Quotes: Life in Xinjiang

Many of us are generally aware there is a minority of mostly Muslim ethnic Turkmen in far western China known as Uighurs (pronounced “Wee-gurs”), people more closely related to the population of the Central Asian ‘Stans than to the ruling Han Chinese.

Some will have read about recent and apparently massive, largely arbitrary incarceration of Uighurs in “re-education camps” under local Party Secretary Chen Quanguo. Chen’s previous post was the Tibetan capital Lhasa, where he presided over a spate of Tibetan Buddihst self-immolations under his remit to tame the Tibetan population.

I’ve only just now read some alarming reporting from Ruth Ingram about what life is like among the Xinjiang Uighurs. Some quotes:

“Uyghurs have to keep a notebook detailing visits by not only their friends and relatives, but those of neighbors in their street, the content of the conversations, and the time and date of arrival and departure.”

“They are forced to install satellite navigation in their cars and to install the special Jingwang Weishi app on their phones, which sends the police an identification number for the device, its model, and the telephone number of its owner before monitoring all the information that passes through the telephone, warning the user when it finds content that the government deems dangerous. Failure to carry your phone, refusal to use a smart phone, turning it off completely for long periods, or even restoring your phone to its factory settings can be deemed suspicious.”

“Children who have had both parents taken away are being brought up in state orphanages hurriedly being built for the purpose.”

“‘It’s impossible to tear out weeds one by one,’ said one party official in Kashgar. ‘We need chemicals that can deal with all of them at once.'”

Read the whole article in The Diplomat.

China Moves Its Cities Abroad

Beijing is not only buying Africa, now it’s building its own cities in other countries. Here, in Cambodia,

“Union Development Group (UDG), the Chinese developer behind Koh Kong province’s $3.8 billion tourism project called Dara Sakor, has unveiled plans for yet another project called “Tourism Vacation Town,”

an investment of an additional $1.2 billion dollars, while in Malaysia, a proposed new city of 700,000, the $100 billion Forest City project looks a lot like mainland China’s Shenzen, which is perched on the border with Hong Kong. Forest City would sit just across the Johor Strait from Singapore. It’s running into resistance from the Malaysian leadership, though. 93-year-old leader Mahathir Mohamad said this week

“that no foreigners would be allowed to live there even as crews rushed to complete some residential towers before buyers move in later this year.”

This Is Really Huge

Now under construction, the Daxing International Airport south of Beijing will supplant Beijing Capitol Airport with the first flight scheduled for October of next year.

Beijing hopes that Daxing can beat Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta in the US to become the world’s busiest airport in terms of passengers within a few years. Atlanta’s airport handled just under 104 million passengers in 2017, while the Beijing Capital International Airport was the runner-up with 95.8 million, according to the Airports Council International.

– from New Beijing airport aiming to be the world’s busiest in the Asia Times. Artist’s impression from the same article.

Soft Power

Gordon Chang is enjoying a TV punditry renaissance just now, having rebranded himself as a North Korea expert. In his previous life as a pundit he wrote The Coming Collapse of China – seventeen years ago. No surprise he went to ground for a while.

I fear Joseph Nye may be making the Chang mistake. In an article for the Australian think tank ASPI, he similarly discounts the juggernaut that, truth is, China really is nowadays.

Nye has come around toward the end of his career to focus on an idea he coined the term for back in the late 1980s: the idea of “soft power,” understood as the ability of a country to persuade others to do what it wants without force or coercion. He thinks China is sorely lacking in soft power, writing

“no one should be tempted by exaggerated projections of Chinese power. If the US maintains its alliances with democratic Japan and Australia, and continues to develop good relations with India, it will hold the high cards in Asia. In the global military balance, China lags far behind, and in terms of demography, technology, the monetary system and energy dependence, the US is better placed than China in the coming decade. In the Soft Power 30 index, China ranks 25th, while the US is third.”

Maybe. But should push come to shove, does the United States under the Trump administration have the will or the desire, at the far end of its supply lines and on China’s doorstep, to resist Chinese expansion inside the nine-dash line?

Nye writes “no one knows what the future will bring for China. Xi has torn up Deng Xiaoping’s institutional framework for leadership succession, but how long will Xi’s authority last?”

Since 5 June, 1989, when that man stood in front of the tank just outside Tiananmen Square, wishful-thinking pundits have written similar things about each successive Chinese leader, and their conviction that sometime soon anti-authoritarianism will triumph in China.

I’m just saying, how’s that working out so far?

When that man stood in front of that tank, China was a mere shell of the global behemoth it has become since. Its model of state capitalism has since beguiled the leaders of just about every developing country in the world, showering them with loans and influence free of judgmental politics, like the gleaming new railroad between Nairobi and Mombasa, the Madaraka Express train in Kenya,  and the massive Hambantota port in Sri Lanka. That, seems to me, is its own sort of soft power.

Dear Mr. Nye: a word of caution on the soft power thing. No Gordon Chang moment, please.

China’s Got Them Rattled

First came the odd story of how Chinese diplomats refuse to leave a property in Papeete, Tahiti’s capital. Now this week comes a report that “‘preliminary discussions’ were held between the Chinese and Vanuatu governments about the establishment of a naval base at a Beijing-funded wharf in Luganville,” and how that is “causing quite a stir in Australia.” The author of this particular report, a Kiwi academic, is skeptical, but it looks like the state of China/Australia relations is topic number one in the region these days, with stories just this month like Big chill between China and Australia and China challenged Australian warships in South China Sea, reports say. China has the southern Pacific rattled.

More photos: China, Australia, Vanuatu

An Army of High Speed Somnambulists

The other day I posted Driving in Vietnam, an article with photos about riding between towns in Vietnam that included a five minute GoPro video of a drive around Saigon on the back of a scooter-for-hire.

Entirely different, but related: In this article, Veronique Greenwood, who lives on a university campus in Beijing, explains that

“In New York, the key to road safety is predictability. Make eye contact with drivers, so they can see your intentions. Use hand signals when you want to turn. Avoid sudden, erratic movements—if drivers can see where you’re going, they’ll be less likely to hit you. The first time I use a hand signal in China, angling my arm leftward to show a truck driver I am about to turn in front of him, he looks to see what I’m pointing at, while accelerating. Every time I make eye contact, other cyclists and drivers barrel right on through, instead of letting me pass in front of them. Eventually I adapt to a new reality, learn the new rules, and I discover that they are as simple in China as in the United States. Actually, there’s only one rule: Ignore everyone.””

It’s a great read. It’s psychology. It’s a cultural thing. It’s practical driving in China advice. It’s about living in China. Do read.