Position and Analysis

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.

Foreign NGO Law

22

Mar 2017

A Spell over China’s Civil Society

“Law of the People’s Republic of China on Administration of Foreign Non-Governmental Organizations Activities within China” (hereafter Foreign NGO Law) came into effect on January 1, 2017. Together with the “Charity Law” which became effective since 1 September 2016, these two laws were implemented within a few months to regulate activities of civil organizations. In line with Xi Jinping’s approach of “governing the country by law”, they restricted citizens’ rights by legal frameworks to achieve political stabilization. The laws provided a more grounded legal base for arresting and prosecuting dissidents, so that it would not be necessary to use “pocket laws” such as “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” and “illegal assembly and disturbance of public order” in prosecution.  The Foreign NGO Law is actually tightening up the space of civil society.  The purpose of its legislation and its potential impact could be considered from two aspects: 1) the set-up of monitoring system, and 2) regulations on business scope.

Dual-management by public security and administration department puts all NGO activities under surveillance

First of all, the law requires all foreign NGOs operating in China to register with the Public Security Department (Police) through relevant “professional supervisory units”. This requirement treats foreign NGOs as potential threats to social order and places the foreign NGOs under the management of the public security department.  At the same time, the foreign NGOs have to submit work reports and financial reports to “professional supervisory units” and declare their financial sources and transactions, and details of their funding plans (Article 19 and 20). In other words, all activities and financial information of the foreign NGOs are under close monitoring of government departments. Under this monitoring system, domestic NGOs receiving funding supporting from or cooperating with foreign NGOs are also under full surveillance. In a democratic and free country, an accountable NGO has the due diligence to disclose operations and financial details to public. However, in a totalitarian state ruled by persons, such as China, stringent monitoring systems are government’s tools to control domestic and foreign NGOs. Activities and projects operated by foreign NGOs in the country are under the regulation of Foreign NGO Law.

 

 

 

“Grey areas” disappeared as business scopes are regulated

According to Article 3 of the Foreign NGO Law, “foreign NGOs may carry out activities that will benefit the development of public welfare in such fields as economy, education, science and technology, culture, health, sports, environmental protection and in such aspects as poverty alleviating and disaster relief in accordance with this Law”. The Foreign NGO Law also states that foreign NGOs “shall not threaten China’s national unity and safety and the unity of all ethnic groups of China; shall not jeopardize China’s national interests”, and that “foreign NGOs shall not engage in or provide financial support to for-profit activities or political activities within China. They are also forbidden to illegally conduct or sponsor religious activities.” (Article 5) These clauses set limitations on activities of foreign NGOs and excluded political activities disapproved by Chinese Communist Party from legal framework. One can expect that besides socially high-risk organizations (such as human right or social advocacy groups), other foreign NGOs not working within the above business scope will also have difficulties in finding a “professional supervisory unit” and become legally registered for activities in China.

 

Civil society disempowered upon as new law takes effect

The purpose of the Foreign NGO Law is to screen organizations acceptable to Chinese Communist Party through “professional supervisory units”, legalize their status through registration and “file documentation”, and drive unwelcomed organizations out of China. As the Foreign NGO Law came into effect, civil society in China can no longer work under the “grey area”. All organizations which do not have the blessings from “professional supervisory units” are considered illegal. However, the law only listed general screening criteria (such as “shall not jeopardize China’s national interests” or “involved in political activities”) without elaborations or objective standards of these actions. The definition of eligibility would be fully controlled by local “professional supervisory units” and public security department.  The law has granted local government departments the “flexibility” which put many foreign NGOs in ambiguous situation.  The person-in-charge of an organization with projects in various parts of China said, “Sometimes the registration depends on the relations between the organizations and related departments, and how much the local government relies on the projects. For example, provinces relatively poor in resources usually hold more open attitude to NGOs.” Definition of sensitive issues also varies according to local politics. Some provincial or prefectural governments are more tolerant to environmental organizations investigating private enterprises which violated environmental protection laws, as they can maintain relations with the enterprises while meeting the directives handed down by the Central Government. However, similar behaviors may not be acceptable in other provinces or prefectures. In the future, one organization may be registered in some provinces and prefectures while forbidden to operate in other provinces or prefectures.  The risk of “making mistakes” would be much higher for some organizations which have been operating along the borderlines. For self-protection, these organizations may stop operation of high risk projects in the future.


The impact of enactment of Foreign NGO Law on those organizations working along borderlines may mostly be change in strategy or creation of more administrative workload. However, for those civil rights-based organizations, the law means “China does not welcome you to work in the country”. By excluding these organizations from the legal framework, it also raises their risk levels as they are considered illegal organizations in the country. In the future, if the Chinese government wants to outlaw these organizations or arrest their staff, there’s no need to use the “pocket laws” which are weak in legal basis. The basis for “law enforcement” will be stronger and the political cost will be reduced. This is in line with Xi Jinping’s approach of “governing the country by law” by limiting spaces of civil society with draconian laws. It also posts threats to foreign NGOs which are operating in “grey areas” or “restricted areas”. Some international organizations are preparing to withdraw from China and relocate their resources to regions with lower risks. The implementation of Foreign NGO Law has immediately resulted in self-censorship or relocation by some foreign NGOs, which has somehow weakened the strength of Chinese civil society and social reform.  No matter how the new law will be implemented and executed in the future, it is already creating more difficulties to civil society and NGOs in China.

Hong Kong-listed companies cheat Chinese workers out of their hard-earned money

24

Dec 2016

while the Stock Exchange of Hong Kong Limited (the Exchange) turns a blind eye

The Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU) has set up a “Monitoring Database of Hong Kong Enterprises in China” three years ago, to acquire information through media, social media, and interviews with labour organizations and workers in China. This year, the “Monitoring Report on Collective Labour Disputes of Hong Kong Enterprises in China” (Monitoring Report) covers from May 2015 to June 2016.  It documents large-scale labour disputes in Hong Kong enterprises and their labour violations, and aims to monitor multinational brands and Hong Kong entrepreneurs. It also advocates the Hong Kong Government to better monitor Hong Kong-listed enterprises’ conducts in other countries / territories. Last year, the Monitoring Report (2015) disclosed that many Hong Kong enterprises failed to pay for workers’ social security contributions and consequently led to a wave of strikes. This year, the Monitoring Report tells us about how these Hong Kong enterprises use relocation, equity transfer, restructuring, and prolonged wages arrears to force workers into “voluntary resignation”, in order to avoid paying severance compensation as required by law. Almost 60% (59.3%) of the cases of collective labour disputes are related to missing severance compensation and some of them involve listed companies in Hong Kong. Likewise, wages arrears take place in 56.3% of all collective labour disputes cases.

 

Hong Kong-listed Royale Furniture Holdings Ltd. is suspected to send triad members to dispense workers and avoid paying severance compensation

Among the 32 cases of collective labour disputes in Hong Kong enterprises, almost 60% (19 cases) are caused by unpaid or missing severance compensation. Over 20% of them involved subsidiaries of Hong Kong-listed companies. Royale Furniture Holdings Limited (HKG: 1198) is one of them. During the National Day holidays in 2015, Signature Enterprise Company Limited (Guangzhou), a subsidiary of Royale Furniture Holdings Limited, moved machineries to another production site, about two hours drive from its Guangzhou plant, without informing its workers. Such a secret relocation is meant to avoid paying severance pay to workers.

 

 

Hiding plan of relocation from workers and accusing workers of “voluntary resignation”

According to an online platform which documents collective labour disputes, Signature Enterprise deployed triad members to threaten workers. Workers recalled that their employer offered them an extraordinary long holiday and when they returned to work (the morning of 8 October 2015), they found the factory gate had been locked and over 100 men were blocking their entrance. These men were all uniformly dressed in black T-shirts and camouflage pants. Workers were stopped when they walked forward to ask for a reason and three of them experienced minor injuries when a conflict broke out with these men.


Workers then came with a banner to protest. They reflected, “the employer never asked us about the relocation.” Then the enterprise posted a “Notice of Return to Work” some days later, which ordered workers to take a coach organized by the enterprise on 19 October, to travel to work in the new plant in Zengcheng, approximately two hours drive one way. Xiao Liu, a worker of Signature Enterprise, explained, “we are not willing to go there because our families are here, we can’t just go there and work.” He pointed to workers who guarded at the factory gate, “these workers have aging parents, babies and primary school aged children to take care of. It is unrealistic that the employer simply asks us to go over.” After Signature Enterprise’s relocation, Royale Furniture dismissed workers who did not go to work in the new plant, accusing them of “voluntary resignation” after five days of “failing to attend work”.

 

Lack of transparency, the Exchange’s neglect to monitor listed companies

Johnson Electrics (Guangdong) Limited is wholly owned by Hong Kong listed company Johnson Electrics (HKG: 0179). The plant ignores occupational safety, violates the local work safety regulations, fails to provide appropriate protective measures or training on working with chemicals. At least six workers contracted leukaemia, which may have been caused by prolonged exposure to toxic chemicals such as benzene and thinners. However, Johnson Electrics refused to pay for their medical expenses or their wages. When Zou Xiuhua, one of the six victims, demanded the employer to pay for his medical expenses he was told by the company: “we have so many workers with leukaemia in the enterprise, if I pay for your medical expenses, what should I do with other sick workers?”

 

Currently, at least four workers from Johnson Electrics have officially been diagnosed with occupational leukaemia, by the Hospital for Occupational Disease Prevention and Treatment. Despite this, Johnson Electrics adopts delaying tactics and refuses to pay the related compensations. For example, Zeng Shumei, a female worker who entered the factory in 2009, was diagnosed with acute myeloblastic leukaemia M2a in 2013. The Guangdong Provincial Hospital for Occupational Disease Prevention and Treatment also identified it as a case of occupational cancer. Yet, Johnson Electrics appealed and delayed the procedure in providing related information for an official diagnosis, which kept her case in limbo. Likewise, leukaemia victims were offered a meeting with Liang Yanfan, general manager of Johnson Electrics’ Human Resources Department in Shajing Plant in Shenzhen, but they were physically assaulted after the meeting. Workers came to protest in Hong Kong twice. Johnson Electrics “agreed” to meet again with workers but continued using delaying tactics once the media stopped following the case.


The HKCTU lodged a complaint at the Exchange and provided evidence of workers’ official diagnosis of occupational disease, accusing Johnson Electrics of violating Chinese labour legislations and failing to pay workers their legal compensation. However, the Exchange refused to meet, not even with the severely ill victims who travelled to Hong Kong. The exchange wrote to the HKCTU, calling the complaint insignificant to Johnson Electrics and refused to further process it. In fact, the Exchange has never disclosed its investigation procedure or evaluation criteria. With such a lack of transparency, how can the Exchange be trusted that it would uphold public interests and monitor listed company impartially?

 

 

Listed Companies’ Disclosure of Information: a laughing stock

In July 2015, the Exchange amended its policies on listed companies’ disclosure of information and released a consultation paper “Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) Reporting Guide” (Reporting Guide). Amendments would then be applicable to the Listing Rules. Labour standards are included in the social aspect in the Reporting Guide. The Reporting Guide upgraded the disclosure of some aspects from “recommended disclosure” to “comply or explain”. During the consultation period, the HKCTU wrote to the Exchange and recommended “a set of clear disclosure guidelines and criteria” of labour standards for listed companies to comply with. A listed company has a responsibility to clearly inform their investors, employees and public about its labour standards and the compliance of labour protection, for the stakeholders to make informed evaluation of the impact of the company’s labour violations on themselves. The Exchange eventually demands listed companies to disclose “related policies” on labour rights and their compliance with labour legislations, but without the detailed records of the frequency of labour violations and related labour actions. For example, in Hutchison Whampoa Limited’s Annual Report 2014, the impact of Hong Kong Dockers’ Strike on its turnover was not spelled out. Though stakeholders might be aware of the labour action, they are not informed about the loss such an industrial action could lead to. As a fact, the amendments neither encourage listed companies to implement policies to protect workers, nor promote better governance to the public. They even fail to protect investors’ interests, as they lack details from the disclosure of information, if those self-proclaimed policies by the listed companies have been implemented or proven effective.  


This year’s Monitoring Report illustrates that in the midst of Guangdong’s economic transformation and as economic slowdown deepens in China, even Hong Kong listed companies would sacrifice workers’ basic legal rights and exploit them mercilessly. Labour conditions in small or medium-scale enterprises can only be more appalling. The cases described above also show that the Exchange connive listed companies, in both aspects of policy making and implementation. The Exchange’s lack of transparency is unhelpful in monitoring the listed companies’ compliance of corporate social responsibility and protecting the public’s right to know. As a result, the Exchange fails to provide concrete protection to both Chinese workers and investors.

Unusual Features of China’s Walmart Workers’ Resistance

24

Dec 2016

China has experienced an increasing number of strikes in the last few years. Among them, the Walmart workers’ protest that is now in its third month marks a new stage in post-Mao labour history. The protest exhibits a number of special features. First, while all of the strikes so far have taken place at single workplaces, coordinated strikes erupted at the same time this year at four Walmart stores in different cities. Second, these strikes, as well as protests at many other Walmart stores, were initiated and organized by workers themselves without prior contact with any labour NGOs. Third, the protests have been coordinated through the internet, using an on-line platform set up by two Chinese Walmart workers in 2014, The founders gave it a low-key benign name “Walmart China Workers’ Association” (WCWA). The two men serve as coordinators of blogs and chat rooms, with the intention of providing a platform for workers to exchange information, particularly on legal knowledge. The internet discussions have given workers a sense of collective identity as Walmart workers. Though the network does not have any formal organizational structure, it is has become a powerful organizing tool.

 

 

A question has to be asked: why is it that since almost all Chinese workers now have mobile phones, other protests and strikes in China tend to take place at single workplaces. The difference is that Walmart workers have an unusual sense of common identity since the problems they face at Walmart stores are very similar to the minutest details. This identity is a product of Walmart’s unique corporate structure and management method and style. Walmart through the years has always tried to build up a personality cult around its founder, Sam Walton. All stores have the same organization structure, the same number of hierarchical levels, the same rules and regulations, all workers are given an English name, and they all have to scream the same Walmart Cheer in unison every day and have the same message drummed into them they are “Walmart persons.” (沃爾瑪人). Even though many of the workers harbour a host of grievances against the company’s authoritarian management practices and low wages, they do think of themselves as Walmart workers. Walmart’s socialization process works, though not in the way Walmart would like it. This Walmart identity is also found in the United States. The American Walmart workers who organize themselves in a protest group call their association “Our Walmart”. In China, WCWA members have all shared similar experiences and speak the same Walmart language.


What sparked the Walmart strikes is a new company policy. In mid-May Walmart announced that it was going to use a “generalized work hour system”, which is very similar to American Walmart’s “open work hour system.” This allows extreme work hour flexibility. The Chinese Walmart workers were mortified. This would mean regular work hours are thrown out of the window and workers have to come to work anytime on call. Suddenly WCWA’s membership jumped to 10,000.



WCWA is not the first effort to organize workers at China Walmart. In 2006, Andy Stern, the president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the biggest union in the US, was launching an international campaign against Walmart, and for its own reasons China’s official union, the ACFTU, was receptive. That year the ACFTU was under strong pressure from the Chinese government to deal with a rising number of strikes in the country. To gain influence among the workers, he ACFTU decided to do what it had not done since the 1950s: organize workers. The ACFTU experimented with organizing Walmart workers “underground”. In less than two months, without Walmart’s knowledge, the ACFTU was able to set up close to twenty democratically elected Walmart union branches. But afterthe ACFTU publicized what it had done and demanded that, under Chinese law, Walmart must accept the union branches, Walmart cut a deal with the ACFTU.  A memorandum of understanding (MOU) was signed with Walmart to set up union branches in all of Walmart’s 100-plus stores with Walmart’s active participation. Since then, Walmart union branches have been staffed by Walmart human resource (HR) managers.


Nevertheless, the initial 2006 spate of democratic union-branch elections had unintended consequences. Workers who had participated in those elections and are still working in Walmart stores want to get back their union. Not surprisingly, the main labour activists today in the WCWA are in their mid-forties. Other Walmart workers know that their own stores have union branches and they have some idea about trade unionism, even if their branches are being chaired by Walmart’s managerial staff. As wages and work conditions declined at Walmart, a few of them have tried to run for union election. Walmart management, with the tacit support of the official local unions, put all types of obstacles in their way.


In its campaign WCWA is very insistent in pursuing the ACFTU at national, provincial and city levels to support them in the fight against Walmart, because ten years ago they had helped workers set up democratic workplace union branches.


Pressured by the WCWA, People’s Daily and the Guangdong Provincial Trade Union announced that retailers such as Walmart are not eligible to use the comprehensive working hour system. But district-level trade unions and labour inspection offices continue to ignore these announcements. This is because in the Chinese political structure, their real superior is the local government, which is interested in attracting foreign investments and thus colludes with factory owners. But the two announcements gave the Walmart workers’ struggle legitimacy. Right now the activist workers are bringing their cases to court. WCWA is calling on the international labour community to support them in fighting this battle.

 

Anita Chan, a specialist on Chinese labour issues, is editor of The China Journal and a visiting research fellow at the Australian National University. She has published nine books and more than a hundred academic articles about China. Her books include, as editor, Walmart in China, Cornell University Press, 2011. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Wukan Village, a cry for democracy from the grassroots in China

24

Dec 2016

 

Wukan, a small village in Lufeng, Guangdong, became the focus of China politics again. Five years ago, large scale farmers’ protest broke out due to land dispute in Wukan village. More than 4,000 people went on the street, eventually forcing the Chinese communist regime to give in and allowed villagers to elect their village chief with equal and anonymous vote. Lin Zuluan, leader of the farmers’ protest and twice elected as the chairman of villagers’ committee, was taken away by police for “accepting bribery” in June this year. In September, Lin was sentenced to prison for 3 years and 1 month. The verdict has led to another large scale protest by the villagers.

 

Local government crackdown on elected village chief

The “Wukan Village Model” was once considered as an example of rational response to public demand for democracy by the Chinese government, a milestone of bottom up democratic development. But this new hope did not last long.  After being elected as the chairman of villagers’ committee, Lin Zuluan has vowed to take back villagers’ land unlawfully occupied or sold, but for years the demand did not receive response from the local government. Experts pointed out that many of the local officials, together with many other powerful people, were involved in the unlawful occupation and sale of farmers’ land, and that was why the local government did not want to touch on this sensitive issue.


With nowhere to turn to, Lin Zuluan planned to make a petition to higher level government with the villagers. But just before the date of their planned action, he was arrested for accusations made up by the police. In fact, before Lin Zuluan was arrested, two vice-chairpersons of the villager’s committee were arrested, and another member of villagers’ committee was seeking asylum from the USA government. The actions of the local government were to stop the Wukan villagers from demanding justice from the corrupted officials, which triggered large scale protest by the villagers. 

 

Accusations made up on villagers

The incident in Wukan village has outraged the villagers, who went on strike in the market and schools. A “marathon” rally of 80 days was organized in the village.  On 13 September, a large troop of armed police and public security entered the village. After serious conflict with the villagers in protest, the police dispersed the villagers with tear gas and plastic bullets, and arrested 13 villagers in home raid at dawn.  According to the public security office of Lufeng, these villagers were arrested for participating in unauthorized assembly, rally and protest, and have seriously disrupted public order. The local authority warned the villagers “not to be agitated by the unlawful ones, stop participating in unlawful assembly, rally and protest”. After the crackdown, the local government drove away Chinese and foreign media to blockade the news. Five reporters from Hong Kong were detained and beaten up by police during detention.

Comparing to the Chinese central government under Hu Jingtao’s leadership which sent communist party committee of Guangdong Province to Wukan to mediate the situation in 2011, Xi Jinping’s used high-handed approach to Wukan as if he was dealing with close enemies. The all-round crackdown in Wukan and unlawful arrest of human right activists and lawyers by central and local governments are indicators that China is entering iron-fist era under the Xi leadership.

 

Right to independent and autonomous organization

Incidents related to land disputes are happening daily in Mainland China, and Wukan is just a tip of the iceberg. According to the Institute of Sociology of Academia Sinica, among the 200,000 cases of large scale protests, nearly half of them were related to land disputes. Wukan was once considered a new model in practicing grassroots democratic election, which could hopefully be promoted in other villages for check and balance of local bullies. But the cruel reality told us the “Wukan Village Model” is still part of the “bird cage election” of the Communist Party of China. The chairman of villagers’ committee, though elected through universal suffrage by the villagers, was still under the leadership and surveillance of chief of village party branch. Leaders of county and provincial government have vested interest in a complicated network with local bullies, which prevented them from delegating actual power, making elected representatives at grassroots a nominal position.  


The failure of democratization of village elections is very similar to reform of grassroots unions in recent years. Though some grassroots unions have undergone “reform” and elected their workers’ representatives, there were repeated cases of reducing power or replacing representatives by the higher level unions. If the Chinese government does not open up right to free association and organization, democratic reforms at the grassroots would only become a tool for whitewashing and maintaining stability.

Johnson Electric neglecting occupational health

24

Dec 2016

Leukemia victim came to HK calling for compensation

 
Johnson Electric (HKG 0179) is one of the world’s largest manufacturers in motion subsystems and components for automotive and industrial applications, supplying to a number of well-known brands such as Audi, Porsche, BMW, etc. While claiming, as shown on its website, that ‘No harm to people working for us wherever we operate’ is one of their specific Environmental, Health and Safety goals, its words and performance surely lack consistency. A number of employees and former employees of Huaseng Motor (Guangdong) Limited in Shenzhen, a subsidiary manufacturer of Johnson Electric, have contracted leukemia due to prolonged exposure to hazardous chemicals (benzene) and lack of adequate protection equipment provided in workplace. Huaseng has also refused to compensate for statutory medical expenses and pay for original wages and welfare benefits as required by law.

 

On 14 July, 2016, three Leukemia victims (Xie Fengping, Zeng Shumei, Zhou Xiuhua) came to Hong Kong to protest against Johnson Electric at their Annual General Meeting demanding the company to immediately address and take responsibilities regarding the precarious Occupational Health and Safety conditions.

 

 

Victims in deep debt, weltering in tears

After working for five years at Huaseng from 2008, Xie was diagnosed with leukemia (acute myeloid leukemia subtype M2, AML-M2) in late 2013. In October 2015, Guangdong Prevention and Treatment Center for Occupational Diseases confirmed her condition as occupational cancer caused by Benzene exposure. As pointed out by her husband, Mr. Lan, after her diagnosis, Huaseng has been failing to pay the original wage as required by law and refusing to compensate for medical expenses beyond health insurance. ‘Where did the sense of ethics and responsibilities go’, he denounced.


Another worker Zeng Shumei who worked for the company from August 2009 was also diagnosed with acute leukemia M2 in 2013. Despite the diagnosis provided by Guangdong Prevention and Treatment Center for Occupational Diseases, the company has been deliberately delaying the submission of relevant information as an attempt to obstruct the assessment process. ‘I completely broke down and almost committed suicide’, Zeng said tearfully. She worked 11 hours a day in the Graphite workshop, with frequent contacts to soldering flux and white mineral oil. Now that she has been diagnosed, she needs to borrow ¥350,000 in order to cover her medical expenses, and in the meantime, she also needs to take care of her children and aged parents. ‘Every day in hospital, I welter in tears,’, she wiped.


Zhou Xiuhua, was another male worker who was diagnosed with acute leukemia M4 and is now undergoing chemotherapy. His occupational disease diagnosis assessment process was also procrastinated by Huaseng. His wife, a former employee of Huaseng, told us that Huaseng has never contained in labour contracts the potential health-threatening occupational diseases, nor has it provided protection equipment or safety training. The company refused to compensate, and now the family has no choice but to borrow money for her husband’s treatment.

 

Invisible killer Benzene; Tip of the victim iceberg

Benzene is a type of petrochemical material widely used for producing lubricating oil, thinner, paint, cleaning agent, industrial solvent, etc. Benzene is highly volatile and most exposure can be transmitted through skin and inhalation. Acute occupational exposure to benzene may cause headache, dizziness, drowsiness, palpitation acceleration, tremors and loss of consciousness and a long-term exposure could lead to blood related diseases, including leukemia, neutropenia and severe anemia, etc. The three workers from Johnson Electric only constitute the tip of victim iceberg. According to Zhou’s wife, there were at least six other workers in Huaseng had contracted leukemia. Moreover, Labour Action China (LAC) has pointed out that, in recent years, the number of occupational disease victims in China has risen exponentially and there were many cases received from Toys, Automobile Parts and Electronic Parts manufacturing sectors. Unfortunately, some of the victims in these cases already passed away due to the disease. Not only did the companies stall diagnosis processes, they were also in arrears with the salary, health insurance and medical compensations. Collusions between local governments and companies, and the deficient system, put the workers in desperation.


After the press conference, the three workers and their families, together with representatives of CTU and LAC, protested at the Johnson Electric Annual General Meeting in demanding the company to take responsibilities and make compensation. During the protest, the workers and their families repeatedly demanded the CEO of the company, Dr. Patrick Wang to address the problem Dr. Wang did not receive the workers on the occasion. The company only sent Ms. Kristie Leung, the general manager from its human resources department, to receive the petition letter. The HKCTU and LAC will continue to assist the workers in their demands and lobby Johnson Electric to terminate the use of benzene and other toxic chemicals.

Chinese and Hong Kong civil societies

06

Jun 2016

are interconnected beyond borders

 
Shortly before the 27th anniversary of Tiananmen Square Massacre, the Hong Kong Federation of Students decided to quit the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China despite being one of its founding members. The Alliance is the chief organizer of the annual vigil and march in Hong Kong to commemorate the Tiananmen Square Massacre and has been upholding “building a democratic China” as one of her principal goals. But such a goal is no longer a collective aspiration shared among all student organizations. Many students believe that Hong Kong people should prioritize their goal in building a democratic Hong Kong rather than a democratic China since Hong Kong is in dire straits. So, is “building a democratic China” really outdated?

 

Indeed, there is no doubt that Hong Kong is in dire straits. The Chinese Central Government has brutally broken its promise to give Hong Kong people genuine universal suffrage and kept intervening the internal affairs of Hong Kong. Chinese authorities were sent from the other side of the border to abduct publishers in Hong Kong. Obviously, the “one country-two systems” has turned into nothing more than a broken promise. In the past, the democratic camp in Hong Kong would demand the Chinese Government to keep her promise of “high degree of autonomy”. However, all these demands have turned into bubbles. On the other hand, the emergence of xenophobic nativism in recent years advocates a complete cut off from China and calls for full independence. However, under the current trend in “one country taking over two systems”, nativism also offers no way out. Despite their different demands, the traditional democratic camp and the xenophobic nativist groups are both restricted by their obsessions in “Hong Kong and China division”.

 


Obviously, if the current Chinese regime continues her autocratic rule, there is no room for Hong Kong to pursue democracy. Thus, to build a democratic China is no longer an old fashioned goal, but a solution for serious consideration. Likewise, it should not exist simply as a slogan. How to turn it into actions, to support the ever-growing civil resistance in China, is exactly what the Hong Kong democratic movement should look into and get involved.


In China, more and more common people have joined collective actions, to defend their rights when they become victims of corruption, environmental pollution, forced land seizure and labour rights violations, which are the by-products of China’s rapid economic growth in past years. Taking labour movement as an example, China Labour Bulletin, a Hong Kong based NGO estimated that in 2015, there were 2,944 strikes in China, a 10 times growth in just a few years. These collective actions, not only have stopped certain vicious exploitations, but also helped certain groups of people in developing their rights awareness. Relatively independent civil society organizations have come into existence in the fields of environmental rights, human rights, religious rights, women’s rights, labour rights and etc. in the last decade. They continued to struggle for breathing space in between grey areas to test the tolerance of the authority. With their continuous participation in collective actions, they have accumulated certain social support.


Since Xi Jinping took office, the Chinese Government has taken a heavy-handed approach to suppress the civil society. In March 2015, it launched sweeping arrests, targeting many activists of women’s rights and labour rights, human rights lawyers and etc. This marks the “political dead-end” of civil society movement, which has been tolerated by the authority in the past. It is obvious that Xi is anxious about the growth of civil resistance, especially when he sees the examples of Eastern Europe and Northern Africa. He is worried that civil resistance would evolve into a force of political opposition.


In April 2016, a court in Guangzhou handed down severe prison sentences to three Chinese citizens who showed their support to the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong. Such sentences only indicate how paranoid the Chinese Government has become. If Hong Kong and Chinese resistance movement would join hands, domestically and internationally, it will threaten the governance of the current regime and becomes the regime’s worst nightmare. In fact, with a lack of experience and resources, many Chinese organizations have taken Hong Kong as a hub to seek local and international support. When Chinese organizations and their staff members were harassed, suppressed, or arbitrarily detained, the news would first travel to Hong Kong and subsequently release to the international community, which would then monitor the deeds of Chinese Government. Under this background, Chinese Government passed Regulations on the Administration of Foreign NGOs in April 2016, attempting to legally subdue foreign (including HK) support to Chinese organizations and isolate the latter.


If the democratic movement in Hong Kong is to turn its back to its Chinese counterpart, it means each of us will fight our own battle and might run the risk of getting insolated. On the contrary, if Hong Kong civil organizations would use its strength and break through the geographical barriers, to develop better linkage with Chinese civil society and bring in practical support, to help and guide them to an independent and self-sufficient approach, together we will become a democratic force to challenge the autocratic regime eventually.

Xi Jinping’s Battle to Rule:

06

Jun 2016

Interview with senior journalist Bruce Lui

 
Mr Bruce Lui, is a prominent journalist and a senior lecturer at the Hong Kong Baptist University. He used to serve as the Principal China Reporter of the Hong Kong Cable TV before switching to train the next generation of journalists. He continues to stand out for persistently seeking the hidden truths of contemporary Chinese politics. So when HKCTU invited him to speak at our “June 4 Forum”, Mr Lui immediately granted our wish as he has a clear conscience to expose the truths of the Xi Jinping’s regime to the Hong Kong people.

Growing up as a Party’s Crown Prince, “Xi Jinping’s logic of his governance can be best described as a top-down battle to defend his regime.” Mr Lui comments. The objective of this battle is to defend the power consolidated by their revolutionary fathers. After having meticulously studied the collapse of the Soviet Union, Xi considers that the decentralization of power, economic downturn, the rise of civil society and middle class were the forces that brought the Soviet Union down to her knees and gave birth to Colour Revolution. As a result, the master plan of his battle is to crush all potential challenges, no matter how insignificant they are. This explains why Xi is so eager to eliminate the power of other standing committee members in the Politburo since he came into power (such as weakening the functions of the Premier and Committee of Politics and Law). Furthermore, Xi attempts to subdue the civil society so as to prevent the potential risks of an economic downturn. In fact, the scale and scope of the suppression under Xi’s regime is far broader and deadlier than the two previous administrations. In 2015, the mass arrests of human rights’ lawyers was the deadliest of the same type of suppression over the years. Meanwhile, the crackdown of the labour activists later in the same year is also catastrophic.

 

Mr Lui believes, Xi’s power will further be consolidated after the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party, which will be held next year. Among the seven current standing committee members of the Politburo, all will have to retire except Xi himself and Premier Li Keqiang. Thus, Xi is expected to bring in more of his own henchmen into the Politburo to further strengthen his regime. At the same time, Xi has accumulated considerable political reputation among the general public from his anti-corruption campaign. Couple with China’s current economic power, it is expected that the current administration can continue to suppress civil society free of domestic and international pressure. In short, the civil society may face a dim future as Xi continues to pursue his political battle and expand its political censorship.


Regarding the nativism movement in Hong Kong, which has been fuelled in recent years; Mr Lui emphasizes that since Hong Kong has strong institutional, geographical, and cultural tides with the Mainland, it is impossible to isolate Hong Kong from the ongoing changes in China’s political landscape. In such a chaotic time, Hong Kong people would find themselves losing out if they are unable to gain a better understanding of China. For example, the National Security Law (2015) has clearly defined areas of national security. So in future, if the legislation of Article 23 of Basic Law is introduced in Hong Kong, we could only do it under the framework already laid down by the National Security Law. Thus, Hong Kong people should know China better to counter the Chinese Government’s tactic to subdue “One Country Two Systems”. Although he was often labelled as a “moron who supports Greater China” (a term often used by the nativists to insult people who are concerned about China issues), but Mr Lui would continue to expose the hidden truths of the Chinese regime with reasons and facts, to enrich our knowledge in fighting against the battle initiated by Xi Jinping.

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