China Week: Confrontation, mainland-style

Convulsions in Hong Kong continue to reverberate through the politics of the mainland this week, even when Hong Kong is not the focus of the story.

Take two episodes in south-west China, for example.

Mass protest, mainland style

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The incident at Fuyou village in China's Yunnan province left six workers and two villagers dead

While Hong Kong debated video showing a protester being kicked by police, a much more deadly confrontation exploded in a village in Yunnan. It was triggered by a long-running dispute over government efforts to confiscate land for a development project.

Police used tear gas and batons. Angry villagers then captured eight people involved in the development project, tied their hands and feet and set them on fire.

Authorities confirmed on Thursday that four had burned to death. Two more died from unspecified injuries and two villagers were also killed.

In neighbouring Guizhou, another land dispute, another mass protest, another violent confrontation.

In this case, two people were reported to be killed and hundreds injured after police backed by armoured vehicles and helicopters attempted to disperse thousands of protesters.

Just two huge demonstrations on the mainland which serve as a foil for events in Hong Kong.

Absence of due process, citizens who feel they have no legal recourse, aggressive policing, an explosion of violence.

Episodes like this provide the context for next week's Communist Party Plenum focused on rule of law.

At least in part, it is an attempt by Beijing to shake local government control over the legal system so that the courts become a more effective tool in resolving such disputes.

Beware all talk of colour

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong have adopted yellow ribbons

As for mainland thinking on Hong Kong itself, there was an intervention this week from an interesting quarter.

Vice-Premier Wang Yang said the protesters (famous of course for their yellow ribbons) were seeking a "colour revolution".

In Beijing's political rulebook, colour revolution is shorthand for the overthrow of a government through street protest with the backing of hostile Western forces.

It's not the first time mainland media have used this expression. But it's interesting coming from Wang Yang. He was the Communist Party Secretary of Guangdong province who managed to defuse the famous 2011 "siege of Wukan" (yet another rural crisis over land expropriation) and to make space there for a very striking experiment in village democracy.

The experiment has not had a happy ending but that's another story.

Wang Yang's handling of the incident was unusual. And some have touted him as a possible behind-the-scenes diffuser of events in Hong Kong.

If so, this week's talk about "colour revolution" is an uncompromising start.

'Respect the aspirations of 1.3 billion'

Image copyright AP
Image caption Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou said that democracy should not be a Western monopoly

When Beijing is tempted to lose patience with Hong Kong, it has to remember Taiwan.

So this week saw a careful response to last week's dramatic intervention by Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou.

Mr Ma said democracy was not a Western monopoly but a universal value, and as China was becoming more prosperous, its people would want more democracy.

China should "let some people go democratic first", he advised.

Mr Ma is usually pro-Beijing, which renders his forthright comments all the more striking and makes it hard for Beijing to dismiss him as just another "colour revolutionary".

So after considering and being conscious of the danger of driving the Taiwanese public further from thoughts of reunification, Beijing came up with this:

"China and Taiwan have embarked upon different courses of political development, and China respects Taiwan's choices. But we hope that Taiwan respects the choices and aspirations of the 1.3 billion people on the mainland."

The obvious retort from the streets of Hong Kong was that it was hard to know what the 1.3 billion people on the mainland choose or aspire to because they haven't been asked.

Not universal but special

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Mr Xi says China's path is "different from other nations"

In the midst of all of this, Chinese President Xi Jinping has been talking about Chinese history.

Not as strange as it might seem. Because his rumination on the past was an indirect but unmistakable answer to the Hong Kong protest demands for universal suffrage and Taiwanese talk of universal values.

In the rarefied atmosphere of a Communist Party study session on governance, Mr Xi set out why China's politics would always be special: "Several thousand years ago, the Chinese nation trod a path that was different from other nations."

He paid tribute to a rich pantheon of ancient Chinese political philosophers and historians, and concluded: "We in the Communist Party are firm Marxists. At the same time, we are not historical nihilists and are not cultural nihilists. We cannot be ignorant of the history of our own country, and we cannot belittle ourselves."

I suspect we're going to hear a lot more of this from Mr Xi. The outright rejection of universal values and instead the deployment of Chinese history to buttress a distinctive political philosophy.

Expect him to unfold a "Confucian Communist" hybrid and to claim that it is particularly adapted to China, at least as legitimate as what the outside world has to offer and fit for 21st Century governance.

Start brushing up on your Chinese classics now.

Where is Kuzya, defector and chicken thief?

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Russia's president has become well known for his love of tigers

Vladimir Putin has a passion for the wild and for Siberian tigers but after this week the chicken farmers of north China may not share his enthusiasm.

In May, President Putin released a family of orphaned tiger cubs into the wild in one of his famous photo opportunities. But he failed to give them the requisite lecture about leaving home.

Specifically, he didn't warn the cubs that tiger carcasses can fetch up to $10,000 on the black market in China, or that the river crossing between Eastern Siberia and north-east China turns to impassable slush in winter, barring the route home.

And now 19-month-old Kuzya has defected, recklessly wading south into China where her chances of survival are even lower than in Russia. (There are believed to be about 400 Siberian tigers left in the wild, but only a few dozen in China.)

To make matters worse, Mr Putin will soon arrive in Beijing for the Apec summit and it would be an ill omen for the "bromance" between the Russian and Chinese strongmen if anything bad should happen to Mr Putin's favourite big cat between now and then.

Kuzya is wearing a tracking device and Chinese forestry officials are working hard to find her. But as if to mock their 60 surveillance cameras, she has raided a henhouse this week and eaten five chickens.

Come in, Kuzya, your time is up!

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