Position and Analysis

Chinese Government Sentenced Rights Defending Reporters to Forbid Public’s Rights to Know

07

Sep 2017

 

May 30 this year, three Chinese labour activists, Huahai Feng, Li Zhao, and Su Heng were arrested in Jianxi Province, when investigating labour rights conditions in a shoe factory, the Huajian Group, that makes Ivanka Trump-branded shoes. Three people were detained for nearly a month being being released on June 28.

 

According to the China Labor Watch, before their arrests, Hua Haifeng and the others have collected evidence of labor rights and "labor law" violations at the Huajian factory. These include long working hours up to 18 hours per day and only one rest day every two weeks; factory managers often abused or insulted women in foul language and even exerted corporal punishments; evasion of overtime compensation were common, which resulting in wages lower than the statutory minimum wage level; and the factory even seized one month of salary from the workers as compensation in case of resignation.

 

Almost at the same time on August 3, the founder of mainland rights defending news platform "Not the News", Lu Yuyu, was sentenced to 4 years in prison at the Dali City Court in Yunnan after more than 1 year of detentions on charges of “Picking Quarrels and Provoking Trouble”. Meanwhile, Lu Yuyu’s girlfriend and business partner, Li Tingyu, who was arrested at the same time was reportedly released earlier in April this year. Since 2013, “Not the News” disclosed news of mass incidents across China, including land expropriation protests, workers strikes, and property owners protests every day on the Internet to unveil the truth of social injustice in China. In recognition of their sacrifices for defending freedom of speech, Lu Yuyu and Li Tingyu were awarded the “Reporters Without Borders (RSF) – TV5 Monde Press Freedom Prize” in November 2016.

 

In fact, it is absurd that activists are arrested and imprisoned for disclosing evidence of corporate and government wrongdoings, while these enterprises and government officials continue to go unpunished. As businesses are constantly seeking maximum profits on the expense of labor rights and the environment, the purpose to expose corporates and government wrongdoings is to defend the consumers’ and public’s rights to know, and hence, serves as a means to monitor corporates and government. Unfortunately, the Chinese government chose to arrest and suppress those who dare to seek for the truth and condone those who continue to infringe labor rights, to forbid the public’s right to know, and to prevent the truth being leaked to the outside world.

Liu Shaoming: Courage from the Grassroots

24

Aug 2017

 

After two years of his detention, Liu Shaoming, 59, a labour activist charged with “inciting subversion of state power” for publishing his memoir of June Fourth Massacre, was tried at the Guangzhou Intermediate Court on 7 July. A harsh sentence of 4.5 years imprisonment was then handed down, close to the highest possible sentence (5 years) for this “crime”.

 

Liu was a steel worker and a member of Beijing’s Workers Autonomous Federation during the Tiananmen Square Protests in 1989. After the June Fourth Massacre, he was sentenced to one-year imprisonment for “crime of instigating counter-revolutionary propaganda”. He then worked in Guangdong Province, taking grassroots jobs such as mover, factory worker, security guard, construction worker and etc. Thus, he has a deep sympathy for his fellow grassroots workers. In recent years, Liu participated in various labour actions, helped organizing workers who were involved in some major labour actions. His outspokenness led him to the detention centres for some dozen times.

 

In June 2014, Liu Shaoming escaped the authority’s surveillance and held a banner to publicly commemorate victims of June Fourth Massacre from 25 years ago. His action earned him 10 days of administrative detention. In May 2015, Liu released his “June Fourth Memoir”, with detailed documentation of his experience of the Tiananmen Square Protests in 1989. Shortly afterwards, he was detained by Guangzhou Police on 29 May and charged on 14 July 2015. Liu denied the subversion charge and was detained for another two years. His trial was deliberately delayed and the verdict came finally on 7 July 2017.

 

Coming from a grassroots background, Liu witnessed and encountered social injustice and political violence. He is neither a famous academic, nor a rights lawyer. He cannot either write academic papers with well-structured theories, or discuss legal interpretation with expertise. Yet, as a grassroots worker, he organized other workers to defend labour rights; as a witness of June Fourth Massacre, he published his memoir online to speak up. Paying the price of his freedom, Liu is fighting not only a class struggle with the regime, but a struggle to preserve memory. Last year, he defended himself in the courtroom, talking about his goal and motive in releasing his memoir, “for my fellow countrymen not to forget this history, to reflect on such a heartbreaking history.” The Chinese Government, in order to avoid responsibility for June Fourth Massacre and to cover up the deteriorating labour relations, handed him a harsh punishment, to eliminate the righteous voice.

 

In China, dissidents face imprisonment, forced disappearance, suspicious suicide, but one after one, they refuse to kowtow, they choose to show the world their insistence and courage to challenge social injustice. The more the government wants to eliminate names like Liu Xiaobo, Li Wangyang, Wang Quanzhang, Meng Han from the peoples’ memories, the more cowardly it looks. The Chinese Government might sentence Liu with almost the maximum imprisonment terms, but his moral courage, coming from the grassroots, has never been trapped within the tall jail walls. As he said in his statement,  “for people who long for freedom, there is no difference between a some 20 square meter prison cell and a 9.6 million square kilometer prison of mind.”

Liu Xiaobo Diagnosed Advanced Liver Cancer Due to Overdue Medical Treatment in Prison

27

Jun 2017

       

Liu Xiaobo, the Noble Peace Prize Laureate was released on medical treatment on June 26, 2017 after serving 8 years in prison for taking part in the drafting of “Charter 08”. On the same day, the Liaoning Provincial Prison Administration website confirmed that Liu Xiaobo was diagnosed with liver cancer and is now under treatment in the First Affiliated Hospital of China Medical University. A video clip of Liu Xia, Liu Xiaobo’s wife, was later released on the internet claiming that Liu Xiaobo's condition is too serious to be treated with chemotherapy, radioactive treatment nor surgery.

 

Doubts are raised whether there has been a deliberate concealment of Liu’s health condition by the Chinese authorities when news on his health was considered to be in a positive state in February this year.  According to Bruce Lui, Senior Lecturer of School of Communication of HKBU, health examinations for prisoners have always been performed regularly for prisoners in China. Thus, Liu Xiaobo’s sickness should, in theory, have been taken care of before it deteriorated. However, when news of Liu’s prognoses of liver cancer broke out in May, it may lead to speculations that the prime time for his medical treatment might have been long overdue due to the cover up on his health.

 

On June 27, the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions took part in demonstration in front of the Liaison Office of the Central People's Government in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region organized by the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China. The HKCTU believes that the imprisonment of Liu Xiaobo is a blatant violation on human rights and freedom of speech. While by preventing Liu from appropriate medical treatment at an early stage is also equivalent to denying his rights to survival. Therefore, the HKCTU hereby requests the Chinese government to immediately and unconditionally release Liu Xiaobo and stop the house arrest of Liu Xia, so that they can arrange the location and method of medical treatments at their own will. The HKCTU also demands the Chinese Government to stop all persecutions of human rights defenders and dissidents in the mainland.

Commemorating the Fifth Anniversary of Li Wangyang’s Death:

13

Jun 2017

I am not a hero, I just want to be a man

 

Li Wangyang, a man who lived up to his words, once said that for freedom and democracy, “I won’t retreat even if I am beheaded”.  For his belief, Li endured decades of hardship and finally was “suicided”. His suspicious death shocked many Hong Kongers and caused public uproar.

 

Li came from a very humble background with a very basic demand. In 1983, he was inspired by the Polish trade union Solidarity while working in a glass factory. Thus, he organized a “workers’ mutual help community” with his friends, hoping to follow the examples of workers in other countries, to enjoy freedom of association, learn and share their experience with other workers. In 1989, he founded Workers Autonomous Federation, to support the Tiananmen Square Protests led by students. Many Hong Kongers were moved by the same protests and still commemorate those who lost their lives in Beijing.


Li once defended himself at the court, declaring “Marches and protests, freedom of expression are constitutional rights, I did not commit any crime and I did nothing wrong.” For safeguarding his basic human rights, Li served twenty-one years in prison, very often in solitary confinement, on charges of counterrevolutionary propaganda, incitement and subversion.
Life is politics. Staying away from demanding the end of one-party rule nor an official reassessment of the crackdown on the Tiananmen Square Protests, does not keep politics at bay. As long as you care about your dignity, you cannot stay away from politics. Do you know Zhao Lianhai? He was sentenced for “disturbing social order” when he fought for his son, who became ill from drinking tainted milk. Let say Ai Weiwei, a political artist who lives under house arrest and surveillance for his outspokenness. Look at the human rights lawyers, who use their expertise to help victims to claim their legal rights, yet they become victims of White Terror and detentions. Many people, who have no intention to get involved with politics, are forced to fight against the notorious autocratic regime, in order to preserve their dignity and live honestly.


We all know that the Velvet Revolution broke out in then Czechoslovakia in 1989 and overthrew the autocratic regime. But what triggered this revolution? It was not a grand master plan to seize political power, but by passionate fans of the band “The Plastic People of the Universe”, including Václav Havel, trying to rescue the band members from being detained and fight for artistic freedom. Their action developed and became the major force of “Charta 77” in overthrowing the regime. Havel once described, “… the regime unknowingly exposes its true intention: to make life become monotonous, whatever is slightly different, individual, outstanding, independent, or things which cannot be classified, should be removed with a scalpel."


Indeed, what makes the Chinese Government worried the most are not dissidents in the orthodox sense, but people going through diverse daily struggles. Issues such as food safety concerns, employment security, environmental issues, religious freedom, artistic freedom and etc., are raising people’s awareness. The regime is getting more worried and hopes to control more. Thus, it is tightening its grip on civil society and penetrating at all levels. The grip is not only suffocating China, but endangering Hong Kongers. Bookstore owners were abducted, private schools were forced to shut down, musicians were arrested as illegal workers and etc., these are not random cases, but a systematic monitoring scheme to deprive us from our freedom.


Chinese poet Bei Dao once wrote, “… I am not a hero / in an age without heroes / I just want to be a man.” Maybe, the most important insight of the fifth anniversary of Li Wangyang’s death is, even we do not intend to become martyrs or heroes, we should stand firm for our human dignity. We have no choice but to defend it.

 


 

Biography of Li Wangyang

Li Wangyang (1950-2012), a resident of Huashi New Village, Daxiang District, Shaoyang City of Hunan Province. He was known as a pioneer of independent labour movement in China. In 1983, he established a “Workers’ Mutual Help Community of Shaoyang City” and in 1989, he founded the Workers’ Autonomous Federation in Shaoyang City and served as its chairman, to organize workers to support the Tianan men Square Protests. After the June Fourth Massacre, he organized several memorial services to mourn the victims. He was sentenced to 13-year imprisonment for “crime of instigating counter-revolutionary propaganda”. In 2000, he was released for reasons of poor health. Yet, in 2001, he joined a hunger strike with other activists in Hunan Province, as a petition to hold authorities accountable for the torture he received and his disability they caused. He was given an additional 10-year sentence for "inciting subversion" and released in 2011. After 21 years of imprisonment and torture, he became deaf, blind, suffered from severe heart disease, hyperthyroidism and many other health problems. In 2012, he was interviewed by a Hong Kong television station, iCable TV. He said he never regret in supporting the democratic movement in China. The interview was broadcast on 2 June 2012, which attracted enormous social attention and the state security put him under surveillance again. On 6 June, Hospital of Daxiang District informed his younger sister Li Wangling that Li “had committed suicide”. His family and other dissidents doubted if the “suicide” was staged and accused authorities of forcing his family to cremate Li's body and sign the Certificate of the Cause of Death. 

 

Imprisoned labour activists:

13

Jun 2017

Photo Credit: Website of New Citizens Movement

 

Liu Shaoming –– Liu was a member of Beijing’s Workers Autonomous Federation during the Tiananmen Square Protests in 1989 and played an active role to support the students. After the June Fourth Massacre, he was sentenced to one-year imprisonment and deprivation of political rights for one year, and put under surveillance for one year, for “crime of instigating counter-revolutionary propaganda”. In recent years, Liu has participated in various labour actions and organized a team of volunteers to safeguard workers’ rights. They were involved in a dozen of labour actions, such as actions of cleaning workers in Higher Education Mega Centre in Guangzhou, Xinsheng Shoe Factory, Guangzhou Citizen Watch Co. Ltd. and etc. In April 2015, he published two articles to commemorate the victims of June Fourth Massacre and recollect his memories of the Tiananmen Square protests. These two articles and his WECHAT messages became materials for the authorities to charge him with “inciting subversion of state power”. In mid-April 2016, he was tried at the Guangzhou Intermediate Court. Over a year has passed since his trial and no verdict has been delivered. In other words, Liu Shaoming has been given an endless imprisonment in disguise.

 

Photo Credit: Website of New Citizens Movement

 

Meng Han –– Meng Han worked as a security guard at No.1 Affiliated Hospital of Guangzhou University of Traditional Chinese Medicine and took part in a labour action, which caused him to serve a sentence of 9-month imprisonment. After his release, he joined the Panyu Migrant Workers Services Centre to continue his fight for workers’ rights. On 3 December 2015, Guangdong Provincial Government launched a crackdown against labour activists and Meng was the only person which was sentenced without suspension. The verdict stated that Meng’s involvement with the labour disputes in Lide Shoe Factory was "gathering crowds to disrupt public order" and sentenced him to 21-month imprisonment. By now, Meng has been detained for 16 months and his family has never been allowed to visit him throughout his detention, By doing so, the authorities have bluntly violated the domestic and United Nations’ provisions on the rights of prisoners.
“Rule by Law” & “Television Trials”:

13

Jun 2017

a Double Strategy to Mute the Civil Society

 

In the past, the Chinese Government took a low-profile approach to conduct its political repression. Yet, the trend has changed. Extensive media coverage and television trials have been recently adopted to crack down human rights activists. Despite international community’s condemnations, repression grows in China. Between September 2016 and January 2017, China passed three laws, namely: Cyber Security Law, Charity Law and Law on the Administration of Activities of Overseas Non-Governmental Organizations within the Territory of China (hereafter: Foreign NGOs Law), using legislations as a weapon to further restrict the growth of civil society and freedom of expression.

 

Photo Credits: BBC’s Chinese Website

 

In 2016, many human rights lawyers, labour activists, environmentalists, religious rights activists were arrested or sentenced. Quite some trials were “put under the spotlight” of China Central Television or Xinhua Net, the state media channels. In recent years, activists are often forced to make video confessions, including Zhou Shifeng and Zhai Yanmin from Beijing Fengrui Law Firm, five booksellers from Causeway Bay Books, labour activist Zeng Feiyang, Wukan Village’s elected village leader Lin Zulian; Christian activist and lawyer Zhang Kai and Swedish human rights activist Peter Dahlin. These media confessions are used as an example to silent other civil rights activists and dissidents. Lam Wing-kee, one of the victims of these media confessions, described his video confession as “well-staged with scripts and a director” in a press conference after he returned to Hong Kong, “Offenders” were told to read out their confessions in front of the camera, according to Lam. Such confessions are not only a severe violation of the detainees’ fundamental human rights, but jeopardising the independence of the judiciary. By forcing them to confess, the Chinese Government hopes to turn the “offenders’ own words” against themselves, to rationalize the illegitimacy of its repression and arrests.


At the same time, in order to weaken the civil society and the call for reform, Chinese authorities have been busy in revising laws to tighten its control. Foreign NGOs Law and Charity Law are implemented to control the finance of NGOs, restricting their independence and their ability to organize. Cyber Security Law tightens constraints on freedom of expression of netizens. These three laws could be interpreted as the Xi Jinping administration's determination to build a system of “rule by law”, namely, to restrict civil rights through legislations and maintain stability.


The recent crackdowns show that the Chinese Government no longer constrained by foreign governments’ and media’s criticisms. The growing international status of China means that the Chinese Government could ignore pressure from the international community and openly punish activists. It is foreseeable that in future, the Chinese authorities would continue to silent the civil society through “rule by law” and “television confessions”, to adopt new laws to enhance the creditability of its forced confessions, and to discredit the image of civil society through “television confessions”.

June 2016 – May 2017

13

Jun 2017

Major Human Rights Violations in China

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On 2 August 2016,

activist Zhai Yanmin, who had been detained in connection with the Fengrui Law Firm, was convicted of “subversion of state power” and sentenced to 3 years with 4 years suspended.

 

On 4 August 2016,

Zhou Shifeng, director of Fengrui Law Firm was convicted of “subversion of state power” and sentenced to 7 years.

 

On 8 September 2016,

Li Zulian, an elected village leader of Wukan Village, in Lufeng City of Shanwei, Guangdong Province, was arrested on graft charges and received 37 months of imprisonment.

 

On 26 September 2016,

Zeng Feiyang, Zhu Xiaomei and Tang Huanxing, labour activists in Guangdong Province, were convicted of “gathering a crowd to disrupt social order”. Zeng was sentenced to 3 years with 4 years suspended, Zhu and Tang were sentenced to 1.5 year and 2 yeas suspended.

 

On 10 October 2016,

Liu Shu, head of the NGO Shuguang Environment was accused of “releasing state secrets related to counterespionage work” and given an administrative detention.

 

On 3 November 2016,

labour activist Meng Han was sentenced to 21 months for “gathering a crowd to disrupt social order”.

 

On 28 November 2016,

Huang Qi, founder of 64 Tianwang Human Rights Centre was detained

 

In November 2016,

prominent human rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong, who had represented Chen Guangcheng, went missing. His disappearance took place after his meeting with Lawyer Xie Yang and his family, who had been detained in connection with the “709 Crackdown” on human rights lawyers.

 

On 31 March 2017,

Su Changlan and Chen Qitang, two Guangzhou citizens who expressed their support for the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong, were sentenced to 3 years and 4.5 years respectively, for “inciting subversion of state power”.

Workers Made Scapegoats of “Economic Downturn”:

01

Jun 2017

Guangdong Minimum Wage Frozen for Three Years

 

 

In 1993, China issued its first national regulations on enterprises’ statutory minimum wages and in 2004, it issued “Provisions on Statutory Minimum Wages” to further regulate it, requiring it to be reviewed once every two years, if not shorter. Except in 2009, when China was hit by the 2008 Financial Crisis and statutory minimum wage froze nationwide, all provinces have been in line with the legal requirement, i.e. adjusting statutory minimum wages once every two years. On 24 February 2017, the Guangdong Provincial Government issued a “Working Scheme on Reducing Costs for Real Economy Enterprises” (hereafter: the Scheme), stating that in order to reduce labour costs for enterprises, the statutory minimum wage would be reviewed once every three years and the statutory minimum wage for 2017 would be kept at the level of 2015. This is the first case in China, that minimum wage in a province remains unchanged for three years.

 

The Scheme announces that in order to follow and execute the future development strategy drafted by the Central Government, the Guangdong Provincial Government would conduct reforms in enterprises and policies. Its goal is to cut operating costs for enterprises and push for “supply-side structural reform”. Thus, it plans to reduce the tax rates for all industries, cut labour costs, and other operating costs, and hence, promote competitiveness and ensure economic stability or even growth in Guangdong, under the background of the ongoing economic downturn in China. Back in 2016, the Guangdong Provincial Government declared that it would freeze minimum wage between 2016 and 2017, gradually reduced the employers’ contribution to employees’ pension insurance and housing provident funds to 14 % and not higher than 12% respectively. At the same time, consumer price index in Guangdong Province has increased by 1.5% and 2.3% in 2015 and 2016 respectively, according to National Bureau of Statistics. In other words, though the statutory minimum wage remain frozen due to the so-called economic downturn, prices continue to hike.


A stable supply of jobs become an important rhetoric of the Central Government in recent years. Premier Li Keqiang delivered the annual government work report at the fifth session of the 12th National People's Congress recently, calling “employment creates wealth and is a main source of household income”. Stable employment does not only mean job opportunities, but also job quality, as the Central Government has been pushing for fair distribution of resources and narrowing the income gap in recent years. Statutory minimum wages, according to previous studies conducted by different civil society organizations, have been an important indicator for enterprises in setting frontline workers’ wages. To freeze minimum wage would inevitably affect their livelihood. The State Council promulgated an “Employment Promotion Plan (2011-2015)” in February 2012, aiming to promote an annual growth of wage at 13% all over China and “statutory minimum wage should reach 40% or above the local employees’ average wage”. However, Guangdong Province failed to meet these goals by the end of the fifth session of the 12th National People’s Congress. In 2015, statutory minimum wage level was only equivalent to 28% of the average local wage, falling far behind the expectation of the State Council’s Plan. The new Scheme to freeze the statutory minimum wage clearly violates the national policy directives and regulations. In future, it might be challenged and even face administrative litigation initiated by workers.

 

 

Though economic growth has slowed down, Guangdong Province’s GDP has been increased by 8% and 7.5% in 2015 and 2016 respectively. In 2016, its GDP reached almost 8 trillions Yuan, amounting to 10.7% of the national GDP. With such glamorous growth, the decision to freeze minimum wage is sending a message that the Guangdong Government has no intention to share prosperity with the workers. It also illustrates that the current minimum wage could not reflect workers’ real needs. To address workers’ real needs, the government should make its standards and calculation methods of statutory minimum wage public, develop a transparent assessment mechanism and invite workers to participate, rather than decisions made solely by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security and participation from state-run trade union and business associations. Meanwhile, the provincial government should pursuit the goal of raising the statutory minimum wage to 40% of local employees’ average wage, instead of freezing them for 3 years. The revision of statutory minimum wage should not be lower than the growth of GDP, i.e. the basic guarantee to share economic prosperity with workers, to stabilize the society for sustainable development.

Interview with Dr Eileen Yuk-ha Tsang,

01

Jun 2017

an researcher of sex workers in China

 
China is estimated to have four to six million sex workers. However, the society still holds many misconceptions about this vast number of workers. In this issue of China Labour Quarterly, we are honoured to have Dr Eileen Tsang, assistant professor of Department of Applied Social Science of City University of Hong Kong to discuss the issue with. Dr. Tsang has conducted extensive research on sex workers in China in past years. Her research aims to understand sex workers from different perspectives and hopes to eliminate the prejudice the general public has developed against sex workers.

 

During the interview, Dr Tsang repeatedly emphasized “sex work is work” and the public should not have prejudice against sex workers. The traditional social role of sex workers and the social discourses used to describe sex workers as being forced into prostitution or caused by their self deprivation. However, among her interviewees, she does not identify anyone who was forced into prostitution. On the contrary, sex industry provides prospects of upward social mobility, self-recognition and independence for low skilled workers with lower educational attainment.


Dr Tsang’s research reveals that low-end sex workers are often migrant workers who used to work in low-skilled manufacturing jobs, such as in garment or electronics factories. Most of them have only attended primary or middle schools. In 2008, the global financial crisis left a vast number of workers unemployed and many of them joined the sex industry to make their ends meet. Dr Tsang also notices that manufacturing workers face enormous exploitation. Low income, long working hours, poor occupational safety standards and precarious working conditions are some of the everyday challenges of these workers. Furthermore, rigid workplace environment does not offer them self-affirmation, since they are not able to rest and live freely due to the strict regulations imposed by factory managements. Although as sex workers, they would face discrimination, be exploited and extorted by pimps, clients and police, but why would such a large number of workers still choose to join the sex workforce? Dr Tsang’s research shows that when compared to manufacturing jobs, sex industry provides workers with higher income and more freedom. Workers realize that they become more independent and hence, enjoy a higher degree of freedom. Occasionally they feel even appreciated and recognized by their clients, a positive feeling the factory jobs could not offer. Higher income and more freedom turns out to be an important source of social capital for migrant workers. As today’s Chinese society is heavily dominated by consumerism and the motto “cash is king”, extra income and more leisure time help migrants to integrate better into the urban lifestyle, move upward socially, and expand their social circle. Through their job, many sex workers are able to improve their social status and gain self recognition.


Dr Tsang’s study does not only offer an in-depth analysis of sex workers’ mentalities, but also reveals the hopelessness migrant workers face in their career development and the lack of opportunity in upward mobility. Grassroots workers can hardly improve their skill level due to long working hours and rigid workplace settings; low income keeps their socio-economic status immobile and the worst of it, their dignity as workers is deprived by the inhuman treatment of factory management. In short, workers could neither feel independent, nor recognized at their workplace. Thus, to look into the needs of grassroots workers in China, in terms of career and personal development, is an important aspect in promoting labour rights in China.

Finding the Culprit behind Sino-Hong Kong Clashes

01

Jun 2017

Class or Nationalist Conflicts?

In recent years, Chinese investment in Hong Kong has become a hot topic in the financial news. From McDonald's Corp. selling its controlling stake in its Hong Kong operations to CITIC Group, to China Telecom obtaining a MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator) license in Hong Kong, all indicate that Chinese capital is taking up a sizeable share of the market in Hong Kong. According to Census and Statistics Department’s report released in December 2016, near half of Hong Kong’s foreign direct investment (FDI) in 2015 came from the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands and Bermuda, the three major hot spots of offshore companies; FDI from China amounted to only 27%. It is believed that a large amount of Chinese FDI entered the Hong Kong market via offshore companies, to avoid being identified. The case of “the 88 Queensway Group” in 2015 illustrates how Chinese capital invests in foreign countries through offshore companies, its intertwined relationship between Chinese Government, state-owned enterprises and alleged corruptions.

 

Reported by Initium Media, Hong Kong businessman Sam Pa controlled 29 companies, which were known as “the 88 Queensway Group”, served as a middleman to arrange African crude oil trade to China and Chinese investment in African infrastructure. Among these 29 companies, 19 of them are partly or wholly owned by offshore companies registered in the British Virgin Islands. Offshore companies are not required to disclose its shareowners and directors, which attract politicians and business owners to transfer their capital overseas for unlawful deals or tax evasion. If the sources of FDI from offshore companies is considered, Chinese FDI in Hong Kong would be far beyond the statistics have shown.


In fact, Chinese capital has penetrated all sectors in Hong Kong, from large-scale infrastructure, building and engineering, retailing, catering, telecom and many other businesses, are openly or secretly operating by Chinese capital. For example, MINISO, a home product enterprise which has grown rapidly in Hong Kong, is a subsidiary of Guangdong Aiyaya Company, high-end retailers such as Suning Appliance Group and Zhou Liu Fu Jewellery are the successful examples of Chinese companies’ expansion to Hong Kong. In the telecom sector, as early as 1997, China Resources Co. Ltd. owned mobile phone services provider Peoples. It was later acquired by China Mobile. Its rival China Unicom is also active in Hong Kong. Apart from expanding their business to Hong Kong, some Chinese companies enter the Hong Kong market by means of acquisitions. Traditional newspapers such as Ming Pao Daily and South China Morning Post have been bought by companies with Chinese background. New media such as Initium Media and HK01 are also known to be mainly invested by Chinese capital. In catering, Pacific Coffee has been acquired by CR Enterprise (known as CR Beer now) in 2010, Epicurean & Co. Ltd. and Pokka HK have been bought by Chinese capital and now McDonald’s operations in Hong Kong would be sold to CITIC Group. Chinese capital has become a significant presence in the service sector in Hong Kong and is likely to have an impact on people’s everyday life. Yet, its most significant impact so far is on the real estate market.

 

 

Instead of teaming up with Hong Kong proprietors in joint-development projects, there is a trend in recent years that Chinese developers are now participating in government land auctions as sole proprietor or collaborate with other Chinese enterprises. For example, a consortium of Chinese developers won the bid of Wong Chuk Hang Station (Phase 1) project. According to Jones Lang LaSalle, Inc.’s “Hong Kong Residential Sales Market”, issued in February 2017, the seven major Hong Kong developers bid 45% of residential land on auctions in 2012. However by 2016, the figure dropped to 22%. On the contrary, Chinese developers tend to have a higher purchasing power and motivation than local developers. During the financial year of 2016/2017, the seven major local developers paid an average bidding price of HKD5,827 per square foot, small / medium-scale developers paid HKD8,602 and Chinese developers paid HKD13,382 at land auctions. This illustrates that Chinese developers are willing to pay astronomical price for “premium estate”. Thus, transaction price is far beyond market value in government land auctions recent years. For example, HNA Group, which has a close relationship with the Chinese Government, bid for 4 pieces of land in Kai Tat. With their “special” background. Chinese developers could afford a price higher than the market value and surpass the affordability of local developers.

According to the statistics of Santander Bank, FDI in Hong Kong in 2015 was mainly placed in non-productive economic sectors, known as "hot money", such as stocks and real estate. The influx of Chinese funds into the housing market is perceived to be one of the reasons for the ongoing hikes in property prices, despite various policies, such as the Double Stamp Duty, were implemented to “cool down” the market. Yet, as Chinese Government continues to combat property market speculation in the mainland, coupling with the risk of RMB devaluation, Chinese capital continues to flee the domestic market as the property market in Hong Kong is deemed to be one of the best hedge investments for Chinese capital. Midlands Holdings’ statistics show that in the second quarter of 2016, first-hand and second-hand residential properties sold to Chinese buyers have been increased by 236% and 85% quarter on quarter respectively, and they increased by 35% and 18% respectively in the third quarter of the year as well. It shows that although the Chinese Government attempted to restrict capital outflow, it could not stop the trend. Previously, Chinese capital preferred investing in commercial properties, but now it extends its grasp on residential properties that instigates the housing price to peak. This does not only cause housing problems, but also inflation in other consumer goods in Hong Kong. In a way, it is becoming a new form of “real estate hegemony”.


Livelihood issues have always been the cause of conflicts between Hong Kong people and Chinese people. Children born in Hong Kong by non-local parents, shortage of baby milk powder in Hong Kong caused by Chinese shoppers, grey goods traders, to housing problems, it is very often that livelihood issues cause political conflicts between Hong Kong and China. However, many of us fail to see that these conflicts are triggered by Chinese capitalists exploiting common people in both China and Hong Kong. To resolve Hong Kong people’s livelihood problems, to join force with China’s working class in resisting the cross-border exploitation by Chinese capital, is indeed the resolution Hong Kong people should look into.

Right to Communicate Violated:

01

Jun 2017

Labour Activist Detained and Isolated for 16 Months

 

Chinese labour activist Meng Han was sentenced to a prison term of 21 months by Panyu District Court of Guangzhou City on 3 November 2016,  for "gathering crowds to disrupt public order" as he helped organize workers to defend their rights. He was then sent to serve his sentence in Shaoguan Prison of Guangdong Province and is expected to be released in September 2017. Together with the detention prior the sentence, Meng has been detained for over 16 months. Since his detention on 3 December 2015, his family has attempted to visit him over a dozen times but in vain. No matter it was the No.1 Detention Centre of Guangzhou or Shaoguan Prison, the authorities denied his family’s rights to see him. In late March 2017, Meng’s parents visited Shaoguan Prison again and was told that Meng had been going through education and therefore could not be visited. Frustrated, his family made various complaints at the Bureau of Public Security and never received any feedback. Now, they start to feel extremely worried about Meng’s conditions.

 

In fact, Meng’s freedom has been deprived by the Chinese Government through unjust means. By violating his rights to communicate with the outside world, the Chinese authority has further violated Meng’s fundamental human rights and even its own legislation. Article 48 of China’s Prison Law states, “A prisoner may, in accordance with the relevant regulations, meet with his relatives and guardians during the service of his sentence.”; UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners also guarantees prisoners’ rights to communicate with the outside world,  Rule 58 states, “Prisoners shall be allowed, under necessary supervision, to communicate with their family and friends at regular intervals:(a) By corresponding in writing and using, where available, telecommunication, electronic, digitals and other means; and (b) By receiving visits.” During his 16-month detention, Meng was not allowed to see his family and his trial last year was conducted secretly, without his parents’ presence. Meng’s father tried to remit money to Meng through China Post (for him to spend in the prison) but the remittances were returned. Without Meng’s news for such a long time and being constantly worried about his son’s situation, Meng’s father became ill and hospitalized.


To silent the victims of its arbitrary detentions and violent crackdown against labour activists, Chinese Government turns a blind eye to its own legislation, as well as the international minimum standard. It is disturbing that Meng Han’s personal safety and human rights conditions are not to be known to the outside world. In any case, Meng Han’s duty to defend labour rights as a staff in a labour NGO is, not the least bit, an act of crime. Thus, the Chinese Government is responsible to respect Meng Han’s basic rights and stop all suppression against labour rights activists and unconditionally release Meng with immediate effect.

Chinese Capital Capturing Overseas Energy Industry

22

Mar 2017

Due to the slowdown in China's economic growth and the growing domestic overcapacity in recent years, the Chinese Government and enterprises have participated in a number of overseas investment and construction projects. In December 2015, when Chinese President Xi Jinping attended the China-Africa Cooperation Forum, he promised to invest US $60 billion in Africa during the next three years and support local construction of roads and railways. Apart from Africa, Latin America is also the destination of China's production and capital. In this issue, we interviewed a German scholar Dr. Jörg Nowak (Assistant Professor (Visiting), Department of Asian and International Studies, City University of Hong Kong) who in recent years studied the process of strikes in India and Brazil, and witnessed Chinese enterprises attempting to invest or acquire Brazilian enterprises. 

 

 

Lately, the Brazilian government is actively preparing for a number of energy-related infrastructure projects. For instance, the current Brazilian government is studying the possibility of building dozens of hydroelectric power stations in the Amazon Forest, in order to solve the problem of hydropower generation in recent years. Leaving aside the impact of the plan on the environment, this plan is a good opportunity for Brazilian construction companies. However, due to the Brazilian political and business corruption scandal in 2014, a large number of Brazilian construction industry executives and bosses were exposed. Moreover, the Brazilian economy has been declining seriously since 2015. These Brazilian companies urgently need foreign investments to maintain business operations, so Chinese investments and acquisitions are welcomed by the Brazilian Government and businesses. "The ruling right-wing coalition has been questioning if the Rothschild government has worked too closely with the Chinese government to make Brazil a raw material supplier," Nowak said. "They think that Brazil should trade with the United States because the US deal was majority in industrial products, and I thought they were telling the truth, but after the right wing came to power, we did not hear them against the sound of Chinese capital coming into Brazil."

 


Chinese capital is currently investing in Brazilian energy companies or construction companies holding shares of energy companies. According to the International Energy Organization data, China's investments in Brazil, Mexico, Chile, and Uruguay's solar power generation is the largest in the region. "In 2016, China's total investment in Brazil's energy projects surpassed the US for the first time and there was a report published yesterday (January 25, 2017) that the State Grid Corporation had successfully acquired large-scale energy companies in Brazil." Nowak here refers to the central enterprises of the State Grid Corporation on January 24, successfully acquired more than half of the shares of CPFL company which was Brazil's largest private energy companies. The acquisition is also the largest foreign investment projects of the State Grid Corporation, making this corporation achieve a comprehensive coverage of investment in energy transmission, distribution, new energy power generation, electricity and other business areas in Brazil. In addition, there may be a new hydroelectric power projects launching in the near future. Chinese capital is expected to gradually increase its market share in energy industry locally.


However, Nowak believes that China will not copy their investment model in Africa to make a large-scale investment in Latin America. Instead it will selectively invest in projects based in areas that can gain bank financing nationally and internationally. For example, the above-mentioned two-phase railway, the hydroelectric power plant plans and energy companies, which are currently in the research stage. He believes that the cost of labour in Latin America is still higher than in Africa and South-East Asia. Therefore, the Chinese government will have more interest in investing in agricultural products, raw materials and some special projects rather than industrial investment projects.

Chinese Workers Become the First Victim

22

Mar 2017

of Continuous Foreign Investment Withdrawal

 
In mid-November 2016, Coca-Cola announced to sell its bottling assets in China to Swire Pacific Ltd and China National Cereals, Oils and Foodstuffs Corporation (COFCO). Under the realignment, Coca-Cola will cease to run bottling operations in mainland China. Workers in its plants in Jilin, Chongqing and Chengdu became worried about if the new employers would alter their labour conditions after the acquisition. Thus, they demand a buy-out offer with full severance payments from Coca-Cola and a guarantee from the new employees to reemploy them with the same terms and conditions (known as retrenchment before reinstatement). Yet, Coca-Cola’s silence angered workers leading to a strike on 21 November 2016. Police stepped in and seized the Chongqing plant. Numerous workers were assaulted and seven workers, including an expectant mother, were detained.

 

 

As China’s economic slowdown deepens and local governments are pushing for industrial upgrade, foreign-invested low-end manufacturers are gradually leaving China and thus, labour conflicts surface. When foreign-owned plants are sold to Chinese enterprises, workers often demand a buy-out offer. Hong Kong workers might find it confusing, as they tend to prioritize job security and would be satisfied if they would be employed by the original terms and conditions and be allowed to keep their seniority under the new ownership. In contrast to that, the “China’s Labour Contract Law” guarantees that the change of investors would not affect the implementation of the original labour contracts. In other words, Chinese workers seem to have more job security even a new employer comes in. Why do they have to take it to the street and demand retrenchment before reinstatement?


The Coca-Cola case illustrates the fate of many workers in foreign enterprises in recent years. Change of ownership makes workers anxious, due to many previous examples of new owners forcing workers to resign or cutting the workforce down, making the “Labour Contract Law” a toothless tiger and costing workers to lose the seniority-based severance payments. Moreover, foreign enterprises are often better monitored and employees receive better wages and welfares when compared with their counterparts in Chinese-owned enterprises. When a foreign enterprise employs an employee, it is required to follow the OECD Guidelines and thus, the working hours and occupational safety policies provide better protection to workers. As they invest globally, their corporate conducts are monitored by consumers’ campaigns, NGOs and trade unions in the western world. Chinese-invested enterprises are not subjected to OECD Guidelines, which includes guidelines on labour conditions. For example, China Foods Ltd., a subsidiary of COFCO transferred the ownership of Leconte Chocolate to another COFCO’s subsidiary COFCO Property (Group) Co. Ltd. in March 2016. After the ownership transfer, the new employer closed plants, downsized the workforce significantly and sold all assets, except properties. An industrial action broke out in August 2016, but for a state-owned enterprise like COFCO, it can easily commission the local governments and labour authorities to take its side and launch repression against workers. The lack of protection of workers in Chinese-owned enterprises make workers come up with the “retrenchment before reinstatement” strategy, to first get the seniority-based severance payments before they become worth nothing after the ownership transfer.


Labour actions triggered by factory closures, relocations or redundancies have increased continuously in recent years. It is getting more difficult for workers to claim their missing wages and social insurance back and reemployment remains a challenge. At the same time, Chinese Government adopts heavy-handed measures to crack down civil society, increasing workers’ risks to fight for their rights; the Chinese trade unions fails to safeguard workers’ rights; all these make the future grim for Chinese workers.

International Labour Organization Urged the Chinese Government

22

Mar 2017

to Stop Suppression on Freedom of Association

 
In December 2015, the Guangdong Provincial Government launched a mass crackdown against labour activists, detaining over 25 volunteers and employees of labour NGOs. Some of them were released after interrogation, but six of them, Meng Han, Zhu Xiaomei, Tang Huanxing, Zeng Feiyang, Peng Jiayong, and Deng Xiaoming have been charged with “gathering a crowd to disrupt social order”. Another detainee, He Xiaobo was accused of “embezzlement”. In September 2016, Zeng Feiyang was sentenced to 3 years in prison and suspended for 4 years; while Zhu Xiaomei and Tang Huanxing were sentenced to 1.5 years and suspended for 2 years.  Meng Han was later sentenced to 21 months in prison on November 2016.

 

HKCTU's press conference on introducing the details of the ILO Interim Report

 

In response, Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU) wrote to International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) in January 2016, calling for them to file a formal complaint at the ILO’s Committee of Freedom of Association (CFA) demanding the Chinese Government to stop its repression on freedom of association, which the ITUC did in February, 2016. Subsequently, the CFA released an interim report in November, 2016 and stating their regrets that Zeng Feiyang, Zhu Xiaomei, Meng Han, Deng Xiaoming, Peng Jiayong and Tang Jian were detained for their involvement in the Lide Factory’s collective labour action between December 2014 and April 2015. Meanwhile, the CFA urged the Chinese Government to take the necessary steps to ensure that freedom of association is protected and labour activists are allowed to continue to provide advisory services to workers without hindrance. It demands the Chinese Government to conclude the pending investigations and provide court judgements of labour activists once they are completed. The report also reiterated that the CFA had repeatedly criticized the Chinese Government in previous cases of labour rights violations, but have yet to see any measure taken by the authorities to improve the situation.


HKCTU welcomes the judgements made by CFA and urges the Chinese Government to positively respond to CFA’s recommendations, namely to stop obstructing labour activists in safeguarding labour rights, respect workers’ freedom of association and right to collective bargaining.

Torn Between Authoritarian Rule and Right-Wing Populism:

22

Mar 2017

The New Challenge of Hong Kong's Democratic Labour Movement

 

 

The democratic labour movement in Hong Kong encountered numerous challenges in 2016. At the eve of May Day 2016, the major student unions from nine universities, which had previously been on friendly terms with the HKCTU, released a joint statement, declaring their withdrawal from the Solidarity March hosted by the HKCTU. In their eyes, union struggles are “simply a matter of rituals”, “claiming to safeguard workers’ rights and interests, pleading the communist-run Hong Kong Government to pity and improve Hong Kong people’s situation, yet no improvement on labour rights has been achieved in Hong Kong.” Since its establishment in 1990, the HKCTU has always practiced social movement unionism. HKCTU is not only a crucial team-player in fighting for democratic movements, but also in student movements. Of the two major strikes of the last decade, namely the bar-benders strike of 2007 and dockers strike of 2013, student organizations also worked closely with the HKCTU to support workers’ struggles.

 

 

Dr. Chan King Chin Chris
(Associate Professor,
Department of Applied Social Sciences,
City University of Hong Kong)

 

However, after the Umbrella Movement in 2014, a structural change took place in the Hong Kong society. Disappointed by the “fruitless” Occupy Central Movement with some 200,000 participants and angered by China’s brutal repression against civil society in Hong Kong, people started to turn to right-wing populism. Thus, the call of “Hongkongers first”, local organizations and political parties with a pro-independence agenda come into existence and are supported by the youth, causing the traditional college student unions to change their stance on labour support. In discussing most of the social policies, the HKCTU upholds the principles of internationalism and criticizes the narrow-minded localism. For instances, the HKCTU fought with migrant workers for the right to abode in Hong Kong and it also supports new immigrants from China to be covered by social welfares. In the light of this background, HKCTU does not only fight for social and political reform in Hong Kong, but also cares and supports the development of labour and democratic movement in China. HKCTU’s general secretary Lee Cheuk-yan served as the second chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China. The rise of right-wing populism is posing new political challenges to HKCTU’s internationalism and its perspective on China.


In the Legislative Council Election in September 2016, Labour Party, a political party established by HKCTU and other activists in 2011, suffered heavy losses and lost three seats with only one seat left after the election. One of the legislators who lost their seat was Lee Cheuk-yan, who has been in office since 1995. Replacing them were six young candidates who support “localism”, including three moderate-left localists and three extreme-right localists, who were all elected with high votes. Lee Cheuk-yan has been a well-respected leader in democratic movement and union movement. HKCTU and Lee played a major supporting role in the Umbrella Movement, despite they were not the leaders and founders of the movement. Yet, the pro-Beijing media keeps defaming them of receiving foreign fund to Occupy Central. Two years after the Umbrella Movement, Lee lost the election. This symbolizes the difficulties faced by the democratic labour movement, namely being suppressed by both the authoritarian regime in China and the local right-wing populism in Hong Kong.

 


After becoming a major economic power in the world, China is also changing its ruling policies, both internationally and domestically. Its policies on Hong Kong and Macau is a mix of both. Since he took office in 2012, President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign and Chinese Dream rhetoric have made him popular domestically and his “One Belt One Road” and “Free Trade” plans gained him a positive image internationally. However, he also tightened his grip on civil society and labour movement. China does not only deprive Hong Kong people of their right to universal suffrage, but also increasingly interferes with domestic issues in Hong Kong, such as interference in election, cross-border law enforcement and etc., more and more people start to doubt the existence of “One Country Two Systems”. In terms of economic development and livelihood, China continues and even strengthens the neo-liberalist economic practices inherited from the Colonial Era. This leads to a decline in Hong Kong’s social development, leaving it a less socially developed place than its neighbours, such as the Four Little Dragons in Asia and mainland China. In recent years, HKCTU and its partner organizations have been advocating for reforms in social policies, such as the legislation of standard working hours, universal pension scheme and etc. When the current Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying was running for “election” five years ago, he promised to take these policies into serious consideration. Yet, with half a year left in his current term, these promises remain empty. Two major candidates of the upcoming Chief Executive election, who are both previous ministers, expressed their unwillingness to implement these two basic labour welfare policies. In short, this election has become a race between the vested interests of business sector and the Chinese Government, while labour rights fail to draw public attention as it did in the previous election.


Facing the enormous political repression and threat from China, supporters of the new localism and the traditional democrats are both exploring new strategies to survive and develop. Yet, none of them choose to combine democratic movement with labour movement, to push for social democratic reform. Instead, some opt to partner with local bourgeoisie. John Tsang, the former finance minister who runs for the upcoming Chief Executive election, successfully builds a “local Hongkonger” image while his policy programme reflects only the interests of Hong Kong entrepreneurs. A large number of Election Committee members, including from major democratic parties such as Democratic Party and Civic Party, and some independent members decided to endorse Tsang, despite their long term opposition to real estate hegemony. How the democratic labour movement would resist such an internal conflict and external repression, is a serious question to explore in future.

 < 1 2 3 4 >  Last ›