Infighting and Unrest in China Opportunities for Canadian Values

February 23, 2012 Updated: September 29, 2015

It’s impossible to know if Prime Minister Stephen Harper really knows exactly what he came face to face with on his recent trip to China.

Questions to the PMO about whether Harper knew the bloody dealings of one character he met with, or the current chaos that began to engulf the Chinese Communist Party during his time there, were met with refusals to comment on the internal politics of the Chinese regime.

Nor would the PMO confirm whether Harper was aware of increased unrest in the country.

U.S. Ambassador Gary Locke recently described China’s situation as “very, very delicate,” during an interview with NPR.

“I do believe that there is a power of the people, and there is a growing frustration among the people over the operations of government, corruption, lack of transparency, and issues that affect the Chinese people on a daily basis that they feel are being neglected,” said Locke in the January interview.

China currently sees 500 such mass protests a day, or some 180,000 a year according to Niu Wenyuan, a member of the National Chinese People’s Political Consultative Committee.

“This phenomenon indicates that today public order is easily upset, and the psychology of the masses can quickly become unbalanced,” Niu said in a speech to fellow party cadres during the inaugural ceremony of the tenth Guangzhou Municipal Meeting on Feb. 8, reported on by New Express Daily.

But such issues seem tangential to the current Canada-China priority list.

International Trade Minister Ed Fast spent part of Tuesday boasting about the government’s wins during its recent trade delegation to China, but implicitly acknowledged troubles in the Middle Kingdom.

Speaking in Vancouver, Fast highlighted agreements that should both bolster exports and increase dialogue, and “take the Canada-China trade and economic relationship to the next level.”

Hammering out a Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA) between Canada and China was the big score if it keeps Canadian businesses out of the opaque corruption of the Chinese courts. Businesses in Taiwan know that better than anyone, with support groups dedicated to devastated businessmen who lost their shirts in joint ventures with Chinese firms.

Taiwan is now working on a new Cross-Strait Investment Protection Agreement which appears stuck on how to create an arbitration mechanism to handle disputes. Some in Taiwan oppose the agreement on the grounds it will give Taiwanese businesses a false sense of security and jeopardize larger corporations. Up till now, Chinese courts have been almost completely indifferent to hearing cases from jilted Taiwanese business people.

Wednesday’s statement about Fast’s Vancouver trip says Canada’s agreement with the Chinese regime will provide “a more stable and secure environment for investors on both sides of the Pacific.”

But there is an interesting contradiction between the FIPA and another agreement that promises to increase discussion on Canada-China law enforcement and judicial cooperation.

On the one hand, the FIPA’s value is that it gets Canadian business disputes in China away from Chinese courts and into arbitration where there is a chance of a fair hearing. That implicit acknowledgement of the regime’s corrupt judiciary would raise questions about any plan to cooperate with it.

Increasing Dialogue

A statement released Feb. 9, while Harper was in China, announced details of a plan to increase dialogue and exchanges in the field of governance, including legal, judicial, and law enforcement cooperation, rule of law, and human rights.

While there are few tangibles on the human rights aspect, the statement reaffirms Canada’s commitment to cooperate with China’s Public Security apparatus, including repatriating fugitives and facilitating cooperation between the RCMP and the Chinese Ministry of Public Security.

But the Ministry of Public Security in China is dramatically different from that in Canada.

A case in point is Chongqing, the city-province where the PM finished his China trip by meeting the ruling Party Secretary there, Bo Xilai.

Bo’s crackdown on organized crime in Chongqing managed to take out his main political opponents and abscond with the assets of successful businesses.

U.S. diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks note that such activities are the norm rather than the exception.

“Corruption is so widespread among senior provincial leaders that political considerations are the prime means to identify targets for investigation,” notes a source in the cable, summarizing the popular view among contacts who informed the Guangzhou U.S. Consulate May 2009.

A 2007 cable from the Shanghai consulate notes that Chinese Communist Party cadres, particularly in the provinces, “live in constant fear that they will be targeted by people who have been harmed by their policies, by underlings looking for greater head room, or by superiors who see them as a potential threat to their power.”

Such is the state of judicial proceedings in China today. At the moment, the line between justice and political infighting is particularly thin.

While Bo and his former right hand man Wang Lijun, who headed the Chongqing Public Security Bureau, used their provincial powers to target one faction within the party, a higher ranked official, He Guoqiang, is now using the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), the top entity, to go after corrupt officials including Bo himself.

Meanwhile Bo’s ally, Zhou Yongkang, is reportedly using the arguably more powerful Political and Legislative Affairs Committee to shelter Bo.

It’s the kind of mess Canada needs to be acutely sensitive to in any dealings with China today, especially as party infighting reaches levels unseen in a generation.

Dealing with the Chinese regime today is more complicated than ever, as power struggles lack clear frontrunners and picking sides means choosing among factions associated with various human rights atrocities and criminal activity.

Interestingly, the regime is ever more sensitive about criticism for its crimes. Attacking the wrongdoing of political opponents is the cornerstone of Party infighting, with factions trying to publicize dirt and launch investigations of their opponents’ crimes. But the criticism of outside voices also plays a major role.

Bo was demoted to Party Secretary of Chongqing rather than promoted to Vice Premier of the regime during the last National Congress in China in 2007 exactly because he had attracted international lawsuits for persecuting Falun Gong, according to a 2007 diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks from the U.S. consulate general in Shanghai.

With Canada looking to make trade with China a larger factor in the national economy, now might be a better time than ever to openly push for reforms that help both business and the Chinese people.