Growing-up under Totalitarianism with a Gun in your hand

Totalitarianism seems to have some kind of sick and twisted fascination with the youth. To totalitarian governments, the affection of the young is pure and untarnished, which adds a layer of sheen when it comes to perfecting propaganda. Youngsters, who are oftentimes susceptible to outside influence, could be easily mold into defenders of a regimented system of governance. More importantly, the young generation is a vehicle that carries on, and actively enforces the state’s poisonous ideology imbued with sadism, hatred and cruelty, usually doing so with a lethal weapon in hand. The following is a collection of photographs showcasing the grotesque combination of cold hard steel and ruddy young faces.

Preparing for a possible gas attack. Stalin's Soviet Union, 1937.

Training for a coming chemical attack. Stalin’s Soviet Union, 1937.

Hitler youth training for war, 1943.

Hitler youth preparing for war, 1943.

Little Red Soldiers. Cultural Revolution, China.

Little Red Soldiers. Cultural Revolution, China.

Young Khmer Rouge fighters with captured American firearms.

Young Khmer Rouge fighters with captured American firearms.

Jihadi baby from ISIS territory.

Jihadi baby surrounded by guns and grenades. ISIS territory.

Nine year-old with rifle in ISIS controlled Iraq.

Nine year-old with rifle in ISIS controlled Iraq.

Young girls are no exception. Everybody must learn how to kill.

Young girls are no exception. Everybody must learn how to kill.

I do not know what this little fella is talking about. But what I do know with crystalline clarity is that the future of children growing-up under ISIS is heading towards a very dark direction. There is nothing more sinister than a young boy holding up a gun while delivering an impassionate hate speech in a former place of worship. Almost like a scene out of Children of the Corn or Omen, except this time it is real.

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Machinations on Army Day

The first day of August occupies a premier slot in the Chinese lexicon of state sanctioned holidays. Observed annually, Army Day, popularly known as bayi or August 1, commemorates the founding of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in 1927 and its progressive maturing over the last eight decades. Besides cheerful festivities across the country, August 1 also provides a convenient opportunity for Chinese politicians to pay homage to the mighty PLA.

This year’s August 1 is especially worth noting given the ongoing housecleaning within the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). With all eyes on the chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC), it is widely expected that Xi Jinping’s gestures towards the armed forces would closely coordinate with the intense round of political weiqi (encircling chess) taking place among the ruling elite. Though not a native of Fujian, Xi earned his spurs in the southeastern canton after seventeen years of administrative service, including a seven years stint as first commissar of the Fujian provincial anti-aircraft artillery reserve division. In a sense, Fujian is Xi’s second home away from Beijing. On the afternoon of July 30, Xi, the now supreme commander of the PLA returned to the military barracks of Fujian where he cut his teeth as a soldier.[1]

Xi, the young commissar. Copyright: China.org.cn

Xi, the young commissar.
Copyright: China.org.cn

Xi’s decision to travel thousands of miles away from the Chinese capital encourage deeper analysis of the situation given the evolving machinations at the imperial court. Considering the facts available, it is clear that the rough-riding Chinese honcho made careful calculations before embarking upon his Fujian tour, all with clear political goals in mind.

A lively welcome for Fujian’s favorite adopted son. Copyright: Xinhua

A lively welcome for Fujian’s favorite adopted son.
Copyright: Xinhua

First and foremost, Fujian’s location as a frontier province created a geographical distance separating the Chinese supremo from the purge in Beijing. With the anti-corruption campaign reaching an apex in the party’s business and security apparatus, Xi’s decision to quietly remove his presence from the scene of the dogfight is a deliberate move to protect and cultivate his public image as a righteous ruler with excellent qualities, who is well above the shady skullduggery typical of Chinese power politics.

Moreover, bear in mind the weight of regionalism as a decisive factor in Chinese politics. Xi’s visit placed the armed forces of Fujian under the national spotlight on a holiday of substantial political significance. The commander-in-chief’s formal salute to the Fujian servicemen, in particular members of the resident 31st Army Group bestowed the provincials with vocal support from the center, hence smoothing the path for loyalist Fujian officers as they move up the ranks.

Last but not least, the tour of the Fujian garrison is a neatly orchestrated maneuver corresponding to the unfolding plot in Beijing. After unveiling the sturdy gibbet prepared for former security and petroleum czar Zhou Yongkang on July 29,[2] Xi needs a show of force via military means to counter the undercurrent moving against his political desires. Borrowing the strength of outlying forces to achieve political ends at the center is a long-held custom of Chinese imperial intrigue. Widely recognized as a man who hoists high the banner of classical knowledge, Xi is definitely not a stranger to such fundamental praxis of quanshu (Chinese-style Machiavellian stratagems). In fact, he has demonstrated impressive knacks when it comes to the artful application of rewards and punishments.

Zhou Yongkang in his days of glory. Known as an unscrupulous man with traits of a desperado, Zhou once presided over the powerful Central Politics and Law Commission (CPLC) and rode roughshod over his opponents. Note his badge number. Copyright: South China Morning Post

Zhou Yongkang in his days of glory. Known as an unscrupulous man with traits of a desperado, Zhou once presided over the powerful Central Politics and Law Commission (CPLC) and rode roughshod over his opponents. Note his badge number.
Copyright: South China Morning Post

 

(Copyright 2014 Zi Yang)

 

[1] 王士彬, 代烽, and 欧阳浩, “习近平八一前夕看望慰问驻福建部队官兵,” 中国军网, accessed August 3, 2014, http://www.81.cn/jmywyl/2014-07/31/content_6074813.htm.

[2] “中共中央决定对周永康严重违纪问题立案审查,” 人民网, accessed August 3, 2014, http://politics.people.com.cn/n/2014/0729/c1001-25365212.html#.

China’s Latest “Negative Teaching Material”

Governing by virtue is an ideal that dates back thousands of years in human history. Common to many cultures around the world, the outstanding characteristics of the political supremo are often times made into an item of governing legitimacy. In traditional China, a benevolent “Son of Heaven” with the gift of righteousness is highly valued and appreciated. The China of today is of no exception. Each generation of Chinese leaders since 1949 have attempted to portrait themselves as high-minded philosopher-kings, and members of the governing elite, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), are expected to live up to the standard set by the head party honcho through emulating certain state-sanctioned “socialist role models”.

The concept of socialist role model is far from an entirely Chinese phenomenon, in fact, it may be argued that it is a tradition in almost all countries led by communist parties. From Soviet labor hero Alexey Stakhanov to “the party’s good cadre” Jiao Yulu, men who exhibited excellent socialist core values have been used as raw materials for positive propaganda under many different circumstances, more often than not to promote a timely message that the party wishes to convey with the general population or its cadres.

Propaganda poster featuring Jiao Yulu, a prefectural CCP cadre who dedicated his entire life to serving the everyday people. After his passing in 1964, he was fashioned into a paragon of Chinese socialist core values.  Copyright: China International Press.

Propaganda poster featuring Jiao Yulu, a prefectural CCP cadre who dedicated his entire life to serving rural China’s plebeians. After his passing in 1964, he was immortalized as a paragon of Chinese socialist virtues with the state’s sponsorship.
Copyright: China International Press.

Parallel to the socialist role models, in the Chinese context especially, is a group collectively known as the fanmian jiaocai or “negative teaching material”, mainly composed of disgraced officials that failed to live up to the party’s moral and ethnical criterion. The latest member of this socialist hall of shame is none other than the former vice-chairman of the CCP Central Military Commission (CMC), General Xu Caihou.

General Xu Caihou back in the cheery old days.  Copyright: Xinhua.

General Xu Caihou (with Leon Panetta) back in the cheery old days.
Copyright: Xinhua.

Possibly the biggest “tiger” this year to be thrown behind cage bars by president Xi Jinping’s huntsmen, General Xu’s dishonorable downfall sounds a crescendo of political cleansing inside the Chinese armed forces. Accused of “suspected bribery”, General Xu was placed under investigation in as early as March of this year, and was expelled from the party on June 30. According to Xinhua, investigators found General Xu “took advantage of his post to assist the promotion of other people and accepted bribes personally through his family members” and “[sought] profits for others in exchange for money and properties, through his family members”.[1] The media outlets loyal to the party wasted no time in tearing up General Xu’s character on a nationwide scale. The People’s Daily compared him to a “borer that must be dug out”.[2] In an article conveniently titled “Resolutely Support the Party Center’s Correct Decision”, a People’s Liberation Army Daily commentator called on “party organs at all levels to use Xu Caihou’s severe violation of party discipline as negative teaching material” to educate party cadres for the sake of “sustaining the party’s vanguard nature and purity”.[3]

As the national campaign to learn from Jiao Yulu “the party’s good cadre” revs up with president Xi’s personal endorsement,[4] another campaign with a drastically different purpose is simultaneously underway. Once a powerful figure in the Chinese military, General Xu is now officially a VIP member of the “negative teaching material” club, a community that is only going to grow larger as Xi’s shock troops take down more “tigers” and “flies” in the party’s latest crusade against graft, corruption, and Mammonism.

 

(Copyright 2014 Zi Yang)

 

[1] Jianing Yao, “PLA Supports Graft Probe into Xu Caihou,” China Military Online English Edition, accessed July 6, 2014, http://eng.chinamil.com.cn/news-channels/china-military-news/2014-07/01/content_6027385.htm.

[2] Xin Wang and Jun Liang, “People’s Daily Scolds Ousted Military Leader,” People’s Daily Online, accessed July 6, 2014, http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/n/2014/0703/c90785-8750033.html.

[3] 本报评论员,“坚决拥护党中央的正确决定,” 中国军网数字报, accessed July 6, 2014, http://www.chinamil.com.cn/jfjbmap/content/2014-07/01/content_80386.htm.

[4] 周光扬 and 王子晖, “习近平重访兰考:焦裕禄精神是永恒的,” 新华网, accessed July 6, 2014, http://news.xinhuanet.com/politics/2014-03/17/c_119810080.htm.

Winners and Losers: China and the Crisis in Ukraine

Copyright: J.H. Cho

Copyright: J.H. Cho

International politics sometimes resemble a game of poker. Besides having the right players and a lucky hand, meticulous strategizing is perhaps the one crucial factor that determines the winners and losers at the end of the day. International crisis, like the most recent one in Ukraine, is a regrettable yet reoccurring phenomenon of international politics ever since states learned to interact with each other millenniums ago. There are many losers in the Ukraine Crisis. Ukraine, as a country lost sovereign territories, the interim Ukrainian government lost confidence among its constituents, and the citizens of Ukraine lost their right to live a normal life in peace. But Ukraine is far from the sole loser in the ongoing crisis. The United States, its European allies, and to a large extend Russia all took losses in varying degrees as mutual antagonism deepens over the struggle for the breadbasket of Europe (more importantly the gateway to Russia). According to the norms on the poker table, the existence of several losers means there must be clear winner. So which party would that be?

Geographically distant from Ukraine, China may be the only claimant to significant gains in the ongoing crisis. Though an economic giant with considerable international clout, China has a modicum of established interests in the Ukraine. A world apart, Ukraine occupies moderate geopolitical, and economic importance on the Chinese foreign policy agenda. Yet perhaps it is because of its lack of high stakes in Ukraine, China was able to extract the most rewards out of the ongoing turmoil. A canny player in the diplomatic arena, China, throughout the duration of the crisis was able to maintained the status quo with the US, strengthened its ties with the EU, and achieved a crescendo in expanding the Sino-Russian relations.

Though the relationship between US and China has been marred by clash of interests in the West Pacific Rim and mutual accusations of cyber-espionage, China’s artful performance in the Ukraine Crisis in some ways helped in cooling down the scalding bilateral ties. By calling on all parties to respect Ukraine’s “sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity”, China avoided inflaming the senses of an already agitated US.[1] Similarly, China curried additional favors with the US in abstaining from voting on a UN resolution that would have condemned the Crimea referendum as illegal (of course, this measure saved Russia some face as well). Overall, the US represented another end of the pole as oppose to Russia. Gravitating too much towards the US position is counterproductive and contradicting to China’s foreign policy objectives. Hence, China chose a middle of the road position to balance relations with both US and Russia to a “golden ratio” most beneficial to Chinese national interests.

Result of Crimea vote at United Nations General Assembly. From: vineyardsaker.blogspot.com

Result of Crimea vote at United Nations General Assembly (click on image for higher resolution).
From: vineyardsaker.blogspot.com

The crisis in Ukraine forced an onerous millstone around the neck of EU leaders. Though facing blatant armed Russian aggression towards a fragile European neighbor, leading EU member states are finding it increasingly difficult to effectively impose further sanctions on Russia due to mutual economic interdependence. Furthermore, headstrong resistance from European business leaders against additional sanctions could possibly open up chasms in the US-EU united front against Russia.[2] In times like these, a stimulating dose of constructive dialogue could be well appreciated. The Chinese leaders understand this earnestly. China’s policy regarding the EU highlights the common wishes of peace and neutrality, ideas aimed to comfort and assure the EU member states of China’s non-confrontational stance, which seems especially charming in the light of Russia’s rapacious behavior against Ukraine. Germany, widely recognized conductor of the EU, proved to be exceptionally amenable in responding to the Chinese call for coexistence and mutual acceptance. Seeking perhaps to check Russia by strengthening ties with its eastern ally, the German and Chinese heads of state jointly declared that they have officially upgraded bilateral relations to a comprehensive strategic partnership on March 28, a development that further enhanced China’s standing vis-à-vis the EU.[3]

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands after speaking to the media following talks and the signing of bilateral agreements at the Chancellery on March 28, 2014 in Berlin, Germany. President Xi Jinping is on a two-day official visit to Germany. Copyright: Sean Gallup/Getty Images Europe

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands after speaking to the media following talks and the signing of bilateral agreements at the Chancellery on March 28, 2014 in Berlin, Germany. President Xi Jinping is on a two-day official visit to Germany.
Copyright: Sean Gallup/Getty Images Europe

China’s convivial relation with Russia was pushed to a height amid the Ukraine Crisis. However, unlike the past, this time around Russia is the party enthusiastically taking the initiatives in offering China tokens of friendship. This is a corollary of Russia’s economic slowdown facilitated by heavy-hitting Western sanctions and partially stemming from its need to have an even closer relationship with China to substitute sapping influence in Europe. Just yesterday, an estimated $400 billion gas deal was signed between Russia and China, one of the largest joint projects between the two countries to date.[4] Be mindful, this deal was inked after a decade of toilsome, backbreaking negotiations. The Chinese, having secured several willing gas suppliers in the meantime, still have serious reservations over Russia’s business model resulting from Russia’s habitual use of gas cutoffs as a baton to punish “recalcitrant” European states. Nevertheless, China’s tacit assent of Russia’s actions during the crisis bore fruits in obtaining a business contract that serves the interests of both countries and will act as the cement that binds the two states together for decades to come.

Copyright: Gazprom.com and Arcticgas.gov

Copyright: Gazprom.com and Arcticgas.gov

China’s diplomatic finesse, demonstrated through playing the laohaoren (good old guy) in the recent Ukraine Crisis could very well rank China as the only country that maximized its comprehensive strategic and economic gains in the midst of a tense international deadlock, all at the lowest cost. In addition to the factors mentioned above, China is also concentrating on building its proposed Silk Road Economic Belt, while augmenting its global prestige as the new chairman of CICA or the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia, an Asian security framework that will likely be groomed into a continental mechanism designed to parry any threats to China’s national blueprint for a continuous “peaceful development”.

 

(Copyright 2014 Zi Yang)

 

[1] Shannon Tiezzi, “China Reacts to the Crimea Referendum,” The Diplomat, accessed May 21, 2014, http://thediplomat.com/2014/03/china-reacts-to-the-crimea-referendum/.

[2] Matthew Karnitschnig, “German Businesses Urge Halt on Sanctions Against Russia,” Wall Street Journal, May 2, 2014, sec. Europe, http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303948104579535983960826054.

[3] “China, Germany Establish Comprehensive Strategic Partnership,” Global Times, accessed May 22, 2014, http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/851501.shtml.

[4] Chris Wright, “$400 Billion Gas Deal Shows Russia Looking To China To Replace Western Money,” Forbes, accessed May 22, 2014, http://www.forbes.com/sites/chriswright/2014/05/22/400-billion-gas-deal-shows-russia-looking-to-china-to-replace-western-money/.

Partners on the Silk Road: The Growing Sino-Turkmen Partnership Signifies Greater Chinese Role in Central Asia and Beyond

Chinese president Xi Jinping and Turkmen president Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov inspect the PLA's mixed sex honour guards.  Copyright: Chinanews.com

Chinese president Xi Jinping and Turkmen president Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov inspect the PLA’s mixed sex honour guards.
Copyright: Chinanews.com

The president of Turkmenistan, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has begun a three-day state visit to China starting on May 12. Arriving to a grand welcoming ceremony, the Turkmen president had the opportunity to be the first head of state to inspect China’s recently revealed female honour guards. Following a tradition in the Sino-Turkmen relationship, Berdymukhamedov presented the Chinese president Xi Jinping with an Akhal-Teke horse, a rare breed native to Turkmenistan renowned for its tough endurance and aesthetic allure.[1] A national treasure of Turkmenistan, the Akhal-Teke too occupies a special place in Chinese history. The breed was a favorite of the Emperor Wu of Han (the Martial Emperor of Han), an accomplished leader remembered for his military ventures and political reforms. So in other words, the Akhal-Teke was, and still is the horse made for the premier decision maker of China.

Of course there are other ways to interpret the meaning of the present. The gifting of an Akhal-Teke horse, known for its velocity, embodies the Turkmen president’s well wishes for a galloping Sino-Turkmen friendship that is certainly receiving a boost with his visit. Several important deals were concluded on May 13, pledging cooperation on energy, infrastructure, agriculture and banking. Most importantly, a Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation was signed by Xi and Berdymukhamedov, further cementing the strategic partnership between the world’s second largest economy and the country with the fourth largest reserve of the world’s natural gas.[2]

China, an active participant in international geopolitics is demonstrating increasing astuteness in conducting foreign policy. As the US, EU and Russia lock horns in Ukraine, China is quietly pursuing its main foreign policy objectives through a new round of tactful and effective pivot to Central Asia.

China’s goals in building stronger bilateral, as well as multilateral relations with Central Asian states are tri-fold. Over the years, China surpassed Russia in becoming the largest trading partner of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, two of the region’s most vibrant economies and China’s key oil and gas suppliers. China is also the second largest trading partner of Uzbekistan (a country refered to by Zbigniew Brzezinski as the “deposit of Central Asian cultural heritage”), Kyrgyzstan, and the third largest for Tajikistan. Besides increasing trade turnovers, Central Asian countries have become the main recipients of generous Chinese loans and investments, in return, a energy-hungry China benefits enormously from Central Asia’s abundant energy resources.[3]

Central Asia oil and gas pipelines.  Copyright: US Energy Information Administration.

Central Asia gas pipelines.
Copyright: US Energy Information Administration.

The other aspect of China’s foreign policy objectives regarding Central Asia is security. From the Chinese point of view, the recent wave of terrorist attacks in various Chinese urban centers is most definitely ordered by extremist organizations operating from abroad.[4] This seemingly brash assertion is not purely predicated upon inflamed passion in the aftermath of multiple terrorist attacks. During the 1990s, there were individuals from China’s Xinjiang Uighur autonomous region who received military training in camps ran by al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.[5] Today, the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP), a terrorist organization well connected to al-Qaeda still maintains cells in Pakistan’s western tribal areas. Afghanistan, and to a greater extend Pakistan still poses a significant challenge for all parties involved, especially its immediate neighbors. China, as one of the leading members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), had organized and participated in several joint SCO military exercises designed to counter terrorist attacks.[6] As mentioned previously, China has vested interests in Central Asia’s oil and gas resources transported by expansive, interconnected network of pipelines, which are particularly vulnerable to terrorist organizations seeking to disrupt Chinese economy. Hence, not only does the Chinese government plan to adjust the asymmetrical socio-economic conditions in Xinjiang with reformist policies, it also seeks to work closely with Central Asian partners in maintaining regional security and stability.

Boys at a Pakistan-based training camp fire AK-47's in this undated video released by the al-Qaeda affiliated Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) terror group. [Video frame grab/Liveleak.com] From: Central Asia Online

Boys at a Pakistan-based training camp fire AK-47’s in this undated video released by the al-Qaeda affiliated Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) terror group. [Video frame grab/Liveleak.com]
From: Central Asia Online

Aside from the goals of economic development and enhancing regional security cooperation, China’s prioritization of Central Asia on its foreign policy agenda is also part of its greater strategic vision to pave the foundational stones for the rejuvenation of the fabled Silk Road. The concept of a Silk Road Economic Zone, first proposed jointly by Kazakh president Nursaltan Nazarbayev and Chinese president Xi Jinping in 2013 seeks to revitalize the ancient trade route of prosperity utilizing the collective efforts of all nations in the Central Asian region.[7] However, there is evidence that China’s economic ambitions are much greater than simply reinvigorating a limited section of the treasured Silk Road. As a matter of fact, there were discussions among Chinese experts for years regarding a possible high-speed railway line connecting Beijing and London (the recent talks were quickly abandoned).[8]

The ancient Silk Road Copyright: Stratfor.

The ancient Silk Road.
Copyright: Stratfor

It would be interesting to keep a close watch on China’s upcoming foreign policy overture towards Central Asian republics in the long run. The Silk Road Economic Zone has impressive promises for global economic integration. And it would be intriguing to analyze its economic, likewise geopolitical implications upon a post-2014 Afghanistan as well as the Eurasian Union proposed by none other than Russia’s Putin. In the short run, China will be welcoming a multitude of influential Eurasian leaders starting the middle of May. From May 20 to May 21, China will be hosting the upcoming 4th Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Shanghai. A multinational forum designed to increase peace and cooperation between states along the traditional Silk Road; it will be very interesting to note the results of the conference and its effects upon China’s new economic paradigm for Central Asia and beyond.

(Copyright 2014 Zi Yang)

 

[1] Bree Feng, “The Horse at the Heart of Chinese-Turkmen Relations,” Sinosphere Blog, accessed May 13, 2014, http://sinosphere.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/05/13/the-horse-at-the-heart-of-chinese-turkmen-relations/.

[2] Huseyn Hasanov, “Turkmenistan, China – Largest Partners in Gas Sphere,” Trend, accessed May 13, 2014, http://en.trend.az/regions/casia/turkmenistan/2273316.html.

[3] 左凤荣, “共建‘丝绸之路经济带’面临的机遇与挑战,”人民网, accessed May 13, 2014, http://world.people.com.cn/n/2014/0513/c1002-25011656.html.

[4] 张家栋, “反恐也需“内病外治“,” 中国新, accessed May 14, 2014, http://www.chinanews.com/gn/2014/05-12/6158056.shtml.

[5] Thomas Joscelyn, “Uighurs Released to Bermuda All Trained at Terrorist Camp in Tora Bora,” accessed May 14, 2014, http://www.weeklystandard.com/weblogs/TWSFP/2009/06/uighurs_released_to_bermuda_al_1.asp.

[6] Roger McDermott, “China Leads SCO Peace Mission 2012 in Central Asia,” The Jamestown Foundation, accessed May 14, 2014, http://www.jamestown.org/single/?no_cache=1&tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=39538.

[7] “Xi Proposes ‘Silk Road Economic Zone’ with Central Asia,” WantChinaTimes.com, accessed May 14, 2014, http://www.wantchinatimes.com/news-subclass-cnt.aspx?id=20130908000082&cid=1102.

[8] Daniel Politi, “Report: China Mulls Construction of a High Speed Train to the U.S.,” Slate, May 10, 2014, http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2014/05/10/china_mulls_construction_of_a_high_speed_train_to_the_u_s.html.