Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Fall 2020 Issue 65

Investigation of a Death Long Feared: How China Decided to Impose its National Security Law in Hong Kong

Minxin Pei

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

China’s imposition of a national security law in Hong Kong has effectively ended the “one country, two systems” governance model in the former British colony.  Available evidence suggests that this was one of the options for Beijing in order to quell the unrest in the city.  Chinese leaders were reluctant to resort to this drastic measure until last year when protests against a controversial extradition law resulted in mass demonstrations and escalating violent confrontations between protesters and police. Our open-source research suggests that because the events in Hong Kong were deemed by Chinese leaders as touching the “bottom line” set by Xi Jinping in his speech commemorating the twentieth anniversary of Hong Kong’s reversion to Chinese rule on July 1, 2017, they decided to use this option. The decision to impose a national security law was likely made between late July and the end of August 2019 with little involvement of the SAR’s leadership.

The Chinese National Security State Emerges from the Shadows to Center Stage

Tai Ming Cheung

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Xi Jinping has been unremitting in his efforts to turn China into a national security state. New institutional, doctrinal, and regulatory mechanisms have been established along with a substantial beefing up of internal and external coercive capabilities. No single seminal shock triggered this security turn, but Xi regarded externally focused realpolitik perspectives, upon which the country’s national security posture have traditionally been, based as partial and too rosy. His top security concerns revolved around domestic stability and Party resilience. To build a national security state under his direct control, Xi pursued an indirect approach employing unconventional methods, such as a no-holds-barred discipline-enforcement campaign, consisting of a sweeping anti-corruption crackdown and a political discipline crusade. Running parallel was a far-reaching reform of the civilian national security and military apparatuses. Chinese authorities argue that this building of a national security fortress is prescient in the face of the acute challenges presented by COVID-19, unrest in Hong Kong, and deteriorating U.S.-China relations.

The Saohei Campaign, Protection Umbrellas, and China’s Changing Political-Legal Apparatus

Sheena Chestnut Greitens

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

In January 2018 China began a three-year campaign, known as the saohei campaign, to crack down on “underworld forces.” A key emphasis of the campaign was its targeting of “protection umbrellas,” an effort to break the links between criminal organizations and their government and party protectors at the local levels. In the rhetoric of the campaign, “black and evil” underworld forces not only threatened the safety and finances of ordinary citizens but also infiltrated and weakened political authority, thereby damaging both social stability and the party’s ruling foundation. Saohei, therefore, is not only a cleansing of corruption at the grassroots levels but also a purification and re-strengthening of governance under party supervision. The campaign has resulted in the removal of a large number of personnel throughout the political-legal system, moving from initial removal of key leaders to lower levels of the system as the campaign has continued to unfold. It has also allowed local authorities to use the idea of “black and evil” to target specific local groups, from housing-demolition protestors to alleged “underworld forces linked to the Dalai Lama clique.” The saohei campaign will end early next year, but many of its key themes and foci will continue in the 2021 “education and rectification campaign” announced by Chen Yixin for the entire political-legal apparatus, suggesting that the party leadership perceives unfinished work within the political-legal apparatus.  Xi Jinping, having already successfully replaced most of the leadership in the political-legal apparatus, now appears to be using saohei and its successor rectification campaign to push his authority down to lower levels of the political-legal system.

China’s Economy Bounces Back, But to Which Growth Path?

David Dollar

Tuesday, September 1,  2020

Available open sources indicate that in their domestic handling of the COVID-19 virus, the central Chinese authorities generally followed, ultimately to good effect, established crisis management processes and procedures as well as post-SARS regulations for dealing with a health emergency.  A major exception to this record occurred with regard to the initial reporting on the virus by both local and central authorities, where the pre-existing network reporting system was not utilized early enough and both local and initial central expert teams sent to Wuhan failed to detect the seriousness of the outbreak.  Once the top leadership clearly recognized the gravity of the situation, it moved with at times ruthless efficiency to combat the virus.  Although Xi Jinping and other senior officials subsequently acknowledged that mistakes were made, the center only punished local officials, in an apparent attempt to deflect blame from the top, as was also the case during the SARS epidemic.  Available open sources provide no clear proof that the more extreme charge of a deliberate cover-up of a known deadly and highly contagious outbreak is accurate.  However, they do indicate that the Chinese system remains excessively bureaucratic and consensus-driven, often prizing political criteria over expert-based information and reflexively suppressing unauthorized communications. 

Chinese Crisis Decision Making: Managing the COVID-19 Pandemic

Part Two: The International Dimension

Michael D. Swaine

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

The international aspects of the Chinese leadership’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic cover a broad spectrum of activities, both positive and negative.  On the positive side, Beijing has provided valuable assistance to nations and international organizations struggling with the virus and engaged in an intensive diplomatic effort to present itself as a strong supporter of the global response.  On the negative side, the Chinese leadership has resorted to ham-handed efforts to compel other countries to praise China’s role and at times acted irresponsibly in responding to foreign criticism of its own behavior.  In the process, it has argued that its system of rule is extremely adept at handling major crises and by implication superior to the American system.  The Chinese leadership has also engaged with Washington in a petty “blame game” over the pandemic that has damaged the reputation of both nations.  Beijing’s mixed record suggests that it must do more to show that it is genuinely committed to overcoming the pandemic through greater transparency, cooperation, and consultation.

CLM Insights Interview with Bob Davis and Lingling Wei, on their recent book:

Superpower Showdown: How the Battle Between Trump and Xi Threatens a New Cold War