A man uses a computer in an internet cafe in Beijing on June 1, 2017.
 (GREG BAKER/AFP/Getty Images)A man uses a computer in an internet cafe in Beijing on June 1, 2017.
 (GREG BAKER/AFP/Getty Images)

The Chinese regime is now seeking to shut down the programs that have kept open a window to the world for China’s internet users, but software developers and internet users in China are working to develop solutions that will continue to undermine the regime’s censorship.

Virtual private networks (VPNs) have been widely used by internet users in China to circumvent the Great Firewall, the nickname for the sophisticated system that the Chinese regime built to censor and monitor online traffic in and out of China. By one estimate, around 30 percent, or about 200 million out of the China’s 700 million netizens, have used VPNs to access foreign websites or online contents that would otherwise be blocked.

By using a VPN, internet users in China can fool the Great Firewall, causing it to determine that they are located outside China, which enables them to connect to the web undetected and hence uncensored. The use of a VPN however, often causes users extra costs and inconvenience. It may also expose their personal information to the VPN’s servers outside China.

The Chinese regime has made numerous attempts in the past to crackdown on the use of VPNs. Due to the nature of VPNs, however, such crackdowns often only affect the most popular VPN providers, while determined users would eventually find a new VPN to work around the blockage.

Last week, China’s Ministry of Public Security issued a nationwide order to all local censorship and law enforcement agencies to start a new crackdown on the use of the VPN tool. The order specifically targeted a number of popular circumvention software programs, such as Freegate, Ultrasurf, Lantern, and Psiphon, and labelled them as being developed by “hostile foreign forces.”

China's Ministry of Public Security issued an order last week to start a new crackdown on the use of VPN tool.

China’s Ministry of Public Security issued an order last week to start a new crackdown on the use of VPN tool.

Widespread reports from China indicate that the renewed crackdown has taken a toll, as many Chinese netizens can no longer access Youtube, Gmail, Instagram, or Twitter by using the VPN tools and providers they have been relying on. There was also a report that a developer of a VPN app has been arrested. 

Just last week China also moved to block WhatsApp, one of the last remaining private messaging apps in China that was not completely exposed to the Chinese regime’s censorship and surveillance.

Struggle Continues

Many observers say, however, that the renewed crackdown on VPN might be a temporary measure, since the tightened restrictions, if sustained too long, will inflict adverse effects on China’s international commerce and technological exchanges with the outside world.

Some developers of circumvention software and VPN providers also vow to continue their fight against censorship. Bill Xia, the creator and CEO of Freegate, one of the software programs specifically being targeted, told The Epoch Times that the new wave of crackdown on his software provides opportunities for more people to become aware of China’s censorship. Xia said that circumvention software is being widely used even among Chinese government agencies and schools in China.

“We developed Freegate specifically for the users in China, and we also work to continue upgrading it,” said Xia, “The number of users in China that are actively circumventing internet censorship has grown so huge, that the Chinese Communist Party can no longer keep track of who’s doing it.”

Many observers have said that the Chinese regime’s internet censorship goes against the very nature of the internet, which was designed and developed to connect the whole world. Xie Wen, a former executive of Yahoo China told NTDTVthat the Chinese regime is attempting to turn the internet in China from a web that connects everywhere into “a web that connects to nowhere.”

Alexander Klimburg, a program director at The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies, also said last week at an Atlantic Council event that authoritarian regimes like China want to fundamentally change the way internet is being run because they “see information as a threat and a weapon”.

Klimburg, whose recently published book “Cyber Risk Monday: The Darkening Web” contains detailed discussion of China’s internet censorship, said that the Chinese regime sees the internet as a threat to its one-party rule. Klimburg said that the regime wants to achieve a level of control over the internet that would allow them to do things such as “blocking access to the New York Times, or to take down Falun Gong websites.”

China’s Great Firewall, originally designed as a censorship system targeting only users in China, has been so well-developed that it is now officially weaponized and can be used to attack foreign countries and users in cyberspace, according to Klimburg’s new book.

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Wu Tianjun stands trial on July 20, 2017. (Xiangyang Intermediate Court )Wu Tianjun stands trial on July 20, 2017. (Xiangyang Intermediate Court )

Following six months of investigation, a senior official in Henan Province, central China, was formally prosecuted for corruption, including the amassing of 11.05 million yuan (about $1.64 million) in bribes.

Wu Tianjun, a member of the Henan provincial Communist Party standing committee, the head of its Political and Legal Affairs Commission (PLAC), and formerly the Party secretary of Zhengzhou, stood trial on July 20 in Henan’s Xiangyang Municipal Intermediate Court.

His hair, once dyed jet black, had become completely white—mirroring the court appearance of Zhou Yongkang, the former national-level PLAC director and who was purged in 2015 in current leader Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign. 

As head of the Henan PLAC, Wu Tianjun participated heavily in the 18-year-long persecution of the Falun Gong spiritual practice, a campaign started by former Chinese regime leader Jiang Zemin on July 20, 1999. At least 14 Falun Gong adherents died as a result of persecution on Wu’s watch.

Wu is the third provincial level official in Henan to be purged during the anti-corruption campaign, launched in 2012 after current Chinese leader Xi Jinping took office. Wu was accused of taking advantage of his positions in addition to accepting bribes. He pleaded guilty to the charges.  

Wu Tianjun prior to his arrest. (Caixin)

Wu Tianjun prior to his arrest. (Caixin)

“Embezzling 11.05 million may not sound like much…” reads a report by Sohu, a major mainland Chinese online media group. “But for an ordinary citizen, it’s an astronomical sum, impossible to achieve even after generations of labor. For a couple working full time, 3000 yuan a month for each … they would still need 153 years to accumulate the fortune that Wu Tianjun embezzled.”

The state-run Beijing News speculated about Wu’s downfall as early as 2015, when he was conspicuously absent from standing committee meetings for nearly two months, from June to August, and his whereabouts unknown. The report noted that repeated absence from important events or meetings are signs of impending political disgrace.

On Nov. 11, 2016, Wu Tianjun was formally placed under investigation for disciplinary violations and stripped of his position on the provincial standing committee, but retained his post as head of the local PLAC. In January this year, he appeared in an anti-corruption documentary produced by the Party’s disciplinary commission.

In the documentary, a penitent Wu can be seen confessing how he damaged the Communist Party’s image with his conduct.

Wu Tianjun confesses on state television. (Screenshot via Sina Weibo)

Wu Tianjun confesses on state television. (Screenshot via Sina Weibo)

The 60-year-old Wu made a long-term career in Henan, working there nearly four decades. During his four-year-job as Party secretary of Zhengzhou, the provincial capital, Wu acquired the nickname of “demolition secretary” because he started a large scale project in the municipality to raze 627 villages and relocate over 1.75 million people. In China, where the interests of real estate developers often clash with the livelihoods of numerous, mostly low-income residents, property rights are a prime theme of popular discontent.

Wu apparently followed Li Changchun, a former member of the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee that helms the Chinese Communist Party. In March, 2016, Wu wrote a 4000-word article eulogizing Li’s newly published book. Titled “Thoughts after Reading Li Changchun’s work,” the article praised Li’s Henan reform during 1990s as “vividly imaginative,” “grand,” and “enlightening.”

Serving as head of the Party’s propaganda apparatus from 2001 to 2012, Li Changchun was a long-time aide to former leader Jiang Zemin, who in turn continued to exercise political influence even after he passed the reins of CCP general secretary to Hu Jintao.

Li played a critical role in shifting popular opinion against the spiritual community of Falun Gong, which had previously been welcomed by both society and the authorities for its positive contributions to public morality and health. In 1998, state and Falun Gong estimates of the number of people who had taken up the practice were 70 and 100 million.

Following the ban of Falun Gong, many officials received promotion and other career benefits from taking active part in the repression. According to Minghui.org, a clearinghouse for firsthand information about Falun Gong and its treatment in mainland China, at least 14 adherents died in torture when Wu headed the cities of Xinxiang and Zhengzhou.  

Zhu Ying from Xinxiang City in Henan, a nationally acclaimed model worker and former representative to the National People’s Congress, was tortured to death in detention on November 30, 2010, according to Minghui. Local police in arrested her late that September after being deceived into leaving her home.

Zhao Tingyun, a worker in a bus company and another Falun Gong adherent living in Xinxiang, was arrested while delivering food to her husband. She died in police custody nine days later, in January 2006. Major organs were missing from her body.

As an organization, the PLAC carries significant responsibility in persecuting Falun Gong. In recent years the system has seen a continued purge; in 2014, Zhou Yongkang, the PLAC director since 2007 and a powerful ally of Jiang Zemin, was placed under investigation and sentenced to life in prison the next year.

In addition to Wu Tianjun, Qin Yuhai, director of the Henan provincial police bureau, and vice provincial police chief Liu Guoqing were also investigated.

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  • Author: <a href="http://www.theepochtimes.com/n3/author/eva-fu/" rel="author">Eva Fu</a>, <a href="http://www.theepochtimes.com/" title="Epoch Times" rel="publisher">Epoch Times</a>
  • Category: General

Former Chongqing Party secretary and Politburo member Sun Zhengcai in the Great Hall of the People on Mar. 6, 2016. Sun was officially investigated for corruption on July 24, 2017. (Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)Former Chongqing Party secretary and Politburo member Sun Zhengcai in the Great Hall of the People on Mar. 6, 2016. Sun was officially investigated for corruption on July 24, 2017. (Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

Midway through 2017, the trajectory of high-ranking Communist Party official Sun Zhengcai suggested that he would have a bright future in the regime.

Sun ran Chongqing, an important commercial and industrial hub in southwestern China. At age 53, he was also one of the youngest members of the elite Politburo. Observers considered him to be a potential successor to Xi Jinping as leader of China.

But Chinese state-run media announced in the morning of July 15 that Sun had been removed from office. He did not appear on the evening broadcast as the new Chongqing boss, Chen Min’er, was introduced to city officials. Chinese and Western media reports note that Sun was in Beijing being questioned.

On July 24, Sun was officially investigated for “severe violations of discipline,” a phrase that has come to mean corruption under the Xi leadership.

The abrupt dismissal of Sun Zhengcai with four months to go before a key political conclave is the latest demonstration of Xi Jinping’s current grasp of power, a hint at his political ambitions, and a flash of his determination to root out internal obstruction to his leadership.

Ultimately, Xi appears to be denying a rival political faction helmed by former Chinese Communist Party chief Jiang Zemin a successor to the throne while consolidating his own authority.

Compromised ‘Successor’

The Xi leadership and the Jiang faction have been embroiled in political warfare since Xi took office in late 2012. Two Jiang lieutenants, former Chongqing boss Bo Xilai and security czar Zhou Yongkang, had plotted a coup to replace Xi; Xi has alluded to the plot in several public speeches. Since the failed coup, Xi has purged many Jiang faction members and associates under a sweeping anti-corruption campaign.

Sun’s career biography shows that he was once top aide to two Jiang allies, former Politburo Standing Committee member Jia Qinglin and ex-Beijing mayor Liu Qi. Sun was later appointed Party secretary of Jilin Province and Chongqing City, two regions where the Jiang faction is particularly influential.

Sun’s career path lends some credence to an essay on Vancouver-based Chinese news website Creaders.net that claims that Sun was acquainted with Jiang Zemin himself and was in fact being groomed to continue representing their interests at the apex of power.

Sun’s links with Jiang might suggest why informers inside the Chinese regime cite political indiscretion as the reason for his removal. For instance, one source told Reuters that Sun was being investigated for “violation of political discipline,” while another source said Chongqing officials were told during the meeting announcing Chen Min’er as the new Chongqing boss that Sun had made “political mistakes.” The sources Reuters on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to speak to foreign media.

Further evidence of Sun’s political allegiances can be seen from the anti-corruption agency’s critique of Sun’s Chongqing administration in February. Sun’s administration hadn’t removed the “residue poison” of Bo Xilai and his right-hand man Wang Lijun, and failed to curb corruption in local businesses and the bureaucracy, according to anti-corruption investigators.

While it is unclear if Sun is a card-carrying member of Jiang’s faction, his political career is effectively over with the announcement of a formal investigation on July 24.

Xi Jinping, on the other hand, appears to have strengthened his political position by keeping or promoting loyalists.

With the dismissal of Sun, the only other possible candidate for Chinese leader is Guangdong Party secretary Hu Chunhua. Hu’s political position seems secure for the moment because he is a protege of former Chinese leader Hu Jintao (no relation to Hu Chunhua), and Hu Jintao seems to have been in a tacit alliance with Xi against the Jiang group.

Meanwhile, new Chongqing boss Chen Min’er worked with Xi when Xi was Party secretary of Zhejiang Province from 2002 to 2007. Chen’s promotion also allows Xi to stack the 25-men Politburo with loyalists at the Party’s 19th National Congress because Chongqing chiefs usually sit on the Politburo.

Xi’s Political Ambitions

Around the time of Sun’s dismissal, state media started referring to Xi as “commander-in-chief, supreme leader, and chief architect” of the Chinese regime. Xi is already the regime’s “core” leader, a symbolically significant title that suggests Xi is, in theory, first among equals.

If Sun is later officially investigated for corruption, this would indicate an escalation of Xi’s anti-corruption campaign because he was at the time of dismissal an active Politburo member (only four sitting Politburo members have been expelled since 1990).

The fact that he made the arrest also indicates that he is confident in his ability to withstand pushback.

Surrounded by loyalists and with one less potential political rival to contend with, Xi seems to be paving the way to try for a third term as Chinese leader in 2022—or something even beyond that.

A source close to Zhongnanhai, the headquarters of the Communist Party, told The Epoch Times that Sun Zhengcai’s removal is not merely Xi’s attempt to scare off rivals with a show of strength, but is a part of a broader power reorganization inside the Chinese Communist Party.

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  • Author: <a href="http://www.theepochtimes.com/n3/author/larry-ong/" rel="author">Larry Ong</a>, <a href="http://www.theepochtimes.com/" title="Epoch Times" rel="publisher">Epoch Times</a>
  • Category: General
July 24, 2017

Hundreds of Falun Dafa practitioners hold a candlelight vigil in Washington on July 20, 2017 to remember the victims of the Chinese regime’s persecution of the practice that began on July 20, 1999. The candles in the front form the Chinese characters for truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance, the three main tenets of Falun Dafa. (Benjamin Chasteen/The Epoch Times)Hundreds of Falun Dafa practitioners hold a candlelight vigil in Washington on July 20, 2017 to remember the victims of the Chinese regime’s persecution of the practice that began on July 20, 1999. The candles in the front form the Chinese characters for truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance, the three main tenets of Falun Dafa. (Benjamin Chasteen/The Epoch Times)

Holding the corner of a banner under the intense midday sun on a 100-plus-degree day, Chinese-American medical scientist and Falun Gong practitioner Hu Zongyi shared his understanding of where the Xi Jinping leadership might be headed on the Falun Gong issue.

“[Xi] doesn’t necessarily have any intention to persecute Falun Gong,” said the middle-aged scientist, speaking before the start of a parade in Washington commemorating the 18th anniversary of the beginning of the persecution of Falun Gong in China.

“If those officials, who have blood on their hands, are cleaned out, it will be easier for Xi to end this,” Hu added. “If he really wants to resolve this problem, well, doesn’t he talk about reviving traditional Chinese culture? If he thinks he needs to disband the Communist Party in order to end the persecution, he can take this step first, or do both at the same time.”

Hu’s assessment might seem overly optimistic in light of the continued suppression in China. The website Minghui.org, which serves as a clearinghouse for information about the persecution of Falun Gong, identified nearly 400 practitioners who were sentenced to prison between January to May this year. On July 11, Yang Yuyong, one of about 20 practitioners from Tianjin who were arrested as part of a local security effort, died in a hospital seemingly from the injuries he sustained from torture and abuse, according to Minghui.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping attends the World Economic Forum in Davos on Jan. 17, 2017. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images)

Chinese leader Xi Jinping attends the World Economic Forum in Davos on Jan. 17, 2017. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images)

Yet the Xi leadership has overseen several policies that suggest that Xi is at least considering future reconciliation. The labor camp system has been shuttered. Some practitioners have walked away mostly unpunished after lodging criminal complaints against former Party leader Jiang Zemin, or have received no punishment at all. Xi has made unusual gestures (such as stressing the importance of helping lawful petitioners, which includes those complaining about Jiang) near the anniversaries of dates related to the persecution. The”610 Office,” which coordinates the persecution, has received an official rebuke and its leadership has been (figuratively) decapitated. Local courts are throwing out practitioner cases, citing lack of evidence to prosecute.

There appears to also be a correlation between Xi’s anti-corruption campaign and a gradual weakening of the persecution. Aside from being linked with Jiang’s political faction, many of the officials arrested for corruption happen to be involved in persecuting practitioners, according to Minghui.org and the World Organization to Investigative the Persecution of Falun Gong, which closely tracks the persecution.

It is still unclear whether Xi Jinping will eventually end the persecution. But if he does bite the proverbial bullet, it is tough to imagine that the Party can survive the scandal of the persecution—including grisly, large-scale crimes like forced organ harvesting.

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  • Author: <a href="http://www.theepochtimes.com/n3/author/larry-ong/" rel="author">Larry Ong</a>, <a href="http://www.theepochtimes.com/" title="Epoch Times" rel="publisher">Epoch Times</a>
  • Category: General

Chinese leader Xi Jinping speak to the press during a press statement at the German chancellery in Berlin on July 5, 2017. On July 19, Xi called on petition work officials to “make ‘every possible effort’ to solve public grievances.” (Michele Tantussi/Getty Images)Chinese leader Xi Jinping speak to the press during a press statement at the German chancellery in Berlin on July 5, 2017. On July 19, Xi called on petition work officials to “make ‘every possible effort’ to solve public grievances.” (Michele Tantussi/Getty Images)

When practitioners of one of China’s largest spiritual communities first learned that they were being targeted for persecution on July 20, 1999, they presumed that there must be a mistake. Why would the Chinese regime bother with peaceful meditators who try to live according to the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance?

Hoping to explain Falun Gong to the authorities and reach a peaceful resolution, many Falun Gong practitioners headed to their local petitions office, or to the headquarters of the petitions office in Beijing. The concept of petitioning is old in China, and refers to the right—at least on paper—for citizens to appeal to the government about their grievances.

On April 25, 1999, when over 10,000 Falun Gong practitioners found themselves outside Zhongnanhai, the compound of the Party leadership, then-Chinese premier Zhu Rongji met with representatives and promised to resolve their concerns. Just three months later, the campaign to wipe out Falun Gong began, and adherents were arrested and brutally abused in jails,  brainwashing centers, and labor camps, all on the orders of former Communist Party chief Jiang Zemin.

Now, on the eve of the 18th anniversary of that persecution—still the largest in China—Chinese leader Xi Jinping has urged Chinese officials to do their utmost to help “petitioners.”

According to a July 19 article by state mouthpiece Xinhua, Xi called on petition work officials to “make ‘every possible effort’ to solve public grievances.” He also instructed officials to handle “people’s legitimate appeals lawfully.”

Given the coded operations of the Chinese regime and its tendency to tightly control public messaging near politically sensitive dates, it is difficult to imagine that Xi made his remarks without the expectation that they would be understood as obvious references to Falun Gong.

As the largest group of prisoners of conscience in China, Falun Gong practitioners have been arrested for lawful petitions for over 18 years; Chinese human rights lawyers determined to show that the anti-Falun Gong campaign is illegal have also been targeted.

Nor are the remarks are one-off occurrence. Xi’s call to improve petition work is part of a string of such gestures made by his leadership near Falun Gong persecution anniversary dates. There are no current indications that the policy against Falun Gong will change in the near future, but these instances—as well as a series of institutional changes related to the persecution—are suggestive of an eventual shift in the political wind.

On April 21, 2016, Xi and Chinese premier Li Keqiang announced that it is in the regime’s interests to “amicably settle reasonable and lawful appeals by the masses” who submit petitions, as well as safeguard their legal rights.

That July 20, the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission (PLAC), which controls the Chinese regime’s security apparatus, announced at a national level meeting on judicial reform that it was looking to “establish a robust system to prevent unjust, false, and wrong charges,” while also addressing historical miscarriages of justice. The PLAC meeting was held in Changchun, the northeastern Chinese city where Falun Gong founder Li Hongzhi first introduced the practice to the public in 1992.

Xi has also enacted policies during this tenure which suggest that he is planning on shifting the Chinese regime away from the persecutory policy of his predecessor Jiang Zemin.  

Shortly after Xi took office in 2012, he proposed to abolish the Chinese regime’s labor camp system. Falun Gong practitioners formed the majority of prisoners in labor camps and other places of detention for many years. The labor camp system, a key Falun Gong persecution site, was formally shut in December 2013.

In May 2015, Xi pushed through a legal reform that required Chinese courts and procuratorates to acknowledge all criminal complaints that were submitted. This led to Falun Gong practitioners and other Chinese citizens filing over 200,000 complaints against Jiang Zemin for crimes against humanity—a development that would have led to brutal death and torture during the era of Jiang’s dominance.  

And in October 2016, the “610 Office,” an extralegal Party organ that organizes and oversees the persecution of Falun Gong, was criticized by the Party’s internal police as part of Xi’s anti-corruption campaign. Earlier, 610 Office heads had been either purged or quickly rotated out. Such treatment of Jiang’s favored 610 Office would have also been virtually inconceivable under previous political leadership.

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  • Author: <a href="http://www.theepochtimes.com/n3/author/larry-ong/" rel="author">Larry Ong</a>, <a href="http://www.theepochtimes.com/" title="Epoch Times" rel="publisher">Epoch Times</a>
  • Category: General

A North Korean military officer (R) and a North Korea man (L) standing behind a pile of coal along the banks of the Yalu River in the northeast of the North Korean border town of Siniuju, on December 14, 2012. On Feb. 18, the Chinese Commerce Ministry announced a suspension of all North Korean coal imports. (Wang Zhao/AFP/Getty Images)A North Korean military officer (R) and a North Korea man (L) standing behind a pile of coal along the banks of the Yalu River in the northeast of the North Korean border town of Siniuju, on December 14, 2012. On Feb. 18, the Chinese Commerce Ministry announced a suspension of all North Korean coal imports. (Wang Zhao/AFP/Getty Images)

North Korean exports to China fell by 13.2 percent in the first half of 2017, Chinese customs authorities said at a recent news conference.

The amount of goods going the other way increased by 29.1 percent, although Chinese customs officials stressed that these goods were not banned by the U.N. sanctions that are intended to force the communist regime in Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons program.

Recent months have seen the escalation of tensions, as North Korea has test-fired multiple ballistic missiles as part of its desire to gain a reliable method of nuclear weapons delivery,

U.S. President Donald Trump had previously criticized the Chinese regime in a July 5 tweet for not applying more pressure on North Korea to halt their nuclear weapons program.

“Trade between China and North Korea grew almost 40 percent in the first quarter. So much for China working with us — but we had to give it a try!” the president wrote.

In April, Trump and Chinese leader Xi Jinping had met at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida; the first face-to-face meeting between the two statesmen. According to Trump, they “made tremendous progress,” though no deals or breakthroughs were made.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stated that Xi had acknowledged that the situation involving North Korea had reached “a very serious stage”.

Since the meeting, however, Trump has both praised and criticized the lack of progress and action by China. He said on June 20 via Twitter that although he “greatly appreciate[s] the efforts of President Xi & China to help with North Korea, it has not worked out.”

Trade with China accounts for approximately 90 percent of North Korea’s total trade, and most of its food and energy supplies come from its neighbor to the north. China purchases iron ore, zinc, seafood, and clothing from North Korea, and had previously bought large quantities of coal before suspending imports in February. State-owned oil giant China National Petroleum Corporation also suspended fuel sales to North Korea in June.

Despite the Chinese efforts to reign in North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, real effects on Pyongyang have been few. North Korea’s latest missile test, on July 4th, suggests that the newly-developed Hwasong-14 missile could reach Alaska and parts of northwestern Canada.

The relationship between North Korea and China is complicated by their historical alliance and shared communist ideology.

Many Chinese officials profit from association with the Kim Jong Un regime, and differences in the two countries’ socioeconomic development and national interests notwithstanding, ties between the Chinese Communist Party and the Korean Workers Party ensure an otherwise unnatural closeness between Beijing and Pyongyang.

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  • Author: <a href="http://www.theepochtimes.com/n3/author/ingo-timm/" rel="author">Ingo Timm</a>, The Epoch Times
  • Category: General

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Amidst the Chinese regime’s ever-escalating crackdown on free speech and freedom of the internet, WhatsApp has become the latest victim, as users in China report that the private messaging app has been blocked by the Chinese regime.

Numerous reports from WhatsApp users inside China indicate that the app became partially blocked beginning the night of July 17, as videos or pictures sent by users were no longer reaching their intended recipients. At that time users reported that text messages still went through normally. However, recently some users have reported that even text messages have been blocked.

The regime has long blocked other popular Western social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube through its “Great Firewall,” the unofficial name for the sophisticated internet censorship system used to control all aspects of online activity in China.

Users can still use a virtual private network (VPN) to send text and media content through WhatsApp, just as with other blocked Western websites and applications. The use of VPNs to circumvent censorship adds extra cost and inconvenience to the users, however, and Beijing has also started cracking down on VPN service providers as of late.

Many WhatsApp users in China reacted angrily to the latest ban on their use of the messaging tool. Some say the authorities are essentially cutting off China from the rest of the world’s internet, according to the Hong Kong-based Apple Daily.

Before the blocking on July 17, WhatsApp had been one of the few remaining messaging apps available for users in China that is not controlled by the Chinese regime. WeChat, the dominant messaging application in China with hundreds of millions of users, is owned by the Chinese company Tencent.

The dominance of WeChat has been widely attributed to the company’s close collaboration with the Chinese regime in implementing self-censorship and surveillance mechanisms in its application.

According to Citizen Lab, a Canadian research laboratory, WeChat performs censorship on the server-side, which means that when user sends a message it passes through a remote server that contains rules for implementing censorship.

A 2016 survey done by Amnesty International that ranks the world’s most popular messaging apps in terms of privacy protection for users gave WeChat a score of 0 out of 100, meaning that users of WeChat receive little or no encryption protection for their communications and the app is completely exposed to censorship and surveillance by the Chinese regime. WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, received a score of 73 out of 100.

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Wang Sanyun, former provincial secretary of Gansu, in a political consultative conference on Jan. 10, 2017.Wang Sanyun, former provincial secretary of Gansu, in a political consultative conference on Jan. 10, 2017.

Ninety days after being demoted this April to serve on a special committee of the Chinese national legislature, former Gansu Province Communist Party secretary Wang Sanyun has been placed under investigation for the generic charge of violating disciplinary ordinances.

Wang has been replaced by Lin Duo. Lin worked under Wang Qishan, the head of the anti-corruption agency, as the district chief and district committee when Wang was the mayor of Beijing. Wang was promoted to head the provincial disciplinary committee sof Liaoning after Wang took charge of China’s top anti-graft watchdog.

The investigation makes Wang the 15th member of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Central Committee to have been purged in Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s four-year-old anti-corruption campaign.

Wang’s removal from his post as provincial secretary occurred concurrently with the fall of provincial secretaries from Hainan, Shandong and Heilongjiang—Luo Baoming, Jiang Yikang, and Wang Xiankui, respectively.

Wang’s purging comes ahead of the 19th National Congress of the CCP that will be held this autumn. Xi Jinping came to power following the 18th Congress in 2012, and this year’s leadership meeting presents an opportunity for him to further consolidate power through the personnel reshuffling.

For about a year, Gansu Province has seen many of its top Party officials sacked in the anti-corruption campaign, which primarily targets figures associated with the political cliques of former CCP leader Jiang Zemin.

Ties With Ling Jihua

Wang’s political career took him across five provinces and landed him in the good graces of Ling Jihua, an influential CCP cadre in the 2000s who served as a top aide to former Party head Hu Jintao. Ling was placed under investigation in late 2014 and sentenced to life in prison on corruption charges in 2016.

Ling derived much of his clout from his leadership roles in the Communist Youth League, one of the CCP’s affiliated organizations. In 1990, Wang Sanyun held a provincial-level leadership position in the Youth League, at a time when Ling was deputy director of the organization’s General Office. In 2007, Ling Jihua helped Wang settle corruption charges levied against him, and Wang was soon promoted to become CCP secretary of Anhui Province.

The purge of Ling Jihua in 2014 came at a time when the Xi Jinping administration was taking down other key rivals in the Chinese regime, such as Zhou Yongkang of the security forces and Xu Caihou of the People’s Liberation Army. These officials were all connected to Jiang Zemin, who retired in the early 2000s but continues to wield political influence from behind the scenes.

Ling Jihua was an ally of Zhou Yongkang, who in turn was heavily promoted by Jiang Zemin. Zhou was sentenced to life in prison in 2015. In a 2016 speech, Xi Jinping accused Ling,  Zhou, and a disgraced Politburo member, Bo Xilai, for “carrying out political conspiracies to wreck and split the party.”

Several other officials associated with the Jiang faction were purged during the latest wave of anti-graft campaign in February. As many as 75 provincial level officials and nearly 900 lower-level officials in Gansu have come under investigation since the 18th Party Congress.  

Some of the accused committed suicide by jumping into rivers and off buildings. These include Yu Jingdong, the former head of the Lanzhou Political Consultative Conference, who threw himself in a river this April; Zhang Jixun, ex-vice director of the local land and resources bureau, and Zhou Qiang, former director of provincial development and reform committee. The three officials in Lanzhou, which is the capital of Gansu, were involved with corruption cases in the real estate sector.

Persecution and Poverty

Just a few months before his investigation, Wang had named the local officials recently purged for corruption and expressed resolve to “catch up with the anti-corruption battle in the country.”

Wang had been to Wushan County of Gansu Province on multiple inspection tours between 2011 and 2015, the Beijing News reported. He famously told a 10-year old girl that he was a “service worker” and would readily help if she wrote to him for any difficulties her family encountered.

Wushan remains one of the most impoverished counties in China.

Wang Sanyun was an active participant in the CCP’s persecution of the Falun Gong spiritual practice. Falun Gong, a meditative discipline that teaches truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance, was banned in 1999 on Jiang Zemin’s personal directive.

In the 2000s, many officials were promoted or awarded based on their performance in the anti-Falun Gong campaign. Today, a large number of those same officials are the targets of corruption cases in Xi Jinping’s purges, reflecting the factional struggle between him and those associated with Jiang.

In 2002, while working in Sichuan Province of southwestern China, Wang Sanyun ordered a province-wide campaign to “thoroughly track down and arrest” Falun Gong adherents in Sichuan, with over 19,000 people [staff members] involved in the capital city alone. He was sued for human rights abuses on a visit to Taiwan in 2011, then the governor of Anhui Province.

During Wang’s tenure, Sichuan and Anhui Falun Gong practitioners were arrested without hard crime evidence, and sentenced to prison without trial.

According to Minghui.org, an overseas website that documents the persecution of Falun Gong, many of the orders were concretized and planned in minute detail by the provincial branches of the 610 Office, an extralegal security agency that Jiang Zemin established to handle Falun Gong.

According to human rights groups, at least 60 Falun Gong adherents died in Sichuan, Fujian and Anhui while Wang was in office.  

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  • Author: <a href="http://www.theepochtimes.com/n3/author/eva-fu/" rel="author">Eva Fu</a>, <a href="http://www.theepochtimes.com/" title="Epoch Times" rel="publisher">Epoch Times</a>
  • Category: General

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (L) inspects a Hwasong-12 strategic ballistic rocket at an undisclosed location in
this picture released by North Korean state media on May 15.
 (STR/AFP/Getty Images)North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (L) inspects a Hwasong-12 strategic ballistic rocket at an undisclosed location in
this picture released by North Korean state media on May 15.
 (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Since meeting Chinese leader Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago in April, President Donald Trump has maintained that China is trying to help stop North Korea’s nuclear provocations.

Kim Jong Un’s regime, however, has continued to fire missile after missile (including one that could potentially hit Alaska) since the Xi–Trump meeting. Critics say that Trump’s faith in Xi was misplaced. Trump even acknowledged in a tweet that while he appreciated the efforts of Xi to help with North Korea, “it has not worked out.”

But at the recently concluded G-20 meeting in Germany, Trump continued to espouse faith in his Chinese counterpart.

“As far as North Korea is concerned, we will have, eventually, success,” Trump told Xi. “It may take longer than I’d like. It may take longer than you’d like. But there will be success in the end, one way or the other.”

Trump’s confidence might seem like hopeful optimism given the Chinese regime isn’t exactly known for putting U.S. interests first when crafting policy; oftentimes, the reverse is more accurate.

From the level of observables, however, it does seem that the Xi leadership is serious about reining in Kim’s rogue regime.

US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) shake hands prior to a meeting on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, July 8, 2017. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) shake hands prior to a meeting on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, July 8, 2017. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

According to official reports and unconfirmed reports in April and June, there has been a huge deployment of Chinese troops to the Sino–North Korean border.

According to a Hong Kong political magazine with a track record of occasionally carrying reliable information about discussions in the top leadership, the Politburo had discussed the North Korean issue during a meeting in May, and came to a consensus: Because the Kim regime had constantly ignored advice and warnings from the Chinese regime, North Korea is now a heavy “political burden,” and a policy must be made to “relieve” the Chinese regime of this “burden.”

During the first six months of the year, China’s coal imports from North Korea have fallen 74.5 percent from a year earlier, with imports immediately falling after United Nations sanctions were put in place in February. A seeming rise in Chinese exports to North Korea was due to the healthier trade relations between the two communist regimes before U.N. sanctions were imposed.

Close observers of Xi’s anti-corruption campaign would note too that many senior cronies of former Communist Party boss Jiang Zemin’s political faction have been quickly purged in recent weeks—a development that goes straight to the heart of the North Korean problem.

In years past, Jiang’s faction has frequently egged on the Kim regime to play the nuclear card as part of a way to satisfy the faction’s own ends. (See “A Fading Alliance Between China and North Korea” by Epoch Times reporter Leo Timm.) Kim Jong Un’s most recent provocations serve to make the Xi leadership look bad internationally, owing to the widely held belief that the Chinese regime can rein in North Korea if only it chooses to.

Xi might have told Trump about his troubles with rogue elements in the Chinese regime that have long been influencing Kim and company up north. Xi might have also intimated to Trump that the process of rounding up the remaining rogue officials requires some more time—hence Trump’s cryptic comment about the process of solving the North Korean issue (“it may take longer than I’d like”) at the G-20.

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  • Category: General

Chongqing Mayor Huang Qifan attends the Chongqing delegation's group meeting during the annual National People's Congress on March 6, 2013 in Beijing, China.  (Photo by Feng Li/Getty Images)Chongqing Mayor Huang Qifan attends the Chongqing delegation's group meeting during the annual National People's Congress on March 6, 2013 in Beijing, China.  (Photo by Feng Li/Getty Images)

Chinese official Huang Qifan holds the distinction of having served as mayor or vice-mayor of China’s southwestern megalopolis of Chongqing across the successive terms of six Communist Party secretaries overseeing the provincial-level municipality.

Last December, Huang was demoted and made to serve as vice-head of a financial committee in the largely powerless National People’s Congress.

On July 10, Huang and six other members of the Three Gorges Construction Committee were removed from this posting as well. Huang still retains his seat in the national legislature.

What likely brought Huang down a notch were his connections to ex-Communist Party Politburo member Bo Xilai, once the Party secretary of Chongqing.

In 2012, Bo Xilai’s head of police, Wang Lijun, defected to the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu, causing a scandal that dashed Bo’s chances at being chosen to serve in the seven-man Politburo Standing Committee that leads the Communist Party.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping, who came to power later in 2012 after the Communist Party’s 18th National Congress, quickly moved to purge Bo. His suspended death sentence in 2013, which effectively amounted to life in prison, was the first blow in Xi’s anti-corruption campaign against Bo’s backers—the informal Party faction associated with former leader Jiang Zemin.

Since the beginning of the campaign, state-controlled media say that over 1 million Chinese officials have been disciplined, including hundreds of high-ranking Party cadres. The Jiang faction, which had influence from the 1990s up through the 18th Party Congress, is Xi’s main target in this political endeavor.

Huang’s links to the Jiang faction are apparent. According to China News Service, Huang publicly boasted of his political affinity with Bo Xilai during the high-profile “Two Sessions” political conferences in 2010, claiming that their partnership was “as fish to water.” It was in 2010 that Huang was promoted to mayor of Chongqing and became vice secretary of the municipal committee. Many other titles, like “scholar-official,” “CEO of Chongqing,” or “economic expert” appeared on his resume.

Bo trusted Huang so much that during Wang Lijun incident, Huang was entrusted to negotiate with the U.S. and take Wang back. The mayor deployed 70 police cars and surrounded the U.S. consulate at Bo’s command.  

In addition to his work in Chongqing, Huang spent 18 years working in Shanghai, where Jiang Zemin made his own political career and still has some lasting influence.

Not Yet Investigated

After Bo Xilai’s downfall, Huang Qifan was not targeted immediately, and to date he has not been placed under investigation, unlike many other Jiang Zemin associates. His current posting in the National People’s Congress is in line with what is common for other officials reaching the ends of their careers.

In the eyes of his supporters, Huang was energetic, erudite, and could speak for hours without referring to script while citing an impressive amount of data, Hong Kong-based HK01 reported. When he was in office, Chongqing experienced rapid economic development. In 2015, Chongqing’s GDP growth was 11 percent, the highest in the country.

But this February, the Communist Party’s disciplinary commission said that upon investigation, Chongqing was found to have problems with corruption in state-owned companies and “residual poison” was still left over from the time of Bo Xilai and Wang Lijun.  

Huang’s son, Huang Yi, monopolized the steel reselling business as a middleman for the state-owned Chongqing Iron and Steel Company. Huang Yi imported iron ore from Australia and resold to the company, taking a high commission for boosting employment. By the time Huang left Chongqing in 2016, the company had become known as the city’s largest “zombie firm.” It was sustained by government subsidy and had incurred losses of 13.2 billion yuan ($1.94 billion) over five years.

Recent removal from the Three Gorges Construction committee also comes at a politically sensitive time: the 19th Party Congress coming up later this year provides the Xi administration with an opportunity to appoint and change personnel, and further sideline political opponents from positions of influence.

Huang may have seen this coming. After Bo Xilai’s downfall, Huang was quick to denounce his former ally, declaring that he would “firmly support all actions of the central authorities” and calling for “consideration of the overall situation.” Huang also claims that he was familiar with Bo’s aspirations for national leadership.

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This picture taken on May 14, 2017 and released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on May 15 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (3rd R) inspecting a ground-to-ground medium long-range strategic ballistic rocket Hwasong-12 at an undisclosed location. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)This picture taken on May 14, 2017 and released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on May 15 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (3rd R) inspecting a ground-to-ground medium long-range strategic ballistic rocket Hwasong-12 at an undisclosed location. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Prospects for an amicable resolution to the North Korean nuclear and ballistic missile crisis faded on July 4, when Pyongyang launched its latest Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missile. Dictator Kim Jong Un called it an Independence Day “gift.”

North Korea conducted its fifth nuclear test last September, exploding a 20-to-30-kiloton bomb and sparking the saber-rattling that has characterized the last few months of Pyongyang’s interactions with the United States and countries throughout Northeast Asia.

Trump has expressed disappointment with Beijing’s role in the crisis, saying via social media that Xi and China had “tried” but failed to help with North Korea. Since the July 4 missile test, Washington has begun to move unilaterally on sanctioning Chinese banks and firms that it says have been helping funnel hundreds of millions of dollars to Pyongyang.

President Donald Trump has repeatedly requested that China and its leader Xi Jinping assist with the effort to make North Korea give up its nuclear weapons program. However, China’s relationship with Pyongyang has been made ambiguous and fractured by different interests within the Chinese regime, a result of behind-the-scenes Communist Party factional intrigue.

Nevertheless, North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs pose an immediate national security risk for China, which shares a border with the aggressive state. Meanwhile, the Kim regime’s continued existence—which hinges on Cold War-style brinksmanship and isolationist communist tyranny—does a disservice to both the Xi Jinping leadership, which is struggling to consolidate power internally, and a China attempting to present an image of peaceful rise.

Politics in the Party

In China, the ascent to power of Xi Jinping means that the Kim family’s links to the Chinese regime are growing distant. Xi’s anti-corruption campaign has purged hundreds of powerful cadres, among them key associates of an informal Communist Party clique centered around former Party leader Jiang Zemin.

Jiang headed the Chinese Communist Party from 1989 to 2002, and wielded power behind the scenes through 2012. Under Jiang, relations with North Korea were warm, even if the Chinese regime outwardly disapproved of Pyongyang’s nuclear program, which produced its first working weapon in 2006.

One of the legacies of the Jiang leadership is widespread human rights abuses and mass murder, particularly the persecution of the Falun Gong spiritual practice ordered by the former leader in July 1999. Falun Gong adherents and those belonging to other repressed groups have been harvested for their organs and murdered on a nationwide scale.

For Jiang and his lieutenants involved in this gruesome business, holding onto power as long as possible is necessary to keep their atrocities under wraps and to avoid being held accountable for these crimes.

Today, Jiang associates are doing whatever they can to put the brakes on Xi’s anti-corruption campaign, including stirring up trouble for him on the North Korean issue. While many of Jiang’s allies have been purged, the faction’s influence still extends deep into Chinese state and business institutions.

Between 2003 and 2015, Jiang’s protégé Wang Jiarui was head of the Communist Party’s International Liaison Department, which conducts diplomacy with other revolutionary parties and North Korea in particular. Wang often accompanied Chinese leaders to North Korea.

Some of Jiang’s most powerful backers, including Politburo Standing Committee members Liu Yunshan, Zhang Dejiang, and Zhang Gaoli, all have a history of close ties with Pyongyang.

Last September, the purge of Jiang’s cohorts in the provincial leadership of Liaoning Province was quickly followed by the arrest and investigation of Ma Xiaohong, a businesswoman whose trading firm was singled out by U.S. authorities for supplying Pyongyang with materials blocked by U.N. sanctions for their use in nuclear weapons production. Ma’s firm was based in the city of Dandong, which borders North Korea.

Referring to the Ma Xiaohong scandal, U.S.-based political commentator Wen Zhao said the illicit trade had “gone far beyond the realm of normal commerce.”

“This is not something that the local authorities, or Ma Xiaohong herself, would dare to do,” Wen said.

According to China analyst Don Tse, “Jiang Zemin made use of the nuclear threat from North Korea to distract American attention from Chinese human rights violations, as well as resist political attack from factions within the Communist Party that don’t have the blood of innocents on their hands.”

A Faded Alliance

China under Xi has placed a variety of restrictions on Sino–North Korean trade, including banning coal imports, curtailing petroleum sales, and supporting U.N. sanctions.

This has evoked ire from Pyongyang. In early May, North Korean state media issued seldom-seen direct criticism, warning Beijing that it “should no longer try to test the limits of the DPRK’s [North Korea’s] patience.”

Referring to China’s censuring of its nuclear program, the Pyongyang-controlled Korean Central News Agency condemned the “reckless act of chopping down the pillar of the DPRK-China relations.”

In response, China’s Communist Party-controlled Global Times declared that China was able to strike back “at any side that crosses the red line.”

Xi himself has expressed support for tougher action against North Korea, in line with official Chinese policy statements that support U.N. sanctions. Chinese regime-run media have also lauded his conversations and meetings with Trump as “fruitful” and as having made progress.  

At the recent G20 summit in Hamburg, Xi reiterated the demand for Korean denuclearization and said that he would order Chinese forces to take part in U.S.-led military exercises in the Pacific.

Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks after his tour of the Boeing assembly line in Seattle, Washington on Sept. 23, 2015. (Mark Ralston - Pool/Getty Images)

Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks after his tour of the Boeing assembly line in Seattle, Washington on Sept. 23, 2015. (Mark Ralston – Pool/Getty Images)

“Let me just say that it’s an honor to have gotten to know you. We are developing and have developed a wonderful relationship,” Trump said to Xi after their second meeting on July 8 at the summit. “I appreciate the things that you have done in regard to the very substantial problem that we all face in North Korea.”

As the U.S. Navy positions aircraft carrier groups near the Korean Peninsula, there have been hints that China is making its own military preparations. In April, unconfirmed reports suggested that over 100,000 soldiers of the People’s Liberation Army had been deployed to the Sino–North Korean border.

In June, an elite Chinese airborne division was reorganized for combined arms operations and part of it redeployed to Northeast China, hinting at Beijing’s planning for a scenario in which it must quickly secure the North Korean nuclear arsenal.

North Korea’s ‘Survival Diplomacy’

The Kim leadership, now in its third generation under 33-year-old Kim Jong Un, runs an inefficient, oppressive regime reminiscent of Maoist China or Stalinist Russia.

According to Andrei Lankov, a Russian scholar of North Korea’s society and regime, Pyongyang is forced to run what he calls “survival diplomacy” because it is in the “peculiar and unenviable position” of being “stuck with an outdated economic system that cannot generate growth.”

Unable to support itself on central planning, or to enact Chinese-style economic reform without risking total collapse and absorption by South Korea, Kim’s regime instead subsists on nuclear blackmail in hopes of scooping up international aid and other concessions, Lankov says.

Translated into recent events, this has meant ever more radical provocations from North Korea. In his six years of power, Kim Jong Un has test-launched dozens of ballistic missiles, compared to just 16 during the entire 17 years when his late father Kim Jong Il ruled the country.

Provocation is just one of the ways that North Korea disturbs the peace. Aside from normal cross-border trade with China, North Korea also has various means of illicit fundraising and resource procurement. Regime authorities have set up and encouraged a drug production and export industry. North Korean hackers carry out bank robbery. Pyongyang sends tens of thousands of laborers to work abroad in countries like China and Russia in slave-like conditions, receiving in return hundreds of millions, or possibly billions, of dollars. These activities sustain the regime’s ambitions.

Strategic Liability

Conventional analysis holds that China sees North Korea as a useful buffer state between itself and South Korea, a strong U.S. military ally.

But in a time when China no longer seeks Marxist revolution, North Korea only undermines its larger neighbor’s goals in the region.

According to Zang Shan, a veteran journalist of China affairs based in Hong Kong, “North Korea’s aggressive nuclear tests have brought great harm to China’s interests, far worse than the THAAD system deployment in South Korea. North Korea not only acquired nuclear weapons, but forced Japan to work with South Korea, enforcing their cooperation with the United States.”

Zang believes that a significant goal of Chinese foreign policy in Northeast Asia is to prevent an alliance between South Korea and Japan, something that a belligerent North Korea makes more rather than less likely.

Meanwhile, Zang wrote in an article published by the Chinese edition of The Epoch Times: “North Korea is just a chess piece that justifies the United States to have a military presence in the area. The threat from the nuclear weapons and missile program come second in its calculus.”

Russia, for its part, can use North Korea in its overarching strategy to confound and redirect U.S. and allied efforts—and lessen North Korea’s dependence on China in the process. New Russian technology may be behind the latest North Korean missile designs, wrote Tetsuro Kosaka of Japan’s Nikkei Asian Review in June.

Ri Jong Ho, a high-ranking North Korean official and defector, revealed in an interview with Voice of America last month that much of the Kim regime’s fuel needs are covered by Russian rather than Chinese oil, but that the ships traveling to North Korea are transported with forged documents showing destinations in China.

In an interview later adapted to an article and published on Duowei, top Chinese scholar of Korean affairs Jin Qingyi argued that an isolated North Korea was not only a political nuisance but was also in direct contradiction with China’s market economy.

“The only way to change it is to induce North Korea to reform and open up; there is no other way. If North Korea reforms and opens up, the entire region will thrive,” Jin said.

The northeastern Chinese provinces of Liaoning, Jilin, and Heilongjiang, which are widely known as the economically depressed rustbelt of state-run heavy industry and resource extraction, would benefit from a reformed North Korea. Liaoning and Jilin border the country, and Heilongjiang is north of these two provinces.

“I think what the three northeastern provinces lack most is an open economy. The best way to have an open economy is to have a unified Korean Peninsula,” Jin said.

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The Yinchuan (175), a Type 052D destroyer of China's People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), provides an escort ahead of the Liaoning aircraft carrier into the Lamma Channel as it arrives in Hong Kong territorial waters on July 7, 2017. 
 (TENGKU BAHAR/AFP/Getty Images)The Yinchuan (175), a Type 052D destroyer of China's People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), provides an escort ahead of the Liaoning aircraft carrier into the Lamma Channel as it arrives in Hong Kong territorial waters on July 7, 2017. 
 (TENGKU BAHAR/AFP/Getty Images)

One of China’s most advanced navy destroyers may have suffered a serious technical problem and broke down while passing through the Indian Ocean, according to sources. The warship was originally part of the task force fleet dispatched earlier in June to participate in the upcoming joint exercise with Russia.

Since 2013 China and Russia have been holding the annual “Joint Sea” naval exercise, and the 2017 Join Sea is scheduled to be held in the Baltic Sea in late July. Such long range deployment on the part of China was not only intended to showcase the far seas capability of its rapidly growing People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), but also serves to strengthen the alignment between China and Russia.

Xinhua news agency, the official mouthpiece of the Beijing regime, published a news release on June 18 detailing the composition of the task force fleet departing from the PLAN naval base in Sanya, Hainan that day which included a Type 052D destroyer Changsha, a Type 054A frigate Yungchen, and a Type 903 replenishment ship Luomahu.

On July 8 however, a story published by the PLA’s official newspaper said that only the frigate Yungchen reached the Gulf of Aden and was resupplied there by the Chinese anti-piracy fleet in the area. No word was given as to the whereabouts of the destroyer Changsha and the replenishment ship Luomahu that were in the original task force. Instead, the story listed Hefei, another Type 052D destroyer as having joined the task force that will continue onward to the Baltic.

Similar deployments from the past years indicate that PLAN fleet usually took just two weeks, or 14 days to reach the Gulf of Aden if departing from Hainan and passing through the Indian Ocean. The July 8 story would mean that the sail this year took 18 days, or 4 days longer than usual.

French military watcher website East Pendulum reported that the destroyer Changsha might have suffered a serious technical breakdown while passing through the Indian Ocean. The report cited an anonymous user’s post on a Chinese military forum as the source, who claimed that a breakdown in the destroyer’s propulsion system deprived it of all of its power and the ship was essentially “floating.”

According to the same source, the breakdown took place “before June 26,” one week after the task force departed from the naval base in Sanya. This would put the fleet’s approximate location at the time of the breakdown as somewhere in the Indian Ocean.

The breakdown would also explain why the replenishment ship Luomahu did not reach the Gulf of Aden, since the task force commander or the PLAN leadership likely ordered the support ship to stay with the crippled destroyer.

It is currently unknown whether the Changsha had overcome the breakdown and return to the base in Sanya, or if it is still floating in the Indian Ocean awaiting repair or towing.

The Changsha is one of the many advanced Type 052D destroyers China had built and put into service in recent years. Chinese media often boasted the power and the technical advances of the Type 052D design and claimed that it can rival the U.S. Aegis destroyers.

Changsha’s breakdown, if confirmed, might cast doubt on the reliability of the Type 052D destroyer and Chinese warships in general. The Type 052D is powered by two sets of combined gas turbine and diesel engines, which also means that the breakdown had to be extremely serious for the ship to abandon its original mission.

Despite this, the fact that PLAN was able to quickly dispatch another Type 052D Hefei to join the task force and continue its original mission is in itself an indication of the growing scale of China’s overseas naval effort, according to James Goldrick at the Lowy Institute.

In addition, China has worked to acquire bases in many critical ports in the Indian Ocean that experts have described as a maritime “Silk Road.” Changsha’s breakdown could further justify the PLAN navy ambition to consolidate and expand such a network, according to the French website East Pendulum.

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Zheng Enchong, a Shanghai-based human rights lawyer. (Epoch Times)Zheng Enchong, a Shanghai-based human rights lawyer. (Epoch Times)

Chinese leader Xi Jinping recently took out yet another key member of a rival political faction — one whose name, incidentally, somewhat resembles his own. The downfall of Xin Jiping (not to be confused with Xi Jinping) was so low key and swift that less discerning observers would easily miss both the event and its larger significance.

In April, the anti-corruption authorities in Shanghai issued a one-line statement concerning the investigation of Xin, formerly a senior executive at two private property developers.

Three months later, Chinese state mouthpiece Xinhua announced in a one paragraph and one line notice that Xin had been found guilty of taking bribes and defrauding the state. Xin’s case had also been transferred to the procuratorate to await formal prosecution. Missing from Xinhua’s notice, however, was the customary professional biography.

Xin being prosecuted is “very important news” because of his political allegiances, according to Shanghai-based human rights lawyer Zheng Enchong.

Xin was originally a senior official in the Shanghai municipal government before he joined the private sector, Zheng said. That Xin would eventually become assume top executive positions—Xin was vice president of Shanghai Real Estate Group and board chairman of Shanghai Hongqiao Economic and Technological Development Zone Joint Development Co., Ltd.—showed that he was “from the very beginning a trusted crony of the Shanghai Gang.”

The Shanghai Gang refers to a notorious political clique helmed by former Chinese Communist Party boss Jiang Zemin. Zheng continues to suffer persecution from having tussled with the Shanghai Gang in the early 2000s while defending local residents.

“Xin Jiping once controlled land resources in Shanghai,” Zheng said. “That means Xin worked with Jiang Miankang, and can be considered Jiang’s lackey.”

Jiang Miankang, the younger son of Jiang Zemin, was once Inspector of the Shanghai Municipal Commission of Construction and Administration, a vaguely-defined position that gave Jiang Miankang oversight of land use, demolition, zoning, as well as planning and construction in Shanghai—a highly lucrative portfolio.

The Jiangs, however, have been losing influence in recent years.

In December 2015, Jiang Miankang was dismissed from his Inspector post, and became principal of the Shanghai Urban And Rural Construction And Traffic Development Academy.

In early April, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reported that Jiang had quietly resigned from his latest post and is now in retirement. And Xin Jiping, Jiang’s associate, was officially investigated for corruption a few days after the Journal’s story.

Zheng Enchong believes that Xin being prosecuted shows “very clearly” that Jiang Miankang is in trouble, and that Xi Jinping is “moving step by step closer towards the Jiang faction.”

Jiang Zemin’s faction ran China during his rule (1989-2002) and then exerted outsize influence behind the scenes during that of former Chinese leader Hu Jintao (2003-2012). Many Jiang faction members became immensely wealthy through corruption, and were rewarded with promotions for their pursuit of Jiang’s favored political crusade, the persecution of practitioners of Falun Gong, a traditional Chinese spiritual discipline.

Shortly after taking office, Xi Jinping sought to dislodge Jiang’s faction and consolidate his control over the Chinese regime through an anti-corruption campaign. Although many elite faction members and their associates have been purged, the Jiang faction still appears to wield influence in key regime apparatuses like propaganda and domestic security. With the regime’s “deep state” being swayed by the Jiang faction, the Xi leadership has appeared to be erratic and inconstant in implementing reform-oriented policies.

Zheng Enchong the rights lawyer anticipates the arrest of Jiang Zemin’s two sons, Jiang Miankang and Jiang Mianheng. “Xi Jinping has stripped Jiang’s sons of their official posts, frozen their assets, and now appears to be discrediting them,” he said. “As for how to handle Jiang Zemin, Xi still needs to figure out a tactful and orderly solution.”

Zheng believes that the final take down of Jiang Zemin has already begun. According to Zheng, Hu Jintao had proposed during a high-level internal meeting in April that his and Jiang’s socio-political theories should be removed from the Chinese constitution.

“If that happens,” Zheng said, “then Jiang Zemin will effectively be dead inside the Chinese Communist Party.”

Rona Rui contributed to this article.

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  • Author: <a href="http://www.theepochtimes.com/n3/author/larry-ong/" rel="author">Larry Ong</a>, <a href="http://www.theepochtimes.com/" title="Epoch Times" rel="publisher">Epoch Times</a>
  • Category: General
July 10, 2017

China in ContextChina in Context

Chairman Mao Zedong’s ruthless running of China might have come to a premature end if he had had a less capable right-hand man than Premier Zhou Enlai.

With Zhou around to help consolidate power, purge internal rivals, and play the suave diplomat, Mao stayed influential in the Chinese regime until his death in 1976, despite having overseen politically disastrous campaigns—including the Great Leap Forward, a mass collectivization program that killed tens of millions of Chinese, and the wrecking of China’s five-millennia-old traditions during the Cultural Revolution.

Like Mao, former Communist Party boss Jiang Zemin oversaw policies that, in the time to come, will almost certainly be condemned, such as fostering a culture of corruption and promoting kleptocracy among the Chinese officialdom and launching a brutal persecution campaign against the peaceful practitioners of Falun Gong. Jiang was fortunate to have found a most cunning consigliere in former Party vice-chairman Zeng Qinghong.

Zeng, 77, is Jiang’s longtime confidant, hatchetman, and spymaster. Jiang got to know Zeng in Shanghai, the Chinese metropolis that Jiang headed in the 1980s. Because Zeng was part of the Red aristocracy and had proven to be a very capable political enabler, Jiang decided he must keep Zeng close to him in Beijing when he was appointed as paramount leader by Deng Xiaoping. Jiang was chosen to succeed Zhao Ziyang, the liberal-leaning Party leader, in the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989.

Jiang Zemin. (Minoru Iwasaki-Pool/Getty Images)

Jiang Zemin. (Minoru Iwasaki-Pool/Getty Images)

For nearly two decades, Zeng helped Jiang dispose of problematic political rivals and grow Jiang’s own political faction. Hong Kong became a Jiang bastion after Zeng became overseer of the semi-autonomous city in the early 2000s. Former Party elites like Politburo member Bo Xilai and security czar Zhou Yongkang were widely considered untouchable because of their association with the Jiang faction.

However, the attempted defection of Bo’s right-hand man, Wang Lijun, in 2012 marked the beginning of the end for Jiang’s faction. Given their propensity for malfeasance, members of the Jiang faction became natural targets of the internal police officers tasked with executing Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign.

Speculation that an investigation of Zeng Qinghong was imminent first surfaced in 2014, following the arrest of Zhou Yongkang. Hong Kong magazines started reporting stories of Zeng’s corruption, and Zeng’s senior associates got picked up by anti-corruption investigators.

The Xi leadership appears to be going full throttle for Zeng this year. Zeng’s cronies in the Chinese financial industry have gotten into trouble—think missing billionaire Xiao Jianhua, detained Anbang chairman Wu Xiaohui, and purged deputy state asset regulator Zhang Xiwu. Other lesser cronies have been rounded up as well.

Because Zhou Enlai died eight months before Mao, he never had to worry about preserving his boss’s legacy. Zeng Qinghong, however, will almost certainly have to confess to assisting Jiang’s crimes and witness the crumbling of all that he helped Jiang to achieve.

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  • Author: <a href="http://www.theepochtimes.com/n3/author/larry-ong/" rel="author">Larry Ong</a>, <a href="http://www.theepochtimes.com/" title="Epoch Times" rel="publisher">Epoch Times</a>
  • Category: General

(Don Tse/China Decoding)(Don Tse/China Decoding)

Lin Shangli, a former deputy principal of the prestigious Fudan University in Shanghai, was recently promoted to Secretary-general of the Central Policy Research Office, according to a July 6 notice by the General Office of the State Council of China.

Lin, a former student of Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s top adviser Wang Huning, seems set to play a prominent role in Xi’s new administration after the Chinese Communist Party’s 19th National Congress at the end of the year.

Wang Huning is the director of the Central Policy Research Office and a member of the Politburo. Wang served as top political theoretician to two former Communist Party secretary-generals—Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao—and reprises the role of “Zhongnanhai’s chief strategist” under Xi. To draw an imperfect analogy, what Wang Huning is to Xi Jinping is somewhat similar to what White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon is to President Donald Trump.

Wang is widely tipped for a seat in the seven-man Politburo Standing Committee, the top decision making body in the Chinese regime, at the 19th Congress.

The Central Policy Research Office is responsible for top-level analysis work and policy formulation. The Research Office, or “Zhongnanhai’s Think-tank,” also issues important documents, legislation, reports, and theoretical work.

New Research Office secretary-general Lin Shangli served as Fudan University’s vice-principal in April 2011. In March 2013, Lin concurrently held a professorship at Tongji University.  On May 24, 2016, an official notice indicated that Lin was stepping down as a standing committee member at Fudan University’s school committee; the official notice didn’t indicate if he was taking up a new post.

But Lin’s recent promotion and his serving on a new 27-member State Council committee that oversees educational material suggest that he is in fact being considered a valuable asset by the Xi Jinping administration.

China Decoding believes that Lin’s recent rise to prominence is due to him being the former student of Research Office director Wang Huning when they were both at Fudan University.

In the 1980s, Wang was a Fudan political science and international politics lecturer, and later international politics department head and law school dean. Meanwhile, Lin was doing his undergraduate and doctoral studies in Fudan’s political science and international politics faculty.

After graduation, Lin served on Fudan’s school committee. He later became director of the international politics department, as well as associate dean of Fudan’s School of International Relations and Public Affairs.

Going by their CVs, Lin and Wang almost certainly have a student-teacher relationship, and are also former colleagues. Thus, there is a distinct possibility that Wang was behind Lin’s promotion.

Wang himself appears to be one of Xi Jinping’s most important confidants. For instance, Wang is usually seen by Xi’s side during diplomatic trips. Chinese state-run media often feature photos of Xi with Wang on his right and General Office head Li Zhanshu on his left—a telling sign that Xi considers Wang and Li to be his closest administrators.

China Decoding has observed that Wang is helping Xi set the political direction for the post-19th Congress China—many of Wang’s political views appear to be paving the way for Xis new policies.  

If Wang Huning makes the Politburo Standing Committee at the 19th Congress, he will likely be put in charge of ideological and propaganda work.

There isn’t much information available about the Central Policy Research Office. The Research Office’s top management includes one director, three deputy directors, and one secretary.

The Research Office personnel has been reshuffled multiple times since Xi Jinping took office in 2012.

In 2013, Research Office executive deputy director He Yiting was transferred to the Central Party School to serve as executive vice-principal.

In 2014, Propaganda Department deputy minister Wang Xiaohui was appointed as a deputy director of the Research Office. This year, Wang was promoted to executive deputy director.

In June 2016, Research Office deputy director Jiang Jinquan was made team leader of a Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) team stationed in the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission, the world’s largest controlling company that oversees over a trillion dollars in assets.

In March 2017, Zhang Wei, the Research Office’s office manager, was promoted to Research Office deputy director.

In June 2017, Pan Shengzhou, the deputy director of the Central Reform Office and deputy director of the Central Political Affairs Department, was transferred to head the CCDI inspection team inside the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office.  

In the final analysis, it seems very likely that Xi Jinping had preemptively promoted Lin Shangli to ensure that the Chinese regime’s think-tank continues to be headed by those he can trust after the 19th Congress. Should Wang Huning move up to the Politburo Standing Committee, he would leave vacant the position of Research Office director—and also the ideal successor.

Don Tse is a China expert with China Decoding, an analysis and research company.  

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