed report on the outcomes of the Central Conference on Ethnic Affairs. After that, we’ll get to today’s edition.

For this, I am beginning with a quick summary of Xinhua English’s coverage before discussing the PD report. This is useful because today’s PD talks a lot about this too.

So Xinhua English reported that:

Casting a firm sense of Chinese national community is the main line of the Party’s ethnic work. But there are other elements too: “build a common spiritual home for the Chinese nation, promote exchanges and exchanges among all ethnic groups, promote the pace of modernization in ethnic areas, improve the level of legalization of ethnic affairs governance, prevent and resolve potential risks in ethnic areas.”

“Forging the sense of community for the Chinese nation must be the focus of CPC's ethnic work in the new era, Xi said, adding that the right perspective of the Chinese nation’s history must be upheld, and the sense of national identity and pride must be boosted.”

Why is this important for Xi? Xinhua tells us that:

Only through fostering a strong sense of community for the Chinese nation and all ethnic groups jointly safeguarding national security and social stability, can the infiltration and subversion of extremist and separatist thoughts be resisted and the aspiration of the people of all ethnic groups for a better life be fulfilled. Only in doing so can powerful ideological guarantees be provided for the prosperity and enduring stability of the Party and the country, he said, urging efforts to forge a community with a shared future for the Chinese nation with a higher sense of national identity and a stronger bond of attachment among the people. All ethnic groups should be guided to always place the interests of the Chinese nation above anything else, with their consciousness of different ethnic groups serving the sense of community for the Chinese nation as a whole, Xi said.”

He added: “Neither Han chauvinism nor local ethnic chauvinism is conducive to the development of a community for the Chinese nation…Xi called for promoting the use of standard spoken and written Chinese, protecting the spoken and written languages of all ethnic groups, and respecting and protecting the learning and use of spoken and written languages of ethnic minorities. Xi underscored the need to facilitate the march of all ethnic groups toward socialist modernization.” - The last bit tells us about the persisting paternalistic attitude and the sense that minorities need to be brought into modernity; and the preceding sentence on languages tells us that this modernity is a homogenised, Han-dominated vision that the Party is pursuing.

“All ethnic groups must be equal; the banner of the unity of the Chinese nation must be held high.” This implies erosion of preferential policies in ethnic minority/autonomous areas.

“The sense of belonging for the Chinese nation must be established; extensive exchanges, communication and integration of various ethnic groups must be promoted. Ethnic affairs must be governed in accordance with the law; national sovereignty, security and development interests must be resolutely safeguarded. The CPC's leadership over ethnic work must be upheld.”

Now the 12 key points highlighted in the People’s Daily report:

1. “grasp ethnic work from the strategic perspective of national rejuvenation.”

2. push for “common struggle” among all groups for “socialist modernization”

3. “casting a firm sense of the Chinese national community as the main line, promoting all ethnic groups to firmly identify with the great motherland, the Chinese nation, Chinese culture, the Communist Party of China and socialism with Chinese characteristics, and continuously promoting the building of the Chinese national community.”

4. “we must adhere to the correct view of the history of the Chinese nation and enhance the sense of identity and pride in the Chinese nation.”

5. “we must uphold the equality of all ethnic groups, ensure that all ethnic groups are masters of their own affairs and participate in the management of state affairs, and safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of all ethnic groups.” — I guess the greater the emphasis on equality, the lesser the scope for preferential/different policies with regard to ethnic minorities.

6. “we must hold high the banner of unity of the Chinese nation, and promote all ethnic groups to come together as members of the Chinese nation’s family, like pomegranate seeds clinging together.”

7. “we must adhere to and improve the system of regional ethnic autonomy in order to ensure the smooth implementation of directives issued by the Party Central Committee, to ensure the implementation of national laws and regulations, to support the economic development of all ethnic groups, improve people's livelihood, and achieve common development and common prosperity.” -- Fascinating how upholding and improving autonomy actually is defined as more effective central control.

8. build a common spiritual home for the Chinese people

9. promote interactions and exchanges among ethnic groups to promote unity in ideals, beliefs and cultural identity.

10. adhere to governance according to law

11. we must resolutely safeguard national sovereignty, security and development interests, educate and guide all ethnic groups to inherit and carry forward the patriotic tradition, and consciously safeguard the motherland's reunification, national security and social stability. - Expect more policies to assimilate - so tighter control over religion, much more work on historical narrative, restrictions on public expression, push for patriotic education and common language education, tighter governance over cyberspace, stricter control over cultural expressions in terms of clothes, food, lifestyles, etc, I guess.

12. Uphold Party leadership over ethnic affairs work.

Now to Monday, August 30, 2021:

Today we have a front page commentary about the key themes from the conference. The author tells us that a “sense of national community is the foundation of national unity, the foundation of national unity and the soul of spiritual strength.” 中华民族共同体意识是民族团结的基础,是民族团结的基础,是精神力量的灵魂. And then that China’s history is “a history of the convergence of various ethnic groups into a pluralistic Chinese nation, a history of the joint creation, development and consolidation of a unified great motherland by all ethnic groups.” 一部中国史,是各民族汇聚成多元一体的中华民族史,是各民族共同创造、发展、巩固团结的伟大祖国史. It then tells us that under Xi, “socialist ethnic relations of equality, unity, mutual assistance and harmony have been consolidated and developed.” 平等、团结、互助、和谐的社会主义民族关系不断巩固和发展.

The next paragraph doubles down on the idea of forging a sense of national community amid the unprecedented changes taking place in the world, because only this can guarantee national security and stability through the building of “a solid ideological great wall.” It is only through this, the piece tells us, that “can we effectively resist the infiltration and subversion of various extreme and separatist ideas, can we continuously realize the yearning for a better life of the people of all ethnic groups, and can we realize, maintain and develop the fundamental interests of all ethnic groups”

The next paragraph talks about

  • grasping the relationship between commonality and difference - promote the former, but respect the latter, it says.

  • grasping the relationship between the sense of the Chinese nation as a community and ethnic identity - the goal is to get everyone to put the interests of the Chinese nation first.

  • Neither Han chauvinism nor local ethnic nationalism is conducive to the development of a Chinese national community; “Correctly grasp the relationship between Chinese culture and ethnic cultures; the fine traditional culture of each ethnic group is an inseparable part of Chinese culture; Chinese culture is the backbone, ethnic cultures are the branches and leaves. Only when the roots are deep can it all flourish.” 正确把握中华文化与民族文化的关系,各民族优秀传统文化是中华文化不可分割的组成部分,中华文化是脊梁,民族文化是枝叶,根深蒂固才能枝繁叶茂;

Also on the page, there’s a report about Xi’s speech, as these always do in the pages of the People’s Daily, arousing “enthusiastic” responses; this one has comments from officials from ethnic minority regions.

Another commentary on the page is the third in a series, drawing from the missions and contributions document that I covered on Friday. This one emphasises the role of Marxism and Marxist thought in the success of the Communist Party. It talks about a Marxism being a “powerful ideological weapon to understand the world, grasp the laws, pursue the truth, and transform the world.” It tells us that the Party’s “choice of Marxism is entirely correct. Marxism is the soul of the CPC and a brilliant banner guiding the Party’s continuous progress.”

“On the road ahead, the Party will continue to explore ways to better understand the trends and laws governing the development of socialism with Chinese characteristics, and better advance socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new era. In the face of risks and challenges, the Party will resolutely lead the people in struggle, unswervingly and unflinchingly, until victory is won. 前进道路上,党将继续探索,更好把握中国特色社会主义发展趋势和规律,更好地把新时代中国特色社会主义不断推向前进;任何风险挑战,只要来了,党都将领导人民进行坚决斗争,毫不动摇,毫不退缩,直至取得胜利.

Next, data from the Ministry of Finance show that in the first seven months of the year, the total operating income of state-owned enterprises was 41,437.37 billion yuan, a year-on-year increase of 26.6%, and an average increase of 9.6% in two years. Statistics show that the total profit of state-owned enterprises was RMB 278.23 billion, an increase of 92.1% year-on-year, and an average increase of 14.2% over the two years. Among them, the central enterprises accounted for 1,854.22 billion yuan; the local state-owned enterprises accounted for 931.10 billion yuan.

Finally, three other pieces to note. First. a report on high-quality development in Jiaxing City, Zhejiang Province. For instance, it tells us that over the past three years, some 17 investment projects worth 10 billion yuan have been set up in the city, covering areas like integrated circuits, new energy and new materials.

Second, a commentary on the spirit of SEZs, which in the new era informs that the Party “must always maintain the spirit of ‘pioneering’,” and “dare to go where others have not gone before.” It calls on the Party to “seek true knowledge in practice and identify rules through exploration” while also being “good at meeting challenges and resolving risks through reform and innovation.” It says that in the new era, SEZs should “implement the new development concept completely, accurately and comprehensively;” they should “serve and integrate into the new development pattern, promote high-quality development, and adhere to the principle of ‘reform does not stop, opening does not stop’.” 立足新发展阶段,经济特区要全面、准确、全面贯彻新发展理念,服务和融入新发展格局,推动高质量发展,坚持“改革不止步、开放不止步”的原则.

Third, a brief obituary of Jiang Chunyun.

Page 3: First, we have a report about Wang Yi speaking to Antony Blinken (English version), discussing the situation in Afghanistan. Xinhua reports that:

“Blinken said that at a critical moment when the U.S. military withdrawal and evacuation from Afghanistan is nearing the end, Washington believes that the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) should speak in a clear and unified voice to show that the international community expects the Taliban to ensure the safe evacuation of foreign citizens and the Afghan people’s access to humanitarian assistance, and to guarantee that Afghan territory cannot become a hotbed of terrorist attacks or a safe haven for terrorism.”

On the UNSC issue, here’s what Wang reportedly said: “The U.S. side clearly knows the causes of the current chaotic situation in Afghanistan, Wang noted, adding that any action to be taken by the UNSC should contribute to easing tensions instead of intensifying them, and contribute to a smooth transition of the situation in Afghanistan rather than a return to turmoil.” — Read the bit below and it makes clear that what he wants is some degree of acknowledgement of the Taliban.

Here’s more of what Wang said:

“the situation in Afghanistan has undergone fundamental changes, and it is necessary for all parties to make contact with the Taliban and guide it actively. The United States, in particular, needs to work with the international community to provide Afghanistan with urgently-needed economic, livelihood and humanitarian assistance, help the new Afghan political structure maintain normal operation of government institutions, maintain social security and stability, curb currency depreciation and inflation, and embark on the journey of peaceful reconstruction at an early date, he said.” — This sounds a lot like Wang wants the US to remain deeply engaged, and not just that, but he wants Washington to continue engaging in state-building.

Wang also added:

  • the hasty withdrawal of the U.S. and NATO troops is likely to offer an opportunity to various terrorist groups in Afghanistan to resurge.

  • he wants the US “to take concrete actions to help Afghanistan combat terrorism and violence, instead of practicing double standards or fighting terrorism selectively.”

Then on China-US ties, Wang said:

  • “the Chinese side will consider how to engage with the United States based on its attitude towards China.”

  • US “should stop blindly smearing and attacking China, and stop undermining China's sovereignty, security and development interests.”

  • US “should take seriously the two lists China has put forward to the United States during the talks in Tianjin, as well as the three basic demands as bottom lines that China firmly upholds.”

  • “China resolutely opposes the so-called investigation report on COVID-19 origins produced by the U.S. intelligence community recently.” He wants the Biden administration to “unload” the burden of the origins issue that’s “left by the former U.S. government.”

The US readout says just this: “Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken spoke today with PRC State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi about the importance of the international community holding the Taliban accountable for the public commitments they have made regarding the safe passage and freedom to travel for Afghans and foreign nationals.”

Anyway, while on the Afghanistan issue, here’s an interview of Yue Xiaoyong, China’s special envoy to Afghanistan, with Guancha’s Eric Xun Li. Some comments from SCMP’s report on this:

“From my experience interacting with them, my feeling is that [the Taliban] are the same as other Afghans, and people in the region, like people from the countryside or villages,” he said. “They are friendly, they like to exchange ideas with me, and communicate with others. They listen to what people say and explain things. Of course, they like to explain their own views…They have been very eager to learn from other countries’ experiences, including China’s. We have always told them that they should figure out their own way, but we are willing to provide assistance.” Yue, who was speaking from Pakistan, continued: “From a long-term and constructive perspective, China is ready to be part of the peaceful reconstruction of Afghanistan. We are not only ready to open, develop and build our own country, we are also willing to develop a win-win situation with them. We have already been working with countries in the region – in the north [of Afghanistan], many Central Asian countries are part of the Belt and Road Initiative, which has been very successful. We also have a lot of projects that boost connectivity.”

Yue said China should “carefully watch Afghanistan’s situation in combating terrorist groups” and stressed the importance of the Taliban cutting links with the ETIM.

“For us, the best way forward is to communicate and be in touch with them, and work with them towards a peaceful reconciliation to build a widely accepted government, work towards combating terrorism, and build Afghanistan into a country that is friendly to its neighbours, the region and the international community.” Yue said “up to now, we have seen some positive trends from how the Taliban entered Kabul” and took over most of the country with problems in just a “few locations”. “This is a continuous progress, and this is why we are going to keep up our exchanges with the Taliban and other interested parties to make sure that we, as neighbouring countries, can help them build an environment and conditions that can help Afghans to really take charge of their country’s future.”

If you are interested, below is my take in The Times of India on what we can expect from China’s evolving approach to Afghanistan.

Moving on, the other two noteworthy pieces on the page are about the US intelligence’s COVID-19 origins investigation. From the summary released by the US, this is perhaps the strongest bit criticising Beijing.

“Beijing, however, continues to hinder the global investigation, resist sharing information and blame other countries, including the United States. These actions reflect, in part, China’s government’s own uncertainty about where an investigation could lead as well as its frustration the international community is using the issue to exert political pressure on China.”

But there’s also a lot that’s not bad at all":

“The IC assesses that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, probably emerged and infected humans through an initial small-scale exposure that occurred no later than November 2019 with the first known cluster of COVID-19 cases arising in Wuhan, China in December 2019. In addition, the IC was able to reach broad agreement on several other key issues. We judge the virus was not developed as a biological weapon. Most agencies also assess with low confidence that SARS-CoV-2 probably was not genetically engineered; however, two agencies believe there was not sufficient evidence to make an assessment either way. Finally, the IC assesses China’s officials did not have foreknowledge of the virus before the initial outbreak of COVID-19 emerged.”

Anyway, PD has comments from Zeng Yixin (English report), deputy head of the National Health Commission, criticising the US report. His key comment is that the US “attempt to politicise origins tracing is laid bare by the fact that the report was produced by its intelligence community, instead of any professional medical institution.”

Also, there’s a commentary on the page on the issue. The commentary repeats Zeng’s claim of the intelligence community’s involvement implying that this was an effort in politicisation. It then says that despite the IC finding no conclusive evidence, US politicians continue “to engage in political manipulation.” It says that the IC’s accusation of China of being opaque and uncooperative is “complete nonsense.” We then get a call to open up Fort Detrick and US labs to a probe.

Page 4: Just one report to note, i.e., this one from Changfeng County, Anhui Province, which talks about work to reduce the burdens of grassroots cadres. It talks about using technology to reduce the burden in terms of filling forms and standardising data collection. The piece tells us that this form of data collection has helped in streamlining supervision and reducing its burden too.

In 2019, the number of documents filed and meetings held in Changfeng County declined by 41.3% and 38.2% year-on-year; in 2020, these reduced by 19.4% and 22.9% year-on-year; In the first half of 2021, the rate of decline is 21% and 10.2% year on year… Wang Zhen, deputy mayor of Duji Town, Changfeng County, tells us that “The purpose of reducing the burden on the grassroots cadres is to free up their time and energy to serve the people, and to implement the policies and guidelines of the Party Central Committee.”

Page 5: We have the 31st piece in the Xi Thought Q&A series. The first question is about socialist democracy with Chinese characteristics being a new and good thing. The piece tells us that adhering to CCP leadership does not imply abandonment of democracy, rather it implies adopting a “broader and more effective democracy,” whose aim is to “embody the people’s will, protect people’s rights and interests, stimulate people’s creativity, and ensure that the people are the masters of their own affairs.” — How terribly convenient, isn’t it?

The next few paragraphs talk about different aspects of the governance system.

First, it backs the people’s congress system as the “fundamental political system” that embodies, the Party’s leadership, people being the masters and rule of law.

Second, the next paragraph talks about the “multi-party cooperation and political consultation system under the leadership of the Communist Party.” It says that this system “is the product of the combination of Marxist party theory and China’s reality.” The argument is also that this system is actually better than multi-party representative systems, because those result in parties representing certain sets of people and interests; in contrast, the Chinese system “unites all political parties and non-partisan people closely for a common goal.” In essence, the argument is not just about the particularity of the system, i.e., that it originated from Marxist ideology and China’s realities; it is also about the superiority of the system.

Third, the focus is on the system of ethnic regional autonomy; you’ve got a good gist of this from my earlier coverage of the ethnic work conference. Fourth, it talks about the system of grassroots autonomy. This talks about the functioning of urban residents committees, deliberative institutions for coordination, hearings, and evaluation; it also talks about village committees, etc.

The next question is about the concept of the “whole-process democracy.”

So this tells us that when one looks at the history of political civilisation, the bourgeoisie must be commended for “opposing feudal autocracy, banning feudal privileges and striving for democracy.” But this was done to merely replace “personal privileges and hereditary privileges with monetary privileges.” In that sense, what’s been created is a “false democracy,” which is nothing but a “tool for the bourgeoisie to maintain its rule.” Of course, this is “Western-style democracy.” In comparison, socialist democracy “is the first democracy in human history that serves the masses and labourers.” The argument is that this socialist democracy goes beyond the performative aspects of Western-style democracy, wherein people turn up to vote and then remain dormant in the governance process. In comparison, socialist democracy “guarantees the people’s role in democratic consultation, decision-making, management, and supervision.” 社会主义民主是一种新型的民主,是人类历史上第一次为群众、为劳动者服务的民主. 新中国的成立,使中国人民得到彻底解放,各族人民实现了政治上的完全平等,开启了人民民主的新纪元。从此,中国人民掌握了国家的权力,成为国家的主人。人民依照法律规定通过各种途径和形式,管理国家事务,管理经济和文化事业,管理社会事务。如果人民只是在投票时被唤醒、投票后就进入休眠期,那就是在搞“民主秀”, 民主就成了装饰品,就成了摆设。有比较才有鉴别,我国人民民主有效防止了西方民主选举时漫天许诺、选举后无人过问的现象,既保证了人民进行民主选举的权利,也保证了人民在民主协商、决策、管理、监督等方面的权利,是全过程的民主.

“The people of our country practice democratic election, democratic consultation, democratic decision-making, democratic management and democratic supervision according to law. These five links expand people’s orderly political participation and reflect the concrete forms of democracy in the whole process.” 我国人民依法实行民主选举、民主协商、民主决策、民主管理、民主监督,这五个环节扩大了人民有序政治参与,集中反映了全过程民主的具体形式.

And then this, which brings me back a full circle to say: How terribly convenient, isn’t it?

“The most crucial reason why people’s democracy is a full process democracy is that there is always the fundamental political guarantee of the Party’s leadership. The Communist Party of China always adheres to the people as the center, the dominant position of the people, and the working line of coming from the masses for the masses. 人民民主之所以是全过程民主,最为关键的是始终有党的领导这一根本政治保证。中国共产党始终坚持以人民为中心,坚持人民的主体地位,坚持从群众中来到群众中去的工作路线.

This entire piece made me think of a comment that Rogier Creemers made about “isomorphic mimicry” during an episode of the Pekingology podcast.