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Why China watchers are getting it wrong: Controversial author on how everyone is skirting around the real issues

A tendency towards skirting around the real issues in China rather than talking about the problems the country suffers is the reason China watchers get it so wrong, says the author of a new book pointing out what he sees as the deep flaws in Chinese culture.

Author Paul Midler aired some grievances about the way the Chinese do business when he appeared at the FCC. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC Author Paul Midler aired some grievances about the way the Chinese do business when he appeared at the FCC. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC

The frustration of doing business in China was a particular area of focus for controversial author Paul Midler, who took aim at the nation’s penchant for long and drawn out negotiations, combined with a frustrating lack of openness, when it came to striking deals. In fact, this procrastination was probably the reason why the Chinese were to blame for the Opium Wars, he said, to the dismay of at least one guest who made it clear she was offended by the comment.

“Part of the trouble is we don’t have a vocabulary to discuss the sort of shenanigans that pass for business-as-usual in China,” said the American.

According to Midler, the over-politeness now employed when talking about social and business issues in China stems from post-World War Two liberalisation. Prior to that, he said, the conversation was inspired by social Darwinism, allowing debates on what made certain populations around the world more successful than others. Midler called the 1920s and 1930s a ‘golden era’ for China watching due to its ‘very frank’ discussions about what was and wasn’t working in China.

But things are improving, he conceded, in that China’s big fails – pollution being one example – are being openly discussed globally and positively responded to by Beijing. But he said the general conversation around China remained largely focused on economics because it relieved us of the burden of having to discuss the real issues that are more painful.

Midler went on to explain that the media-projected image of Chinese people being ‘wholly innocent’ hostages to the Communist Party was ‘fiction’, and in fact 95% of the Chinese population freely supports the government.

“The reality is China watchers walk on egg shells,” Midler, who was promoting his latest book, What’s Wrong With China, said.

However, the era of Donald Trump and his incendiary approach to diplomacy is changing the conversation. “I think we’re getting closer and closer to people expressing what they actually mean,” Midler said.

Watch the video of the talk below.

Job listing: AFP correspondent in Beijing

The international news wire Agence France-Presse is looking for an enterprising Anglophone correspondent to join its team in Beijing, covering a wide range of issues in China for a huge global audience.

The role includes covering daily breaking news and writing longer, more in-depth analyses and features, involving some travel around China. The bureau also covers Mongolia.

This is an opportunity for a journalist who wants to develop his or her own story ideas and play a significant part in reporting developments in Chinese politics, sports, society, economics and culture for a major news agency.

AFP is looking for a native English speaker with the ability to speak and read Chinese.

The ideal candidate must have strong knowledge of China and have shown an ability to develop sources, break news and produce original stories. Compensation package commensurate with abilities and experience.

Please apply with CV and cuttings to Asia Regional Director Philippe Massonnet at [email protected], Chief Asia Editor Giles Hewitt at [email protected], Beijing Bureau Chief Patrick Baert at [email protected] and Deputy Bureau Chief Laurent Thomet at [email protected]

FCC joins more than 40 groups in highlighting Hong Kong human rights concerns to United Nations

Hong Kong’s deteriorating rule of law and human rights environment will come under the spotlight as the SAR is profiled in a landmark submission to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) for the third Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on China.

Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam vision of making Hong Kong a more inclusive city will be put to the test. File Photo: GovHK. Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s vision of making Hong Kong a more inclusive city will be put to the test. File Photo: GovHK.

A review of the submission will take place in November.

The Hong Kong UPR Coalition (the Coalition) submission; endorsed by 45 civil society organisations including the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong; represents the collaborative efforts of civil society to hold the Hong Kong SAR government accountable to its human rights commitments.

“The increasing erosion of fundamental freedoms in Hong Kong will be under the international spotlight in the coming months. The UPR is an opportunity for the government to show it is serious in upholding its human rights obligations,” said Simon Henderson, the spokesperson for the Coalition and Senior Policy Advisor at Justice Centre Hong Kong.

Much has changed in Hong Kong since 2013 when the last UPR was held. Election candidates have been disqualified based on their political beliefs, booksellers have been abducted and detained, freedom of the press has deteriorated and civil society is increasingly marginalised.

Mr. Henderson added: “The submission provides a roadmap of specific, measurable and achievable recommendations for Hong Kong to abide by its human rights commitments and restore its international standing. Many reflect long outstanding recommendations by the United Nations which the Hong Kong government has ignored.”

The UPR is a unique process which involves a review of the human rights records of all UN Member States. The UPR is a State-driven process, under the auspices of the Human Rights Council, which provides the opportunity for each State to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries and to fulfil their human rights obligations.

The submission details 109 recommendations. For example, it calls for the government to:

  • adopt a comprehensive human rights ordinance to incorporate all international human rights treaties that apply to Hong Kong in domestic legislation;
  • only propose national security legislation on the basis of Article 23 after universal suffrage has been fully implemented, ensuring that any proposed legislation fully complies with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the rule of law;
  • not set an inappropriate high threshold for granting international protection and grant asylum seekers and refugees the right to work;
  • amend the Public Order Ordinance, in particular section 17B on “disorder in public places” and section 18 on “unlawful assembly”, ensuring it is consistent with the ICCPR;
  • take measures to ensure persons with disabilities are not arbitrarily deprived of their liberty through institutionalisation and provide adequate resources for 24-hour community support and/or small group homes;
  • adopt a comprehensive law to combat human trafficking and forced labour; and
  • adopt legislation to prohibit discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and sex characteristics.

“Our submission reflects the aspirations of the Hong Kong people who want to build a fairer and more equal society for all,” continued Mr. Henderson. “Importantly, it also echoes Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s vision of making Hong Kong a more inclusive city.”

Engagement with civil society is crucial to the UPR process. Unfortunately, quite often, civil society is on the sidelines when it comes to major legal and policy developments, in contrast to the Chief Executive’s pledge to “connect”.

“Having meaningful consultations, meeting regularly and promptly responding to correspondence will go a long way in engaging civil society.

“Hong Kong’s competitive edge is supported by respect for human rights and adherence to the rule of law. Civil society is a critical part of that process. Human rights are not a matter of ‘internal affairs’, but of interest to the international community.

“The UPR is a test for the government to show that it is truly committed to protecting Hong Kong’s core values. We look forward to working with the government to implement these recommendations,” he concluded.

The upcoming UPR on China, including Hong Kong and Macau, will take place in Geneva in early November 2018. The UPR Working Group, which consists of the 47 member states of the UNHRC, will conduct the review.

Important Announcement

Dear Fellow Members,

As we start the Year of the Dog, 2018 will be for the FCC a year when we reluctantly bid farewell to our esteemed General Manager, Gilbert ‘Tiger’ Cheng. His retirement in August will mark the end of an era for our club, which he has steered since his appointment as General Manager in 2000.

Gilbert actually started work at the FCC in our previous home, Sutherland House (now CCB Tower) in 1972. His connection to the club’s history is heightened by the fact that he was mentored by legendary bar manager, Papa Liao, who had served in our even older homes in Hong Kong and Shanghai.

Fully committed to all of us in that time, including 45 presidents, Gilbert has become the epitome of many things that we love about the club. In his own words: ‘Enjoy, forgive and forget, learn from yourself.’ He also has qualities we all wish we had: an encyclopaedic recall of names, an ability to deal smoothly with the most awkward of situations and the drive that comes from the fourth prong of his personal philosophy: ‘Don’t expect others to help you’, although many members of the club know how they can always expect Gilbert to help them.

Gilbert took over as acting general manager at a difficult time for the FCC, as we were losing members after the 1997 handover. Our membership has almost doubled since. The board is confident that with his assistance, our next general manager will help us meet our future challenges and build on Gilbert’s excellent legacy.

As he prepares to step down this coming summer, coinciding with his next birthday, Gilbert will continue to ensure that our staff are as dedicated as he has always been, and he will work closely with governors and his successor for as seamless a transition as possible.

Gilbert’s long service and importance to the club were previously recognized in 1997, when he was made an honorary life member. That should reassure all of us who can’t imagine the FCC without him.

In the months before his retirement, there will be more opportunities to celebrate and thank Gilbert for his extraordinary contribution to the FCC. In the meantime, we express our deepest gratitude to him for his distinguished service and congratulate him on all he has achieved in his career.

Yours sincerely,

Florence de Changy
FCC President

Election Result for The Board of Governors 2018-19

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