All posts filed under: Asia

Hong Kong: First Line of Defence against a Rising Fascist Power

On July 7, a young man from China crossed the border into Hong Kong, found the nearest KFC, and locked himself in the bathroom. He took out a pen and a paper sign, trembling at the thought of how his life was about to change. “I come from the mainland,” he wrote. “Thank you, Hongkongers! Don’t give up, fight for freedom!” Then he joined the protesters marching from Tsim Sha Tsui to West Kowloon, and held up his sign. When he returned to China the police arrested him, stripped him naked, forced him to sing “There is no new China without the Communist Party,” and held him in a room with forty other prisoners. They threatened to beat him to death for betraying the Chinese “race.” The man, whose name is Lu, was released ten days later. It is quite common in China for people to be arrested and rearrested multiple times in quick succession, and it is also common for the police to use torture. With this in mind, Lu fled to Thailand. Now …

A Letter From Hong Kong

The normal coexists with the brutal. Last Saturday, in Hong Kong, carefree expat children walk by my apartment building, holding party balloons as Puma police helicopters buzz overhead. Less than a mile away people are fired on with tear gas and water cannon spewing blue dye. I imagine that this is what it felt like in the last days of the Shah. My days are not usually surreal. I am a teacher at Lingnan University, a liberal arts college and the smallest of eight public universities in Hong Kong. I have lived and worked in Hong Kong for twenty years; my wife and I raised our two children here. We are foreigners, but with a deep attachment to this city and its people. The causes of the current turmoil will take years of research to understand properly. Historians will find these causes in the Chinese family, in the class structure, in demography, in generational change, in new forms of communication, in political society and in several other factors still opaque to us. But where are …

China and the Difficulties of Dissent

Over the last couple of weeks, a small but dedicated band of free speech advocates at the University of Queensland (UQ) have managed to catch the attention of the international media with their protests against the Chinese government. The struggles of the protest organisers have a significance far beyond university campuses, as the recent media attention devoted to China’s influence over our politicians, technology, infrastructure, and educational programs demonstrates. The recent campus protests provide a timely reminder of the difficulties of dissenting from the entrenched orthodoxy that China’s rise is benign or even beneficial for Australia and the wider West. The Rise of Fascist China It is important to understand that China is a fascist dictatorship. The term “fascist” is now thrown around with such carelessness that it has lost most of its meaning outside the offices of a few historians or political science professors. But fascism, in its original early twentieth century incarnation, meant a political system defined by three attributes—authoritarianism, ethnonationalism, and an economic model in which capitalism co-existed with large state-directed industries …

Why China is Hiding the Horrors of Its Past

While the Chinese government continues to transform Xinjiang through its cultural genocide program aimed at eliminating the distinct identity of the Uyghur population, it is also putting a high priority on controlling the history of the region and its people. In October 2018, the state-run newspaper People’s Daily published an article outlining the official stance towards Xinjiang’s history, saying, “A correct understanding of the history of Xinjiang is not about examination of specific historical details. It is about a deep understanding of the Party Central Committee’s basic understanding, viewpoints and conclusions on issues related to Xinjiang’s history, culture, religion and so on, and enhancing our confidence in Socialism with Chinese Characteristics.” The statement illustrates how the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) generally regards the purpose of history. For the CCP, the purpose of historical study is not to understand past mistakes to ensure they are not repeated, an extremely important goal for a nation with the Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward in the living memory of much of its population. The purpose of history …

Indonesia’s Unlikely Democracy Remains Resilient

Indonesians refer to election day as Pesta Demokrasi—which translates to “Democracy Festival.” And it’s easy to see why. On April 17, about 156-million eligible Indonesians cast their votes forpresident at 809,500 polling stations strewn across 17,000 islands. Coinciding with the world’s largest direct presidential election were parliamentary and local legislative elections, with more than 20,000 seats contested by more than 245,000 candidates. Overseeing the entire process were around 6-million election workers—a force larger than the entire population of neighboring Singapore. As CNN reported, “ensuring this mega-poll in the world’s third largest democracy would go off without a hitch was a logistical feat, with election workers traveling by boat to remote islands, scaling mountains to reach hill-top villages and trekking through jungles—sometimes on horses—to bring ballot boxes within range of every voter.” All in all, April’s election was billed as “the most complicated single-day elections in global history.” It was also deadly—though not in the way you might expect. An estimated 139 election workers and police officers reportedly died from exhaustion due to the sheer scale …

China is Gearing up for a Long Fight

On February 18, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that a “sophisticated state-actor” had launched a cyber attack on Australia’s major political parties and parliamentary computer system. The Australian government has not yet identified which state-actor is responsible but suspicions almost instantly fell on China. The Chinese military maintains a dedicated unit (the People’s Liberation Army Unit 61398) for cyber attacks. While several other nations maintain the capabilities for this kind of attack, they do not have China’s record of interference in Australian politics. The Chinese Communist Party puts significant resources into neutralizing opposition to its interests within Australian politics and society. Its increasingly flagrant acts of interference prompted the nation to pass sweeping foreign interference laws in 2018. If China is responsible for the cyber-attack on Australian parliament, it fits a very clear pattern of increasing antagonism by China against the West. This points towards a worrying and unstable future for Western middle-powers with high economic exposure to China. Moreover, China’s increasingly threatening posture suggests that it no longer believes that it can radically …

Understanding China’s Confucian Edge in the Global AI Race

The American fugitive Edward Snowden triggered the West’s current (and ongoing) wave of concern over data privacy six years ago, when he revealed details about secret U.S. government programs that collect information on U.S. citizens. Since then, there has been a steady drumbeat of disclosures about how personal information is collected and shared, alarming the public and laying the groundwork for restrictive new laws, regulations and corporate policies. But the situation is different outside of the Western world—especially in China, which seems set to monetize its citizens’ seemingly nonchalant (or, more probably, fatalistic) attitude toward data collection. In China, even the most pervasive and invasive forms of data collection raise few eyebrows. As a result, China now stands poised to lead the world in the development of artificial-intelligence technologies, which rely, for their machine-learning algorithms, on vast quantities of accessible data. Developing AI in China has become akin to pumping oil in Saudi Arabia. This advantage will have enormous economic significance in coming years. Last year, Russian president Vladimir Putin ominously proclaimed that whichever country …

Malaysia’s Struggle to Preserve Religious Pluralism

For observers of contemporary Malaysia, much has been written about the tropical nation’s creeping Islamization. To define this more specifically, the observable interjection of Islamic morality into its institutions, its legal systems, and its political discourses and practices. The move towards a more puritanical and intolerant Islam has raised alarm bells for a country whose identity is rooted in its cosmopolitan and pluralistic character, raising the ugly specter of ethnic and religious conflict in one of Southeast Asia’s most developed economies. However, the shock victory of an opposition coalition in a historic general election in May 2018 raised hopes of a “New Malaysia.” The incumbent political coalition, Barisan Nasional (National Front), composed of race-based parties, with the dominant United Malay National Organization (UMNO) component explicitly espousing Malay-Muslim supremacy, was ousted after 61 years of uninterrupted rule since the country’s independence from the British in 1957. With a new administration under the Pakatan Harapan (Coalition of Hope) coalition, and with veteran leader Mahathir Mohammed back in power in his second stint as Prime Minister (at the …

American Universities’ China Problem

According to a report released last month by a group of distinguished China scholars, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) uses vague threats to induce US professors and students to avoid topics that might offend Chinese government sensitivities—research or discussions on Tibet, Taiwan, Xinjiang, human rights, and Chinese politics, for example. It denies visas to scholars who criticize the regime, uses Chinese students in the US to inform on one another, and punishes universities for hosting controversial speakers. After a university hosted the Dalai Lama, Beijing retaliated by banning Chinese students and scholars with funding from the Chinese government from attending the university. When the institutions we entrust to pursue the truth start avoiding the truth—particularly academic research that few of us can do on our own—we all suffer. The importance of universities’ truth-seeking role cannot be overstated. Medical researchers produce data on effective and ineffective therapies. Economists measure the impacts of different policy options. Sociologists study how public institutions and individual experiences affect education and its outcomes. Political scientists analyze governments. The integrity of American universities …