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Taoist Humility By The Chinese Government On The Syria Issue? – Threats & Non-Action

Written by Sam Beatson.

The US ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, promised more weapons to Syrian rebels this week in speech confirming that: “the US position has not changed…We still say that Bashar Al-Assad must resign, he must resign. And the Syrians must create a new transitional government that excludes him and his inner circle.”

He echoes the words of William Hague, foreign secretary to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, made around September 1st of last year : “His [Assad’s] regime is doomed and the international community must plan rapid support to a new government in Syria, now!”

The public defence of Assad has been that rebel groups in Syria are far from moderate and he went on to call Hague’s recent accusation in March that he [Assad] is ‘deluded’ part of a ‘shallow and immature rhetoric’, highlighting his view that Britain has a ‘tradition of bullying and hegemony’.

More recently came the announcement that Israel had used jets to bomb a weapons convoy bound for consumption by Hezbollah. The US has publicly accepted this attack without any sign of vilification.

However, the bombing can be viewed as a direct attack on Syria in light of exposition of facts, and for the third time. A source I deem reliable has clarified that the targets of Israeli bombing were in fact the barracks ofBrigade 14 – Bashar Al-Assad’s elite ‘royal guard’, the ammunition dump and the military research centre in the vicinity of Syria’s Mount Qasioun, practically a stone’s throw away from central Damascus.

Further analysis could suggest that such behaviour has no less intention than to attempt to provoke a reaction from nearby Iran, given that the military resources of Syria are tied up with the internal conflicts taking place. Such a reaction would give Israel more leverage to persuade the US that it should be allowed to attack Iran now on the basis of its nuclear capabilities.

It should be noted also that the rebels in Syria are by no means innocents fighting repression by a brutal regime. They have murdered civilian children, placed bombs in the pockets of university students, taken UN workers hostage and targeted the families of Shi’ite clerics and faith adherents. They have tortured, maimed and/or killed some of their captives.

Assad maintains that he has been willing to negotiate on the basis of arms surrender but at the same time that rebels are a terrorist group and thus his use of military force to quash the uprising justified. It is also interesting to note that the Lebanon has agreed with Israel’s version of events, stating that Hezbollah lives were lost. Of course though, the refugee fallout from a World War III starting in Iran and Syria could cause Lebanon to collapse. Now you will recall Russia and China’s vetoing UN sanctions against Syria.

In this situation, China has followed principle. In fact, China has followed a Taoist wuji (‘boundless’) principle – that of non-action. The veto was a non-action and following the principle of staying out of the affairs of state of another country is also a kind of non-action. And yet paradoxically these are two powerful actions and actions that show humility and strength.

A further paradox is that this strength is in the form of an admission of weakness in that China has significant interests in Iran, for example, but it is not taking a position that could lead to conflict directly. The indirect admission of weakness is that China knows that numbers aside it neither possesses the military strategic capacity nor the desire to engage in a military struggle against world military hegemonists.

Powers outside of China and Russia can interpret the non-action principle as a threatening or irresponsible action, when it is the polar opposite, rather it is the yielding principle of wu wei (non-doing). This implies moral vilification of China, however, on balance of facts, the arguments of the Western statesmen are unconvincing (UK) and inappropriate (US) – whoever deserved respect for saying from the outside what another country “must” do?

In non-doing, in minding its own business, China throws light on the intentions of UN minus China and Russia – i.e. regime change in Syria, vs the multilateral UN goal of resolution in Syria through peaceful dialogue. At the same time, China granted favour to Russia (having direct interests in Syria) which implies a diplomatic debt obligation. As regards its interests in Iran, without recourse to bargaining or aggressive diplomacy, surely China has thrown its dependency on the Tao. Developed nations should not need look far for where and how to learn from China.

Sam Beatson is a PhD student in the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies.

What role can university students play in fostering the integration of the Chinese and local communities? Observations from an Open Space Workshop held 1st November 2012

By Samuel Beatson.

The Grand Circular Seating Arrangement

As a PhD student focusing on the Chinese financial markets, I was curious and attended an Open-Space Workshop last Thursday 1st November with the theme: Promoting and practising global citizenship in Chinese society. I guess a majority of more than 100 student attendants shared a similar feeling to me.

They had been asked to attend as a part of a Career Skills module and most of them are master degree students in the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Nottingham who have majored in finance, banking or accounting.

I was even more surprised to find that more than 20 resource people had been invited by Dr Bin Wu, the convenor of this Module and organiser of this event, when I arrived at the workshop venue in the very heart of the University’s Main Campus, the Trent Great Hall.

These guests represented organisations outside of the University, including the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) from London, Nottingham City Council, Broxtowe Borough Council, the Nottinghamshire Chinese Welfare Association and Nottingham Chinese School.

There were also the senior managers and staff of relevant departments such as Student Services, Community Partnerships and the Chaplaincy in attendance. Unlike students, these resource people knew precisely the purposes and objectives of the workshop.

The circular arrangement of chairs at the venue gave students a feeling of equality with the staff and stakeholders. A freedom or large space was created allowing students, in particular Chinese students, to stand up and express their ideas and proposals in front of such a large number of strangers.

Butterfly or Bumblebee? Participants could stick with one project or mingle between groups.

Although having known nothing about global citizenship or the open-space technology/methodology before, I easily understood the rationale, theme and also the rules of this event. This was partly due to a clear opening address by Dr Jackie Sheehan, Deputy Head of the School, and an introduction by Dr Wu, and partly due to the skill of two professional facilitators.

In spite of unpreparedness, as if by magic, a lot of students including myself could not stop ourselves from expressing ideas for group discussions. The workshop received 15+ topics/ideas for two rounds of discussions, the majority posed by students.

Topics ranged from social help for the elderly to providing recovery support for compulsive gamblers in the Chinese community; from creating a bi-lingual entertainments newsletter to going into schools to raise awareness about Chinese Studies; from House Partying to how to make friends.

Resource persons played an important role in fostering innovative thinking and group discussion and inducing students to develop a realistic project proposal that would make use of internal and external resources by engaging relevant stakeholders.

To develop an in-depth understanding, I asked Dr Andreas Fulda, an expert in open-space workshop methodology who introduced this method to the School three years ago, to explain why he had proposed the topic: how to make friends studying abroad. Here is an edit of his response:

”If Chinese students… are unable to make friends with other international students it is also fairly unlikely that they will exercise their citizenship, for example by volunteering for charities or engaging in environmental groups… Students who attended our group discussion agreed to the individual goal of making at least one new friend. I consider this a most useful exercise in relationship building, a key skill in an increasingly inter-connected world.”

Discussion group “hosted” by Dr Andreas Fulda

I asked Dr Wu to assess the outcomes of this workshop. He replied that the event had successfully tackled the three objectives set-up in advance, including: raising awareness about global citizenship and the open-space workshop methodology; creating opportunities for students to volunteer in local communities and enhancing partnership and cooperation with the local community and stakeholders.

Having witnessed the smiling faces of student participants, I can understand Dr Wu’s satisfaction.

Sam Beatson is a PhD candidate in the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies

Opinions expressed in the CPI blog do not represent the views of the China Policy Institute or the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Nottingham. They are the personal views of the bloggers/authors.

NB Click an image to enlarge.

Why Is The British Colonial Flag Being Raised Again In Hong Kong?

by Sam Beatson

The following is an edit of an interview conducted online using a chat interface. Brian Cheung (anonymized) is a 19 year old student majoring in Communication in Hong Kong who was involved in recent protests on July 1st against ‘national education’. This protest has been followed in Hong Kong by further raising of the colonial flag against ‘smuggling’ at the Shenzhen boundary and in protests calling for cancellation of the October 1st National Day.

SB: Tell me a bit about why you felt the need to street protest in Hong Kong.

BC: … July 1, the celebration day of the handover…was my first time to protest. I felt that many things had been deteriorating in Hong Kong and had reached a level that was intolerable. Additionally, I was influenced by an increasingly popular online radio studio, called Hong Kong People Reporter. They encouraged their audience to step out and take action.

SB: What specifically was ‘Reporter’ asking you to protest about?

BC: The governance that we feel resentment against- there were and still are problems. The most important one is the penetration of the Power exerted by the CPC. Many of the populace of Hong Kong think that there exists a hidden secret agenda of the government ordered by the CPC.

SB: As a young adult, how do you feel or experience this penetration of power in your life?

BC: It is difficult to define. We find that there are many more pressures and resentments. The government is increasingly under the control of the CPC. Not only does the Chief Executive(s) formulate policies after something that has been said by the CPC leaders, like the national education brainwashing, the voting system has long been rigged. At the local level, the District council and the Legislative Council elections are rigged by transfer of benefits and manipulation of some illiterate elderly and the handicapped.

These matters are widely publicised in local media. They give out bags of rice, dumplings, free meals and many other items. Of course I am talking about the pro-establishment parties. The ex-CE, Donald Tsang, a UK-honoured person has been accused of transfer of benefits. And the present CE in office had an illegal structure at his luxury house, but what is ironic and enraging is that he used his opponent’s shortcoming which was again an illegal structure, to attack him.

SB: On your webpage you promote the British Hong Kong flag, you also assert “it is a stark truth that under foreign administration/rules the Chinese culture is better preserved.” Can you tell me more about this view amongst your peers from your experience?

BC: First, some of the people would like Hong Kong to return to British Administration, as a colony, or to seek development of democracy under British help. Secondly, some of them loved conditions in the 70s, 80s or 90s under British admin. Thirdly, some of them have a flag which includes only the Lion-Dragon emblem. These strive for high autonomy, which was actually and very vaguely promised by the Chinese govt. but was found gradually infringed upon.

SB: Is there anything you’d like to add to sum things up? For example, what would you like to be the outcome of your protests?

Hong Kong Coat of Arms (colonial)BC: To sum up, I think that we should stamp out the influence of the CPC, or put a limit to it. I am not very sure about a totally independent HK, but to remain and recover high autonomy and HK people ruling by HK principles is most important. The agenda I mentioned was orders given directly to the CE to impose national education, reflecting CPC bossiness. Generally, we Hongkongers have negative thoughts about China. They promised us freedom and democracy but it is still largely unachieved up to now. I personally believe that they are unwilling to give us what is promised. It feels we are being forcefully assimilated into a mainland society that does not possess the civic qualities we HongKongers have and generally behave according to.

Sam Beatson is a PhD Candidate at the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies, University of Nottingham

Opinions expressed in the CPI blog do not represent the views of the China Policy Institute or the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Nottingham. They are the personal views of the bloggers/authors.

The ‘Political Case’ of Kailai Gu – Issues, Insights and Opportunties

by Sam Beatson.

She’s the daughter of a revolutionary leader  and has been called a ‘legal prodigy’, an author and the wife of a so-called ‘Neo-Maoist’ whose social welfare and patriotic policies paid off to society and to the man’s own glory, ultimately though turning to his detriment.

Kailai Gu (KG) received a suspended death sentence for the murder of Neil Heywood (NH) whilst her husband Xilai Bo continues to undergo a process of being ‘purged’ by the ruling Party in China.

A Chinese style ‘plea bargain’ involved a woman in court admitting guilt frankly, though facial recognition experts have disputed whether it was even her standing in the dock, leading to speculation that the real KG may have been unwilling to read parts of ‘the script’.

Defence mitigation was effectively one of diminished responsibility and the prosecution apparently had ‘irrefutable evidence’. No need for a trial then.

The worldly defendant undoubtedly would have known that a trial under the Chinese legal system would warrant the worst possible outcome for her and that would have meant death rather than life imprisonment. That these were the only two options has been accepted by journalistic and academic commentators.

However, whether or not KG had any choice or recourse to any real or substantial legal process let alone advocacy in the matter has not been debated properly.

One position (taken on this blog and elsewhere) has been that the Party has controlled the case from beginning to end, there has been the ‘illusion’ of a rigorous due process created, but no substantial rule of law process has been followed under the framework of the Chinese legal system that could ever have resulted in a trial that might conceivably have ended in a ‘not guilty’ jury verdict.

Aside from the multi-faceted contentiousness of all the above, there are three further issues worthy of note about this case:

Firstly, NH was a ‘British businessman’ who we are now expected to believe that KG poisoned with an accomplice. Has the victim’s nationality made this less of a case than if it had been a Chinese person? The reverse?

From Maoist times, ‘if you confess your crimes, you can be dealt with leniently’, in China. However, this blanket statement betrays the debate of whether NH’s being a foreigner makes it less or more of a crime.

China’s judiciary even prior to the ‘Mao era’ would need to be concerned about this kind of question given the discrepancies in development and judicial authority/independence between Chinese and say, British legal systems.

Secondly, British consular involvement have pushed for due process to take place and requested the death penalty not be applied. The people behind the case will have wanted to avoid international criticism and diplomatic antagonism if the case was not seen to be handled well and promptly given the changes about to take place as high as CCP Politburo Standing Committee level.

Thirdly, this case provided an interesting platform and opportunity for the public to speculate on opaque processes that were going in this case deemed ‘political’- however, the sheer opacity and tightness of string-pulling to get this case dealt with in exactly the desired way will have made such speculation short of allowing the Chinese public to really engage in meaningful politico-legal discourse about it.

The opportunity exists for the current and next generation of lawyers, judges and party officials to come together for a legal system in China that conducts due process with such integrity that it is able to become increasingly transparent and functionally independent.

At this stage in China’s development,  Hong Kong and the UK, for example, with  rich histories of independent and well-developed legal infrastructures, culture and institutions can offer a model for change that could be integrated in China. The KG case could prove pivotal, through the discourse being created, in the manifestation of the desires for fair and impartial justice and human rights in the hearts of the Chinese people.

Sam Beatson is a PhD candidate in the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies

Opinions expressed in the CPI blog do not represent the views of the China Policy Institute or the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Nottingham. They are the personal views of the bloggers/authors

Britain, China, Hong Kong. Three Flags. Two nations, but which two nations?

By Sam Beatson.

Very interesting indeed to observe some of the online reactions to Hong Kong’s only medal so far in the Olympic Games, London 2012.

Astute and witty, Hong Konger’s have been as assertive as ever and quick to proclaim that the ‘real’ and ‘correct’ national anthem- God Save the Queen- was played during the ceremony that saw Wai Sze Lee receiving her bronze, the gold having been taken by Britain’s Victoria Pendleton in the women’s keirin and the silver by PRC’s Shuang Guo.

The Hong Kong flag was hoisted on the opposite side to the People’s Republic, both in the ‘child position’ to the Union Jack, as if two siblings.

‘Watching as a Hong Kongese wins her Olympic medal, the hoisting of flags and the national anthem being sung. Listening to Britain’s national anthem, not China’s,’ said one forum netizen post.

Another said, ‘Britain is close to Hong Kong. Chinese communism is far away from it.’

‘The biological mother is not so great as the adoptive’ asserted another Hong Konger.

As British people, how can we fail to be proud of our legacy left to Hong Kong, our system and way of life? For one, I feel grateful and honoured that Hong Kong people remember Britain in this positive and happy way. Posts by Hong Kong participants on went on to display disappointment and disgruntlement when reminiscing about the Hong Kong before 1997 and the Hong Kong after it.

I’m sure my superior in all such matters, Dr. Andreas Fulda would agree that these voices need to be heard and not stifled, as increasingly, they feel they are being.

The way of life of the Chinese people who identify themselves as Hong Kongers is associated closely by them with the British heritage of Hong Kong as well as the very special Chinese legacy of Hong Kong.

If Hong Kong doesn’t wish for that to get gradually eroded by anti-regionalist Beijing, why doesn’t the Hong Kong  government look more closely at re-joining the Commonwealth of Nations and asserting itself in spite of Beijing? Hong Kong already maintains its Commonwealth links through Commonwealth legal associations and other bodies. If pursued, I’m sure that Her Britannic Majesty would be most delighted to promote the cause.

After the initial wave of shock and displeasure from nationalistic elements, such a move could prove in the end, politically benign. If the Chinese government embraced this sort of action from Hong Kong as a noble proposition, it could show a humble desire to make good of relationships outside of its boundaries.

If the Chinese government were to show more humility in this way, and realize the attractiveness of such a goal, it would win the respect of more people in the China mainland and outside of it, instead of having to try to enforce it against their will and better interests.

Sam Beatson is a PhD candidate in the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies

Opinions expressed in the CPI blog do not represent the views of the China Policy Institute or the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Nottingham. They are the personal views of the bloggers/authors.

Normative Response to Requiring Chinese Pronounciation from Our Commentators

by Sam Beatson.

 Mike’s last blog post  is an interesting article and I acknowledge Mike’s passion for this matter, which I do share. The article above appears to call for greater respect for Chinese language or pronounciation by English speakers, in the name of internationalisation.

I recall “East and West” by the last governor of Hong Kong under British Rule, the conservative, Chris Patten. A look at the index of Patten’s first book of the same title (known to be the more diplomatically censored of his Hong Kong books) sees “Beijing” referenced only by a “see Peking” redirect. There is a rationale for this in Patten’s thoughts…I go on to quote from page 4 of the Caveat Emptor part of the book:

“…I do not admire or look up to the Chinese Communist Party, any more than of old I admired the Soviet Communist Party. [new para] There is one more absurd footnote to this argument that dislike of the Communist Party and all its works is one and the same as hostility to China. I always refer to ‘Peking’, not ‘Beijing’. This is not an insult. It is because there is a word in the English language for China’s capital. I refer similarly to ‘Rome’ not ‘Roma’, ‘Brussels’ not ‘ Bruxelles’, Lisbon, not ‘Lisboa’. I am not told when I do so that I am being anti-Italian, anti-Belgian or anti-Portuguese.”

On Chinese language television, do we not see Western names, cities and so on turned into Chinese pronunciation? We can’t say surely that this makes CCTV and pretty much all of China, ‘grossly ignorant’. Do they need to reflect on the disrespect to persons concerned? It would be absurd to say that they did.

I do not agree that the BBC commentators need take one year of Chinese lessons in order to get right the pronunciation of Chinese names on British television. The Pronounciation analysis was pedantic. Perhaps we feel, as specialists on China, the commentators should be able to pronounce “Zh” as “J” and not “Je”. This could be pointed out in a simple letter to the Beeb. Normatively though, isn’t it an inappropriate call and disrespectful to the British commentators to highlight this matter when Chinese is still a very much optional part of the curriculum even for the current generation of school pupils?

It is totally acceptable that a British commentator, similarly a Russian, US or German commentator would have great difficulty in pronouncing Chinese names without specialising in the subject, which whilst growing in its popularity is still a fairly tight niche.

Rather than kow-tow to China’s rise, do we ‘Western’ and commonwealth nations not need to regroup by way of assertion of our own individuality, synergistic strength and ‘soft power’, reflecting on continued successes, as we find a way out of the aftermath of the recent financial meltdown?

It seems bizarre that somehow as China begins to find strength in its incredible economic growth, this should be interpreted as the rest of the world automatically should show more respect and politeness to China than China shows to the rest of the world, or indeed that it might show to its own kind. Countries and cultures have to earn respect in more ways than economic development and China is still very much working on it, yet we know the potential is enormous.

The point made is really quite unjustified in the criticism, if I may say so, Mike, though I understand where you are coming from. Can we be so certain though, that adopting unbalanced rules of propriety that favour the Chinese position are actually of benefit to internationalisation from the British perspective? Given that we are at a British institution and of that country, one might expect even an iota of loyalty… Queen Victoria would be turning in her grave that it has even become a matter that is up for discussion.

Sam Beatson is a PhD candidate in the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies

Opinions expressed in the CPI blog do not represent the views of the China Policy Institute or the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Nottingham. They are the personal views of the bloggers/authors.

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