Sunday, May 10, 2015

China’s New Security Law: From Slowdown to Crackdown

A distressing move by Beijing reflects anxiety over foreign and domestic failures

You won’t read much about it within China’s borders, but a lot of the peripheral media, including the South China Morning Post, are talking about China’s sweeping new security law:

“William Nee, China researcher at Amnesty International,  said international practice was for national security laws to be drawn ‘narrowly’ and ‘with precision’, referring to specific threats. But this draft would cement many problematic concepts that had little to do with national security, such as maintaining ‘internet sovereignty’ through censorship, promoting socialist core values, defending against ‘unhealthy’ culture, and limiting freedom of religion.

'Over the past 30 years or more, the Chinese government has gradually given more freedom to people in areas of life deemed to be non-sensitive. However, this law seems to be seeking to aggressively reassert control over many aspects of Chinese life in the name of national security,’ he said.

While the draft said ‘socialist rule of law’ principles, human rights, citizen’s rights and freedom should be respected, it lacked checks and balances to safeguard human rights, he said.”

On last Friday’s Monocle Daily podcast, John Everard, former British ambassador to North Korea and regular contributor to the program, has characterized the law as an attempt to extend the legal remit of China’s security apparatus to “interfere in pretty much anything.”

He went on further, describing the new law in part as a reaction to growing restiveness among populations in Tibet, Xinjiang, as well as Han provinces closer to home over issues like corruption and land seizures.

He also said that the government is “really, really nervous that they are starting to lose the confidence of the populace” not only because of recent unrest, but because “the economy is slowing badly, and they are concerned about a rising feeling that they are not keeping their side of the bargain.”

That bargain, an informal one between China’s Communist Party and her people, is loyalty to the party in exchange for continued economic growth. As reported earlier, China has tried to manage people’s expectations in this area, by reporting an incremental decrease which is still around the “magic number” of 7%. That number has been regarded as indicative of the ability to continue creating jobs at the rate the population demands. The problem is that if you look at the three real indicators of Chinese economic growth – rail transport, energy consumption, and bank lending – many argue that the growth rate is really less than 5%, indicating a coming real decline in living standards and jobs availability beyond what could be expected from a “new normal”.

Everard also pointed out that government attempts to assert itself against diplomatic antagonists, such as other aggrieved parties in the South China Sea dispute, plus Japan and the United States, have not turned out as expected. As such, they can’t be counted upon to rally support for the government in the face of economic hardship.

The growth of China in the 21st century on balance is been a good thing, raising millions of people out of poverty, and helping to create a new global middle class which will instinctively demand responsive, democratic government. Given these expectations, one can look forward to a China that becomes a major force for peace over the course of the century. The problem is what happens on the way to getting there. It’s unfortunately quite possible that we are about to enter one of those problem periods.

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