On 30 November, 600 or so representatives of political parties from around the world descended in Beijing to attend a ‘high-level dialogue’ between the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the world’s political parties – nearly 300 of them. They were treated with banquets, probably dances and songs too, in the company of members of the Politburo.
The roster of the 300 parties reads like a list of the Workers’ Parties and People’s Parties from the communist bloc of the Cold War era, sending congratulations to Chairman Mao every so often. But in 2017, more embellishment was needed for the theatre: in attendance were ‘VIPs’ representing the United States’ Republican Party, Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party, France’s Republican Party, Canada’s Liberal Party, and alas, the UK’s Conservative Party.
The attendees toured the Party School, and by way of an exhibit, were lectured on the Party’s achievements over the last five years. They heard General Secretary Xi Jinping’s keynote speech calling for collaboration for a world free of fear and poverty; his catch phrase has been “a community of a shared future for mankind.” Seminars were held to highlight China’s contributions to the world, while chastising Western democracies for overlooking and downplaying China’s greatness. According to state media, participants gave rousing speeches extolling the CCP’s superior leadership both at home and aboard, China’s contribution to world development and peace, and China’s Belt and Road initiative (BRI).
But something else was also going on in Beijing, as the 600 politicians bathed in CCP’s magnanimous hospitality: around the capital’s outer suburban belt, up to 200,000 migrant workers in over 100 localities were evicted by force in a matter of a few days, sometimes overnight. Men and women, old and young, took what meagre belongings they could carry and trudged out into the sub-zero weather, to train stations that took them back to the villages they had come from, to other temporary lodgings to get their bearings, and through the streets. For those slow to move, their shops were smashed and homes raided by uniformed police or militia. Bulldozers soon came and razed everything into big heaps of rubbish.
The mass expulsion of Beijing has only just begun. Two million will be forced to leave Beijing by 2020, according to municipal planning authorities. Other large urban centres will see the same changes.
The order of this mass clearance came in the form of a piece of A4 paper pasted on walls and doors, mostly in no more than two or three sentences: you must move out of your residence before the end of the day, or before 72 hours, and after that utilities will be severed. Some notices gave the pretext of a fire hazard, while others gave no reason. Observers note that it’s been long in the planning to remove the ‘low-end population’ from Beijing, and one of the considerations is political security.
I look at these flimsy pieces of white paper, rumpled with wet paste, and think: look no further. This is a perfect example of how China is governed, how much power the Communist government has over the people, and how it exercises that power with abandon.
Without the need to expound, these A4 notices tell just how many human rights the citizens of China enjoy. Before entire streets, towns, and properties are bulldozed, no public hearings were held, no consultations were made, no reasons were given. Men in uniform, or sometimes plainclothes, came in with clubs, with a license to strike property and human beings alike without having to show who they are. Most people scurry away, leaving their factories, shops, restaurants, and vendor carts behind. Nobody knows where they are going and how they will rebuild life after being uprooted and thrown out, overnight.
Online, the term ‘low-end population’ is censored; the feeble efforts to provide relief by Beijing residents, NGOs, and a few house churches have been quickly extinguished. A team of college students going to do field work on the eviction are monitored by police.
Over the last five years, the Chinese government has stepped up measures to take an even tighter grip on society. In all aspects of human rights, it has taken away what little space there was for independent action, including news reporting, NGO rights advocacy activities, and the work of human rights lawyers and defenders. Furthermore, it has expedited a series of legislation through its rubber stamp congress to codify long-standing repressive and cruel practices, such as enforced disappearance.
Only recently did China observers begin to use the term ‘neo-totalitarian’ to describe the political reality in China now. The term ‘authoritarian’ has never been accurate, and is even less adequate now to define a wealthier and more powerful China that strong-arms its people and the world. Recent assessments, including the U.K. Conservative Party Human Rights Commission’s report ‘The Darkest Moment: The Crackdown on Human Rights in China 2013-2016’, as well as the European Council on Foreign Relations’ newly published report ‘China at the gates: A new power audit of EU-China relations’, are much needed correctives for our damaging slowness to recognise the menace of a communist China.
We have the banquets and the notices, all in one week and in one city. The banquets, I’m sure, were exquisite — nothing like the flimsy A4 orders of eviction.
Yaxue Cao is the Founder and Editor of China Change