The 2022 Olympics: Spotlight on China

Monday, February 7, 2022
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Executive Director, Human Rights in China; Adjunct Professor, New York University School of Law; Professor of Law Emerita, City University of New York School of Law

Senior Fellow for Global Health, Council on Foreign Relations; @YanzhongHuang

Founder, Partner, and Head of Research, Gavekal Dragonomics; CFR Member

Senior Fellow for China Studies, Council on Foreign Relations; Professor of Law, Fordham University; @CarlMinzner


Senior Vice President and Director of Programs, China Institute; CFR Member

Panelists discuss China as it prepares for the 2022 Olympic games, including the diplomatic boycott of the games over human rights by several countries, China’s strict handling of dissent and COVID-19 cases, and the effect of the pandemic on China’s economic power. 

ELLIOTT: Thank you, Carrie. My name’s Dinda Elliot. I’m the director of programs at China Institute. And it is a great honor to be with all of you today. Let’s start with some quick introductions. I will say that the impressive roster of attendees today—and it is truly a who’s who of anybody who’s anyone in the world of China—is testament not only to this moment in history, but also to the incredible experience and expertise of our speakers today.

Carl Minzner is senior fellow at for Chinese studies, China studies, at the Council on Foreign Relations and a professor at Fordham Law School, specializing in Chinese politics and law. He is the author of End of an Era: How China’s Authoritarian Revival is Undermining its Rise.

Sharon Hom directs the China and International Human Rights Research Program of Robert Bernstein Human Rights Institute at the NYU School of Law. She is executive director of human rights in China, where she leads its media advocacy and strategic policy engagement with NGOs, governments, and muti-stakeholder initiatives.

Yangzhong Huang is a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, where he directs the Global Health Governance Roundtable Series. He’s also a professor and director of Global Health Studies at Seton Hall University’s School of Diplomacy and International Relations. Yangzhong is also the author of an important new paper just published but CFR about China’s health policies during the COVID era.

Arthur Kroeber is one of the most respected experts on China’s business and economic policies. He’s a partner and head of research at Gavekal, a Hong Kong-based financial services firm, and founder of the China-focused Gavekal Dragonomics Research Service.

So, to all of you speakers, please feel free to jump in whenever you like. I apologize in advance for any rudeness on my part. We’ve got a lot of material to cover, and so I’m going to jump in and move things along as necessary. But let’s get to it.

I thought we’d start with the big picture. Fourteen years has passed since the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, when those dramatic warrior-like drummers, and incredible high-tech spectacle, announced to the world that China had arrived and was very much open for business. The world has changed a lot since then. We’ve seen a global financial crisis, a trade war, the rise of nationalism in both the U.S. and China. And on the China front, the rise of Xi Jinping, incredible economic growth, a flexing of muscles in the South China Seas, a crackdown on the Uighur population in Xinjiang, and an assertion of central control over the former colony of Hong Kong. So I’d like you each to set the stage a bit for us first, to share with us what’s different about China today, and this Beijing Olympics, from your perspective.

Let’s start with Carl. Carl, perhaps you can share some insights on the politics of the moment, and Xi Jinping, who’s been at the helm now for about ten years. Carl, what’s different today? And what does this moment signify for Xi Jinping?

MINZNER: That’s a great question. Thanks so much to Dinda for hosting, thanks so much. It’s an honor to be here with the rest of the panelists. Thanks to all of you for tuning in.

And it’s tricky, because with an event like the Olympics, Chinese leaders are effectively speaking to two audiences. They’re seeking to communicate to the world at large, but they’re also sending messages to their own citizens at home. If I had to summarize it, I think in 2008 the core message was: China has arrived on the world stage. And in 2022, I think the core message is: Xi Jinping has arrived on top in China. China was different in 2008. Its economy was smaller, less than a third as large as today. It hadn’t landed on the moon. It didn’t have an aircraft carriers. And much of the world, particularly the United States, caught up in the war on terror, hadn’t really focused on the dramatic changes that had been taking place in China in the preceding three decades.

And so in that sense, the 2008 Olympics really was China’s coming out party, an opportunity to display all the fruits of China’s reform era to the world at large. And it was taking place in a very different China. Sure, it was an authoritarian, one-party system run by a group of leaders under Hu Jintao. But there was still a degree of openness within the system. Globalization was still something of a positive, and there was still space for domestic Chinese NGOs to operate, for foreign journalists to report, for Chinese lawyers to seek to push the system to change.

Now, as you fast-forward to 2022, things look very, very different. China is strong. It’s more influential. But global influences on China—whether academic ties that might bring foreign ideological influence or person-to-person ties that might bring viral risk, are increasingly suspect among fearful and central Chinese authorities who are more worried about stability and risk to their own control. And politically, the system in China is tightening up. Almost all of that space that I just mentioned has closed down. The lawyers have been silenced, the NGOs shuttered, many of the journalists kicked out. And China is now sliding rapidly in the direction of a lifetime single man rule, with Xi Jinping poised to take on a third-year term as China’s top leader later this fall.

And so if you look at the Olympics through the lenses not of the four news broadcasts but, you know, the state—the domestic state news broadcasts that are aimed at Chinese citizens themselves, or if you look at the pages of the People’s Daily, which are plastered page after page with pictures of Xi, that’s really the message that comes across most clearly. This is Xi’s moment. And unlike in 2008, the Olympics aren’t primarily about China. They’re really about Xi. The Olympics are starting to fade into just another background event for his own personal rise to power. So I think that’s the message that is really coming across as China tightens up, as power concentrates, again, in the hands of a single person. That’s the message that being conveyed to the Chinese public through the Olympics.

ELLIOTT: So, Yangzhong, you’ve written that China hopes to become a global health leader. This is the zero-COVID Olympics, as we’ve all been reading and watching. How is China’s stance vis-à-vis its health policies, et cetera, different from before? And how does that relate to what Carl was talking about?

HUANG: Well, I like Carl’s idea of these two audiences, the domestic and international. So I’m going to, like, just talk about the foreign audience. I think as far as this is concerned, the main difference between 2022 and 2008 is that foreigners and foreign ideas are not longer that welcome, right? If you look at 2008, where China sought to court the world and win the hearts and minds of the people, right, to come foreigners. And this mass program had been launched to teach Beijingers, you know, English in order for them to offer help to foreign tourists, you know, in need. At least rhetorically, they are willing to respond positively to criticism—international criticisms on human rights, right?

And then look at 2022. Foreigners are perceived as diseased. And foreign ideas are dangerous, right? Beijing overruled some of the health protocols recommended by IOC and is pursuing its own outbreak control strategy, right, that seems to minimize interaction between the participants of the games and the Chinese people in the rest of the country, and it disregarded international pressure, right, for boycotting the Olympics. They basically said, well, those people, right, you know, we don’t care whether you come or not, right? So, you know, and also, unlike 2008 with Beijing, right, they have not many any high profile promises, you know, on human rights improvements.

You saw what is happening, right, this case in Jiangsu, right? This guy who basically, right, the —had her, you know, mentally ill wife, you know, being—who is chained in his home, and then having raped her, you know, with, like, eight babies. And this has become big news in China. But we haven’t seen any official response, you know, to that. So I think rather than integrating into the global community, I think China wants the world now, right, to adapt to a more confident and reinvented China.

ELLIOTT: Wow. So it’s sort of the Olympics on China’s terms, not on the world’s terms. Arthur, can you share with us what you see on the economic and business front? China’s adopted this new dual circulation policy, whose names seems rather confusing, but it has quite a different emphasis from the policies that preceded it. And I wonder if you could explain what that means, and how China’s economic posture towards the outside world has shifted. You know, how does this relate to everything that Carl and Yangzhou were talking about?

KROEBER: Yeah. So thank you very much, Dinda. And essentially, my views, I think, are very closely aligned with what—the trends that Carl and Yangzhou have discussed. You know, and I think we can trace this back to what happened right after the 2008 Olympics. So those started the beginning of August 2008, and then a month later—shortly after the Olympics closed—Lehman Brothers went bankrupt. and we plunged into the global financial crisis. And that was a pretty important inflection point for China’s economic policy trajectory. Because up until that point I think there had been a lot of credibility for people within the Chinese system who argued that, within some limits, that China had to move more or less in the direction of Western economies in terms of its overall direction. It was a very contested view, but there was a lot of support for that.

Basically, after the financial crisis I think elite support for that point of view was eroded substantially. And within the party you had a consensus that the reason that China did relatively well in the financial crisis, compared to other countries, was that they had this enormous state-directed piece of the economy, where the state could come in and direct outcomes in a more stable way, frankly. And so we’ve seen increasingly over the last fourteen, fifteen years that idea becoming more and more central in the Chinese policymaking universe. There is still a commitment to a mixed economy where there’s a state role, a very vibrant private sector role, et cetera. But the sense that the state role really has to be decisive and that it’s important for the state to exercise direction and control I think is much more firmly cemented, not only within the leadership but I think it’s pretty widely supported throughout China. Private entrepreneurs, obviously, would have a different view. But it is—it is a viewpoint that I think commands strong support.

So I’d make a couple of additional comments. So one is—you talked about—your question was, like, what has changed, what has not changed. And I’m going to focus essentially on one thing that hasn’t really changed that much, and one that has. The thing that has not changed is that fundamentally the Communist Party has always had two agendas. And I call these the control agenda and the growth agenda. The control agenda is always number one. And it is about the Communist Party having a monopoly on political power, but also having the party and the government being able to exercise decisive control over essentially everything that’s going on at the top level. It’s not micromanagement. It’s not central planning, but overall direction is in the hands of the party. And this is not new to Xi Jinping.

This goes all the way back. Even people who were considered, you know, big reformers—like Premier Zhu Rongji and so forth—had a very strong sense of the need for a strong central direction, right? But the growth agenda is also very powerful because what’s the point of controlling an entity that isn’t worth very much? So there is a desire for China to be globally powerful. Economic power is an important part of that. So they’re always having to balance the desire for more control with the need to get the growth that will make that control worth having and will restore China to great power status. So that balancing act I think has been with us for the last forty years. It continues, but clearly with more emphasis on the control element.

Second observation is about what you referred to, the dual circulation policy. So this is a specific innovation of the Xi Jinping government. It is a somewhat cryptic phrase, but essentially it refers to the fact that there are two economic circulations, if you will. There’s the circulation between China and the rest of the world. This is the external economy, foreign investment, exports, and so forth. And then the domestic circulation, which is domestic demand. And dual circulation essentially, when you drill down into it, means two things.

One is, we recognize that China has to stay plugged into the rest of the world. Our economy depends a lot on exports. It continues to depend a lot on the ideas and technology that foreign companies bring in. So we’re going to keep the external circulation going. But we also recognize that the external environment is more hostile. The U.S. has decided it’s a strategic competitor. Europe has started to have some of the same ideas. And so it’s a more dangerous world. Therefore, we need to focus more on domestic circulation, which means domestic demand in the economy, but also domestic self-sufficiency in core technologies. So they want to keep both tracks running.

I think the other element to this—and this is, I think, where the economics clearly ties into the stuff that Carl and Yangzhong were talking about, is that one of the principles of dual circulation is that it’s a strategy of leverage. If you make international companies and other countries more dependent on the Chinese market, while at the same time reducing China’s dependence on the rest of the world through greater self-sufficiency, that gives you a lot of political leverage. Because the foreign companies, for example, that are making a lot of money in the Chinese market are going to resist efforts by governments in Washington and Brussels to reduce economic ties. So dual circulation’s both an economic strategy built around how do you balance external and internal demand. But it’s also a political strategy for maximizing China’s leverage in a much more difficult international environment.

ELLIOTT: I guess two quick thoughts about that. You know, you’re talking about strategy and China’s ability to think and proceed strategically. And it’s just so interesting that it’s so—it seems so much harder for us in the United States to do that, you know, because of our system of government, et cetera. So China’s just got this strategy laser focused, and they are moving forward. But the other thought was, you know, you mentioned stability. And that’s a perfect segue, I think, to Sharon, because China’s government seems, as always, you know, for as long as I’ve been watching it, obsessed with the question of stability, understandably. They went through the cultural revolution, for God’s sake. Of course—(laughs)—stability is very, very important.

But I wondered—you know, that—it seems like a lot of China’s kind of human rights crackdowns and human rights policy has to do with the emphasis on, you know, stability above all. So, Sharon, I wanted to ask you, you know, there’s been much more attention focused on human rights issues—the detention of a million people in Xinjiang for reeducation and the jailing of democracy advocates in Hong Kong, for example—during this Olympics than in 2008. One question is, do boycotts work? And if not, is there any sort of U.S. policy that might have impact on China’s human rights situation?

HOM: Thank you, Dinda, for the question.

If I can, I’d like to answer it by backing up and setting—offering some higher-level comments to set the stage for that question and for a further discussion. I think that one general trend, overarching, is that we’ve really gone from 2008—kind of a spectacle of 2008 Olympics and China’s coming out party—to what I would say today is from the coming out party to we are the party. Where together means together in a world according to China. And apologies to Liz Economy.

So the first observation I would offer is that the awarding—and we have to learn from this. It’s why I want to go back. The awarding of the 2008 Olympics took place while there were serious human rights abuses that were occurring. There were serious concerns articulated that the international community and the IOC was aware of or should have been aware of. And the nomination of Beijing as a city was in November 2013. So as Carl mentioned, this is why it’s so significant for Xi Jinping. This was the big bid under his beginning tenure of consolidation of power. Tibet, East Turkestan, Xinjiang—all of these human rights abuses were quite pervasive and known.

And back in 2008, there were many voices that were critical of Beijing hosting the summer Olympics. Hu Jia, the HIV/AIDS activist was detained and was on charges of inciting subversion of state power, for articulating that. Gao Zhisheng in 2007 wrote a sixteen-page open letter to the U.S. Congress detailing the human rights situation. And he accused the party of using the games to build its own legitimacy. The Tiananmen Mothers, the survivors of the family members and others of the crackdown in ’89, they clearly linked the Olympics to human rights. And they actually wrote: Is it really possible that the host of the 2008 Olympics, that the government can be at ease allowing athletes from all over the world to tread on this piece of bloodstained soil and participate in the Olympics? So that’s my first point.

My second observation is that the awarding of the 2022 Olympics also took place while serious human rights restrictions and violations were occurring that the international community knew, and the IOC was aware of and should have known. Just a few examples, Hong Kong 2014, Occupy Central, the Declaration of Victory by the Hong Kong SAR, and the dismantling of the seventy-nine-day peaceful protest was the warning that a one-country, two-system framework was not going to be complied with, and that international obligations were. July 2015—July 2015, the issuance of the PRC national security law, raising concerns about rights in the mainland, and including by the special rapporteur on freedom of expression. And he issued an opinion saying he was very concerned about the vagueness and the overreach. In other words, signaling what was inevitably going to be the national security law for Hong Kong.

Finally, in July 9th, what we call the 7/09 crackdown, on hundreds—over 300 lawyers, legal advocates, and the smearing of all of them as black hands of the West. And so they were disbarred, they were jailed, their family members were threatened, et cetera. So that was July 9th. And on July 31st of the same month, Beijing was selected as the 2022 Winter Olympics. And just to—not to put too fine a point on it, in the torch-lighting ceremony, as was reported, a young Uighur athlete was selected among the torch bearers. And today there are also diverse strong voices trying to be critical or just expressing a view about Beijing’s hosting. And in Hong Kong on Friday, just this past Friday, veteran pro-democracy activist Koo Sze-yiu is facing charges now of attempting to commit a seditious act. And he’s just been denied bail because he was arrested by national security peace—by the national security police ahead of a planned demonstration in Hong Kong against the Winter Olympics. So that was my second point.

My third point is China has moved—

ELLIOTT: Sharon, I wonder if I—I wonder if I can jump in, just to ask you—I want to hear what you have to say—but I do want to ask you, because we’ve got a lot of material to get through. So one of the question is, is there any policy that could work? You know, if the boycott doesn’t work—or maybe it does work, I don’t know?

HOM: Yeah. So let me put this—because this is—whether it works or not depends on the normative human rights framework we’re talking about. And in that point, China has moved from essentially being a newbie to hacking the international human rights rule-based system, and now is aggressively promoting its own models of rule of law, democracy development, and human rights. Hence, while the Olympics are being held under a zero-COVID policy within restricted Olympic bubbles, the answer to your question is the obligation of a country is hosting the games is not in a bubble, and separate and apart from the—China’s overall international legal obligations, including the human rights.

So in terms of the boycott and sanctions, the quick answer is—first, let me be a pragmatic Chinese person. Black cat, white cat, as long as it catches mice it’s a good cat. So the question is, has it caught mice, and what is success? What is the pragmatism? And I don’t believe that any one diplomatic, economic, political tool—boycott, sanctions—alone is a silver bullet to have an impact on improving the human rights and the progressive reform situation in China. And so we need to ask how we have, as you pointed out, Dinda, in your opening framing, that China, under Xi Jinping in particular, actually has a coherent, comprehensive, multipronged, medium—short-, medium-, and very long-term strategy for dealing with the existential crisis, climate, technology, to be a global leader, and to take China’s vision of the world.

So all of this is interrelated in a coherent policy. What is lacking, not only in the U.S. but I would say more broadly in the West, in the democratic alliance of like-minded governments, is lacking this kind of coherent, consistent messaging and policy. And so what we need to do is ask the questions of what is working, how do we work together on that, and most importantly, are we really going to allow the wholesale normative structural operational attack on the international human rights system that China is very clearly launching? And then we will be left in a boat without an oar, and possibly a boat that’s leaking, if we let go of that system. Sorry, to take that long.

ELLIOTT: Thank you for raising that. Obviously—yeah, sorry, that’s obviously an incredibly important question, that the world and all of—you know, we will all be grappling with for some time to come. You know, I’m really curious at to what you all think China is hoping to accomplish with this Olympics? From a PR standpoint, you know, how is the rest of the world viewing China right now? Not just us Americans, but how is the rest of the world viewing China? And is this Olympics a big PR success for China?

MINZNER: I’ll take a crack at that. So, as I mentioned, I sort of think there are two different audiences. There’s the foreign audience; there’s the domestic audience. And I do think increasingly for this Olympics the domestic audience—you know, Xi is trying to—this is an event for Xi. But if you want to focus on the international side of it, I think—unlike 2008—I really don’t think this Olympics is or will be a major public relations success for China internationally. I think its success in 2008 was derived not just from the spectacle of the Olympics itself, but it was also sort of the openness, the partial openness of the society at the time. You know, for foreign students, you know, China was cool. You know, people wanted to be there. You know, it was the wave of the future.

And part of that was linked to the hope that whether—if you were in technology, or if you were in business—there were—you might think as a foreigner, there were—there were things that you could do. So it wasn’t—the Olympics was catching a very particular moment in China at the time for foreigners. And you could imagine that, you know the trajectory of the society at large might go in a different direction. I don’t—I just don’t think that China’s deriving quite the same benefit—will derive quite the same benefit from this Olympics. I think on the one hand what you’re seeing is the increased focus. You know, you’re getting increased attention to the fact that there was a Uighur who was called on to—someone with a Uighur name who was called on to take part in the ceremony. I think that ends up calling attention to many of the problems that Sharon mentioned—whether it's Hong Kong, whether it’s Xinjiang.

And so it’s actually kind of not exactly having the positive effect for the international audience. And I kind of—I think that partially reflects a little bit of the decline in the hope of there where—direction that China is going. It’s sort of feeding into the, you know, correct, I think, popular perception that, you know, one field after another in China is being politically rectified, and sort of the narrative is no longer sort of an upward trajectory, but this kind of steady, slow, steps backwards, one after another. That’s, of course, internationally. Domestically, we’re talking about how Chinese people themselves receive the Olympics. That’s very different because it’s a different audience. But even there, I do think that it’s—the effect isn’t the same as in 2008. It’s kind of fading into the background as just another big event to highlight Xi and the party itself. It doesn’t—

ELLIOTT: Yangzhong, I think—yeah, sorry—Yangzhong, I think you had something you wanted to say.

HUANG: Sure. Yeah, I think as far as the PR is concerned I think the emphasis here is not much about, you know, China winning the hearts and minds of the people, you know, in other countries. It’s more, I think, about showcasing China’s humans and their resilience, right, in general, and also the success of the Chinese zero-COVID strategy in particular, right? If you manage, right, to prevent or to contain the spread of even, like, the most transmissible variant thus far, and given that China’s the only last zero-COVID holdout, right, China’s ability to succeed where other countries have failed, right, in terms of containing the spread of COVID-19 itself would send a very strong signal about Xi Jinping’s resilience. And could also, right, I think, contribute to the legitimacy for President Xi when he was seeking the third term.

ELLIOTT: So I want to come back to that, Yangzhong, for sure in a second.

Sharon, I know you had something to say. So why don’t you speak very quickly, and then we’ll move onto the next question.

HOM: Yeah. I wanted to follow up both Arthur and Carl and looking at the dual audiences. And I think that one of the huge differences between 2008 and now is that the domestic audience is not a passive audience. And that we’re talking about over 950 million online. And so whatever the whole infrastructure of controlling expression and control, there is this enormous online netizen. The second is the international audience, there has been major shifts in global opinion, documented by major global opinion surveys regarding China’s rule of law, regarding the human rights situation. And these include even countries in an Eastern European survey that was done recently. So you’re really seeing a major global shift from viewing China positively to really overwhelmingly negative opinions about China. So that’s the climate in which we are talking about Xi Jinping trying to come out of it looking legitimate and raising the national pride. He needs to do this, because it’s quite clear that China is not viewed as positively as some would—as some within the regime would want.

ELLIOTT: Super important point. And the idea that the wolf warrior type diplomacy and China’s various approaches internally are not necessarily translating positively in the international arena.

So, Yangzhong, back to your question, you—OK, so you write in your new paper that China wants very much to be a global health leader. So I’m really curious—and, of course, you’re saying that they can now champion the fact that they’ve been a success in controlling COVID, et cetera. So how are they doing on that goal? And there’s been a lot of health to—I ‘m going to kind of conflate two questions to let you talk about this. There’s been a lot of health diplomacy during COVID. I’m curious to how it’s been received around the world. But you also write that the zero-COVID strategy will be extremely costly and highly dangerous for China. So why? Please talk about that.

HUANG: Well, first, let’s talk about the health diplomacy, right? The vaccine diplomacy. In our special report published by the Council, the main conclusion that this, in terms of, you know, the outcome of that diplomacy overall, you know, the success, it’s mixed and limited, right? Geographically it seems to be more successful in the developing world, in low and middle-income countries than the developed world. And also, right, if you look at China’s zero-COVID strategy, right, that even though it has sustained low levels of the infection, right, domestically, but the international reverence of Chinese pandemic-response model now is in decline, right, that in part because of that expanding immunity gap between China and the rest of the world.

We talk about this strategy, it is dangerous for China because, like, you have most of the country—well, the population of the country—we’re talking about a fraction of 1 percent—have prior exposure to the virus. We talk about how the inactivated vaccines themselves are not that effective in preventing infections. And even so, we see arrival of the Omicron variant. You know, so, you know, you are going to face, you know, a large—you have a large percentage of the population. We’re talking more than probably 99 percent of the population, maybe vulnerable to the new variant. You know, and that gap, you expect it to increase when the pandemic becomes endemic and, you know, countries—other countries learn to coexist with the virus.

You know, this logic is sort of—this immunity gap is similar to the one, you know, like in the 16th century, right, when smallpox, you know, was already a childhood disease in Europe, but the Europeans brought this—you know, this virus to the new world, which led to the mass die off in the—among the Amerindians. You know, of course the situation is not going to be that extreme, but, you know, the logic remains the same.

ELLIOTT: Wow. And I know that that sort of argument, the idea that China becomes—or, the Chinese people, as China opens up, you know, become exposed suddenly to this virus, which could then disrupt supply chains ex cetera, also led Ian Bremmer at Eurasia Group to call this—their zero-COVID strategy—the number-one geopolitical risk of 2022. Pretty amazing.

So I have a question for all of you. You know, it seems to me that you can look at all of this as China seeking to finally take its rightful place as an equal on the global stage. And as, Arthur, you, you know, were referring to this, as Wang Qishan said to Hank Paulson in 2008, China no longer looks to the U.S. as a teacher, because the U.S. is just simply not looking that great anymore. So is the United States simply going to have to get used to that? What are the implications in terms of human rights, economic, and political strategic policies? You want to start, Carl, or somebody want to grab that one?

MINZNER: I’ll let Arthur go first.

KROEBER: Yeah. So, yeah, I think fundamentally, yes. The world kind of has to get used to China. And I think that’s—in response to the earlier question—that basically is the message that China is sending out today. That they don’t—I don’t think they really have a very strong PR strategy, because they’re saying—their PR strategy is saying: This is what we are. Accept us for what we are, because we’re big and powerful and we get things right. And you basically don’t have any choice. So the fact that, you know, opinion polls might be going against them or whatever I don’t think is of enormous concern. So, you know, and I think there’s an element to that which is just a real fact. If you look at China’s rose in the global economy, it’s way larger, way more interconnected than it was ten, fifteen, twenty years ago. Its global power, both economically and politically is larger. And it’s a more complicated world. So, yes, I think there’s a sense in which we just have to get used to it.

I think the other comments I would make on this, though, is a little bit of pushback on this idea that the Chinese are these grandmaster strategists who have a precise idea of what they want to do, and that’s an enormous advance. I think it is true that they have a well-developed political strategy for what they want to achieve domestically and internationally. And their goals are actually quite narrow in terms of enhancing the power of the Communist Party, its legitimacy globally, and maintaining territorial integrity, which of course includes Taiwan, and getting more acceptance for Chinese ideas. It’s not a very complicated or wide-ranging agenda. And so that means that they can focus their political strategy on a few number of things, and just be relentless about them. And so in those areas they seem a little bit frightening.

But if you look at a lot of other areas, what you see is a tremendous amount of incoherence. So for example, the COVID zero policies, as Yangzhong said, have exacted a pretty significant cost, both in potential health risks, as he’s pointed out, but also economically. It’s made them more reliant on exports, which are really the best-functioning part of their economy. It has severely suppressed consumer demand, consumer activity, and as long as they continue to have these zero-COVID policies, I think that will continue to be the case.

I think it also risks eroding their innovative potential because innovation and technological development relies a lot on the interconnection of China with the rest of the world. And what you see now is a closing off, because of the literal closure of the borders. It’s very, very difficult for ideas, even of a technical and business nature, to transmit because these transmit through people.

So what I see in China is a situation right now where the desire for control has, I think, dangerously exceeded its sort of normal limits and is creating real risks for medium- and long-term growth and vitality in the Chinese economy. And this goes clearly against their own stated strategic interests.

So I think when we look—if the underlying question here is how does the rest of the world deal with this China that is more assertive and less caring, frankly, about what the rest of the world thinks about it, I think we would need to be realistic both about China’s strengths, which are significant, but also about the fissures and cracks that they are creating for themselves through these excessive control policies, and I think those are material and I think the negative impact is likely to become more visible over the next two years. Right now we don’t really see that, but I think there are—there definitely are some problems that are brewing there.

MINZNER: And I would—I mean, I can follow directly on that. I mean, I completely agree with everything Arthur said. I think—I do sense periodically in the United States and elsewhere that there’s this narrative about China as sort of the unstoppable rise to the 21st century and I just don’t buy that. I think exactly what Arthur said—the fissures that are there—and I’ll just drive down on a couple of them. I really think that it’s important to realize that what we thought of as the reform era was a situation in which, you know, 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s kind of was a one-party system, but it was—there was space. It had moved away from the Maoist era where power was highly concentrated in a single individual. There was sort of more space for both experts to discuss, for people within the party to disagree, for people to sort of hash things out. And one of the things that I think is really problematic as China continues this political slide back towards one-man rule is that precisely those problems that characterized the ’50s and ’60s, where you begin to have the decisions of one man, an increasingly small set of channels to influence things. All those things start to come back: decision making, the desire for control that Arthur’s—that comes back and that starts to gradually just suck the life out of the system. And I think that’s a serious problem, not to mention succession issues.

So I’d say, you know, politically, economically, and then also, like, demographics. I mean, China has some major problems coming and I’m just not certain that under the current environment there—I know people point to white papers, but I just really sense a lot more incoherence—exactly what Arthur said—in terms of how China is beginning to operate.

ELLIOTT: Hmm. Fascinating.

HOM: So if I could—

ELLIOTT: Go ahead, Sharon, and then I want to get in a last question.

HOM: So I want to agree with both Arthur, your pushback. And I want to clarify that I would distinguish between what I would characterize as a much more relatively coherent comprehensive view and the implementation of that policy and the internal kind of bureaucratic intra-party dynamics around the implementation and the different vested interests in there and the fissures and cracks. So I totally agree with that.

Having said that, I think it’s also important to recognize that maybe the question might be more framed as not that we get used to—because that sounds rather, you know—

ELLIOTT: Passive.

HOM: —like Ray Dalio sees. (Laughs.) No, it’s rather patriarchal way of talking about it. We’re not getting used to China because China has the right to develop and become what it’s going to become. But it’s more that how will the international community, and in particular Western democratic governments, engage with China in a way that really understands the complexities of what is happening and not to see it as this monolithic and that the dual circulation and all of this. It’s not about to be equal at the table. It’s George Orwell. It’s an equal but some are more equal than others. So the global leadership aspirations, for example, to be THE global leader in the region in terms of military, what the projection of the naval power is now in the region, the projection into space, to be THE global leader in the technology sector, in AI, quantum, robotics, big data, and biometric—the use of biometrics in health care. So I think we need to ask, what are the risks? What are the opportunities for business but also why we need much more granularity, much more rigorous due diligence assessments of the comprehensive whole picture of the China landscape for each sector.

ELLIOTT: That’s great. Thank you, Sharon.

So I’m glad—I want to stick in one last important question before we open it up for questions from the audience. You know, it’s always important for us to consider what people in China think, and I think that we in the U.S. tend to make the mistake of thinking that the sort of people of China are unhappy, that they feel oppressed, and are somehow wishing that we would come and liberate them from their communist overlords.

So I guess I’ll start with Arthur, because you were there for a few months very recently. Are people getting fed up with the zero-COVID policy, for starters, and the constant surveillance and tracking that’s involved in that? What are people in China thinking?

KROEBER: Well, I’ll give you a quick comment based on my extremely small—(laughs)—interactions with people in two months that I spent in China at the end of last year. But basically, I think there is a broad sense that people in China are happy that they live in a safe environment where they don’t have to deal with risk of infection. I think that rates very highly. And I think, broadly speaking, there does seem to be pretty good support for the idea that, you know, there’s really no reason to open up to the outside world until the outside world can prove that, you know, it’s safe.

Now, at the elite level, there are definitely people who have children in school abroad or who are used to international travel and so forth that are very grumpy about it. So within the elites, I think there is quite a lot of concern about not only how the zero-COVID policy affects them, but the fact that information quality for the rest of the world is degraded. You know, if you are living in China and you want information about the rest of the world, you can’t get it because people aren’t coming. Right? And so there’s a little bit of a bifurcation.

I think on the broader point, though, there’s been a lot of quite good survey work done by people like Bruce Dickson and so forth that I think have added a lot to our understanding of views of the population in China about the government, and satisfaction with the quality of governance I think, generally speaking, is quite high and it seems to be much higher there than it is, for example, in the United States where there’s very low trust in governance. And this is not perfect and people have a lot of complaints, but I think we have to be, as we try to understand about how appropriately to respond to China, I think we have to be realistic in understanding that, as a matter of governance, both economic and other dimensions, China’s performed extremely well over a long period of time and it has increasingly better met a wide range of needs of its citizens, and the citizens respond with a fair degree of support for that. And that’s I think a fairly stable situation that’s not going to change a lot, and so any policy towards China I think has to take account of the fact that, on its own terms and domestically, the party has been pretty successful on a lot of dimensions of internal governance.

ELLIOTT: Go ahead, Yangzhong. Please.

HUANG: Yeah, just—I agree with what Arthur said. I think, you know, in terms of the cooperation with the zero-COVID strategy and think of a role, there’s still—that policy still receive very strong support from the public, well, in part because people get used to zero-COVID and in part because the fear, right, that, you know, like, what is—when you’re told by, you know, the government how dismal the situation in the United States, you know, when they learned to coexist with the virus and when they are told how dangerous, right, the pathogen is, including, right, the increase in the might—the omicron variant, you know, and the government still say, well, this is not, you know, like, definitely not like the seasonal flu; it can still be dangerous. So that fear also plays a role. But I think discontent is rising, it’s increasing, as more people are getting directly affected by, you know, the government lockdown, you know, the draconian pandemic control measures.

MINZNER: And I’ll partially—I mean, I’ll sort of agree and sort of disagree with Arthur and maybe more on the same line with Yangzhong. I mean, I do think that Arthur’s correct that, you know, over—particularly over the last several decades. I mean, China’s performance, including, you know, with COVID, generates huge benefits with many people who sort of say, hey, this—things have gotten better for me. But I do think it’s also important to realize that as China hits a very particular point, it’s starting to have to—both because of the economic and demographic changes, it’s starting to—the easy era where the pie was expanding for everyone, that’s coming to an end and it’s going to have to start sacrificing interests of certain people. Now, you know, it’s—that’s, you know, the what do you do about the private tutoring industry? What do you do about civil servant pensions? These are difficult challenges and I’m not sure that it’s going to be able to just sort of say, well, it works for me. Furthermore, I think increasingly, as the security stuff expands, what you’re going to start seeing is increasingly wide sectors of the Chinese population—right now, it’s, well, it’s just the Uighurs. It’s going to be—you know, it’s expanding out. It’s—you know, ten, fifteen years ago, people would argue to themselves, it’s the lawyers that are the problem. It’s a narrow—now it’s going to—as these security concerns become more prevalent, they will increasingly sweep in wider groups within the population.

HOM: So if I could just quickly—there are a number of surveys and research projects that look at citizen satisfaction in China on governance and I think that it does—and Arthur himself has also acknowledged that there are real methodological survey and public opinion polling on the mainland. But having said that, I think it’s important just to point out that the special experts, the U.N. experts, like on elimination of extreme poverty in China, in his country visit to China pointed out that yes, there have been tremendous progress in elimination of poverty. However, he also raised a conclusion, a concluding concern that under a party state, a one-party authoritarian state, the special rapporteur raised concerns about, A, the sustainability, as well as the transparency in the accountability of such a system. And then last year, I believe, the officials acknowledged that 600 million people in China were living below the poverty line, and that would be something like, I think, per month, what we would think of as—like well below the World Bank’s, maybe U.N. standard. So I think when we say they’re doing well, it’s like, yes, of course there’s been tremendous progress. But the real question from a civil society point of view is, are the people most affected being included in the choices? Are they being educated to make the informed choices? Because no solution on the climate, on health, on COVID, on economic growth is sustainable unless it has the support and buy-in, truly, of the citizens. And Hong Kong has had a very long scientific, demonstrated record of public opinion polling back to—before 1997, and I would just say that if you look at all the extensive polling every year, the big shift from 1997 to just 2020 is that the polls have looked at Hongkongers’ perceptions of rule of law and democracy and freedoms and then, most recently, ethnic identity. And I think it’s quite important to see that in 1997, 35 percent of Hongkongers responded that they are a Hongkonger. In 2019, in December, 55 percent said, I am just a Hongkonger. The percentage who said I’m only Chinese in 1997 was 20 percent, but by 2019 it was 9.9 percent.

So the other demographics that Carl’s been pointing out is you can really see in Hong Kong is that there are age demographics and place of birth. So these opinions, in a very rough, over-simplistic way, reflect very big differences by the older generation, a lot of whom have been born on the mainland, so they overwhelmingly have very positive views, and the younger generations. And even on use of violence is understandable when the government fails to listen, we’re really talking about in July 2019, 90 percent of those surveyed agreed.

ELLIOTT: Thank you for that.

HOM: So these raise very troubling questions about what do people really think, and I’m using that as an example, just an example.

ELLIOTT: Thank you for that, Sharon. Thank you for that, Sharon, because, of course, again, it’s a profound reminder of the difference between Hong Kong and mainland China in terms of the culture, the people’s expectations, all that kind of stuff.

But so let’s open it up to questions from the floor. I think, Carrie, you probably want to jump in.

OPERATOR: We’ll take our first question from Mikki Canton.

Q: Good morning, and thank you very much, Dorinda. Thank you for presiding so well over such an impressive group of experts.

My question is the following: In recent days we’ve seen Putin’s visit to China and there’s talk of a China-Russia agreement of sorts. I’d like to hear your opinions on whether this is more a show of force by Putin and maybe a little bit by China to sort of frighten or put on notice not just the United States but the whole world that they too can participate as a unified force. And also, along the same lines, why would China want to antagonize or perhaps alienate European nations in light of its soft-power strategies as well as the Belt and Road Initiatives? How would that impact it, if at all?

ELLIOTT: Anybody want to jump in?

KROEBER: Yeah, I’ll take a quick stab at that. I mean, I think—because we’ve been looking at the China-Russia relationship for a long time, which has a lot of economic components, things like energy supplies and so forth. And I think there’s been a real shift. It’s clear that there’s a lot more convergence of interests now between China and Russia than was the case ten or fifteen years ago, and I think both leaders have concluded that the interests, the convergence of interests outweighs the concerns that they might have had about one another. And so progressively, over the last seven, eight years, you’ve seen, I think, a “closening” of ties between the two countries, which reflects that they each individually are interested in having space for themselves that is less subject to U.S. influence and pressure. So, you know, I think there’s only so far that this relationship can go. We’re not talking about a military alliance. So, for example, I don’t think that China would ever want to get in a situation where they were committed to joining in armed conflict because Russia was party to it. Right? Similarly, they have to be a little bit careful about how they present their support for the Russian position in the current Ukraine standoff, because they have a strong presumption in their policy in favor of national sovereignty. But essentially they’ve suppressed that a little bit and said no, what matters here is security interests.

And I think, to the other question, I mean, they just don’t care how this plays with the other countries in Europe. I think they see this as advantageous to them to have a close relationship with Russia, more coordination, more alignment. And it’s something that gives them additional leverage. And Europe I think they’ve always viewed as a somewhat divided place where they don’t really have to concern themselves too much with popular opinion because they can always play different constituencies off, against one another.

ELLIOTT: Any other thoughts—

HOM: So—

ELLIOTT: —move on to the next—

HOM: I wanted to jump in on that.

Thank you, Mikki, for the question.

I think it is a strategic show of force, but it’s not new. So two quick—that China and Russia are part of the like-minded group, at the U.N. in particular, and they have always, consistently throughout in that fora, been aligned on positions, on resolutions, on actions, on statements of protest. So that’s a pretty long history of alignment. The second is Russia and China are both founding members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and so they are actually tied by that regional, multilateral set of treaty obligations, which also involve mutual military, economic development, security obligations with respect to non-refoulement, returning their nationals, and on and on. So I think it’s quite complex because there is a history of alliance and also by treaty, but I also think at the moment it really is a strategic, additional layer of showing of force.

ELLIOTT: Let’s go on to the next question.

OPERATOR: We’ll take our next question from Tom McDonald.

Q: Hi. Excellent program. Ambassador McDonald here. I’m a partner with the Vorys Sater law firm in Washington and was the U.S. ambassador to Zimbabwe, where I faced off with the Chinese on almost a weekly basis. They, obviously, are doing some helpful things in Africa, but I would say the balance is much more to the negative.

And I would encourage and want to ask the panel, given their ambassador was recently thrown out of Sweden for talking about, you know, we confront our enemies with shotguns, and the road to nowhere in Montenegro and the fact that they own part of Sri Lanka now, shouldn’t we be putting on, at the State Department, you know, in the East Asia Bureau and from the secretary and the White House, a more robust, muscular diplomatic initiative to checkmate them in various parts of the world, including Africa?

ELLIOTT: Go ahead, Carl.

MINZNER: I can take part of—thank you very much, Ambassador, for that question.

I mean, I think some of the things you’re pointing to are kind of an interesting reflection of how I think their foreign policy—the domestic political currents within China, I think, are actually sort of undermining their foreign-policy goals. The entire, you know, wolf-warrior diplomacy, I think a big part of this is playing up to Xi Jinping himself. So this is a situation where you start to see people—why are they doing this? I mean, like, what exactly—people—you know, it was when the consul d’affaires in Pakistan got promoted essentially for being incredibly aggressive.

I think what you’re starting to see is who are you—who’s your audience? Is your audience foreigners, or is your audience somebody at the top in China who you think you’re impressing? And so, you know, I kind of think this is where China shoots itself in the foot pretty easily.

And for the United States or for other countries, I mean, this is—you know, you call attention to what’s happening and it begins to—I mean, I think public opinion shifts in European countries as well as elsewhere against China precisely because stuff starts to happen on your own soil. And governments that were previously—well, you know, you just start being able to call attention to what exactly China is doing, and it’s really pretty easy to shift opinion about.

I’ll let Yangzhong—(off mic).

ELLIOTT: Yangzhong.

HUANG: Sure. Just to follow on the ambassador’s question, I think just quickly, right? I think this is what also I want to convey is the—in that special report, right, I think the U.S. certainly should be more aggressive in terms of countering China’s diplomacy in Africa, for example.

As far as the health diplomacy is concerned, I think they should make the U.S. health diplomacy, both in terms of the level of their development assistance and the timing, right, of the publicity linked to China’s health diplomacy, right? So I think the mixed success of the Chinese health diplomacy in regions like Africa present the U.S. an opportunity to reassert its global-health leadership. But in the meantime, I don’t know whether we should take a(n), you know, alarmist approach there.

If you look at the actual health diplomacy in Africa, for example, interestingly, the region is not actually a strategic priority for Chinese vaccine diplomacy. Because if you look at how these distribute their vaccines, like Southeast Asia, 40 percent of the vaccines go to Southeast Asia. But in Africa, initially it’s not—only a very small percentage of vaccine is distributed in Africa, which they consider sort of a traditional partner or ally. And even—if you count also the doses of vaccines donated to the region, right, it’s not even enough to cover, like, 1 percent of the population in the region.

ELLIOTT: And one just quick follow-up question for you. What sort of role has the United States played in Africa in terms of health diplomacy and COVID relief? You know, is the U.S. present?

HUANG: Well, U.S. is present. But as far as the vaccine diplomacy is concerned, first, we are latecomer, right. (Laughs.) And secondly, unlike China, which primarily they’re relying on bilateral approach, but we basically rely on a multilateral approach, the COVAX pillar, right, to distribute our vaccines, which are actually donated, right, to other countries, even though we still have leverage in determining where this vaccine should be sent to. But it is true that we are in Africa. We are not as proactive as China in practicing this vaccine diplomacy.

ELLIOTT: Let’s move on to the next question, shall we?

OPERATOR: We’ll take our next question from Felice Gaer.

Q: Thank you very much. It’s a fascinating program.

You spoke about the changed situation over the years since 2008. But this year we’ve had a diplomatic boycott of the Olympics. We’ve had a Uighur flame lighter, and Peng Shuai appeared last night. Today the United Nations is saying that—publicly the secretary general is saying that he asked for China’s cooperation on all pillars, including human rights, and that he wants them to permit a credible visit to China, including Xinjiang, a visit of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Do you consider these to be significant changes in the Chinese response and in the foreign response to developments and changes in China?

HOM: If I could jump on that. Thank you so much, Felice, for that really important question. And thank you for your decades of service on the Torture Committee.

Whether it’s a success or not, I think that there needs to be much more scrutiny of the holding of the release of the report around East Turkestan and Xinjiang, and also the visit. I don’t see really being reported that China said it welcomed the visit as long as it’s friendly. But that really is counter to the mandate of the high commissioner. The mandate of the office, as the highest human-rights official in the world, is to go and undertake a visit when there have been credible, systematic reports of human-rights violations and concerns. So it’s sort of an oxymoron to say come visit us, it’s friendly, but, you know, their mandate says only.

The second thing is I think there needs to be much more attention, whether it’s progress, is that China must guarantee that the visit takes place, completely compliant with the U.N. terms of reference for such visits, and that is complete independence, complete protection for anyone she speaks to, no retaliation, ensuring the safety of those people, bringing her own interpreters, you know, and so forth.

And I don’t see any of those guarantees being advanced, that the visit will be—the integrity of the visit, the effectiveness of the visit, the transparency of the visit, and the security of the visit will all be guaranteed. So I think that would be the answer to whether, in fact, it is progress if they agreed to a real visit in compliance with the U.N. terms of reference.

ELLIOTT: Thank you for that, Sharon.

Any other thoughts, or should we move on to the next question?

Next question.

OPERATOR: We’ll take our next question from Claudia Rosett.

Q: Hi there. Thank you for this.

Dorinda, I have a question for you, and then for anyone else, and then for all of you. It’s two-part.


Q: This is about kitsch. Kitsch is not new at the Olympics. But in China it assumes special depths, shall we say. And we’ve seen a lot of it—that astronaut panda, the heart on the ice, the fat white birds, the singing children. And what I want to ask you is how do you read this? China is a place of—more than most—of double meanings and doublethink. How do you think people there are receiving that when they see it?

And then, for everybody, in trying to understand what we actually know about what people are thinking in China right now, it’s become a closed-loop country, much less accessible. Could I ask each of you, when was the last time you were safely able to visit China? Because I don’t see—I’m not finding anyone who’s able to really go around and ask people. We’re relying entirely on virtual input.

So those two questions, with many thanks.

ELLIOTT: Thanks, Claudia, and so great to see your name there and hear your voice.

On the kitsch question, I mean, all I can say is that kitsch is not a big concept in China. (Laughs.) And I think that—you know, I think those images that you’re describing, I think they probably translate incredibly positively in terms of the Chinese public. You know, they love this stuff. And this is a moment where, you know, people in China feel great about themselves.

But let’s just turn it over to others who can talk about visits to China and how much you can talk to people and stuff.

MINZNER: For me, the last time was January—about mid-January 2020. And then something blew up. We had this little pandemic, and that ended up causing some problems with travel. But I was there for a week or two before. It was supposed to be a half-year stint, but it got shut down, basically.

But I think the points—the problems you’re calling out are exactly the ones. I mean, I’m certainly in touch with Chinese—with, you know, American academics who work on China, a range of other folks. I mean, the channels are drying up. And part of it is, of course, COVID. But there’s also just, you know, archives getting closed down, unwillingness of Chinese counterparts, just feeling it’s not as convenient as it once was to have a conversation.

And so this is something lots of people are grappling with, like how do we continue to understand China? How do we figure out what’s going on when, you know, the barriers are going up?

ELLIOTT: So Carl, before we go on to Yangzhong—I know he wants to speak—but tell us a little bit more. I mean, academic exchange—how are you dealing with your colleagues in China? How—you know, exchange of data, even that’s questioned.

MINZNER: No, those are all problematic. You know, people that you once corresponded with, you start to become careful and wary about are you going to put them in difficulty, and it expands out. I mean, stuff that you—people who—you know, I was always dealing with human-rights lawyers, and so there was always a level of sensitivity with them. But now it’s, you know, other academics who aren’t doing anything that was particularly regarded—this is the spreading of—you know, and at some point even just commercial interactions, I suspect, start to get affected as well.

ELLIOTT: Right. Yangzhong?

HUANG: Yeah. Last time I was there was actually one month before—(laughs)—the—because I was there in December 2019. And I think Wuhan registered the—COVID-19 just started there.

And I agree with Carl. I think, you know, now it’s increasingly difficult for scholars to do field work in China. If you want to meet any Chinese scholars, officials, it’s very difficult. There is now this unwritten rule—I don’t know, maybe a written rule—you know, that if you’re meeting a Chinese scholar, right, they would prefer to have a third person to make sure that you don’t get them into trouble.

And now I think I’m concerned, right, that now, with this institution of visible and invisible words separating China with the rest of the world, we are seeing the emergence, right, of the set of beliefs, narratives, and value system in China, you know, that are irreconcilable, you know, with that in the Western countries. And certainly, right, those words didn’t help, right, this exchange—not just movement of people, but also make this exchange of ideas extremely difficult. And so that rise in nationalism in the country, even among the Chinese intellectuals, I think, would also make an academic exchange difficult, you know, in the future.

ELLIOTT: So I know Sharon wants to speak, but I first want to hear—Arthur, I know you were there relatively recently. So I’m really curious as to what was the level of fear. You know, can you talk to your Chinese buddies? And what—

KROEBER: Yeah. So—right. I think here I want to be a little bit careful. So I happen to—I run a business that’s registered in China. And as a result of this, I have a visa that permits me to go back and forth as many times as I want to do quarantine. So I’ve been back twice during the COVID period for periods of two months each; pretty straightforward process.

So it’s certainly possible to get back to China if you have essentially a commercial reason for doing so. That is the carveout. It’s been a big problem for spouses and dependents of people who, you know, have a job in China but their families often have difficulty coming in.

I don’t think it’s a matter of safety. I have not felt any sense that it’s unsafe. And, in fact, in my last visit, I had a couple of very candid conversations with people who were highly critical of various aspects of what was going on in the government. So I think we need to be careful. It’s not—the major problem is not that it is unsafe to go back to China. The problems are, number one, you just can’t because of the COVID restrictions. The vast majority of people who would like to go, who have some kind of legitimate interest or reason for going, can’t. And that’s a border-control issue related to public health.

And I think the other thing is that, even if it is safe to go back, which I think it is for most people in sort of business or much of the academic community, or even in cultural spheres, the value of being there is a lot less because, as Carl mentioned, all these information channels are getting shut down and it is much harder, I think, in general to have this kind of access to different aspects of Chinese society than in the past.

So it’s not so much a personal-security issue. It is an issue of border control and communication being much more constrained.

ELLIOTT: Sharon, let’s have a quick comment. And then I’d like to get one last super-fast question in from the audience before we close. So go ahead, Sharon.

HOM: So for those of us who have been working in the human-rights field for decades, as Claudia knows, that it’s always been difficult to get information accurate, comprehensively, and safely. And it has become increasingly more difficult. When I was teaching, a visiting professor at HKU in 2019, I think that was the last time I was, like, on Chinese territory.

But the diaspora I would put on the table is that there is an incredibly large and growing diaspora of Hong Kongers in North America and in Europe, and they are lawyers. They are professionals. They are social workers. They’re trade union. They’re democracy, former legislators. And I think they maintain ties. So those of us who are doing the work are in pretty close ties with them.

This continues on the mainland as well is that the family members—like Dengxati’s (sp) wife and the family members who are abroad are also very important first-hand sources connecting to the lawyers and to the families and to the people themselves. But as Carl said, and I totally agree, it has become even more hard for those of us who have been working in a very, very tough field.

ELLIOTT: Thank you, Sharon.

We have time for one final question from the audience; just a super-lightning round.

OPERATOR: We’ll take our last question from Hani Findakly.

Q: Thank you very much. And thanks for this excellent discussion.

I have a quick question for those who are experts on China. There is a minority, a Muslim minority in China, which is called the Huis. And they’re in size in terms of the same number as the Uighurs. And my question is, how have they been treated? And is treating those differently than the Uighurs? And why is there a difference in treatment, if there is any?

MINZNER: I can try to take quick on that one. So you’re right. Traditionally the Hui have been treated differently. And with the increased security precautions, repression kicked in. It was the Uighurs who were being swept into the camps. But one thing that’s starting to happen, and it’s really worth paying attention to—and the Hui are a really big one to focus on—is the Chinese authorities have signaled concern with all ethnic minorities.

So under the new rubric, the sort of forced assimilation is now really spreading out from the Uighurs to be directed to all other minorities. And the Hui are coming under pressure as well. It hasn’t remotely approached what the Uighurs have had, but it’s beginning to spread. And it’s concerned, you know, religion, ethnic identity. And so I think the clamps are starting to come on with them as well.

And I’m sure Sharon can—

HOM: Well, I would say that one of the big differences is that the Uighurs, in their homeland area of what is now known as Xinjiang, there are enormous resources there. There are enormous resources under the ground. So there is real incentivizing to make sure that that whole region is being controlled.

And the second thing is that there were, earlier in 2009 and earlier—2009, 2013, there were eruptions of violence against the occupation of those areas. And I think that led to a very different characterization of the Uighur and some of the related Turkic ethnic groups as terrorists and for them to be on lists and for China to put them on a terrorist watch list and individual activists to be put by China on the Interpol list and then to raise the fact that those activists are on the Interpol list to exclude them from U.N. and human-rights venues.

So I think there is a difference related to China’s push, the counterterrorism and the national-security push and the overall securitization, and so it’s targeting those groups that it can easily target as, you know, security threats.

ELLIOTT: Well, I know the Council is very fastidious about stopping, ending programs promptly when—as scheduled. So I just unfortunately—we could talk about this stuff all day long, of course. And with this brilliant panel of panelists, you know, we are so lucky to have these speakers. Thank you all so much for your time. Thank you, everyone, for tuning in. We hope to see you again soon.



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