China Policy Institute: Analysis


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Crossing the river by feeling the stones: democracy’s advance in China

Written by Yu Keping.

To say “democracy is a good thing” means that democracy can benefit the people. Yet if democracy is to benefit the people, a precondition is that social order must be maintained and hardship shouldn’t burden them. If democracy causes unrest, the people will lose hope, corruption will go unchecked. Under these circumstances, who would still wish for democracy?

Those who are against democracy often use this possibility to frighten their audience. The truth is that there is much evidence to show that the advancement of democracy will not necessarily produce disorder. Just the opposite: over the long term, it is only democracy and the rule of law that will provide for the long-lasting peaceful rule of the nation.


The China dream is about supporting the great revival of the Chinese nation. This revival includes many things, but a high level of democracy and the rule of law are an indispensable part of the vision.

The movement towards democracy everywhere is a political trend that cannot be reversed. China is no exception. Sun Yat-sen once said:

Worldwide trends are powerful. Going with them will bring success, going against them will bring disaster.

The main global trend he referred to was nations becoming independent, countries growing wealthy and strong, and their people wanting democracy. Today, when we speak of political civilisation, we mainly refer to democracy and the rule of law.

Democracy is the lifeblood of our republic. The central meaning of “The People’s Republic of China” is that the people are the masters and make the key decisions. The 16th Party Congress emphasised that intra-party democracy is the lifeblood of the party; the 17th Party Congress emphasised that the people’s democracy is the lifeblood of socialism. It is no longer a matter of whether or not one likes democracy: democracy is a trend that cannot be blocked.

The political development of socialism with Chinese characteristics is in fact the organic unification of three things:

… the leadership of the party, the role of the people as masters and decision makers; and the ruling of the nation in accordance with the law.

The sovereign people are at the heart of these three components. The goal is to enable “the people to be the masters”. In the final analysis, the “leadership of the party” and “the rule of law” serve to ensure that the people are the masters.

The 18th Party Congress emphasised the same point: the people must indeed remain the masters. The continual advancement of democracy and the rule of law is the historical responsibility of those in the Communist Party. This is our correct direction.


The delay of political democratic reforms in China will breed a host of problems. If there are no breakthroughs in the reform of key policy areas, then illegal corruption may turn into legitimised special privileges.

The achievement of democracy depends on real-world conditions. It needs to be linked to economic and cultural realities and the actual foundations of society. As we discovered when “running towards communism”, rushing ourselves will not work; it will bring disastrous consequences.

But moving too slowly in matters of democratic political reform will also not work; the problem of corruption that we hate to the bone won’t be solved. The fact that corruption, until this day, hasn’t been effectively controlled is linked directly to the slow pace of reforms, as are such dilemmas as publishing the property holdings of officials and dealing with declining public trust in government.

Identifying the proper timing of political reforms is the responsibility of politicians, who need to have great wisdom and be willing to take action. Of these qualities, willingness to take action and a sense of responsibility are most important.


To deal with its problems, China, as a great power, must draw up a clear roadmap for political reforms.

I have always believed there are three routes from which to choose: the first is a transition from intra-party democracy to social democracy. The 16th, 17th and 18th Party Congresses have consistently emphasised this point. Democratic development needs to choose a pathway that is most efficient and exacts the lowest toll.

The second pathway is a transfer from grassroots democracy to upper-level democracy. Grassroots democracy is directly aimed at the common people, to bring them direct benefits.

In political life, the ideal situation is that the people trust all levels of government. In reality, China is the exact opposite of America: American citizens have a very low level of trust in the federal government.

We (in China) have high levels of trust in the central government, but our trust in base-level government tends to be lower. “If the base level is not solid, the ground will shake and the mountains will sway.” We need to pay attention to this possibility.

The third pathway involves a shift towards greater political competition. Democracy requires competition: without competition, how are we to elect the most outstanding individuals?

Our democracy will naturally be one with Chinese characteristics. But democracy cannot be separated from elections and competition. Consultative democracy is very important, but consultation should not exclude elections.


Democratic development in China requires achieving a balance among six policy areas:

1 We want democracy and we also want the rule of law. Democracy and the rule of law are two sides of the same coin. Any politician who speaks of democracy cannot avoid discussing the rule of law, looking to the experience of the West, or to the experience of our nation, China.

2 We want deliberation and we also want elections. Chinese democracy, to a great degree, is in fact deliberative in nature; deliberation is part of our historical traditions. Elections, on the other hand, are the product of the modern world. Democracy is naturally inseparable from elections: the two need to be combined.

3) We want freedom and we want equality. These are basic values of democratic governance. In the past, we have over-emphasised equality. Since the reforms began, freedom has been emphasised, to the point where equality and liberty are in great tension.

4) We want efficiency and we want justice. These are two indispensable basic values. In the early stages of the reforms, the issue of efficiency was more salient, but now the issue of justice becomes central.

5) We want participation and we want order. Political scientist Samuel Huntington once said that the greatest challenge for political modernisation is to manage the relationship between public participation and political stability. As the interests of different social groups become more diverse, the desire of citizens for participation becomes more intense by the day. We need more open channels for political participation. Without legal channels, citizens will certainly resort to irregular, or even illegal channels, and social unrest will result. Democratic participation then becomes problematic.

6) We want a balance between individual rights and public rights. Rights belong to the individual, and the legal rights of citizens are guaranteed by the constitution. But we also need public rights, because our nation and society are a community.


China is facing many reform challenges, and we need to get a firm grip on the most important of them. We must discover those breakthrough reform points that enable us to “move the entire body by pulling one strand of hair”. The restraint of power through intra-party democracy is among these most important breakthrough points.

There needs to be better overall planning; put in terms of mainstream political thinking, “scientific development” is needed. This means that economic development needs to be combined with political development, social development and cultural development. There need to be upper-level designs and reasonable plans based on facts.

What is also needed is an institution responsible for co-ordinating different interests, especially at the level of the central government. Governmental reform should be matched with Party reform.

There also needs to be continuous testing and expansion of reforms, so that we “cross the river by feeling the stones”. Many reforms that have been effective have suffered from discontinuity. The problem is that when politicians leave office their policies often lapse, or are not institutionalised.

To overcome this weakness, efforts need to be made to achieve advances in areas of greater strategic importance. We speak much about supervision, but too little about restraints. We speak even less of restraints on leaders at all levels of the Party.

Everyone fears that advancing democracy will cause a loss of order and will bring social unrest. Everyone meanwhile hopes that by strengthening democracy we can maintain social stability.

However, as I see it, it is only through the deepening of reforms of our political system, and through the genuine advancement of democracy and the rule of law, that we will be able to provide for the long-lasting peaceful rule of our nation, enabling democracy to benefit the people.

Yu Keping is the Chair of Politics and Professor and Dean at the School of Government at Peking University. This article was first published on The Conversation and can be found here. Image credit: CC by tomasdev/Flickr

How China is rolling out the red carpet for couples who have more than one child

Written by Stuart Gietel-Basten.

A rather remarkable turnaround has occurred in China. For a country famous for having the most comprehensive sets of policies designed to limit births, it is now introducing new policies to support parents who have a second child.

In November 2015, China announced it would abandon its one-child policy and switch to a national two-child policy. The change came into force on January 1, 2016, with the immediate rationale being to tackle China’s rapidly ageing (and projected declining) population.

Some predicted a huge baby boom. Others – including me – suggested that the reforms were “too little, too late”, and that “simply allowing people to have more children does not mean they will.”

In early March, incentives for parents to have more children were explicitly mentioned in a speech by Premier Li Keqiang. Li noted:

We will improve the supporting policies to complement the decision to allow all couples to have two kids … We will encourage the development of kindergartens open to all children.

The theme was seen across the March meeting of the National People’s Congress (NPC). Ma Xu, an NPC deputy and director of the national Family Planning and Health Commission, stated that:

A lack of childcare and fewer job opportunities are major obstacles to Chinese women having a second baby … To help working mothers, community nurseries should be opened to care for children younger than three-years-old.

Meanwhile, NPC deputy Zhu Lieyu suggested that:

The government should offer mothers of two children a living allowance for three years, and the sum should be 70-80% of the average per capita income in their specific part of the country.

More concretely, the Chinese minister of finance, Lou Jiwei, was quoted in state media to have submitted a set of proposals to reform individual income tax to support couples to have a second child.

While mortgage relief for couples who have two children appears not to have made it into the latest round of tax reforms, there is evidence that education costs may be added to the list of costs deductible for tax relief.

Local incentives coming thick and fast

At a local level, other policies to support childbearing are already being introduced. In late March 2016, it was announced that mothers in Beijing would be entitled to an extra month’s maternity leave, while new fathers would be entitled to 15 days paternity leave.

For some time now, studies have observed family planning officials in some large cities actively encouraging couples to take advantage of their rights to have a second child. In this way, local governments could become ever more proactive in designing policies to support couples to have a second child.

Not worked elsewhere in Asia

Governments across Pacific Asia have been introducing increasingly far-reaching policies in recent years to support and encourage childbearing in an attempt to stem extremely rapid ageing resulting from very low fertility rates.

Perhaps the most expansive and famous is in Singapore. As well as government sponsored dating events and wide-ranging maternity benefits, parents are effectively handed “baby bonuses” and tax rebates of tens of thousands of pounds per child.

Elsewhere, policies to support childbearing both financially and in terms of childcare and parental leave have been introduced in Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, and Hong Kong.

Yet, in each of these settings fertility has stayed resolutely low; not least in Singapore which has one of the lowest fertility rates in the world.

This is because the financial subsidies simply do not come close to offsetting the high costs of childbearing in these countries. Costs are further exaggerated by expectations of huge investment in education and other activities, sometimes called “education fever”. These policies are also not able to adequately address some of the more fundamental reasons for limiting family sizes, such as fragile employment and the “triple burden” placed on women to work and take primary responsibility for both children and elderly parents.

A helping hand

There is now a broad agreement that it is not just the family planning policies which pushed– and kept – fertility down in China. As such, just changing the policy is likely to have only a limited impact.

Assuming, though, that many of the other reasons for low fertility are common to both China and elsewhere in Asia, and given the limited success elsewhere in turning birth rates around, we might question how effective policies to support childbearing will be at increasing the Chinese fertility rate.

But I think that this misses the point. If the new policies set out to encourage childbearing in order to achieve certain key population “goals”, then they may well not succeed. But the language of the new policy announcement does not appear to suggest this. In a break from the “old” way of talking about family planning, this “new” language is much more about “supporting” than “encouraging”. This is not just semantics. If the new policies are designed to support citizens to be able to meet their aspirations in terms of family, work and life, then their success should be judged on this rather than the birth rate in years to come.

Switching from the world’s most restrictive family planning regime to offering incentives for childbirth is a remarkable turnaround. But it may well be that the truly revolutionary aspect of this policy change is the switch from “controlling and shaping” citizen’s actions to meet the needs of the nation, towards “supporting and enabling” them to meet their own personal aspirations.

Stuart Gietel-Basten is an Associate Professor of Social Policy at the University of Oxford. This article was first published on The Conversation and can be found here. Image credit: CC by joan vila/Flickr

The Current Status of Ethnic Policy in China

Written by Wenshan Jia.

This post discusses China’s Ethnic Policy since the 18th Party Congress. Analysis of literature on evolving theoretical and policy discourses on ethnic relations in China between the founding of PRC in 1949 and the 18th Congress in 2012 reveal the following:

The so-called “first generation” of ethnic policy discourse represented by scholars such as Hao Shiyuan, can be most accurately described as a Stalinist-Maoist model of political-economic empowerment for minority nationalities and their regions. This model begins to reveal its limitations and inadequacies, such as excessively materialistic reinforcement of the sense of uniqueness (and thus separateness) of the ethnic minorities with scant cultivation of their sense of national identification in the contexts of the emerging market conditions of contemporary China, the global rise of China, and globalization in general.

The model has subsequently been challenged by a group of Chinese scholars including Ma Rong, Hu Angang, Hu Lianhe, who have created an alternative “second-generation” model that proposes ethnic blending, the removal of ethnic area autonomy, the reduction of minority nationality-based privileges, and the thinning of ethnic consciousness in order to reinforce the ethnic minorities’ identification with the Chinese nation-state.

However, neither model alone can maintain a dynamic balance between unity and diversity, as illustrated in the unpublished case study of Gannan, an autonomous Tibetan region of Gansu Province, Northwest China by Jia Wenshan and Wei Mengzhi. A dynamic balance between unity and diversity is an essential feature of multiculturalism commonly embraced in today’s international society. It is suggested that a hybrid model resulting from a creative integration of the “first generation” ethnic policy and the “second generation” ethnic policy be adopted in China’s current and future efforts to effectively manage inter-ethnic relations. This hybrid model of ethnic relations, I argue, is more valid and reliable as it is more holistic and capable of addressing a whole range of issues with regard to ethnic relations in China, and indeed elsewhere in the world.

This policy maintains the political autonomy of ethnic minority areas and provides economic equity and empowerment as the “first generation” ethnic policy does. In addition, the hybrid model also embraces the social, cultural and psychological integration of the ethnic minorities into the Chinese nation-state while respecting ethnic diversity.

The fifth generation of Chinese leadership since the 18th Party Congress appears to have adopted such a hybrid model. First, as a sign of political empowerment, national leaders of ethnic minority backgrounds have been promoted to higher and more critical ranks of national government. Nur Bekri, a Uyghur, was appointed Vice-Chairman of China National Commission for Development and Reform and Chief of National Bureau for Energy in December 2014. Yang Jing, an ethnic Mongol, was promoted to the positions of Secretary of the Secretariat of the Communist Party of China, State Councilor, and Secretary General of the State Council in 2014. Bayangqolu, another ethnic Mongol, was promoted to the position of Party Secretary of Jilin Province in 2014. He is currently the only ethnic-minority official serving as a provincial level Party Secretary, a phenomenon which did not exist during the fourth generation of Chinese leadership.

Secondly, according to, between 2011-2013 the central government allocated a total fund of 27.75 billion RMB for 136 border counties (78.7% of which are ethnic minority counties) for infrastructure development, ethnic industries and livelihood programs and achieved a total GDP of 809.7 billion RMB, a 58% increase over that in 2010. Besides the regular financial allocations provided by the Chinese government, the nationwide programme ensured that more economically developed coastal cities, provinces, companies and universities provide special free assistance to ethnic minority areas such as Xinjiang and Tibet. This has been rigorously implemented since 2002, and by 2011 a total amount of 10 billion RMB had been provided to narrow the wealth gap. Since the 18th Party Congress, this program has continued.

Third, the fifth generation of Chinese leadership led by Xi Jinping has been promoting five kinds of identification among ethnic minorities in order to realize the “Chinese dream”. President Xi stated: “We must carry out the Party’s ethnic policy and religious policy, reinforce interethnic unity, and cultivate all ethnic minority members’ identification with the Great Motherland, Chinese Nation, Chinese culture, Chinese Communist Party, and Chinese socialism.” He calls for all ethnic members of China, including Han, to be as united as “seeds of a pomegranate”.

Last but not least, besides being more focussed on unity than their predecessors, the fifth generation of Chinese leadership has been staunchly anti-separatist, particularly with regard to Xinjiang.

While I applaud the adoption of this hybrid model of ethnic relations, I expect further maturation and refinement by accepting these suggestions: To achieve the five kinds of identification is no easy and quick fix. It should not rely upon top-down moral persuasion. Rather, I suggest that more freedom of thought, discussion, and innovation at the grassroots level be afforded so that identification can take root and bear fruit. I also suggest that elite designs be done scientifically. For example, all ethnic minority members could carry a hyphenated identity such as Mongol-Chinese with Mongol as the label for ethnic identity and Chinese as the national identity just like informal conventions in the US. Laws could be passed to use such labels in official documents, media, and formal occasions. Last but not least, the Chinese education system is advised to rethink and redesign its mission to incorporate harmonious interethnic relations as an inseparable part of its mission and thus as a core part of the entire curriculum at all levels of schooling.

Wenshan Jia (Ph.D., University of Massachusetts Amherst) is Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Intercultural/Global Communication, School of Journalism & Communication, & Research Associate, The National Academy of Development & Strategy (NADS), both at Renmin University of China.  Jia is also tenured Professor of Communication & China Studies at Chapman University, California, USA.  He serves on the Board of Directors of the International Academy for Intercultural Research and a standing council member of All China Association for Intercultural Communication . He is the recipient of both the Wang-Fradkin Professorship for 2005-2007, the highest award given by Chapman University for faculty research, and the Early Career Award from the International Academy for Intercultural Research. He served on the National Communication Association’s Task Force of Internationalization and has a publication record of 10 books and more than 60 research articles and book chapters mostly  on intercultural communication and Chinese as well as ethnic relations in China. He is currently working on a book titled Global Communication for an Inclusive World Order with Routledge/NY. Image credit: CC by KittyKaht/Flickr.

Comparing Tibet and Xinjiang through the structural dimensions of socio-economic change

Written by Andrew Fischer.

The similarities between Tibet and Xinjiang are compelling in many respects. Besides the obvious religious differences between Tibetans and Uyghurs, both are minority nationalities struggling with an influx of Han migrants in a context of discriminatory and authoritarian majority rule and heavily subsidized development strategies. However, careful examination of certain structural dimensions of recent socio-economic change over the last 20 years, since China focused its attention to reviving economic growth in its western region, reveal important differences between these two regions. This is not to suggest that such structural dimensions determine socio-political outcomes such as protest and resistance. Rather, as explained in detail in my recent book, they help us to understand some of the tendencies within socioeconomic change that might be conditioning experiences or outcomes of discrimination and disadvantage, thereby providing valuable insights into some (but definitely not all) of the circumstances that fuel peoples’ grievances.

The main structural dimension of interest, in terms of having direct relevance to peoples’ lives and livelihoods, concerns employment. More specifically, we are interested in what we might call ‘labour transitions’, that is, proportionate shifts of employed people out of agriculture and into other sectors of employment such as manufacturing, construction or services. Such transitions generally, although not always, involve urbanization, as people moving out of agriculture tend to move out of rural areas altogether, especially in more remote and sparsely populated areas that offer less economic opportunities in rural areas.

This structural perspective necessarily relies on statistical data as the main way of representing more macro or systemic socio-economic trends, which are otherwise not discernible from micro-level fieldwork (e.g. we might be able to observe urban growth occurring through fieldwork, but we will not be able to assess whether this implies urbanization without recourse to census data, etc.). Accordingly, while structural analysis of employment trends does not identify discrimination per se, it can help to highlight the spaces where we might expect discrimination to be occurring and thereby inform and complement fieldwork (indeed, this is one way that interdisciplinary research might be conducted).

For the purpose of analysis, we can compare the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Regian (XUAR), along with several other provincial cases in Western China and the national average, as I have done in a recent book chapter and will briefly summarise here. Given that the Uyghur population of Xinjiang is currently in the minority (unlike in the TAR, where Tibetans are still a predominant majority), we can also look at the data on Kashgar and Khotan (Ch. Hotan) prefectures, where available, given that these two prefectures are still predominantly Uyghur, like the TAR.

As background on the economic growth that has been fuelling employment transitions in the region, we can briefly summarise several cross-regional similarities and dissimilarities:

  • In the TAR, economic growth has been heavily subsidized, far more than any other province in China, and subsidies (and hence growth) have been mostly focused on the tertiary sector (services) and construction, whereas these sectors have been disassociated from manufacturing and mining. The primary sector (farming and herding) has rapidly fallen as a share of GDP, even though employing the largest share of the workforce.
  • In the rest of western China, subsidies and construction activity have been aimed towards industrial restructuring and, unlike the TAR, manufacturing and mining have emerged as the leading growth sectors of these economies from the mid-2000s onwards. However, like the TAR, the primary sector has fallen rapidly as a share of GDP and become quite marginal to these provincial economies.
  • The patterns in Xinjiang have been similar to the rest of western China (and dissimilar to the TAR), in terms of industrial restructuring and leading roles playing by manufacturing and mining, except that the GDP share of the primary sector has exceptionally been more resilient than in all of these others cases. This reflects the particular intensity of agroindustry in Xinjiang, particularly in the north.
  • However, in Kashgar and Khotan in the south of Xinjiang, the sustained primary GDP share has occurred in the absence of secondary sector industrial growth. This reflects serious lagging behind the north of province, effectively similar to the TAR in the 1990s but with much less subsidies and much less affluence in the tertiary sector to compensate.

Accordingly, a strong contrast between the labour transitions of the TAR and Xinjiang became apparent in the 2000s, at least up until about 2010. Development strategies in the TAR and other Tibetan areas appear to have placed an overriding emphasis on urbanisation, to the extent that rapid subsidy-sustained growth has been associated with a rapid transition of the local (mostly Tibetan) labour force out of the primary sector (mostly farming and herding). According to annual employment data provided by the China (and provincial) Statistical Yearbooks, about 80 percent of the TAR workforce worked in farming and herding in 1990, and the proportion still remained at about 73 percent in 2000. The proportion then dropped sharply, falling below 50 percent by 2012 and reaching 44 percent by 2014, the most recent data available. As a result, within a little more than a decade the TAR caught up to a considerable degree with the (also rapidly changing) norm in China, albeit without the productive economic foundations to support these changes.

These structural shifts out of the primary sector also reflect urbanization of the labour force and the proportion employed in urban areas officially increased from 18 percent to 30 percent between 2000 and 2010 (again, according to an alternative classification of the employment data in the statistical yearbooks). While some of the increase would represent migration from other parts of China, much of it reflects local labour transitions.

In contrast, labour transitions in Xinjiang, and especially in Kashgar and Khotan, appear to have been exceptionally slow compared to elsewhere in China except Gansu. Similar to Gansu, Xinjiang appears to have experienced a ruralisation of its labour force, although not necessarily an agrarianisation because this expansion of rural employment appears to have taken place in non-farm secondary and tertiary sectors. For instance, the proportion of the labour force working in the primary sector fell from 58 percent in 2000 to 51 percent by 2010, whereas the rural share actually rose from 53 percent to 55 percent (and the urban share fell from 47 percent to 45 percent).

The data for Kashgar and Khotan are much more limited, based on sporadic reporting of sub-provincial data in the Xinjiang Statistical Yearbooks. Based on what is available, the share of their labour forces that were working in the primary sector was at about the same level as the TAR in the late 1990s, at around 75 percent. However, the data on the rural shares, which have been reported more regularly in the yearbooks, indicate that these rural shares remained at very high levels – in Kashgar from 76 percent in 2003 to 78 percent in 2010, and in Hotan from 81 percent in 2003 to 82 percent in 2010. In contrast to the TAR, this suggests a striking lack of labour transition in these two Uyghur-dominated prefectures of Xinjiang.

These trends – especially in Kashgar and Khotan – reveal fundamentally different experiences than those of Tibetans in the TAR and other Tibetan areas, even though both Tibetans and Uyghurs were among the most agrarian populations in China in the late 1990s (but Tibetans no longer).

In particular, the definitely slower pace of labour transition out of agriculture in Xinjiang – especially in Southern Xinjiang – is indicative of a development strategy that places much greater priority on an agrarian labour regime that restricts labour mobility out of agriculture and rural areas relative to other parts of China – a point that has been confirmed by fieldwork.

In contrast, farming and herding have remained fairly marginal concerns for government development strategies in Tibetan areas, generally conceived as part of poverty alleviation but not as a serious pillar of industrialisation. Instead, urbanization has been strongly encouraged in Tibetan areas.

From this structural perspective, social inequalities also appear to have followed different trends. Urban labour market encounters with migrants arguably serve as relatively more concentrated pressure points for Tibetans than for Uyghurs in Xinjiang, who appear to face a broader range of potentially discriminatory issues across both urban and rural areas.

However, beyond these differences, one strong similarity between the two provinces was that ‘minorities’ were hugely underrepresented in the respective provincial state-sector employment (or urban unit employment more generally) relative to their population share, at least up until 2002 or 2003, when these data were still being reported. According to the most recent data available (in the respective provincial yearbooks), the Tibetan share of state-sector employment had fallen to 65 percent by 2003, and their share of cadre employment to less than 50 percent, despite a population share of almost 93 percent in the 2000 census (apparently including migrants). In Xinjiang, minorities (i.e. mostly Uyghurs, Kazakhs and Hui) accounted for almost 30 percent of urban unit employment in 2002 (mostly state-sector), for a population share of almost 60 percent. This underrepresentation in Xinjiang persisted despite much higher levels of (modern formal mainstream) education among these minorities in Xinjiang than in the TAR, belying the argument that such education is the pathway to improve representation of Tibetans in the TAR. Rather, in both provinces, demand for skilled labour appears to rely heavily and increasingly on Han Chinese, whether this is through implicit discrimination by way of institutional norms that are biased against non-native Chinese speakers, or else through more direct, overt and explicit forms of identity discrimination.

Since 2002/2003, the government has intensified labour market reforms in western China, implying an increased emphasis on nationally standardised criteria of employment within urban unit employment, which places ever greater emphasis on Chinese fluency and literacy as a precondition for competition within such employment. This has been combined with a retreat from preferentiality in public employment among other policy dynamics. The combination of these circumstances suggests that exclusionary pressures have probably intensified for both Tibetans and Uyghurs in the upper strata of urban employment of their areas, with important implications in terms of restricted upward mobility at a time of rapid economic growth and improving schooling levels. The fact that such exclusionary tendencies operate through educational, linguistic and cultural modes of bias that severely disadvantage the majority of Tibetans and Uyghurs within their urban labour markets – irrespective of their very different structural socioeconomic conditions – provides important insights into the outburst of protests in both Tibetan and Uyghur areas in 2008 and 2009. Indeed, the similarity in the timing of the protests despite differences in socio-economic conditions suggests that the synchronicity of the grievances and protests has been driven by a common and particularly assimilationist and discriminatory macro-political and economic context that continues to this day.

Dr. Andrew M. Fischer is Associate Professor of Social Policy and Development Studies at the Institute of Social Studies (ISS), and laureate of the European Research Council Starting Grant, which he won in the 2014 round. He is also the founding editor of a new book series recently signed with Oxford University Press entitled Critical Frontiers of International Development Studies. Image Credit: CC by Jerrold Bennett/Flickr.

What Explains the Rise of Ethnic Minority Tensions in China?

Written by Reza Hasmath.

Ethnic minority tensions have been on the rise in mainland China. In mid-September 2015, a knife-wielding attack in Aksu, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) claimed the lives of nearly 50 individuals and injured another 50. This followed numerous outbursts of ethnic violence between Uyghurs and Han in Kunming (March 2014), and in XUAR (June and November 2013). Suffice to say repeated acts of ethnic minority rooted violence in the past few years have claimed hundreds of lives, and injured thousands across China. This begs the question: what explains the recent rise of ethnic minority tensions? And conversely, how do state institutions, born in an authoritarian context and operating in an emerging market economy, respond in order to reduce ethnic tensions in the short and long-term?

There are two main reasons behind the rise of ethnic tensions between Uyghurs and Han in XUAR. The first is due to ethno-cultural repression, such as state policies that limit religious practices, the phasing out of Uyghur language instruction in schools, and the increasing negative commodification and representation of Uyghurs in the public domain.

The second, and perhaps most significant factors are socio-economic, such as segmented labour shares and unequal sectoral distribution in occupational categories. Simply put, Uyghurs are not receiving the same economic returns to their education as Han. When looking at comparable levels of education and experience for the Uyghur and Han cohorts, the Han are in an advantageous labour market position, and Uyghurs experience ‘ethnic penalties’. Han dominate high status and high wage jobs, whereas Uyghurs are at the opposite end of the spectrum. Coupled with growing Han migration to Xinjiang, economic inequalities between Uyghurs and Han are intensifying, exacerbating ethnic-based tensions.

Further, since Uyghurs and Han receive different outcomes in the labour market this can create and reinforce geographical divisions. As a prime example, wages may determine residential location. This is alarming given Uyghurs and Han already reside in relatively closed ethnic communities and seldom interact meaningfully with each other in XUAR – which is a necessary and essential component for improving trust between both groups. This does not bode well for economic, social and political integration in the short and long-term, and will only intensify perceived (or real) differences between Uyghurs and Han, thus reinforcing ethno-cultural tensions.

The state’s response to repeated expressions of ethnic minority unrest have consisted of oscillating soft and hard policies. The soft policy approach is exemplified by funding the building and upkeep of mosques. According to the State Information Office there are over 20,000 mosques in XUAR which makes this initiative relatively significant. In addition, the state has preferential policies in education for ethnic minorities which consists of bursaries, scholarships, remedial programs, and the lowering of minimum requirements for the National University Entrance Examination.

The hard policy approach in XUAR is illustrated by the state’s attempt to subdue potential Uyghur dissidents and ‘re-educate’ and ‘reform’ religious leaders to ensure they do not advocate ‘fundamentalism’ or ‘radicalism’ as defined by the state, or to the prevent leaders from forging connections between the approximately 21 million Muslims in China.

Suffice to say, the hard policy approach is fundamentally a security apparatus. There are strong efforts to clamp down on ‘illegal’ mosque constructions when the state perceives them to be a threat to security. In present-day XUAR there is an increasingly visible security presence exemplified by the rolling out of a grid ‘social management system’. Essentially, communities in Xinjiang have been divided into zones, and then a group of party members are assigned to each zone where they are tasked to monitor and conduct surveillance of various activities that are threatening, or potentially threatening, to “social stability”. In early 2014, the state announced approximately 200,000 cadres would live with local communities in Xinjiang making this a potentially large and significant undertaking. In practice, there is no conformity in terms of how surveillance is conducted. It varies depending on the area. At the very least, party members have relatively sophisticated technologies at their disposal if they elect – which seems to be employed more readily in the urban areas. This may involve using riot-proof HD Cameras, policing boxes, and 24-hour inspection routes. In addition, Uyghurs in both Xinjiang and across the nation are randomly targeted for surveillance and scrutiny by state authorities, who justified their actions citing the need for increased security measures.

In the short term ethnic tensions will be suppressed with the use of hard policies characterized by a strong security presence. Soft policies, which financially incentivize the promotion of ethnic culture, and programs to improve education outcomes for minorities, will thereafter be stressed. In the long term, both policy strategies practiced by the state do not fully address the main reasons for the rise of ethnic tensions in the region. Left unattended, this will lead to increasing ethnic tensions in the future.

Reza Hasmath is a Professor in Political Science at the University of Alberta. Research Profile. Image credit: CC by Marc van der Chijs/Flickr.

Confusing Public Diplomacy and Soft Power

Written by Barry Buzan.

There is little doubt that in relation to its size, wealth, and culture, China underperforms in the area of soft power, is conscious of that weakness, and wants to improve its performance (Li, 2008). Soft power is about the non-coercive ability to change the preferences of others, to make them want what you want purely by the force of attraction and persuasion (Nye, 2004). It is about economic and especially cultural power, in contrast to the hard power of military capability.

It can be understood in terms of Wendt’s (1999) argument that social structures can be held together by three different means: coercion, calculation and belief. Of these, belief produces by far the most stable and efficient social structures. Hard power holds social structures together inefficiently and temporarily by force. Soft power works by calculation (it is to my advantage to behave in this way) and by belief (it is good, or right, to behave in this way).

The Chinese government understands, rightly, that it needs soft power both to increase its status abroad, and to possess a more balanced power profile to compete with the West. It also needs it to defend its own culture and ‘Chinese characteristics’ from being subverted and replaced by Western cultural values. What it does not seem to understand, or at least cannot seem to find a way of dealing with, is that soft power comes mainly from civil society. Although governments can do some things to generate soft power, especially on the calculated, economic side, they can do little on the cultural side, which is where the real, durable effect of soft power works most strongly.

Indeed a good case can be made that when the government is the major player, this works systematically against the effectiveness of soft power. People everywhere rightly treat governments, both their own and others, with suspicion. Governments are self-interested players with well-known propensities to lie, deceive and manipulate. When the government is the main face of a country’s soft power, that soft power will be taken by outsiders mainly as propaganda, and sometimes actively opposed.

Soft power comes from the unmediated voice of civil society which does not attract such suspicions. No clearer example of the link between effective soft power and civil society can be given than the widespread admiration that many people have for American society even while they dislike or hate its government. American popular culture is hugely influential all over the world despite the many reservations that people have about the US government and many of its policies. That popular culture carries American values of individualism, consumerism, capitalism and religion far and wide. The government does not have to do anything other than get out of the way to make this happen.

The problem for China is threefold: 1) China’s government does not in itself have a good image to sell abroad; 2) the Chinese government appears to be afraid of the civil society that its highly successful economic reforms have created; and 3) because of its totalitarian traditions, it does not know how to get out of the way.

The poor image of China’s government abroad has many roots. Most obviously, China’s strong opposition to democracy makes it something of an outlier in Western-global international society (Jones, 2014). The CCP’s firm commitment to its own authoritarian rule creates a gap not only with the West, but also with most other big powers other than Russia. While the government is admired for its economic accomplishments, its sometimes aggressive foreign policy behaviour, and its repressions of both minority peoples and its own civil society, give it a bad image abroad.

People have not forgotten that this is the same CCP that during the 1950s, 60s and 70s went to war with Vietnam and India, subjected its people to the horrors of the great leap forward and the cultural revolution and in 1989 ruthlessly destroyed the democracy movement in Tiananmen Square. Not surprisingly, many outsiders are disinclined to trust it.

The Chinese government’s fear of the Chinese people is communicated abroad both by its repression of a wide spectrum of civil society voices and by the priority it gives to domestic security, and this adds to its poor image. The insecurity of the CCP, and the high priority it gives to its own survival has huge consequences both for China and for the world. Domestically, it drives a continuous and self-damaging need for coercive control over China’s civil society that undermines the country’s legitimate aspiration to generate soft power commensurate with its size and cultural weight.

The CCP’s suppression of independent civil society voices and activity stifles exactly that part of China’s society that is essential to the generation of soft power on a global scale. The party thus cuts off a key source of the international status and respect that both it and China want (Schell and Delury, 2013: 396-9). China spends as much or more on domestic security as it does on external defence (Shambaugh, 2013: 3, 58). Wang and Minzner (2015) show in detail how, since the domestic and international turbulence in the communist world in 1989, the CCP has securitized domestic political stability, and constructed a massive domestic security apparatus to enforce its control.

It is highly revealing that the first priority of the PLA is still to defend the Party not the country (Harris, 2014: loc. 850). As Shambaugh (2013: 3, 14-18, 309-11), like many others (e.g. (Shirk, 2007: 53), argues, the deep insecurity of the CCP, and the priority it gives to domestic over foreign policy, generates close links between domestic and foreign policy in China. The international consequence of this is that regime security dominates national security, pushing the government to look tough abroad in order to defend itself against nationalist criticism at home. None of this does any good at all for the external image of China’s government.

The third problem is that China’s government does not know how to get out of the way. Instead, it is trying itself to generate soft power by the use of public diplomacy, in the process confusing the two. Its attempts to generate soft power by state action mainly fail or are counterproductive, and reveal that the CCP does not understand the difference between soft power emanating largely from civil society, and public diplomacy and propaganda by the state (Shambaugh, 2013: 207-67).

There is a place for public diplomacy, and even for propaganda, but these activities are not the same as soft power, and can easily be contradictory to it when the government is itself view by outsiders with suspicion. This has been the story of China’s Confucius Institutes, many of which have become targets of protest because they are seen as being too closely associated with the Chinese state, and therefore threatening to the academic independence of the universities that accept them. China needs to get used to the idea, as the US has done, that outsiders make a sharp differentiation between the Chinese party/state on the one hand (which mostly they do not like very much) and the Chinese people and culture on the other.

China’s potential for generating soft power is huge, but it will not be realised until the government realises that this is not something that can be done by the state, and gets out of the way of its civil society. China’s leadership has to make up its own mind about what it wants. If it wants mainly to retain a very tight leash over its civil society, then it will not be successful at generating soft power and will have to forego the benefits of having that kind of power. If it wants to have soft power it will need to find some way of changing its domestic security equation so as to allow a wider range of voices to speak within China and to the world.

Barry Buzan is a Professor Emeritus at the LSE. One of his latest publications is Wilson, Peter and Zhang, Yongjin and Knudsen, Tonny Brems and Wilson, Peter and Sharp, Paul and Navari, Cornelia and Buzan, Barry (2016) The English School in retrospect and prospect: Barry Buzan’s an introduction to the English School of International Relations: the societal approach Cooperation and Conflict, 51 (1). Image credit: CC by Wojtek Gurak/Flickr.


Harris, Stuart (2014) China’s Foreign Policy, Cambridge: Polity.
Jones, Catherine (2014) ‘Constructing great powers: China’s status in a socially constructed plurality’, International Politics, 51:5, 597=618.
Li, Mingjiang (2008) ‘China Debates Soft Power’, Chinese Journal of International Politics, 2:2, 287-308.
Nye, Joseph (2004) Soft Power: The Means To Success In World Politics, New York: Public Affairs.
Schell, Orville and John Delury (2013) Wealth and Power: China’s Long March to the Twenty-First Century, London: Little, Brown.
Shambaugh, David (2013) China Goes Global: The Partial Power, Oxford: Oxford University Press. Kindle edn.
Shirk, Susan (2007) China: Fragile Superpower, Oxford: Oxford University Press. Kindle edn.
Wang, Yuhua, and Carl Minzner (2015) ‘The Rise of the Chinese Security State’, China Quarterly, 222, 339-59.
Wendt, Alexander (1999) Social Theory of International Politics, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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