The Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) tends to be a good barometer of legislative thinking about China in the United States. Not that this thinking is either coherent or well directed. But it does represent the way in which U.S. "China expert" elites and their legislative masters develop "knowledge" about China. This knowledge is then used to shape U.S. policy and legislative approaches U.S. China relations. It also suggests the way that U.S. ideological thinking shapes the way in which China is viewed as understood by the United States.
This characterization is not meant to suggest a personal position on either the outlook or work of the CECC, or of its advisers. That characterization, however, does suggest that ideological blinders tend to tell us more about the U.S. (in this case) than it does about the Chinese. It is with the object of helping to understanding American construction of China, rather than of helping to understand Chinese constructions of themselves (however "flawed either exercise may be in and of itself and to itself), that this announcement is offered.
For May, the CECC presented "The Long Arm of China: Global Efforts to Silence Critics from Tiananmen to Today." It focuses on China's more aggressive and internationalized management of its social media profile and international public discourse, especially that of interest to the Chinese state.
The announcement and my brief analysis follows. My analysis focuses on the relationship between the move toward the control of global non state organizations and the fusion of law and politics. It also suggests the way the the theories of combat--and the strategies of warfare, in an age that rewards warfare without overt violence among states--may now be more important drivers of policies on civil society management within transnational space and within states. The recording of the proceedings may be accessed HERE. Decide for yourselves.
In its program, "The Long Arm of China: Global Efforts to Silence Critics from Tiananmen to Today," the CECC focuses on the internationalization of China's efforts to manage its image, which form the West appears both as the imperial projection of power beyond Chinese borders, and an effort to internationalize a quite distinct view of civil engagement. The proceedings suggest both the extent of the success of Chinese efforts to extend their vision of managed civic space well beyond their own borders and presents a challenge to the West for dominance in the discourse both of civic engagement and in the construction of a globalized community of civic actors that are not directly tied to the state.
For China, the rise of global civic communities may well present a greater danger than that posed by states with which it views itself in competition. States are relatively easy to deal with--they are easy to "find" and the rules of engagement are fairly well developed--even when they are bent in the service of power. But Global civil society is an altogether different matter. On the one hand they may be viewed as the internationalized extensions of state power acting through the cloak of private actors. On the other hand--and perhaps more dangerous from the perspective of strong state adherents like China--global civil society represents a much more difficult target to constrain or manage. They engage in the sort of political work that ought to be centered on vanguard parties and they can mobilize masses sometimes more effectively than the vanguard party itself. Yet they owe no allegiance to another state and thus it becomes harder to deploy the language of nationalism (interfering foreigners and the 1848-1949 China rhetorical tropes) to demonize them . How can the state deal with global ideological movements that are not state based and that may seek to engage with the political responsibilities of a vanguard? In the West, the state and its elites have managed--sometimes more sometimes less successfully--to incorporate these elements within their political and institutional calculus. That remains a work in progress, and subject to substantial resistance, in China.
Thus, this choice of topic should not be viewed as either isolated or serendipitous.
It may also represent the first of the West's public challenges to the recent enactment of the Chinese Foreign NGO Management Law. Earlier drafts of the FNGOML distributed for comment in 2015 had generated a storm of negative criticism, especially in the West. But not just in the West, and not just to further the interest of Western states in the work of their public and private NGOs (For my commentary on the draft see Here and Here ; Here for the Commentary of Flora Sapio; and Here for Background Briefs; Here for discussion of regulatory architecture of NGOs in China). Chinese internal commentary was not uniformly positive (see, e.g., Jia Xijin, "Legislation for Foreign NGOs; how will the second boot land?" originally in Chinese in Caijing; English version here).
In the face of this protest, the Chinese State passed a slightly modified version of the FNGOML. Flora Sapio and I engaged in an interesting debate about its features and consequences:
1. Introduction to China's Foreign NGO Management Law
2. Flora Sapoio on the FNGOML
3. Larry Catá Backer on the FNGOML.
4. Flora Sapio Response to Larry Catá Backer on FNGOML.
From my perspective, it is important to link both the character and objects of the construction of internal management of foreign discourse and civic engagement within China by foreigners, and China's increasingly visible efforts to also management global civic engagement within international bodies. For example, it was recently noted that:
While tightening controls over foreign NGOs (INGOs) at home with a new management law which has alarmed many in the sector, China has also been seeking to counter such groups abroad, including at the United Nations. Last year, it failed in an attempt to enable countries to criticize NGOs anonymously during the U.N. accreditation process, and has repeatedly been accused of attempting to intimidate activists at sessions, among other efforts to suppress civil society participation.
On Thursday, China helped block an application for U.N. consultative status by the Committee to Protect Journalists after four years and repeated delays. The group was supported by Greece, Guinea, Israel, Mauritania, the U.S., and Uruguay, but opposed by China and Azerbaijan, Burundi, Cuba, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Russia, South Africa, Sudan, and Venezuela. India, Iran, and Turkey abstained. . . . (China Blocks Press Freedom Group’s U.N. Accreditation )That China has engaged with global civil society, at home and abroad, is certainly to be lauded. But the nature of that engagement is likely to mark the front lines of an ideological campaign at the supra-national level. At stake is the shape of the transnational space that has been created in substantial part while China was inattentive and grounded in an ideology that will be challenged both in law and in politics in the coming decade. What will be different, however, will be that China will not be engaging just with states, and under the rules that govern state to state combat in diplomatic and political space. China will now have to become accustomed to engaging with non state actors that may in some ways be more powerful than many states and whose agendas may be normative rather than political or territorial in a specific way.
China serves only as the centering point for a global counter offensive against the rise of global civil society founded on a broad reading of the implications of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. "Large nations like China and Russia are reportedly setting the bar for smaller states like Cambodia in a trend that is forecast to shape the future international aid landscape." (Zoe Holman, Laws forcing civil society donors to adapt, The Phnom Penh Post, 5 Nov. 2015). I have suggested the evolution of civil society as an important part of the international norm making and accountability system (e.g., Civil Society Space and the United Nations Human Rights System - A Practical Guide for Civil Society A-C-E-F-R-S) and the global counter moves against civil society through regulation within states. And I have suggested that it also poses an interesting tension between the development of global conversations on transnational issues and the authority of states to avoid subversion by other states acting through these private communities (e.g., here, and here). Among some Muslim majority states control of globalized civil society also serves to advance racist and sectarian agendas. Consider Egypt:
Who is the enemy in this war? According to the Egyptian military, that would be the United States — the same country providing the army with those free armored vehicles and billions in aid. In March, the Defense Ministry’s Nasser Military Academy briefed the parliament about fourth-generation warfare. According to the outline, reported by Mada Masr, the subjects included “Egypt’s defense strategy and Western plans to divide the Middle East.”The internationalization of civil society, then, can be imagined as the rise of a new class of organized threat to states. And in deed, it is an important player in the thinking of military establishment and their related security apparatus the most important elements of which now appear engrossed with the parameters of 4th generation warfare. Just as Marxists fused law and politics in the 20th century and challenged notions of rule of law, non state actor shave now created conditions for the fusion of war and politics (see, e.g., here, here, here, here, and here). Within this framework, and in this context all civil society organs are potentially revolutionary, and certainly destabilizing. In societies with vanguard party structures, this is threatening. In other authoritarian societies it represents a threat to authority. And in democratic states it represents the power to overturn democratic governance. Mass mobilization, and the ability to manage global social spaces now appear as critical to modern warfare as it is to the establishment and operation of legitimately constituted states, whatever their political system in place.
Pro-regime propagandists are far more explicit. “Most civil society organizations” in Egypt “work to demolish the state through fourth generation warfare for a few dollars,” wrote Charl Fouad El Masry in Daily News Egypt in January. Amr Ammar, a frequent guest on state television, has written a tome explaining how Egypt’s 2011 popular revolution was actually a U.S. plot to destroy Egypt for Israel’s benefit. He calls it “the Hebrew Spring.” ("America gives Egypt free armored vehicles. Egypt gives America a slap in the face.")
Global civil society thus represents a complex challenge as well as a potential connective opportunity for all states, democratic, socialist, theocratic, or authoritarian. That challenge and opportunity is bound up in the interactions between (1) mass mobilization and mass politics as the center of modern national political organization, (2) the internationalization of societal communities that seek social, political and economic connection across territorial boundaries consistent with their own objectives and aspirations, and (3) the transformation of warfare and its fusion with politics, economics, culture and the global chains of commerce, technology, and culture that have emerged since the 1980s. The tensions and contradictions of the state in global space, of the rise of non state actors with political authority, and of the possibility of polycentric virtual states and governance communities, then, are bound up in a discussion which, in the hands of the CECC focuses on a very slim slice of this conceptual pie.
The rules of this engagement have yet to be written. Exceedingly powerful within their national territory, China becomes more vulnerable and weaker in its ability to successfully mount these sorts of engagements the more successful its Go Out (走出去战略) becomes. Chinese strategists may overestimate their power (calculated in terms of their economic engagement abroad) when dealing with global civil society outside of China. And they may overplay their hand by squeezing civil society within China. On the other hand, China mat serve as the veil behind which western and developing states might themselves seek to dismantle the network of global civil society that they unleashed during the Cold War but which has become troublesome for all states since the 1980s. But civil society can mobilize the masses at time more effectively than the state. And if pushed, states may manage these global civil society organs into a more overtly political posture. The risks are likely to be ignored. The field of play is now set and the players will write the rules as they engage. And at the end of the match the world will be a very different place.
The Long Arm of China: Global Efforts to Silence Critics from Tiananmen to TodayMay 24, 201612 p.m. to 2 p.m.HVC 210, United States Capitol Visitor CenterThis hearing will examine the Chinese government’s reach beyond its borders to stifle critical discussion of its human rights record and repressive policies. China has long used its visa denial and censorship policies to muzzle discussion of the Tiananmen protests and their violent suppression by punishing and marginalizing the former student leaders and encouraging self-censorship among academics and foreign journalists writing about “sensitive” topics, including the events of 1989. Twenty-seven years after Tiananmen, these heavy-handed tactics are global in reach as China uses its diplomatic relationships and rising economic and trade clout as a means to achieve its aims. Recent cases represent an escalation of China’s efforts to blunt scrutiny of its rights record and criticism of government policies. These efforts include pushing neighboring nations to crack down on dissidents who offer a critique of Beijing or to forcibly repatriate Uyghur refugees and Chinese asylum seekers; the disappearances and alleged abductions of five Hong Kong booksellers; clandestine efforts to discredit the Dalai Lama through a Communist Party-supported rival Buddhist sect; harassment of family members of foreign journalists and human rights advocates; and threats to the operations of non-governmental organizations engaged in work in China through the newly passed Overseas NGO Management Law and other means. Witnesses will discuss their own experiences with the “long arm” of the Chinese government and offer recommendations for Congressional and Administration action.The hearing will be webcast here.Witnesses:Su Yutong: Journalist, Internet activist, human rights defender and former news broadcaster, the Chinese service of Deutsche WelleAngela Gui: Student and daughter of disappeared Hong Kong bookseller Gui MinhaiTeng Biao: Chinese human rights lawyer, Visiting Fellow, U.S.-Asia Law Institute, NYU Law School , and Co-founder, the Open Constitution InitiativeIlshat Hassan, President, Uyghur American Association