In the land where the lies are so numerous that cover-ups come in bundles, censors smothered news about an academic research paper that revealed inequality between urban and migrant workers during China’s turn-of-the-century boom, hooking it from the web along with key-chain chimeras that question whether a rat’s head is, in fact, a duck’s neck and a science-based media outlet that had the temerity to talk about Beijing’s COVID “victory” based on how people actually experienced it.
The ostensible reason for cloaking the research was a map that fell below the standards of cartographic excellence in Barbie movies: It did not reinforce China’s policy of invading other countries’ maritime space. By coincidence, it just so happened to also obscure an uncomfortable challenge to the idea that socialism with Chinese characteristics is for all: Monthly salaries for migrant workers in the Pearl River Delta region over 12 years up to 2005 apparently rose 18 times less than for their city-based counterparts.
In Sichuan, meanwhile, the three-year war on “big stomach kings” (大胃王) pushed on with an investigation into a restaurant that held a subversive competition for eating local wontons. Since 2021, legislation has outlawed both the excessive ordering of dishes and the broadcast of eating events under food waste laws. State sensitivity on the topic, which extends all the way to Xi Jinping, emanates from both food security concerns and fears that ostentatious demonstrations of gluttony may juxtapose badly with China’s wealth gap for those on the wrong side of it.
Reasons for the poor and vulnerable to feel locked out of China’s economic drive are prevalent all across the world, according to a recently released Business and Human Rights Resource Centre report into the overseas exploration, extract and processing of transition minerals for renewable energy, which documented 102 allegations of abuses by Chinese companies during 2021 and 2022 alone. The majority concerned infringements to the rights of local communities, workers and indigenous peoples such as substandard consultation procedures, workplace injuries, contaminated water and direct repression, while 54 involved environmental pollution and habitat destruction, contradicting the supposed green intentions of the entire process.
Companies implicated have links to the Chinese state, and the primary hotspot for allegations was Indonesia, where scientists whose research may have implications for mining are currently being muzzled, and other China-backed energy projects like Sinohydro’s Batang Toru dam are progressing in a climate of fear and suspected forgery. Peru, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Myanmar have also accumulated more than ten allegations of severe wrongdoing each, which include collusion between Chinese companies and local security forces. Additional to the abuses meted out to locals, Chinese citizens themselves are believed to be falling victim to human trafficking in some of these projects, which supports the conclusions of earlier U.S. Treasury Department evaluations of China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
Parallel to the release of its report, the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre also revealed that the constitution was being amended in Argentina’s Jujuy Province both to corrode people’s freedom to express themselves and to expand the liberty of lithium producers to access land. Conveniently, the Chinese-Canadian joint lithium venture Minera Exar and Chinese mineral giant Tsingshan Mining, as well as extraction companies from Japan and elsewhere, are making huge investments in Jujuy with work already underway. Large protests against the amendments to law have resulted in tens of police detentions and hundreds of injuries, prompting a reaction even from Greta Thunberg.
Thus proceeds Beijing’s neocolonial grab for profits and control over raw materials in the earthly realm, as its bid for dominance in the heavens moves in lockstep. Xi Jinping’s determination to wheedle himself or his proxies into Buddhism, Christianity and Islam took lofty forms during the June-July turnover: The Chinese Communist Party reaffirmed its self-appointed commitment to discover the next Dalai Lama, while the state-sanctioned Three-Self Church ambitiously pledged to transform Christianity all over the world in its own image, thereby presumably looking for another way to snare niches of the diaspora.
Insight into how Christianity might look if the Three-Self Church ever accomplishes its unlikely mission is filtering through to a global audience with the images from the mosque Sinicization drive that is taking place in Xining, Qinghai, where pressure towards Hui Muslims is intensifying. The intention is evidently to remove Islamic features and replace them with Han substitutes in an effort to subsume people’s culture, chicanery that has been extending to architecture and Arabic script more widely for years.
Leaking details of such transformations from China to foreign organizations or media has long been inordinately risky, but, since July 1, it has become arguably even more dangerous with the expansion of espionage laws that compels the entire 1.3 billion population of China to hunt spies and enables more-or-less every communication or data transfer with a foreigner to be interpreted as traitorous. Given the long-term absence of rule of law and the broad definitions already in place, its value as a legal document is doubtful, but it may pave the way to prosecute people who share information that appraises the economy and investment opportunities in a less optimistic light.
Certainly, the Chinese government needs a broad scope for the law. It has a lot to hide.