TIME Hong Kong

Chinese Media Say Hong Kong’s ‘Radical Activists’ Are Doomed

Pro Democracy Supporters Attempt To Bring Hong Kong To A Stand Still With Mass Rally
Riot police stand guard outside Hong Kong Government buildings on September 28, 2014 in Hong Kong. Anthony Kwan—Getty Images

Beijing has made it clear that the pro-democracy street protests in Hong Kong will not be tolerated

China is gearing up for the National Day holiday on Oct. 1, celebrating 65 years since Chairman Mao Zedong founded the communist People’s Republic of China. What better way to mark the national anniversary than visiting Hong Kong?

Here’s Xinhua, China’s state news agency and occasional — if perhaps unwitting — Onion impersonator, on what’s in store in the former British colony:

To share the joy of the 65th anniversary with the public, the Home Affairs Department will hold a National Day Extravaganza at Victoria Park from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., featuring interactive games, clown street performances, traditional art and craft demonstrations, a showcase of achievements of the People’s Republic of China and a Hong Kong Nostalgia zone. A spectacular fireworks display will start at 8 p.m. to celebrate National Day. It will last about 23 minutes.

Never mind, of course, that the financial capital is choking from tear gas and pepper spray, after riot police battled tens of thousands of demonstrators protesting Beijing’s refusal to bestow hoped-for democratic reforms upon Hong Kong. Or that the fireworks have now been canceled.

When the onetime British possession was reunified with China in 1997, Hong Kong was promised that it would be governed under the “one country, two systems” principle that guaranteed it significant autonomy for 50 years. But late last month a coterie of central government leaders quashed hopes that locals could freely elect Hong Kong’s top leader, known as the chief executive, in 2017.

A mosaic of Hong Kong residents has responded by taking to the streets in a movement called Occupy Central With Love & Peace. Even the advent of the workweek in this famously business-oriented territory has failed to dislodge some protesters, who on Monday morning maintained their positions in several locations across the city.

But for all the momentum gathering in Hong Kong these days, the heady winds of democracy and civil disobedience have so far failed to sweep northward. Unlike the Tiananmen pro-democracy rallies a quarter century ago, to which some Hong Kong activists are ambitiously comparing their movement, modern telecommunications allow images and analysis of Occupy Central to spread nearly instantaneously across the globe.

Except in China, where most Chinese live in an alternate online universe. Facebook and Twitter are banned here, and local search engines — run by those same tech companies being lauded by Wall Street for their frothy IPOs — censor out sensitive material on, say, the Tiananmen massacre 25 years ago or the more recent “color revolutions” that overthrew a slew of repressive leaders. Over the weekend, Chinese social-media references to the Hong Kong protests were scrubbed by Chinese censors.

On Monday, Internet speeds in Beijing and Shanghai slowed noticeably, a constriction that tends to coincide with news events deemed sensitive by the Chinese state. Instagram, which is usually accessible in China, wouldn’t load. One Chinese Internet portal ran a news clip noting that thousands of pro-Beijing protesters had gathered in Hong Kong, while neglecting coverage of the much larger crowds elsewhere in the territory.

For many Chinese, there is no news coming out of Hong Kong. Or if there is, it is merely the frantic cry of a few rabble-rousers. At noon on Sept. 29, Xinhua’s home page totally ignored the chaos in Hong Kong; the only mention of the territory was a brief headline: “Hong Kong Shares Down 1.94 Pct by Midday.” What possibly could have triggered the stock market dip? Punters were not informed, at least on the home page of China’s official news agency.

Meanwhile, Beijing has made it clear dissent will not be tolerated. Last week, China’s President Xi Jinping, who during his first two years in office has consolidated power more rapidly than his predecessor did, noted that the People’s Liberation Army “must have absolute loyalty and firm faith in the Communist Party of China,” according to Xinhua.

On Monday, the Global Times, which has fashioned itself into the Fox News of China with its knee-jerk patriotism and inflammatory rhetoric, published an editorial headlined “Street Movement Ruins Hong Kong Image,” and admonishing “radical activists” for their “illicit campaign.”

“As Chinese mainlanders, we feel sorrow over the chaos in Hong Kong,” said the editorial before warning, “The radical activists are doomed.”

Such threats are surely spooking the students, activists and, above all, ordinary residents congregating in Hong Kong, even as the local government announced on Monday that riot police were being withdrawn. Some Hong Kongers came prepared with homemade anti-tear gas and pepper-spray defenses, such as ski masks, swimming goggles and plastic wrap. Others used umbrellas to ward off the noxious jets. (On Monday, parasols were also being used to ward off the sun.) Indeed, so many umbrellas have been unfolded that wags have dubbed Hong Kong’s stand the “umbrella revolution.”)

But as the streets of Hong Kong erupted in clouds of tear gas on Sunday night, the skies were largely clear in much of the rest of China. On the evening of Sept. 28, Shanghai marked the coming birthday of the People’s Republic with a dazzle of fireworks. The booms ricocheting across the city’s riverfront signaled celebration, not democracy denied. It was a glorious night.

TIME Japan

The High School Where Japan’s Kids Learn to Become Soldiers

A look inside the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force's High Technical School

Playing soldier isn’t what many Japanese kids today grow up doing. After its brutal march across Asia was halted by the Allies in World War II, imperial Japan accepted a U.S.-written constitution that limited its armed forces from engaging in offensive action.

Despite these constraints, some young Japanese are eager to serve their country. Each year, 4,500 students apply to gain admission to the sole high school run by the nation’s army, which is known as the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force. Only 300 applicants gain admission.

Nearly all of the JGSDF High Technical School’s students pursue army careers. They could well see more action. In July, Japan’s hawkish Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pushed a reinterpretation of Japan’s war-renouncing constitution that would allow the nation to engage in what’s called collective self-defense, or the ability to defend allies that are under attack.

But all that war-gaming is in the future. As photographer Chris McGrath shows, life at the JGSDF High Technical School, which opened in 1955, is a mash-up of boot camp and science fair. Students build robots then retreat to bunks in Spartan dorms. There’s plenty of marching, plus the rigor of Japanese martial arts like judo. What could be more enticing for a patriotic young Japanese?

TIME Japan

The Most Dangerous Room in the World

Dominic Nahr for TIME

Three-and-a-half years after a catastrophic meltdown, Fukushima is far from fixed

Our gas masks are on, as are three pairs of gloves secured with tape, two pairs of socks, rubber boots, a hard hat and a hazmat suit that encases our bodies in polyethylene. Ice packs cool our torsos, but photographer Dominic Nahr, reporter Chie Kobayashi and I start sweating. Maybe it’s nerves, or maybe it’s just the sticky humidity of summertime Japan.

Soon we approach the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant—ground zero of the worst atomic meltdown since Chernobyl. Dosimeters around our necks record the rising levels of radiation. After the 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami on March 11, 2011, the aging plant on Japan’s northeastern coast suffered a total power failure, causing the cooling system to shut down…

Read the full story here.

TIME China

Want Some Entertainment in China? Don’t Turn On the TV

This photo taken on July 15, 2014 shows a couple watching TV in their apartment in Beijing. GREG BAKER—AFP/Getty Images

China’s TV and film watchdog has ordered a dull diet of nationalist fare ahead of the country's National Day in October

There’s nothing like coming home from work, plopping down in front of the TV and watching some relaxing antifascist and patriotic fare. That’s exactly the kind of prime-time programming China’s TV and film watchdog is ordering up for September and October, according to state media. One reason for this propaganda blitz? National Day falls on Oct. 1 and a line-up of TV shows glorifying, say, the Communist Party’s fight against the Japanese during World War II, will hopefully usher in a wave of jingoistic pride among citizens.

Earlier this year, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (commonly known by its previous acronym SARFT) also urged TV stations to present entertainment that propagated President Xi Jinping’s ideological catchphrase, the “Chinese Dream.” Applicable programming, according to the official Xinhua News Agency, includes such delights as a program on the navy’s activities in the Gulf of Aden and a 48-episode series on the life and times of Deng Xiaoping, the late leader who spearheaded the nation’s economic reforms. (Deng would have celebrated his 110th birthday on Aug. 22.)

What exactly constitutes patriotic programming? The China Daily, the government’s English-language mouthpiece and no stranger itself to jingoistic content, reported that “patriotic TV shows should promote the protection of the home country, as well as entrepreneurship and innovation.” As for antifascist TV material, anything to do with World War II, or what China calls the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression, should do nicely.

Smaller TV stations will have more latitude than major networks in controlling their schedules. They can, for instance, reserve patriotic programming for prime time and relegate anti-fascist material to less coveted time slots, according to the China Daily. On Aug. 13, the China Youth Network also assured viewers that the premieres of a couple highly anticipated TV dramas shouldn’t be affected. Nevertheless, one user of Weibo, China’s microblogging platform, quipped “The authorities force the masses to watch such rubbish. Who is the fascist here but SARFT?”

Chinese viewers have been clamoring for TV programming with modern entertainment value in recent years — just as censors have begun clamping down. In 2011, as China celebrated the 90th anniversary of the ruling Communist Party, SARFT railed against films and shows that depicted time travel because they were “treating serious history in a frivolous way.”

Then, in April of this year, authorities began restricting foreign material that could be watched through streaming websites. A particular favorite was the geeky U.S. sit-com The Big Bang Theory, which racked up 1.3 billion views in China before it was banned. (The Good Wife, NCIS and The Practice were also targeted.)

Other areas of online space have been encroached on. Weibo has lost some of its edge because of industrious censorship and a crackdown on its more high-profile users. This month, the crackdown was extended to mobile instant messaging services, like the hugely popular WeChat.

As for the upcoming two months of antifascist and patriotic TV, even the Global Times, a Beijing-based daily that often takes a nationalist line, grumbled in an Aug. 15 article. “It is also an administrative order,” the story reported, “that many TV shows producers often see as ‘annoying.’”

Imagine how the people who are expected to tune in to such partisan programming feel.

with reporting by Gu Yongqiang/Beijing

TIME South Korea

Pope Francis Arrives in South Korea With a Message for All of Asia

Pope Francis Visits South Korea - DAY 1
Pope Francis walks with South Korean President Park Geun-Hye upon his arrival on August 14, 2014 in Seoul, South Korea. Pool—Getty Images

The Vatican says that Catholicism is growing faster in the region than anywhere else on Earth

Making the first trip to Asia by a Pontiff in 15 years, Pope Francis landed in South Korea on Aug. 14, beginning a five-day visit to one of Roman Catholicism’s few regional strongholds.

The Argentine, who made history as the first Latin American Pontiff, took the opportunity to hail the populous continent, where Catholic fervor is burgeoning in contrast to dwindling congregations in Europe. “As I begin my trip, I ask you to join me in praying for Korea and for all of Asia,” tweeted Pope Francis, whose visit will coincide with a large gathering of young Asian Catholics. In January 2015, he will return to Asia, with stops in Sri Lanka and the Philippines.

While in South Korea, the Pontiff will pray for peace for a divided Korean peninsula. On Thursday morning, less than an hour before Pope Francis landed in Seoul — where he was greeted by South Korean President Park Geun-hye, North Korean defectors and families of those who perished in the Sewol ferry disaster in April — North Korea fired three short-range rockets into the sea. Two more followed in the afternoon.

Much like in Eastern Europe during the Iron Curtain years, Catholic churches served as safe havens for South Korean human-rights defenders standing up to the dictatorships that held sway from the 1960s to the late 1980s. But the roots of Catholicism in Korea go back further than that. During his five-day visit, Pope Francis will beatify 124 Korean martyrs, including those who were persecuted in the 18th and 19th centuries by Confucian-bound dynastic rulers wary of foreign faiths. Around 10,000 Koreans are believed to have been killed for their faith.

Asia currently boasts the fewest number of Catholics of any region of the world, with only around 3% of Asians identifying as Catholics, according to the latest survey by the Pew Research Center. But the Vatican claims that Catholicism is growing faster in the region than anywhere else on earth, outstripping even Africa. The greatest numbers live in the Philippines, with roughly 80 million Catholics, or around 85% of the national population. India counts about 20 million believers, and the faith is believed to be growing in Vietnam. Yet tensions between Catholic communities and adherents to majority faiths like Islam have erupted in South Asia and Southeast Asia, sometimes violently.

In South Korea, the Catholic congregation has grown to about 5.4 million, or roughly 10% of the population. President Park was baptized at a Catholic church although her official biography says she holds no religious affiliation. Protestantism remains a more popular religion, although the primacy of evangelical mega-churches appears to have waned from an apex in the mid-90s. (Other South Koreans are Buddhists.)

In China, the ruling Communist Party maintains an official Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association that has to answer in part to atheist apparatchiks. The Holy See and Beijing do not have formal diplomatic relations, since China refuses to recognize the Vatican’s sway over what have been termed “underground churches” or those professing loyalty to Rome. Nevertheless, a religious revival in recent years has seen the growth of many faiths, including underground Catholic worship as well as belief in the state-sanctioned church.

In a rare hopeful sign, Pope Francis’ plane was allowed to travel through Chinese air space on its way to South Korea, something his predecessors’ jets had not been able to do. Following papal tradition, Pope Francis issued a radio message to Chinese President Xi Jinping as his plane passed over the People’s Republic. “Upon entering Chinese airspace,” the Pope said, “I extend best wishes to your Excellency and your fellow citizens, and I invoke the divine blessings of peace and well-being upon the nation.”

Still, some Chinese Catholics who planned to join the Asian Youth Day in South Korea were dissuaded by Chinese authorities. On the Chinese side of the border with North Korea, foreign missionaries and charities (both Catholic and Protestant) have been facing scrutiny in recent weeks for what is officially illegal activity.

Meanwhile, on Monday, in Seoul, Pope Francis plans to hold a special mass praying for peace and reconciliation among the two Koreas. The same day, joint military exercises involving the U.S. and ally South Korea are slated to begin. North Korea will surely not be pleased.

TIME China

If China Is Anti-Islam, Why Are These Chinese Muslims Enjoying a Faith Revival?

China's Hui Muslim Minority Attend First Friday Prayers Of Ramadan
Hui imams pray before the main Friday prayers during the holy fasting month of Ramadan at the historic Niujie Mosque in Beijing on July 4, 2014 Kevin Frayer—Getty Images

Beijing bans some Muslims from observing Ramadan, or boarding public transport while veiled, but it allows millions of others to practice their religion without hindrance

The road to Linxia, in China’s vast, sere northwest, is known locally as the Quran Belt, with a profusion of newly built mosques and Sufi shrines lining the motorway. Some are built in a traditional Chinese style, with pagoda-like eaves; others, with their green tiled domes, echo Middle Eastern architecture.

With violent unrest affecting northwestern Xinjiang, a spotlight has been cast on that area’s Muslim Uighurs, who have long chafed at rule from Beijing. But the Uighurs, some of whom yearn for autonomy from the People’s Republic, are not the biggest Muslim population in China, which has more adherents to Islam than the European Union. That distinction belongs to the Hui, a 10.5 million-strong group that is also the second largest of China’s 55 officially recognized ethnic minorities. One of the Hui centers of Islamic learning is the Wild West town of Linxia, in Gansu province, where Sufi traditions remain vibrant.

With the bloodshed in Xinjiang escalating — the most recent clash late last month, which the Chinese government labeled a “violent terrorist attack,” saw nearly 100 people killed, according to an official count — authorities have intensified a crackdown on spiritual expression by Uighurs. (Tibetans face religious repression too as their disenchantment with Chinese rule grows.) But this does not mean that Beijing is curtailing Islam nationwide. Indeed, members of the Muslim Hui community are enjoying a flowering of faith in what is, officially, still an atheist communist nation.

Linxia’s Islamic places of worship are just one symbol of this religious boom. Ismail, a Hui who works for a state-owned enterprise in the Ningxia autonomous region, says he openly practices his faith. “Of course, I fast during Ramadan,” he says. “All my Hui friends do it, too. It’s our obligation as Muslims.” But a Uighur college student says he and his classmates were not allowed to do the same. “[Han university authorities] make sure we eat at the cafeteria. They say they don’t want us to be tired, but I don’t believe them. It is because we are Uighur.”

Hui participation in the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca has increased over the past several years, say scholars. Another sign of renewed religious commitment: Ismail says he has noticed more Hui women in his hometown wearing veils in recent years. “As more Hui women receive education, they learn more about their own identities,” he says. “As a result, they realize the protection brought by Islam and are starting to wear veils more.”

By contrast, a local paper in the Xinjiang town of Karamay reported last week that residents with long beards, headscarves, veils and clothing with an Islamic crescent moon and star would not be allowed to board public buses while the city played host to a sporting event. In Kashgar, a Silk Road outpost that is a repository of Uighur culture, the local government has promoted a campaign called Project Beauty that urges Uighur women to “show your pretty faces and let your beautiful hair fly in the wind.” Uighurs also have a hard time getting passports to travel abroad, especially to go on the hajj.

“It’s not an issue of freedom of religion,” says Dru Gladney, one of the foremost academics studying Chinese Muslims. “Clearly, there are many avenues of religious expression that are unfettered in China, but when you cross these very often nebulous and shifting boundaries of what the state regards as political, then you’re in dangerous territory. Obviously this is what we see in Xinjiang and in Tibet.”

Unlike Tibetans or Uighurs, who speak a Turkic language and are racially distinct from the Han, the Hui are not agitating for increased autonomy, much less a split from China. One reason may be influenced by geography. While Uighurs are concentrated in Xinjiang, and Tibetans clustered on the high plateau in far western China, the Hui are spread out across the nation. True, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region is dedicated to them, but Hui communities exist in practically every major Chinese city. A significant population lives in Beijing.

Racially and linguistically, the Hui — whose ancestors include Persian, Central Asian and Arab traders who plied the Silk Road and intermarried with local Chinese — are virtually indistinguishable from China’s Han majority. Often, it is only the presence of a white prayer cap that differentiates a Hui man from his Han counterpart. Partly because of their cultural affinity to the Han and their geographic dispersal, the Hui are far more integrated into mainstream Chinese life than those ethnic minorities living in China’s borderlands.

“The way [the government treats] the Uighurs and the Hui is completely different,” says a foreign scholar who studies the Hui, requesting anonymity. “The standard line for the Uighurs is that everything is oppression and violence and conflict, and the standard narrative for the Hui is that they are complicit with state power and that they are not real Muslims. The Hui are considered the good Muslims and the Uighurs the bad Muslims.”

That division has implications for the future of Xinjiang, which was once predominantly Uighur but has played host to waves of government-encouraged internal migration. While many of the recent arrivals who work at military or state-owned farms and mines are Han, other newcomers are Hui. China’s 2010 national census recorded 983,015 Hui in Xinjiang, up from 681,527 in the 1990 count. During the 2009 rioting in Xinjiang’s capital Urumqi that killed around 200 people, one reported refrain from extremist Uighurs spread across social media: “Kill the Han, kill the Hui.”

The Hui’s forebears include a long line of military generals loyal to imperial Chinese governments. (There were, however, Hui rebels who battled the late Qing dynasty from a base in Ningxia.) The Hui also excelled at trading, a talent which spread their numbers across China. Even in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, many trinket stores and restaurants near the main city square are now owned by Hui merchants. The Hui, along with the Han, were targeted when ethnic violence broke out in Tibetan regions in 2008. Indeed, ancient history in China’s far west is filled with battles between Tibetans, Uighurs, the Hui and the Han, with borders and allegiances shifting like desert sands. Animosities endure. “Post-2008 [violence in Tibet] and 2009 [bloodshed in Xinjiang], it’s like it’s every group for themselves,” says the foreign Hui scholar.

External influences are also becoming more important in Chinese Islam. The proliferation of Middle Eastern–style mosques in Linxia mirrors the rise of purist Salafi Islam across the world, from Indonesia to North Africa, in which a unified faith trumps indigenous variations. “In China, the Hui have extraordinarily illustrated this beautiful accommodation between Chinese culture and Islam,” says Gladney, who teaches at Pomona College in California. “But with the rise of social media and an idea of one Islamic world, this historic accommodation is being debated.”

Gladney notes that Hui clerics have studied at Egypt’s al-Azhar University, one of the world’s most important centers of Islamic learning, while around 300 Hui live in the holy Saudi Arabian city of Medina. “For 1,300 years, the Hui have been able to not only survive but thrive,” says Gladney. “But we have to also remember that revolutions in Chinese Islam have tended to come from increased communication and travel abroad, and we’re in a period where the Hui with the right connections are doing just that.”

— With reporting by Gu Yongqiang / Beijing


China’s Red Cross Is Still Dealing With a 3-Year-Old Scandal Involving Sex and Fast Cars

A 2011 imbroglio involving a young woman's feigned connection to China's biggest charity could hamper a drive to raise relief funds for victims of an earthquake in Yunnan province that has claimed at least 381 lives

On Aug. 3, the ground shook in southwestern China, crumbling homes and killing around 400 residents of a remote, mountainous part of Yunnan province.
Six years earlier, when a much greater earthquake ravaged neighboring Sichuan province, extinguishing some 90,000 lives, the state-run Red Cross Society of China was flooded with generous donations from Chinese nationwide. This time, however, there are fears that the public won’t be as generous — and that’s all because of a certain 23-year-old maiden named Guo Meimei, who once claimed to be a “commercial general manager” of an entity related to the Chinese Red Cross.
Guo almost single-handedly ruined the organization’s reputation in 2011, when she posted pictures of herself jet-setting in business class, and cavorting in a Maserati and Lamborghini. Today, the Red Cross, the nation’s biggest charity, is having to plead with the public to focus on the devastation in Yunnan and forget about the scandal.
Showy displays from China’s nouveau riche aren’t anything new, but Guo shattered confidence in the Chinese charity at a time when the public had already begun to question just how aid organizations spend their money. In the wake of the Guo affair, donations to the Chinese Red Cross dipped. (Her notoriety was such that someone designed a fake TIME cover with her pretty, pouting image on it.)
On Sunday, the same day as when the temblor of at least 6.1 magnitude struck Yunnan, China’s state-run media released highlights from a confession Guo made in which she owned up to various misdeeds, such as helping to run an illegal gambling ring in Beijing and offering sexual services, including a $60,000-evening tryst. (Official news agency Xinhua noted that most of Guo’s sexual partners were foreigners.)
Arrested last month, Guo — whose name means “beautiful, beautiful” — now languishes in a Beijing detention center. CCTV, the Chinese state broadcaster, aired images of her stripped of makeup and clad in a prison-orange vest. Another alleged gambling-ring member was quoted by Xinhua describing Guo as “particularly evil, unscrupulous.” The lengthy Xinhua exposé described what it said was Guo’s unsavory family background: a father with a fraud conviction, a mother who ran a sauna, an aunt once suspected of harboring prostitutes and an uncle jailed for drug trafficking.
Then, there was her purported “godfather,” the man who may have linked her to the Red Cross, through an organization bearing the unlikely name of the Red Cross Chamber of Commerce. According to Xinhua, Guo met a wealthy southern Chinese real estate investor surnamed Wang when she was just 19-years-old. Soon, she was surrounded by luxury cars and other baubles. On social media, she changed her stated profession from “actor singer” to the Red Cross Chamber of Commerce’s “commercial general manager.”
Wang, married with kids, is now in jail. The CCTV segment meanwhile captures Guo in tears, disavowing any relationship with the Red Cross. “I made a huge mistake because of my vanity,” Guo is quoted as saying in the Xinhua report. “My mistake brought severe damage to the Red Cross’s reputation … I want to say sorry to the Red Cross and sorry to the masses, especially to those vulnerable people who do not get relief.”
Seeking to further distance itself from the Guo affair, the Chinese Red Cross released a statement on Monday morning reiterating that the disgraced young lady was not a staff member and that her fortune had no connection to the charity or its funds:

Such slanders [linking Guo to the Red Cross] not only affect social justice, mislead the public and disturb public order, but they also do serious damage to humanity, public welfare and philanthropy. As a time-honored charitable organization, the Red Cross of China has been dedicated to providing humanitarian relief to the vulnerable. We sincerely hope the public will continue to support and participate in our undertaking.

Nonetheless, the salacious details about Guo and her sugar daddy have kept Chinese social media buzzing. “How can a prostitute be so rich?” asked one person on the Sina Weibo microblogging service. Another expressed enduring skepticism in the charity she once claimed to have represented: “No matter what the Red Cross says, I will never donate money to them.” So far, the Chinese Red Cross says it has donated 2,000 quilts, 2,000 jackets and 200 tents to the victims of the Aug. 3 Yunnan earthquake. The charity refused to speak to TIME about Guo.
With reporting by Gu Yongqiang / Beijing

TIME China

China’s Ex-Security Czar Ensnared in Corruption Probe

Zhou Yongkang, then Chinese Communist Party Politburo Standing Committee member in charge of security, attends a plenary session of the National People's Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 9, 2012.
Zhou Yongkang, then Chinese Communist Party Politburo Standing Committee member in charge of security, attends a plenary session of the National People's Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 9, 2012 Ng Han Guan—AP

Zhou Yongkang, former head of China's police state, becomes the most senior official yet caught up in President Xi Jinping's anticorruption crusade

For years, as head of China’s police state, Zhou Yongkang was wrapped in an aura of menace. At his disposal was a $110 billion annual budget for domestic security — more than China’s official military spending — as well as reams of dossiers on communist faithful and ordinary citizens alike. As China’s security czar, Zhou could order the downfall of most any individual practically at will. It helped, of course, that his looks followed central casting for the bad guy in a James Bond film: determined jaw, greased-back dyed hair, that uncompromising set to his thin lips.

On July 29, after months of rumors about his downfall, Zhou was placed under formal investigation for “suspected ‘serious disciplinary violation,’” Chinese Communist Party code for corruption and other abuses of power. If Zhou is officially prosecuted by antigraft authorities — and Chinese authorities don’t tend to launch idle investigations — he will be the highest-ranking Chinese leader to be felled for corruption since the Communist Party took power in 1949. Until late 2012, Zhou was a member of the Politburo Standing Committee, the elite clique of communists that rules China.

But since his retirement, the noose around the neck of the now 71-year-old has drawn ever tighter. Several of his family members — who appear to have somehow amassed significant fortunes — are believed to be in detention. Shortly after releasing news of Zhou’s investigation, the People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, posted a tweet saying that Zhou Bin, Zhou’s son, had been “arrested on suspicion of illegal business operation.” The tweet was accompanied by an image of a photocopy of Zhou Bin’s ID card.

Dozens of Zhou Yongkang’s subordinates, advisers and acolytes also have been investigated, jailed or publicly shamed. The mass arrests have included men from three main spheres of influence that Zhou once controlled: the populous southwestern province of Sichuan, a state-owned oil-and-gas behemoth and the Ministry of Public Security.

The most dramatic downfall of a Zhou associate was that of Bo Xilai, the former party chief of the southwestern metropolis of Chongqing, who was sentenced to life imprisonment last year for bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power. Bo’s wife was convicted of murdering an English business consultant. The collapse of one of China’s most glamorous power couples brought a touch of Macbeth to the inner sanctum of Chinese politics.

The man who has presided over the dismantling of Zhou’s power network is China’s President Xi Jinping, who has unleashed an anticorruption campaign that has brought down hundreds of Communist Party officials in recent months. Warning that the rot within official ranks could prove an existential threat to a party that has ruled for 65 years, Xi has surprised skeptics who presumed his graft-busting project would fade after a few months. Instead, Xi, who came to power as Zhou retired from the Standing Committee, has vowed that his crusade will capture both low-ranking “flies” and the highest-echelon “tigers.”

Zhou, with his trademark sneer, looks to be a prime example of the latter. He was also, according to some China political analysts, a leader of a Communist Party faction that may have clashed with Xi’s supporters. If that’s true — and there’s no way to prove it, given the cloistered nature of Chinese politics — then Xi’s pursuit of Zhou betrays personal as well as political interest. Whatever the internal politics, July 29 proved an ideal day to announce the Zhou investigation: as China watchers gleefully noted, the date also happens to be International Tiger Day.

TIME China

Next Up, Microsoft. McDonald’s, Apple, Starbucks, Already Know China’s Wrath

A visitor walks past a Microsoft booth at a computer software expo in Beijing
A visitor walks past a Microsoft booth at a computer software expo in Beijing, June 2, 2010. China Daily—Reuters

Beijing appears to be reciprocating Washington's mistrust of Chinese firms

Is no famous foreign brand safe in China? On July 28, four Microsoft offices across China received an alarming set of unscheduled visitors: Chinese government investigators who appeared to be looking into whether the American software firm had violated Beijing’s controversial anti-trust laws, according to Chinese media. A few days before, it was McDonald’s and KFC’s turn in the spotlight. The U.S. fast-food companies’ supply chains were roiled when one of their major meat suppliers in China was accused of using expired meat. In May, the Western pharmaceutical industry came under scrutiny when GlaxoSmithKline was charged with running an extensive network of corruption in China to push their drugs into the market.

Foreign coffee and cars have also been targeted, with Chinese state media launching shaming campaigns against Starbucks and Jaguar for setting higher prices in China than in much of the West. Official Chinese press have even accused U.S. tech firms like Cisco of possibly being coopted by U.S. intelligence agencies intent on tracking Chinese customers.

Not even Apple — which assembles most of its gadgets in China through subcontractors and counts on voracious Chinese demand for its high-end products — is safe from the mud-slinging. On July 28, China’s official Xinhua news agency referred to “Apple’s immorality” in selling devices through which consumers’ personal data could potentially be mined. Earlier this month, state broadcaster CCTV had deemed the iPhone a conceivable “national security concern” for China.

Nor is this the first time this year that Microsoft has been fingered in China. In May, Beijing began forbidding central-government purchases of the company’s newest Windows 8 computer software because of potential security concerns. As for the Monday surprise visits by officials from the State Administration for Industry and Commerce, Microsoft isn’t saying much. Beyond a standard issuance from a company spokesperson — “We aim to build products that deliver the features, security and reliability customers expect, and we will address any concerns the government may have” — the American software giant declined to comment further to TIME, citing the “ongoing and sensitive nature of this situation.”

The pace does feel like it has quickened in terms of foreign firms being accused by Chinese officialdom of a slew of misdeeds: monopolistic behavior such as price-fixing, cavalier treatment of Chinese consumers and general financial misconduct. Still, some Chinese analysts contend that plenty of domestic firms are being pursued by local regulators, too. Certainly, Chinese consumer confidence has waned recently, with a steady supply of exposés of shoddy, unsafe or fake products. One local survey found that 80% of more than 3,000 people polled considered China’s food safety wanting.

Mao Qiying, an IT analyst with a large following on Chinese social media, also contends that Chinese tech firms like Huawei and ZTE have a tough time entering the U.S. market because of Washington’s concerns that these Chinese firms could be coerced into doing Beijing’s bidding. “The Chinese government,” Mao says, “is more lenient towards Western tech giants compared with the American government’s attitude toward Chinese tech companies.” In May, the U.S. charged five Chinese military officers with hacking into American computer networks from across the Pacific Ocean.

Chinese officials have accused the U.S. of national-security hypocrisy in the post-Edward Snowden era. As for the Chinese consumers themselves, even Xinhua, which on Monday linked tech companies like Apple to a “U.S. surveillance addiction,” conceded that commonly used anti-virus software employs similar technology to the tracking systems in Apple devices. Fears over an American invasion of Chinese privacy haven’t dampened iPhone sales in China either. Last quarter, Apple enjoyed a 28% hike in greater China revenues.

Meanwhile, on Chinese social media, some users were scathing of Beijing’s attempts to censure foreigners for potential antitrust violations. On July 28, China announced that by the end of 2013, the nation boasted 155,000 state-owned enterprises with total assets amounting to $17 trillion. “Will anyone investigate the government’s monopoly on the water, power or petroleum industry?” wrote one microblog wag.

with reporting by Gu Yongqiang/Beijing

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