“Southern Weekend Magazine”, “Labor Camp" and Xi Jinping’s Self-positioning
蕭茗：這一系列官場和民間的突發事件和特殊變動毫無疑問折射的是中共高層在18大之後依然沒有落幕的權力鬥爭和中國社會愈演愈烈的矛盾沖突。這一點並不奇怪。但是，我們現在所處的時間點有一些特殊，習近平上任不到兩個月，他身上的那層神秘面紗還沒有完全退下。西方世界有個慣例，在每一個新的中國領導人上臺的時候，他們都會揣測這位領導人的內心世界。也就是這個人對中國現狀的真實判斷，以及基於這個判斷之上的他對自己的定位，再下來才談的上他的施政方向，才能理解他的政策出發點。 當下發生的這幾件事恰恰是可以管窺習近平內心世界的一個機會，從另外一個角度講，也是檢驗他的一個機會。 習近平的自我定位，他的政治抱負，以及他在這場博弈中所處的位置和他面對的真實的中國，這是我們今後需要持續探討的問題， 今天就讓我們從最近發生的這幾件大事開始說起。
蕭茗： 在南周事件發生幾天，事態還在發展的時候，北京又傳出了另一個驚人的消息。 中央政法委書記孟建柱突然在全國政法工作電視電話會議上宣布”中國今年內停止勞教制度“，但是，這個消息被中共各大官媒報導了一天後，又被拿下了。具體情況我們請雪莉來給我們介紹一下。
“Southern Weekend Magazine”, “Labor Camp" and Xi Jinping’s Self-positioning
Narrator: Shortly after 2013 began, several startling events took place in the Chinese political arena and within Chinese society. The first event took place on January 3, when Southern Weekend magazine’s New Year message was revised by Tuo Zhen, the Guangdong Province propaganda minister. This immediately caused an uproar. Afterward the Yanhuang Chunqiu magazine website was shut down by authorities. On January 5, some personnel changes took place in Sichuan Province. The former governor of Sichuan Province, Jiang Jufeng, resigned, and Deputy Governor Wei Hong succeeded him as acting governor. On January 7, the government’s official media reported that Meng Jianzhu, the Secretary of the Central Politics and Law Committee, announced that China would end its re-education through labor system in 2013. However, this statement was immediately removed.
Simone Gao: This series of conflicts between government officials and the Chinese people coupled with unusual personnel changes is undoubtedly a reflection of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) top level leaders’ power struggles, which didn’t end after the 18th National Congress, as well as the intensifying conflicts within Chinese society. This is not at all surprising. However, the current time period is a bit special. Xi Jinping took office less than two months ago. His veil of mystery has not been completely lifted. When a new Chinese leader comes into power, Westerners usually speculate on this leader’s inner world. The inner world refers to this new leader’s judgment regarding China’s status quo, his self-positioning based on his judgment, and his administration’s policy direction. By understanding all these, the people are able to understand the starting point of his policies. Several events that recently occurred are an opportunity for the world to have a glimpse of Xi Jinping’s inner world. Talking from another perspective, this is also an opportunity to test him. Xi Jinping’s self-positioning, his political ambitions, his position in this political game played by the CCP’s top officials and the real China he faces are the topics, which we will continuously explore in the future. Today, let’s start our discussions on recent major events.
Subtitle: Southern Weekly protests; Yanhuang Chunqiu is shut down
Narrator: On January 3, Southern Weekend magazine website’s micro-blog published a message presumably written by the magazine’s editorial department. The message pointed out that the New Year message on Southern Weekend recent issue was not approved by the magazine’s editors. The New Year message was titled We are Closer to Our Dream than Ever Before. This quickly became a news flash. News soon spread indicating that the Southern Weekend magazine New Year message’s drafting process had always been subject to interference from the CCP’s Guangdong Provincial Party Committee Propaganda Department. The New Year message’s final version, which was approved by the editors, fell foul of the censors. As a result, the magazine had to withdraw the final draft. The New Year message that was eventually published was written by Tuo Zhen, the Guangdong Provincial Party Committee Propaganda Minister.
The original New Year message was allegedly titled ‘Chinese Dream, Constitutional Dream’, echoing Xi Jinping’s recently mentioned “Chinese dream". The article pointed out the need for constitutional reform in China and wished that China embark on a constitutional path. However, the message was changed by Tuo Zhen into a flattering article singing the Party’s praises.
On January 4, Southern Weekend magazine’s former employees jointly signed an open letter to demand the resignation of Tuo Zhen, the Guangdong Provincial Party Committee Propaganda Minister. They said Tuo Zhen’s misdeed was “crossing the line", “without authorization" and “ignorant".
On January 6, Southern Weekend magazine’s official micro-blog issued an open letter titled To Our Readers. The letter stated that the New Year message published on the January 3 New Year special issue was written by the magazine’s editorial department, in accord with the featured topic “Dream Chasing”. It said that the special issue’s introduction was drafted by a magazine director, and all the online rumors were false.
However, immediately afterwards, a joint statement signed by more than a dozen people claiming to be the entire editorial staff of Southern Weekend’s economic affairs department was issued. It read, “Urgent! After one day of being hacked, Southern Weekend’s official micro-blog crashed! The declaration made earlier does not represent Southern Weekend magazine’s editorial staff. It was the result of the magazine’s management being pressured by the authorities.”
On January 7, a number of media reported that the previously silent Central Propaganda Department issued a notice to strongly support Guangdong’s propaganda official, Tuo Zhen. The Propaganda Department classified the incident as severe. It also conveyed three points to its subordinate departments: first, the communist Party’s control over the media is the unshakable fundamental principle; second, Southern Weekend’s publication incident has nothing to do with Tuo Zhen; third, some Simone Gaoile foreign forces had intervened in this incident. The Central Propaganda Department also urged all media to publish the CCP-controlled Global Times’ editorial criticizing Southern Weekend. The editorial was titled Southern Weekend Magazine’s To Our Readers Article is Indeed thought-provoking.
However, on January 8, people discovered that many mainland Chinese media outlets had not published the Global Times editorial. Some media companies even openly boycotted it. It was said that The Beijing News didn’t want to reprint the Global Times editorial. The newspaper’s president even responded coldly to Beijing’s propaganda minister and mentioned he would resign in protest. The Southern Weekend incident continued to develop. On January 7 and 8, people spontaneously went to the magazine’s headquarters to present bouquets of flowers in support of the magazine. They also made various protest slogans to display at the scene. The crowd demanded freedom of the press. According to some witnesses, 300 to 400 people were at the scene. Chinese people from all walks of life, including students, academics, lawyers and even overseas Chinese, expressed their support for the magazine, one after another.
It is worth noting that except for the Global Times, which is directly controlled by the Central Propaganda Department, several other major CCP mouthpieces, including the People’s Daily, Xinhua News Agency and CCTV, haven’t expressed their stance on the Southern Weekend incident. People’s Daily has also recently published some comments, calling for the people in charge of the CCP’s various “propaganda fronts” to “follow the central government’s pace and to conform to the era’s rhythm, as well as to “advance with the times”. Hong Kong’s Apple Daily newspaper quoted political scientist Wu Jiaxiang, who was the CCP Central Committee’s think tank during the Zhao Ziyang era, as saying, “The CCP government’s two conflicting ways to handle the Southern Weekend incident reflects the fact that there are actually two operating central governments.” Some political scientists pointed out that the People’s Daily can be seen as the mouthpiece of the CCP’s General Secretary, Xi Jinping. People’s Daily’s comments are critical of the Guangdong Provincial Party Committee propaganda Department.
On January 8, Reuters quoted sources close to the CCP’s Guangdong Provincial Committee as saying that the Guangdong Provincial Party Committee Secretary Hu Chunhua personally intervened in the current impasse to provide solutions. According to his proposed solutions, the newspaper staff should end their strike and resume working; the newspaper should be published as usual; the people involved in the incident won’t be punished or retaliated against afterwards. Huang Can, the newspaper’s editor and Tuo Zhen the Guangdong Provincial Party Committee Propaganda Minister will be both replaced. However, in order to save the government’s face, Tuo Zhen will not immediately leave his post. On January 10, the new issue of Southern Weekend was published as scheduled.
Almost simultaneously, on January 4, well-known mainland magazine Yanhuang Chunqiu’s website was shut down. Yanhuang Chunqiu monthly magazine was founded by some CCP elders, authors and academics, and is viewed as reformist. The magazine often publishes commentaries on sensitive events regarding the Communist Party’s history. Occasionally its articles make conclusions on historical events which differ from the CCP’s official conclusions, and its articles frequently advocate various reforms within the Party. Because of this, the magazine has attracted people’s attention. In early January 2013, Yanhuang Chunqiu’s website published a New Year message titled The Constitution is Consensus of Political Reforms, which was very similar to Southern Weekend’s New Year message about the constitutional dream. On January 4, the website was shut down, and still remains closed.
Simone Gao: The Southern Weekend incident continues to develop. Today, its influence has expanded to all walks of Chinese society as well as overseas. There has been support from all Chinese social strata. The people have now formed a chorus, calling for freedom of the press. So, how will the event develop next? Can the way the Southern Weekly incident was handled reflect Xi Jinping’s political reform direction, if any? Regarding these questions, I interviewed NTDTV’s senior commentator Heng He. Let’s listen to his comments.
Simone Gao: On the Southern weekend issue, the Global Times attitude is indeed different from the attitude of the other CCP’s mouthpiece media outlets. A few days ago, the Xi Jinping-controlled newspaper People’s Daily published a commentary, calling for the people in charge of the CCP’s propaganda fronts across China to follow the central government’s pace, to conform to this era’s rhythm, and to advance with the times. This commentary has been interpreted as a criticism of the Guangdong Provincial Party Committee Propaganda Department. In your opinion, in dealing with the issue of Southern Weekend, how does Xi Jinping grasp the scale of unfolding events?
Heng He: I think this is the case. After coming to power, Xi Jinping now faces two major challenges. That is, the CCP’s gun barrels, on which its political power is based, and their pens (i.e. official direction of public opinion) are both facing great challenges. In terms of the gun barrels, which are the violent suppression (of the dissenting people), he may choose the “re-education through labor” system as the area in which he wants to change the regime’s image.
The other challenge is the Southern Weekend incident, which no one had foreseen. In dealing with this Southern Weekend incident, the CCP’s top leaders don’t think that the government’s propaganda departments’ control of the Chinese media is the problem, because the CCP has always been in control of the media. The CCP leaders think that the propaganda departments’ way of controlling the media is problematic. In the past, these government agencies had always remained behind the scenes. However, this time they have gone out onto the stage, which may have infuriated the people. To Xi Jinping, this is a very important area. He must face it and handle it, it is unavoidable.
So, I think that the article published by People’s Daily did not actually say that the propaganda departments’ control of the media is wrong. It just said that the departments’ method of media control should not bring troubles to the central government. Therefore, from this perspective, I think that they will likely use more concealed methods or avoid being detected by people in the future. This is not to say that the propaganda departments will cease their control of the media.
Simone Gao: The outside world is very concerned about the way the CCP regime handles the Southern Weekend incident. Can Xi Jinping’s way of handling this issue reflect the direction of his political reforms (if any)? According to your statements, in fact, this is just a change in form but not in content. Do you feel it is possible that to a certain extent, the way Xi Jinping approaches this incident can reflect his direction of political reform?
Heng He: I think that the handling of the Southern Weekend incident is still the model of his crisis response. That is, Xi Jinping did not touch upon the fundamentals of the propaganda departments. All he tried to do is, that under these circumstances, how to save the entire government propaganda system’s face, including the government propaganda departments’ unswerving alignment with the CCP’s propaganda, while making the Southern Weekend employees compromise. Another issue is calming down people’s agitation. Since all these are actually done at an operational level, I collectively call them a crisis response. Does this reflect his so-called political reforms, or how to go down the path of the political reforms? I don’t think this can be easily reflected by this method of handling a crisis.
Simone Gao: A few days after the Southern Weekend reporting event happened, another surprising piece of news came out of Beijing. Secretary Meng Jianzhu of the Central Politico-Legal Committee suddenly announced: “China will stop the forced labor camp system by the year’s end” during the TV and Telephone Meeting on China Political-Legal Work. But, this news lasted only one day after being reported by all CCP official media, and then it was taken off. Let’s ask Xueli to brief us on some actual facts.
Xueli: OK, Xiaoming. On January 7, many Chinese official media reported that Secretary Meng Jianzhu suggested further changes to forced labor camps, legal complaints by letters or visits, legal power carrying mechanisms, registered permanent residence system in the China Politico-Legal Meeting. The “Four Changes” were determined as the 2013 work emphasis. During the meeting, Meng Jianzhu also announced that the central government had studied and got approval from the standing committee of the Chinese People’s Congress that the forced labor camp system would be stopped by the year’s end.
From past webpage reporting on nandu.com, we can see that the news reporting included CCP official media such as “xinhua.net” and “central government TV news.”
However, a day later, CCP media deleted its reporting on Meng Jianzhu’s “China will stop forced labor camp system by the year end,” and only “Deepen Four Changes” contents were left. “Stop forced labor camp system by year end” only appears on webpages which do not contain much official news as their central news. For example, qq.com, nandu.com, ifeng.com, and xinhua English tweeter pages still kept reporting it.
The Chinese forced labor camp system is notorious, and has been widely denounced by several researchers. Professor Hu Xinduo, China famous researcher on people’s life problems and an economy professor at Beijing Institute of Technology, mailed a 2,300-word letter suggesting legal system changes on “stop forced labor camp system” to the standing committee of China People’s Congress and the State Council by express mail. The letter was signed by 69 famous specialists and researchers.
Interestingly, during the capital 30th year celebration meeting of China Constitution announcement and enforcement that day, Xi Jingping said: “The importance of the Constitution depends on enforcement. The power of the Constitution also depends on enforcement. We need to continuously enforce the Constitution, and deepen the enforcement of the Constitution to a new level.” He emphasized: “We should govern by law, and govern by law to be in power.” Obviously, the forced labor camp system contradicts the Constitution in the CCP’s own legal system. If Xi Jingping truly had a dream to have a constitutional government, he could not get around the forced labor camp system.
At the same time, we also see that the timing of Meng Jianzhu’s “stop forced labor camp system by year end” is extraordinary. News came that the Ministry of Public Security had previously promised to produce a set of “gradual plans” in order to eliminate forced labor camp system by year’s end. The previous plan was to begin in January next year, and clear out forced labor camp problems within the two year “interim period with internal rules.” But suddenly last weekend, the central office directed: “We do not want an interim period. The system must be stopped by year’s end.”
Then, what caused the plan to change ahead of schedule? We can see a coincidence in timing. The reporting was published after Xi Jingping’s southern tour. Jiang Zheming resisted “Xi’s eight stipulations,” and the Southern Weekend’s and yhcqw.com’s reporting on constitutional government were deleted then. The timing was really interesting and raised a lot of curiosity. Xiaoming.
Simone Gao: Thank you, Xueli. Let’s listen to Huanhe’s comments on reading into “stop forced labor camp system.”
Simone Gao: Previously, there were reports saying that the Ministry of Public Security originally intended to come up with a plan in 2013 to remove the “reeducation through labor” system, and to clean up the labor camp issue within two years. However, the plan was later suddenly requested to be completed ahead of schedule. Therefore, the CCP’s Central Politics and Law Commission Secretary, Meng Jianzhu made the announcement to stop the use of the re-education through labor system in 2013. This piece of news was first widely reported by the CCP’s official media, but it was quickly removed from it’s media’s websites. In your opinion, throughout the entire process, why was the plan due date moved up, and why was the process then reversed? What happened in the end?
Heng He: It is relatively normal for the Ministry of Public Security to prepare a two-year program (to get rid of the labor camps), because the reeducation through labor system is not, strictly speaking, legal. It was a report submitted by the Public Security Department to the State Council. The proposal was approved by the State Council, so it became a trial implementation. So, it is most appropriate for the Ministry of Public Security to submit another report to be approved by the State Council to halt the use of this system. However, the Ministry of Public Security itself is the largest obstacle standing in the way of abolishing the re-education through labor system. So, before the Ministry of Public Security’s two-year deadline comes due and before the CCP’s 18th National Congress took place in late 2012, two major events regarding re-education through labor erupted. One case involved the Chongqing village official Ren Jianyu, and the other involved Hunan resident, Tang Hui.
Speaking of these re-education through labor incidents, both have evoked large repercussions across China. From the judiciary system to the average Chinese, many people were infuriated. Then suddenly in early 2013, a letter from the notorious Masanjia Labor Camp pleading for help caused an uproar in the international community. I think that these events prompted Xi Jinping to make a quick decision. The original plan was to be completed in two years. However, the new plan was immediately announced, thus to a certain degree, attempting to restore the face of Xi’s new regime. Even though some issues were left behind by the old regime, since now you are in the top position, people will call you into account and make you bear responsibility. So I think that Xi wanted to quickly make adjustments and to talk about this (i.e. the abolishment of the re-education through labor system). In the beginning, it was proposed to stop using the system, which is in fact, very different from repealing the system. Repealing it would at least show that the system itself is unreasonable or wicked, and it has derogatory implications. However, if the system simply stops being used, there is no derogatory sense to it. So, the difference between both terms is whether or not to admit the regime’s mistakes and to settle the accounts.
Simone Gao: Talking about the re-education through labor system itself, nearly all Chinese people know about the CCP’s re-education through labor system, and it is well known that this system is a blatant violation of the Chinese Constitution. Now everyone is discussing whether Xi Jinping is having a constitutional dream. However, if he wants to have a constitutional dream, there is no way for him to bypass the issue of the labor camp system. Now the question is, do you think that Xi is really having a constitutional dream? If so, what is the specific content of his constitutional dream?
Heng He: I don’t think that he is really having a constitutional dream. In fact, more than 100 years ago, near the end of the Qing Dynasty, people were having this constitutional dream. The constitutional government put forward by Xi Jinping and his entire set of so-called political reforms, in my opinion, are not really a constitutional government. This is because, so far, the specific practices proposed by Xi Jinping, such as the so-called Xi’s “Eight New Articles” or the rule of law mentioned in the past, are in fact still within the limits of the administrative system reform. For example, the eight new articles are actually about the construction of a clean government. They don’t touch the most fundamental system, not to mention the so-called lifting the ban on political parties, lifting the ban on newspapers or granting freedom of belief, etc. Then, all the new practices are actually confined to a certain range. So far, the policies, such as anti-corruption, all belong to the administrative aspect. They are things carried out on a small scale. Therefore, I cannot say for sure what Xi’s constitutional purpose is about. However, at least, there is a considerable gap between his current actions and what the people are looking for in a so-called constitutional government.
Simone Gao: However, in any case, Xi mentioned the constitutional government. Then he mentioned the foundational status of the constitution. Combined with the prior news of the possible repeal of the reeducation through labor system, if he really wants to do something in the area of judicial fairness, besides halting the use of the re-education through labor system, what else should be done?
Heng He: Many things can be done. The first is to dissolve the Politics and Law Commission, so that the judiciary can be independent from the CCP’s control. Therefore, judiciary independence should be the priority. Second, in terms of legislation, immoral laws must be removed. For example, Article 73 of the Criminal Code legalizes the forced disappearances. Such an immoral law must be removed. In addition, all extrajudicial punishment systems should be abolished. Besides the labor camps, there are the black jails (i.e. illegal prisons) and the brainwashing centers, which should all be abolished. Talking about the reeducation through labor system per se, I think the most urgent task is to free the prisoners of conscience in the labor camps. Inside these camps, the vast majority of inmates are prisoners of conscience, they are not criminals. Some past statistics state that Falun Gong practitioners accounted for half of the camp inmates. There are also house church members and some human rights activists. First, you need to release these prisoners of conscience who have never violated the law. After they are released, the state also needs to compensate them, since it is after all, an illegal law, an illegal regulation.
Then, during the “law enforcement process”, many people violated the real laws. These violaters range from people in the upper government levels to the lower levels. Since what they did is illegal, and you want to implement the rule of law, you have to punish these people with existing Chinese law. And we are not even speaking of international laws, or human rights treaties. That is, they should use the existing legal system to investigate and hold the lawbreakers liable for their crimes. At least they should achieve these issues. And then we can talk about whether they can reform the judicial system or not. They have to punish the people that violate the law during the law enforcement process. Also, the state must compensate the people that have been wronged.
Simone Gao: At the beginning of this program we said, Xi Jingping’s true judgment on China’s current situation and how he positions himself based on his judgment are the consideration precondition in our discussion of China Issues. Then, considering what happened recently, can we get some hints on Xi Jingping’s true thinking? Let’s discuss this question with two critics.
Simone Gao: Although this problem is raised now, I think that in answering the others’ questions I asked previously, you should base your views on the answer to this question. Therefore, I would like to ask, in your opinion, what is Xi Jinping’s judgment on China’s current situation? Does he believe that the CCP can survive this crisis through implementing reforms?
Heng He: The CCP’s top leaders’ extent of information is, in fact, much larger than what we know or imagine. The CCP leadership knows much more about the intricacies of the crisis the Party currently faces than the general public. That is why during many high-level meetings, the crisis is brought up: death of the Party and the demise of the nation. Many people at the grass-roots level haven’t seen this yet. In fact, the top leaders know the depth of the crisis the CCP faces. It is the most critical one they’ve faced since they started ruling China. It can also be said that the crisis is impossible to resolve. Xi Jinping will face several problems.
He has several options. One is to completely change, just like the Kuomintang did in Taiwan. In the end, the Kuomintang changed and embarked on the path of constitutionalism, and then it moved towards democracy and freedom. Ultimately, they were elected by the people but were later voted out. This political party continued to this day. This is one option. Myanmar now is following a similar path.
Another option is to keep the existing system unchanged, which is the reform approach that you just mentioned. The CCP is different from the other political parties, because it has too much debt. That is, there is no way to save it. Under these circumstances, just like a gravely ill patient on the verge of dying, you have to administer heavy doses of medicine. However, since he is dying, administering heavy doses may immediately kill him. The CCP is now facing this problem.
Simone Gao: What do you think Xi Jinping will do? Does he intend to carry out minor repairs or large changes?
Heng He: It seems that he is not carrying out minor repairs, but medium repairs. However, he will not implement any large changes. If he carries out large changes, it will involve many issues. The CCP’s entire leadership and the entire ruling class will not agree to it. This is because they are all in the same boat, and they want to continue plundering more wealth from the boat. Therefore, he will not carry out large changes or small moves, but medium changes. Everyone has seen that small repairs are not effective at all. Therefore, he may select cases that have roused many people’s anger on a slightly larger scale, but when correcting these problems he will ensure that the reigning elite’s interests will not be touched. However, Xi Jinping will just carry out large changes on specific projects. In my opinion, Xi Jinping may pursue this route in the foreseeable future.
Simone Gao: People have differing opinions on whether CCP can pass its crisis through change. In fact, China’s situation is really complicated. Looking at from different angles, from the angle of various power, from the angle of mass public disapproval, from the angle of difficulty of execution, from the angle of operational feasibility, we can reach various conclusions. But, if we think about it in a different way, the whole situation can become very simple and easy because natural law is above all human laws. That good deeds will be rewarded and bad deeds will be punished is natural law. The CCP has committed numerous crimes in its history. Until today, it still continues its persecution of Falun Gong practitioners. Long ago, it lost the opportunity God offered it. Dissolving it is inevitable, unavoidable, and something it must face. But, dissolving the CCP does not mean that there is no hope for its members. From the national Chairman to a low ranking official, at this historically critical moment, whoever can face the truth, follow the people’s hope, do the right thing for the public, and make the right decisions, is the person who really knows and is following the public’s interests. His deeds are being observed and will be seen by God.