Instead of spending their youth in a godforsaken rural cave to relive the Cultural Revolution in the image of no less a figure than Xi Jinping, the great leader himself, Chinese citizens have celebrated Halloween — a Western so-called festival — in the pulsating metropolis of Shanghai costumed up as parodies of China’s national policies.
COVID testers, a crashing stock-market, surveillance cameras and unemployed graduates clad in the rags of their resumes were all infuriatingly present as were voices from beyond the grave: The frustratingly popular late premier Li Keqiang (李克強) warned about rivers not flowing backwards, while the early 20th century poet Lu Xun (魯迅) rose from the dead to preach that China cannot be saved by studying medicine, an admonishment that implies it needs free-thinking writers as well. For anybody with a passing resemblance to Winnie the Pooh and a phobia of blank A4 sheets, the revelry was apparently triggering enough to pursue Batman with a platoon of police and erase part of the internet in a petty rage.
Yet on the other side of the Great Wall of China, all kinds of petulant truth can thumb its nose at the Chinese Communist Party without censure. The maddeningly impervious tech giant Google is ignoring demands to remove “The Hong Konger” a documentary about Jimmy Lai (黎智英), Hong Kong’s jailed media magnate and pro-democracy icon, which has been viewed nearly 3 million times already. Even figures in the Catholic church are now speaking out on Lai’s behalf. If only the world had just one social media platform: TikTok.
And Genghis Khan has raised his ugly mug in France again. Three years after the Chinese Cultural Affairs Bureau caused cancelation of an exhibition on Khan’s Mongol empire by attempting to rewrite its contents and promotional materials to tone down the words “Khan,” “Mongol” or “empire,” Nantes Museum of History has substituted artifacts from the Inner Mongolia Museum in Hohhot, China, with hundreds of others from independent Mongolia’s Genghis Khan Museum to launch a display on the theme anyway.
In this manner, the Nantes museum has sought to avoid contributing to a whitewash of Mongolian history and subjugation of Mongolians within China’s current borders to educate anybody and everybody on how the Mongols controlled 22% of the Earth’s surface, Khan’s grandson founded the Yuan dynasty and the “Pax Mongolica” eventually allowed “for commercial, scientific, and artistic relations to flourish between the East and West.”
Instead of being detained for joining a terrorist group, as some believe befits those with a passing curiosity for Mongolian history, museum-goers can take in the ancient cultural sophistication and world-changing cartography of a minority that Han China seems to consider itself to be civilizing by way of assimilation. The French Ministry of Culture has even awarded the exhibition the official status of “national interest.” Ouch.
Not to be outdone, Tibetans have decried the active colonization of their country at the Geneva Forum 2023, and Uyghurs have shown the world the limits of tyranny with the documentary, “All Static and Noise,” which has been screened at the Double Exposure Film Festival in Washington D.C., bringing the human cost of China’s mass arbitrary internment of Muslims uncomfortably close to the U.S. seat of power.
Flicking aside all of the fear that the largest repressive machine in history can throw at her, one of the film’s protagonists, Jewher Ilham, daughter of the imprisoned economist Ilham Tohti, had a simple message for those forming foreign policy in an interview with China Digital Times: “Legislation will hurt their economy, and the Chinese government cares about their economy. That’s how we’re going to trigger change in China.”
After spending millions after millions on transnational repression and influencing cultural institutions around the world, it cannot be anything but excruciatingly galling to hear a voice that is supposed to be silenced by the terror of what might happen to her father instead elucidating how the Chinese Communist Party’s power is to be eroded. But what is infinitely worse, under those pesky political arrangements known as democracies, such a voice can actually feed into the decision-making discourse.
And that is actually happening! As 50 countries join the United Kingdom to denounce the “serious violations of [Uyghur and predominantly Muslim minorities’] human rights by the authorities of the People’s Republic of China” to the United Nations, the United States is issuing wider blocks on advanced computer chip exports to the Middle Kingdom. It is also considering both denying Chinese firms access to cloud computing technologies and sanctioning 49 judges and officials for their role in jailing pro-democracy figures in Hong Kong. Industries from seafood to precious metals may soon be subject to import bans as a result of fresh revelations about their supply chains, too.
At the same time, foreign direct investment to China has nosedived into the negative for the first time in decades, and the European Union has its own raft of legislation in waiting. This will include a ban on forced labor and the newly adopted Anti-Coercion Instrument, which could limit Beijing’s ability to do anything about such a ban by creating a mechanism for retaliatory trade restrictions and customs duties in the event that any outside state tries to force its will upon the bloc or its members. Supplementing the instrument with economic alternatives, delegations from powerful European economies have been meeting China’s neighbors.
Vexing enough when far away on the other side of the world, the agency of other states is utterly insufferable when situated on your own doorstep. Yet Vietnam is rapidly reclaiming strategic land in the South China Sea’s Spratly Islands. Myanmar has gone rogue in totally the wrong direction, accidentally shelling Chinese citizens over the two countries’ shared border. The Republic of the Marshall Islands has overcome a dispute over the fallout from American nuclear bomb tests in the 1940s and 1950s to ink a $2.3 billion agreement with Washington that will deny China access to a huge area of the West Pacific. And the worst possible candidate continues to front-run polls for the January election in Taiwan, which is still embarrassingly democratic.
Taiwan has also signed an Enhanced Trade Partnership with the United Kingdom, its first such framework agreement with a European country. Seen to be a stepping-stone to membership of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, the deal looks almost as if, in the U.K.’s eyes, Taiwan is an independent country, making decisions distinct from those of the motherland, based on its own national interests. Integrating still further with the international community, Taiwan may be set to open a new office in Estonia, too. That follows a visit by its foreign minister, Joseph Wu (吳釗燮), to the Baltic states, which are all European Union members.
But for the second month in a row, nothing bar nothing is quite so infuriating as the Philippines. If it is not ripping up undelivered plans for Belt and Road rail projects and telling the world how Beijing’s vessels ram its own in seas that China has no legal claim upon, then it is negotiating a military defense pact with Japan that will go alongside equipment transfers, including radar and patrol ships.
And it doesn’t stop there: Acting nothing like an economy 44 times smaller than China, on October 26, its Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla announced a decision to take Beijing to an international tribunal over environmentally destructive activities in the Philippines exclusive economic zone. It aims to show “the abomination that China is doing to [Filipino] waters.”
This relates to the alleged destruction of coral reefs by China’s maritime militia, a fleet of fishing and suspected paramilitary boats that it swarms around parts of the ocean it would like to annex in order to obstruct others’ access to them. The Philippines has previously released damning video footage of a coral graveyard, and its coastguard has described “minimal to no signs of life” in one local ecosystem. It argues that severe degradation of the natural environment has been caused by China’s deliberate topographical modifications and wide-scale coral harvesting.
Not only does raising this to the level of an international tribunal threaten to kneecap Xi Jinping’s presentation of China as an “ecological civilization” in front of the global community, which has quite a soft spot for coral reefs, but the Philippines Department of Foreign Affairs (PDFA) has cast doubt on China’s claim that its rights-abusing approach to rulership is justified by how it lifts people from poverty. In a statement from September, the PDFA asserts, “The well-being of millions of people who depend on the South China Sea for their livelihood is at stake.”
Moreover, the environmental move could provide more weapons for other countries to challenge China’s self-described “indisputable sovereignty” over large swathes of ocean, and Manila has famously defeated Beijing at lawfare before. After a decade spent crushing alternative voices as president, how can Xi Jinping live with himself to find that even dead coral has now found one?
BEIJIING ANGER-OMETER: 80/100 Fury like thunder (大發雷霆)