China week: A miscarriage of justice and a cyber crackdown

I'm writing from the back seat of a Chinese police car.

An interesting enough location you might think, but the novelty wears off if you sit in gridlocked traffic for long enough, and I can now report first-hand that however magisterial the Chinese state, its citizens, when stuck in traffic, do not readily give way for a police car.

It's hard to have my finger on the pulse of national news here.

I've been on the road in south-west China for a whole week and the patchy phone signal, let alone the ongoing challenge of VPN access, make it hard to see beyond the red dust and queues of frustrated drivers.

Real names online

Image copyright AFP
Image caption China enforces strict controls on which websites its citizens can access

But talking about VPN access, China's rules in cyberspace continue to be one of the big stories this week.

The government has announced that "real" real name registration is coming on 1 March.

After so many attempts to close down the ways in which citizens can hide behind aliases online, it's hard to know whether Beijing really means it this time.

Is it the parent who says "I really, really, really mean it this time", only to be completely ignored by their children?

Some suggest Beijing now has both the tools to enforce real name registration and, under Xi Jinping, the political will, so probably it really does mean it this time

Just one of the many ways in which China is creating a world of two internets, the global one and the Chinese one.

'Western values'

Another big story that rolls on this week and will continue to roll is ideology on university campuses.

Following up last week's broadside against Western values, Education Minister Yuan Guiren wrote in a Communist Party journal that "universities are the front line of ideology" and that "young university teachers and students have been targeted by foreign infiltrators".

A lecturer on a Beijing campus told me he felt the campaign would undermine the goal of becoming a world-class learning institution and was incompatible with trying to train young people to think critically.

It may raise questions for universities from Europe or North America which have worked hard to build relationships with Chinese campuses.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The education minister earlier said that Chinese universities must prevent criticism of the Communist Party

And in the long run, it may also have implications for China's attempt to build an innovative economy.

But as the education minister himself says, the students are the frontline.

More rote learning of ideology is likely to drive even more of them abroad for higher education.

As for university staff, campus leaders who want to keep their jobs have no choice but to get in line. Already the party secretary of elite Beijing University has been rolled out to endorse the rectification.

But not all his staff are singing from the same hymn sheet.

In a blog post, Vice-Dean of the Law School Shen Kui has challenged the education minister to draw the line between Chinese and western values, pointing out that "the Marxism that our current constitution stipulates we must uphold, and the education in internationalism, communism, dialectical materialism, and historical materialism that the current constitution stipulates we must undertake, are all from the West".

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Students were part of a movement to demand universal suffrage in Hong Kong

It's still unclear, to me at least, how far this was coming anyway and how far it was triggered by the sight of tens if not hundreds of thousands of young people on the streets in Hong Kong's "umbrella movement".

Beijing and its friends in Hong Kong seem to have reached a consensus that "patriotic education" is key to inoculating young people against democratic ideals and that to prevent any repetition of such scenes on the mainland, ideological indoctrination must be tightened.

Perhaps less surprising is the parallel rectification in the armed forces. The People's Liberation Army Daily this week published a guideline from the Central Military Commission stressing the need for political background checks on officers and soldiers to "prevent penetration, sabotage by hostile forces or erosion by corrupt ideas and cultures".

Military personnel are now forbidden from blogging and using social media: "Some Western countries have intensified plotting against our country with 'colour revolutions' and an online 'cultural Cold War'... trying in vain to uproot the spirit of our military officers and soldiers."

Protection from tourists

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Tourists have been posing with endangered species on tours of disputed islands

Enough of ideology though. Some might even think environmental education more pressing this week after seeing tourist snaps from the South China Sea.

As part of the campaign to reinforce its territorial claims, Beijing has been encouraging the domestic travel industry to offer cruises around the contested Paracel Islands.

But now some visitors have posted proud images of themselves landing endangered species like Thresher sharks and posing with large trophies of red coral.

The government has responded with a vow to crack down on illegal activities, but the fish may feel closing down the tourism industry would be a more effective way of protecting their future.

A proper burial

And a last word for Huugjilt. Nearly 20 years after the 18-year-old Mongolian student was executed for a rape and murder that he didn't commit, his parents received 2.05m yuan ($327,600; £214,000) from the state in compensation and said their first task was to give their son a proper burial.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The court apologised to Huugjilt's elderly parents

It's taken nearly two decades, and much determination and courage, to overturn this miscarriage of justice.

As state media reflected when the Inner Mongolia Higher People's Court finally found Huugjilt not guilty and apologised to his family: "Protecting the innocent is as important as bringing criminals to justice".

Traffic's started moving at last. More on my day out with the police another time.

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