Monday, October 19, 2020

Individuals as Instrumentalities of State and the Erosion of Human Rights Autonomy: Chinese Policy on the Arrest of Foreigners as a Part of its International Relationship Toolkit


Pix Credit International Business Times


Three seemingly unconnected stories have circulated in recent days.  The first was the announcement by the Chinese government of its intention, at times and places of its choosing, to arrest U.S. citizens in China in retaliation for the arrest in the US of Chinese citizens on charges of espionage and related activities (China Warns U.S. It May Detain Americans in Response to Prosecutions of Chinese Scholars).  The second was an announcement by the Chinese government that the Canadian decision to grant Hong Kong people asylum in Canada by threatening the several hindred thousand Canadian citizens living in Hong Kong (Chinese envoy says Canada’s acceptance of Hong Kong refugees jeopardizes Canadians in former British colony)  The third was a story, receiving far less notice in Western news sources, about embassy personnel of the Chinese government attending a Taiwan national day affair in Fiji, beating up a Taiwanese official and then seeking the protection of diplomatic immunity, though here   there are conflicting story lines advanced by both parties (Taiwanese, Chinese staffers injured after clash in Fiji; Taiwan says diplomat injured in clash with Chinese side in Fiji).  

Pix Credit HERE


While each of these stories touches on matters important in their own right, they acquire a power to suggest more powerful insights when read together. First, it is becoming clearer that the Chinese are as blinded by their own way of seeing the world as are their Western (and especially their US) counterparts; one learns more about the Chinese from these actions than one gathers about the coherence of their foreign statecraft. Second, that world view suggests a quite interesting set of fundamental principles about the nature and autonomy of individuals that, when projected outward, manifest themselves in the essentialization of the individual as a granular representation of the collective (in these cases the state). Third, that process of essentialization  produces a reductionism that (that is it reduces the individual to a representation of the collective within which she is placed) that effectively orders intersectionality (that is the essence of a parson as belonging to multiple collectives--ethnic, religious, gender, etc.) into a hierarchy  which when ordered permits the application of authority in a vertically coercive way.  “‘There is no coercive diplomacy on the Chinese side,’ he said. ‘The Hong Kong issue and the Xinjiang-related issue are not about the issue of human rights. They are purely about internal affairs of China, which brooks no interference from the outside.’” (Chinese envoy says Canada’s acceptance of Hong Kong refugees jeopardizes Canadians in former British colony). This is perfectly sensible  from the Chinese perspective but incompatible with the way the Canadians (in this case) understand the world.


Pix Credit HERE

These are ways of understanding and responding to the world that is in some respects incompatible with the world view of China's partners.  The consequences for both international relations and human rights law and norms ought not to escape the attention of those who seek to engage both along the Belt and Road and more generally elsewhere. It increases the likelihood of miscommunication, and certainly of misreading action (since all parties are engaged in narcissistic interpretive exercises universalizing their own world views and projecting it onto others).  Lastly it furthers the current trend toward both decoupling (here along ideological lines), and the reorganization of global communities within distinct camps--not those that were the essence of the Communist-Free World divide of 1919-1989, but rather one defined by and through the control of production chains extending from the heart of the ideological hubs (China, the US, and the EU) which now seek to cement their "control" over their production territories through the embedding of their own rule and operational systems. 

One does not speak here about good or bad--that is a moral-political judgment that suggests the necessity of allegiance (and taste) rather than "facts" or "truth" (despite the best efforts of social scientists to insist otherwise). But it also suggests the limits and consequences of the sort of narcissistic analysis and actions undertaken by the emerging imperial powers which both advances their respective interests (by hardening their conceptual frontiers and projecting that outward as their brand of narrative) but also undermines their respective long term interests by deliberately over-differentiating difference and to undermine the efforts of the last century to advance the material (and moral) conditions of the global order.  And indeed, the big losers are the elite which rose after 1945 and which remains loyal to the conceptions of global multilateralism that appeared to suffer great setbacks (at least symbolically) with the US elections in 20016, the change of core leadership in China from 2013, and Brexit.

The three news reports follows along with brief reflections on each of the three points raised above.   


1. First, it is becoming clearer that the Chinese are as blinded by their own way of seeing the world as are their Western (and especially their US) counterparts. For a number of years I have been suggesting that the great flaw of American policy, a flaw fueled by the self-absorption of the intellectual and consulting classes that feed “facts” and “judgment” into the machinery of politics, has been the inability of American policymakers to understand China except through their own conceptual and objectives based lenses.  For the US that meant a blind belief in the superiority of their own system, but more than that in its inevitable triumph.  That inevitable triumph necessarily meant that  impediments to that arch toward liberal democratic realization necessarily was morally wrong, flawed, inauthentic, temporary, unstable, and illegitimate.  All of that is quite acceptable as a matter of ideology, but it produces a tendency to error in judging the way the Chinese officials see the world and act within it. Yet in perhaps what is the great form of flattery, it seems Chinese officials, and their advisors, suffer from the same self-centering myopia.  And with it the likelihood of error increases. The threat to arrest Americans in retaliation for the arrests of Chinese scientists and others is a case in point.  It correctly springs from the New Era Leninist view of the individual, like the organs of state, as an indivisible part of the collective, whose autonomy can only be understood through the lens of collective duty and its responsibility of loyalty to the leadership guidance of the vanguard. Individual autonomy, thus, is understood within a universe constrained by the superior imperatives of collective responsibility lead by a vanguard. It follows that all individuals, like enterprises, then, merely  incarnate and express the state within the collective of which they “belong.” If that is the case, it makes perfect sense to view all members of a collective as its agents, and to treat them all as instruments of national policy. There is no difficulty, then, in applying a national security law to every American as an agent of the American collective. Of course, the Americans will hear this in quite a different way.   And that is the great problem—having vindicated the own view of themselves they might have committed an act that decreases rather than increases the likelihood that they will meet their objectives—precisely because their actions trigger a response grounded in an almost opposite view of the nature of the relationship between the individual, the collective and the state. In more colloquial terms—this will “play” better in Beijing than it will in Washington, and will further advance the interests of Americans eager to paint the Chinese as lawless.


2. Second, that world view thus suggests a quite interesting set of fundamental principles about the nature and autonomy of individuals that, when projected outward, manifest themselves in the essentialization of the individual as a granular representation of the collective (in these cases the state). Listening carefully, then, one can begin to understand the way that Chinese ideology might be interpreted to vest human dignity, and the resulting obligation of the state, (led by its vanguard), in the collective rather than in the individual.  Individual rights are specific expressions of the protection of collective security, happiness, prosperity and good order.  But they are not vested in the person, but rather in the collective that the person embodies and represents.  At the same time any action against an individual that disrupts the human rights of the collective themselves are double violators—first of the collective rights manifested in the individual and then of the stability of the collective itself.  Anti-social activity, then, might be viewed as more threatening to the autonomy and dignity of the collective than specific manifestation in the harms suffered therefrom by the individual. This might go a way to explaining the intensity of the Chinese reaction to Canadian efforts to offer Hong Kong people asylum in Canada. The language used by Chinese official make that clear.  A lawless and dangerously anti-social element (espousing those views of politics and individualism at the core of Canadian values, ironically enough suggesting the inherent lawlessness and fundamental anti-social construction of the Canadian moral-political model) seek to avoid punishment for its threat to the Chinese collective and to further their work as part of the black hand of foreign interference. For Canada to give them asylum is to actively encourage collective threats to the Chinese state and its duty to protect the integrity of the collective against the individual.  


3. Third, that process of essentializing people within collectives produces a reductionism (that is it reduces the individual to a representation of the collective within which she is placed) that effectively orders intersectionality (that is the essence of a parson as belonging to multiple collectives--ethnic, religious, gender, etc.) into a hierarchy  which when ordered permits the application of authority in a vertically coercive way.  That hierarchy, of course is understood through a Leninist lens.  That lens, in turn, vests the vanguard with a moral-political duty to protect the collective and to advance its welfare through its leadership to attain the fundamental goal of the social order—in this case the establishment of a communist society in which all difference becomes meaningless.  In this context a hierarchy of duty necessarily emerges—first the duty to bend the collective to the ultimate goal, second to enter authority and responsibility for that effort in the vanguard, and three the protection of that collective against elements that may suggest reaction (a return to values , sensibilities, and orderings from prior eras whose stripping away is a central element of the vanguard’s work). The consequence of that hierarchy, as a moral-political baseline, then becomes clear.  First other political-moral baselines must give way to the preservation and advancement of the Chinese collective.  That means religion, ethnicity, language, culture, must give way to the extent it is viewed as fracturing rather than aligning all groups within the singular collective.  This explains both the way in which the vanguard approaches minority and religious, cultural and other rights of groups, and the limits of those group rights in the face of perceived challenges to the paramount duty to the singular collective.  It also suggests the way that such threats of group fracture strip the group of rights and permit severe action in response. Again, when viewed in this way, as threats to the collective order—as these are conceived and protected by the vanguard—then collective rights, individually expressed, may be stripped away. And suppression may permit extra-legal action.

Yet self-absorption also poses a dangerous irony--this revolves around the way that fighting the ghosts of one's (collective)  might well construct a similar present to those against which one acts.  In this case, the Chinese exaltation and exuberance that mark the end of and the liberation from the century of humiliation that started with the Empire's defeat at the hands of the British and ended with the triumph of the Marxist Leninist forces in 1949. China faces a dilemma in this respect, by measuring its actions against and to avoid any perception of its condition during the period of national  (or in this case imperial) humiliation, it may well set up a (long?) period of humiliation for those nations with which it engages. One does not  celebrate liberation from exploitative humiliation by humiliating others less well positioned to resist.  The seeds planted by such self-adsorbed policies and its national inward looking psychology, will one day bear China a quite bitter harvest.  But then, by then the architects of this error may long be dead; and it will be the collective that will have to respond. 

One can then glean from these stories much more than the sensationalism associated with the gestures they embody.  It suggests the perils of relations among increasingly confident moral-political systems that use similar words to express substantially different principles, substantially distinct valuations of collective and individuals, and substantially different roles for both in the implementation of human rights and sustainability regimes.  Expect to see much more of this now within international organizations.  In the process the cynical deal making among those states struggling in the shadow of emerging giants will help shape the meaning of terms once thought stable (and the content of their underlying principles) in ways that remain unclear. 




China Warns U.S. It May Detain Americans in Response to Prosecutions of Chinese Scholars: Blunt message suggests U.S. nationals in China at risk of becoming ‘hostages’ in Chinese diplomatic tactic

By Kate O'Keeffe and Aruna Viswanatha

Updated Oct. 17, 2020 3:37 pm ET


Chinese government officials are warning their American counterparts they may detain U.S. nationals in China in response to the Justice Department’s prosecution of Chinese military-affiliated scholars, according to people familiar with the matter.


The Chinese officials have issued the warnings to U.S. government representatives repeatedly and through multiple channels, the people said, including through the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.

The Chinese message, the people said, has been blunt: The U.S. should drop prosecutions of the Chinese scholars in American courts, or Americans in China might find themselves in violation of Chinese law.


China started issuing the warning this summer after the U.S. began arresting a series of Chinese scientists, who were visiting American universities to conduct research, and charged them with concealing from U.S. immigration authorities their active duty statuses with the People’s Liberation Army, the people said.


The arrests were the subject of a Wall Street Journal article that also reported U.S. allegations that Chinese diplomats were coordinating activities with the researchers, and described that as a factor in ordering China to close its Houston consulate in July and remove the remaining military scientists from the country.


Chinese authorities have on occasion detained foreign nationals in moves seen by their governments as baseless, or in some instances as diplomatic retaliation, a tactic that many in Washington policy circles have referred to as “hostage diplomacy.” China has denied U.S. citizens permission to exit from the country, and arrested, charged or sentenced Canadian, Australian and Swedish citizens on what officials from those governments have said are bogus allegations.


A State Department spokesman declined to address China’s alleged threats to retaliate for the U.S. arrests of Chinese military scholars, saying: “We warn U.S. citizens that business disputes, court orders to pay a settlement, or government investigations into both criminal and civil issues may result in an exit ban which will prohibit your departure from China until the issue is resolved.”


In a September travel advisory, the department recommended Americans avoid China travel for a number of reasons, including a warning that the Chinese government detains other countries’ citizens “to gain bargaining leverage over foreign governments.”


John Demers, head of the Justice Department’s national security division, said: “We are aware that the Chinese government has, in other instances, detained American, Canadian and other individuals without legal basis to retaliate against lawful prosecutions and to exert pressure on their governments, with a callous disregard of the individuals involved.”


Mr. Demers declined to comment on the specifics of the alleged Chinese threats made in conjunction with the U.S. cases against the Chinese researchers but added: “If China wants to be seen as one of the world’s leading nations, it should respect the rule of law and stop taking hostages.”


* * *


 Chinese prosecutors in June indicted two Canadian citizens on espionage charges, advancing a pair of cases widely seen as retribution for Canada’s arrest of a prominent Chinese executive at Huawei Technologies Co. in conjunction with a U.S. extradition request.


* * *


The U.S. has affixed tariffs on Chinese imports, restricted Chinese corporations over national security concerns, and sought to counter Beijing’s military buildup in the South China Sea. But former U.S. national security officials say the Justice Department’s cases against the military-affiliated researchers, who were arrested as they had prepared to leave the country, represented a major, public embarrassment for China in a way that other U.S. actions targeting China haven’t.


 “Historically, these dust-ups were resolved behind closed doors to contain the diplomatic fallout and allow China to save face,” said Craig Singleton, a former U.S. national security official who is now a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a research institute advocating for the defense of democratic countries.


“DOJ’s recent moves represent a full-on assault of one of China’s most revered institutions, the PLA,” Mr. Singleton said. “It’s a real game-changer that could carry significant risk for both sides.”


China began conveying the warnings after one of the Chinese military-affiliated scientists took up residence in China’s San Francisco consulate for a month after being questioned by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in June, according to one of the people familiar with the matter. Chinese officials told their U.S. counterparts they would detain an American in China if the U.S. didn’t allow the researcher, Tang Juan, to leave the consulate and return to China.


U.S. officials say they expected China to make good on the threat, but it didn’t, and the FBI arrested Ms. Tang in July when she left the consulate grounds.


A lawyer for Ms. Tang, who is out on bail after pleading not guilty to visa fraud charges, said in a statement that his “inquiries reveal nothing even remotely similar to any assertion that the Chinese government sought to interfere in Dr. Tang’s case.”


The lawyer, Malcolm Segal, added: “The Chinese government has played no role whatsoever in the case itself or in her defense, nor do I ever expect them to do so.”


In addition to Ms. Tang, four other researchers recently accused of hiding their ties to the Chinese military have pleaded not guilty to similar charges. Two are scheduled to face trial next month.


—Kim Mackrael contributed to this article.

Write to Kate O’Keeffe at and Aruna Viswanatha at

Corrections & Amplifications
The Foundation for Defense of Democracies is a research institute advocating for the defense of democratic countries. An earlier version of this article characterized the institute as conservative, which the foundation disputes. (Corrected on Oct. 18)

Copyright ©2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

Appeared in the October 19, 2020, print edition as 'China Warns It May Arrest Americans.'

See also Scholars in the Spotlight
U.S. Probes of Chinese Researchers Draw More Organized Opposition (Oct. 1); Chinese Diplomats Helped Military Scholars Visiting the U.S. Evade FBI Scrutiny, U.S. Says (Aug. 25); Report Sheds Light on China’s Use of Military-Linked Researchers (July 30)



Chinese envoy says Canada’s acceptance of Hong Kong refugees jeopardizes Canadians in former British colony

Blair Gable/Reuters


China’s ambassador to Canada is urging Ottawa to stop granting asylum to democracy activists from Hong Kong, whom he described as violent criminals, and warned that accepting these people could jeopardize the “health and safety” of 300,000 Canadians who live in the former British colony.


Asked if he was issuing a threat, envoy Cong Peiwu replied: “That is your interpretation.”

He also rejected the accusation from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau this week that his country practises “coercive diplomacy.”


Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne called the envoy’s statements inappropriate.


“The reported comments by the Chinese ambassador are totally unacceptable and disturbing,” the minister said in a statement.


“I have instructed Global Affairs to call the Ambassador in to make clear in no uncertain terms that Canada will always stand up for human rights and the rights of Canadians around the world.”

Mr. Cong used a news conference on Thursday marking the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries to say Beijing finds it unacceptable that Canada recently accepted two Hong Kong pro-democracy dissidents as political refugees. He also took strong exception to a call from nearly 60 MPs and senators to shelter more Hong Kong residents fleeing China’s national-security law.


“We strongly urge the Canadian side not to grant so-called political asylum to those violent criminals in Hong Kong, because it is interference in China’s domestic affairs, and certainly it will embolden those violent criminals,” he said.


The Globe and Mail has reported that Canada has accepted at least two Hong Kong activists as refugees, granting them protection in early September. More than 45 other dissidents are awaiting approval for asylum, sources have told The Globe.


Mr. Cong indicated any further action to shelter Hong Kong residents could have consequences for the many Canadians living in the Asian financial hub.


“If the Canadian side really cares about the stability and the prosperity in Hong Kong, and really cares about the good health and safety of those 300,000 Canadian passport holders in Hong Kong and the large number of Canadian companies operating in Hong Kong … you should support those efforts to fight violent crimes,” he said.


More than three months ago, Beijing imposed a new national-security law on Hong Kong that criminalizes dissent and protest with penalties of up to life in prison.


Mr. Cong said the measure provides stability.


“I want to make clear that a stable and prosperous Hong Kong … is not only in the interest of the vast majority of Hong Kong residents, but it is also conducive to the majority of those … law-abiding foreigners and enterprises in Hong Kong,” he said.


The ambassador also said Beijing would have a “strong reaction” if Parliament were to pass any resolution that condemned China’s treatment of its Muslim Uyghur minority as “genocide.” More than one million Uyghurs are in detention camps in Xinjiang province, facilities the Chinese government calls “vocational and education training centres."


“We will take resolute measures to safeguard our sovereignty and national security,” he said. He rejected widespread allegations that genocide is taking place in Xinjiang, saying the Uyghurs “live in harmony … and [China’s] human-rights record is the best in history.”


Mr. Cong also lashed out Mr. Trudeau, who on Tuesday marked the 50th anniversary by accusing China of resorting to “coercive diplomacy” in its crackdown in Hong Kong, human-rights abuses against Uyghurs and the arbitrary detentions of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.


“There is no coercive diplomacy on the Chinese side,” he said. “The Hong Kong issue and the Xinjiang-related issue are not about the issue of human rights. They are purely about internal affairs of China, which brooks no interference from the outside.”


Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan last week described Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor, who were locked up days after Ottawa arrested a Chinese executive of Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. on a U.S. extradition request, as victims of Chinese “hostage diplomacy.” Mr. Cong said on Thursday the cases are not connected, and that the two men are suspected of “engaging in activities which endangered our national security.”


Mr. Cong called for the immediate release of the Huawei executive, Meng Wanzhou and praised former Canadian officials and diplomats from the Jean Chrétien era who have called for a prisoner exchange. The two Canadians were imprisoned in December, 2018, shortly after Ms. Meng was detained over allegations of bank fraud relating to violations of U.S. sanctions against Iran.


More than 60 MPs and senators signed a joint statement on Thursday calling on the Prime Minister to create a “safe harbour program” for Hong Kong residents and offer them permanent residency. Canada has strong ties to Hong Kong, with more than half a million Canadians tracing their roots to the city.


Canadians of Hong Kong origin on Thursday urged Canada to do more.


* * *


Mabel Tung, chair of the Vancouver Society in Support of Democratic Movement, has criticized Mr. Trudeau for moving quickly to impose sanctions on officials in economically insignificant countries such as Belarus, but ignoring calls for sanctions on Chinese and Hong Kong officials over human-rights abuses.


“We can only conclude our elected officials … are intimidated by the political and economic clout of China,” she said.


On Thursday, 17 civil-rights groups, including Democracy and Human Rights for China and Friends of Hong Kong Calgary, urged Canada to remove pandemic restrictions that prevent would-be refugees from flying here to seek asylum. The people recently granted asylum and the group awaiting approval arrived before the borders were closed in March.


They called on Canada to take special measures to enable activists to leave Hong Kong despite COVID-19 travel restrictions or confiscated travel documents.


Former Liberal justice minister Irwin Cotler, who is supporting these calls to action, described China as now the greatest threat to the international legal order.





Taiwanese, Chinese staffers injured after clash in Fiji


TAIPEI, Taiwan — (AP) — China and Taiwan traded accusations Monday over a violent altercation that broke out between Chinese diplomats and Taiwan government employees at a recent Taiwan National Day reception in Fiji.


Both China and Taiwan confirmed the Oct. 8 incident but each disputed the other’s claim of what precipitated the fight, which resulted in one Taiwanese staffer being sent to a hospital with a head injury. One of the Chinese diplomats also was injured.


The confrontation, an extreme example of the tensions between the rival governments, erupted when Taiwanese at the gathering tried to stop Chinese diplomats from taking photos of guests at the reception marking Taiwan’s national day, a Taiwan foreign ministry spokeswoman, Joanne Ou, said in a written statement.


“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs strongly condemns the Chinese embassy in Fiji’s staff‘s actions which severely violates rule of law and norms of civilized behavior,” said Ou. She said Taiwan had made a formal protest to the Fiji government.


China's embassy in Fiji said in a statement released Monday that Taiwan's account was “inconsistent with the facts." It said one of its staff also was injured.


“On that very evening, the staff of the Taipei Trade Office in Fiji acted provocatively against the Chinese Embassy staff who were carrying out their official duties in the public area outside the function venue, causing injuries and damage to one Chinese diplomat,” the statement said.

The Chinese side also criticized the National Day celebration, saying it “violates the one-China principle and the relevant rules and regulations of the Fijian government, with an attempt to create ‘two Chinas’ or ‘one China, one Taiwan’ internationally,” it added. The one-China principle refers to the idea that Taiwan, a self-ruled island democracy, is a part of China.

On Monday afternoon, China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Zhao Lijian, criticized the flags and cake that the Taiwanese side displayed.


“Taipei's Trade office in Fiji on October 8 flagrantly held a ‘so-called’ national celebration event. The fake flag was publicly displayed on the scene, and the cake was also marked with a fake flag pattern,” he said at a routine press briefing. Those actions “severely violate the one-China principle.”


Taiwan is recognized as an independent government by only 15 nations, most of them small and poor. But its democratically elected government has extensive commercial and informal ties with many nations.


Fiji switched its diplomatic recognition to Beijing in 1975. The National Day event in Suva, the Fiji capital, was hosted by the Taipei Trade Office.


* * *


Associated Press news assistant Liu Zheng contributed to this report.










No comments: