New Zealand: United Frontlings always win

 

A report by Anne-Marie Brady of the University of Canterbury, just released through the Wilson Center, gives the first comprehensive description of efforts by the Chinese Communist Party to exert influence on New Zealand politics, business and media. This post focuses on one aspect of Brady’s paper, with considerable overlap with its sources but also some additional details and comments. It’s been written in a rush, whence the generally rambling character and typos.

 

Skirt lifted, jewels unveiled

This post will eventually resolve into a discussion of the Xi personality cult as embedded in New Zealand campaign slogans; specifically, a slogan with sexual associations that has spawned variations where skirts are lifted and pipes are rubbed. But beyond these juicy details, Brady’s report is about united front activities, and I’d also like to summarise what I see as the essential characteristics of the Front idea. An idea that goes back to the 1920s, but is seeing its most splendid implementation under Xi Jinping.

The title of Brady’s report (“Magic weapons: China’s political influence activities under Xi Jinping”) alludes to a memorable bit of Maoist Scripture, the Chairman’s characterisation of the united front as one of the CCP’s revolutionary ‘magic weapons’ (法宝 fǎbǎo), the others being ‘armed struggle’ and ‘the construction of the Party’. The word fǎbǎo is (I think) first attested as a Buddhist term, a literal translation of Sanskrit dharmaratna. The ‘jewel of the dharma’, one of the Three Jewels of Buddhism, refers to the teachings of the Buddha. The semantic shift to ‘magic weapon’ likely happened in Daoism. Rather than a skirt, the Brady report lifts the veil on Xi’s reactivation of Mao’s weaponised jewel.

Although focused on New Zealand, Brady’s report discusses the CCP’s United Front (统一战线) tactics in general. The idea goes back to early Communism, whose theoreticians talked of the need for strategic alliances with other parties and movements as a preliminary stage to a Communist takeover. After its role in the Bolsheviks’ rise in Russia, the concept was adopted by the Comintern in 1921 at Zinoviev’s initiative. The name was already ‘united (workers’) front’ (единый (рабочий) фронт). The Comintern language of those days talks of joining forces with other ‘working class’ forces, meaning various factions in the socialist movement, by then split into a variety of groups within which Soviet-loyal Communists were often a minority. A Comintern appeal from 1922 calls for those who haven’t yet made up their minds to take up arms and struggle for “power” and “dictatorship” to “at least unite in the struggle for ordinary subsistence” against “exploiters and traitors to humanity“. The harangue is directed to all working class representatives, be they “Communists, Social Democrats, or Anarchists, or Syndicalists”. That sounds like building alliances, but a key aspect is that the Communist movement saw these tactics as temporary, intended to eventually give it hegemonic power. The Communist Party intended to stay separate from reformists or Anarchists it ultimately saw as their ideological enemies. The first ‘united front’ was essentially about instrumentalising European Social Democrats in the 1920s; later on, these alliances would become narrower (shedding the Social Democrats under Stalinism), then broader (the ‘Popular Front’ with ‘bourgeois’ forces against Fascism) and later discarded altogether after Stalin’s pact with Hitler.

But there’s more to united front strategies than temporary alliances with working-class forces to the left or right of Soviet-style Communism itself. The instrumentalisation doesn’t have to stop at these notional ideological allies within the socialist spectrum. Brady’s report quotes from Lenin’s The Infantile Sickness of “Leftism” in Communism (Детская болезнь “левизны” в коммунизме), a 1920 tract where he attacks Western European Communists farther to his left. Although the work doesn’t literally mention any ‘fronts’, the tactics it describes subsume their description by the Comintern one year later as a particular case. Beyond the alliances with socialists and trade unionists mentioned the appeal quoted above, Lenin advocates tactical cooperation with ‘bourgeois’ organisations: it’s only possible to “vanquish a more powerful enemy” by “skillfully using […] opposing interests between the bourgeoisie of different countries” and between different bourgeois groups between each country, “as well as every, even the smallest, opportunity of gaining an ally0.” (From this Russian version.)

Lenin devotes an entire section of the tract to the question “[Should we] participate in bourgeois parliaments?” (Участвовать ли в буржуазных парламентах?). Lenin’s ‘infantile’ leftist adversaries would answer in the negative. But for Lenin, parliamentarism has become “obsolete” only “in the propaganda sense”, which somehow also means in the “world-history sense”; its “era” has ended. In practice, it’s not “politically obsolete”, it’s still there, so it should be used. Communists should participate in elections, with the purpose of awakening the “backward strata” (осталные слои), the “ignorant rural masses” (тёмная деревенская масса).

United-front tactics for China began in the 20s, with the Communists’ alliance with the (then much stronger) Kuomintang against warlords. The KMT saw this alliance as a way of controlling the emerging Communists, something they didn’t succeed at and led Chiang Kai-shek to purge the leftists in 1927. The idea was refloated later, to fight against the Japanese invasion. From the beginning, recognising the Chinese Communists Party’s weak position, the Comintern favoured playing united-front with the Chinese ‘national bourgeoisie’. Here’s what Stalin had to say on the topic in 1927, when Chiang turned against the Communists marking the end of the ‘first united front’. In a speech to the plenum of the Party Central Committee1, he talks of three “stages of the Chinese revolution”: the first one, already completed, was the “revolution of the nation-wide unified front”; the “bourgeois-democratic revolution”, then underway; and a “Soviet revolution”, still to come. The speech was summarising an earlier article in Pravda2, where Stalin differentiated between the need for an alliance with the entire KMT in the first, accomplished, stage, and the current situation, where the left wing of the KMT should be used against the right: in the ongoing “struggle between the two paths of the revolution” (its continuation or “liquidation”), “the revolutionary Kuomintang in Wuhan” would “become in practice an organ of the revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry”.

stalinmao
People’s Daily, Dec 18, 1949 via Renmin wang

After Stalin’s ‘third stage’ finally succeeded in 1949, the united front (统一战线 tǒngyī zhànxiàn or 统战 tǒngzhàn for short) took on other forms. Brady mentions the use of ‘foreign friends’ for informal diplomacy and what would become a central aspect of the PRC’s united front work, the control over ethnic Chinese communities abroad. Though culturally and politically diverse, and in the past often hostile to the CCP, by and large diaspora communities have become dominated by PRC-friendly organisations after decades of united front work. Such control over media, business and cultural organisations, as well as over elected representatives in local democratic institutions, creates a strong pressure to acquiesce to PRC policies and views. Once the diaspora is ‘tamed’, its organisations can be repurposed to advance China’s broader policy agenda on the next level, that of mainstream politics, business and media abroad.

In the PRC, the united front isn’t just the name of a political concept. It’s a Party organ of ‘full-ministry rank’ (正部级), the United Front Work Department (shortened name: 统战部 Tǒngzhàn bù) directly under the Central Committee, with offices at the Party committees of lower levels of administration. It speaks volumes about the level of knowledge of the politics of a world power in the Western press that the name of the organisation and policy are is put in (scare?) quotes. An example is this NZ Herald story about Brady’s report. Another is a hilarious incident in which Chau Chak Wing 周则荣, an Australian-Chinese businessman whose political donations were discussed in an ABC-Fairfax investigation, threatened litigation in a letter stating he “has no knowledge of an entity referred to […] as the United Front Work Department”. Australian journalist Alex Joske promptly provided pictures and an official account of a meeting Chau had with district-level United Front officials, not a year before his ‘lack of knowledge’ of such an entity. This is like referring to the ‘Culture Ministry’, or an alleged US ‘State Department’, or the so-called ‘Republican Party’. Like Mike Flynn denying the knowledge of ‘such an entity as a Russian embassy’. There’s nothing secret about the UFWD, and learning about it demands no Sinological prowess. Writing about it is widely available in English (Groot, Angliviel de la Beaumelle…). Those of a more investigative disposition might even try visiting the UFWD’s website. Media powerhouses equipped with so-called ‘telephones’ could even try calling +86-10-58335141 during Beijing office hours (international rates might apply).

United front work has intensified under Xi. Besides its usefulness for international policy purposes, as discussed by Brady, domestic UF organisations, such as the ancillary parties, can be used to handle ‘new social strata‘. This term mostly refers to private businesspeople, which the Party wants to control and reward but not massively incorporate into its ranks. Another example is the clergy of the institutional religions, whose management, training, ‘Sinification’ and instrumentalisationare key united front tasks; monks and priests are supposed to be subservient to the Party, but can’t be admitted into it.

This is another key aspect of united front work. From Lenin onwards, its purpose has not been to proselytise, or form a majority under an ideological consensus, as might be the goal of other political or belief-based organisations. As the history of the united front shows, ideology is simply a tool; state Communism has sought alliances with the Western centre-left, later only with orthodox Communists, then with a broad ‘bourgeois’ arc reaching past the centre, and then directly with Nazism; or, in the Chinese case, with the entire Kuomintang, then only its left wing, later foreign leftists, assorted brands of non-Soviet Communism, and finally a variety of foreign politicians willing to collaborate with its initiatives. Whatever ‘Communist’ might mean to those identifying as such in other countries, the Chinese Party of that name is not primarily an ideological organisation. The country it controls has been through various economic policies which might not be to Marx’s liking. Once, links were sought with Western Communists; nowadays the foreign Far Left is mostly irrelevant to the CCP’s interests, and mainstream ‘bourgeois’ parties are actively cultivated, as exemplified below. Religion, the ‘opium of the people’, its another set of belief systems it commodifies. It does not wish to build an ideological majority, the way a democratic political party would; it simply strives to maintain and extend the power of a stable, centralised, hierarchical organisation, over time, territory and resources. It chooses who can join it; other useful entities and individuals it doesn’t wish to formally phagocytose are controlled (mainly) through the united front organisations.

So that’s the United Front in a nutshell. An official Party organisation, with buildings, phone numbers, publications, that instrumentalises non-Party entities for advancing the goals of the Party-state, within China, in territories China fancies but doesn’t administer, and abroad. The ‘abroad’ part is what Brady’s work is about, and New Zealand is but one case.

Brady’s report covers several areas of United Front influence building in New Zealand, including media (something I’m reserving for some later writing), politics, business and their intersections. In this post, I’d like to mention a few details about the politics part. One reason is that this aspect hasn’t received a lot of attention globally (UF-linked political donations in Australia being an exception). Another one is that there’s a general election in New Zealand in a few days, and the way revelations about certain candidates have been received is revealing in itself. For the record, I have no horse in that race, and will discuss candidates from both major parties.

All roads lead to Xi Dada

New Zealand provides an example of successful United Front domination of a diaspora community. As of this election, the top ethnic Chinese candidates are linked to CCP organisations and support PRC policies. In New Zealand, the Chinese community can only realistically aspire to political representation by its own members through individuals approved by Beijing. This situation, enabled by the leaders of the top parties, effectively allows the extraterritorial implementation of PRC policy.

The most visible ethnic Chinese politician in New Zealand is Yang Jian 杨健 of the National Party. Yang is currently an MP and will almost certainly continue to be after Saturday’s election. With Yang, the Nationals (currently in government) consistently command a majority among the ethnic Chinese electorate some 50% above their overall polling.

Last week, an investigation by the Financial Times and local media Newsroom revealed Yang’s background in military intelligence. He studied and then taught English at the PLA Air Force Engineering Academy (空军工程学院, since renamed University 空军工程大学), and later again studied and worked at the Luoyang Foreign Languages Institute (洛阳外国语学院), a PLA intelligence school. Yang denied ever being a spy, although he admitted his students at Luoyang used the English he taught them to “collect information” about the communications of other countries; “if you define [it] that way, they were spies”.

Yang seems to have hidden his military background from public English-language sources until 2012, once he was already an MP. He said he didn’t mention his studies and career at those PLA institutions in his citizenship application, naming instead civilian partner universities which weren’t his actual place of work. By his own account, such less-than-factual statements were a requirement of the Chinese government if he was to leave China, although he had left that country years before. “It was required by the system,” he said in a Chinese-language interview. “There was nothing I could do.” Another reason not to make his background known was that “people might not understand“, because “the Chinese military system is complicated.” A desire to protect the public from exposure to complicated issues was also perhaps his admonition to a journalist not to write too much about his personal background, as he was recorded saying.

In the same Chinese-language interview quoted above, Yang says he used to be a Communist Party member, but he isn’t one any more. That presumably means ‘not an active member’; as Brady notes, you don’t just ‘leave’ the CCP. You are considered a member unless expelled. Considering Yang’s excellent relations with Chinese state entities and the praise state media award him, it would be ridiculous to assume he was expelled. In all likelihood, Yang is in fact a CCP member. Chen Yonglin 陈用林, a former PRC diplomat who defected to Australia in 2005, cast further doubt on Yang’s claims he was a PLA ‘civilian officer’. Based on his knowledge of military institutions before reforms in the late aughts, Chen estimates Yang was in fact a ‘soldier’ and probably reached the rank of  captain.

While a student in Australia, his first foreign destination before moving to New Zealand, Yang was active in the predecessor of the local Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA), another organisation with strong state links. Alex Joske and Philip Wen have written about the Australian CSSA.

Media reports claim the New Zealand intelligence service has been looking into Yang’s background.

The case has also attracted the attention of the Chinese government. At the regular MFA press conference, a spokesperson managed to say they wouldn’t comment on the internal affairs of other countries, and then add that reports by the ‘relevant media’ are irresponsible. Pari ratione, Yang Gate is not purely an ‘internal affair’ of New Zealand, which actually makes sense.

Remarkably enough, the National Party defended Yang after these revelations, claiming they were actually aware of his background in military intelligence. Yang is a valued fundraiser for his party (I mean the Nationals, not the CCP). The Nationals claim Yang was properly vetted back in the day, but the company they say they hired to conduct the vetting deny that ever happened, then said they ‘interviewed’ him once. Cutting through the blather, the vagueness in all these statements make it hard to believe senior Nats understood what sort of work was done at the institutions where their main Chinese MP spent more than a decade.

Perhaps even more remarkably, despite what an external observer would see as devastating evidence compromising a candidate before a tight election, his direct political adversaries in the Labour party produced absolutely no criticism of Yang. I’m not terribly knowledgeable about NZ politics, so perhaps I’m being naive, but is it normal to have such a major security revelation on a senior political figure days before an election and hear nothing from his rivals?

The leader of New Zealand First, a minor right-wing party, is so far the only politician calling for an inquiry into Yang’s case.

Other commentators have criticised Yang: Rodney Jones called for his resignation. Michael Reddell talks of a ‘cone of silence’ about the presumably explosive revelations about Yang possibly related to the CCP influence throughout the NZ political establishment described in Brady’s paper.

Reddell also reports a rather shocking development. Chris Finlayson, NZ’s attorney general and the minister responsible for intelligence, was asked at a (rather congenial) candidate meeting about Yang’s case. His answer: “I’m not going to respond to any of the allegations that have been made about/against him. I think it is disgraceful that a whole class of people have been singled out for racial abuse. As for Professor Brady, I don’t think she likes any foreigners at all.” A former student of Brady’s happened to be at the event and forced Finlayson to apologise.

Here are some captioned images of Capt. (alleged) Yang in martial poses and having a good time with his comrades in arms at a PLA anniversary gala, courtesy of my Twitter account.

 

Dilectus centurionum

Bonum vinum laetificat cor hominis

Divide et impera

The Frontling omertà

In theory, Yang Jian’s direct adversary should be Raymond Huo (Huo Jianqiang 霍建强), a Labour Party MP. Yang and Huo compete for the Chinese-community electorate; Yang has been found to have a background in military intelligence, which he had declined to disclose in the past; Huo, whatever his sympathies, isn’t tainted by work for a foreign military. Recent polls have put Huo’s party a few points short of unseating the Nationals, or even able to lead a coalition. How can he not use this?

The only explanation that makes sense (and that is consistent with reactions from other senior politicians) is that he wouldn’t like to speak up against United Front interests.

Raymond Huo raised some eyebrows some time ago when he began using a Xi Jinping quote as the Chinese version of Labour’s campaign slogan “let’s do this!”:

luxiugan

 

The Chinese phrase, 撸起袖子加油干 lū qǐ xiùzǐ jiāyóu gàn, means “roll up [our] sleeves and work hard”. Its current popularity stems from its use by Xi Jinping at the latest new year address (8:44). Victor Mair discussed the phrase in extenso on a Language Log post, to which I contributed a few details.

A similar phrase wouldn’t be a bad translation of the Labour slogan, were it not for the obvious Partyspeak association. The specific choice of words (which is what makes it an unmistakable Xi quote) is slightly problematic, namely regarding the first character, 撸 . As Mair notes, this isn’t the most common way of saying ‘roll up your sleeves’ in the standard language (that would probably be 卷 juǎn). Xi chose to use a Northern colloquialism, rather dissonant with the style of official speeches, probably attempting to sound folksy. The choice isn’t very effective, and probably wasn’t really thought through, by Xi or his speechwriters. Besides ‘roll up’, 撸 means ‘rub’, and brings to mind a slang word for male masturbation, 撸管 lū guǎn ‘rub the pipe’. And not just in my dirty mind; it’s easy to find online attestations of puns on the phrase (挽/卷起袖子加油撸起 ‘roll up your sleeves and rub it’, 撸起管子加油干 ‘rub the pipe and get at it’…).

I refer you to Mair’s post for a case where punning on the phrase led to the dismissal of an official (‘Comrades, “hike up your skirts for a hard shag‘). In its modified form, 撸 ‘roll up; rub’ becomes 撩 liāo ‘lift’, and 袖子 xiùzi ‘sleeves’ becomes 裙子 qúnzi ‘skirt’. It should be clear that the slogan is just asking for salacious punning.

The fact that 撸 is a Northern regionalism is also telling. The verb is largely limited to Northern forms of Mandarin. Indeed, it’s one of a set of ‘physical action’ verbs whose pronunciation can’t be traced back to Middle Chinese (the common ancestor of Mandarin and most other modern Sinitic languages). Though widely understood, the word is likely to be felt as regional by many, possibly most, Chinese speakers in Huo’s constituency. There actually happen to be many ways of saying ‘roll up [sleeves]’ in Chinese; besides 卷 juǎn, there’s 翻 fān, 折 zhé, 挽 wǎn

Xi certainly didn’t coin the 撸 phrase, but since he uttered it has become associated with him. Just try googling it: recent results are overwhelmingly about the Party slogan. It has has been painted on walls, printed on banners. Articles, songs, enactments, dance performances have been devoted to it. All that in Party-state contexts; jokes and memes emerged in less official venues. Anyone who follows Chinese media will understand that the slogan is pure Partyspeak, an artifact of the cult of personality.

 

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A performance with Xi’s slogan in the background. Source: 苏州市人力资源和社会保障信息中心.

 

After Brady’s report came out, mentioning the Xi-quote slogan, Huo defended the translation, calling it an “auspicious Chinese idiom that is known widely by Chinese constituents”; given how well it resonates, “it is no surprise that Xi Jinping also used this idiom in his New Year Greeting”. So, this is something lucky we say in New Year, its use by Xi is a mere coincidence, you don’t understand. Echoes of Yang’s ‘complicated system’ above the public’s intellectual abilities: everything Chinese is abstruse, exotic, inscrutable to the general public and better left alone. Needless to say, there’s nothing “auspicious” about the idiom; if anything, it has the same go-getting, gung-ho connotations as ‘roll up your sleeves’ in English. That has nothing to do with “auspiciousness”, and there’s nothing uniquely Chinese about it. The need to roll up your sleeves before doing physical work is familiar in many other sleeved cultures. But in the middle of this bizarre appeal at exoticness, Huo actually confirmed the Xi allusion is what it is: “[m]y team tested this translation among many in the New Zealand Chinese community and this quote stood out as the best one” (my emphasis). So it’s not just an ‘auspicious’ idiom, it’s an actual quote.

As for where Huo got the idea, or which ‘community members’ he tested it on, that’s a bit hard to establish, especially because its use was rather short-lived; Huo seems to have stopped using it after floating it on Twitter and being questioned on why he was quoting Xi. An early-August report by local outlet Skykiwi (天维网), reproduced by PRC state media, has Huo quoting the slogan. An earlier use of the idiom can be found in a Guangming Daily story from April, an interview in Beijing with John Hong (Hong Chengchen 洪承琛), a member of the New Zealand Belt-and-Road Promotion Council (新西兰“一带一路”促进委员) with government contacts in Fujian province (Brady, p. 39). In an opening typical of reporting on the government’s successes, the article quotes Hong as praising the prospects brought about by the signature of a Belt-and-Road agreement with New Zealand, thanks to which “we will also roll up our sleeves and work hard” (我们也要撸起袖子加油干). The key word is “also”: it’s understood that, after Xi’s new year injunction, “everyone” in the PRC is rolling up their sleeves; Hong means now New Zealand will join them. Huo is himself an ardent proponent of New Zealand’s participation in Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative, as will be seen below.

In short, Huo chose a phrase that clearly alludes to the personality cult of an authoritarian leader as a campaign slogan for a major party in a democratic election, and dropped it when called out on it.

When I first learnt about the slogan, it took me some time to realise it wasn’t a joke. My first reaction was that the ‘Raymond Huo’ Twitter account it was promoted through was fake, and that the picture was an attempt to discredit him by associating him with the CCP. But not only Huo was indeed behind the translation; parroting Partyspeak is actually entirely consistent with his activities and advocacy.

Huo has established a New Zealand OBOR Think Tank and a New Zealand OBOR Foundation, devoted to “help promote the idea and educate New Zealanders on the One-Belt One-Road initiative”. It has “linked up with China’s National Development and Reform Commission, as well as Chinese construction companies and private equity firms to look at opportunities.” Huo’s Belt-and-Road advocacy was widely reported by Chinese government organs, such as the State Council Information Office and the All-China Federation of Returned Overseas Chinese (全国归国华侨联合会), a United Front organisation.

The establishment of Huo’s Belt-and-Road shop is seen as pretty significant by the Chinese government: its establishment was ‘witnessed’ by the general consul in Auckland and no less than two visiting provincial governors (of Henan and Hubei).
As is typical of united-front activities under Xi, this isn’t simply a Labour Party affair: the think tank is led by Huo together with Johanna Coughlan, sister-in-law of the current PM, Bill English (Brady, p. 40). This achieves a wonderful success for United Front efforts: support for the PRC’s policy goals is embedded in both major parties. Whoever wins in New Zealand elections, Xi’s geopolitical agenda can count on their support.

Huo is far from denying the existence of PRC influence in New Zealand. His views are clear: a Radio NZ story on Xi Jinping’s 2014 visit quoted him as asserting that the Chinese community is “excited about the prospect of China having more influence in New Zealand“, and that “many Chinese community members told him a powerful China meant a backer, either psychologically or in the real sense.”

And here’s Huo’s understanding of how the Chinese community is meant to be represented (from a speech delivered to the NZ China Society): “Advisors from Chinese communities will be duly appointed with close consultation with the Chinese diplomats and community leaders.”

Huo is from Anqing 安庆, Anhui, perhaps the basis for his contact with another Anqing native, Jiang Zuojun 蒋作君, a prominent figure in the Zhi Gong Party 致公党 (one of the ancillary parties to the CCP). Jiang has held many senior government posts, although always at a ‘vice’ level as befits someone from an ancillary party. He has been vice-minister of health, deputy secretary of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, vice-governor of Anhui. The Zhi Gong Party typically liaises with overseas communities for United Front Work purposes, as evidenced in this meeting between Jiang and Raymond Huo on this Think-Tank-cum-Fund. An official account of the meeting, originating from the Zhi Gong Party and published on the website of the Central United Front Work Department, quotes Huo as emphasising “the unique function overseas Chinese have in disseminating” the Belt-and-Road concept (海外华侨华人对于宣传“一带一路”的独特作用).

tzb0

 

From the right: Zhi Gong Party Liaison Dept Head Xu Yi 许怡, Jiang Zuojun, Raymond Huo, Johanna Coughlan, NZ prime-ministerial sister-in-law. Source: Central United Front Work Department.

And here’s a final picture of Huo, taken during a visit to Anqing “at the invitation of the City’s Federation of Returned Overseas Chinese”:

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Source: Anqing City United Front Work Department

 

It should be sufficiently clear that Huo is another United Frontling. There’s nothing surprising about his incorporation of Xi’s personality cult into electoral politics, or his silence on the revelations on Yang Jian’s background. Regardless of his views on non-China related issues (which do indeed differ from the National Party’s), Huo isn’t Yang’s opponent as far as the CCP agenda is concerned. For united-front purposes, Huo is simply an egg in another basket.

By focusing on two key individuals from both sides of New Zealand politics, I intended to show how successful united front tactics have been in ensuring permanent control of the Chinese community politics by hedging against democratic power shifts. This is only one of its successes. I refer you to Brady’s work for an overview of the extent of its penetration in politics beyond the Chinese diaspora, business and media. Its pervasive character helps explain why the reaction to the Yang case was so muted, suggesting a ‘code of silence’, with the most senior figures in the major parties essentially glossing over the problem.

The terms in which Brady’s work is being discussed by politicians and the media reflect little understanding of what’s going on. The Yang case made for great headlines that tried really hard to use the word ‘spy’, but he might successfully argue that he is not literally a spy. And even if he was, spying on each other is something countries do. Other UF-linked individuals mentioned in Brady’s report are even less likely than Yang to have been involved on literal espionage. The Brady report isn’t about finding spies. Reactions seem to be addressing a straw-man. Raymond Huo, the Xi-quoter, denied “insinuations against his character”, but it’s not clear that any have been made. If anything, Huo is consistent in his support for CCP policies and increased PRC influence. This is not a spy thriller, but a story about the institutions of a democratic country being coopted to serve the agenda of a much larger state ruled by an authoritarian regime. Most of the people involved might very well have acted legally at all times, and their support for certain policies isn’t necessarily an issue of moral ‘character’. The issue is whether the actions of many in the NZ elite are a risk for the country’s security, independence and democratic system. The latter has obviously been damaged. Restricting attention to the Chinese community, democratic politics has been vitiated to effectively allow extraterritorial control by the CCP and deny voters a true choice of political representation. The intersection of each of ‘National’ and ‘Labour’ with ‘Chinese’ is firmly under the aegis of the United Front. Perfunctory reactions from top politicians are a sign that UF successes aren’t limited to that community. Such control over an advanced democracy is something the united-front pioneers in the ’20s and ’30s could hardly have predicted.

 

Notes

0 The English translation Brady quotes (from a 1950 edition) says a ‘mass ally’; ‘mass’ is missing in the version of the Russian original published on marxists.org, which is what I used for the translation above. Another Russian edition, available on maoism.ru, matches Brady’s English, ‘mass’ and all. I couldn’t immediately find which specific editions the texts come from, but at least the one on maoism.ru comes from a later edition, as the footnotes show; that’s why I chose to quote from the ‘mass’-less version. Its unclear if the interpolation is Lenin’s or someone else’s, but the difference is immaterial. The English translation (with a more idiomatic title than the one I quoted, used in the first English translation from 1920) is generally faithful to (its version of) the Russian. I’ll try to remember to update this note if I ever happen across a physical Russian edition of Infantile Sickness.

1 Международное положение и оборона СССР: Речь на объединенном пленуме ЦК и ЦКК ВКП(б) (The international situation and the defence of the USSR: Speech at the joint plenum of the Central Committee and the Central Control Commission of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks)), Aug 1, 1927. Both Stalin texts from the collected works edition reproduced on Mikhail Grachev‘s website, translations mine.

2 Вопросы китайской революции: Тезисы для пропагандистов, одобренные ЦК ВКП(б) (Issues of the Chinese revolutions: theses for propagandists, approved by the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks)), Pravda, Apr 21, 1927.

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Ulaanbaatar monastery gets monumental Maitreya from China

A ~20-metre statue of boddhisattva Maitreya, donated by the Yonghegong 雍和宫 temple in Beijing and built in Sichuan, is now being assembled at Dashchoilin Дашчойлин བཀྲ་ཤིས་ཆོས་གླིང་ monastery in Ulaanbaatar.

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The Dashchoilin Maitreya. Picture by Paweł Szczap.

The Yonghegong’s involvement in the project was reportedly being discussed at least a decade ago. The statue itself was finished by 2013:

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The statue in 2013. Based on the sign on the next building, these are the manufacturer’s facilities in Pidu 郫都 district (then still Pi County 郫县) near Chengdu. Via Жавзандамба хутагт төв.

A ceremony was held in 2014 for the delivery of (at least) the statue’s feet to the Dashchoilin.

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Then-ambassador Wang Xiaolong 王小龙 delivers speech at the ceremony (via CRI).

Here’s what the building will look like:

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Artist’s impression via CRI.

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Artist’s impression. Picture by Paweł Sczczap.

Work on the building that will house began only in May. Here’s Gao Fengying 高凤英, an attaché(e) at the Chinese embassy, helping lay the foundations:

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Picture: Chinese embassy in Ulaanbaatar.

Now it finally started, construction seems to be going quickly. Here’s another picture of its current state:

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Picture by Paweł Sczczap.

The Yonghegong’s involvement is quite significant, as it was at the Beijing monastery where most Mongolian reincarnated lamas were selected. Current PRC religious policy increasingly seeks to instrumentalise (in this case Tibetan) Buddhism for geopolitical purposes. I a recent piece discussing these policies, I quoted the Party secretary of the Beijing Tibetan Buddhism Academy: exchanges between China’s state-managed religious institutions and countries along the ‘Belt and Road’ can serve the dual goals of showcasing “the results of our Party and country’s ethnic and religious policies, displaying the healthy heritage and development of Tibetan Buddhism” in China, while reducing “the Dalai clique’s space of activity, upholding national sovereignty.”

The Yonghegong has an important role in these exchanges, of which the Maitreya donation can be seen as an instantiation. Beijing does indeed cultivate relations with the less-Dalai Lama friendly members of Mongolian clergy, such as Sanjdorj Санждорж, the outspoken abbot of Ikh Khüree Их хүрээ monastery in Ulaanbaatar, whose views Chinese media were happy to quote during last year’s Dalai Lama crisis. A few months earlier, Sanjdorj had visited the Yonghegong accompanied by officials from the Central United Front Department.

Dashchoilin temple, the beneficiary of the Maitreya donation, doesn’t actually belong to the anti-Dharamsala persuasion. Its abbot, Dambajav Дамбажав, has met the Dalai Lama on several occasions, including during the last trip, that Beijing found so hard to stomach. That clearly hasn’t led to a change of mind on the donation, possibly a reflection of the importance of good relations with Dambajav, given his role as vice-president of the World Fellowship of Buddhists.

Another, arguably competing, similar project is underway outside Ulaanbaatar: an even taller (54-metre) Maitreya statue, a stupa twice that height, and a cultural centre. The Grand Maitreya Project has a rather different affiliation from the Yonghegong gift, with connections to Dharamsala and under the “spiritual guidance” of the Dalai Lama.

Judging by the pace of construction at the Dashchoilin, the Chinese-supported project should be finished before the DL-guided one, although the latter expects to have a smaller Buddha statue ready this month as a “first phase” of the project.

As I recently commented on Language Log, there’s a linguistic issue related to the name of the Sichuan-based company the Dashchoilin Maitreya was ordered from (owned by Könchok Tashi དཀོན་མཆོག་བཀྲ་ཤིས། 根秋扎西, a Tibetan artist and entrepreneur). The company’s name is Karma Bisha, rendered in Chinese as 噶玛博秀 Gámǎ bóxiù, a phonetic transcription. In the original Tibetan, the name is ཀརྨ་བི་ཤྭ། Kar.ma bi shwa, which seems to be an inversion of Bi shwa kar.ma, the Tibetan transcription of the Sanskrit name of the mythical sculptor (or architect deity) Viśvakarman, the ‘All-Maker’. If that reading is correct, the Chinese name of the company could have been based on attested names for Viśvakarman in the Chinese Buddhist tradition, such as 毗首羯磨 Píshǒujiémó or, as in Hui Lin 慧琳’s expanded Yiqie jing yinyi 一切经音译, 毗湿缚羯磨 Píshīfùjiémó.

[A few paragraphs in the above are essentially recycled from an earlier piece for CPI: Analysis]

[Thanks to Paweł Szczap.]

CUPped: Relevant Organs, Tudor zombies join forces, attack

henry8

Now that Cambridge University Press has tried to obey PRC orders to censor academic journals, its prestige, surely its only remaining attraction for an author or reader, has vanished. Loubere and Franceschini remind everyone that there’s no actual need for scholars to rely on publishers like CUP. As an example of how things can be done differently, I would like to point to the Zombie Lingua case.

Zombie Lingua is a nickname for the crawling corpse of the linguistics journal Lingua, owned by Dutch publishing house Elsevier. Some time ago, Lingua editors tried to get Elsevier to make the journal open-access. Elsevier didn’t appreciate that, so the editors scuttled the journal, resigned, moved to the Open-Access plane and restored the journal there. Since Elsevier own the name Lingua, they renamed the reincarnation Glossa, which is Greek for ‘glossy’. Unhappy with the reincarnation, Elsevier decided to revive the vacated journal, beginning the Zombie Lingua saga. Eric Baković and Kai von Fintel have been covering it on Language Log. Their latest piece (‘More Zombie Lingua shenanigans‘) links to raw correspondence with Elsevier executives.

From the article:

[T]his was an attempted negotiation between the full editorial board of the journal, entirely responsible for the vetting and shepherding of its content, and the journal’s publisher, entirely responsible for charging readers too much for subscriptions to particularly-formatted versions of this content and authors too much for the apparent privilege of publishing individual articles in Open Access (with no compensatory discount on subscriptions, mind you – this is what has been properly called ‘double-dipping’).

Willing academics have been found to raise the residual title from the dead. Baković and Fintel claim one of them wrote this: “We should consider ourselves lucky that publishers deign to even touch our work.” I wonder who would like to write for, read, or be caught in the vicinity of such a publication as Zombie Lingua.

I wouldn’t touch Zombie Lingua with a toilet brush.

That said, it’s hard to blame companies for seeking profit. Academics and university administrators have set up a non-competitive system where you can charge both suppliers and customers for content produced by free labour. Bedoctored indentureds, deals with Beijing, admin’ mingling op de gracht, loads of face, all aux frais de la princesse. What’s not to like? There aren’t many such legal niches left.

The fault doesn’t lie with Else4 (Springer, T*F, the Jay Store…). If they evaporated tomorrow, anyone able to concoct a posh/heraldicky logo would take their place, as long as scholars are willing to channel funds into the double-dipping/één halen, twee betalen industry. As Baković says, Elsevier don’t offer any service remotely commensurate with their charges. All they do is let you play the citation-stats game. You’d think that institutions made up of educated grown-ups would be above vying for likes, or at least paying for the privilege. And gooey, would you be wrong. I’ve yet to find a teenager grateful that Facebook &al. “deign to even touch” their posts.

The ‘academic community’ does include many bright minds, so it’s remarkable it’s taking them so long to devise a way out of this madness. Like everyone else providing services to academia, publishers work for a living and see such ‘motives’ as the progress of some scholarly endeavour as a side effect, if any of their business at all. They act rationally, as Baković says; indeed it would be creepy of them to care about your sciencing. Let them stick to profit. The difference between publishers and other university outsourcees, like cleaners, is that the latter provide a useful service and are expected to be competent. As initiatives like Glossa show, publishing a peer-reviewed journal no longer requires subcontracting to a publishing house. We’re talking about tasks like contacting reviewers, exchanging emails, doing or delegating basic proofreading, LaTeX typesetting and web design. These do demand time and money, but the bulk of the work, namely producing quality content, is already done by authors and reviewers.

Even those who don’t care about the efficient use of university funds might consider how the current non-open access model affects academic freedom. This is highly topical, days after Cambridge University Press chose to collaborate with Xi Jinping’s ongoing bibliocaust, as instantiated in the selective censorship of China Quarterly. The CUP statement does say they’re “troubled” and have “already planned meetings” with “[R]elevant [A]gencies[ 有关部门] at the Beijing Book Fair”, but anyone familiar with the idiom will read that as just fraffly-sorreh for ‘we’re in bed with the censors; live with it, or tell us how CQ is going to generate £300m p.a.‘ CUP volte-faced this time, but the long-term trends are obvious. According to Glossa editor Rooryck, they might be at play at Elsevier, who “just coincidentally happened to sell a lot of new subscriptions in the populous Asian country that the new associate editor should have come from.” Academics submit to these publishers at their own peril; their work might get CUPped any minute, should it obstruct smooth business with authoritarians.

Perhaps CQ should just do to CUP what Lingua did to Else4, and others might do to Springer, the Jay-Store or T*F. Not denying CUP has published all manner of cool stuff, but it might have outlived its purpose, like other Henry VIII things. CQ could very well follow Lingua’s lead and teleport itself to the Open Access world, after some inevitable slight renaming (e.g., 拆哪 Chāi nǎ: Quartered).

But while it’s academics who keep feeding Tudor zombies, predators and double-dippers, I don’t mean to deflect attention from Baković and Fintel’s target, which is Zombie Lingua‘s shenanigans. Who would want to be associated with something so inauspiciously-named as Zombie Lingua? ‘Zombie Lingua’ brings up all manner of wrong associations, like bad kissing, to use a euphemism.

[Pic: Cambridge’s Henry VIII, via Wiki]

update on General Nice: assets ordered seized

In another blow to the licence holder for the (inactive) Isua project in Greenland, a court in Zhejiang province has ordered the seizure of shares in several General Nice (俊安集团) companies. This includes the entire share capital of Tianjin General Nice Coke and Chemicals Co., Ltd (天津俊安煤焦化工有限公司) , whose legal representative is the chairman of General Nice Group, Cai Suixin 蔡穗新.

This adds to the legal troubles that haunt various General Nice companies, as well as the family in charge of it (including chairman Cai, his sister Cai Suirong 蔡穗榕 and their father Cai Mingzhi 蔡明志). I have given a sample of these cases in earlier posts.

The latest court order doesn’t directly target the owner of the Greenland project, but a Hong Kong case does. All cases against General Nice I’m aware of, in at least three jurisdictions, are related to unpaid debts. As detailed in my previous post on the topic, companies in the group, as well as Cai senior personally, have made it to the Supreme People’s Court “List of Dishonest Persons Subject to Enforcement” (失信被执行人名单) after dodging court-mandated payments. Besides public humiliation, List members can be subjected to other forms of government punishment, such as not being allowed to buy plane tickets.

Liu Xiaobo and Normalised Norway

Norway’s ‘normalised’ relations with China, under which it has promised it “will not support actions that undermine” “China’s core interests and major concerns,” have been tested after the Chinese government revealed Liu Xiaobo 刘晓波 was terminally ill. The administration of prime minister Erna Solberg refused to discuss his imprisonment, calls for him and his wife Liu Xia 刘霞 to be allowed to travel abroad, and his death. The experiment has been successful: Norway has proved exceptionally easy to influence through sanctions, at essentially no cost to the Chinese government, setting the stage for further enforcement of Chinese policy in the larger region.

A holiday from human rights

The government only commented on Liu’s illness through a foreign ministry spokesperson, who found the news about Liu’s diagnosis “sad.” He had earlier explained why Norway declined to raise Liu’s case during Solberg’s Beijing visit last April using a no-sex-on-the-first-date line of argument: “This first visit [was] not the right time to go into the full breadth of all issues.” After Liu’s death, the only official statement, attributed to Solberg, called him “a central voice for human rights and China’s further development,” and stated her “thoughts” are with his family. Minutes before the press release was posted, Aftenposten was told Solberg was “on holiday” and wouldn’t answer questions on the matter.

In 2009, while in opposition, Solberg had hoped Norway would be like “fireworks” in the UN Human Rights Council, as opposed to the government of the time, under which Norway had “chosen to tone down criticism” of the human rights situation in other countries. Questioned by the press over how those remarks squared with her silence on Liu, she said she still thought Norway should be pyrotechnical about human rights, although in ways “that are functional, and do something meaningful.” Although she sees “no contradiction” between her earlier statements and her actions as prime minister, her silence on China’s human rights situation could be called a rather extreme form of ‘toning down criticism’ and her Norwegian “fireworks” a bit of a damp squib.

To assess the effects of China’s ‘normalisation’ of Norwegian government policy and discourse, it’s important to determine if the politicians in power at the time find human rights unimportant out of a sincere ideological conviction, or have just taken a holiday from the issue. Solberg is on the record as approving the Nobel to Liu and “the link between respect for human rights and peace,” but past remarks by Jan Tore Sanner, current minister of local government and modernisation in Solberg’s administration, provide a clearer answer. Sanner was among those who nominated Liu for the peace prize. He rejoiced when “[his] man” won: “we cannot turn a deaf ear when China violates human rights,” which are a “universal”, not just Western, value. In early 2011, he met with Chinese dissidents, including Yang Jianli 杨建利. Later that year, he attacked the government’s silence on Liu: one shouldn’t only defend human rights “when it costs nothing.” Relations with regimes like China’s “must be combined with a clear line on human rights issues.” Norway “must demand Liu Xiaobo’s freedom” and “lead international pressure to improve the human rights situation in China.” In 2012, he lit “a candle” for the imprisoned Nobel laureate.

In 2013, he became a minister. His outspokenness about China ceased abruptly. He refused to talk about Liu during his illness, despite headlines recalling his earlier stance. When he died, his ministry informed that he was “on holiday.” Sanner’s earlier advocacy for Liu makes it hard to imagine that he sincerely sympathises with China’s authoritarian regime. Sanner and Solberg’s Conservative party (Høyre) is a centre-right, pro-market, pro-European force, a poor ideological match for the PRC. Under Normalisation, voices clearly unaligned with Chinese policies have gone silent. Statements of ‘sadness’ over Liu’s illness and death are consistent with the PRC’s official line, only mildly challenged in the ‘central voice’ press release.

Back to 1938

Norwegian media has been filled with criticism of the administration’s silence. Politicians from across the political spectrum expressed disappointment, with Petter Eide of the Socialist Left Party (SV) calling the administration “useful idiots” who will “do exactly what China wants.” Solberg, he speculated, must have felt “relieved” when Liu died. Jan Arild Snoen, a journalist with centre-right sympathies, regretted the government’s choice of “fish over human rights.” Torbjørn Færøvik, a writer and frequent commentator on China, warns that Norway “is influenced by China, not the other way round.” Sofie Høgestøl from the University of Oslo’s human rights centre writes that “Liu’s case shows that Norway’s normalisation agreement with China deserves greater public debate.” Several newspapers published editorials attacking Solberg over Liu.

Several commentators have compared Liu’s case to that of Carl von Ossietzky, the only other Nobel peace prize winner prevented from collecting the award. The similarities are obvious: both Nazi Germany and the PRC treated their laureates as traitors, lobbied against the prize, saw the Nobel as an affront, reacted with sanctions (symbolic in the German case, compared to the PRC’s unofficial salmon boycott). In each case, the Norwegian government distanced itself from the Nobel committee’s decision. Just like Liu, Ossietzky was prevented from travelling to receive the prize and died of tuberculosis in 1938. Both cases prompted the creation of alternative prizes. Hitler’s, called Deutscher Nationalpreis für Kunst und Wissenschaft, was awarded to, among others, Alfred Rosenberg. A Chinese anti-Nobel, the Confucius Peace Prize (孔子和平奖), never received such high-level government endorsement, and proved unpopular even among its laureates, who have included Vladimir Putin, Fidel Castro and Robert Mugabe. While Nazi Germany only applied symbolic sanctions on Norway, the PRC imposed an unofficial boycott on Norwegian salmon. A Dagbladet editorial in early July feared “the biggest scandal in the history of the Nobel prize” was about to “repeat itself” as Solberg “wash[ed] her hands” over Liu’s case.

Criticism also came from abroad. Beijing-based dissident Hu Jia 胡佳 told Aftenposten he found it “unbelievable” that PM Solberg “has been elected by the people in a democratic country, the country where the Nobel peace prize is awarded.” When she visited China in April, she “behaved like just a salmon seller” without saying a word on on human rights or Liu. Yang Jianli, whom Sanner and his party had once hosted in Oslo, called the government’s silence “a shame”: Norway lacks “a moral compass.” Norway’s commitment to global human rights has lost credibility.

Your ichthyology determines your ideology

Solberg plainly admitted the government fears angering the PRC government by speaking up: “important global processes” mean Norway “must have a relationship with China,” which is why their “viewpoints on the Xiaobo [sic] issue [Xiaobo-saken]” were only conveyed through a spokesperson. Solberg’s apparent unawareness that Xiaobo is Liu’s given name provides a first glimpse of the level of expertise on ‘global processes’ at the top of Norwegian decision-making.

Norway’s choice of ‘salmon over human rights‘ isn’t simply a pragmatic decision to prioritise the economy over principles or soft power. It displays of a level of understanding of the relevant variables entirely consistent with the global know-how evidenced in Solberg’s familiarity with Chinese personal names. As I discussed in an earlier piece, Chinese sanctions had a negligible effect on Norway’s economy. The Chinese boycott over Liu’s prize left the bulk of bilateral trade intact, and indeed Norwegian exports to China increased faster than to the rest of the world during the six-year freeze. The one significant industry hit by the sanctions was salmon farming, and only in terms of missed opportunities. The sector continued to grow despite the unofficial China import ban, and, according to research that accounted for various sanction-avoidance strategies besides official trade statistics, the true volume of salmon exports to China likely grew even under the boycott.

It’s hard to find an example of such a successful use of sanctions as the salmon boycott. At virtually no cost to China, an undeclared, partial import ban aimed at a rich country over which it had minimal economic leverage achieved the silence of a Conservative government that includes an erstwhile outspoken PRC critic. In a previous piece for CPI Analysis, I compared Norway’s ‘normalisation’ to Mongolia’s response to a similar Chinese tantrum, over the Dalai Lama’s latest visit. Mongolia, a less prosperous country whose economy is heavily dependent on China, placated Beijing’s wrath with a vague statement to domestic media. The argument that Norway had no choice but to yield to Chinese pressure overlooks the extent to which Chinese Arctic interests need Norwegian cooperation. No Norwegian attempts to resist, denounce or reciprocate the boycott were made known. One is left wondering what sort of expertise on China is available to Norwegian officials. This contrasts with comparatively savvier approaches to relations with, e.g., the EU or Russia. If the Norwegian government cares so much about interactions with China, they could benefit from learning to negotiate with its authorities from a more adult position than fearfully humouring the PRC’s whim, in exchange for the promise of an eventual permission to sell fish. This also holds for those among the opposition who stand a chance of forming the next government. Post-Solberg, today’s fierce China critics might just get normalised upon elevation to the cabinet, becoming the next Jan Tore Sanners.

Beyond Liu’s case, what Norway has ‘normalised’ is the use of economic sanctions as a tool of Chinese foreign policy in the region. PRC policies on free speech seem to apply in the Norwegian cabinet when it comes to Liu Xiaobo. The question now is which Nordic institution will be the next to offend the Chinese government the way the Nobel committee did, triggering a round of sanctions to normalise another country.

‘normalised’ Norway and Liu Xiaobo

An extended version of this piece, with an excursus on Anti-Nobel prizes, has been published on CPI: Analysis.

[UPDATE (Jul 14). After Liu’s death, the only public statement from the Norwegian government, attributed to PM Solberg, called him “a central voice for human rights and China’s further development,” sending Solberg’s “thoughts” to his family. Minutes before the press release was posted, Aftenposten was told Solberg was “on holiday” and wouldn’t answer questions on the matter.

Also “on holiday”: Jan Tore Sanner, who was among those who nominated Liu for the Nobel prize in 2010. Sanner remained an outspoken supporter of Liu’s plight until 2012. Since becoming a minister in the Solberg administration, he has refused to discuss Liu’s imprisonment, illness or death.]

The Norwegian government is keeping silent on the fate of Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo 刘晓波 and has declined to endorse calls for him to be allowed to be treated abroad. PM Erna Solberg and foreign minister Børge Brende refused to comment, and plainly admitting their fear of angering the PRC government by speaking up: in Solberg’s words, “large, important global processes” mean Norway “must have a relationship with China”; therefore, her government “expressed their viewpoint on the Xiaobo [sic] issue [Xiaobo-saken] through the foreign ministry’s spokesperson.” Solberg’s awareness of ‘global processes’ apparently doesn’t extend so far as figuring out the Chinese naming order.

The FM spokesperson’s comment Solberg was referring to said news about Liu’s diagnosis are “sad,” and offered their “thoughts” for him and his family.

This has earned the Solberg government criticism from different quarters. Politicians across the political spectrum aired their disappointment. Petter Eide of the leftist SV called the administration “useful idiots” who will “do exactly what China wants,” supporting “the infringement on Xiaobo’s rights.” (Eide also appears to lack knowledge of East Asian naming practices, although, as a former Amnesty International worker, he has a slightly higher probability than Solberg of being on given-name terms with Liu.) Torbjørn Færøvik, a writer and frequent commentator on China, warns that Norway “is influenced by China, not the other way round.” Sofie Høgestøl from the University of Oslo’s human rights centre writes that “Liu’s case shows that Norway’s normalisation agreement with China deserves greater public debate.” A Nationen editorial called for Norway to “stand up for Liu Xiaobo.”

(There are also less critical voices. Some of these are likely to be found among the newly formed multiparty ‘Group of China Friends’ in the Norwegian parliament. Its chairman, Jørund Rytman, said at a recent meeting with the Chinese ambassador that the Group would like to “strengthen exchanges with the National People’s Congress“. At least that’s according to the embassy’s Chinese-language account of the meeting. Rytman’s party’s website didn’t say anything about the NPC.)

Aftenposten talked to friends of Liu, who also had a few things to say about Norway’s silence. An unnamed Liu friend says they are “very disappointed” in the Norwegian government. Hu Jia 胡佳 finds it “unbelievable” that PM Solberg “has been elected by the people in a democratic country, the country where the Nobel peace prize is awarded.” When she visited China in April, she “behaved like just a salmon seller” without saying a word on on human rights or Liu. He questions what salmon exports mean next to “what Norway is really known for, and what gives it international influence, namely the defence of democracy and human rights.”

The only response from the Normalised Norwegian government came again from a foreign ministry spokesperson, who offered a no-sex-on-the-first-date reasoning: “This first visit [was] not the right time to go into the full breadth of all issues. This applies to human rights, but also other issues that require us to establish a systematic political dialogue.” (Norway had diplomatic relations with China before its own (modern) independence in 1905. It established relations with the PRC in 1954.)

Norway’s choice of ‘salmon over human rights‘ isn’t simply a pragmatic decision to prioritise the economy over principles or soft power. It displays of a level of understanding of the relevant variables entirely consistent with the global know-how evidenced in Solberg’s surname gaffe. As I discussed in an earlier piece, the economic pressure Chinese sanctions applied on Norway was actually negligible. The Chinese boycott over Liu’s prize left the bulk of bilateral trade intact, and indeed Norwegian exports to China increased faster than to the rest of the world during the six-year freeze. The one significant industry hit by the sanctions was indeed salmon farming, but it was only affected in terms of ‘missed opportunities’. The sector continued to grow despite the unofficial China export ban, and, according to research that accounts for various sanction-avoidance strategies besides official trade statistics, the true volume of salmon exports to China likely grew even under the boycott. Mongolia, a less prosperous country with an economy highly dependent on China, was able to manage a comparable China tantrum without yielding as much. The argument that Norway has no choice but to abandon any pretence of global human rights advocacy because of the economic stakes suggests that the administration has no access to, or inclination to heed, expertise on China of the kind that manages to figure out naming conventions.

Beyond Liu’s case, what Norway has ‘normalised’ is economic sanctions as a tool of Chinese foreign policy in the region, effectively allowing the extraterritorial enforcement of PRC policies on free speech, and depriving Norway’s commitment to global human rights of any semblance of credibility.

update on General Nice: attack of the Dishonest Persons

After failing to comply with Chinese court orders, companies part of General Nice (俊安) group, the owner of the Isua iron-ore project in Greenland, as well as two members of the family in control of it, have been added to the “List of Dishonest Persons Subject to Enforcement,” as the name (失信被执行人名单) of a Supreme People’s Court-issued list of judgement defaulters is often translated in PRC sources. The companies directly affected by the judgements behind the listing are not the direct owners of the Greenland project, so the only relevance for Greenland is what it can suggest about the Group’s practices and financial health. However, a more direct Greenland connection comes from a separate source. According to a long-time Hong Kong publisher and financial analyst, the Hong Kong parent of the Greenland entity has been directly targeted by a lawsuit in that city.

Both individuals involved are related to the company’s chairman, Cai Suixin 蔡穗新. They are his father, Cai Mingzhi 蔡明志, and his sister, Cai Suirong 蔡穗榕. Both have long had a number of positions in multiple Group companies. Cai senior is, or at least used to be, one of the main ultimate owners of the company, together with his son. Cai Mingzhi’s political contacts in Guangzhou province reportedly opened many doors for General Nice, a (mostly) private player in a state-dominated sector. For more on the history of General Nice, see my General Nice backgrounder.

The List lists people and companies that have failed to comply with court judgements. Its purpose is to induce compliance by public shaming. For example, a sample of it was once displayed for two weeks on an enormous screen at Changsha railway station. It’s searchable online. An evolving (and quite Orwellian) ‘social credit’ system is expected to impose a range of penalties on those on the wrong side of it, and that includes denizens of the List like the Cais. If they don’t remove themselves from it on time, they could be prevented from buying plane tickets, to mention just one possible consequence. I’ve written about the List of Dishonest Persons before: one noted member of it is Huang Nubo 黄怒波, everyone’s favourite poet-tycoon-mountaineer, known for his attempts to buy land in Iceland and Norway. Since I wrote that almost three years ago, old Huang Nubo List entries have been removed, suggesting he has perhaps paid up, but he has been honoured with a new one, over a new dispute that need not concern us here.

The judgements that landed the Cais on the list concern, among other companies, General Nice (Tianjin) Industry Co., Ltd (俊安(天津)实业有限公司). One of the creditors is an Agricultural Bank of China branch. The sums General Nice (and General Nice-linked) companies have failed to disburse as ordered by the courts total more than 70m yuan. Of course, it is possible that all those outstanding amounts have just been paid, but the online version of the List hasn’t been updated yet.

In a separate development, Target, a Hong Kong publication by venerable Hong Kong financial analyst, journalist, editor, restaurant reviewer and poet Raymonde Sacklyn, reported in late April on a lawsuit brought against General Nice Development Ltd (俊安发展有限公司) and all three Cais by ICBC, over a mortgage and a guarantee. General Nice Development, another Group company, is the ultimate owner of the Jersey entity that owns the Greenland company that owns the Isua mine.

I’ve mentioned worrying developments about General Nice (while still omitting a few) in several posts, starting with that ‘backgrounder‘ in 2015, months after the company entered the Greenland game. The Cais’ group has kept afloat despite all these. In a surprising move, last year they attempted to purchase a derelict naval base in Greenland, only to be blocked by the Danish intervention, as leaked to Defence Watch and (months later) Reuters. In my previous long-ish read on China and Greenland, I speculated that the attempt to buy the base, despite hardly making any obvious business sense, catered to a Chinese state interest in it, perceived or explicit. The Isua mine purchase can also be read in that context: if questionable as a commercial investment, sitting on the licence can make General Nice useful in the eyes of state entities that would like to see the Greenland mine stay in Chinese hands.

This blog has featured poetry in the past, namely that of Huang Nubo, a celebrated poet under the pen name Luo Ying 骆英. I have quoted his verses about Château Lafite, about stockpiling condoms. I have mentioned how he flies first-class because that helps him write, and hope he’ll make it out of the List of Dishonest Persons before the Social Credit System can prevent him from flying. With such precedent, I feel obliged to quote from Sacklyn’sserendipitously-titled poem The Loan:

The body dies and, then, putrefies:
Nature decides the timeframe of this glorious fate.
Man bemoans his ultimate demise,
Fearing the unknown; the darkness; and, the empty plate[.]