All posts filed under: Asia

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 …

The Children of the Revolution

“Nobody is more dangerous than he who imagines himself pure in heart,” wrote James Baldwin, “for his purity, by definition, is unassailable.” This observation has been confirmed many times throughout history. However, China’s Cultural Revolution offers perhaps the starkest illustration of just how dangerous the “pure in heart” can be. The ideological justification for the revolution was to purge the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and the nation more broadly, of impure elements hidden in its midst: capitalists, counter-revolutionaries, and “representatives of the bourgeoisie.” To that end, Mao Zedong activated China’s youth—unblemished and uncorrupted in heart and mind—to lead the struggle for purity. Christened the “Red Guards,” they were placed at the vanguard of a revolution that was, in truth, a cynical effort by Mao to reassert his waning power in the Party. Nevertheless, it set in motion a self-destructive force of almost unimaginable depravity. The Cultural Revolution commenced in spirit when Mao published a letter indicting a number of Party leaders on May 16, 1966. But it was a seemingly minor event nine days later …

Google’s China Ambitions Threaten U.S. National Security

A month before the 2024 elections the Chinese dictator issues an ultimatum to the U.S. president: Abandon defense of Taiwan or Google will politically destroy you. If your navy does not immediately leave the Taiwan Strait, Google’s algorithms will send each American the news articles that would make them the most likely to vote against your party. But why, you might ask, would Google ever help China blackmail the American president?  Google has probably discussed altering search results to influence U.S. elections. The tech giant is also probably willing to censor information in China as the price of admission to that country’s market. It doesn’t seem too great a leap forward to imagine Google biasing search results in the U.S. to appease the Chinese Communist Party. While today China might be satisfied putting spy chips on hardware used by American tech companies, in the future it could use its economic power to dictate what these businesses do during times of international crisis. I don’t blame Google for being willing to bend its ethical standards to …

Censorship and Stereotypes: China’s Hip-Hop Generation

Last year, China was hit by a phenomenon unprecedented in its history. Close to a billion of its citizens tuned in to watch ‘The Rap of China,’ a competition designed to introduce hip-hop to a broader public. It was so successful that several of the show’s participants, many of whom were relative unknowns from the underground, went on to sign lucrative record deals and become mainstream stars. The rising popularity of a genre known for its politically subversive content and heavy use of profanity clearly unnerved some of the more staid, rigid ideologues in the Communist Party who saw the art form’s potential to encourage youngsters to stray from collectivist values. Subsequently two high-profile rappers, GAI and PG One, both competitors in ‘The Rap of China,’ were reprimanded for their misogynistic content. The latter was singled out for particular disapproval by the Communist Youth League for his references to pornography and drug use. A nationwide government crackdown ensued and hip-hop culture was effectively banned from the heavily state-controlled mainstream media on the grounds that it …

The China Model Is Failing

Chairman Xi Jinping is preparing to prolong his rule beyond the end of his second term, thereby breaking with the two-term limit set by Deng Xiaoping. The two-term limit had been one of the few civilized elements of China’s political system, checking the worst excesses of despotism and providing some structure for the peaceful transfer of power. Xi’s stunt is, however, only the latest episode in China’s creeping return to more intensified political control. This development has yet to show its full destructive impact on China’s economic development (for that, we must wait a few more years), but it is already having a devastating effect in the realm of ideas, as it is the final nail in the coffin of the ‘China model’ philosophy. Of course, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its defenders will continue to portray China’s political system as uniquely virtuous. But, intellectually and internationally, that line will be difficult to maintain. It is precisely because those old perceptions are now threatened, that the Propaganda Ministry has ordered Chinese media to lash …

China: Zero Tolerance for Academic Freedom

Universities will be closely scrutinised, professors will be evaluated and the Party will punish those lacking ideological firmness. Such is the program released by Xi Jinping’s government to coincide with the Communist Party congress, where Xi is seeking to reinforce his authority as a world leader. Efforts to control universities and disregard academic freedom are also taking place abroad. In early September, Reuters and The Guardian exposed efforts by Chinese authorities to partially restrict access to the American Political Science Review from within China. The Review, one of the most reputable journals in its field, is published by the prestigious Cambridge University Press (CUP). Ultimately the publishing house resisted the Chinese pressure, but the news has sparked upset, coming just a few weeks after another controversy that shook the foundations of academia. The “China Quarterly” affair In August, China scholars from around the world learnt that Beijing had demanded that Cambridge University Press withdraw 315 articles and book reviews from China Quarterly, produced by University of London’s respected School of Oriental and African Studies and published by …