The 18th Party Congress opens with a warning about corruption. Several more Tibetans commit self-immolation and hundreds demonstrate in Qinghai town. The dispute of the Diaoyu Islands continues to hurt the bottom line of Japanese Automakers. Wall Street Journal reports ties between Neil Heywood and British Spy Agency MI6. These are the top stories from the People¡¯s Republic of China for the week of November 9.
18th Party Congress Opens with Warning over Corruption
China¡¯s once-in-a-decade leadership transition began on November 8 as 2,270 delegates gathered in Beijing to solidify the transfer of power from Hu Jintao to Xi Jinping. Hu led off the Congress with a ninety minute speech where he warned that excessive corruption among China¡¯s leaders could prove to be fatal to the Chinese Communist Party and possibly lead to the collapse of the party and the fall of the state. Xi Jinping is expected to take over the Presidency from Hu Jintao and Li Keqiang is believed to replace Wen Jiabao as Premier, but much else will not be revealed until the Congress ends in one week, including the number and members of the powerful standing committee of the Communist Party, the upper echelon of leadership in China. It is likely that whether the standing committee will increase to eleven members or stay at nine officials that no woman will join the highest rank of government in China, as Liu Yandong is the only current female member of the 39 person politburo. It is also unknown at this time if outgoing President Hu Jintao will keep his position at the head of the military.
There are four news conferences scheduled during the Congress. The conferences are designed to address areas of growing concern to the party, namely the system of internal promotions, environmental degradation, the economy, and government control of the media and artistic expression. Corruption and political reform are expected to be the major themes of the Congress, as the run up to the monumental event was marred by high-level scandals involving large sums of wealth. Wen Jiabao called for an investigation into his finances this week following a report by the New York Times on October 26 which claimed that Wen¡¯s family held assets worth $2.7 billion. The state-run newspaper Global Times published a survey this week of residents of seven major Chinese cities claiming that 81% of Chinese citizens want political reform, and that 66% of respondents felt the government should face greater public scrutiny. The decision to publish the results of the survey could be interpreted as a message that the Communist Party is acknowledging calls for reform, but President Hu made clear in his speech that China ¡°will never copy a western political system.¡±
(Guardian, November 5; Washington Post, November 7; Guardian, Washington Post, BBC, China Daily, Al-Jazeera, November 8)
Six Tibetans Commit Self-Immolation in the Days Prior to the Party Congress
Five Tibetans committed self-immolation on Wednesday, November 7 and a sixth lit himself on fire on November 8 as the 18th Party Congress was getting under way in Beijing. 3 teenaged monks from the Ngoshul Monastery in Tibet lit themselves on fire in front a police station in the township of Gomang in the Amdo region of Tibet. The suicidal protests are the latest in wave of self-immolations by Tibetans over the last 3 years. On Wednesday the Tibetan parliament-in-exile made an appeal to the new leadership of China to end the current policy of avoidance and denial of the Tibetan issue, and to seriously deliberate the growing trend of self-immolations by means of pursuing a vigorous investigation into the root causes behind the protests and develop policies more in line with Tibetan aspirations. Parliament-in-exile speaker Pempa Tsering said that many Tibetans felt that they had no choice but to burn themselves alive to express their grievances to the Chinese government. In Beijing, netizens and foreign bloggers have noticed the distinct presence of firefighters in Tiananmen Square as the 18th Party Congress gets underway, with the belief that the firefighters are there to act as a deterrent to any planned self-immolations in the Square. 5 people burned themselves alive in January 2001, which was captured by a CNN film crew, and a man attempted to burn himself in 2003 to protest the practice of government seizures of land. A man lit himself on fire in Tiananmen Square last November and was extinguished by firefighters in seconds, according to tourists who witnessed the spectacle. The Chinese Government offered a reward of close to $8,000 for any information on planned acts of self-immolation.
On Friday November 9, hundreds, if not thousands of Tibetans marched through the town of Longwo in Qinghai Province demanding independence and the return of the Dalai Lama. A 22 year old Tibetan farmer said that protestors gathered at a local high school at 4 in the morning to set out on the march. Police kept watch on the demonstration, but did not intervene. Tibetan delegates at the 18th Party Congress in Beijing blamed the demonstration and self-immolations on the Dalai Lama and his associates, whom they accused of fomenting unrest. The continued unrest comes one week after the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights openly criticized China for suppressing the rights of Tibetans.
(Guardian, Hindustan Times, Washington Post, Voice of America, BBC, November 8; Guardian, November 9)
Japanese Automakers Feel Financial Effects of Diaoyu Islands Dispute
For the second consecutive month, sales of Japanese automobiles in China declined sharply, mainly due to lingering anti-Japanese feelings in China over the disputed Diaoyu Islands. Hardest hit were Honda, which cut its yearly profit forecast by 20% following a dismal October in China, which saw sales drop by 53.5% compared to October 2011. This black October follows a bleak September for Honda, which saw sales dropping by 41% compared to September 2011. Nissan¡¯s sales were down 35% in September and 41% in October compared to the previous year, and Japanese car makers are expected to lose 200,000 units of sale during the fourth quarter of the fiscal year. An analyst for JPMorgan Chase based in Tokyo said that it is unknown if Japanese auto sales in China have hit rock bottom, with Honda claiming that they do not expect sales to return to normal until after the Lunar New Year in February. Toyota saw a 44% drop in sales in October compared to the previous year, but is not as heavily invested in China as Honda or Nissan. China accounts for 12.6% of Toyota¡¯s global sales, compared to 19.4% for Honda and nearly 27% for Nissan. The island dispute could shelve Toyota¡¯s plan to double their sales in China by 2015, however, and competing car manufacturers are taking note. BMW reported a 40% increase in Chinese sales during the third quarter, which helped boost its overall net profit by 16%. The spat between China and Japan is the latest in a series of setbacks for the Japanese auto industry, which was also hit hard by the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami and flooding at factories in Thailand.
(Bloomberg Businessweek, November 2; International Business Times, New York Times, November 5; Guardian, November 6)
Wall Street Journal Claims Murdered Briton at Heart of Bo Xilai Case had Ties to MI6
Neil Heywood, the British businessman murdered by Bo Xilai¡¯s wife Gu Kailai which precipitated his downfall, passed information on Bo to British Intelligence agency MI6, according to an investigative report by the Wall Street Journal. Based on interviews with current and former officials and close friends of the deceased, the Journal found a person that had met Heywood in 2009 and later confirmed he worked for MI6. Mr. Heywood continued to meet with this unnamed individual and passed information about Bo Xilai to him, according to the Journal¡¯s report. Rumors of Heywood¡¯s association with espionage agencies have swirled since March of this year, when the Wall Street Journal first made the claim. William Hague, the foreign secretary who officially oversees MI6, made a rare statement in April saying that Mr. Heywood was ¡°not an employee of the British government in any capacity.¡± The British embassy in China refused to comment on the recent allegations, and some friends of Mr. Heywood claimed his penchant for flamboyance, including owning a silver Jaguar with a vanity plate reading ¡°007¡± was not the hallmark of someone working for a clandestine service. Neither Britain nor China have claimed that Heywood was killed over links to MI6, the official story being that he was murdered as the result of a business deal gone bad.
(Guardian, BBC, Wall Street Journal, November 6; The Independent, November 7)
Summaries by Andrew Dirks, China Program intern at the Carter Center.