Mar 23rd, 2018, 09:42 AM

No Limitations on Chinese Authorities

By Leona Caanen
Image Credit: Flickr/Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
From term limitations to civilian surveillance there is no end in sight.

Two speakers from Hong Kong came to AUP on 1 February 2018 to discuss the "Politics and Society of Post-1977 Hong Kong." These talks were given by Tze-ki Hon and Hok-yin Chan, and attracted a large audience. Such a large audience that some of them went unnoticed.

The unseen audience member might have been just that: unseen because he was not there to be seen. Yet there are speculations and concerns from the students, faculty, and staff, especially those of Chinese ethnicity. The potential unseen guest is an unrecognized diplomatic representative of the the Chinese embassy here in Paris. The possibility that a member of the Chinese government was present at AUP during a time when of the expression of opinions and criticism on the Chinese Communist Party, has left some students frazzled. They are concerned that when they return home that they will be investigated, or that their families back home will have to suffer the consequences for their children using their freedom of speech.

The reality check of having a potential intruder on campus has scared some, and left others appalled at that students can feel so limited on their rights. A letter was sent by an AUP student to President Celeste Schenck, among others, to share their concern with the faculty. The student did not just share their concerns and worries, but also demanded an investigation, in order to ensure the privacy and security of everyone on campus.

Image Credit: Anonymous AUP Source - Letter sent to AUP president Celeste Schenck concerning the security of the AUP community.

In numerous nations, such as Australia, Canada, the United States, and New Zealand, there have been concerns about the influence of the Chinese government on education. That is, on the freedom of Chinese students studying abroad to freely share their thoughts and opinions - including those that critique the Chinese government; "China was building covert networks of informants at leading universities in Melbourne and Sydney to keep tabs on ethnic Chinese lecturers and students." The consequences of Chinese students studying abroad, who freely speak their mind and share their opinions has led to parents being warned to keep their children's behavior in check. There have also been students that, upon their return to China, were interrogated by officials of the Ministry of State Security.

President Xi is not accepting any outside challenges to his now absolute regime. However, he is not rejecting institutional changes, instead he is aiming to better the People's Republic. A big part of that is the push for better economic growth. The Chinese economy, while "expanding at a rate that many Western nations can only dream of," has not been what the Chinese desire it to be, which is why President Xi has aimed to stabilize the economy and improve its steady growing pace. Besides economic reforms, Xi Jinping has also been focussed on keeping an eye on the Chinese population through the use of a 170 million CCTV (Closed Circuit Television) cameras, which by 2020, will have increased up to 570 million CCTV cameras.

The surveillance that President Xi has increased dramatically has caused strenuous and stressful situations for the population, especially regarding censorship on media and press. The Chinese Communist Party "maintains control over news reporting via direct ownership, accreditation of journalists, harsh penalties for online criticism, and daily directives to media outlets and websites that guide coverage of breaking news stories." While there are media outlets that are not controlled by the government, they are being asked to show commitment to the Communist Party and abstain from critique. If media outlets and journalists fail to do so, there can be severe consequences that include a potential prison sentence. The justification that the government uses to enforce censorship of the information is "by claiming that they expose state secrets and endanger the country." This has angered those hungry for information, and with the rapid advancement of the internet, it is becoming increasingly difficult for the Communist Party keep complete control.

The possibility of the lack of control has led the government to find new, increasingly invasive ways to ensure the cooperation of civilians. One of these ways is an increase in surveillance of citizens. China currently has the largest, most extensive monitoring system. The surveillance system that the Chinese government has been working with also includes facial recognition, among other personal information. This facial recognition technology is coming from a company called Face++, which has developed a technology that can recognize faces, as well as continuously update the accuracy of facial recognition when a face is scanned for recognition. The danger of this surveillance is when individuals receive negative consequences for their behavior. The official implementation of facial recognition on daily lives will be initiated in 2020.

Image Credit: Wikimedia: Xi Jinping

The way the modern Chinese state functions is mainly due to Mao Zedong's influence. Mao is responsible for the creation of the People's Republic of China and put the Chinese Communist Party in power 1949, and has been the sole party in power since then. Since Mao's death in 1976, there have only been two successors that have significantly influenced China: Deng Xiaoping and Xi Jinping. The latter is the current president of the People's Republic of China and seems to be reverting back to the ways of Mao, which Xiaoping had initially tried to alter.

For 27 years, Mao ruled as a dictator and changed Chinese society. Businesses were controlled by the government and all kinds of opposition were suppressed. The Communist society that Mao had created, was to be altered by his successor, Deng Xiaoping. After the harsh rule of Mao, Xiaoping decided to take action. Besides boosting the Chinese economy through allowing the privatization of businesses and reintroducing many civil rights, Xiaoping set a term limit on the presidential position.

Yet the political progress made by Xiaoping seems to be backtracking itself under the rule of President Xi Jinping. President Xi came to power in 2013, and has been considered to be "the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao Zedong." Mao had instated the thought of Maoism, and now Xi Jinping has coined the term of "Xi Jinping Thought." This new term pushes the idea that any challenge to the president will be considered a threat to the Communist Party. A threat would also include the attempt of challenging Xi's position as president, which, on March 11th, 2018, became an absolute position. The National People's Congress passed the constitutional amendment of no term limitations with 2,958 votes of the 2,964, ensuring Xi Jinping's position as President until he decides to step down.

Image credit: Flickr / JM: Closed Circuit Television cameras observing civilians.