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Why autocracy with democratic characteristics is key to China’s success

Autocracy alone is not the reason for China’s economic success, according to a political scientist who warned that President Xi Jinping is moving away from the “real” model that helped the country’s massive growth.

Professor Yuen Yuen Ang talked about the “real” China model. Photo: FCC Professor Yuen Yuen Ang talked about the “real” China model. Photo: FCC

The “real” China model, according to Professor Yuen Yuen Ang, is autocracy with democratic characteristics, introduced by former leader Deng Xiaoping when he implemented bureaucratic limits on power, competition and accountability. This enabled China to lift millions of people out of poverty as it became more adaptive and flexible, she said.

There are many different opinions when it comes to defining the China model, Prof Ang, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Michigan, said. Western mainstream media tends to label it a combination of autocracy –  or single party rule – with state ownership and control over the economy. Chinese commentator Zhang Weiwei described the China model as a “super-large population, super-size territory, super-long history, super-rich culture”. Daniel Bell, theorist, believed it to be a meritocracy.

And despite announcing at the 19th Party Congress in 2017 that the world could learn from “the Chinese solution for tackling the problems facing mankind”, the President Xi himself failed to elaborate on what that solution was.

Prof Ang, who has presented her work at academic, global development, and corporate venues around the world, including the World Bank, United Nations, U.K Department of International Development, and the OECD Development Center, believes the political foundation of China’s economic success lies in what she calls “directed improvisation”, the merging of top-down direction and bottom-up improvisations within China’s one-party regime. This creates the right conditions for local officials and governments to implement innovative development, she said.

To that end, Beijing becomes the director, rather than the dictator, she said. While some direction from Central Government was vague and broad – what Prof Ang referred to as “grey” command that is deliberately unclear, therefore permitting experimentation – other commands were clear in either permitting or forbidding an action.

An example, she said, could be seen in data that examines more than 4,000 policies issued by the State Council over the years. Of the “grey” policies, e-commerce and Artificial Intelligence showed the highest amount of ambiguity because, she said, these are new areas in which the government is happy to allow more experimentation. The sector showing the lowest ambiguity when it came to commands from Central Government was Special Economic Zones, “because they’re for foreigners, so when dealing with foreigners it’s important to make the rules clear”, Prof Ang said.

And while she acknowledged that some Western democracies were growing concerned that emerging countries were finding the autocratic element of the China model more appealing than liberal democracy, she added that there were three basic lessons for developing countries to learn from China: Learning does not equal copying; learn from both China’s success and failures; adapt China’s “directed improvisation” to democratic contexts.

She added that she was hopeful that the Chinese version of her book, How China Escaped the Poverty Trap, would help the Chinese public to understand that it was not autocracy that lifted them out of poverty.

“I remain optimistic that there’s still room for debating what are the factors that made China great,” she added.

Watch Yuen Yuen Ang’s talk here.

FCC Hong Kong supports FCCC statement on Buzzfeed China bureau chief’s visa denial

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong, supports the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China as it expresses concern over the denial of a new long-term visa for Buzzfeed News China bureau chief Megha Rajagopalan.

The following is a statement from the FCCC:

The FCCC has learned that Buzzfeed News China bureau chief Megha Rajagopalan was denied a new long-term visa by the Chinese authorities and, as a result, is being forced to take up a new assignment.

Ms. Rajagopalan, a former FCCC board member who has conducted herself according to the highest journalistic standards while in China, says China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs declined to give a clear and transparent reason for denying her a visa. We find this extremely regrettable and unacceptable for a government that repeatedly insists it welcomes foreign media to cover the country.

We are attempting to get clarity from the Foreign Ministry on its reasoning for effectively ejecting a credentialed foreign journalist from China and will relay any information they provide. In the meantime, we wish Megha the best of luck in her new role.

FCCC Media Freedoms Committee

Megha Rajagopalan, China Bureau Chief & Asia Correspondent, Buzzfeed News; and Emily Rauhala, China Correspondent, The Washington Post Left: Megha Rajagopalan, China Bureau Chief & Asia Correspondent, Buzzfeed News; appearing at the 3rd FCC Journalism Conference with (right) Emily Rauhala, China Correspondent, The Washington Post. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC

Visionary Bangladeshi photographer marks one week in custody

Renowned Bangladeshi photographer and commentator Shahidul Alam has now spent a week in detention, after speaking out on the political situation in Bangladesh and mass protests by students demanding improvements to road safety and an end to corruption.

Shahidul Alam Shahidul Alam

The award-winning photographer, 63, told reporters he had been beaten so badly in police custody that his tunic needed washing to get the blood out. He was taken to court barefoot, limping and in need of assistance to walk.

A judge ordered him taken to hospital but he was soon returned to custody.

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Hong Kong deplores the actions of Bangladesh authorities and appeals for his immediate release. Shahidul’s detention is a severe blow for freedom of expression and press freedom in Bangladesh, where several other journalists have also been beaten while covering the student protests, including a photographer for The Associated Press who was briefly hospitalised.

With assaults on journalists in Bangladesh worsening in recent times, the FCC Hong Kong expresses its deep concern and calls on the authorities to ensure that all media are able to do their jobs without fear for their safety.

Shahidul is known not only for his own fine photographic work but also for his bold vision for photojournalism in South Asia which earned him international standing and immense respect. He launched the Pathshala South Asian Media Institute, a photography school in Dhaka that spawned hundreds of photographers. And he is the founder of Chobi Mela, the ambitious biannual international photography festival in Dhaka, and has judged many photography competitions around the world.

His arrest has led to an outpouring of support from his friends and colleagues across the world which have highlighted his important work, his social activism and his empathy for others.

Here are some of those tributes and appeals which have lit up social media with the hashtag #freeshahidulalam.

FCC bids farewell to Gilbert Cheng – pictures and video

Hundreds gathered at the FCC on Saturday night to wish good luck to General Manager Gilbert Cheng as he retires after 46 years at the club.

Host Chris Slaughter read messages from absent members past and present in between inviting attendees to take to the stage on the first floor to share their own memories of Gilbert.

At the end of the evening Gilbert himself gave a speech in which he insisted this wasn’t goodbye, adding that he’d now be able to drink at the club without being on duty. Following his speech, Gilbert was presented with a sparkling cake to celebrate his birthday the following day.

The event was broadcast live on Facebook, giving overseas former members an opportunity to wish Gilbert well in his retirement. You can read those comments below the Facebook video.

See our gallery of photos here, and watch the video of the night’s speeches below.

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There’s hope yet for Hong Kong when it comes to the race in AI technology, says tech expert

The deindustrialisation of Hong Kong’s tech industry over the last three decades has led to a shortage of talent in the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI), according to an expert who says he hopes increased government funding will plug the gap.

Professor Kam-Fai Wong gave a glimpse of the future at the FCC. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC Professor Kam-Fai Wong gave a glimpse of the future at the FCC. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC

A focus on training and subsequent careers in finance since the 1970s has meant the tech industry has been overlooked by students as an employment choice, says Professor Professor Kam-Fai Wong, of the Faculty of Engineering at The Chinese University of Hong Kong.

This explains why Hong Kong is nowhere to be seen in the top 15 of the Global AI Talent Report 2018, led by the US at number 1, the UK at number 2, with China at number 7, and an appearance for Singapore at number 10.

But Prof Wong was confident that Hong Kong’s close proximity to mainland China would also play a part in ending the deindustrialisation effect still affecting the city. In 2017, China laid out its plans to become the world leader in AI by 2030.

“I’m hoping after a few years there will be a rise in (university) admissions,” Prof Wong, who was recently appointed as one of the first batch of 61 national experts by the Chinese Association for Artificial Intelligence (CAAI), said.

Prof Wong’s talk on August 7, titled Artificial Intelligence: The New Global Arms Race, explored the areas and industries in which AI will – or in some cases already is – benefit the human race. From robot reporters in journalism to creating poems and music, AI will touch all our lives.

But while the march of the robots may make the lives of big business owners easier by cutting out the cost of paying humans to do work that can be automated, such a change will inevitably have an impact on wider society in terms of the types of job left for people.

It was the responsibility of governments, said Prof Wong, to ensure that the right framework was in place for everyone affected by AI.

And what about those wanting to find a job in the future away from robots? Get training in the service industry, said Prof Wong.

You can watch Prof Wong’s full talk here.

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