We are partners in our own demise: ex-president of Estonia Toomas Hendrik Ilves

Too much information, too much contradiction and too much confusion. In this era, how do we even think about where democracy stands in the world? The former president of Estonia Toomas Hendrik Ilves, in a speech in honour of Russian dissident Alexei Navalny, offers a clear-eyed assessment of the state of democracy today in competition with Russia, China  and other autocracies. He notes how there once was moral clarity about where the West stood in relations to these countries. Not so now: one of the fallouts of 30 years of globalisation, the internet and free trade is this great blurring, which sees Western economies, governments and businesses accept the ill-gotten wealth of strongmen. Ilves poses the question: are we “un-indicted co-conspirators” in our demise? He asks in terms of money. But I think a similar case can be made in terms of information and ideas.

You can hear Ilves’ full speech here – starting at 9.33

Text of the speech here.

Media analyst Vasily Gatov’s analysis of the Kremlin’s information war (2015) 

Prominent figures brought down in China’s corruption purge

China’s president Xi Jinping has pledged to bring down the corrupt figures in China, with neither the “tigers” nor “flies” spared. Because many of the big names probed are described as “the biggest yet,” here is a list of the most prominent in the media.

Ex-General Gu Junshan charged with “corruption, misuse of state funds and abuse of power…Gen Gu, who was deputy logistics chief in China’s army, is the most senior officer to be tried at a military court since 2006, reports said.” (April 2014)

Zhou Yongkang is believed to be under investigation. “Zhou would become the highest-ranking official ever to face corruption charges in the history of the People’s Republic.

Jiang Jiemin “Mr Jiang is not just a business executive. He is also the most senior official to be placed under the shadow of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign.”  (Sept 2013)

Xu Caihou: Ex-military commander, Xu Caihou, expelled from Communist Party and investigated for “accusations that he took huge bribes in return for military promotions.” (June 2014)

“He has become the most prominent Chinese military leader to be purged in decades, and the most senior official named publicly in Mr. Xi’s campaign to clean up the elite and impose his authority on the party, government and army.”

There are differing views on the China corruption purge, with some like academic Dingding Chen, saying the West is misreading the corruption purge as an internal power struggle.  Chen suggests this is the real deal – one step in the maturation of the Communist Party into a politically legitimate organization, capable of guiding China past its rapid economic rise. Others say, it’s about Xi consolidating control over the military and party.

But it seems just as probable that the urgency and resolve around corruption fighting is to convince the public at home and onlookers abroad that something serious has changed in China, that there is a moral component to its economic progress over the past few decades. The battle is to convince people of the purge’s efficacy more than anything else. This is the Communist Party and Xi Jinping trying to control the narrative on corruption and in turn, increase the legitimacy of its rule.

In fact, the list of senior accused officials comes as China clamps down on foreign reporting of corruption at outfits like Bloomberg, Reuters and the New York Times. Those Western media organizations published reports which detailed the wealth and holdings of current or recent leaders in China. They hit a little too close to home for China’s current leadership.

The purge supports Xi Jinping’s grip on the levels of power within the Communist Party and the PLA and seeks to turn the page of the story of China’s corruption, while going to great pains to draw parallels between China’s corruption and Western corruption. Public perception is everything.

As Elizabeth Economy noted in the Diplomat:

Perhaps most telling, Transparency International, which publishes an annual global public opinion survey on corruption, did not include China in the 2013 survey, despite China having been included the previous survey (for the first time). Why? No Chinese polling company believed it would be possible to conduct the survey ‘without omitting many of the questions.’

A linkage between China’s economic system and the crony capitalism afflicting the US exist too, Alan Tonelson points out:

Even though China’s reputation as the world’s most corrupt major economy looks more richly deserved by the day, the United States renewed its determination to conclude a bilateral investment treaty with Beijing. The result can only be to expand this kleptocratic system’s economic footprint in America. Like the nation doesn’t have enough homegrown crony capitalism.

This link could emerge as a broader theme for critics of the global economic order within the US – although for now few highlight the connection. And to be fair, the US can’t blame its internal economic woes on China. Period. But China, pursuing its own interests, can definitely make US problems worse. That’s why the US, while it reforms its economy, has every motive to ruggedize against China’s influence.


Who is qualified to report on China’s corruption?

This just doesn’t look good. It’s possible journalist Michael Forsythe was already going to be leaving Bloomberg before he was revealed as the source of the story detailing the media company’s reluctance to go hard on China corruption stories. But even if he was, Bloomberg should have taken extra care around this.

The reality is that China’s leadership will continue to be sensitive to reporting on their corruption. Nonetheless, the role of
the Western media is to continue to report on it. If it doesn’t, Western media would be providing tacit acceptance of the
corruption. Rather than the news being about the wealth amassed by leaders in the Chinese system, the non-news becomes the
acceptance of that kind of feudal graft.

Imagine a future, in which corruption in the West is freely pursued as a news story but in China, there is a strange silent
journalistic resignation about it.

For Bloomberg, you wonder how much is on the line through their markets data division. If the company has to tamp down its own
investigative efforts in China, in order to assure access to those markets, then companies like the New York Times, Washington
Post and the Daily Telegraph – i.e. ones without market data divisions – are better placed to cover China credibly.