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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Defending Xi Jinping

On China's Weibo banning LGBTQ content and reversing this after an outcry

John Lombard: This is a smaller part of a much bigger story. For those who don't know me, I've been living in China for a quarter of a century now. During most of that time -- from 1993 to 2013 -- China was heading in a positive direction, with steady improvement in freedoms. Certainly not as good as in democratic nations, but still moving in the right direction.

That has all changed under Xi Jinping. He recently grabbed headlines when he was successful in getting the People's Congress to revoke previous term limits that prevented a President from serving more than two terms...with tons of speculation that he's setting himself up to maintain power for a much longer period. Under Xi, we've seen massive crackdowns on the internet, harassing or imprisoning those who say anything the government doesn't like, etc. Worse, there have been cases of Hong Kong citizens who were vocally critical of the Chinese gov't actually being kidnapped and spirited into China, where they are then detained by Chinese authorities.

This latest anti-LGBTQ campaign is quite pervasive. Multiple TV shows have been canceled entirely...either because they contain objectionable content (ie. showing LGBTQ behavior), or just because a particular host/actor is known to be LGBTQ.

Most of my time in China, I've been quite the cheerleader, supporting and praising the reforms and changes that were taking place. But now, for the first time, I'm feeling real concern over the direction China is taking. It is actively moving backwards, rescinding many of the reforms that have been accomplished in the past. Even Xi's greatest 'accomplishment', of cracking down on corruption, seems to have been intended more as a tool to take down his opponents.

This is a small victory, in a sea of many more losses. Nor do I expect it to last for too long...the gov't may well simply turn around and force Weibo to enforce restrictions on LGBTQ content, regardless of what users say.

Mike Pete: Who gets to decide that these changes were "progress" of any sort? Because the West somehow believes it to be true? And in what state is the West today?

If anything one could argue that tightening of the grip on media - especially in the age of the internet - is a response to observations of quite catastrophic consequences their unbridled spread has caused in the West.

The Chinese are very observant and the last thing they will allow is transplanting weaknesses from other countries.

Me: It's telling that even many Chinese are dismayed by the direction the country has taken. But of course they can all be dismissed as bananas

Mike Pete: "Many" - how many exactly? Last I read general support for authorities stood at about 80%. Of course 20% out of a billion+ society is going to be a lot but that doesn't mean anything.

At any given time large portion of ANY society is going to complain about how their countries are managed. Besides that, Chinese are complaining about many things all the time. Not necessarily the general direction of the country though.

Ca. half of the societies in the West (more less, depending on the country) either don't participate in elections or mistrust their politicians. Is that somehow superior to what Chinese practice?

That's the point of centralized, authoritarian rule - to overrule the whiners and steer the ship in the right direction.

What exactly does the West have to show for its ways? Democracy and unbridled free speech are fairly new inventions there, regardless of historical background.

Nobody has ever elevated more people out of poverty in shortest period of time than the Chinese have. Nobody has completed more infrastructural feats in shorter period of time than the Chinese have. Nobody has moved more people from impoverished countryside into bustling cities faster than the Chinese have. And they are still plowing ahead.

You want to tell me that what you can babble about on Weibo is somehow more important than that?

The only reason China has managed to elevate itself so quickly and plays today such a strong role in global geopolitics is the fact that is wealth is controlled in an organized, technocratic, centralized way that only USA can match - and only to a limited degree. Europe is nowhere near.

About 30% of Singaporeans have been "dismayed" by the direction their country has taken since the 80s. I think they can be dismissed as bananas, so I don't see why complaining Chinese in PRC shouldn't be.

Regardless of how amazingly the country performs, a lot of people will never shut up.

John Lombard: Mike Pete -- Not sure exactly what the "point" of your question is: "Who gets to decide that these changes were "progress" of any sort?"

I came to China in 1993. At that time, most people had their entire lives controlled by the government. What they studied in school, what job they would have, where they would live...even who they could marry. They lived in constant fear that saying something negative about the government could cause them to lose their job, or even be put in prison. Virtually no Chinese were allowed to leave China. And they knew almost nothing about the outside world beyond what the government told them.

Today, the vast majority of Chinese have complete freedom to choose what they will study, where they will work, who they will marry, etc. They have much greater ability to criticize and question the government (albeit within specific boundaries). The only limiting factor in leaving China and traveling to other countries is usually how much money they have (and millions travel every year). And even with the controls on the internet, they are far, FAR more aware of the outside world, and what is going on.

I consider that to be progress. Every Chinese person I know considers that to be progress. In fact, every person I know who is NOT suffering from gross ignorance or denial, considers that to be progress.

So...is it your argument that this is NOT progress? Or that it is somehow wrong to call it progress?

By that same token -- recent government actions to PUNISH people who are criticizing the government...or kidnapping Hong Kong citizens and spiriting them into China...or many of the other ways that the current Chinese gov't is cracking down...

I consider that to be moving backwards. Almost every Chinese person I know considers that to be moving backwards. Is it your argument that it is NOT?

Me: Given how much resources they need to pour into suppressing dissent...

Mike Pete: John - you're comparing things belonging to different categories and it all is jumbled under a post about restrictions of a certain topic on Weibo (which was even lifted in the end). These are not things of the same caliber even if Westerners are inclined to equate them.

Your perspective is that of an individual - which is, again, a very Western thing. Perspective of Chinese authorities is that of a 1.5 billion country - a continent in itself, an entire civilization. The most populous state in the world, barely lifting itself from 150 years of humiliation, internal strife, civil wars and rebellions, which have consumed way over 100 million lives.

So you will excuse me if I say that whether some overzealous Hong Konger gets silenced is quite meaningless in comparison.

Whether certain individuals in that massive pool of people are treated in one way or another is irrelevant as long as the general direction benefits the masses.

What you see as going backwards can be the only way forward for the entire country, protecting future stability in a world where new, modern internal forces are already undermining many others.

Deng Xiaoping said, quoted by LKY, about the Tinananmen protests: "'If I have to shoot 200,000 students to save China from another 100 years of disorder, so be it."

So whether someone is kidnapped or arrested for potentially subversive criticism of authorities does not bother me. I don't see it as an issue because individuals do not come before the society.

Chinese are not blind, they see what individual liberties produce in the West and are extremely cautious, trying to prevent anything that would undermine political and economic integrity of the Middle Kingdom.

And that's a good thing. In fact, that is the best thing (for China, of course).

Since when is democracy better than authoritarian rule? Progress of mankind happened predominantly under strong, centralized, often absolute power. That's how we've developed for thousands of years.

Proper democracy - i.e. a system that allows all citizens to vote - is not even a century old. And the reality of it combined with free speech - where everybody can actually have a voice without substantial barriers - has only emerged in the past 20 years, with the internet.

Where does the assertion of superiority of giving power to the people (vast majority of whom are complete morons) come from exactly?

Me: Is your real name Michael Petraeus?

John Lombard: Mike Pete -- I'm curious -- do you actually LIVE in China? I do. Been here 25 years. So my perspective isn't that of an outsider. It is that of someone who experiences these things on a daily basis.

Further, the vast majority of Chinese people agree with my perspective...so again, this isn't just a Westerner's perspective. This is a perspective shared by a significant number of Chinese people.

Third, when you are JUSTIFYING a government that IGNORES the rule of law (kidnapping people against their will is against both Chinese law and Hong Kong law, and completely violates the principles of 'One Country, Two Systems' that the Chinese gov't agreed to), you are obviously just a troll...an apologist who will mindlessly justify ANYTHING that the Chinese gov't does.

And fourth, I have NO DOUBT that Xi Jinping believes he is doing "what is good for China". Just as Mao Zedong thought he was doing "what was good for China" when countless millions of people died because of the "Great Leap Forward", or the terrible abuses of the Cultural Revolution. But BELIEVING that you are doing something good, doesn't MAKE it good.

So again -- do YOU actually LIVE in China? Do you have to live with and deal with these issues on a daily basis, as I do, and as 1.5 billion Chinese do? Or are you singing the praises of the Chinese gov't, while living somewhere else that you don't have to actually EXPERIENCE the results of that government's decisions?

Please note -- I am not some mindless critic of the Chinese gov't. I've actually been quite a strong advocate of the Chinese gov't for most of the time I've been in China. It is only under Xi's leadership that I've come to have real concerns.

Paul Gainer: John Lombard I lived there for a decade and can vouch for your story

Mike Pete: So you know the vast majority of Chinese people? Amazing, you must have been really busy talking to hundreds of thousands quite literally every single day for 25 years.

How big is your social circle really? 150 people? 500 people? 1000 people? On what basis do you extrapolate your experiences onto the billion+ inhabiting the same country?

No I don't live in PRC but I have lived in Asia for several years now (getting close to 10), in a few different countries with either Chinese influence or dominance. So I understand how the culture of the civilization actually shapes local politics. I now live in Singapore, which is actually one of the sources of inspiration for the current Chinese government. And yes, local authorities in Singapore have also skirted the law or outright enacted legislation that permitted them to fight against, jail or expel potentially subversive individuals and reduced political opposition to a manageable minority. If they haven't done that this little island wouldn't be the amazing city-state it is now, clearly one of the best if not the best place to live in the world.

I have never said your perspective is that of an outsider but your perspective is that of an individual - which inhibits you from seeing the big picture. It appears to me, then, that despite a quarter of a century in China you have really failed to absorb the way its societal management is layered from down to the top and the other way back, and the guiding principles that have been in place in this society for at least 2500 years, if not more, since even Confucius said that he merely described what he observed, not created anything new.

Laws cannot and will not stay in the way of fundamental, strategic Chinese interests as well as the country's basic stability and territorial integrity. That's why I brought up the quote from Deng, who was committed to slaughtering any opposition if only to save China from another century of internal turmoil.

This point I made about that century you, clearly, have also ignored.

Your remarks about complaining individuals are completely irrelevant because you can go to ANY country in the world and ask the locals about their government and you will hear a cascade of complaints as well.

Most people in the West are disillusioned with their politicians, about half in most countries doesn't even participate in elections. Even in the fabled "land of the free" priding itself on its superpower status and civil liberties enshrined in its constitution saw 45% of the eligible voters stay at home for the presidential elections, with a large part of those who voted still rather unconvinced by the choices they have.

In fact 71% of Americans say they have little to no confidence in Congress. Wow, imagine that...

Your quip about Mao is hardly relevant here. Yes, he was a terrible economic manager and a bent ideologue who caused immense damage and millions of deaths but he was also the man who reunited and pacified the country torn by a century of wars and rebellions. In a way he was the first representative of the new order and the last of the old one.

Individual citizens in any society are not equipped to judge the gravity of geopolitical maneuvers and the impact they have on their lives. But it's these moves that decide the future of the country (so, again, whether certain individuals end in jail or get kidnapped is a small price to pay).

Clearly, you have exhibited your ignorance of the matter here as well. It's also why you are unable to understand the importance of the moves Xi Jinping makes - much like you ignored the strategically critical legacy of Mao, who was the first Chinese leader in 100+ years successfully managing external threats along Chinese borders.

He subjugated Tibet and Xinjiang, pushed back Indian ambitions along the Himalayas, managed Soviet Union and Stalin's machinations aimed at weakening Beijing, and, finally, kept Americans at bay, successfully reinforcing the regime in Pyongyang during and after Korean War, while defying potential nuclear threats in a time China was not yet equipped with atomic weapons itself.

The problem with most people is that they are incapable of any foresight. Plus, they have a tendency to take their good fortunes for granted. This is a deadly combination which brought even the most powerful empires down in the past.

Situation in the 90s cannot be compared to the reality of today. What could have been seen as progress then, has evolved into a significant threat today. And it is the role of the leadership to keep this threat under control, regardless of whether the public understands or agrees with its decisions.

In short, the ruling class has to save people from themselves.

So while you whine about the consequences of what the government does (how does that impact you directly anyway? how has your life deteriorated due to that? any examples?), you're quite blind to what would likely happen in the future, had it not acted in advance.
Coincidentally it's the reason why the only way for the West is down so, as you're living in China, I would be rather more grateful for the preemptive nature of the moves Chinese authorities make as it does protect your future rather more effectively than what anybody in the "developed" world does these days..

John Lombard: Okay, so let me get this straight.

A guy who DOESN'T live in China, and has only 10 years of experience in Asia as a whole, is nevertheless more of an expert on "what is happening in China" and "what Chinese people think" than a guy who's lived in China for a quarter of a century.

A guy who has NEVER EXPERIENCED most of the issues being discussed, is nevertheless more of an authority on it than a guy who has PERSONALLY lived through and experienced those events first-hand.

A guy who has NO personal investment in China at all, somehow knows more about it than a guy who has worked hand-in-hand with the government (consultant to the Beijing gov't for the 2008 Olympic Games), and started a non-profit organization to help a Chinese ethnic minority group (mosuo.org.cn).

It's AMAZING to me just how many people, whose entire "knowledge" of China is basically what they've read in newspapers or online articles, nevertheless consider themselves to be "experts" on "what China should do".

You're a troll...and a terribly ignorant one, at that. This will be my last response to you. You can write whatever other nonsense you want, I will leave it to others who are reading this to judge for themselves who actually makes the better arguments, and has more actual knowledge of the issues being discussed.

Good bye, Mike

Mike Pete: The irony is that I have a lot more reasons to worry about Xi's policies. He does what he is supposed to do - in the best interest of China - the real problem is that nobody else seems to be doing what they should to balance that in response.

John Lombard: Okay...I DO have to respond to this. Mike Pete is now claiming that HE HAS MORE REASON TO BE WORRIED ABOUT XI'S POLICIES than the actual people living in China do! This man's world is so egocentric that not only does he think he's an authority on China, without ever having lived here at all, but that he's threatened by Xi's policies more than the Chinese people are!

"The Chinese people shouldn't be worried about Xi. It is GOOD that he is kidnapping people, and cracking down on freedom of speech! But I should be worried about him, despite the fact I don't even live there!"

Ken Alexander: Xi Jinping personifies "absolute power corrupts absolutely."

Mike Pete: False. It would be true if he did it for personal reasons - but he isn't. It's not about him but about the future of China. If anything, Xi Jinping shows that concentration of power can bring more efficiency - even on a global scale.

Me: Err where is the efficiency?

Mike Pete: Are you seriously asking me this question Gabriel?

You never cease to amaze me. A lot of the time you sound like quite a reasonable, even smart guy, but then you pop something so astonishingly facile and obtuse that my jaw drops. Which is also why I unfriended you because I simply had enough of this ignorance.

李恩嘉: Xi Jinping is a religion. I was just in China. He’s worshipped like a god on all large character propo posters and every day you get a text message to study Xi’s quotes.

Me: You were never on my friends list

Anyway good to see that even questioning the gospel of xi gets you so worked up. It's a clear sign to others that you're a true zealot
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