MERICS Blog, European Voices on China, Header

 

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.

China used to be a strong proponent of a stable and unified Europe – as a market and as a pillar in a multipolar world. Yet its recent infrastructure foreign policy initiatives and political outreach to central and eastern European countries have raised the question if Beijing’s priorities have changed. This article is the sixth and final part of a MERICS blog series on China’s new foreign policy setup. 

The establishment of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission appears to strengthen the role of the CCP in China’s foreign policymaking. The new body will likely have a higher standing than the former Leading Small Group on Foreign Affairs and further sideline the government agencies in charge of foreign policy. This article is part 2 of a MERICS blog series on China’s new foreign policy setup. Read part 1 here.

Xi Jinping has a global vision for China and has centralized foreign policy around himself and the CCP. In this blog series, MERICS researchers take a closer look at the (new) setup of China’s foreign policy leadership, institutions, budget and personnel – as well as on its policy approach to Europe. This article is part 1 of the series.

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. 

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.

The success of authoritarian innovation in China challenges liberal market theories. Technological innovation is no longer just driven by Silicon Valley-style capitalism, but also by technocrats in Beijing. China is proving to be a "red swan," as unforeseen as a "black swan" event. Its techno authoritarianism appears well suited for dealing with many megachallenges of the 21st century.

European schools should step up their efforts to teach students the Chinese-language skills required in a changing global landscape. Governments should follow the British example of acknowledging the strategic importance of learning Mandarin – and provide the political support and funding necessary to close this gap.

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.

 

(via The Diplomat)

China’s foreign relations institutions have emerged as stronger players from this year’s National People’s Congress (NPC). Taking advantage of the void left by the United States, Beijing is working to realize Xi Jinping’s vision of turning China into a global power by 2049.

The CCP has always ruled supreme in China, but reform era leaders have pushed for a separation between party and state organs. This is changing under Xi Jinping. The planned constitutional amendments at this year’s National People’s Congress and a recent Central Committee decision suggest a reversal of this process – and a takeover of state functions and offices by the CCP.

Xi Jinping’s promise to introduce legal accountability in China is undermined by the Communist Party’s absolute control. But Xi is no Frederick the Great. The new National Supervision Law may increase predictability, but unlike the Prussian king's legal reforms, it will not limit state power.

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.
 

The CCP reasserts its control over the private sector by extending its reach far inside foreign and Chinese companies. For foreign investors, such close and often involuntary cooperation with the party-state can bring lucrative opportunities but also lead to questionable business decisions.

After his re-election as General Secretary of the CCP at the 19th Party Congress, Xi Jinping faces the challenging task of launching and speeding up numerous ambitious political programs that were adopted during his first term. To make that happen, China’s top leader counts on technocrats from high-tech industries.

Interview with Willy Lam

The 19th Congress of the Communist Party is an opportunity to take stock of five years of Xi Jinping rule. “Xi has benefitted tremendously from the world leadership vacuum left by US President Donald Trump”, says Willy Lam of the Chinese University of Hong Kong. But, he warns, China’s power projection won’t go very far unless Beijing addresses its “soft power deficit” and starts to respect international rules and laws.

Economic planning and societal control: The digital transformation is changing the rules of the game in the global systemic competition. China's determined pursuit of a "digital Leninism" presents a major challenge to liberal market economies and democratic political systems. 

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.

(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.

China’s party-and-state leader tries to bring government officials under the reach of the legal system. But the purpose of this approach is less about ensuring compliance with the law than about ensuring the top leadership’s control over its bureaucracy.