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MERICS Guest Author Genia Kostka

Educated and wealthy urban Chinese have an overwhelmingly positive view of commercial and government-run systems that rate the “trustworthiness” of citizens, businesses and social organizations. Rather than perceiving them as instruments of surveillance, they see them as a way to protect consumers from food scandals or financial fraud – and to access benefits connected to a high social credit score.

Interview with Frank N. Pieke

For years, many China observers believed that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) would eventually crumble under the contradictions between a Leninist political system and a dynamic society. “But we were all proved wrong,” says Frank N. Pieke, the new head of MERICS. The CCP is more modern, more powerful and confident than ever, he says. Yet, Xi Jinping, who likes to present himself as an all-powerful state and party leader, might find it more difficult than expected to secure a third term.

Frank N. Pieke plans to build on MERICS' successful first five years as the institute's new director and CEO. The former head of the Leiden Asia Center and the Oxford China Center sees the Communist Party's transformation as the key to understanding China's global rise. At the helm of MERICS, Pieke and his deputy Mikko Huotari want to facilitate more coordinated information-sharing on China in Europe.

Interview with Rogier Creemers (via Young China Watchers)

The aim of China's social credit system, as Rogier Creemers of Leiden University sees it, is "to ensure that people who behave in a sincere and trustworthy way in society are incentivized to do so." In this interview, the postdoctoral scholar in the Law and Governance of China describes the current state of the social credit system and its intended uses for government oversight and moral education.

Interview with Martha Bayles

For Hollywood China is a huge market it cannot afford to ignore. But closer co-operation with the Chinese movie industry has not always gone well: Expensive co-productions like “The Great Wall” flopped at box offices worldwide in 2016. Yet Hollywood is still keen on China and willing to go a long way to please Chinese censors by tweaking scripts or replacing Chinese villains with baddies from North Korea. “Hollywood is compromising freedom of expression to stay in China,” warns film critic and Boston College lecturer Martha Bayles.

Interview with: Fu King-wa

Internet censorship in China has evolved from just blocking websites into an elaborate system of information control, says Fu King-wa, Associate Professor at the Journalism and Media Studies Centre of the University of Hong Kong. Fu has developed projects that track what has been deleted on the Chinese web. His assessment of the current situation is bleak: The space for public expression is depressingly small, he says. Yet the #MeToo debate in China also demonstrates that that not all discussion can be suppressed – even in China. 

Interview with Didi Kirsten Tatlow

Chinese schools are notorious for their rote learning and endless tests and exams. But the Chinese government wants to change that – at least, the authorities want to introduce more creativity into the classrooms. That’s no easy undertaking, says MERICS Visiting Academic Fellow Didi Kirsten Tatlow. For children to become truly creative adults, Tatlow argues, they need time to play and the freedom to think their own way.

Chinese citizens are increasingly concerned about invasive data collection practices of private companies such as Alibaba's Ant Financial. But those hoping that state regulators will rein in these practices should not forget that the government relies on the tech giants to build its social credit system with the goal to monitor and restrict citizens’ behavior.

Interview with Jessica Batke

When China’s law on non-governmental organizations went into effect in early 2017, observers worried that many international NGOs would pull out as a result. Almost 18 months later, the picture is mixed as Jessica Batke of ChinaFile has found out. As part of ChinaFile’s NGO Project, she tracks the experiences with the new law and says that no NGO is known to have left China so far. Yet, this could change in 2018. Small NGOs find it particularly difficult to comply with the new regulations.

At this year’s German-Chinese media dialogue in Berlin participants shared concerns over separating real news from fake news on social media while acknowledging the fundamental differences in how both sides see the role of the media. Chinese participants spoke of the media’s job to promote government views, i.e. on globalization. Germans demanded better access to the Chinese media market and better conditions for foreign correspondents in China.

China’s growing political, economic and cultural influence in Europe is finally attracting the public attention it deserves. In this OpEd for the New York Times, former Beijing correspondent and current MERICS fellow Didi Kirsten Tatlow offers a personal view of how China expanded its footprint in Berlin since she last lived in the German capital.

Descriptions of Xi Jinping as new Mao Zedong or destroyer of the Deng Xiaoping legacy are prominent in the media outside of China. But resorting to old paradigms about leadership in Chinese politics may prevent us from seeing the differences between Xi and his predecessors.

 

Worries about the future of civil society organizations in China are limited to only a handful of European countries. Others put their faith in established informal ties or have subscribed to Chinese understandings of “people-to-people exchanges,” which are unlikely to be affected by restrictions on non-governmental organizations.

China's holistic approach to state security does not differentiate between policies to respond to external versus internal threats. The CCP mobilizes the entire society - with a mix of persuasion and coercion - to preempt threats from both inside and outside China’s borders and from both inside and outside the CCP.
 

(via The Diplomat)

Unlike any other Chinese leader since the reform era, Xi Jinping has worked on forging a Chinese national narrative with the aim to strengthen the ties between China’s citizens and the CCP. Chinese netizens challenge the official orthodoxy in online debates that are remarkably pluralistic despite increasing censorship and repression.

China's Internet economy is developing rapidly with the help of government funding and a protected domestic market. European governments have to rethink their digital policies to be prepared for the Chinese competition.

Interview with Shazeda Ahmed

In setting up the so called Social Credit System, China plans to monitor, rate and regulate the behavior of citizens and companies with the help of big data. What motivates the government? What are the major challenges? And what do people in China think about this system?

(via The Diplomat

The increasing digitalization of life in China has increased the need for the security of personal data. To ensure effective data protection, the party-state would have to create a unified legal framework and to subject itself to supervision.

Interview with Carsten Holz

The Chinese government spends millions to develop the Tibetan areas of China. But what can investment achieve in these remote regions? Can it create sustainable jobs and change people’s lives? In this MERICS Experts Podcast, the economist Carsten Holz of Hongkong University of Science and Technology accounts his research trip on the Tibetan plateau in Western Sichuan.

International students in China have become the latest target in Beijing’s campaign to ensure thought control and political stability. The party-state’s obsession with “ideological security” clashes with its efforts to promote people-to-people exchanges as a key part of China’s global outreach.

Interview with Isabel Hilton

The working conditions for NGOs and independent journalists in China have become harder under the leadership of Xi Jinping. But according to Isabel Hilton, “civil society still has an enormous role to play.” In the new MERICS Experts Podcast, the editor of China Dialogue, an environmental website based in London and Beijing, talks about how NGOs and the media in today’s China navigate a tricky political environment.

Interview with Ian Johnson (via Young China Watchers)

After decades of prioritizing economic development, Chinese society is engaged in a search for values to fill the spiritual vacuum. Young China Watchers spoke with New York Times journalist Ian Johnson, who is also a Senior Policy Fellow at MERICS, about his new book “The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao” (2017).

Katharina Otte
Beijing wants to end excessive land grabs and evictions of Chinese farmers. But the planned reform of the land administration law does not remove the root causes of the problem: urbanization pressure and fiscal problems at the local level.

(via The Diplomat)

International businesses in China struggle to comply with new regulations, which force them to store critical data within China's borders, limit the application of foreign encryption services, and require handing over customer data of terror suspects.

As many feared, the new law in practice seems designed to make life difficult for international organizations. Many foreign NGOs, especially those working in political sensitive areas like legal advocacy or political education, are left in legal Limbo.