Home > Analysis > Ho Pin’s NYT Op-Ed, “China’s Heir Apparent,” has many holes

Ho Pin’s NYT Op-Ed, “China’s Heir Apparent,” has many holes

February 13th, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

The New York Times has just published an Op-Ed by Ho Pin, entitled, “China’s Heir Apparent.” It was originally written in Chinese and translated by someone else. Ho Pin, according to a blurb at the end of the Op-Ed, is an editor of a Chinese book on Vice President Xi Jinping’s biography. Unfortunately, his opinions are naive – both in his understanding about China and the problems still persistent in “democracies.” In this post, I’d simply like to point out why I thought so.

China’s Heir Apparent
Published: February 12, 2012
IT is a deeply ingrained belief in China that a young novice starting out in the real world must earn a degree, or at least spend some time in the West. “Gilding,” or “du-jin” as it’s called in Chinese, boosts the person’s credentials and chances of success. Nowhere is this belief more apparent than in politics. For a new leader, strutting on the White House lawn and shaking hands with the president of the United States validates his status as a true statesman and confirms his country’s rising power. I think the Chinese genuinely believing there is a lot to learn from the West is a good thing.  I always hoped the West would think there is a lot to learn from China too.  Hence, I am supportive of President Obama’s 100,000 Strong Initiative.The Chinese media do try to portray their leaders as great statesmen.  What country’s media don’t?More importantly, China’s relationship with the U.S. is one of the most important for our world.  Ho Pin shouldn’t be so stupid to not think it important for the countries’ leaders to have more exchanges.
Ten years ago, China’s current president, Hu Jintao, made the rounds in Washington before taking the top spot. His meeting with President George W. Bush was widely seen in China as his official debut on the world stage.
The tradition continues on Tuesday as Vice President Xi Jinping arrives in Washington. Mr. Xi is slated to become general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party later this year and China’s president in early 2013.
The public sees Mr. Xi as a man of the people. When Mr. Xi was 9, his father, Xi Zhongxun, who had fought in the Communist revolution, was purged from the party by Mao. The father was detained and imprisoned and spent 16 years in a labor camp, plunging the family into poverty. During the Cultural Revolution, a 15-year-old Mr. Xi was banished to a poverty-stricken village in northern China where, for seven years, he labored with peasants, eating corn chaff bread and sleeping in a flea-infested bed. Ho Pin should also see that with this experience, Xi knows what it is like to be politically persecuted.One should ask this question.  What is the difference between Liu Xiaobo and Xi Jinping?Arguably, both are “persecuted,” but one is a criminal and the other is about to become China’s President!
His past sufferings will most likely make him an advocate of ordinary people’s interests. Indeed, the public expects that Mr. Xi will follow the example of his father, who later became instrumental in initiating China’s economic reforms, backed many of his progressive contemporaries and reportedly disagreed with the violent suppression of student protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989. Within China, there are disagreements toward the 1989 Tiananmen Square protest.  It is safe to say that the majority believe today the suppression of the protest was a correct step.  As we see in Greece, a revolution does not guarantee a positive outcome will emerge.
Mr. Xi will take the helm amid increasing disillusionment with Mr. Hu, a cautious technocrat who lacked the talent and political will to steer the country in a new direction. Even though China has used market reforms to transform itself into an economic powerhouse, the government lives in constant fear of unrest. It is true that the Chinese government is afraid of a revolution.  What government doesn’t?Even if we look at Syria today, the U.S. government has secretly been funding political opposition domestically and abroad (Wikileaks).  That opposition when strong enough will take up arms.  And as we saw in Libya, the opposition can be assisted to take down the government and kill its leaders.If a revolution had occurred in 1989, how does Ho Pin guarantee the economic success of the last two decades, lifting hundreds of millions of peoples lives out of abject poverty?

He doesn’t go into what this “new direction” is, but I presume it is political reform.

Wealth and opportunities have been snatched by a few politically connected individuals. Corruption is rampant, and the gap between the rich and the poor is widening. President Hu has resisted calls to reform China’s political system. Instead, he has reverted to the Mao-era policy of creating mammoth state-run enterprises and allocating billions of dollars to a security apparatus that routinely cracks down on dissent. It is true corruption is rampant in China.  But, he offered no specifics on how political reform could tackle this issue.I presume he thinks America’s political system is a poster child for where China needs to be.  But, then he should ask, how is it that Wallstreet being bailed out by the American tax payers despite them melting away trillions of peoples wealth.China is taking very substantial steps towards fixing corruption.  For example, China is now requiring officials to declare their wealth.

China also works with foreign countries to extradite corrupt officials who run away with money they embezzled.

China has also instituted laws requiring local governments to disclose their budgets and other information to Chinese citizens and media.

There are certainly other measures can be taken.  He would be much more credible to talk about the specifics rather than simply saying the political system needs to be reformed.

And, it is not like China’s political system is not changing.  There are experiments of democracy at the local level on a massive scale that is taking place in China!

Economic growth has offered Mr. Hu a temporary reprieve; Mr. Xi will not be so lucky. The economy is showing signs of stalling, the real estate bubble could burst and the financial system is being undermined by unregulated and corrupt lending. Meanwhile, protests against corruption and social injustice are intensifying as the country’s environmental resources are depleted without any consideration of future generations. Ho Pin might be ignorant to not know the Chinese government has been fighting inflation in China these last 5 years – perhaps even longer.China should be applauded for managing to grow 9% despite the financial down turn in the major trade partners.Certainly, environmental degradation is a problem in China.  The Chinese government’s response is to invest heavily in green tech.  It is also not approving high polluting factories and allowing these to go elsewhere like Vietnam where they are more desperate for FDI.

For being a poor country, China also has to balance the need for jobs domestically.

Ho Pin sounds like the type of person who would then dwell on unemployment in China.  What does he propose as a balance?

Inaction isn’t an option for Mr. Xi. He will have to combat corruption, improve protections for peasants and migrant workers and rejuvenate private enterprise. Given that his father was once persecuted for supporting a banned book, Mr. Xi should grasp the importance of free speech, and one hopes he will work to regain the trust of intellectuals. But without free elections, a free press and independent judges, the government can’t fulfill its promise to stamp out corruption and build a fair and just society. There are many issues in this one paragraph.First of all, the author is just ignorant about China.  China is constantly changing.On free speech, I think he is too harsh on his criticism. Criticisms of the Chinese government is plenty abound.  Look at weibo’s in China!

For the most part, dissidents in China get into trouble because they violate Chinese law.

In terms gaining the trust of intellectuals, Ho Pin has reality backwards.  PEW and other credible organizations year after year who the Chinese government enjoying popular support!

If we ask the Occupy Wall Street movement, they would hardly say U.S. society is fair and just.

China’s GNI coefficient and America’s are similar.  But, in China’s case, poor peasants at least have their own land to grow food and live in their own homes.  The GNI coefficient doesn’t really reflect that phenomenon.

If we look at the Chinese press, they are looking at corruption, food safety, false representation by corporations, and the list goes on.  If anything, the Chinese press is becoming more and more aggressive.

Given Xi Jinping’s background, why wouldn’t Ho Pin think he will allow this general trend to continue?

Mr. Xi will face many constraints. Even though he will rule the world’s most populous nation and faces no official political opposition, he lacks the legitimacy accorded democratically elected officials. And he can’t expect to dominate China’s power structure as Mao and Deng Xiaoping did. In today’s China, every decision requires balancing the political interests of all factions. And the recent uprisings in the Arab world have made Chinese leaders keenly aware of their own vulnerability to political score-settling in the event of a government collapse. They will try everything to prevent it from happening in their lifetimes. This claim that when a leader is not “democratically elected” is therefore illegitimate is nonsense.This claim is similar to what a Crusader would claim – someone of not the same religion is therefore evil.What is his definition of legitimacy?  For the Chinese, it has always been “the mandate of heaven.”  Real legitimacy is how well you are able to maintain and improve society.
However, the trend is irreversible. As the insatiable greed of corrupt officials and unfair economic practices further exacerbate public anger and hatred, a large-scale crisis, set off by events like an economic meltdown or a protest by peasants or migrant workers, could occur. Economic meltdown in China?  That’s a laughingstock.  As China’s middle-class continue to swell in size, that in fact will make China more politically stable.
If that happens, Mr. Xi seems more likely than former leaders to rally progressives both within and outside the party, take advantage of grass-roots movements and genuinely transform China’s political landscape. A responsible, democratic China that embraced human rights and international norms would stand up to terrorists and dictators and instill trust in neighbors. I wonder if he thinks a “responsible” China also means one whereby she invades foreign countries, station troops around the globe, and drone-strikes terrorists.But I think a responsible country is one that tries to embrace the existing world-order even though it is not all that fair.Embracing human rights means trying hard to invest and lift people out of poverty – like what China is doing for Africa.

Responsibility is investing in green technology and pledging to cut carbon intensity despite others polluted on their way to prosperity.

Until now, the Chinese government has successfully deflected international pressure for change largely because a group of money-grubbing Western investors, desperate politicians and opportunistic scholars have fawned over China’s vast foreign reserves and market potential. One can only hope that the American government will see past the money and unequivocally support the voices of reform and push for political change from within. Despite China’s tough talk, pressure from the West matters and can make a difference. It is not that China doesn’t care about Western ideas.  The fact that Chinese leaders like Xi Jinping who sends his daughter to study in the U.S. speaks more about China’s embrace for what the West has to offer.

Western pressures on China are driven by self-interests.

Until Ho Pin understands this point, he will continue to see reality through his colored lens. If the West, or Ho Pin, is so confident about it’s ideas, rest assured people will line up to imitate.

And there are. He is just not looking at the right places.

As “free” and “democratic” as he sees in the West, the West completely lacks confidence in its own progress. In this context, he comes across more as a “freedom” and “democracy” zealot.

Ho Pin is the Chinese-language editor and publisher of “The Biography of Xi Jinping.” This essay was translated by Wenguang Huang from the Chinese.
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  1. pug_ster
    February 14th, 2012 at 06:35 | #1

    Ho Pin is the owner of Mirror Books. And all the books published by Mirror Books is banned in China. Makes you wonder why.

  2. Nihc
    February 14th, 2012 at 06:42 | #2

    Hmm, my Chinese friend doesn’t like Xi because he felt that Xi “didn’t do anything” while he was governing Fujian, his home province. Any explanation on his perception?

  3. LOLZ
    February 14th, 2012 at 07:36 | #3

    Ho Pin – “But without free elections, a free press and independent judges, the government can’t fulfill its promise to stamp out corruption and build a fair and just society.”

    A lot of people tend to repeat this as if this is true everywhere. India has free elections, free press, and independent judges. However it’s even more corrupt than China. Singapore has an authoritarian government, less free press, judges which are appointed by the same party (PAP) for decades. Yet Singapore is one of the least corrupt nations in the world.

    IMO corruption has far more to do with standard of living and enforcement of laws than anything else.

  4. silentchinese
    February 14th, 2012 at 08:16 | #4

    LOLZ :Ho Pin – “But without free elections, a free press and independent judges, the government can’t fulfill its promise to stamp out corruption and build a fair and just society.”
    A lot of people tend to repeat this as if this is true everywhere. India has free elections, free press, and independent judges. However it’s even more corrupt than China. Singapore has an authoritarian government, less free press, judges which are appointed by the same party (PAP) for decades. Yet Singapore is one of the least corrupt nations in the world.
    IMO corruption has far more to do with standard of living and enforcement of laws than anything else.

    The problem with Ho Pin and people like him is that they have incrediblly short memory.
    or rather, memory replaced with counter factual ideological utterances.

    They should remember how Hongkong, Under unquestionablly Authoritarian Rule of a whitehull appointed British Viceroy. ruled a ethnically chinese majority population had one of the cleanest and most effective city government amongst the contemporary “chinese states”.

    therefore, Their arguments are all counter factual.

    But, I guess if one’s ideology is End-of-History, and the factual history that one actually lived through does not support that ideology, then the factual history must be false.

    This is the problem with the prevailing ideological wind of the day, the reality must warp to conform to ideology.

    I really don’t know how people could do this though, Must involve copious amounts of mind-altering psychodelic drugs were involved in warping one’s reality.

  5. February 14th, 2012 at 08:55 | #5

    Had the same reaction when I read Ho’s piece. Just garbage. The amazing thing is that this sloppy hacky job gets space in the Sunday NYT. Nice analysis. I’ll keep reading.

  6. Charles Liu
    February 14th, 2012 at 13:23 | #6

    “legitimacy accorded democratically elected officials”

    Wait, isn’t the president of PRC elected by the NPC? Aren’t the NPC deligates elected by provincial People’s Congress? Aren’t provincial delegates elected by local congress? With local congress being directly elected, isn’t this in fact a form of indirect election?

    Direct election by 1.4 billion people would be a huge logistics undertaking. Countries many times smaller than China relies on indirect election, yet. For example the prime minister of UK is not elected, but appointed by the queen from the ruling party in Parliment.

    In US presidential election also go through a series of consensus-building steps before our two-party oligopoly presents a “princeling/heir appurtenant” each, for citizens to choose from, in a dog-and-pony-show general election that doesn’t really count, and rules in the Electoral College that is designed to induce landslide wins.

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