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How Long Can China Keep Pollution Data a State Secret?

How Long Can China Keep Pollution Data a State Secret?

A ChinaFile Conversation

Elizabeth Economy:

The environment is center stage once again in China. A Chinese lawyer has requested the findings of a national survey on soil pollution from the Ministry of Environmental Protection and been denied on the grounds that the information is a state secret. (The government had previously announced that 10 percent of China’s farmland was contaminated, but no details were provided.) The public and media are now pressing the Ministry to reverse its decision.

Why the secrecy? To begin with, the Chinese government’s initial reaction to almost any request for information is to say no. It is simply reflexive on Beijing’s part. Second, to provide details on the types, levels, and location of soil contamination throughout the country would inevitably cause serious financial hardship to farmers, who may be knowingly or unknowingly selling tainted produce, force an entire countrywide evaluation of the likely pollution sources for the contamination, and cause a widespread public health outcry Third, remediating contaminated soil on such a large scale is a costly, time-consuming, challenging project. No doubt the Ministry of Environmental Protection would like to figure out how it might begin the process and develop a plan to do so before it is forced to respond to public anger.

One potentially positive sign: there are rumors that one of the current Vice-Ministers of the Environment, Pan Yue, will be appointed Minister at the upcoming National People’s Congress. This would be a substantial step forward. Pan—who has been kept out of the public eye for the past several years—has been a champion of transparency. A number of years ago, he pushed an initiative to adopt a Green GDP, which was designed to estimate the economic costs associated with China’s environmental pollution and degradation. The effort failed due to the recalcitrance of local provincial officials, as well as the disinterest of the environment agency’s partner, the National Bureau of Statistics. Pan is also outspoken in his support of non-governmental organizations and willingness to cooperate with them.

In the end, I think the information will be released. There is little justification to protect data on soil contamination, when the Ministry has already acknowledged the right of the people to have access to air quality statistics. More importantly, I think this is just the beginning. The “public’s right to know” along with the Internet are likely to be the two great transformative political processes of the next three to five years.

Responses

Orville Schell

Orville Schell is the Arthur Ross Director of the Center on U.S.-China Relations at the Asia Society in New York. He is a former professor and Dean at the University of California, Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. Schell is the author of fifteen books, ten of them about China, and a contributor to numerous edited volumes. His most recent books are Wealth and Power: China's Long March to the Twenty-first Century (Random House, 2013) (co-authored with John Delury), Virtual Tibet: Searching for Shangri-La from the Himalayas to Hollywood (Metropolitan Books, 2000), The China Reader: The Reform Years (Vintage, 1998), and Mandate of Heaven: The Legacy of Tiananmen Square and the Next Generation of China's Leaders (Simon & Schuster, 1994). He is also a contributor to such magazines as The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New York Times Magazine, The Nation, The Los Angeles Times Magazine, Granta, Wired, Newsweek, Mother Jones, The China Quarterly, and The New York Review of Books.Schell graduated Magna Cum Laude from Harvard University in Far Eastern History, was an exchange student at National Taiwan University in the 1960s, and earned a Ph.D. (Abd) at the University of California, Berkeley in Chinese History. He worked for the Ford Foundation in Indonesia, covered the war in Indochina as a journalist, and has traveled widely in China since the mid-1970s.He is a Fellow at the Weatherhead East Asian Institute at Columbia University, a Senior Fellow at the Annenberg School of Communications at USC, and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Schell was a Fellow at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism and the recipient of many prizes and fellowships, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Overseas Press Club Award, and the Harvard-Stanford Shorenstein Prize in Asian Journalism.

How do we explain a situation in which a country is, on the one hand, suffocating from toxic air pollution, toxic soil, drinking water laced with poisonous chemicals and food that is adulterated, while on the other hand is actively attempting to hide the government findings that might expose the problem and lead to a remedy?

Of course, such contradictions are not unknown in the world at-large, especially where governments are involved. But in contemplating China, we run into a somewhat unique situation. As Justice Louis Brandeis famously noted, “Sunlight is said to be the best disinfectant.” In China we have a country with a long history of both Confucianism and then Marxism-Leninism, two political traditions whose predominant ideologies were consecrated not to “sunlight,” but to re-enforcing the infallibility and authority of the state and its leaders. In both instances the institutions of education and media, such as they were, were viewed not as independent actors whose goals were to uncover truth, but rather handmaidens of the state and adjuncts to state power.

Thus, what we are witnessing today when China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection refuses to grant a lawyer’s request for government-generated information on the grounds that these are “state secrets” is an expression of one part of China’s now deeply divided self which is in contention with the another. These two contradictory aspects of Chinese society-in-the-process-of-self-reinvention might be described as the “old” vs “the new”: as the retrograde impulse never to release any information that makes the state look bad colliding with the new impulse that was encouraged by Deng Xiaoping with his annunciation of the need “to seek truth from facts” which has been updated by the more recent notion of “scientific development.”

The truth is that both China’s ideological framework and its political system are locked in a state of eternal transition (and tension), making the country perhaps the least “resolved” nation of consequence on the planet today. While every nation must embrace myriad contradictions, China’s lack of foundational beliefs, or of even a confirmed political system, when coupled with its eternal state of reform, makes it very vulnerable to this kind of mind-boggling contrariness. But, what it bespeaks is of a country and society in a very profound, long-term state of destabilizing transition, one that cannot really be understood unless one is able to maintain equal and opposite forces as happening simultaneously in one’s head at the same time.

Under such a circumstance, it is hardly surprising that the release of potentially embarrassing environmental information that protects people’s health and saves people’s lives, which has become the official rule-of-the road in China on the one hand, still collides with the old abiding and very retrograde, impulse to control and censor information that risks making the state and Party look bad.

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke is a professor at the George Washington University Law School in Washington, D.C., where he specializes in modern Chinese law, focusing particularly on corporate governance, Chinese legal institutions, and the legal issues presented by China’s economic reforms. He has previously been on the law faculties of the University of Washington School of Law and the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, and has been a visiting professor at Duke Law School, New York University School of Law, and the UCLA School of Law. In addition to his academic work, he founded and maintains Chinalaw, the leading internet listserv on Chinese law, and writes the Chinese Law Prof Blog. He was educated at Princeton University (A.B.) and the University of London (M.Sc.), and received his law degree (J.D.) from Harvard Law School, where he was a member of the Harvard Law Review. He has served as a consultant on Chinese law matters to a number of organizations, including the Financial Sector Reform and Strengthening Initiative (FIRST), the Asian Development Bank, and the Agency for International Development. He is a member of the New York bar and the Council on Foreign Relations.

How long can China keep pollution data a state secret? The very fact that we can ask this question – that the answer is not obviously “As long as the government wants” – tells us something interesting about recent legal and political developments in China. And it sheds new light on the old question, “Does law matter in China?”

The Caixin web site recently reported that Lawyer Dong Zhengwei made a request to the Ministry of the Environment under the "Regulations on Open Government Information" that its data on soil pollution be made public. In response, the MOE stated that the information could not be released as it was a state secret.

The substance of this story is no surprise. Of course the government does not want to release this information. But think about how this scenario would have played out not so many years ago: (1) Lawyer requests information. (2) No response. And this could have happened whether or not there were regulations on open government information.

Instead, the existence of these regulations combined with a shift in what for want of a better term we might call legal culture has meant that the MOE apparently feels the need to respond in some way. It has to come up with a justification for not revealing the data. And that means it has to put itself in the embarrassing position of lamely claiming that this information is a state secret, implying that releasing it would somehow harm national interests.

Let's make two assumptions: (1) an action based on an explicit rationale is easier to criticize than one for which no rationale is supplied; and (2) government officials and agencies would, all other things being equal, prefer not to put themselves in the position of exposing themselves to criticism. If you buy those two assumptions, then at the margin we should expect to see more information being made available as a result of the regulations.

In other words, this law matters not because there is some institution out there (for example, courts) that can force the government to reveal information, but because the very procedure, even if it results in an effectively unreviewable decision not to disclose, puts some pressure on government to operate differently from the way in which it has operated in the past.

We see exactly this kind of pressure operating here. The very existence of the law on open government information, without changing in any way the government’s arbitrary power to designate information as a state secret, has nevertheless changed things and made it meaningful to ask how long the government can keep this particular data secret.

Susan Shirk

Susan L. Shirk is the chair of the 21st Century China Program and Ho Miu Lam Professor of China and Pacific Relations at the School of International Relations and Pacific Studies (IR/PS) at UC San Diego.  She also is director emeritus of the UC Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation. Currently she is an Arthur Ross Fellow at Asia Society’s Center on U.S.-China Relations.From 1997 to 2000, Shirk served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of East Asia and Pacific Affairs, with responsibility for China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Mongolia.Shirk’s most recent publications are her edited book, Changing Media, Changing China (Oxford, 2011) and China: Fragile Superpower (Oxford, 2007).

Some may find it strange that the official state media is out front lambasting the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) for hiding of soil pollution survey data.   What’s happening is that the competition from commercial media and Internet is forcing state media to change too. The official publications are trying to expand their audience by shoring up their fraying credibility.     Hard-hitting criticism of the government is the way to sound more credible to the public. You can see this effort particularly in the weibo microblogs that the Communist Party central mouthpiece, People’s Daily has started posting.   The sharply critical tone is light years away from the dull defensive officialese of the print newspaper.   

Global Times is a commercial publication focused on international affairs that is part of the People’s Daily media group.    Beginning in the 1990s it attracted a huge audience by publishing exciting stories that dramatize foreign threats and stoke anti-foreign nationalism.    But now it is facing competition too.   And some young Netizens are questioning whether Global Times’ steady diet of hyper nationalism is simply the way the Party is trying to distract them from the serious domestic problems in their own backyard.  That’s why Global Times, led by its editor, Hu Xijin who has become a lightning rod for the debate over nationalism has started to post weibo criticizing the government about domestic problems.

The commercialization of the media -- and its challenge to the credibility of information provided by the official media and the government itself -- also drove the Chinese Communist Party to embrace of the norm of transparency, which is articulated in the Open Government Information Regulations that were enacted in May 2008.   This law is the basis for Mr. Dong Zhengwei’s request for the MEP to release the soil pollution data. I’d bet a lot that the new leadership will overrule the MEP and require it to release the data; the only question is whether they do it right away on the eve of the important National People’s Congress meeting about to open or shortly afterward. 

Isabel Hilton

Isabel Hilton is a London-based international journalist and broadcaster. She studied at the Beijing Foreign Language and Culture University and at Fudan University in Shanghai before taking up a career in written and broadcast journalism, working for The Sunday Times, The Independent, The Guardian, and the New Yorker. In 1992 she became a presenter of the BBC’s flagship news program, “The World Tonight,” then BBC Radio Three’s cultural program “Night Waves.” She is a columnist for The Guardian and her work has appeared in the Financial Times, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Granta, the New Statesman, El Pais, Index on Censorship, and many other publications. She is the author and co-auothor of several books and is founder and editor of chinadialogue.net, a non-profit, fully bilingual online publication based in London, Beijing, and Delhi that focuses on the environment and climate change. Hilton holds two honorary doctorates and was awarded the OBE for her work in raising environmental awareness in China.

There are two tendencies at war here: the one that has been pushing for transparency and the public right to know, and the one that prefers to classify potentially embarrassing information as a state secret. This is a serious conflict which plays out in confusing results. The progressive group, in which Pan Yue played such an important part, succeeded in 2008 in getting Measures on Open Environmental Information (for Trial Implementation) Pan Yue himself, before he had to retreat into purdah, held the famous public hearings on the environmental impact of the proposed Old Summer Palace lake to demonstrate that public consultation and discussion was essential if good decisions were to result.

Since then, there has been a lot of progress, but it is patchy. Some city governments set up websites and publish environmental data as a matter of routine that would have been nigh impossible to get only five years ago. At the same time, there has been a lot of push back, notably over the refusal to publish EIAs on controversial dam projects and the repeated controversies over air quality data in Beijing, recently reprised in the great smog.

Soil pollution, for all the reasons that Elizabeth outlines, is especially sensitive: like air and water pollution, it has direct consequences for public health, but because it affects the food chain these can go much wider than local impacts. Four years ago, chinadialogue attempted to research the health impacts of pollution in Dongguan, including the impacts of soil pollution. We encountered repeated refusals to give us access to essential data: what were the pollutants; where was the soil contaminated; how badly and so on. It was possible to get hold of data at provincial level, but not possible to get the kind of detail that would allow us to relate it to local contamination or local impacts.

The many ways in which this data was refused are described in the report we produced. Then, as now, the health impacts of China’s pollution crisis come into the category of information that the government does not want the citizens to know.

The controversy over PM2.5 in December 2011, the recent public outcry over Beijing’s smog and the high nitrogen levels in air and water pollution, can be read as progress. In the recent smog episode, even normally compliant media criticized official reluctance to produce honest data and complained that is damaged the relationship of trust between the citizen and the government. The government now does publish PM2.5 data and the challenge of hand held testing devices in the hands of ordinary citizens is forcing transparency in practice as well as on paper. It is not hard to imagine that similar citizen testing of soil could force the authorities to respond positively.

But that will be decided by the new administration that will be confirmed in the upcoming NPC. Surely this timing is one factor in the public spat now over the right to information. The media are responding, as they now must, to public anger; they are also lining up with those who wish the new government to move in the right direction.

After all, information both guides action and, in the hands of the citizens, obliges the government to act. That means taking on big vested interests and, if not changing the industrial model, at least enforcing the many rules and regulations that currently languish in neglect. It might even make the case for the rule of law. It is, potentially, a pivotal moment.

Elizabeth Economy is the C.V. Starr Senior Fellow and Director for Asia studies at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). The author of The River Runs Black: The Environmental Challenge to China’s...
Orville Schell is the Arthur Ross Director of the Center on U.S.-China Relations at the Asia Society in New York. He is a former professor and Dean at the University of California, Berkeley Graduate...
Donald Clarke is a professor at the George Washington University Law School in Washington, D.C., where he specializes in modern Chinese law, focusing particularly on corporate governance, Chinese ...
Susan L. Shirk is the chair of the 21st Century China Program and Ho Miu Lam Professor of China and Pacific Relations at the School of International Relations and Pacific Studies (IR/PS) at UC San...
Isabel Hilton is a London-based international journalist and broadcaster. She studied at the Beijing Foreign Language and Culture University and at Fudan University in Shanghai before taking up a...

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Is This the Best Response to China’s Cyber-Attacks? 

Robert Daly, Chen Weihua & more
<p>On Monday, the United States Attorney General Eric Holder&nbsp;<a href="http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/05/19/us-accuses-china-of-cyber-espionage/9273019/" target="_blank">accused China of...

Conversation

05.09.14

The China-Vietnam Standoff: How Will It End?

Daniel Kliman, Ely Ratner & more
<p><em>Daniel Kliman:</em></p><p>Five thousand miles from Ukraine, off the coast of Vietnam, China is taking a page from Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s playbook. Beijing’s recent placement of a huge oil drilling rig in...

Conversation

05.07.14

How is China Doing in Africa?

Tendai Musakwa, Kathleen McLaughlin & more
<p><em>On his current weeklong tour of Ethiopia, Nigeria, Angola, and Kenya, Premier Li Keqiang announced a new $12 billion aid package intended to address China’s “growing pains” in Africa. China is by turns lauded for bringing...

Conversation

04.30.14

Will China’s Economy Be #1 by Dec. 31? (And Does it Matter?)

William Adams, Damien Ma & more
<p><em>On April 30, <a href="http://icp.worldbank.org/" target="_blank">data</a> released by the United Nations International Comparison Program showed China’s estimated 2011 purchasing power parity (PPP)...

Conversation

04.22.14

What Obama Should Say About China in Japan

Yuki Tatsumi, Ely Ratner & more
<p><em>On Wednesday, Barack Obama will land in Tokyo beginning a week-long trip to four of China's neighbors—but not to China itself.</em></p><p><em>In Obama’s stops in Tokyo, Seoul, Manila, and Kuala Lampur...

Conversation

04.12.14

China, Japan, and the U.S.—Will Cooler Heads Prevail?

Ely Ratner, Hugh White & more
<p><em>U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel's whirlwind tour of China this week saw a <a href="http://johnib.wordpress.com/2014/04/09/u-s-china-defense-chiefs-trade-barbs-china-accuses-the-philippines-of-illegally-occupying...

Conversation

04.06.14

Spy Vs. Spy: When is Cyberhacking Crossing the Line?

Vincent Ni, Chen Weihua & more
<p><em>Vincent Ni: </em>For a long time, Huawei has been accused by some American politicians of “spying on Americans for the Chinese government,” but their evidence has always been sketchy. They played on fear and possibility. I...

Conversation

03.26.14

The Bloomberg Fallout: Where Does Journalism in China Go from Here?

Chen Weihua, Dorinda Elliott & more
<p><em>On Monday, March 24, a thirteen-year veteran of Bloomberg News, <a href="http://sinosphere.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/03/25/ex-bloomberg-editor-tells-why-he-left/?_php=true&amp;_type=blogs&amp;ref=world&amp;_r=0...

Conversation

03.19.14

What Should Michelle Obama Accomplish on Her Trip to China?

Orville Schell, Vincent Ni & more
<p><em>Orville Schell:&nbsp; </em>Looking at the challenges of rectifying U.S.-China relations and building some semblance of the "new kind of a big power relationship" alluded to by presidents <a href="http...

Conversation

03.10.14

Should China Support Russia in the Ukraine?

Alexander V. Pantsov, Alexander Lukin & more
<p><em>Alexander V. Pantsov:</em> The Chinese Communist Party leadership has always maintained: “China believes in non-interference in internal affairs.” In the current Ukrainian situation it is the most we can expect from the P.R...

Conversation

03.02.14

A Racist Farewell to Outgoing U.S. Ambassador Gary Locke

Kaiser Kuo, Hyeon-Ju Rho & more
<p><em>Reacting to departing U.S. Ambassador Gary Locke’s February 27 <a href="http://www.nbcnews.com/id/54513468/ns/world_news-asia_pacific/t/us-envoy-stresses-human-rights-china-farewell-speech/" target="_blank"...

Conversation

02.27.14

How Responsible Are Americans for China’s Pollution Problem?

David Vance Wagner, Alex Wang & more
<p><em>David Vance Wagner</em>: China’s latest “airpocalypse” has again sent air pollution in Beijing <a href="http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/china/2014-02/24/c_133138773.htm" target="_blank">soaring...

Conversation

02.22.14

What Can the Dalai Lama’s White House Visit Actually Accomplish?

Isabel Hilton, Donald Clarke & more
<p><em>On February 21, the Dalai Lama visited United States President Barack Obama in the White House over the objections of the Chinese government. Beijing labels the exiled spiritual leader a "wolf in sheep's clothing"...

Conversation

02.19.14

China in ‘House of Cards’

Steven Jiang, Donald Clarke & more
<p>China figures heavily in the second season of the Netflix series <em>House of Cards</em>, but how accurately does the show portray U.S.-China relations? Steven Jiang, a journalist for CNN in Beijing, binged-watched all thirteen...

Conversation

02.13.14

Are Ethnic Tensions on the Rise in China?

Enze Han, James Palmer & more
<p><em>On December 31, President Xi Jinping <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QobjqUTdahQ" target="_blank">appeared</a> on CCTV and extended his “New Year’s wishes to Chinese of all ethnic groups.”...

Conversation

02.05.14

What Should the U.S. Do about China’s Barring Foreign Reporters?

Nicholas Lemann, Michel Hockx & more
<p><em>Last week, the White House said it was <a href="http://www.poynter.org/latest-news/mediawire/237720/white-house-very-disappointed-nyt-reporter-was-forced-to-leave-china/" target="_blank">“very...

Conversation

01.27.14

China’s Offshore Leaks: So What?

Paul Gillis & Robert Kapp
<p><em>Two recent stories by the <a href="http://www.icij.org/" target="_blank">International Consortium of Investigative Journalists</a> detailed China’s elite funneling money out of China to tax havens...

Conversation

01.21.14

Time to Escalate? Should the U.S. Make China Uncomfortable?

Edward Friedman, Geoff Dyer & more
<p><em>How should the United States respond to China’s new level of assertiveness in the Asia Pacific? In the past few months as Beijing has stepped up territorial claims around China's maritime borders—and in <a href="http...

Conversation

01.06.14

Will Xi Jinping Bring a Positive New Day to China?

Paul Mooney, Andrew J. Nathan & more
<p><em>Chinese President Xi Jinping, just over a year in office, recently made a rare appearance in public in a Beijing restaurant, <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nVKD9Bs-7Fg" target="_blank">buying a...

Conversation

12.17.13

Why Is China Purging Its Former Top Security Chief, Zhou Yongkang?

Pin Ho & Richard McGregor
<p><em>Pin Ho:</em></p><p>[Zhou Yongkang’s downfall] is the second chapter of the “Bo Xilai Drama”—a drama begun at the 18th Party Congress. The Party’s power transition has been secret and has lacked convincing...

Conversation

12.07.13

Will China Shut Out the Foreign Press?

Winston Lord, Paul Mooney & more
Some two dozen journalists employed by The New York Times and Bloomberg News have not yet received the visas they need to continue to report and live in China after the end of this year. Without them, they will effectively be expelled from the...

Conversation

12.03.13

What Posture Should Joe Biden Adopt Toward A Newly Muscular China?

Susan Shirk
<p><em>Susan Shirk:</em></p><p>United States Vice President Joseph Biden is the American political figure who has spent the most time with Xi Jinping and has the deepest understanding of Xi as an individual. Before Xi’s...

Conversation

11.27.13

Why’s the U.S. Flying Bombers Over the East China Sea?

Chen Weihua, James Fallows & more
<p><em>Chen Weihua:</em></p><p>The Air Defense Identification Zone (<a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-25062525" target="_blank">ADIZ</a>) is not a Chinese invention. The...

Conversation

11.24.13

What Should the Next U.S. Ambassador to China Tackle First?

Mary Kay Magistad & Robert Kapp
<p><em>Mary Kay Magistad:</em> Gary Locke succeeded in a way that few U.S. ambassadors to China have—in improving public perceptions of U.S. culture.&nbsp; Locke’s down-to-earth approachability and lack of ostentation certainly...

Conversation

11.19.13

What Will the Beginning of the End of the One-Child Policy Bring?

Leta Hong Fincher, Vincent Ni & more
<p><em>Leta Hong Fincher:</em></p><p>The Communist Party’s announcement that it will loosen the one-child policy is, of course, welcome news. Married couples will be allowed to have two children if only one of the...

Conversation

11.12.13

Spiked in China?

John Garnaut, Sidney Rittenberg & more
<p>Last weekend,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/09/world/asia/bloomberg-news-is-said-to-curb-articles-that-might-anger-china.html" target="_blank"><em>The New York Times</em></a>...

Conversation

10.30.13

Trial By TV: What Does a Reporter’s Arrest and Confession Tell Us About Chinese Media?

Wang Feng & Jeremy Goldkorn
<p><em>The latest ChinaFile Conversation focuses on the case of Chen Yongzhou, the Guangzhou New Express journalist whose series of investigative reports exposed fraud at the Changsha, Hunan-based heavy machinery maker <a href="...

Conversation

10.25.13

Can State-Run Capitalism Absorb the Shocks of ‘Creative Destruction’?

Barry Naughton, Shai Oster & more
<p><em>Following are ChinaFile Conversation participants’ reactions to <a href="http://nationalinterest.org/article/china-superpower-or-superbust-9269?page=1" target="_blank">“China: Superpower or Superbust?”...

Conversation

10.22.13

Why’s China’s Smog Crisis Still Burning So Hot?

Alex Wang, Isabel Hilton & more
<p><em>Alex Wang:</em></p><p>On Sunday, the start of the winter heating season in northern China brought the <a href="http://www.chinafile.com/airpocalypse-now-china-tipping-point" target="_blank...

Conversation

10.16.13

Uncomfortable Bedfellows: How Much Does China Need America Now?

Bill Bishop, David Schlesinger & more
<p><em>Bill Bishop:</em></p><p>The D.C. dysfunction puts China in a difficult place. Any financial markets turmoil that occurs because of a failure of Congress to do its job could harm China’s economy, and especially...

Conversation

10.10.13

CCTV Network News Broadcast

<p>Following is a transcript of the network news <a href="http://news.cntv.cn/2013/10/01/VIDE1380638280415972.shtml%20" target="_blank">broadcast</a> of China Central Television on September 30, 2013:</p>...

Conversation

10.08.13

Obama’s Canceled Trip to Asia: How Much Did It Matter?

Winston Lord, Susan Shirk & more
<p><em>Last week as the U.S. Federal Government shut down, President Obama canceled his planned trip to Indonesia and Brunei, where he was to have attended the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Bali. Some foreign policy...

Conversation

10.07.13

Why Is Xi Jinping Promoting Self-Criticism?

Stephen C. Angle & Taisu Zhang
<p>Critics both within and without China have suggested that Xi Jinping’s promotion of self-criticism by Communist Party cadres has at least two motives: it promotes the appearance of concern with lax discipline while avoiding deeper reform,...

Conversation

09.27.13

Can China’s Leading Indie Film Director Cross Over in America?

Jonathan Landreth, Michael Berry & more
<p><em>Jonathan Landreth:</em></p><p>Chinese writer and director Jia Zhangke’s <em>A Touch of Sin</em> won the prize for the best screenplay at the Cannes Film Festival in May. Though the dialogue and its...

Conversation

09.24.13

A Shark Called Wanda—Will Hollywood Swallow the Chinese Dream Whole?

Stanley Rosen, Jonathan Landreth & more
<p><em>Stanley Rosen:</em></p><p>Wang Jianlin, who personally doesn’t know much about film, made a splash when he <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-05-21/china-s-wanda-group-to-buy-amc-cinema-chain-for...

Conversation

09.17.13

What’s Behind China’s Recent Internet Crackdown?

Xiao Qiang, John Garnaut & more
<p><em>Last weekend, Charles Xue Manzi, a Chinese American multi-millionaire investor and opinion leader on one of China’s most popular microblogs, <a href="http://news.cntv.cn/2013/09/15/VIDE1379202482346211.shtml?utm_source=The...

Conversation

09.13.13

What Can China and Japan Do to Start Anew?

Paula S. Harrell & Chen Weihua
<p><em>Paula S. Harrell:</em></p><p>While the media keeps its eye on the ongoing Diaoyu/Senkaku islands dispute, <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/sep/10/japan-workers-disputed-islands-china"...

Conversation

09.09.13

What Are Chinese Attitudes Toward a U.S. Strike in Syria?

Chen Weihua, Vincent Ni & more
<p><em>Chen Weihua:<br /></em></p><p>Chinese truly believe that there is no military solution to the Syrian crisis. On the contrary, a U.S. air strike would only worsen the situation there. Chinese have seen many...

Conversation

09.05.13

To Reform or Not Reform?—Echoes of the Late Qing Dynasty

Orville Schell, John Delury & more
<p><em>Orville Schell:</em><br /><br />It is true that China is no longer beset by threats of foreign incursion nor is it a laggard in the world of economic development and trade. But being there and being steeped in an...

Conversation

08.28.13

Beijing, Why So Tense?

Andrew J. Nathan, Isabel Hilton & more
<p><em>Andrew Nathan:</em><br /><br />I think of the Chinese leaders as holding a plant spritzer and dousing sparks that are jumping up all around them.&nbsp; Mao made the famous remark, “A single spark can start a...

Conversation

08.21.13

Is Xi Jinping Redder Than Bo Xilai Or Vice Versa?

Michael Anti & Shai Oster
<p><em>Michael Anti:</em></p><p><strong>Competing for Redness: The Scarlet Bo vs the Vermilion Xi?</strong></p><p>Bo Xilai, the fallen Chinese princeling famous for leading a “Red Songs”...

Conversation

08.15.13

What Should China Do to Reverse its Tourism Deficit?

Leah Thompson, Damien Ma & more
<p>Recent news stories and industry studies show that fewer international visitors are choosing China as their destination. January-June <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/14/world/asia/china-foreign-tourism-falls-and-smog-may-be-...

Conversation

08.07.13

What Will Come out of the Communist Party’s Polling the People Online?

David Wertime, Duncan Clark & more
<p><em>David Wertime:</em></p><p>Simon Denyer’s recent article (<a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/in-china-government-mines-public-opinion/2013/08/02/33358026-f2b5-11e2-ae43-b31dc363c3bf_story.html?...

Conversation

08.01.13

How Dangerous Are Sino-Japanese Tensions?

Jerome A. Cohen
<p>Sino-Japanese relations do not look promising at the moment. Obviously, the Diaoyu-Senkaku dispute is not the only factor in play but it does focus nationalist passions on both sides. Yet both countries are capable of wiser conduct if their...

Conversation

07.30.13

Is Business in China Getting Riskier, Or Are Multinationals Taking More Risks?

Arthur R. Kroeber, David Schlesinger & more
<p><em>Arthur Kroeber:</em></p><p>The environment for foreign companies in China has been getting steadily tougher since 2006, when the nation came to the end of a five-year schedule of market-opening measures it...

Conversation

07.25.13

The Bo Xilai Trial: What’s It Really About?

Jerome A. Cohen, Andrew J. Nathan & more
<p><a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/07/25/us-china-politics-bo-idUSBRE96O01U20130725" target="_blank">China has charged disgraced senior politician Bo Xilai</a> with bribery, abuse of power and...

Conversation

07.23.13

What Would a Hard Landing in China Mean for the World?

Barry Naughton, James McGregor & more
<p><em>Barry Naughton:</em></p><p>Paul Krugman in a recent post (<a href="http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/07/20/how-much-should-we-worry-about-a-china-shock/" target="_blank">“How Much...

Conversation

07.18.13

Xu Zhiyong Arrested: How Serious Can Beijing Be About Political Reform?

Donald Clarke, Andrew J. Nathan & more
<p><em>Donald Clarke:</em></p><p>When I heard that Xu Zhiyong had just been detained, my first thought was, “Again?” This seems to be something the authorities do every time they get nervous, a kind of political Alka...

Conversation

07.16.13

What’s the Senate’s Beef with China’s Play for American Pork?

Arthur R. Kroeber, Steve Dickinson & more
<p><span style="font-size: 13.3333339691162px; line-height: 1.538em;">Last week the U.S. Senate held hearings to question the CEO of meat-producer Smithfield Farms, about the proposed $4.7 billion sale of the Virginia-based...

Conversation

07.09.13

What Is the “Chinese Dream” Really All About?

Stein Ringen, Jeremy Goldkorn & more
<p><em>Stein Ringen</em><em>:</em></p><p>I’m coming to the view that the ‘Chinese Dream’ is a signal from the leadership of great import that has much to say about the nature of the Chinese state. It is...

Conversation

07.03.13

How Would Accepting Gay Culture Change China?

Fei Wang & Steven Jiang
<p><em>Last week's <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2013/06/26/us/annotated-supreme-court-decision-on-doma.html" target="_blank">U.S. Supreme Court decision</a> to strike down the core...

Conversation

06.27.13

Is Xi Jinping’s Fight Against Corruption For Real?

Roderick MacFarquhar, Winston Lord & more
<p><em>Roderick MacFarquhar:</em></p><p>Xi Jinping’s overriding aim is the preservation of Communist party rule in China, as he made clear in speeches shortly after his elevation to be China’s senior leader. &nbsp;...

Conversation

06.25.13

How Badly Have Snowden’s Leaks Hurt U.S.-China Relations?

Matt Schiavenza
<p><em>Matt Schiavenza:</em></p><p>In the understatement of the day, the United States is unhappy with the recent developments of the Edward Snowden situation. Just three days ago, Washington was in negotiations with...

Conversation

06.21.13

How Should the World Prepare for a Slower China?

Arthur R. Kroeber & Patrick Chovanec
<p><strong>Get Ready for a Slower China</strong><br /><br />The recent gyrations on the Chinese interbank market underscore that the chief risk to global growth now comes from China. Make no mistake: credit policy will...

Conversation

06.18.13

What’s Right or Wrong with This Chinese Stance on Edward Snowden?

Shai Oster & Steve Dickinson
<p><em>For today’s ChinaFile Conversation we asked contributors to react to the following excerpt from an <a href="http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/789238.shtml">op-ed published on Monday June 17 in the</a><a...

Conversation

06.13.13

Who’d You Rather Be Watched By: China or the U.S.?

Tai Ming Cheung, Andrew J. Nathan & more
<p><em>Reports of U.S. gathering data on emails and phone calls have stoked fears of an over-reaching government spying on its citizens. Chinese artist <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jun/11/nsa-surveillance...

Conversation

06.11.13

What’s the Best Way to Advance Human Rights in the U.S.-China Relationship?

Nicholas Bequelin, Sharon Hom & more
<p><em>Nicholas Bequelin:</em></p><p>The best way to advance human rights in the U.S.-China relationship is first and foremost to recognize that the engine of human rights progress in China today is the Chinese...

Conversation

06.06.13

What Would the Best U.S.-China Joint Statement Say?

Winston Lord, Orville Schell & more
<p><em>As we approach the June 7-8 meeting in California of U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping we are holding a small contest. We have asked ChinaFile Conversation regulars and a few guests to envision their...

Conversation

06.04.13

How Would Facing Its Past Change China’s Future?

David Wertime, Isabel Hilton & more
<p><em>David Wertime:</em></p><p>The memory of the 1989 massacre of protesters at Tiananmen Square remains neither alive nor dead, neither reckoned nor obliterated. Instead, it hangs spectre-like in the background, a...

Conversation

05.29.13

What Should Obama and Xi Accomplish at Their California Summit?

Susan Shirk, Orville Schell & more
<p><em>Susan Shirk:</em></p><p>It’s an excellent idea for President Obama and President Xi to spend two days of quality time together at a private retreat in Southern California. Past meetings between Chinese and...

Conversation

05.23.13

China and the Other Asian Giant: Where are Relations with India Headed?

Michael Kulma, Mark Frazier & more
<p><em>Mike Kulma:</em></p><p>Earlier this week at an Asia Society forum on U.S.-China economic relations, Dr. Henry Kissinger remarked that when the U.S. first started down the path of normalizing relations with China...

Conversation

05.21.13

U.S.-China Economic Relations—What Will the Next Decade Bring?

Orville Schell & Patrick Chovanec
<p><em>On Monday, within hours of the announcement that <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/05/20/us-usa-china-obama-idUSBRE94J0UQ20130520" target="_blank">Chinese President Xi Jinping will meet U.S...

Conversation

05.16.13

China: What’s Going Right?

Michael Zhao, James Fallows & more
<p><em>Michael Zhao:</em><br /><br />On a recent trip to China, meeting mostly with former colleagues at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, I got a dose of optimism and hope for one aspect of the motherland. In terms of...

Conversation

05.14.13

Why Can’t China Make Its Food Safe?—Or Can It?

Alex Wang, John C. Balzano & more
<p>The month my wife and I moved to Beijing in 2004, I saw a bag of oatmeal at our local grocery store prominently labeled: “NOT POLLUTED!” How funny that this would be a selling point, we thought.</p><p>But 7 years later as we...

Conversation

05.10.13

What’s China’s Game in the Middle East?

Rachel Beitarie, Massoud Hayoun & more
<p><em>Rachel Beitarie:</em></p><p>Xi Jinping’s four point proposal for a Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement is interesting not so much for its content, as for its source. While China has maintained the appearance of...

Conversation

05.07.13

Why Is a 1995 Poisoning Case the Top Topic on Chinese Social Media?

Rachel Lu, Andrew J. Nathan & more
<p>With a population base of 1.3 billion people, China has no shortage of strange and gruesome crimes, but the attempted murder of Zhu Ling by thallium poisoning in 1995 is burning up China’s social media long after the trails have gone cold...

Conversation

05.02.13

Does Promoting “Core Interests” Do China More Harm Than Good?

Stephanie T. Kleine-Ahlbrandt, Susan Shirk & more
<p><em>On April 30, as tensions around China’s claims to territories in the South- and East China Seas continued to simmer, we began what proved to be a popular ChinaFile Conversation, asking the question, <a href="http://www...

Conversation

04.30.13

What’s Really at the Core of China’s “Core Interests”?

Shai Oster, Andrew J. Nathan & more
<p><em>Shai</em> <em>Oster</em>:</p><p>It’s Pilates diplomacy—work on your core. China’s diplomats keep talking about China’s core interests and it’s a growing list. In 2011, China included its political...

Conversation

04.25.13

Hollywood in China—What’s the Price of Admission?

Jonathan Landreth, Ying Zhu & more
<p>Last week, DreamWorks Animation (DWA), the Hollywood studio behind the worldwide blockbuster <em>Kung Fu Panda</em> films, announced that it will cooperate with the China Film Group (CFG) on an animated feature called <em>...

Conversation

04.23.13

How Would You Spend (the Next) $300 Million on U.S.-China Relations?

Orville Schell & Michael Kulma
<p><em>Orville Schell</em>:</p><p>When Stephen A. Schwarzman announced his new <a href="http://www.businessinsider.com/schwarzman-scholars-in-china-2013-4" target="_blank">$300 million program...

Conversation

04.18.13

How Fast Is China’s Slowdown Coming, and What Should Beijing Do About It?

Patrick Chovanec, Barry Naughton & more
<p>Slower Chinese GDP growth is not a bad thing if it’s happening for the right reasons. But it’s not happening for the right reasons.</p><p>Instead of reining in credit to try to curb over-investment, Chinese authorities have...

Conversation

04.16.13

Why is China Still Messing with the Foreign Press?

Andrew J. Nathan, Isabel Hilton & more
<p>To those raised in the Marxist tradition, nothing in the media happens by accident.&nbsp; In China, the flagship newspapers are still the “throat and tongue” of the ruling party, and their work is directed by the Party’s Propaganda...

Conversation

04.11.13

Why Is Chinese Soft Power Such a Hard Sell?

Jeremy Goldkorn, Donald Clarke & more
<p><em>Jeremy Goldkorn:</em></p><p>Chairman Mao Zedong said that power comes out of the barrel of a gun, and he knew a thing or two about power, both hard and soft. If you have enough guns, you have respect. Money is...

Conversation

04.09.13

Is China Doing All it Can to Rein in Kim Jong-un?

Winston Lord, Susan Shirk & more
<p><em>Winston Lord:</em></p><p>No.</p><p>&nbsp;</p>

Conversation

04.03.13

Bird Flu Fears: Should We Trust Beijing This Time?

David Wertime, Yanzhong Huang & more
<p><em>David Wertime:</em></p><p>A new strain of avian flu called H7N9 has <a href="http://www.who.int/csr/don/2013_04_03/en/index.html" target="_blank">infected at least seven humans and...

Conversation

04.02.13

Why Did Apple Apologize to Chinese Consumers and What Does It Mean?

Jeremy Goldkorn, Isabel Hilton & more
<p><em>Jeremy Goldkorn:</em></p><p>On March 22, before the foreign media or Apple themselves seemed to have grasped the seriousness of the CCTV attacks on the Californian behemoth, I wrote a post on <a href="...

Conversation

03.28.13

Will China’s Renminbi Replace the Dollar as the World’s Top Currency?

Patrick Chovanec, Damien Ma & more
<p><em>Patrick Chovanec:</em></p><p>This week’s news that Brazil and China have signed a $30 billion currency swap agreement gave a renewed boost to excited chatter over the rising influence of China’s currency, the...

Conversation

03.26.13

Can China Transform Africa?

Jeremy Goldkorn, Isabel Hilton & more
<p><em>Jeremy Goldkorn:</em></p><p>The question is all wrong. China is already transforming Africa, the question is how China is transforming Africa, not whether it can. From the “<a href="http://www...

Conversation

03.19.13

China’s New Leaders Say They Want to Fight Corruption. Can They? Will They?

Andrew J. Nathan & Ouyang Bin
<p>In his first <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/18/world/asia/li-keqiang-chinas-premier-offers-plan-of-economic-and-social-reforms.html?pagewanted=all&amp;_r=0" target="_blank">press conference</a>...

Conversation

03.15.13

Is the One Child Policy Finished—And Was It a Failure?

Dorinda Elliott, Alexa Olesen & more
<p><em style="border-style: initial; border-color: initial; vertical-align: baseline; border-width: 0px; padding: 0px; margin: 0px;">Dorinda Elliott:</em></p><p>China’s recent&nbsp;<a href="http://...

Conversation

03.13.13

China’s Post 1980’s Generation—Are the Kids All Right?

Sun Yunfan, Orville Schell & more
<p><em>This week, the <a href="http://www.chinafile.com/blog" target="_blank">ChinaFile Conversation</a> is a call for reactions to an article about China's current generation gap, written by James...

Conversation

03.08.13

Will China’s Property Market Crash, and So What If It Does?

Dorinda Elliott & Bill Bishop
<p><em>Dorinda Elliott:</em></p><p>At this week’s National People’s Congress, outgoing Premier Wen Jiabao proclaimed that the government kept housing prices from rising too fast. Really? I wonder what my 28-year-old...

Conversation

03.06.13

Are Proposed Sanctions on North Korea a Hopeful Sign for U.S.-China Relations?

Orville Schell, Susan Shirk & more
<p><em>Orville Schell:</em></p><p>What may end up being most significant about the <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/06/world/asia/china-said-to-back-new-sanctions-against-north-korea.html" target=...

Conversation

03.01.13

Is America’s Door Really Open to China’s Investment?

Daniel H. Rosen, Orville Schell & more
<p><em>Daniel Rosen:</em></p><p>There have not been many new topics in U.S.-China economic relations over the past decade: the trade balance, offshoring of jobs, Chinese holding of U.S. government debt, whether China’s...

Conversation

02.22.13

Will Investment in China Grow or Shrink?

Donald Clarke & David Schlesinger
<p><em>Donald Clarke:</em></p><p>I don’t have the answer as to whether investment in China will grow or shrink, but I do have a few suggestions for how to think about the question. First, we have to clarify why we want...

Conversation

02.20.13

Cyber Attacks—What’s the Best Response?

James Fallows, Xiao Qiang & more
<p>With regular ChinaFile Conversation contributor <a href="http://www.chinafile.com/contributor/Elizabeth%20Economy" target="_blank">Elizabeth Economy</a> on the road, we turned to her colleague <a href=...

Conversation

02.15.13

U.S.-China Tensions: What Must Kerry Do?

Dorinda Elliott, Elizabeth Economy & more
<p><em>Dorinda Elliott:</em></p><p>On a recent trip to China, I heard a lot of scary talk of potential war over the disputed Diaoyu Islands—this from both senior intellectual types and also just regular people, from an...

Conversation

02.13.13

North Korea: How Much More Will China Take and How Should the U.S. Respond?

Winston Lord, Tai Ming Cheung & more
<p><span style="line-height: 1.538em;">China is increasingly frustrated with North Korea and may even see more clearly that its actions only serve to increase allied unity, stimulate Japanese militarism and accelerate missile...

Conversation

02.08.13

Rich, Poor and Chinese—Does Anyone Trust Beijing to Bust the Corrupt?

Andrew J. Nathan, Susan Shirk & more
<p><em>Andrew Nathan</em>:</p><p>The new Chinese leadership under Xi Jinping seems to be making some bold opening moves with its attacks on corruption and the announcement on February 5 of <a href="%20http://...

Conversation

02.06.13

Airpocalypse Now: China’s Tipping Point?

Alex Wang, Orville Schell & more
<p>The recent run of air pollution in China, we now know, has been worse than the air quality in <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-01-30/beijing-air-akin-to-living-in-smoking-lounge-chart-of-the-day.html" target="...

Conversation

02.01.13

China’s Cyberattacks — At What Cost?

James Fallows, Donald Clarke & more
<p><em>James Fallows: </em>Here are some initial reactions on the latest <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/31/technology/chinese-hackers-infiltrate-new-york-times-computers.html?_r=0" target="_blank"...

Conversation

01.30.13

China, Japan and the Islands: What Do the Tensions Mean?

Orville Schell, John Delury & more
<p>How did the <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wihttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diaoyuki/Diaoyu" target="_blank">Diaoyu</a>, <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wihttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/...