What happens if China makes first contact?

Ross Andersen writes: Last January, the Chinese Academy of Sciences invited Liu Cixin, China’s preeminent science-fiction writer, to visit its new state-of-the-art radio dish in the country’s southwest. Almost twice as wide as the dish at America’s Arecibo Observatory, in the Puerto Rican jungle, the new Chinese dish is the largest in the world, if not the universe. Though it is sensitive enough to detect spy satellites even when they’re not broadcasting, its main uses will be scientific, including an unusual one: The dish is Earth’s first flagship observatory custom-built to listen for a message from an extraterrestrial intelligence. If such a sign comes down from the heavens during the next decade, China may well hear it first.

In some ways, it’s no surprise that Liu was invited to see the dish. He has an outsize voice on cosmic affairs in China, and the government’s aerospace agency sometimes asks him to consult on science missions. Liu is the patriarch of the country’s science-fiction scene. Other Chinese writers I met attached the honorific Da, meaning “Big,” to his surname. In years past, the academy’s engineers sent Liu illustrated updates on the dish’s construction, along with notes saying how he’d inspired their work.

But in other ways Liu is a strange choice to visit the dish. He has written a great deal about the risks of first contact. He has warned that the “appearance of this Other” might be imminent, and that it might result in our extinction. “Perhaps in ten thousand years, the starry sky that humankind gazes upon will remain empty and silent,” he writes in the postscript to one of his books. “But perhaps tomorrow we’ll wake up and find an alien spaceship the size of the Moon parked in orbit.”

In recent years, Liu has joined the ranks of the global literati. In 2015, his novel The Three-Body Problem became the first work in translation to win the Hugo Award, science fiction’s most prestigious prize. Barack Obama told The New York Times that the book—the first in a trilogy—gave him cosmic perspective during the frenzy of his presidency. Liu told me that Obama’s staff asked him for an advance copy of the third volume.

At the end of the second volume, one of the main characters lays out the trilogy’s animating philosophy. No civilization should ever announce its presence to the cosmos, he says. Any other civilization that learns of its existence will perceive it as a threat to expand—as all civilizations do, eliminating their competitors until they encounter one with superior technology and are themselves eliminated. This grim cosmic outlook is called “dark-forest theory,” because it conceives of every civilization in the universe as a hunter hiding in a moonless woodland, listening for the first rustlings of a rival. [Continue reading…]

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China has Donald Trump just where it wants him

Roger Cohen writes: Xi’s speech to the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China marked his apotheosis. He has joined the pantheon along with Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. His thought is now dogma. His China has entered a different phase. Having grown independent and then rich, it is now “becoming strong.”

To what end will the strength be used? China, Xi said, “offers a new option for other countries and nations who want to speed up their development while preserving their independence.” A new era has begun “that sees China moving closer to center stage.”

There could scarcely be a more explicit offer of China as an alternative, single-party, authoritarian model to the liberal democratic system of the United States (of which Trump has been such a feeble advocate). China is now “actively pursuing almost an ideological competition with the United States,” said Yun Sun, a senior associate at the Stimson Center. Xi’s speech was “a declaration of the Chinese saying that we have won this game, we are winning this game.”

They are, for now. The Chinese gambit — in the past, China has been reticent about offering itself as a global paradigm — comes at a moment of American democratic fracture. It’s a good moment for Beijing to talk of arriving “center stage.” Trump does not really have ideas. He has impulses (like his dangerous infatuation with Saudi Arabia). [Continue reading…]

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Trump is part of the Saudi story

Anne Applebaum writes: There are countries in which you are accused of an act of corruption and then you are arrested. And then there are countries in which someone decides to arrest you and only then are you called corrupt.

Saudi Arabia belongs to that second category. Last week, the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, used the excuse of “corruption” to arrest several dozen people, including close members of his family, and to lock them up in the posh confines of the Ritz-Carlton Riyadh.

Nobody took the charges at face value. “Corruption” — theft from the state — is not easily defined in Saudi Arabia, a place where the ruling family is the state, and vice versa.

Instead, those who know the country have argued that these arrests are part of a major political transition, an assault on the country’s sclerotic, traditional power structure. The crown prince appears to be “deliberately dismantling the traditional governance system in Saudi Arabia,” wrote The Post’s David Ignatius. The arrests were preceded by other changes: Talk of social modernization, for example — one of the world’s most misogynistic societies will soon allow women to drive — as well as of the diversification of an economy almost entirely dependent on oil.

But if those are the goals, these arrests also represent another setback for U.S. leadership in the era of President Trump, and a major blow to the prestige of a very different model of modernization and political transition. Most European countries were once monarchies like Saudi Arabia, but they handed over power to parliaments. The United States once denied women many rights, but it slowly enfranchised them. That Western model — to expand rights and freedom, to establish the rule of law and independent courts, to pass sovereignty from an aristocracy to a broader group of citizens — was long promoted by Americans as a matter of course. During what is remembered as the “Third Wave” of democratization, from the 1970s to the 1990s, dozens of countries in Latin America, Asia and central Europe sought to emulate this tradition and carry out this kind of reform.

Now that model is in retreat. Instead of following a Western model of modernization and reform, the crown prince has taken the path of China and Russia, where “political transition” means that power is retained by a tiny, very wealthy elite. [Continue reading…]

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While Trump is obsessed with building walls, Xi Jinping is busy building bridges

Antony J. Blinken writes: Amid the pomp that President Xi Jinping of China is bestowing upon his visiting American counterpart, President Trump, it’s hard not to see two leaders — and two countries — heading in very different directions.

Mr. Xi emerged from last month’s Communist Party Congress the undisputed master of the Middle Kingdom. “Xi Jinping Thought” was enshrined in the Constitution — an honor previously granted only to Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. Breaking with precedent, Mr. Xi neglected to anoint a successor — a big hint that he feels emboldened to extend his rule beyond the second five-year term he has just begun. The Economist heralded Mr. Xi with an honorific usually reserved for America’s president: the world’s most powerful man.

Mr. Trump stepped off Air Force One in Beijing on Wednesday with historically low job-approval ratings, just hours after suffering a shellacking in off-year elections. His credibility is cratering abroad — polls have shown a drop in confidence in American leadership.

As the personal trajectories of Mr. Trump and Mr. Xi diverge, so too does the focus of their leadership. While Mr. Trump is obsessed with building walls, Mr. Xi is busy building bridges.

At the World Economic Forum in January, Mr. Xi proclaimed China the new champion of free trade and globalization. His “One Belt, One Road” initiative — with funding from the made-in-Beijing Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank — will invest $1 trillion in linking Asia with Europe through a network of sea routes, roads, railways and, yes, bridges. China will gain access to resources, export its excess industrial capacity and peacefully secure strategic footholds from which to project power.

While Mr. Trump shuns multilateralism and global governance, Mr. Xi increasingly embraces them. [Continue reading…]

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A leaked defence document reveals Germany’s worries about the breakup of the global order

Paul Mason writes: The German defence ministry set out its worst-case scenario for the year 2040 in a secret document that was leaked to Der Spiegel last week: “EU enlargement has been largely abandoned, and more states have left the community … the increasingly disorderly, sometimes chaotic and conflict-prone, world has dramatically changed the security environment.”

The 120-page-long paper, entitled Strategic Perspective 2040, is a federal government policy document – and the scenarios it imagines are grimly realistic: an east-west conflict in which some EU states join the Russian side or a “multipolar” Europe, where some states adopt the Russian economic and political model in defiance of the Lisbon treaty.

That the document exists at all is a sign of the increased tension in the global system. The German military’s tradition of rigorous logistical planning for every eventuality began with the celebrated German field marshal Moltke in the 1850s and has three times paid off with initial success: in 1871 against France, in 1914 and 1939 against the rest of Europe. In the post-cold war era, as Der Spiegel puts it, allowing German generals to make statements about the future was “too risky”. That changed with Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Despite the alarmist headlines it has generated, the leaked document is, if anything, overoptimistic. In three out of the six scenarios, things go so well that Europe resembles the Biedermeier era – 1815-1848 – of domestic bliss and military boredom. Its negative scenarios – which see the US struggling to avoid isolationism and China locked in a cultural war with the west – were written before Donald Trump came to power and before Xi Jinping’s strategy of creating a politicised Chinese infrastructure across Asia. [Continue reading…]

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When it comes to U.S. presidents, Trump is China’s dream

James Mann writes: If Donald Trump did not already exist, the leaders of the People’s Republic of China would have sought to invent him. There has never been an American president whose style, personality, and mindset were so perfectly suited to China’s preferred way of doing business. Chinese President Xi Jinping likes to talk of the “China Dream.” When it comes to American presidents, Trump is the China Dream.

Trump has a huge ego. The Chinese love big egos. Flattery is a skill Chinese officials have perfected over the millennia. They know how to entertain and to impress visiting leaders. They have done so to their considerable benefit with officials starting with Henry Kissinger. (“After a dinner of Peking duck, I’ll agree to anything,” Kissinger quipped during President Richard Nixon’s historic visit to China, a line somehow omitted from his own memoir but reported in an intelligence study of the trip years later.)

Trump disdains working through normal channels like the State Department. He prefers to operate through his own personal network—through family members like Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, his son in law and daughter, or through intermediaries like Kissinger, or members of the New York financial community. [Continue reading…]

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Trump should help North Korea keep its nukes safe

Michael Auslin writes: Only a handful of nations have ever attempted to acquire a nuclear weapon—the ultimate status symbol—but once they did so, all took seriously the responsibility of managing their nuclear arsenals. Now, a new member is joining the club, one whose track record of recklessness, aggression, and inscrutability make terrifying the idea that it, too, will possess the ultimate weapon. Yet the real worry with North Korea becoming a nuclear power is one U.S. officials have so far ignored: Will Kim Jong Un respect the power of his nukes enough to make sure they are safe and safely controlled?

Despite official pronouncements that the U.S. will never accept a Pyongyang with nuclear weapons, the reality is that, short of a massive war that removes the Kim regime, North Korea appears unstoppably headed to becoming a nuclear-weapons-capable state. It may seem counterintuitive, but the U.S. needs to worry less about the risk of a North Korean nuclear war than about a nuclear accident. And as President Trump embarks on his trip through Asia, he would do well—as crazy as this sounds—to consider how the U.S. can help Kim keep his nukes safe. The best partner in this effort might well be China, the North’s only official ally and its major supporter. Regardless of the state of Sino-North Korean relations, which appear to be in a rough patch right now, Beijing remains the only actor close enough to Pyongyang to even try to instill some nuclear responsibility.

The Trump administration could reach out to the Chinese to encourage them to try to offer some friendly advice to Kim. Kim undoubtedly wants to keep the details of his program as secret as possible, but Chinese President Xi Jinping might offer some basic technical assistance on issues like launch authentication or setting up permissive action links. Helping train missile technicians in damage control and critical repair of launch systems might add another layer of certainty to the daily maintenance of nuclear weapons. And despite the distaste for accepting Pyongyang as a nuclear power, considering some U.S.-North Korean confidence-building mechanisms, perhaps even midwifed by Beijing, may come to be seen as a necessary evil in the new nuclear world. [Continue reading…]

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Xi sets out to orchestrate China’s path to global prominence

Börje Ljunggren writes: Xi pulled it off. His crowning could not have been grander. “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” is now written into Communist Party of China’s constitution on par with Mao Zedong Thought and Deng Xiaoping Theory. As “thoughts” rank higher than “theory,” Xi is recognized as the party-state’s core, ranked higher than Deng, a status that will remain even after he leaves his current positions.

Mao founded the People’s Republic, and Deng created the conditions for China’s exceptional era of reforms that opened the country to the world. Xi is taking China into its third era, one in which China intends to be second to none.

Gone is the era guided by Deng’s tao guang yang hui, meaning that China should “keep a low profile and bide its time.”

Instead, Xi proposes that, before the People’s Republic 100th anniversary in 2049, China will have developed into a “modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious, and beautiful.” China already stood tall in the East and “now is time for the nation “to take center stage in the world and to make a greater contribution to humankind.” China, going its own proud way, has a model to offer. The Chinese model of growth under communist rule is “flourishing,” giving “a new choice” to other developing countries. These two statements mark a decisive departure from previous party declarations.

The Party Constitution also recognizes Xi as military thinker with the Chinese Communist Party to “uphold its absolute leadership over the People’s Liberation Army” and “implement Xi Jinping’s thinking on strengthening the military.” By 2035 China will have a “world class” military, one “built to fight.” [Continue reading…]

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China enshrines ‘Xi Jinping Thought,’ elevating leader to Mao-like status

The New York Times reports: China’s Communist Party on Tuesday elevated President Xi Jinping to the same exalted status as the nation’s founding father, Mao Zedong, by writing his name and ideas into the party constitution.

The historic decision, at the end of a weeklong party congress, sent a clear signal to officials throughout China that questioning Mr. Xi and his policies would be ideological heresy.

The decision solidified Mr. Xi’s position as China’s most powerful leader in decades after only five years of leading the country, making it harder for rivals to challenge him and his policies.

While there may be no “Little Red Book” of quotations for mass consumption like in the bygone Mao era, Mr. Xi’s thinking will now infuse every aspect of party ideology in schools, the media and government agencies.

In the near future, Chinese people are likely to refer to Mr. Xi’s doctrines as simply “Xi Jinping Thought,” a flattering echo of “Mao Zedong Thought.” [Continue reading…]

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Pressure from China on return of fugitive businessman Guo Wengui sparks frantic response from Washington

The Wall Street Journal reports: Guo Wengui, a wealthy Chinese businessman, sat in the sun room of his apartment on the 18th-floor of the Sherry-Netherland Hotel on New York’s Fifth Avenue. With him were four officials from China’s Ministry of State Security, whom Mr. Guo had agreed to meet.

For many months, Mr. Guo, from his self-imposed exile, had been using Twitter to make allegations of corruption against senior Chinese officials and tycoons. During the hourslong conversation, the officials urged him to quit his activism and return home, after which the government would release assets it had frozen and leave his relatives in peace.

Liu Yanping, the lead official, said he had come on behalf of Beijing “to find a solution,” according to Mr. Guo and a partial audio recording Mr. Guo said he made of the May encounter and posted online in September.

Mr. Liu’s demeanor made clear this wasn’t a friendly negotiation, and he hinted at the risks for Mr. Guo. “You can’t keep doing this forever,” Mr. Liu can be heard telling Mr. Guo on the audio recording, reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. “I’m worried about you, to tell you the truth.”

The dramatic meeting sparked an unresolved debate within the Trump administration over the Guo case and laid bare broader divisions over how to handle the U.S.’s top economic and military rival, according to people familiar with the matter. U.S.-China relations have been upset by disagreements over trade, cyberespionage and policy toward North Korea, and Mr. Guo’s New York stay is only adding to the tension.

The Chinese officials, who were in the U.S. on visas that didn’t allow them to conduct official business, caught the attention of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which wanted to move against them, according to people familiar with the matter. The bureau’s effort ran into friction with other U.S. officials, including those at the State Department, who have tended to favor a less-confrontational approach, according to the people.

Some U.S. national security officials view Mr. Guo, who claims to have potentially valuable information on top Chinese officials and business magnates and on North Korea, as a useful bargaining chip to use with Beijing, the people said.

The episode took a twist when President Donald Trump received a letter from the Chinese government, hand-delivered by Steve Wynn, a Las Vegas casino magnate with interests in the Chinese gambling enclave of Macau. Mr. Trump initially expressed interest in helping the Chinese government by deporting Mr. Guo, but other senior officials worked to block any such move, according to people familiar with the matter.

Beijing officials tell their American counterparts they are justified in engaging in such activities because the U.S. carries out similar operations on foreign soil as well, U.S. law-enforcement officials say.

In June, U.S. officials revisited the JFK incident during a policy coordination meeting that grew heated.

Ezra Cohen-Watnick, then senior director for intelligence programs at the National Security Council, confronted Susan Thornton, an East Asia expert who serves as Acting Assistant Secretary of State, charging her agency was improperly hindering law-enforcement efforts to address China’s repeated violations of U.S. sovereignty and law, according to people familiar with the discussion.

State department officials criticized the FBI for not seeking permission from them before initially engaging the Chinese officials, the people said.

State Department official Laura Stone said she was already facing retaliation from Beijing, saying Chinese officials had allegedly confiscated her notebook as she was trying to leave the country, the people said.

The FBI’s assistant director of the counterintelligence division, Bill Priestap, deadpanned in response: “Was it because you had been trying to kidnap and extort someone in China?”

Separately, at a June meeting in the Oval Office, counterintelligence officials briefed President Trump on Beijing’s alleged efforts to steal cutting-edge research from labs and trade secrets from U.S. companies, according to people familiar with the meeting.

The president, surrounded by his top aides, including Vice President Mike Pence, his son-in-law Jared Kushner, his former chief strategist Steve Bannon and other national security and economic advisers, asked to see policy options in 90 days. In the meantime, he said he knew of at least one “Chinese criminal” the U.S. needed to immediately deport, according to the people.

“Where’s the letter that Steve brought?” Mr. Trump called to his secretary. “We need to get this criminal out of the country,” Mr. Trump said, according to the people. Aides assumed the letter, which was brought into the Oval Office, might reference a Chinese national in trouble with U.S. law enforcement, the people said.

The letter, in fact, was from the Chinese government, urging the U.S. to return Mr. Guo to China.

The document had been presented to Mr. Trump at a recent private dinner at the White House, the people said. It was hand-delivered to the president by Mr. Wynn, the Republican National Committee finance chairman, whose Macau casino empire cannot operate without a license from the Chinese territory. [Continue reading…]

In an age in which the line between news and entertainment has never before been so blurred, all I can say about the following analysis from China Uncensored is that it is certainly entertaining — how objective and reliable, I don’t have time to determine:

 

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Move over, America. China now presents itself as the model ‘blazing a new trail’ for the world

Simon Denyer writes: American presidents are fond of describing their nation as a “city on a hill” — a shining example for other nations to follow. But China is now officially in the business of styling itself as another polestar for the world, with a very different political, economic and cultural model.

“The banner of socialism with Chinese characteristics is now flying high and proud for all to see,” Chinese President Xi Jinping said during a mammoth speech to the Communist Party elite on Wednesday.

“It means the path, the theory, the system, and the culture of socialism with Chinese characteristics have kept developing, blazing a new trail for other developing countries to achieve modernization,” he said in the Great Auditorium of the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

“It offers a new option for other countries and nations who want to speed up their development while preserving their independence, and it offers Chinese wisdom and a Chinese approach to solving the problems facing mankind.”

The extent to which the Chinese model is successful or even applicable to other countries is, of course, very questionable. (Although it is also true that many people outside the United States do not see Washington’s foreign policy as an unquestioned global good, or its social system as a model.)

China’s economic growth has been stunning since the country’s move from communism to state-directed capitalism, but per capita income is still a fraction of places such as Taiwan, Singapore or Chinese-controlled Hong Kong. China may have the world’s second-largest economy in aggregate, but it ranks between 70 and 80 on a ranking of nations on a per capita basis.

Rising wealth has been accompanied by rising inequality, massive environmental pollution, rampant corruption and one of the most repressive regimes on the planet.

The country has generated cheap capital for industry by keeping real interest rates negative and preventing money from leaving the country, creating an effective tax on its citizens that would not be possible in many other nations. Yet it also has benefited from the incredible industriousness of its own people together with the huge size of its own internal market.

Still, China’s Communist Party has seen events in the West — from the 2008 financial crisis to the election of Donald Trump, and even Brexit — as a vindication of its own political and economic system. On Tuesday, state news agency Xinhua spelled it out: Western democracy was divisive and confrontational, and beset with crises and chaos.

It is a message that resounds in other authoritarian states with big development ambitions, such as Ethiopia. There is no doubt that China’s economic record does attract the envy of the people in many poorer nations, especially perhaps in Africa, where the track record of Western influence — and the brand of neoliberal economics often preached by the IMF and World Bank — has not always been rosy. [Continue reading…]

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China is quietly reshaping the world

Anja Manuel writes: The Pakistani town of Gwadar was until recently filled with the dust-colored cinderblock houses of about 50,000 fishermen. Ringed by cliffs, desert, and the Arabian Sea, it was at the forgotten edge of the earth. Now it’s one centerpiece of China’s “Belt and Road” initiative, and the town has transformed as a result. Gwadar is experiencing a storm of construction: a brand-new container port, new hotels, and 1,800 miles of superhighway and high-speed railway to connect it to China’s landlocked western provinces. China and Pakistan aspire to turn Gwadar into a new Dubai, making it a city that will ultimately house 2 million people.

China is quickly growing into the world’s most extensive commercial empire. By way of comparison, after World War II, the Marshall Plan provided the equivalent of $800 billion in reconstruction funds to Europe (if calculated as a percentage of today’s GDP). In the decades after the war the United States was also the world’s largest trading nation, and its largest bilateral lender to others.

Now it’s China’s turn. The scale and scope of the Belt and Road initiative is staggering. Estimates vary, but over $300 billion have already been spent, and China plans to spend $1 trillion more in the next decade or so. According to the CIA, 92 countries counted China as their largest exports or imports partner in 2015, far more than the United States at 57. What’s most astounding is the speed with which China achieved this. While the country was the world’s largest recipient of World Bank and Asian Development Bank loans in the 1980s and 90s, in recent years, China alone loaned more to developing countries than did the World Bank.

Unlike the United States and Europe, China uses aid, trade, and foreign direct investment strategically to build goodwill, expand its political sway, and secure the natural resources it needs to grow. Belt and Road is the most impressive example of this. It is an umbrella initiative of current and future infrastructure projects. In the next decades, China plans to build a thick web of infrastructure around Asia and, through similar initiatives, around the world.

Most of its funding will come in the form of loans, not grants, and Chinese state-owned enterprises will also be encouraged to invest. This means, for example, that if Pakistan can’t pay back its loans, China could own many of its coal mines, oil pipelines, and power plants, and thus have enormous leverage over the Pakistani government. In the meantime, China has the rights to operate the Gwadar port for 40 years. [Continue reading…]

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Xi Jinping heralds ‘new era’ of Chinese power at Communist party congress

The Guardian reports: Xi Jinping has heralded the dawn of a “new era” of Chinese politics and power at the start of a historic Communist party congress celebrating the end of his first term in office.

Speaking in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, at the start of the week-long 19th party congress, Xi told delegates that thanks to decades of “tireless struggle” China stood “tall and firm in the east”.

Now, Xi said, it was time for his nation to transform itself into “a mighty force” that could lead the world on political, economic, military and environmental issues.

“This is a new historic juncture in China’s development,” China’s 64-year-old leader declared in his bold 3hr 23 minute address outlining the party’s priorities for the next five years. [Continue reading…]

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Kashgar, China: This is what a 21st-century police state really looks like

BuzzFeed reports: This is a city where growing a beard can get you reported to the police. So can inviting too many people to your wedding, or naming your child Muhammad or Medina.

Driving or taking a bus to a neighboring town, you’d hit checkpoints where armed police officers might search your phone for banned apps like Facebook or Twitter, and scroll through your text messages to see if you had used any religious language.

You would be particularly worried about making phone calls to friends and family abroad. Hours later, you might find police officers knocking at your door and asking questions that make you suspect they were listening in the whole time.

For millions of people in China’s remote far west, this dystopian future is already here. China, which has already deployed the world’s most sophisticated internet censorship system, is building a surveillance state in Xinjiang, a four-hour flight from Beijing, that uses both the newest technology and human policing to keep tabs on every aspect of citizens’ daily lives. The region is home to a Muslim ethnic minority called the Uighurs, who China has blamed for forming separatist groups and fueling terrorism. Since this spring, thousands of Uighurs and other ethnic minorities have disappeared into so-called political education centers, apparently for offenses from using Western social media apps to studying abroad in Muslim countries, according to relatives of those detained.

Over the past two months, I interviewed more than two dozen Uighurs, including recent exiles and those who are still in Xinjiang, about what it’s like to live there. The majority declined to be named because they were afraid that police would detain or arrest their families if their names appeared in the press.

Taken along with government and corporate records, their accounts paint a picture of a regime that at once recalls the paranoia of the Mao era and is also thoroughly modern, marrying heavy-handed human policing of any behavior outside the norm with high-tech tools like iris recognition and apps that eavesdrop on cell phones. [Continue reading…]

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China ascendant, U.S. floundering

Keith B. Richburg writes: Chinese President Xi Jinping could not have written a better script.

As China begins its 19th Communist Party Congress, with Xi set to be anointed to a second five-year term and cement his uncontested control, the Chinese leader is perfectly poised to look outward and exert global leadership.

He will be doing so precisely as the U.S. is turning inward, its politics appear increasingly dysfunctional, and a new administration, under its “America First” doctrine, is dramatically withdrawing from America’s traditional world leadership role.

Xi can largely thank Donald Trump for his good fortune. The American president began his presidency by withdrawing the U.S. from the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact. It was an accord largely of America’s making that was aimed at drawing the region closer to the U.S. economically, while potentially luring China to liberalize its economy as the price of entry. With the TPP now languishing, Beijing is pushing to conclude a rival trade pact, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, or RCEP, by the end of this year.

Like the TPP, the rival pact will also comprise about 40% of the world economy. But the RCEP is dominated by China and India, and does not include any of the TPP’s agreements on labor rights, environmental protections or intellectual property rights. [Continue reading…]

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Xi Jinping has more clout than Donald Trump. The world should be wary

In an editorial, The Economist says: Unlike Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, Mr Xi is not a global troublemaker who seeks to subvert democracy and destabilise the West. Still, he is too tolerant of troublemaking by his nuke-brandishing ally, North Korea (see Schumpeter). And some of China’s military behaviour alarms its neighbours, not only in South-East Asia but also in India and Japan.

At home, Mr Xi’s instincts are at least as illiberal as those of his Russian counterpart. He believes that even a little political permissiveness could prove not only his own undoing, but that of his regime. The fate of the Soviet Union haunts him, and that insecurity has consequences. He mistrusts not only the enemies his purges have created but also China’s fast-growing, smartphone-wielding middle class, and the shoots of civil society that were sprouting when he took over. He seems determined to tighten control over Chinese society, not least by enhancing the state’s powers of surveillance, and to keep the commanding heights of the economy firmly under the party’s thumb. All this will make China less rich than it should be, and a more stifling place to live. Human-rights abuses have grown worse under Mr Xi, with barely a murmur of complaint from other world leaders.

Liberals once mourned the “ten lost years” of reform under Mr Xi’s predecessor, Hu Jintao. Those ten years have become 15, and may exceed 20. Some optimists argue that we have not yet seen the real Mr Xi—that the congress will help him consolidate his power, and after that he will begin social and economic reforms in earnest, building on his relative success in curbing corruption. If he is a closet pluralist, however, he disguises it well. And alarmingly for those who believe that all leaders have a sell-by date, Mr Xi is thought to be reluctant to step down in 2022, when precedent suggests he should. [Continue reading…]

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As U.S. retreats from world organizations, China steps in to fill the void

Foreign Policy reports: China’s latest bid to flex its diplomatic muscles on the world stage rests in the hands of Qian Tang, a little-known 66-year-old Chinese United Nations bureaucrat campaigning to head up the organization’s top cultural, scientific, and education agency.

Tang, the assistant director-general for education at the Paris-based UNESCO, is one of a growing stable of Chinese nationals Beijing is promoting to serve in top international posts. The push reflects Beijing’s desire to project a more visible “soft power” profile around the world and fill a political void left by an American administration that has grown skeptical of multilateralism.

“China wants to fulfill its global responsibility and contribute to peace and development at a global level,” Tang told Foreign Policy in an interview. “They think UNESCO is a good platform.” [Continue reading…]

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