Xiaokang & Human Rights - Endorsing Pak Terror Attack Probe - Party & Rule of Law - Governing by Constitution vs Constitutionalism - Frontier Work Assessment - Heilongjiang Flood

Before we begin, I was part of a discussion today morning on India Ahead News, focusing on the India-China relationship, the LAC disengagement and the situation in Afghanistan. You can watch it below.

Anyway, below are the stories and pieces from the People’s Daily’s August 13, 2021, edition that I found noteworthy.

Page 1: Let’s begin briefly with the guideline on protection of intangible cultural heritage. Here’s why this is important, as per the document:

“Protecting, inheriting and utilizing intangible cultural heritage is of great significance in continuing the historical lineage, strengthening cultural confidence, promoting the exchange and mutual appreciation of civilizations, and building socialist cultural power.” 保护好、传承好、利用好非物质文化遗产,对于延续历史文脉、坚定文化自信、推动文明交流互鉴、建设社会主义文化强国具有重要意义. 

The document has two sets of timelines. By 2025, representative projects of intangible cultural heritage will be effectively protected, and by 2035, intangible cultural heritage will be fully and effectively protected. The 2035 timeline also talks about improving international influence.

I am not particularly interested in this, so I am not spending too much time; a quick scan of the key points from this related English report tells me that:

  • Census and recording system regarding ICH will be improved. They’ll carry out a nationwide census, accelerate archives digitization, and apply modern technologies to ICH recording. 

  • It talks about support for ICH inheritors

  • The document encourages the integration of ICH into tourism on the premise of effective preservation. 

  • It calls for efforts to promote ICH exchanges and cooperation with other countries and Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan

  • It talks about financial support for ICH protection. Governments at and above the county level are asked to include funds for ICH preservation in their budgets.

  • Other measures include targeted subsidies, interest discounts for loans, and tax incentives.

Next, we have a brief report based on the White Paper published yesterday. This one was about how achieving Xiaokang has furthered human rights development in China. The full text of the white paper in English is available here. The piece’s basic argument is that the white paper shows how China’s development has “consolidated the foundation of human rights, enriched the connotation of human rights, and broadened the vision of human rights,” and of course, how China’s development has written “a new chapter in China’s human rights cause” and created “a miracle of respecting human rights and protection of human rights.” 

Here’s what moderate prosperity in China covers, as per the paper: “a buoyant economy, political democracy, a flourishing culture, social equity, and healthy ecosystems; balanced development between urban and rural areas to the benefit of all the people; and high respect for and comprehensive protection of human rights.”

A large part of the document’s focus is on economic development-related issues and the economic welfare system. For instance, one of the sub-points is titled “Providing a solid material foundation for protecting and developing human rights,” or through multiple sections the focus is on poverty alleviation, food, water, education, healthcare and housing, income, employment, social security, etc. And to be honest, some of this has really strong resonance in developing countries. From an Indian point of view too, there is a lot to learn in this regard. 

For instance, “from 1990 to 2019, China’s HDI score increased from 0.499 to 0.761. China is the only country to have risen from a low-ranked country to a high-ranked country since 1990, when the UNDP first started to calculate countries’ HDI ratings.”

Where things fall flat, of course, are in section 4, which talks about “Protecting Civil and Political Rights with Law and Governance.” For instance, in this sentence, “China respects human dignity and value, and protects citizens’ personal rights and liberty in accordance with the law.” The last four words are doing all the heavy lifting here.

Or for instance, read this bit on protecting freedom of religious belief. “The Constitution provides that the citizens enjoy freedom of religious belief. The Chinese government upholds the principle that all religious groups should operate independently and carry out religious activities within the law. It administers religious affairs involving state and public interests, but does not interfere in the internal affairs of religions. China has advanced the rule of law in the administration of religious affairs.” This rings so incredibly hollow.

There’s also a special section on ethnic minorities. One part of it says: “In this unified multiethnic country, the sense of identity of the Chinese nation is heightened to unite all the people in pressing forward for common prosperity and a bright future. With strong support from all ethnic groups, the government takes lawful actions to combat terrorists, separatists and religious extremists, to safeguard ethnic unity and social stability. People’s rights to a peaceful existence, to life and health, and to property are effectively protected, and their sense of gain, happiness and security continues to grow.” -- While one understands concerns with regard to terrorism and extremism, it’s fascinating how even the most repressive measures are framed as part of protecting human rights.

There’s also a commentary linked to this white paper on the front page. It essentially repeats some of the key points from the paper.

Finally, there’s another piece on development in Tibet. This one focuses on border villages -- something that the Takshashila China Studies programme has been studying too. You can expect a paper from us sometime in September.

The PD piece tells us that in Tibet today, there are 604 border “demonstration villages” built with high standards. These “shine like pearls on the border line of the motherland.” It’s worth noting that 604 isn’t the final number. The estimate is around 628 such villages; so more are still being developed. As of 2020, the piece adds that these villages have been connected through roads to larger administrative units; they have been linked to the main power grid; they have postal service connectivity, full coverage of mobile communication networks, and safe drinking water provisions.

While on the subject, I recommend this short article by Jayadeva Ranade on border villages. He explains:

“These 'model well off border defence villages' appear to have been selected for their remote location, very sparse population, potential location for facilitating trans-border movement, and poor conditions. An important role of the residents in these villages is to keep an eye on the movements of populations and activities across the border. Populations in the 'well-off border defence villages' where local villagers presently number 1 or 2 households, will be mixed, with the original number of households being augmented by 15-20 additional households relocated from Tibetan villages from other administrative districts of TAR. The new 'model well-off border defence villages' being established are planned to finally comprise approximately 20-30 households each with consequently enlarged village land areas and attached grazing grounds. Each border defence village will have at least a Party member, if not Party cadre, positioned in the village. In addition to the passive security role assigned to them, official Chinese media reports disclose that these well-off border defence villages have other roles as well. They are outposts for keeping a look-out for "secessionist" elements and countering infiltration attempts by "pro-Dalai Lama sympathisers and elements". The official media has indicated a psywar role suggesting that the well-constructed houses, paved roads, electricity, TV and internet in these villages would be attractive to people living on the "other side" of the border. Party officials posted in these villages would be able to do "political work" in the neighbouring area where people share customs, traditions and often ethnicity with the Tibetan villagers. Related to this are the references since 2018 in China’s military literature to the expanded role of political commissars of PLA units suggesting their tasking includes work across the border in areas of likely operations of PLA formations. It has been noticed, for example, that Party cadres and researchers have been doing extensive work on the various tribes in Arunachal Pradesh.”

Page 3: First, let’s begin with MoFA’s Hua Chunying’s comments on the progress with regard to the probe into the Dasu terrorist attack in Pakistan. The question asked of Hua is that Pakistan’s probe has found that the “planning for the terrorist attack was done in Afghanistan and the attack was executed by the Swat chapter of TTP. The attacker was trained in Afghanistan and the vehicle used in the attack was brought from Afghanistan to Pakistan. Some of those involved in the attack have been arrested in Pakistan, while others are at large in Afghanistan. The terrorist network the attacker is associated with has received support from Indian and Afghan intelligence agencies.”

Hua said:

“The Pakistani side’s investigation into the terrorist attack has seen major progress within a short period of time. China pays great attention to this and expresses appreciation to Pakistan’s active efforts. Further investigation by Pakistan is still ongoing at the moment. China and Pakistan will follow the important consensus reached by the leaders on both sides, ascertain all the facts and truth, and hold the culprits accountable and bring them to justice. In the meanwhile, both countries will keep strengthening security cooperation mechanisms to ensure the safety of Chinese projects, people and institutions in Pakistan. Terrorism is the common enemy of all mankind. China firmly opposes any force using terrorism to seek geopolitical gains and calls on countries in the region to collaborate in eradicating all terrorist organizations so as to uphold common security and development interests of all countries.”

I see this focus on India as significant but not unexpected. Once the investigation pointed fingers towards India yesterday, I would have been very surprised if the Chinese foreign ministry put out a counter-narrative. That’s because there was a team of Chinese investigators who were part of the probe. So this was obviously thought out. Of course, MoFA could have ignored putting out a statement. After all, they are on a break from regular press briefings. So the fact that it put this out tells us that it wants to highlight India. At the same time, they still have not said anything about the disengagement along Gogra, which India confirmed last week.

Next on the page we have Hua’s comments about the cases of Canadian citizens Robert Schellenberg and Michael Spavor. The question was “The Canadian side issued statements to accuse China of the verdicts on these two people and said that China arbitrarily detained Michael Spavor and arbitrarily sentenced Robert Schellenberg. Canada will continue to seek Spavor's release and clemency for Schellenberg. The EU, the UK and others have voiced support for Canada. Do you have any comment?” I would add the US also issued a statement saying it “remains deeply troubled by the lack of transparency surrounding these legal proceedings and joins Canada in calling for full consular access to Mr. Spavor and Mr. Kovrig.”

Hua did not like the “wanton” Canadian criticism. She lashed out at Ottawa and ended by saying that “the attempt to conduct ‘megaphone diplomacy’ and gang up on China failed in the past, and will never have its way in the future. We urge relevant countries to follow the spirit of the rule of law, respect China's judicial sovereignty, and stop making any irresponsible remarks.” 

The next piece is also about comments from Hua in response to a question: “the US Senate passed a bill to “direct the Secretary of State to develop a strategy to regain observer status for Taiwan in the World Health Organization” by “unanimous consent”, with only a few senators present. This bill requires the US Secretary of State to describe changes and improvements to the State Department's plan to support Taiwan's observer status at the World Health Assembly. Does China have any comment?”

She said:

“The US Senate’s approval of relevant bill is totally a political manipulation by a handful of anti-China politicians. This bill gravely violates the one-China principle and the three China-US joint communiqués…We urge the US Congress to fully recognize the highly sensitive nature of the Taiwan question, abide by the one-China principle and the three China-US joint communiqués.”

There’s also a report on the page about a press conference held in Urumqi. This involved “experts and scholars from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Xinjiang University, Xinjiang Normal University and Chinese and foreign media.” They basically lashed out at US human rights issues, from slavery to inequality to prisons and persecution of Muslims, etc. They also defended China’s policies with regard to Xinjiang.

Page 4: Two reports to note. First, China’s Ministry of Emergency Management has sent a team (English report) to the central Hubei province to facilitate rescue efforts after rainstorms have caused blackouts, disrupted communication, and left people stranded across different parts of the province. The PD report is a bit dated. The current situation is that the province has raised the emergency response level for rainstorms to level III from level IV.

Second, another region dealing with floods is Heilongjiang. Flood prevention authorities have sent work groups to the province after it initiated level-II emergency response for floods with several rivers exceeding warning levels.

Page 5: We have the 20th piece in the series on Xi Thought. This one begins with a very good question. How is governing by the constitution different from constitutional government. The piece begins by talking about Xi swearing on the PRC constitution as president in the NPC in March 2018. It then says:

“Since modern times, China has tried various political systems such as constitutional monarchy, parliamentary system, multi-party system, and presidential system, but they all ended in failure. History has proved that the path of Western ‘constitutionalism’ is simply not feasible in China. After long-term practical exploration and theoretical thinking, the Chinese Communist Party has led the people to successfully establish, persist in and expand the path of socialist political development with Chinese characteristics and the road of socialist rule of law with Chinese characteristics. The current constitution of our country was formulated and continuously improved on the basis of profoundly summarising the successful experience of China’s socialist revolution, development, and reform. It is the inevitable result of the historical logic, theoretical logic and practical logic of our Party leading the people in their long-term struggle. The constitution of our country, in the form of a fundamental law, establishes the core leadership position of the Communist Party of China, stipulates that China’s state system is a people’s democratic dictatorship and the government system is a people’s congress system. When we say that we insist on governing the country according to the constitution and governing according to the constitution, it entails unswervingly insisting on the leadership of the Communist Party of China as determined by the constitution, and adhering to the unshakable state system of the people’s democratic dictatorship and the system of people’s congress as determined by the constitution.” 近代以来,围绕“宪法”、“立宪”,中国尝试过君主立宪制、议会制、多党制、总统制等各种政治制度,但最终都以失败告终。历史证明,西方“宪政”这条路,在中国根本走不通。经过长期实践探索和理论思考,中国共产党带领人民成功开辟、坚持和拓展了中国特色社会主义政治发展道路和中国特色社会主义法治道路。我国现行宪法是在深刻总结我国社会主义革命、建设、改革的成功经验基础上制定和不断完善的,是我们党领导人民长期奋斗历史逻辑、理论逻辑、实践逻辑的必然结果。我国宪法以根本法的形式,确立了中国共产党在国家中的领导核心地位,规定我国的国体是人民民主专政、政体是人民代表大会制度。我们说坚持依宪治国、依宪执政,就包括坚持宪法确定的中国共产党领导地位不动摇,坚持宪法确定的人民民主专政的国体和人民代表大会制度的政体不动摇.

And how is this different from constitutional government or constitutionalism?

Well, “Marxism believes that the constitution as a superstructure is determined by the economic base. The capitalist constitution and the political system that it engenders are based on private ownership. Capital determines the operation of social machinery. Irrespective of whether it is the system of constitutional monarchy, a parliamentary system, or a presidential system, this does not change the nature of political rule in capitalist countries. The constitution formulated by our party and led by the people is the first people’s constitution in the true sense in Chinese history. It has distinct socialist attributes, embodies the common will of all the people, is supported and observed by the overwhelming majority of the people, and realises the high unity of the party’s ideas and the people’s will. To persist in governing the country and governing in accordance with the constitution, it is necessary to fully implement the constitution, ensure that the people enjoy extensive rights and freedoms in accordance with the law, safeguard the fundamental interests of the overwhelming majority of the people, and realise the people’s yearning and pursuit of a better life.” 我们坚持的依宪治国、依宪执政,与西方所谓的“宪政”本质上是不同的。马克思主义认为,宪法作为上层建筑,是由经济基础决定的。资本主义的宪法及其确立的政治制度是以私有制为基础的,资本决定着社会机器的运转,不论是君主立宪制还是议会制、总统制,都没有改变资本主义国家政治统治的本质。我们党领导人民制定的宪法,是中国历史上第一部真正意义上的人民宪法,具有鲜明的社会主义属性,体现了全体人民的共同意志,得到最广大人民拥护和遵行,实现了党的主张和人民意志的高度统一。坚持依宪治国、依宪执政,要不折不扣贯彻实施宪法,保证人民依法享有广泛的权利和自由,维护最广大人民根本利益,实现人民群众对美好生活的向往和追求.

Here’s more:

“To rule the country and govern in accordance with the constitution is in no way to weaken, deny or abandon the leadership of the Party, but rather to emphasise that the Party leads the people in formulating constitutional laws, the Party leads the people in implementing constitutional laws, and the Party itself must operate within the scope of constitutional laws…Nowadays some people play the ‘constitutional government’ card, that is, by packaging the political concept of ‘constitutional government’ academically, they view China from the prism of Western ‘constitutional government’ standards, argue that China’s is not a ‘constitutional state’ or it is not a country with ‘rule of law’; they allege that the socialist state led by the Party is best placed in the category of a ‘country ruled by man’ or even and ‘authoritarian state’, and use the so-called ‘constitutional government’ conceptualisation to hollow out the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party. Anyone who denies the leadership of the CPC and the fundamental system of socialism on any pretext is wrong, harmful and absolutely unacceptable, and is also fundamentally violating the Constitution.” 现在一些人打出“宪政”牌,就是通过对“宪政”这一政治概念进行学术包装,拿西方“宪政”的标准来框住我们,攻击我们不是“宪政国家”、“法治国家”,把党领导的社会主义国家打入“人治国家”甚至“专制国家”的另类,用所谓“宪政”架空中国共产党领导. 任何人以任何借口否定中国共产党领导和社会主义根本制度,都是错误的、有害的,都是绝对不能接受的,也是从根本上违反宪法的.

What that said, in the new era: “We must be confident in the national guiding ideology, development path and goals established by our Constitution, confident in the leadership of the CPC and our socialist system confirmed by our Constitution, and confident in the advanced socialist culture and excellent Chinese traditional culture created by our Party under the leadership of the people confirmed by our Constitution.” 我们要对我国宪法确立的国家指导思想、发展道路、奋斗目标充满自信,对我国宪法确认的中国共产党领导和我国社会主义制度充满自信,对我国宪法确认的我们党领导人民创造的社会主义先进文化和中华优秀传统文化充满自信.

The next question basically talks about the Party’s relationship with the constitution and law. So if the CCP is the core of the system, but it also emphasises the supremacy of the constitution and the law. Then what is the relationship between the party's leadership and the rule of law? The answer that people who juxtapose the Party and the law and ask which is supreme can tend to have ulterior motives - 醉翁之意不在酒 zuì wēng zhī yì bù zài jiǔ - loosely translated as a “a drinker’s real interest is not in the drink” - For folks in India, I think the Hindi translation is richer in conveying the meaning: शराबी का असली मतलब शराब नहीं है.

The answer then given is that “the law is the unified expression of the party’s propositions and the people’s will. The party leads the people to formulate the constitution and laws and also leads the people to implement the constitution and laws. The party itself must act within the scope of the constitution and laws.” After some more elaboration, there’s this warning:

“One of the major reasons for the collapse of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the disintegration of the Soviet Union was that, at the instigation of Western forces, the Soviet Union removed from its Constitution Article 6, which insisted on the leadership of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, with the result that the leadership of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union became ‘unconstitutional’ and had to be dissolved, leading to the death of the Party and the country. This lesson is extremely profound. In a socialist country, the rule of law must adhere to the leadership of the party, and the leadership of the party must rely on the rule of law.” 当年,苏共垮台和苏联解体的一个重要原因,就是在西方势力的鼓动下,苏联从宪法中取消了坚持苏共领导地位的第六条,结果是苏共领导成了“违宪”,最后只能解散,导致亡党亡国. 这个教训极其深刻. 在社会主义国家,法治必须坚持党的领导,党的领导必须依靠法治.

And then there’s this call for people: “For all kinds of arguments that deliberately ‘dig holes’ and ‘set traps’, we must have strategic determination, and clearly declare political positions and attitudes.” 对于那些故意“挖坑”、“设陷阱”的形形色色论调,一定要有战略定力,旗帜鲜明地宣示政治立场、表明政治态度. It also calls for “promoting the the institutionalisation of the Party’s leadership” and “ensuring the effective implementation of the Party's line, principles and policies through the rule of law.” With all of this said, there’s also a warning to cadres to not use the Party’s leadership as a “shield” and “abuse” law. It says that throughout history, power has been a “double-edged sword.” When exercised in line with "the rule of law, it can benefit the people. But when exercised outside the bounds of law, it will harm the country and the people. The specific focus here is on “leading cadres” at all levels to set examples.

Page 16: Once again, I didn’t find anything particularly noteworthy on the Theory page. But on Page 16, there’s a piece bylined Zong Haiyi, talking about border and maritime security - or frontier work. After a bit of history, we get to Xi’s era. In his time, we are told, China’s approach has undergone major transformation, i.e., from a land-based approach to an integrated land and sea-based approach; from a security-based approach to a security and development-based approach; from being a rule executor to China emerging as a rule-maker. 党的十八大以来,边海外交以习近平新时代中国特色社会主义思想和习近平外交思想为指引,实现以陆地为主向陆海统筹转变、以安全为主向安全与发展并重转变、从规则执行者向规则贡献者转变等一系列重大转变,开辟了新时代中国特色边海外交新局面.

“Under the strong leadership of the Party Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping at the core, we have steadily handled the India-China standoff in Doklam and the Galwan Valley incident, effectively managed the border crisis and have vigorously defended territorial sovereignty. We have steadily promoted the construction of Nansha islands and reefs, properly responded to the South China Sea arbitration case, and pushed the South China Sea issue back to the right track of negotiation and consultation among the parties directly involved. We have resolutely deterred maritime infringement by countries inside and outside the region, forcefully responded to the so-called ‘freedom of navigation’ operations, resolutely countered Japan’s so-called ‘nationalisation’ of the Diaoyu Islands, and achieved normal patrol and law enforcement in the waters of the Diaoyu Islands.” 在以习近平同志为核心的党中央坚强领导下,我们稳妥处置了中印洞朗对峙事件和加勒万河谷事件,有效管控边界危机,有力捍卫了领土主权。我们稳妥推进南沙岛礁建设,妥善应对南海仲裁案,推动南海问题重回由直接当事国谈判协商的正轨。我们坚决阻遏域内外国家海上侵权,有力应对所谓“航行自由”行动,坚决反击日本对钓鱼岛实施所谓“国有化”,实现对钓鱼岛海域正常巡航执法.

The next paragraph is about China engaging in regional rule-making and order-building. This references the China-Japan “four-point consensus,” “maritime delimitation negotiations” with South Korea, and the South China Sea Code of Conduct talks. BRI then gets in there, with the author talking about China working with countries to connect some 100 pairs of ports and setting up some 17 border economic cooperation zones. Then the author puts out some principles that must be upheld going ahead:

  • Most of the border and maritime issues are historical issues and sensitive matters. The Party’s “centralized and unified leadership over diplomatic work is fundamental…The successive generations of the collective leadership of the Party Central Committee have taken the overall situation in mind, have been foresighted, resolutely struggled, have overcome numerous difficulties, and safeguarded the fundamental interests of the country and the people to the greatest extent.” — Interesting that collective leadership is mentioned at this point and no mentioning of Xi as core at this juncture.

  • The second point highlights safeguarding sovereignty, security and development interests as the starting point for efforts.

  • The third point emphasises “peaceful settlement” of disputes.

  • The fourth point says that these border and maritime issues are “long-term” issues; so maintaining strategic determination is important.

  • Fifth, border and maritime issues are not only major political and diplomatic issues, but also involve the use of strategy and tactics. This underscores the need to “strengthen the top-level design, strengthen coordination and cooperation in all aspects, and make overall plans to coordinate the dialectical unity of ‘safeguarding rights and maintaining stability’, ‘opportunities and challenges’ and ‘security and development’ to ensure the maximisation of national interests.” 边海工作既涉及重大政治外交问题,也涉及战略和策略运用问题,需要加强顶层设计、强化各方面协调配合,统筹好“维权与维稳”“机遇与挑战”“安全与发展”的辩证统一关系,确保实现国家利益最大化.