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  • Former Interpol Chief Meng Hongwei Sentenced to 13 Years

  • Activist Huang Xueqin Released From Detention

  • China’s Birthrate Hits Record Low, Sharpening Economic Concerns


Photo: Untitled (Shanghai), by Arend Kuester

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Former Interpol Chief Meng Hongwei Sentenced to 13 Years

Meng Hongwei, the former president of Interpol who was previously a senior Chinese police official, has been sentenced to 13 and a half years in prison by a Tianjin court for bribery. Meng was placed under investigation in October 2018 after he vanished into custody during a visit to China from his home in France the previous month, and pleaded guilty to bribery last June. Meng’s was one of a series of high-profile disappearances that have been cited as examples of Beijing’s increasingly uninhibited actions, and the former official is the latest sentenced in Xi Jinping’s ongoing anti-corruption campaign, a drive that critics have said is being used as a tool to fall Xi’s political rivals. The AFP reports:

Meng was sentenced to 13 years and six months in prison and fined 2m yuan RMB (£223,000), said the Tianjin first intermediate people’s court on Tuesday.

At his trial last June, he pleaded guilty to accepting $2.1m in bribes, after the court said he used his status and positions to “seek improper benefit”.

The court statement on Tuesday said Meng had “truthfully confessed to all the criminal facts” and would not appeal against the decision. [Source]

At The New York Times, Chris Buckley digests state media coverage of the Meng case and sentencing, and notes Meng’s wife’s rejection of the allegations against her husband and criticism of the anti-corruption campaign:

The judges took competing factors into consideration, according to the report. On the one hand, Mr. Meng had “truthfully confessed to all the facts of the crimes,” it said.

On the other, the report said, the Chinese authorities have been unable to recover all the money that they say Mr. Meng took in return for business opportunities, promotions and other favors.

Chinese news coverage of Mr. Meng’s trial last year showed him as a humbled figure, gray-haired and overshadowed by two hulking guards.

[…] Mr. Meng’s wife, Grace Meng, has rejected the allegations against her husband and, unusually for the spouse of a senior Chinese official, sought protection abroad. She has stayed in France since his detention.

[…] “I think the anticorruption campaign in China has already been damaged,” she told the British newspaper The Guardian. “It has become a way of attacking people who are your enemy.” [Source]

At The Financial Times, Christian Shepherd reports that both Meng’s 2018 disappearance and allegations from Grace Meng over Interpol’s treatment of Meng have sharpened concerns about Beijing’s global influence:

At the time of Meng’s disappearance Human Rights Watch said that the case “raised concerns at global institutions where high-level Chinese officials already have been installed in powerful positions” because “any government official is vulnerable” to a graft probe.

[… Grace Wang] has launched legal proceedings against the organisation at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, alleging that Interpol breached obligations to her family by failing to challenge Beijing, accusations that the organisation has said are “baseless”.

[…] Mr Xi’s war on graft has become increasingly international as it has progressed, with Beijing pressing countries to return fugitives who have fled China.

Most Western nations have resisted signing extradition agreements with China, citing concerns about the country’s opaque legal process and accusations of abuses of justice in its courts. [Source]

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Activist Huang Xueqin Released From Detention

Journalist and activist Sophia Huang Xueqin was released on Saturday, three months after her detention by Guangzhou police. She was transferred to the notorious “residential surveillance” system in November, and appeared to be facing as much as five years in prison for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” CDT last month translated one of Huang’s last posts before her detention, a reflection on sustainable activism inspired by Yale historian Timothy Snyder’s book “On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century.” From South China Morning Post’s Laurie Chen, on Huang’s release:

“She is healthy and still in good spirits. Her activities are restricted now and she is under heavy surveillance,” said a source close to Huang who wished to remain anonymous. “But police are keeping her passport, computer and mobile phone.”

In a message sent to friends after her release, Huang wrote that it would not be convenient for her to meet with them now.

“One second of darkness does not make people blind,” she wrote.

Huang became a leading figure in the Chinese #MeToo movement in recent years. In 2017, the former state media journalist conducted a pioneering nationwide survey of workplace harassment in the news industry and was a vocal advocate for victims.

[…] In the months leading to her arrest, Huang had published two essays reporting her observations of the summer protests in Hong Kong. She was about to start a law degree at Hong Kong University when her passport was confiscated in August by mainland authorities, preventing her from leaving the mainland. [Source]

The protests in Hong Kong continued on Sunday, with organizer Ventus Lau arrested after attacks on plainclothes police. Hong Kong authorities have continued to rebuff protesters’ demands for universal suffrage, and China’s top liaison official called on Monday for the passage of provocative national security legislation. The stand-off has spread beyond street protests and the political arena to suffuse society and the local economy. Human Rights Watch director Kenneth Roth was denied entry to the city last week, and the International Federation of Journalists issued a statement on Tuesday warning that “the failure of Hong Kong’s police to respect media freedom continues unabated. Harassment and intimidation is now the order of the day.”

The New York Times’ Javier C. Hernández reported on the broader context of Huang’s case on the mainland:

Human rights experts welcomed Ms. Huang’s release, though they cautioned that the governing Communist Party’s campaign to silence voices of dissent was still in full force.

“That she was detained at all is an indictment of Beijing’s hostility toward independent activism and journalism,” said Sophie Richardson, China director for Human Rights Watch, an advocacy group.

[…] Mr. Xi’s efforts to limit dissent have continued to send waves of anxiety through China’s community of activists. Last month, as part of a nationwide crackdown, the authorities detained several prominent rights lawyers who attended a planning meeting in the eastern city of Xiamen. [Read more via CDT.]

[…] “Will this persecution ever end?” said Ms. Richardson, of Human Rights Watch. “And will the responsible Chinese officials ever be held accountable?” [Source]

Richardson elaborated on these gloomy prospects in her contribution to a ChinaFile conversation anticipating the top China stories and themes of 2020, commenting that “the Chinese government gives human rights activists plenty of topics to choose from.”

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China’s Birthrate Hits Record Low, Sharpening Economic Concerns

In 2015, the Chinese government reformed its infamous “one-child policy” to allow two births for most couples, hoping that it would address a looming demographic crisis by boosting the nation’s birthrate. However, a major birth boom did not follow, due in part to many of China’s educated urban elite considering the rising costs of living an obstacle to raising a second child. In 2018, the omission of all references to “family planning” in the draft civil code hinted that birth restrictions may be dropped entirely. According to official statistics published last week, the 2019 birthrate of 14.6 million babies was the lowest since the 1949 founding of the PRC, a 500,000 drop from the 2018 and the third consecutive annual decline. At The Guardian, Lily Kuo outlines policymakers’ unsuccessful efforts to ward off a demographic crisis in recent years, and relays expert concerns that the falling birthrate reflects wider social and economic crises and is unlikely to turn around soon:

“One can no longer point now to the Chinese government’s restrictive birth control policy as the culprit,” said Wang Feng, a sociology professor at the University of California, Irvine. “Such a low birthrate shows abundantly clear that it is driven by the strong structural forces, both economic and social, and it will remain so for the foreseeable future.”

[…] Demographers said China’s population would begin to shrink in the next decade and by 2050 people over the age of 60 would account for a third of the population. That would strain public services as well as their children, many of them only children, who would bear the brunt of caring for their elderly parents.

Experts say such a low birthrate does not bode well for the future.

“China has long joined the large number of countries in the world with very low fertility,” said Wang. “It needs now to learn the lessons and experiences from other countries to formulate long-term measures and reforms to make the society more family friendly.” [Source]

More from Issaku Harada at the Nikkei Asian Review:

The fall in the birthrate is likely to accelerate as the number of young women of childbearing age is expected to drop sharply.

Meanwhile, the population is aging due to greater longevity. According to the announcement on Friday, the number of people over age 65 reached 12.6% of the total population at the end of 2019, 0.7 percentage point up from the previous year.

The birthrate decline and aging place an extra burden on the nation’s finances and social security benefits such as healthcare and pensions.

Each province in China has its own pension program, but some regions have already run out of pension reserves.

The total population of the country reached 1,400,050,000 at the end of 2019, surpassing 1.4 billion as births exceeded deaths. [Source]

As China’s aging population is projected to become a major peril to China’s economy—which saw its slowest growth rate in nearly three decades last quarter—The Wall Street Journal’s Chao Deng looks at how economic factors have contributed to the falling birthrate:

Chinese women are having fewer babies as cultural expectations shift and the financial burden of living in cities skyrockets. They are becoming more educated and forming different views on career and marriage, with some putting off childbearing until later, or not having children at all.

China’s social-welfare system lags behind that of rich nations, leaving parents with greater responsibility for child care and education. Discrimination in the workplace over pay and recruitment can also discourage women from having children.

Views on childbearing are especially stark in big cities. Kang Juan, a 41-year-old editor of a financial publication in Beijing, has decided that a child would create an unnecessary burden. “I won’t have children unless there is an unplanned pregnancy,” said Ms. Kang, who is single.

Ms. Kang said she saw many of her female colleagues forced to accept lower salaries after having children. “Having children will definitely hinder your career development in China,” she said. [Source]

At The Guardian, Emma Graham Harrison notes that systemic discrimination and years of family planning propaganda have also been a hindrance to the government’s recent push for more babies:

Single daughters have grown up in a system that taught whole families that limiting family size was a path to happiness, prosperity and social mobility.

Now they work in an environment where women are penalised for their gender even before their first day on the job. Pregnancy and motherhood bring another level of discrimination for many.

That combination of deeply sexist constraints and years of propaganda have proven powerfully effective as contraceptives for many women.

[…] Its push for a higher birthrate is within highly constricted boundaries. The government wants more babies, but only the ones that it considers the right kind of babies, born into a traditional marriage of a man and a woman.

Single mothers face fines or obstacles to accessing social services for their children. One woman has been suing just for the right to freeze her eggs. With same-sex marriage not legal, gay and lesbian couples struggle to become parents. [Source]

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