United States of China in 1910

The “United States of China,” 100 Years Later


United States of China

On September 29, 1910, a young Chinese cook in Berkeley named George Fong bought himself a .38 caliber revolver. The next day he hiked up into the hills behind the fraternity house where he worked at the University of California, found a secluded valley amongst the brown grasses and sprawling nurseries of eucalyptus, and taught himself how to shoot. One week later, he made his way down to the Oakland Ferry Terminal and joined a crowd of onlookers who thronged its railway platform in wait for the arriving train of Prince Zaixun, the uncle of the emperor of China. When the prince stepped off his train to embark on the ferry, George Fong planned to kill him.

He failed, though. Someone tipped off the Secret Service, and a detective from the Chinatown police squad grabbed hold of Fong just as he reached for his gun. Nevertheless, as the national press described it, the burgeoning Chinese revolution had just reached America. Fong “considered it his duty to kill the Prince and…free China of the rule of Manchus,” explained the San Francisco Chronicle, referring to the non-Chinese monarchs of the Qing dynasty. That much was a common refrain in the news from China, where reports of attempted assassinations and bombings had been trickling out for some time—but in this case the would-be liberator of the Chinese people was an American, native-born in California, radicalized in the Bay Area by reading Chinatown newspapers and attending local meetings of the revolutionary Young China Association. George Fong was the tangible link between the Chinese of America and the violence unfolding in their ancestral home. In the era of exclusion laws founded on fears that America would be swamped by waves of Chinese immigrants, he was a sign that even draconian limits could not prevent the turmoil of China from invading American soil.

In a vain effort to counter American fears of his revolution, Fong tried to reassure the press that the only reason he hadn’t managed to shoot Zaixun was because there were too many white people on the platform and he feared hitting one. Even his fundamental will to revolt, he insisted, was inspired by the example of America: “I wanted to be the George Washington of China,” he told his captors, “and to be the savior of my country.”

Looking backwards a hundred years later, one might easily imagine that the chaotic and still poorly understood 1911 Revolution that toppled China’s last dynasty would have been immediately welcome to the United States. After all, the Manchu government of the Qing dynasty against whom Britain had fought its Opium Wars was, as we tend to remember it, long past its prime by 1911, the “Sick Man of Asia” just waiting to expire. The Qing court had supported the Boxer Rebellion of 1900, whose proponents murdered Christian converts and laid siege to the foreign legations in Beijing, leaving a lingering resentment in American minds. In contrast, the most prominent of the revolutionary leaders, Sun Yat-sen, was Western-educated, Christian, fluent in English, and claimed inspiration from America’s political system. At its inception, the Republic of China was known by shorthand abroad as  “The United States of China.”

But that was only part of the picture.

By 1910, when Prince Zaixun came to the United States at the head of a Qing naval delegation, the dynasty was in fact deep in the midst of an unprecedented program of reform that was entirely welcome to American interests. President Taft had received Zaixun in the Blue Room of the White House, accompanied by almost the entire US cabinet, and held a banquet in his honor in the state dining room. Charles M. Schwab, the president of Bethlehem Steel, entertained him in New York with three carloads of Broadway showgirls. When Zaixun happened to take a late morning nap in Philadelphia, the mayor of the city ordered all traffic stopped for sixteen blocks around his hotel so that the prince’s slumber would not be disturbed. The Manchu prince held separate meetings with the Secretary of State and the Secretary of the Navy, visited Annapolis, and took a tour of the shipyard in Newport News, where he commissioned a naval cruiser for the Qing fleet. When the revolution finally broke out for real a year later, on October 10, 1911, Charles Schwab was in Beijing on a reciprocal visit to negotiate what was expected to be a major contract for supplying the Qing navy with American steel.

Indeed, America’s interests at the time lay almost entirely with the dynasty. On October 1, 1911, just nine days before the Wuchang Uprising that launched the revolution, General Adolphus Greely of the US Army published a long and glowing article in the New York Times on the Qing dynasty’s movement to modernize, heralding China’s “evolutionary progress toward its proper and destined position as one of the great civilized nations of the earth.” In an extremely favorable assessment of Qing reform efforts, which he termed “marvelous changes,” he commended its New Army (“such a military force as will command the respect of foreign nations”), its development of railways and industry, its growing freedom of the press (“free to attack mandarins who were bribed”), its increasingly rationalized economy, and above all the dynastic government’s ongoing effort to transform itself into a constitutional monarchy, including the recent establishment of a parliament “marked by freedom of speech and boldness of opinion along lines of modern thought and in public interests.” On the eve of revolution in October 1911, the Qing dynasty seemed headed in a direction favorable to American business interests, promising domestic stability, a smooth and willing transition to constitutional government, and above all a strong and growing demand for American steel, machinery, and ships.

Against that backdrop of economic engagement and the promise of stability, the republican revolution was a hard sell. The revolutionaries went to great lengths to project a pro-Western image, but Young China activists could not escape the menace of their association with anarchism and assassination. Ideologically, the revolutionaries in China could scarcely mask their resentment of the foreign powers—which lurked just behind their primary hatred of the Manchus. Spokesmen for the revolution outwardly promised no harm would come to foreign interests in China, but to their own followers the rhetoric was often different. Publications in Chinese were rife with venom against the western presence in China, and while Sun Yat-sen and others tried to keep such sentiments from foreign ears, the basic message could still slip out. TheNew-York Tribune reported such a speech in New York’s Chinatown on October 22, 1911 by one Jue Checkman (whom the Tribune’s article called the “revolutionary apostle of Canton”), who attacked the dynasty’s close ties to American business and threatened his audience that if the Manchus remained in power they would appoint JP Morgan China’s minister of finance, and Andrew Carnegie her minister of war. It was hardly a message to endear him to American elites.

They would warm up to it in time, once it came to seem inevitable, but on the eve of the revolution Americans weren’t impressed by the possibility of a republican government’s being established in China. The United States and the Manchu dynasty were close allies (too close, thought those who sympathized with the rebels), and the constitutional monarchy on offer from the Qing seemed a more stable foundation for a future state than some revolutionary republic, which for many raised the specter of France after 1789—where, theChicago Tribune reminded its readers, “after they had dropped King Louis’ head into the basket, [they] created the inspired army which Napoleon led all over Europe.” For beyond any questions of political structure and domestic order for China’s own sake, the prospect of revolution tapped into a darker and more subtle concern abroad: that a racially unified, modernizing China might threaten the dominance of the West.

Though Europeans and Americans originally used the term “Yellow Peril” to describe Japan, which after its defeat of China in 1895 and Russia in 1905 had proven itself a world-class military power, by the time of the 1911 Revolution they were applying it to China as well. Looking back to the Boxers, and forward from the 1911 Revolution, some saw a different kind of Yellow Peril emerging from China—namely, that if the 400 million Chinese should throw off the shackles of Manchu oppression and unite, there was no telling what revenge they might wreak on the foreign powers that had helped the Manchus keep them under control.

George Fong had brought home the message that America’s Chinatowns were crucibles of revolution, and as the violence in China unfolded American observers were both bemused and disturbed by the presence of “Young China” in their own midst—indeed, several seemed convinced that the whole Chinese revolution was in fact being directed from within the United States. It helped that Sun Yat-sen happened to be in Denver when the revolution broke out, and rather than returning directly to China he instead traveled (they believed) to Chinatowns in Chicago and New York for secret meetings. The Chronicle predicted that “it will be recorded that San Francisco’s Chinatown was the starting point for one of the greatest political movements, ancient or modern.” The New-York Tribune went further, declaring that “San Francisco will go down in the history of nations as the mother of the new Chinese republic.” It wasn’t exactly a point of pride, though; the new Chinese state was going to be born, in their eyes, from the site of “the bloody tong wars; down where the powerful kings of the opium ring held out for decades; down where the Chinese traffickers in slant-eyed slave girls conducted their nefarious work year in and year out.”

The menace of the Chinatowns was one thing, but the menace of China itself was another—and in 1911 the nation that appeared on the verge of rising to power in Asia had good reason to be angry. The Americans and British were hardly unaware of the questionable morality of their policies in China over the previous century—few in either country would argue that opium had been unharmful to China, the gunboat treaties fair, or the indemnities affordable. Thus, the Chinese national form of the Peril rested on an acknowledgment that if China did harbor a grudge against the West, it was, given the circumstances of history, justified. “Let us hope,” said the Chicago Tribune when it learned that the Qing emperor had abdicated, “that the yellow peril will never be as perilous to white people as the white peril has been to yellow people.”

It is no coincidence that the Western literary archetype of China’s Yellow Peril, the evil Dr. Fu Manchu, made his first appearance soon after the 1911 Revolution. In fact, he was born of it. The first novel in the series by British writer Sax Rohmer appeared in the United States in 1913 under the title The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu.

The Chronicle advertised that it “deals with the recent revolution in China.” It was set in London in the summer of 1911 with China at the cusp of revolution, and at the outset its narrator, Dr. Petrie, believed the mysterious Fu Manchu to be an agent of Young China. In the course of the story, however, he was ultimately revealed to be an even greater power unto himself, who despised “the futility” of the Western-influenced revolutionaries. He was, Petrie discovered, the “Third Party” in China who would rise to power from the ashes of the Qing loyalists and the Young China Movement, the “Master of the Show” who would ultimately rule over a racially unified China and turn it against the West.

If titillated American readers wanted evidence that such sentiments did exist in reality, and weren’t mere figments of the American or British imagination, they would need look no further than the pages of the revolutionary pamphlets distributed in China. “You possess the omen of the Yellow Peril,” wrote the young Chinese propagandist Zou Rong in The Revolutionary Army, which was printed in the tens of thousands of copies, “you possess the might of the sacred race.” More obscure but closer to home, they could find the same sentiments echoed in the holding barracks on Angel Island off of San Francisco, where imprisoned would-be immigrants carved their hopes for the new China into the walls.

“If there comes a day when China will be united,” wrote one, “I will surely cut out the heart and bowels of the western barbarian.” Wrote another:

I strongly advise my countrymen not to worry,
Even though you are imprisoned in a wooden building,
Some day after China rises and changes,
She will be adept at using bombs to obliterate America.

But the feared payback for China’s 19th century humiliations never did come. The Republic of China quickly collapsed without unifying the country in any lasting fashion, and so the time never arrived when its government might demand an end to the foreign concessions or drive unwanted foreign interests from the country. The moment passed, the threat—if there even was one—subsided, and business continued as before.

There was, however, another form of the Yellow Peril born of the 1911 Revolution, which turned out to have a far longer life than the others. As Charles Schwab explained in a 1912 interview, the real Yellow Peril was going to be industrial rather than military. Americans should not fear war from a modernized China, he warned, but competition. Nevertheless, he reassured his audience at the time not to worry, because “it will be more than a century before China becomes an industrial peril.”

That century has now passed, and the debates of our campaigning politicians resound with charges that China has undermined the American manufacturing economy, that its industries threaten our very existence. Statements like the following, from the San Francisco Chronicle in May of 1911, might as well have been written yesterday: “Contemplating the diligence, sobriety and cleverness of the Chinese, in connection with their immense numbers and their low standard of comfort, some foresee a manufacturing China, turning out great quantities of iron, steel, implements, ships, machinery and textiles at an incredibly low cost, and thereby driving our goods out of neutral markets and obliging our workingmen, after a long, disastrous strike with their employers, to take a Chinese wage or starve.”

Now, as then, the prospect of China becoming more like us has occasioned a collision between our ideals and our fears—ideals of political stability and economic prosperity for China on the one hand and, on the other, fears that we will be undermined by a country whose people are willing to work for wages far lower than our own (the exact same fears, it should be noted, that drove the original Chinese exclusion laws). America likes to think of itself as encouraging modernization, political liberalization, and economic development in China, but it is worth remembering that behind the outward charity of such impulses there has always lurked the companion fear that such changes, if they should prove too successful, might also prove our own undoingChinafile.com

The End of “Democracy”?

DemocracyAt Foreign Affairs ($2.95 for pdf),  argues that China’s future lies with continued one-party rule, and that the Party’s adaptability,  and non-democratic  will carry it forward while the West flounders. This, he suggests, will give other developing countries courage to seek out their own alternative systems.

[…] There is no doubt that daunting challenges await Xi. But those who suggest that the CCP will not be able to deal with them fundamentally misread China’s politics and the resilience of its governing institutions. Beijing will be able to meet the country’s ills with dynamism and resilience, thanks to the CCP’s adaptability, system of meritocracy, and legitimacy with the Chinese people. In the next decade, China will continue to rise, not fade. The country’s leaders will consolidate the one party model and, in the process, challenge the West’s conventional wisdom about political development and the inevitable march toward electoral. In the capital of the Middle Kingdom, the world might witness the birth of a post-democratic future.

[…] Many developing countries have already come to learn that democracy doesn’t solve all their problems. For them, China’s example is important. Its recent success and the failures of the West offer a stark contrast. To be sure, China’s political model will never supplant electoral democracy because, unlike the latter, it does not pretend to be universal. It cannot be exported. But its success does show that many systems of political governance can work when they are congruent with a country’s culture and history. The significance of China’s success, then, is not that China provides the world with an alternative but that it demonstrates that successful alternatives exist. Twenty-four years ago, the political scientist Francis Fukuyama predicted that all countries would eventually adopt liberal democracy and lamented that the world would become a boring place because of that. Relief is on the way. A more interesting age may be upon us.

And here are some great articles about democracy from a Chinese perspective… 

China’s Thorium Reactor Program

China Blazes Trail for ‘Clean’ Nuclear Power from Thorium.

The Telegraph. Andrew Evans-Pritchard

Dr Rubbia says a tonne of the silvery metal produces as much energy as 200 tonnes of uranium, or 3,500,000 tonnes of coal

Princeling Jiang Mianheng, son of former leader Jiang Zemin, is spearheading a project for China’s National Academy of Sciences with a start-up budget of $350m.

He has already recruited 140 PhD scientists, working full-time on thorium power at the Shanghai Institute of Nuclear and Applied Physics. He will have 750 staff by 2015.

The aim is to break free of the archaic pressurized-water reactors fueled by uranium — originally designed for US submarines in the 1950s — opting instead for new generation of thorium reactors that produce far less toxic waste and cannot blow their top like Fukushima.

“China is the country to watch,” said Baroness Bryony Worthington, head of the All-Parliamentary Group on Thorium Energy, who visited the Shanghai operations recently with a team from Britain’s National Nuclear Laboratory.

“They are really going for it, and have talented researchers. This could lead to a massive break-through.”

The thorium story is by now well-known. Enthusiasts think it could be the transforming technology needed to drive the industrial revolutions of Asia — and to avoid an almighty energy crunch as an extra two billion people climb the ladder to western lifestyles.

At the least, it could do for nuclear power what shale fracking has done for natural gas — but on a bigger scale, for much longer, perhaps more cheaply, and with near zero CO2 emissions.

The Chinese are leading the charge, but they are not alone. Norway’s Thor Energy began a four-year test last month with Japan’s Toshiba-Westinghouse to see whether they could use thorium at Norway’s conventional Halden reactor in Oslo.

The Japanese are keen to go further, knowing they have to come up with something radically new to regain public trust and save their nuclear industry.

Japan’s International Institute for Advanced Studies (IIAS) — now led by thorium enthusiast Takashi Kamei — is researching molten salt reactors that use liquid fuel.

Is this what Premier Shinzo Abe meant when he revealed before Christmas that he planned to relaunch nuclear power in Japan with “entirely different” technology? We will find out.

The Chinese aim to beat them to it. Technology for the molten salt process already exists. The Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee built such a reactor in the 1960s. It was shelved by the Nixon Administration. The Pentagon needed plutonium residue from uranium to build nuclear bombs. The imperatives of the Cold War prevailed.

The thorium blueprints gathered dust in the archives until retrieved and published by former Nasa engineer Kirk Sorensen. The US largely ignored him: China did not.
Mr Jiang visited the Oak Ridge labs and obtained the designs after reading an article in the American Scientist two years ago extolling thorium. His team concluded that a molten salt reactor — if done the right way — may answer China’s prayers.
Mr Jiang says China’s energy shortage is becoming “scary” and will soon pose a threat to national security. It is no secret what he means. Escalating disputes with with India, Vietnam, the Philippines, and above all Japan, are quickly becoming the biggest threat to world peace. It is a resource race compounded by a geo-strategic struggle, with echoes of the 1930s.
His mission is to do something about China’s Achilles Heel very fast. The Shanghai team plans to build a tiny 2 MW plant using liquid flouride fuel by the end of the decade, before scaling up to commercially viable size over the 2020s. It is also working on a pebble-back reactor.
He estimates that China has enough thorium to power its electricity needs for “20,000 years”. So does the world. The radioactive mineral is scattered across Britain. The Americans have buried tonnes of it, a hazardous by-product of rare earth metal mining.
China is already building 26 conventional reactors by 2015, with a further 51 planned, and 120 in the pipeline, but these have all the known drawbacks, and rely on imported uranium.
The beauty of thorium is that you cannot have a Fukushima disaster. Professor Robert Cywinksi from Huddersfield University, who anchor’s the UK’s thorium research network ThorEA, said the metal must be bombarded with neutrons to drive the process. “There is no chain reaction. Fission dies the moment you switch off the photon beam,” he said.
His team is working on an accelerator driven subcritical reactor. “Peope are beginning to realize that uranium isn’t sustainable. We’re going to have to breed new nuclear fuel. If we are going to the trouble of breeding, we could start to use thorium instead, without introducing plutonium into the cycle,” he said.
Thorium has its flaws. The metallurgy is complex. It is “fertile” but not fissile, and has to be converted in Uranium 233. Claims by the International Atomic Energy Institute in 2005 that it has “intrinsic resistance” to proliferation but have since been qualified. It could be used as feedstock for bombs, though not easily.
Yet it leaves far less toxic residue. Most of the mineral is used up in the fission process, while uranium reactors use up just 0.7pc. It can even burn up existing stockpiles of plutonium and hazardous waste.
Cambridge scientists published a tantalising study in the Annals of Nuclear Energy in February showing that it is possible to “achieve near complete transuranic waste incineration” by throwing the old residue into the reactor with thorium.
In other words, it can help clean up the mess left by a half a century of nuclear weapons and uranium reactors, instead of transporting it at great cost to be encased in concrete and buried for milennia. It is why some `greens’ such as Baroness Worthington — a former Friends of the Earth activist — are embracing thorium. Though there are other reasons.
The thorium molten salt process takes place at atmospheric pressures. It does not require the vast domes of conventional reactors, so costly, and such an eyesore.
You could build pint-size plants largely below ground, less obtrusive than a shopping mall, powering a small town the size of Tunbridge Wells or Colchester. There would be shorter transmission lines, less leakage, and less risk of black-outs. The elegance is irresistible.
Mr Sorensen says his group Flibe Energy is exploring 250 MW reactors that could be tailor-made to power a single steel plant. Imagine the benefits for China, which drives is collosal steel industry — 40pc of the world’s total — with high-polluting coking coal, much of it shipped from distant mines in lorries.
Mr Sorensen said his molten salt design could not cause a meltdown because it never reaches a high enough temperature to melt the nickel-alloy vessel.
If there is an emergency, a plug melts and the salts drain into a pan. “The reactor saves itself,” he said.
Major players in the nuclear industry have had a vested interest in blocking thorium. They have huge sunk costs in the old technology, and they have bent the ear of cash-strapped ministers.
The hesitance of governments is understandable, but the costs are going to hit whatever they do. The overrun fiasco of Areva’s Olkilouto reactor in Finland is not pretty either, and the UK’s new reactor plans for Hinkley tempt fate as well.
China’s dash for thorium is now changing the game. Britain has begun to hedge its bets. Chief scientific adviser Sir John Beddington said in September that the benefits of thorium are “often overstated” but conceded “theoretical advantages regarding sustainability, reducing radiotoxicity and reducing proliferation risk”.
He noted rising global interest. “It may therefore be judicious for the UK to maintain a low level of engagement in thorium fuel cycle research.” A bit lame for a country that once pioneered nuclear physics, but better than nothing.
Xu Hongjie, the director of the Shanghai project, says the US Energy Department has begun to take a close interest in China’s plans and is now seeking “collaberation”. He is also talking to the Russians. The Indians are kicking their thorium programme into higher gear.
You can view it as a technology race or a joint venture in the common interest. It hardly matters which. If the Chinese can crack thorium, the world will need less oil, coal, and gas than feared. Wind turbines will vanish from our landscape. There will less risk of a global energy crunch, less risk of resource wars, and less risk of a climate tipping point.
Who can object to that?

China’s Great Famine

China’s Great Famine

Several people have questioned me about the terrible ‘coverup’ of China’s most recent famine, the one that coincided with the Great Leap Forward, from 1958 to 1961, in which 30 million people died.

I know that this sounds trite, but the ‘coverup’ is just cultural style, not a sinister coverup.

I live in Thailand and have been sensitized to this difference – common to all the Confucian countries – between our treatment of past hurts and disasters and theirs.

Thai women, for example, will certainly try to disembowell you when they catch you cheating on them. But the next day (or when you are released from hospital) they will be as carefree, loving and attentive as ever. Similarly, shameful episodes in Thailand’s history are simply not addressed. They are actively dropped down the memory hole by almost unanimous consent, as far as I can determine. I would never question a Thai about some of the dirty, tragic stuff in Thailand’s past. It would be painful, embarrassing, and would accomplish nothing.

I’ve lived in Japan, too, and it’s the same there, or moreso.

ALL Chinese are aware that there have been hundreds of famines in China’s history in which hundreds of millions of them starved to death.

Like Amartya Sen they know that government incompetence was largely responsible, as it is in ALL famines in all times and all places (that was Sen’s Nobel-winning ‘discovery’).

They’re aware that there was a bad one in the past 65 years, during the CCP’s tenure. They’re also aware that they are all eating better and more regularly than ever in their 2,200 year history.

They’ve moved on. It’s time we joined them.

China in Africa, Part 3

China in Africa, Part 3

African countries welcome growing Chinese presence despite West’s criticismBy Li Nuer, Tichaona Chifamba

HARARE, Oct. 10 (Xinhua) — Despite spells of criticism on the growing presence of the Chinese in Africa from the Western governments and media, African countries make greater efforts to lure more Chinese investment into the continent.

Tendai Moyo, a Harare-based social commentator, said it is undeniable that while China is extending its genuine philanthropic hand to Africa, the West is busy extending their brazen iron fisted imperial hand that continues to foment a myriad of destabilizing activities in the continent.

Goodwill, mutual respect and the accompanying win-win aspect have become hallmarks of China’s partnership with Africa. This introduces a completely new paradigm and a draught of fresh air to African countries that have been grappling with the effrontery big brother tactics from the United States and its European acolytes, the commentator said.

“It has no debilitating subtle conditionalities designed to enslave its intended beneficiaries or surreptitiously entrap them into a vicious circle of unsustainable debts. It is not meant to be a diabolical springboard to meddle into internal matters of the recipient. Neither is it an instrument of hegemonic expansion but sheer benevolence meant to prop up Africa,” he said.

In an exclusive interview with Xinhua, Zimbabwe’s Economic Planning and Investment Promotion Secretary Desire Sibanda also said that there was a deliberate thrust by Africa to deal with China because of favorable business conditions.

Africa had, through the securitization of its resources, benefitted more from its relationship with China than with traditional partners such as the World Bank who provided assistance attached with stringent conditions, he said.

“Historically big projects were funded by the World Bank with their conditionalities, but this now gave Africa an opportunity to look East where these conditionalities do not exist. The issue of securitization of resources whereby China gave assistance in infrastructure development in exchange for raw materials for its fast growing economy was something new and gave developing countries the much needed debt relief,” he said.

He cited countries such as Angola, Rwanda and Zambia where the Chinese were assisting in boosting infrastructure development. “Instead of focusing on trade, they focused on what mattered most in Africa, and that is infrastructure development. Africa is very rich in resources but its infrastructure is very poor, and we need assistance in such areas as energy, water, railways and roads construction,” he said.

As a result of the new arrangement where resources were swopped for infrastructure development assistance, a debt crisis was avoided, Sibanda said.

“What created the debt crisis was that when we were trading and investing with the West, we went for debts and in some cases the debts were for consumption. The coming in of China with their new model of financial assistance, therefore, reduced the level of debt,” he said.

As a developing country, China also understood the needs of developing countries better and to a great extent met them, he added.

Sentimental and historical political links with Africa were also in China’s favor as it had helped a number of liberation movements against colonizers from the West.

“If they were given a choice they would go to China than to the West, and also because of the old feeling that the West are capitalists bent on enriching themselves,” he added.


Analysts said China’s increasing presence in Africa has made the West, who are losing ground in monopolizing Africa’s resources, jittery. The West are doing everything possible to discredit China’s positive developments in Africa.

However, the fact is that the Western countries are now still controlling the larger lion’s share of Africa’s economic activities, while the Chinese companies have so far remained only a small part of international investors seeking business opportunities in the continent.

In Zimbabwe, for example, British, American, Japanese, Australian and South African companies remain among the top investors in the country with more than 400 companies operating, despite comments by the West that China has taken a deliberate stance to “re-colonize” not only Zimbabwe, but the rest of Africa.

Zimbabwe has, since the formation of the inclusive government in 2009, received delegations from both the West and the East seeking to do business in the country.

Britain and the United States in particular have also held conventions where they have discussed business opportunities in the country.

Big Chinese companies such as Anjin, which is in partnership with the Zimbabwean government in diamond mining, ZIMASCO in iron smelting, and Sino-Zim in agro-business, are competing with many western corporations such as Australian-based Rio Tinto and Impala, Anglo American Corporation and several others based in neighboring South Africa.

British company Anglo American Corporation is present in both mining and agro-industry while Impala has an 87 percent ownership in the country’s biggest platinum producer Zimplats and 50 percent in the smaller Mimosa Mine in Zvishavane.


A lot of debate has been going on concerning China’s vast investments in Africa and other developing countries, with some skeptics arguing that China has come to re-colonize the resource-rich continent while others see it as a long overdue counter to the overbearing West.

Many African leaders have embraced the Look East Policy much to the chagrin of dissenters who say Chinese industry will swallow business on the continent.

Local TV commentator Walter Chari said the relationship between African countries and the West has been that of “master and servant” for centuries now. If the truth be told, Africans do not have much to show for their relationship with the West.

African countries have been at the mercy of the Western countries through the “aid industry.” This “aid” has left many African economies crippled with debt only to be told that they have to declare themselves Heavily Indebted and Poor Countries (HIPC) in order to be “assisted” with yet more “aid”. Naturally this “aid” comes with a lot of strings attached.

Europe’s primary interest is to get these African resources as cheaply as possible for their own development.

China’s growing economy is altering global balance of power. It has an ever rising profile in Africa and this growth is probably the most significant global development since the Cold War ended. It has sparked new interest in Africa’s economic potential.

Chari said the rise of China has ended European and America’s complacency that Africa would always belong in their sphere of influence, a continent for pacifying guilt rather than fostering development.

Observers noted that for the first time in two decades most African and other developing countries are now getting a choice of whom to do business with. China’s importance is in that it offers the whole developing world a viable alternative.

There was a time when conventional wisdom had it that when America sneezed, the world caught a cold. Today the health of the global economy rests largely with China.

Bilateral ties with China, one of the world’s leading economies, have seen African countries such as South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Angola, Zimbabwe, Nigeria and Sudan among others prosper in terms of infrastructure development.

One of the reasons why many African and other developing countries are increasingly opting to do business with China is because China tends to treat other nations as partners in the global village.

The Chinese have their own interests that they are actively pursuing but they have not let this result in them getting obnoxious when dealing with other countries, said Chari.

There is a lot of friendliness, respect and mutual understanding for development.

China is a country that pursues its own national and economic interests without interfering in domestic affairs of other countries, unlike Western countries particularly the United States which seeks to impose its own order on the world and acts like a big brother.

The commentator said, the United States, through institutions such as the World Bank, forces developing countries to adopt policies that further Washington’s foreign policy and it is for this reason that the Third World prefers doing business with China.

According to historical records, the Chinese came to the African coast before the Europeans could navigate outside their waters. They never thought of conquering or colonizing the continent and the people they met, but were more interested in cultivating mutually beneficial ties.

It is this same approach to the rest of the world that China has today and from which they are benefiting.

And another very useful talk by a Chinese businessman who was born in Africa.

Democracy in Hong Kong

The UK Rejected Democracy in Hong Kong

Benny Tai, whose job is presumably to make an airtight legal case for the action, instead observed that international practices don’t demand popular nomination. In fact, the UK doesn’t have direct nomination, as a HKSAR representative pointed out during the student dialogue. The key stipulation is a matter of principle: Do citizens have real choice? Do the candidates represent different needs and backgrounds? The best he could say was that popular nomination would unequivocally meet international standards, not that it was the only way.

Even more problematically, perhaps, the UK opted out of the Article 25 of the Universal Covenant of Civil and Political Rights for universal suffrage and direct elections for Hong Kong during its merrily undemocratic colonial years, and the PRC succeeded to that treatment when it took over in 1997. The OHK legal case rests on the rather frail legal reed that Beijing inadvertently surrendered its reservation by holding legislative elections.

And that is the best that the cream of the Hong Kong legal profession and the NED-whose job it is to twist Beijing’s knickers on these kinds of treaties-has been able to come up with after over a decade of determined lawyering.

Democracy in Hong Kong? Don’t bet on it! Read more here..

The Magnificent 7 Chinese Leaders

The Magnificent 7 Chinese Leaders

The Magnificent 7 Chinese Leaders

The elected members of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee XiJinping (center), Li Keqiang (third from right), Zhang Dejiang (third from left), Yu Zhengsheng (second from right), Liu Yunshan (second from left), Wang Qishan (right), and Zhang Gaoli (left) meet the press on Nov 15 in Beijing. Xie Huanchi / Xinhua

To discern China’s future, one should know China’s leaders, especially Xi Jinping, who was last Thursday elected general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, the nation’s top leader.

I am not aware anywhere of better prepared state leaders. All members of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of CPC Central Committee have run large geographic regions and/or ministries; six have led at least two provinces or major municipalities (as Party secretary or governor/mayor), many of which would be among the top 25 countries in the world in terms of population and among the top 35 in terms of GDP. Xi Jinping led three dynamic regions – Fujian and Zhejiang provinces, and Shanghai – that were by population, economic vitality and social challenges the equivalent of three European nations.

In this essay, I offer brief personal observations of China’s new leaders.

Xi Jinping

Xi differs from his colleagues by family background and the travails of his youth. His revolutionary hero father, Xi Zhongxun, was a leader in implementing Deng Xiaoping’s reforms in the early 1980s. Earlier, however, under leftist extremism, Xi’s father was humiliated and imprisoned several times, over a period spanning 16 years. When the ideological madness spawned the “cultural revolution” (1966-76), the teenage Xi Jinping was “sent down” to a poor, remote mountain village where, for six years, he chopped hay, reaped wheat, herded sheep, and lived in a cave house. Xi gained by the harsh experience. Although the offspring of a political leader, Xi is known for the common man’s touch. Xi said: “Many of my practical ideas stem from my life during that period, which has influenced me every minute, even today. To truly understand common folk and society is fundamental.”

When Adam Zhu (my business partner) and I met then Zhejiang Province Party Secretary Xi Jinping in 2006, he was characteristically cautious. “We should not overestimate our accomplishments or indulge ourselves in our achievements,” Xi told me, advising China to see “the gap between where we are and where we have to go” and to aspire to “our next higher goal,” which he described as “a persistent and unremitting process.”

“To understand our dedication to revitalize our country, one should appreciate the Chinese people’s pride in our ancient civilization,” Xi said. “We made great contributions to world civilization and enjoyed long-term prosperity, then suffered national weakness, oppression, humiliation. Our deep motivation is rooted in our patriotism and pride.” But, he continued, “compared with our long history, our speed of development is not so impressive. We should assess ourselves objectively.”

My impression of Xi Jinping is that he is friendly, courteous, open-minded and engaging. Radiating a strong physical presence, he carries himself with the ease of someone comfortable with authority and empathetic with guests, and he manifests none of the airs of a high official impressed with his own status. He believes in being “Proud, not complacent. Motivated, not pompous. Pragmatic, not erratic.”

Xi, certainly, upholds the primacy of the Party. Yet, recognizing China’s “earthshaking change,” he advises Party officials to embrace greater change – to “emancipate our minds and overcome the attitude of being satisfied with the status quo, the inertia of conservative and complacent thinking, the fear of difficulties, and timid thinking.” Though Xi is likely to quicken reform, political as well as economic, he will maintain stability as the touchstone.

China’s leaders “constantly draw theoretical lessons from our work, and use them to guide our practice,” Xi explained. “These are not long-winded theoretical exercises,” he added with a smile. “We don’t discuss theory all day long without making decisions. Leaders must be decisive and action-oriented.”

Li Keqiang

When I met Li in 2005, he had recently become Party secretary of Liaoning province in China’s northeast, the country’s old industrial heartland that had fallen behind when its massive State-owned enterprises (SOEs) were ill-suited for a consumer-driven market economy. Li began championing the national policy of “Revitalizing the Northeast.” The key, he told me, was to find market-sensitive ways to restructure large SOEs while at the same time to create a fertile environment so that private businesses could flourish.

Li has been described as low-key, clear-minded, smart, responsive, prudent, tactful. I was struck by his determination to try innovative ideas and his decisiveness to tackle seemingly intractable problems.

After arriving in late 2004, Li left his footprints across the province, visiting cites at a rapid rate. His plan was to build Liaoning’s economy on three pillars – the Jinzhou Bay region in the southwest; Shenyang, the capital, in the center; and Dalian, the modern city on the sea. In these two major urban clusters, Li targeted specific industries to develop world-class capabilities such as equipment manufacturing. A major initiative was to renovate Liaoning’s poor residential areas, the sprawling shantytowns, so that 1.2 million people could move into new homes.

A leader of Peking University’s student union and then secretary of the CPC Youth League, Li points out that senior officials “also need to study while we are working. Otherwise, our work will lack originality”. His focus on “originality” reflects China’s leaders push for the nation to become creative and innovative, to use new thinking to solve multi-faceted problems now manifest in virtually every area of national development.

Li earned his doctorate under the distinguished economist Li Yining (no relation), whom I know to be an intellectually demanding reformist, unimpressed with political status. Li Keqiang became governor of Henan province at 43, the youngest in China and the first with a PhD. Li’s administrative experience as Party secretary, as CEO, of two large provinces – Henan with 95 million people and a GDP now almost $500 billion, and Liaoning with 45 million people and a GDP now almost $400 billion – is unparalleled globally.

Zhang Dejiang

Zhang is a three-term member of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee who has run four administrative regions – Jilin, Zhejiang and Guangdong provinces, and the Chongqing municipality – a combined total of roughly 215 million people and a current GDP of over $1.7 trillion ($2.7 trillion based on purchasing power parity, PPP). This is a population larger than Brazil’s (fifth globally) and a GDP the size of India’s (ninth globally). Using PPP, the combined GDP is larger than Russia’s (sixth globally).

Zhang studied Korean and when he was Party secretary of Yanbian Korean autonomous prefecture in Jilin, he delivered reports in Korean. In Party congresses, Zhang began and ended his speeches in Korean.

When Zhang was running Chongqing (having replaced Bo Xilai, the former Party secretary of the municipality, after the shocking scandal), he was concurrently vice-premier in charge of industry, where he supported indigenous innovation, particularly in large SOEs. Yet, appreciating the role of the private sector in China’s growth model, Zhang worked to repair the damage done to Chongqing’s business owners by his predecessor. He quietly restored their confidence, recognizing entrepreneurs’ vital contribution to China’s development.

Yu Zhengsheng

In 2010, then Shanghai Party Secretary Yu told me that to solve the financial crisis, “while consumption has to be stimulated, investment is also needed – but in low-carbon, environment-friendly industries so that we can live in harmony with nature”. He continued, “What way of life should we adopt? Life in the West, particularly in the US with its large number of vehicles, depends on huge consumption of energy”.

Can China afford this way of life, Yu asked? “China has achieved great economic success, but many severe problems have arisen, especially widening income gaps and strained human relations. So the issues awaiting solution are how to produce a harmonious environment.”

When working on Expo 2010 Shanghai, I saw Yu’s pragmatism and candor. Interviewing him for China Central Television before the Expo opened, I inquired about his happiest experience. “The happiest hasn’t come yet,” he responded. “Only when the closing ceremony confirms a safe Expo, will I have the greatest pleasure.”

Liu Yunshan

A three-term member of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee, Liu served for 10 years as head of the CPC Publicity Department, where he led the transformation and development of China’s cultural industries, especially media and entertainment. Due to the sensitivity of ideology and limited financial investment, the dramatic achievements have been underestimated by outsiders.

While China maintained required regulation of the media to ensure social security, Liu effected the modernization and popularization of media communications. This restructuring, underreported abroad, unleashed creative competition and enabled greater diversity. The Internet, new media, television, press, publishing and film experienced great growth, even approaching world standards in technology and content. Significantly, media enhancement benefits all citizens irrespective of class or income – critical in a nation where social imbalances are its most divisive problem.

Liu also enabled increasing openness in China’s international communications. Regarding my commentaries about China, Liu advised me personally: “Let facts tell China’s story,” he said. “The truth is told best in an honest, matter-of-fact way. Painting rosy pictures doesn’t work; beautifying us isn’t helpful. Real-life stories count. Dig out life experiences; reveal innermost thoughts. That captures the real China.”

Influence of communications comes from capability of communications; impact of communications comes from power in discourse; and trust of communications comes from transparency in actions. This philosophy, consistent with many modern communications theories, comes from Liu.

When I met Liu five weeks after the devastating Sichuan earthquake in 2008, he said that the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee had held five meetings specifically on earthquake relief work, several late at night.

Only a dozen minutes after the earthquake took place, Liu himself called the president of CCTV and told the national broadcaster to start live broadcast 24 hours a day to let people know what was going on in the progress of the rescue and relief work.

“The West attacks us on human rights,” he said, “but these meetings, and the monumental relief work we’ve done, including our media reports, reflect our deep respect for human rights and transparency of our media.”

Liu said the Chinese people welcomed “constructive and good-intentioned criticism,” but “disagree with it when Western politicians and media make irresponsible accusations.”

“We will not accept criticism with ulterior motives,” he said. “Obviously China has many problems. We have 1.3 billion people. The trend is positive: our problems are ‘growing pains.’ We want more journalists to visit China, not fewer.”

Wang Qishan

In 1984, 200 young economists gathered for what would become an historic conference on pricing in China’s emerging market economy. The main organizer was a 36-year-old rural policy expert, Wang Qishan, who a quarter century later would become vice-premier in charge of finance with responsibility for China’s economy. In his remarkably diverse career, Wang was also chairman of China Construction Bank, vice-governor of Guangdong province, party secretary of Hainan province, and mayor of Beijing.

Wang is known for his capacity to solve problems and manage crises; his nickname is “fire-brigade captain.” Significantly, he co-led the rounds of the US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, the highest-level continuing contact between the two superpowers.

Wang combines humor with sophistication. With the Olympics approaching, an American financier requested his business card. “You won’t need my card,” Wang, then Beijing mayor, said with a smile. “If the Olympics is successful, I’ll be too high to help you,” he joked. “If it’s not, I won’t have a phone!”
Zhang Gaoli
Zhang was Party secretary of Shenzhen, the city that pioneered reform, and of Shandong, a province with 95 million people and a GDP now approaching $800 billion (China’s second-largest). Zhang told me how, in 2007, late one night, he was suddenly asked to run Tianjin, the industrial hub in North China. In 2011, Tianjin led all administrative regions in China with a growth rate of 16.4 percent and a per capita GDP of about $13,000.
When I visited Zhang in Shandong in 2005, he asserted that any idea that is in line with international practice and conducive to innovation may be tried-and tried boldly. “Without development there’s no way out; without growth we’d have no material strength and no problem could be solved,” he said, yet adding, “our social development is lagging behind our economic development.”
“We must strive for coordinated, sustainable, and balanced development of society, economy, regions, human being and nature,” he said. Educated in planning and statistics, Zhang appraised each of Shandong’s 140 counties using dozens of indexes – economic, social, education, and healthcare.
“Results count more than words,” Zhang told me more than once. “Opportunities are everywhere. If you’re quicker in seizing the first opportunity, you’ll have advantages in seizing future opportunities.” To know what’s really happening, Zhang said, “you must go yourself”- and he is known to visit subordinates, unannounced, in their offices. “I’m not interested in reports,” he said, “only results.” Zhang promotes a down-to-earth work style of intense effort and low profile. His motto: “Do more. Speak less.”
When foreign protesters interrupted the pre-Olympic torch relay (2008), then Vice-President Xi Jinping said, “The world is like a huge birdcage where all kinds of birds coexist. If you drive away the noisy ones, you lose wonderful variety and color. The key is to mind our own business well.”
If relaxed self-assurance reflects how China’s new leaders think, this augurs well for China’s future.
China’s new leaders, led by Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang, face formidable challenges. They are ready – but one danger is high expectations. A senior aide confided, “Xi is ready, but it won’t be easy.”
The author is an international corporate strategist and investment banker who advises multinationals on doing business in China. A longtime counselor to China’s leaders, he is the author of How China’s Leaders Think. His biography of former president Jiang Zemin, The Man Who Changed China, was China’s best-selling book of 2005. Dr Kuhn is a frequent commentator in the international media.


China’s Foreign Policy: Strict Non-Interference!

China’s Foreign Policy: Strict Non-Interference!

China's Foreign PolicyThe foundation of China’s foreign policy is a pledge not to interfere with counties that don’t interfere with China. It’s wildly successful: China is now the most popular country on earth.

Not necessarily for anything they’ve done, but for what they haven’t done. As Xi Jinping pointed out in Mexico, First, China doesn’t export revolution; second, China doesn’t export hunger and poverty; third, China doesn’t come and cause you headaches, what more is there to be said?

But China’s non-interference goes much further than that! Here’s a typical complaint from a Chinese small businessman in Africa. But it’s typical of China’s extreme restraint:
China's Foreign Policy

In their eyes, government officials were no better, according to a trader from Zhejiang, who also decried his embassy’s inaction: the Angolan government depart- ments extort money from us, they threaten us to say that we will be arrested. Why are they so unfriendly to us? They say we will be arrested. It is because the Chinese govern- ment has never interfered. Africa in their words. p. 36.

Given that almost ALL Chinese business people living abroad make similar complaints, it looks as if China’s government is underlining its unwillingness to put even the mildest pressure on national governments for the most mundane matters.

As I said, it’s working.

Bribes in China

Do people say giving bribes in China gets you ahead in life?

Bribery Around the World

Whether it’s to cover up a scandal or score a business contract, acts of bribery are common throughout the world.

We recently asked people in 44 countries how important certain attributes are for getting ahead in life (with 0 meaning “not important at all” and 10 meaning “very important”). While “giving bribes” ranks at the bottom compared with other factors (“having a good education” tops the list), several countries stand out for their scores when it comes to greasing the palm.

The countries where people are most likely to say bribes are important are China (with a 5.5 average rating on the 10-point scale), Jordan (5.0) and Russia (4.5); and those least likely to do so are Brazil (0.8), El Salvador (1.4) and Colombia (1.5). (The U.S. is near the low end of the scale with a 2.5 rating.) 

In China, bribery is a recurring issue, so much so that Communist Party officials focused their 2014 plenum on anti-corruption efforts, among other rule-of-law topics. One of the most popular acts of bribery in China is gift-giving to secure government contracts, according to a 2012 World Bank survey of the Chinese business sector.

To gain more insights, we looked at the distributions of people’s responses on bribery on the 0-to-10 scale within each country’s population.

In our survey, the Chinese public tends to rate the importance of “giving bribes to get ahead in life” as somewhat important (half rated it between a 6 and a 9). Just 3% say bribery is very important (rating of 10), and 5% say it is not important at all (rating of 0). Whether young or old, male or female – the Chinese public views bribery similarly.

By contrast, people in Tunisia are more polarized on their views of bribery. While the average score is 4.1, more people choose either 0 or 10 than any other rating in between (41% choose 0, 24% choose 10). It’s worth noting, though, that a higher share of Tunisians choose 10 than people in any other country surveyed.

Younger Tunisians (ages 18 to 29) are also more likely than older Tunisians (ages 50 and older) to say giving bribes is very important, choosing a 10 by a 30% to 19% margin; whereas older Tunisians are more likely to say it is not important at all (50% vs. 32% select 0).

In Brazil, the country least likely to say giving bribes is important, a solid majority (74%) says bribes are not important at all. In the U.S. – where money’s influence in politics also makes plenty of headlines – 47% say giving bribes is not important at all for getting ahead, and 6% say it is very important.


  1.  is a Digital Editorial Assistant at the Pew Research Center.

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  1. Rick • 3 hours ago

    This question is ambiguous. Does it mean to ask if people think it is ok to bribe to get ahead or does it ask how much people think it is actually being used to get ahead. The answers to these two versions of this question can be very different.


BBC Censorship & Myths About the Chinese Internet

BBC Censorship & Myths About the Chinese Internet

Chinese Internet

Interesting angle in Foreign Policy:
Five Myths about the Chinese Internet

  1. Censorship means the Chinese are left in the dark.
  2. It’s the government that censors.
  3. No one is allowed to criticize the government.
  4. Internet censorship is carried out in a blanket fashion.
  5. The Internet will lead to democracy.

Just as interesting is this article in Truthout, by John Pilger on censorship in the BBC:
As Gaza Is Savaged Again, Understanding the BBC’s Role

In the Middle East, the Israeli state has successfully intimidated the BBC into presenting the theft of Palestinian land and the caging, torturing and killing of its people as an intractable “conflict” between equals. Understanding the BBC as a pre-eminent state propagandist is on no public agenda and it ought to be.

In Peter Watkins’ remarkable BBC film, The War Game, which foresaw the aftermath of an attack on London with a one-megaton nuclear bomb, the narrator says: “On almost the entire subject of thermo-clear weapons, there is now practically total silence in the press, official publications and on TV. Is there hope to be found in this silence?”

The truth of this statement was equal to its irony. On November 24, 1965, the BBC banned The War Game as “too horrifying for the medium of broadcasting. “This was false. The real reason was spelled out by the chairman of the BBC Board of Governors, Lord Normanbrook, in a secret letter to the secretary to the cabinet, Sir Burke Trend.

“[The War Game] is not designed as propaganda,” he wrote, “it is intended as a purely factual statement and is based on careful research into official material … But the showing of the film on television might have a significant effect on public attitudes towards the policy of the nuclear deterrent. “Following a screening attended by senior Whitehall officials, the film was banned because it told an intolerable truth.  Sixteen years later, the then BBC director-general, Sir Ian Trethowan, renewed the ban, saying that he feared for the film’s effect on people of “limited mental intelligence”. Watkins’ brilliant work was eventually shown in 1985 to a late-night minority audience. It was introduced by Ludovic Kennedy, who repeated the official lie.

What happened to The War Game is the function of the state broadcaster as a cornerstone of Britain’s ruling elite. With its outstanding production values, often fine popular drama, natural history and sporting coverage, the BBC enjoys wide appeal and, according to its managers and beneficiaries, “trust.” This “trust” may well apply to the series “Springwatch” and Sir David Attenborough, but there is no demonstrable basis for it in much of the news and so-called current affairs that claim to make sense of the world, especially the machinations of rampant power. There are honorable individual exceptions, but watch how these are tamed the longer they remain in the institution: a “defenestration,” as one senior BBC journalist describes it.

This is notably true in the Middle East where the Israeli state has successfully intimidated the BBC into presenting the theft of Palestinian land and the caging, torturing and killing of its people as an intractable “conflict” between equals. Standing in the rubble from an Israeli attack, one BBC journalist went further and referred to “Gaza’s strong culture of martyrdom.” So great is this distortion that young viewers of BBC news have told Glasgow University researchers they are left with the impression that Palestinians are the illegal colonizers of their own country. The current BBC “coverage” of Gaza’s genocidal misery reinforces this.

The BBC’s “Reithian values” of impartiality and independence are almost scriptural in their mythology. Soon after the corporation was founded in the 1920s by Lord John Reith, Britain was consumed by the General Strike. “Reith emerged as a kind of hero,” wrote the historian Patrick Renshaw, “who had acted responsibly and yet preserved the precious independence of the BBC. But though this myth persisted it has little basis in reality … the price of that independence was in fact doing what the government wanted done. [Prime Minister Stanley] Baldwin … saw that if they preserved the BBC’s independence, it would be much easier for them to get their way on important questions and use it to broadcast Government propaganda.”

Unknown to the public, Reith had been the prime minister’s speech writer.  Ambitious to become Viceroy of India, he ensured the BBC became an evangelist of imperial power, with “impartiality” duly suspended whenever that power was threatened. This “principle” has applied to the BBC’s coverage of every colonial war of the modern era: from the covered-up genocide in Indonesia and suppression of eyewitness film of the American bombing of North Vietnam to support for the illegal Blair/Bush invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the now familiar echo of Israeli propaganda whenever that lawless state abuses its captive, Palestine. This reached a nadir in 2009 when, terrified of Israeli reaction, the BBC refused to broadcast a combined charities appeal for the people of Gaza, half of whom are children, most of them malnourished and traumatized by Israeli attacks. The United Nations Rapporteur, Richard Falk, has likened Israel’s blockade of Gaza to the Warsaw Ghetto under siege by the Nazis. Yet, to the BBC, Gaza – like the 2010 humanitarian relief flotilla murderously attacked by Israeli commandos – largely presents a public relations problem for Israel and its US sponsor.

Mark Regev, Israel’s chief propagandist, seemingly has a place reserved for him near the top of BBC news bulletins. In 2010, when I pointed this out to Fran Unsworth, now elevated to director of news, she strongly objected to the description of Regev as a propagandist, adding, “It’s not our job to go out and appoint the Palestinian spokesperson”.

With similar logic, Unsworth’s predecessor, Helen Boaden, described the BBC’s  reporting of the criminal carnage in Iraq as based on the “fact that Bush has tried to export democracy and human rights to Iraq. “To prove her point, Boaden supplied six A4 pages of verifiable lies from Bush and Tony Blair. That ventriloquism is not journalism seemed not to occur to either woman.

What has changed at the BBC is the arrival of the cult of the corporate manager. George Entwistle, the briefly-appointed director general who said he knew nothing about false accusations of child abuse against a Tory grandee on the show “Newsnight,” is to receive 450,000 pounds of public money for agreeing to resign before he was sacked: the corporate way.  This and the preceding Jimmy Savile scandal might have been scripted for the Daily Mail and the Murdoch press, whose self-serving hatred of the BBC has long provided the corporation with its “embattled” facade as the guardian of  “public service broadcasting.” Understanding the BBC as a pre-eminent state propagandist and censor by omission – more often than not in tune with its right-wing enemies – is on no public agenda and it ought to be.

Even More:

The BBC’s Culture of Self-Censorship

Is the BBC in such a petrified or paralysed state, so badly decayed, that it is beyond repair? Are all hopes of inner movement or structural reform misplaced?

To read the national press this would appear to be the case. I’m not so sure. Hysteria has now reached absurd proportions, as has the level of public discussion on the issues at stake. George Entwistle, his predecessor Mark Thompson and Helen Boaden, director of news, are reminiscent more of middle-level bureaucrats in Honecker’s Germany than creative-minded managers. Entwistle has fallen on his sword. More might opt for hara-kiri, but on its own this will solve very little.

There is an underlying problem that has confronted the BBC since Sir John Birt was made director general in Thatcher’s time. His predecessor (bar one) had been sacked effectively on Thatcher’s orders in 1987 for not “being one of us”.

A reliable toady, Marmaduke Hussey, was catapulted on to the BBC board as chairman. His first task was to sack director general Alasdair Milne for “leftwing bias”. Thatcher was livid that the BBC had permitted her to be grilled on the Falklands war on a live programme by a woman viewer from Bristol who successfully demolished the prime minister’s arguments.

Thatcher disliked the BBC’s coverage of the Falklands war and the miners’ strike and highlighted a number of other documentaries that were considered “too leftwing”.

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