CLAIRE BERLINSKI, PARIS
🍵 New and improved: Shorter, with a summary on top!
😘😘😘 Thank you to everyone who replied to my cri de coeur with encouragement and helpful suggestions. The near-unanimous sentiment was that yes, you’d prefer a shorter Global Eyes, at least on weekdays. You’d also like a summary at the top of the newsletter that tells you what’s in the newsletter and why it matters. I’ve decided you’d also like summaries at the beginning of each section. A few of you also suggested thematic newsletters—for example, looking at the impact of inflation around the world, or global demographic trends. That’s an excellent idea. So that’s what we’ll do.
Summary: Today we’ll be looking in particular at China’s challenge to the US’s dominance of the Pacific, Xi’s centralization of power, and the consequences of this centralization on Chinese foreign policy. We’ll also look at the way China has snuffed out freedom of expression in Hong Kong.
Then we’ll look at the earthquake in Afghanistan and the humanitarian catastrophe it has exacerbated.
XI’S CONSOLIDATION OF POWER
Michael Schuman is the author of Superpower Interrupted: The Chinese History of the World and The Miracle: The Epic Story of Asia’s Quest for Wealth. In the Atlantic, he argues that China is “on a very dangerous trajectory,” one reminiscent of the decades after the founding of the PRC in 1949, when the country was dominated by Mao Zedong and the Great Leap Forward starved thirty million to death:
The change has been percolating for some time, but it is also inseparable from the rise of Xi Jinping. He has concentrated more political power in his own hands than any other Chinese leader in decades, in the process upending the more balanced, government-by-committee approach that has predominated since the 1980s, thus leaving the most important decisions of the state—and the future of the world’s most populous country—dependent on one man and his ideas, ambitions, and political calculations.
Xi’s commitment to an obviously untenable zero-Covid policy is indicative of the growing eccentricity of his decision making, writes Schuman:
China watchers are collectively baffled by Beijing’s reluctance to vaccinate its vulnerable elderly—more than 90 million people over the age of 60 are not sufficiently jabbed—though they have upped their efforts recently.
Just as Mao believed that workers and farmers just had to “labor harder and longer, and keep the Communist faith,” Xi seems to believe that “Covid can be overcome by national willpower.”
The difference, Schuman notes, is that Mao’s policies were only a disaster for China, “but in a world where China is a rising power, with greatly enhanced economic and military might, how Xi governs will affect all of us.”
When China’s economic policy is erratic, for example, it reverberates through the whole global economy:
In late 2020, the government launched a sudden and haphazard crackdown on Big Tech. Regulators yanked the stock listing of the fintech powerhouse Ant Group only two days before its launch, then forced another prominent firm, the ride-hailing app Didi Chuxing, to announce its delisting from the New York Stock Exchange five months after its debut.
And so has its foreign policy. Yun Sun is a Senior Fellow of the East Asia program and director of the China program at the Stimson Center. Testifying before the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, she argued that under’s Xi Jinping’s predecessors, China’s foreign policy decision-making followed a model of “collective leadership, democratic centralism, individual preparation, and decisions made at meetings.”
This ended with Xi’s ascent to power:
The power concentration by Xi Jinping in foreign policy is reflected in four areas: indoctrination with the promotion of Xi Jinping Foreign Policy Thoughts, bureaucratic setup, personnel arrangements, and flagship foreign policy projects. …
The institutional setup of China’s foreign policy decision-making under Xi has directly created and contributed to China’s assertive foreign policy, or the “wolf warrior diplomacy” that the world has witnessed. The strategic personality of the top leader himself leads China in the assertive direction and the institutional setup ensures his vision and grand strategy are strictly implemented without challenges from within. The bandwagon effect within the bureaucracy and the society further eliminates dissenting views.
She also testified to distinct institutional changes that have transformed China’s foreign policy decision making. The transformation in China’s institutions support the centralization of power and authority in a single leader: China’s institutions are now organized better to “fully support and loyally implement [Xi’s] view.”
What’s more, the creation of the new National Security Commission “heavily imbued China’s foreign policy decision-making with a prioritization of security, especially internal and regime security.”
All of this has created a more aggressive China.
- European ambassadors from Switzerland, France, Norway, Italy and Croatia have appealed to Beijing to relax Covid rules that prevent face-to-face meetings. China’s lockdowns and on-off economy are causing company losses and creating misunderstandings in the business community and diplomatically.
- A research team in China said that an anti-satellite artificial intelligence system has mastered the art of deception in a simulated space battle.
- China launched its first supercarrier. It’s the first carrier outside of the US to rival in size the US Navy’s Ford- and Nimitz-class. Beijing has embarked on an aggressive naval shipbuilding program to build six carrier battle groups by 2035, a sign of its global power aspirations and its willingness to challenge US dominance in the Pacific.
- China tested a midcourse missile interception system, part of an effort to defend its land-based nuclear deterrent from the US nuclear arsenal, the modernization of which is giving them the shudders. (A ballistic missile has three flight stages: boost, midcourse and terminal. A midcourse interception offers the longest time window for an intercept.)
- Why China’s ambitions in space should not be underestimated.
- China condemned the US decision to enforce an import ban on products made in Xinjiang.
- China, US in war of words as Japan updates defense. (Paywalled.)
- A record number of people responded to a clandestine survey in China taken by Human Rights Measurement Initiative. Quality of life indicators were high; political rights extraordinarily low.
HONG KONG AND THE DEATH OF FREEDOM
After two years under the national security law, Hong Kong is a shadow of its former self. Ten news organizations have closed in the past year alone. Hong Kong’s freedom score on Freedom House’s annual ranking has dropped from 55 to 43. Only Myanmar and Afghanistan declined more during this period.
Journalists are being thrown in prison on charges of sedition. The Internet has been censored. Tiananmen Square vigils have been banned; one activist was sentenced to fifteen months in prison for suggesting on Facebook that people mark the anniversary by lighting a candle.
Hong Kong’s independent media fight to survive: Erosion of press freedom leaves door open for pro-China publications.
Hong Kong press corps battle dislocation, nostalgia, unemployment.
The China Media Bulletin from Freedom House:
- Analysis: Hong Kong Is Unrecognizable after Two Years under the National Security Law
- Covid19 propaganda, pushback, and censorship
- Propaganda updates: UN human rights chief tour, retired cadres warned, educational sovereignty
- Censorship updates: June 4 takedowns, open-source platform closes, foreign tech companies depart
- June 4 and Tibetan activists detained, imprisoned rights defenders denied contact with families
- Beyond China: Pacific journalists blocked, embassy threats, and global search engine controls
Hong Kong plunges in global human rights index. The Human Rights Measurement Initiative (which is distinct from Freedom House) likewise found that Hong Kong has suffered a catastrophic decline in freedom. It’s now on par with Saudi Arabia in some indicators.
Under pressure from Beijing, Hong Kong’s schools have revised their curricula. New textbooks have been written saying that Hong Kong was “occupied” but never a British “colony.” Books have been banned. A Liberal Studies class devoted to cultivating critical thinking and creativity is to be replaced by one focusing on “citizen values.”
The betrayal of Hong Kong. Twenty-five years since the city passed from British to Chinese rule, its once vibrant civil society has been crushed:
Hong Kong has been “slowly throttled” over 25 years, Jeffrey Wasserstrom, the author of Vigil: Hong Kong on the Brink, told me. … “There has been this odd mix of subtlety and crudeness,” Wasserstrom explained. “Subtlety, so that the world doesn’t have an easy story to focus on, but also crude enough to terrify the local population.” He said it reminded him in some respects of the approach the CCP had taken in Tibet and Xinjiang, where it has steadily increased repression over decades, while attempting to assuage international opprobrium.
MORE FROM HONG KONG AND MACAO:
- Nearly 400 people have been locked down in Macau’s Hotel Fortune after authorities sealed off the area to fight Covid transmission.
- Rising Macau cases spur panic buying, stock jitters.
- The King of Kowloon: My search for the cult graffiti prophet of Hong Kong. A charming (and long) feature article in the Guardian.
- Hong Kong’s Jumbo Floating Restaurant sank in the South China Sea after encountering “adverse conditions.” There were no injuries or fatalities. The restaurant was an icon of the Hong kong skyline and harbor for nearly 50 years: You may remember it from The Man with a Golden Gun.
AFGHANISTANFor those of you who contributed to the fund for this Afghan family: I’m in daily contact with them. The situation isn’t good. They’re still in hiding in Kabul. They’re on the French … Continue reading
The death toll from yesterday’s 5.9-magnitude quake has reached 1,000 and will probably rise. “People are digging grave after grave,” said Mohammad Amin Huzaifa, head of the Information and Culture Department in Paktika.
Taliban appeal for international aid.
UN: Afghanistan facing “the darkest moments” in a generation:
The senior UN official [Michelle Bachelet] raised concern over the general amnesty granted to former officials and security forces, noting that the Human Rights Service of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan continues to receive credible reports of arbitrary arrests and detention, ill-treatment and extra-judicial killings—particularly of those associated with the former democratic government and its institutions.
According to INTERSOS, a humanitarian NGO, almost 20 million people are experiencing acute levels of food insecurity, and a small pocket of famine has been detected in the northeast of the country.
This year, 3.2 million children are expected to suffer from acute malnutrition, and it is estimated that one million of them will die if they do not receive immediate treatment.
Although there is food in the markets, the problem is that no one can afford to buy it anymore. Prices have risen by nearly 40 percent in the eight months since August, the currency has lost considerable value against the dollar, and half a million Afghans lost their jobs when the Taliban—now known as the IEA (Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan)—came to power. … More and more people are sending their children out to work, and more and more people are selling their daughters into early marriages as they struggle to survive.
… There are reports that over 13,700 newborn babies have died since the beginning of the year and we fear that maternal mortality is also on the rise—a devastating backwards step, considering that Afghanistan’s maternal mortality rate was already among the highest in the world even before the events of last year.
INTERSOS is ready to deploy an emergency medical team to Afghanistan, but they say the country needs much more:
It is vital that the international community steps-up and fully funds the US$4.4 billion that is required to meet the needs of the population as a whole. Additionally, the liquidity crisis needs to be urgently addressed to enable people to get back on their feet. International donors should proactively work with private financial institutions in the US and Europe and Da Afghanistan Bank to identify a swift solution that would allow for the release of frozen assets back into the Afghan economy. They should also reinstate DAB’s credentials to allow it to once again interact with the international banking system. Humanitarian assistance cannot be a substitute for a functioning economy.
How the US can help end Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis. More Afghans are likely to die from the economic collapse than perished in the whole 20-year war. “The best option would be to use the appropriate United Nations agencies to carry out humanitarian activities in Afghanistan.”
Journalists life in #Afghanistan under the #Taliban. Musa Mohammadi worked for years as anchor & reporter in different TV channels, now has no income to fed his family. & sells street food to earn some money. #Afghans suffer unprecedented poverty after the fall of republic. pic.twitter.com/nCTTIbfZN3
— Kabir Haqmal (@Haqmal) June 15, 2022
Human Rights Watch argues that tougher measures are needed against the Taliban, and targeted travel bans should be imposed on Taliban leaders who have been implicated in egregious rights violations.
Afghanistan’s warlords prepare their comeback. Exiled Afghan warlords and politicians have announced the formation of a High Council of National Resistance against the Taliban, urging the Taliban to include them in power or face civil war.
The Taliban is facing growing armed resistance across Afghanistan:
Leading the way is the National Resistance Front, headed by Ahmad Massoud—the son of the legendary Commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, who, from his native strategic Pajnshir Valley (north of Kabul), valiantly fought the Soviet occupation in the 1980s and later the Pakistan-backed Taliban–al-Qaeda alliance. He was assassinated in 2001 by the alliance’s agents two days before 11 September terror attacks on the US.
Wow, if I keep this to the length you’ve suggested, there’s just not enough room to cover all the major stories from the region.
Are you sure this is okay?
Claire Berlinski is the editor of the Cosmopolitan Globalist.
|↑1||For those of you who contributed to the fund for this Afghan family: I’m in daily contact with them. The situation isn’t good. They’re still in hiding in Kabul. They’re on the French government’s evacuation list, but it hasn’t happened yet. I’m trying to figure out whether I can at least get one of them to France on a student visa—that way at least one member of the family will be able to go to school. Thanks to your donations they have enough to eat, at least, which puts them ahead of 95 percent of the country. They’re very grateful for that.|
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