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Is China Resisting the West? (Asia Carousel Live Event)

Where will the rise of China take the country in the 21st century? Will China confirm to the Western world order, or will it create a new world order? What is the ‘China dream’ (中国梦)? These questions will be addressed at today’s Asia Carousel at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Manya Koetse

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Where will the rise of China lead to in the 21st century? Will China confirm to the Western world order, or will it create a new world order? What is the ‘China dream’ (中国梦)? These questions will be addressed at today’s Asia Carousel at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. (To see more events live-blogged by What’s on Weibo, see our live events list.)

Event: Asia Carousel, “China Resisting the Western World Order?”
Date: June 9, 2016
Place: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, The Hague

During this edition of the ‘Asia Carousel’, an initiative launched by the Dutch government to enhance knowledge and understanding of Asia, all focus will be on China and its role in international society today.

Today’s speakers are sinologist and author Henk Schulte Nordholt, Leiden Asia Centre director Frank Pieke, and Arjen van Dijkhuizen, Senior Economist Emerging Markets at ABN AMRO. The discussion will be led by Arjen Schutten (China Expertise Centre).

An Economic Perspective (Van Dijkhuizen, 11.05 CET)

Today’s first speaker, Arjen van Dijkhuizen, starts his talk by addressing the audience to ask people whether or not they think the rise of China and its influence on the world economy is a cause for concern. Although the majority of people in the room raise their hand for being ‘not too worried’, Van Dijkhuizen says that there might actually be more cause for concern than today’s attendants might think.

 

“Improving communication is one of the biggest challenges that China is facing in its transition to the world economy.”

 

China is often at the focus of attention in today’s global financial markets. This, on the one hand, has to do with the rising importance of China’s economy, and, on the other hand, also relates to the country’s lack of transparency and communication. According to Van Dijkhuizen, opening up this communication is one of the biggest challenges that China is facing in its transition to the world economy.

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But there are also other various issues that play a big role. Debts are one of China’s bigger problems- “although this might be more of a domestic problem than an international one”, Van Dijkhuizen says.

He continues: “The World Bank might be too bureaucratic for China – it is not fast enough, and too focused on the USA. It is therefore not surprising that the PRC is now setting up its own initiatives like the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which we will hear much more about.”

“All in all, there are many hurdles to come”, Van Dijkhuizen says. The rising debts are one major point of concern. But China won’t try to turn around the global financial market: “The country is reforming, but stabilization will be the number one priority – which is something that the whole world will profit from.”

Looking at China’s Nationalism (Schulte Nordholt, 11.25 CET)

Speaker Henk Schulte Nordholt is all too familiar with today’s topic, as he is the author of the China and the Barbarians: The Opposition Against the Western World Order (2015) that is also focused on the theme of the rise of China.

“Maintaining the single-party state is a central aspect of nationalism in today’s China,” Schulte Nordholt says. One way to preserve this system is focusing on territorial issues – the Party suggests that without China’s single-party system, the country’s “territorial integrity” will not be maintained or reached. Where the borders of this “complete China” exactly are, Schulte Nordholt says, is not really clear.

 

“The main problem in China-US relations is a lack of trust.”

 

So except for the economic perspective, it is important to focus on military aspects when talking about the rise of China and its attitude towards the Western world order, according to Schulte Nordholt. The question “Who will dominate the Pacific Ocean – China or the US?” is an important one in this matter.

Could China and the US clash? “The main problem is a lack of trust,” Schulte Nordholt says. There are consistent strategic talks between the two nations, but the tensions continue. For China, economic development, sovereignty, and social safety/stability are three major issues – and they do not necessarily benefit from closer ties with the US.

These are exciting times, according to Schulte Nordholt. In the long run, he is optimistic – no one will be able to stop China’s rise to the world order and its integration in the world economy, it has already passed the “point of no return” in 2001. Continuing dialogues, Schulte Nordholt says, is crucial.

China’s Neo-Socialism (Frank Pieke, 11:45 CET)

“China is a country where nothing is allowed, but everything is possible,” says Frank Pieke. A country like the Netherlands might very well be the other way around, Pieke smilingly points out – and it is not necessarily better that way. For Chinese people, and foreigners alike, there are many possibilities for individual development in today’s China.

“Neosocialism”, is what Pieke calls China’s current political system. It is a continuing process. The Party is getting increasingly powerful – and its demonstration of power changes from year to year, from month to month, and from day to day. It also varies per theme, where some things might become more free, whereas others are more limited, like the recent restrictions on religion.

“The single-party state and China’s sovereignty is now emphasized more than ever,” Pieke says. We now first see that the Party and the government has a plan that they are creating. This was different in Hu Jintao’s era; now it is clear that the Party leaders have a clear vision of where they are going and how they will reach this. It is almost like a grocery list that they are completing.

 

“It is not a renewed ‘maoism’; you could compare it to nazism.”

 

There is also a sense of completing this within the coming 6-7 years, Pieke says, so there is a new sense of power and urgency that is making Xi Jinping’s reign different from that of his predecessors. “The Party and its leaders will become more dominant,” according to Pieke. The role of the Premier Li Keqiang is seemingly becoming less important, as all eyes are on President Xi Jinping.

This growing importance of the President will not lead to a renewed ‘maoism’, according to Pieke: “China is not going back in time. This is much more managed and the plans are different from Mao’s era. If you want to compare it to anything”, Pieke says, “then you could compare it to nazism” – cultivating not only the Party, but also the leader: “Its background is aggressive, nationalistic and based on a history where China was victimized.”

“What worries me most is not a revival of state-socialism”, Pieke argues: “but that the Party dictatorship will become more like a fascist regime.” Pieke sees this as a potential danger within the rise of China and its attitude to the West, as he also speaks of China’s route of ‘Lebensraum‘.

Dialogue is therefore crucial, Pieke says – reiterating the views of the previous speakers. The dialogue has to be constructed and maintained with several layers in Chinese society; keeping communication alive with the various institutions and government bodies. “We cannot close the door to China,” Pieke says: “But we also cannot accept a Chinese hyper-nationalistic agenda to grow.”

Discussion & Questions (12.25 CET)

“It is a worrisome trend that China’s image in the west is not getting more positive, while the country is growing,” Schulte-Nordholt says: “If China is indeed continuing with a neosocialist system that has some fascist features [as suggested by Pieke], then this doesn’t do much good for its future international image.”

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“We shouldn’t see ‘China’ as one entity,” Frank Pieke comments: “When I was talking about the fascist regime, I am talking about something that finds its roots in an aggressive form of nationalism that is alive at multiple layers in society – from top to bottom – but it is not that this nationalism applies to the entire society. This growing, and potentially dangerous, group is not representative for all of China.”

Pieke does not see a strict division between Party and society, as there are movements in the Party that can be traced back to what is happening at grassroots movements. But Schulte Nordholt does not necessarily agree with Pieke’s view when it comes to this Party & society symbiosis: “There really is a clear division,” according to Schulte Nordholt.

Yet Pieke says: “A Party separate from society is fundamentally non-Chinese. Social government and social management are essential in understanding China,” – suggesting close ties between state, government and society in China today.

Audience participant Ingrid d’Hooge has a question for the panel. She says that there are many of her friends in China who worry about the growing dictatorial regime in China, as it paralyzes the people to some extent. “How do you see this?” she asks the panel.

 

“2002-2006 were China’s golden days with relative freedom and endless possibilities.”

 

“I understand your friends,” Pieke says: “But we should not forget that there are many people, both inside and outside the Party, who are happy that a ‘real’ leader has stood up who has the guts to watch the West in the eyes and show China’s limits.” In the end, Pieke says, a regime can only change when internal forces want it to change – “I’m fairly pessimistic about this,” he concludes.

One other audience participant, China Analyst Mr. Hofman, wonders if the significance of China’s previous President Hu Jintao (2002-2012) is not undervalued in discussions such as these – even 4, 5 years ago, people never spoke too highly of him. “He indeed did not get enough credit for what he did,” Pieke answers: “Perhaps he was less media-genic, but I think 2002-2006 were China’s golden days with relative freedom and endless possibilities. I want to emphasize that Xi Jinping cannot be blamed for today’s fascistic changes in China – it is part of a movement that is larger than the President.”

Audience participant Fred Sengers (@blogaap) wonders if there might be international consequences to China taking a route of ‘Lebensraum’, as Pieke previously mentioned.

“Of course it has international consequences. It is not all about creating trade routes, it is more than that. It is project of expanding China’s [economic] influence. It is not necessarily bad, but we have to set limits when we no longer profit from it. There is major diplomatic influence of China within today’s Europe. Let alone in Africa. Europe is more and more influenced by China, and we should set a limit to how much it will influence us.”

This live blog is now closed.

– By Manya Koetse

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©2016 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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    Diandian GUO

    June 9, 2016 at 2:47 pm

    Since when “resisting the west” equals “developing into a worrisome regime”? Such linkage actually deems “not resisting the west” as moral and the opposite immoral.

    I am against authoritarianism, whether it means direct intrusion in individual lives, or the monopoly over defining “authoritarianism” and its moral implications.

    I always believe the presumption that “China has a big state and small society” is almost a “self-fulfilling prophecy”. The more scholars and media emphasize the “big state” of China, the less chance for the social forces to be discovered, nurtured and released. Even if when social forces are studied, they are studied with semi-autonomy: the public is only active when confronting and resisting the state, as if pure public initiation is non-existent or impossible. The more we look this way, the more we believe that China has a hopeless big state which suppresses an equally hopeless society.

    It is not that there exists no autonomy in Chinese society. But they are often dismissed or ignored. What is needed is that more study be done on those initiatives from society, which are not necessarily taken to de-construct, but to construct from ground up. That way, we could avoid endless condemnation that is unlikely to cause change, and find some hope that can lead to some solutions.

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China Media

News of Pelosi Bringing Son on Taiwan Trip Goes Trending on Weibo

News of ‘Little Paul’ quietly joining Pelosi to Taiwan received over 380 million views on Weibo on Friday.

Manya Koetse

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Perhaps one would not expect Chinese state tabloid Global Times to care about American taxpayers’ money being spent responsibly, but in today’s trending headline on Weibo, they suggest they do:

As American media have discovered, Pelosi’s son Paul Pelosi Jr., who is not an official nor an adviser to her, has followed Pelosi around Asia at the expense of the American taxpayer,” Global Times wrote.

The topic “Pelosi Secretly Brought her Son to Visit Taiwan” (#佩洛西窜台偷偷带儿子#) garnered over 380 million views on Weibo on Friday.

Earlier this week, various American media outlets, including The New York Post, reported that the 53-year-old Pelosi Jr. ​traveled together with Nancy Pelosi during her Asia trip, but his name was not included in the official list of officials on the trip released by the speaker’s office.

The Chinese-language Global Times report on this issue is largely based on America’s Fox News host Jesse Watters reacting to Nancy Pelosi bringing her son on the Asia trip in his ‘Primetime’ show, with many of his words being directly translated in the Chinese news report: “He is not an elected official, he is not an advisor Nancy, he doesn’t even live in Washington, but he was greeted as royalty by the President of Taiwan.”

Jesse Watters’ suggested that Pelosi Jr. was involved in “shady” business, being on the payroll of two lithium mining companies and then visiting Taiwan, a world leader in lithium battery production. “Prince Pelosi will go wherever the money is,” Watters said, a sentiment that was reiterated by Global Times.

During a press conference, Pelosi confirmed that her son had joined her on the trip, saying: “His role was to be my escort. Usually, we – we invited spouses. Not all could come. But I had him come. And I was very proud that he was there. And I’m thrilled – and it was nice for me.”

When Pelosi was asked if her son had any business dealings while they were in Asia, she replied: “No, he did not. Of course, he did not.”

In response to Pelosi’s highly controversial visit to Taiwan, the Chinese government took sanctions against Pelosi and her immediate family.

According to Global Times, this might also affect Paul Pelosi Jr., who allegedly sought business opportunities in China via two companies, International Media Acquisition Corp and Global Tech Industries Group.

Many netizens are also ridiculing ‘Little Paulie’ (小保罗), especially because, based on the reports, they had somehow expected Pelosi’s son to be a child or young man instead of a 52-year-old. Part of the confusion stems from the Chinese translation for “Jr.”, xiǎo (小), which also means “little.”

“He’s 52! I though we were talking about a little kid,” some wrote, with others calling him a ‘mama’s boy.’

“That entire family will just do anything for money,” others wrote.

More than a week after Pelosi’s visit, news of ‘Little Paul’ joining her on the controversial trip just reinforces existing narratives on Chinese social media, led by official media, that Pelosi’s Taipei decision was more about self-interest than serving her country – and its taxpayers.

By Manya Koetse

 

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China Insight

Chairman Rabbit vs Hu Xijin: Divided Nationalists on Weibo

Hu’s personal opinions should not be mistaken for China’s official stance nor guide Chinese online public opinion, Chairman Rabbit argues.

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Political commentator Hu Xijin was an influential online voice in the days surrounding Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. Chinese blogging account Chairman Rabbit lashed out against Hu, saying he misled public opinion at a time when his statements should have matched the official stance.

On August 3rd, a day after Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, Chinese blogger Chairman Rabbit (兔主席) posted a long piece of text on Weibo rebuking political commentator Hu Xijin (胡锡进) for his overdosed hawkish claims leading up to Pelosi’s controversial visit.

Following the post by Chairman Rabbit, grandson of a former CCP leader, Chinese social media saw many discussions and a wave of criticism against Hu and his overaggressive position.

In his since-deleted post, Chairman Rabbit demanded stricter regulation of Hu’s public statements due to his perceived ties with the Chinese government.

Hu Xijin is a Chinese journalist and the former editor-in-chief and party secretary of Global Times, a Chinese and English-language media outlet under the auspices of the Chinese Communist Party’s official People’s Daily newspaper.

Although he retired from his job, Hu is still a very active commentator on political affairs via social media. With nearly 25 million fans on Weibo and over half a million followers on Twitter, his posts and statements often go trending and influence public opinions.

Chairman Rabbit argued that Hu has built a credible reputation in his field, both within China and abroad, where he is generally perceived as having certain authority to speak about China’s political affairs – with some foreign media almost regarding him as some sort of spokesman for the Chinese government. Meanwhile, according to Chairman Rabbit, Hu uses this credibility to promote his own personal views.

“He was too loud. It would make the people think that [China’s] actions are not enough, bringing about disappointment and distrust. This is damaging to the morale of the people and also to the credibility of the government,” Chairman Rabbit wrote.

 

Two Political Commentators “Protecting China’s National Interests”

 

Chairman Rabbit is the alias of Ren Yi (任意), a Harvard-educated Chinese blogger who currently has over 1.8 million followers on Weibo, where he calls himself a ‘history blogger.’ He is also the grandson of former Chinese politician Ren Zhongyi (任仲夷), who was a leader in China’s reform period since the late 1970s. ‘Chairman Rabbit’ is known as a nationalist, conservative political commentator who often comments on US-related issues and current affairs (for more on his background, check out this article by Tianyi Xu).

The Chinese blogger’s post came after a week in which Hu Xijin recurringly went trending for his strong condemnation of a potential visit to Taiwan by U.S. House Speaker Pelosi.

Hu suggested that a Taiwan visit by Pelosi would be a clear provocation of China, giving the PLA “good reason” for “waging a war.” One of Hu’s tweets, in which he voiced the view that U.S. military planes escorting Pelosi to Taiwan could potentially be shot down, was deleted by Twitter on July 30. Afterward, Hu reiterated his views on Weibo and criticized Western censorship.

Hu Xijin tweet which was deleted by Twitter on July 30.

Chairman Rabbit wrote about Hu:

“(..) as we can see time and again, he lacks judgment and accurate sources of information on some major issues (..), and he represents only his personal views, which may be misdirected. If his views were perceived as being purely personal, they would not receive nearly as much attention – his “authority figure” status is the key to everything, and he is perceived as having a special channel to represent authorities.”

In the post, Chairman Rabbit accuses Hu of using his status to promote his own views and to influence the public debate and the international view of China to gain clout.

Hu Xijin responded to the post himself on his Weibo account, suggesting he felt betrayed and “deeply puzzled” to be attacked by someone he considered a “friend who worked together [with me] to defend China’s national interests,” writing: “I originally saw them as allies, yet right in the heat of the moment, I was surprised to find that that they suddenly turned their guns to aim it at me.”

In the same post, Hu still defended his own words, arguing that despite his “limited power” he still does what he can to “protect China’s national interests.”

 

“Frisbee Hu”

 

The Chairman Rabbit vs Hu Xijin dispute caught the attention of Chinese netizens, including the liberals and conservatives on Chinese social media.

With his muscle-flexing language, Hu seemingly regained popularity amongst die-hard nationalists on Weibo after long being suspected of being a “gongzhi” (公知), a derogatory use of the term “public intellectual.” The latest controversy shows that the interests of online nationalists do not always align with the official government stances.

It also shows a division between populist nationalists and the more elite or ‘establishment’ nationalists on Chinese social media. The former operate independently and are willing to pressure the government toward a more hostile foreign policy, while the latter follow the decisions of the government and respond to them.

Hu is known for commenting on political issues and tuning into official narratives, which even led to him being nicknamed “Frisbee Hu” (胡叼盘), suggesting he can catch the ‘frisbees’ thrown by the Communist Party like a dog catches his toy.

However, it seems he did not catch their ‘frisbee’ this time. For the CCP, it arguably would be not a wise choice to engage in any kind of military conflict at this time, knowing the unpredictable societal changes it may bring to its regime, especially ahead of Xi Jinping’s bid for a third term in office at the 20th party congress later this year.

Authorities did emphasize that China would not “idly sit by” if Pelosi would visit Taiwan. Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Zhao Lijian warned the U.S. on August 1st that if the U.S. House speaker would visit Taipei, “the Chinese side will respond resolutely and take strong countermeasures to defend our sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

But the aggressiveness of Hu Xijin’s posts perhaps went beyond what the authorities had in mind. According to Chairman Rabbit, Hu “influenced public opinion, and China’s international image as well. What he got in the end was traffic for his own account.”

 

Instruments to Govern the Public Sphere

 

On social media, Hu still received a lot of support while others agreed with Chairman Rabbit that Hu was chasing clout and that his words have consequences. Although that is not necessarily bad – as his influence can mobilize and channel public rage in a time of strict Covid measures and a declining economy, – it can also backfire and reflect negatively on the government when they fail to meet the public’s expectations.

Chairman Rabbit suggests that it might be better for Hu to put a disclaimer and clarification at the top of any statement to make it clear that his views are personal and do not represent the official view.

This is not the first time Hu gets caught up in a conflict between Chinese populist and establishment nationalists. In 2021, Hu had a public spat with Shen Yi, a professor at Fudan University. When Shen Yi defended a controversial post by the CCP Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission which put an image of the Chinese rocket launch besides that of a mass cremation in India, Hu argued that official accounts should not ridicule India’s Covid deaths but “express sympathy for India, and place Chinese society firmly on the moral high ground” (read here).

At that time, however, Hu sided with the so-called ‘establishment nationalists’ advocating for more decent public expressions from an official government account at a time when their neighboring country was mourning the victims of their Covid outbreak.

Disputes such as ‘Hu vs Shen’ and ‘Hu vs Chairman Rabbit’ could be seen as instruments to govern the public sphere, shifting the focus of attention amid online storms. The ‘Hu vs Shen’ public spat shifted the subject from whether it is moral to ridicule a neighboring country for its tragedy to whether it is good for an official government account to ridicule a neighboring country for its tragedy.

Similarly, the ‘Hu vs. Chairman Rabbit’ dispute shifted the subject from whether it is moral to wage a war over Pelosi’s visit to whether it would be in China’s best national interests to wage a war and to the influence of online public commentators within this matter.

Chairman Rabbit posted a second lengthy post regarding the dispute on August 4th, in which he again reiterated his stance that Hu Xijin’s tone on social media did not match the official stance, and that Hu, with limited diplomatic and military knowledge, miscalculated his response to the Pelosi issue and guided public opinion in the wrong direction.

The dispute between the two influential commentators triggered discussions, with some bloggers wondering when the next round of bickering is going to take place. In doing so, Chairman Rabbit has also been instrumental in channeling nationalist sentiments and creating some calm after the online storm following Pelosi’s visit.

“I think the Propaganda Department needs take responsibility, as they tacitly accepted Hu Xijin’s influence on public opinion. They can’t later shift all the blame to a person who’s already retired,” one popular comment said: “Those who are responsible should take responsibility! Our propaganda has always seen some problems, both internally as well as externally.”

Other commenters think Hu Xijin is getting too much credit for being held responsible for shifting public opinion. “My friends don’t even know who Hu Xijin is, yet they had also shifted in the ‘prepare for war’ direction,” one Weibo user writes, with another person adding: “He’s just saying out loud what I was thinking already. If everyone said it, it might be blocked, but he can speak for us.”

“Hindsight is 20/20,” others say: “And we might need hawkish expressions such as those published by Hu. I still support him.”

By Xiuyu Lian and Manya Koetse

 

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