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"Canada can, within a positive friendly atmosphere, ask the Chinese government to resolve the Tibetan situation."

China crucible

July 13, 2009

Rowan Callick, Asia-Pacific editor
The Australian - July 11, 2009

CHINA has taken a strikingly different path towards a prosperous future than
the West. This week's dramatic events at opposite ends of the country,
5000km apart, suggest the world's last great one-party state already may be
testing the limits of its formula for success.

The hasty return of China's President Hu Jintao, who chairs the central
military commission, to Beijing from the Italian town of L'Aquila on the eve
of the meeting of the Group of Eight - without even participating in the
scheduled G2 summit with US President Barack Obama - is helping provoke such
questions.

The repercussions of the arrest in Shanghai of one of Australia's leading
business representatives in China, Rio Tinto's Stern Hu, with three Chinese
citizen colleagues, Liu Caikui, Wang Yong and Ge Minqiang, and of the
violent ethnic conflict in the northwestern Xinjiang region, are amplified
by China's failure to establish an independent and transparent legal system.

These events underline how far China is from the normal country it aspires
to be. This is a burden its rulers have brought on themselves. As the sole
source of authority in China, the Communist Party assumes not only credit
for what goes right - and much has gone right in the past three decades -
but also the blame for what goes wrong.

China's rulers have chosen to accommodate for theirbig-picture purposes - to
absorb as far as they can - the cultures of its 55 minority ethnic groups,
including that of Xinjiang's Uighurs, and of the Western business world. But
they tend to leave those elements that cannot be comfortably aligned with
the state's dominant ethos. The rule of law is one such element, China's
legal system being subordinated to its collegiate party structure.

Hu Shuli, the influential founder and editor of Caijing, China's most
prominent business magazine, wrote this week: "The dark cloud of economic
crisis still looms, and the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's
Republic of China is upon us (on October 1). We need to alleviate social
discontent and reduce the frequency and seriousness of conflicts."

She says "inept officials disregard the basic rights of individuals",
adding: "Mass incidents highlight the characteristics of a society in
transition and relate to improper use of public power without oversight.
They also leave a lasting imprint on a government's credibility. A process
is needed for advancing democratisation ... building a more effective system
of checks and balances.

"Society needs the rule of law as a reliable stabiliser. The road to this
goal is long and arduous, but it is reachable by supporting an independent
judiciary."

Stern Hu will not be arraigned in front of such a judiciary. Indeed, the
words used by China's spokesman Qin Gang to describe his predicament at
Thursday afternoon's regular Foreign Ministry press conference appear to
foreshadow his conviction: "Hu is suspected of stealing China's state
secrets for foreign countries. Competent authorities have sufficient
evidence to prove they (Hu and his colleagues) have stolen state secrets and
have caused huge losses to China's economic interests and security."

There are many good reasons international organisations appoint Chinese-born
managers such as Hu to run operations in China. They are often focused,
connected and capable. But they are vulnerable to the depredations of
Chinese politics.

The Chinese economic sectors with which Australia has gained its
much-vaunted "complementarity" are state dominated. Hence almost any offence
that may be viewed as strictly commercial in Australia may be characterised
in China as a suitable case for the Ministry of State Security, the
department that arrested Hu and his colleagues.

The politics within the iron ore and steel sector - the engine room of
industrial growth, on which the party-state's legitimacy heavily rests -
have been seething this year, with the government surprising most of the
industry by pushing the China Iron and Steel Association to the fore to
negotiate the annual iron ore benchmark price, and intensifying its efforts
to prevent "leakage" of ore to some smaller mills at non-authorised prices.

State news agency Xinhua says the US generates about 100,000 classified
documents annually, China several million. It says that state secrets refer
to "classified information concerning major policies and decisions of state
affairs, national defence and activities of the armed forces, diplomatic
activities, national economic and social development, science and
technology, activities to safeguard state security and the investigation of
crimes, and other items that are classified as state secrets by the state
secret protection departments". In other words, almost anything that
officials choose to brand as secrets. Rio now will have fewer secrets from
Beijing, certainly any held by its Shanghai office.

The arrests have not prompted any sense of panic among other Australian
businesspeople in Shanghai or elsewhere in China. But given the political
nature of all authority in China, there are events that require a political
response. Is Hu's case one such? Federal Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull
believes so. Kevin Rudd disagrees. "The key thing is not for politicians
like Mr Turnbull to begin trying to politicise issues like this," he says,
echoing Qin's advice. "It's improper to exaggerate this individual case or
even politicise it, which will be no good to Australia."

Just as it suits the Chinese, and the Australian, government to lay the
blame for its economic slowdown on foreign countries, so it tends to accuse
overseas influences for provoking domestic upheavals. Last year the Dalai
Lama was blamed for the riots in Tibet. This year Rebiya Kadeer, once
China's most successful businesswoman but now the US-based president of the
World Uighur Congress, is blamed for the turmoil inXinjiang.

This assigning of blame offshore serves the purpose of absolving the state
of any responsibility. A Xinhua commentary this week says: "Initial
investigations attributed the brutal violence to the separatist WUC led by
Rebiya Kadeer, who is using terrorism and separatism to destroy Xinjiang's
stability and prosperity.

"Resources rich, the region has been an active player in the country's Great
West Development Campaign launched in 2001. The 21 million local residents
have found their living standards steadily improving."

That most Uighurs, as with most Tibetans, are not satisfied with development
alone - that they seek greater political, religious and cultural autonomy
than the millennia-long centralised Chinese state can concede - is a redress
to the core unwritten contract through which Deng Xiaoping established the
post-Mao Zedong legitimacy of the communist government: we ensure constantly
improving living standards, you let us rule in the traditional manner.

The government's control of the mass media and policing of the internet
damage the credibility of official information and provide a spurious
acceptability to blogs and Twitter messages that manage to penetrate the
state's barriers. Beijing swiftly shut down most communications with
Xinjiang this week, although its canny State Council Information Office
showed it had learned from Tibet last year by flying foreign journalists
from Beijing to Xinjiang's capital, Urumqi, putting them up in a hotel and
allowing them internet access. The coverage has thus mostly come from inside
China rather than, as in the Tibet case, from foreign sources.

But the message remains essentially the same: the empire is fraying.
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