China week: Football dreams and lessons from Zhou

China's Sun Ke and Australia's Mathew Leckie fight for the ball during the quarter-final football match between Australia and China at the AFC Asian Cup in Brisbane on 22 January, 2015 Image copyright AFP
Image caption China proved to be a strong contender at the 2015 Asian Cup

This week, a lesson from Chinese football fans in setting expectations at rock bottom so that you can be pleasantly surprised by reality.

Asian Cup hosts Australia trounced China in the quarter finals on Thursday night, but not before the team had astonished their downtrodden fans by winning three qualifiers.

One of the country's richest men was also doing his bit this week for China's football dream this week.

Real estate magnate Wang Jianlin bought a 20% stake in Atletico Madrid for 45m euros ($50m; £34m).

As he posed for photos with the famous red and white shirt, Mr Wang said he wanted to provide young Chinese players with exposure to top-tier football.

Atletico have promised to help draft a plan for the grassroots game in China.

Of course, buying a stake in a big-name football club is a habit for the super rich everywhere in the world, but it doesn't hurt that President Xi Jinping is a big fan.

With the Ministry of Education now pushing to get football into the timetable in mainstream schools and football academies proliferating, it seems everyone's pulling together to get this part of the China Dream on track.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Wang Jianlin (pictured centre) is China's second-richest man

'Rule of law'

In his spare time from watching Asian Cup matches, the president had meetings to attend.

Most notable this week was the snappily titled "Conference on Political and Legal Work of the Communist Party of China Central Committee's Commission for Political and Legal Affairs".

This meeting brings together the domestic security apparatus of the state and while it looked and sounded dreary, it actually did something important.

It confirmed that China will stop setting performance standards for criminal arrests and convictions.

The targets set for police and courts have led to a nearly 100% conviction rate and that has inevitably meant many cruel miscarriages of justice, a handful of which are belatedly being put right.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Mr Xi has talked of a push for the rule of law in China

Mr Xi attended the meeting himself and reinforced his message about the new push for rule of law in China.

"Nurture a legal corps loyal to the party, loyal to the country, loyal to the people and loyal to the law," he urged.

(Note the order of priority.)

Loyalty to the law comes last which is why many independent experts on the Chinese legal system, while welcoming the removal of arrest and conviction targets, are still sceptical about the wider reforms.

As if listening to their thoughts, Mr Xi went on to remind the meeting:

"Ensure the handle of the knife is firmly in the hand of party and people."

Talk of the handle of the knife has not been around much since Chairman Mao's time and he is not credited with advancing rule of law in China.

'Grave lessons' from Zhou

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The high-profile meeting was formerly chaired by fallen security tsar Zhou Yongkang

But the meeting was not just law, it was politics too.

For five years until 2012, it was chaired by the disgraced security chief Zhou Yongkang.

And in the first attempt from the security apparatus to tackle the legacy of this dark chapter, it fell to Mr Zhou's successor Meng Jianzhu, to build the case against.

"Zhou, who blatantly traded power for money and sex, has caused severe harm to the party and the people, left a bad influence within the system and led a number of officials astray….

Ideals and beliefs went wrong and values were distorted."

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Mr Zhou's successor Meng Jianzhu has since taken over the reins

Mr Meng went on to describe the case as a "grave lesson" for the security services.

In the light of the new drive for "rule by law", it will be interesting to see how hard the authorities try to make Mr Zhou's trial look fair.

Hard to imagine that the new rule against conviction targets applies in this case.

Lessons from Davos...

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Premier Li Keqiang reassured world leaders on China's economy at Davos

Talking of targets, Premier Li Keqiang was at the World Economic Summit in Davos to reassure world business leaders that there would be no hard landing for the Chinese economy despite Tuesday's announcement that GDP had just missed its 2014 target.

The last time Davos saw such a senior Chinese leader was in 2009 at the height of the global financial crisis.

China was then only the world's fourth-biggest economy and then-Premier Wen Jiabao attended after unveiling a $586bn (£390bn) stimulus package.

The Chinese economy is still living with some of the consequences today.

But turning to things that may matter most in the long, long run, the governor of China's central bank, Zhou Xiaochuan, was also in Davos, warning that lower oil prices could be a disincentive to the development of green energy in China both by making fossil fuels cheaper and by creating uncertainty over returns on investment in solar and wind power.

This is something the government will have to address as it thinks through how to deliver on climate change promises made during Mr Xi's summit with President Obama last November.

... and Shanghai

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Shanghai is mourning 36 people killed in a New Year's Eve stampede

Back home, Shanghai was still struggling with the aftermath of the stampede in which 36 people were killed on New Year's Eve.

Even at a time when the media is on a tight censorship leash, some of the state press challenged Shanghai officials over their response to the disaster.

People's Daily Online asked whether the district officials who lost their jobs were senior enough to take the blame, and the China Daily said Shanghai's mayor should not "shirk responsibility" and should instead apologise to the public.

What's more, the investigation report acknowledged that some of the officials responsible for crowd management were attending a luxury dinner at public expense on the evening of the disaster, hampering the emergency response.

Funding fine dining from the public purse is simply not supposed to happen in Mr Xi's era of official austerity and frugality, let alone in the context of a national tragedy.

But if Shanghai officials have been ignoring the rules from headquarters you can be sure others have too.

Chinese New Year is just around the corner. But before the banqueting season begins, expect another icy blast from Beijing on the virtues of frugality.

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