About seven or eight years ago, the foreign students I met in China were almost always studying Sinology. Since then, I have met more and more studying all sorts of subjects. Part of the reason is that the Chinese government keeps adding more levels of scholarships, the latest being the ‘Belt and Road’ scholarships. And part of the reason is that the prospects of employment after graduation have become a whole lot easier for foreign students. More importantly, people are attracted to a a rising power, with a difference: the Communist Party is in power and the socialism they are promoting is to improve the lives of everyone. As for my own interests, I find that international students want to come to China to study, especially in Marxism!

On the other side, of the more than half a million Chinese students who went overseas to study in the last year, the job prospects are not as good as they used to be. Now they find themselves in the mix with almost 8 million Chinese graduates. Those who studied overseas used to believe that a foreign degree would give them a fast track to a better job. But employers here have become more wary. They are not so readily able to evaluate the overseas qualification, and Chinese qualifications have come to be regarded as equal to foreign qualifications.

This issue has a number of levels. To begin with, many foreign universities still tend to regard China as a huge student mine. They see the Chinese tendency to save and then spend money on education as a way to deal with increasing budget shortfalls at home, as governments cut university budgets. This practice has begun to raise suspicions in China about the quality of overseas qualifications. Further, Chinese universities have been lifting their international game, so that they are increasingly on par with other universities overseas. Further, stories in China of graduates from foreign universities finding it difficult to get a good job in China have raised the question about whether it is really that useful to gain a foreign qualification.

So a shift is underway: more foreign students in China, questions about the quality of overseas qualifications. One of the signs of a rising power is not that people come to it for education and employment, rather than heading overseas.


Hedlund has provided an invaluable link to an article in the Asia-Pacific Journal on the myth of the ‘North Korean collapse’. Well worth a careful read, and it backs up my anecdotal impressions when I visited a couple of years ago. Keen to get back and spend more time there.

Here’s an interesting little fact: the DPRK’s economy grew by 3.9% last year. Officially, it trades with China, Russia, Thailand, Philippines, Pakistan, India and even … South Korea. Unofficially, it trades in small arms manufacture and a range of other goods sought the world over. In fact, the DPRK’s economy has been steadily improving for the last decade, with a couple of small dips.

How can this happen, when sanctions are supposed to hurt them? They are well-organised, quite used to sanctions, and developing their own version of the ‘reform and opening up’ policy China began four decades ago. As for China, the number one trading partner, it is keen to see the lives of DPRK citizens improve, since this leads to stability on the peninsula.


A good article on a presentation by Ma Zhaoxu, head of the Chinese Mission at the UN in Geneva. Apart from pressing the point that human rights requires dialogue and cooperation, he also reiterates two crucial features of a Chinese Marxist approach to human rights (see my earlier post): the importance of sovereignty in dealing with human rights, and the often-neglected human right to economic wellbeing and reduction of poverty.

A further word on sovereignty. In the European tradition, this is often understood (as appeared again in a recent workshop I attended) as the full and ultimate power of a sovereign, whether an individual or a government. This is peculiarly truncated understanding, since it leaves out another factor: sovereignty is always constrained by borders. In words, sovereignty is the authority of a governing power to rule its own territory, while not interfering with another state. This sense comes out strongly in the Chinese tradition, but it is also important for formerly colonised countries. In fact, the truncated European version can be seen as a justification for imperialism, since the ultimate power of a ruler has no borders.


This one has been on the way for some time. Last week the new Ordinance on Religious Affairs was published, which is to take effect on 1 February 2018. To publicise the new rules, we find Yu Zhengsheng, a senior political advisor, making the following points:

Conflicts and disputes involving ethnic and religious factors should be dealt with in accordance with the law concerned to safeguard social harmony and stability.

We must resolutely resist overseas infiltration via religious means and prevent missionary activities in educational institutions.

Apart from promoting traditional Chinese culture and national unity, Yu also stressed that “socialist core values should guide and educate religious figures and their followers.” I love that one.

But what is the background to these new ordinances? The Institute for World Religion Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences has been engaged in research for some time (I have played a modest part in the process). So we find Liu Guopeng, from the institute, observing that Protestant groups have been growing and – due to conservative tendencies among some – have been condemning Buddhism, Taoism and Islam. And external influences have radicalised some elements among the Xinjiang Uyghur and Ningxia Hui nationalities.

The key in these cases is that all religions should stick to independence and self-governance and not be controlled by any foreign entity – whether Christian, Muslim or indeed Buddhist. The Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), set up with the work of the Chinese Christian communist, Yu Yaozong, and Zhou Enlai, is perhaps the best example of this, which is one of the largest Protestant organisations in the world.



This one is more complex than one is led to believe. About 300,000 Rohingya (Muslims mostly) have fled Myanmar to Bangladesh and India. But what is actually going on?

For some corporate media it is ‘ethnic cleansing’, providing stories that retell what journalists have been told by Rohingya individuals – of villages destroyed and people forced to flee. For Modi and the Indian government, the Myanmar government’s account is correct: terrorists are causing distinct problems and the military is responding. India’s geopolitical concerns obviously play a role here. But perhaps the most balanced assessment comes from Chinese sources (here, here and here).

The immediate background: on 25 August, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) launched attacks on 30 police posts in Rakhine state in the northwest. The military responded with force, seeking to deal with terrorist activity. Hundreds of thousands have since fled the war zone.

The longer background: economic backwardness among the Rohingya, cultural and religious (Buddhist-Muslim) tensions, denial to Rohingya of citizenship, extremist Muslim activities.

Given long Chinese experiences with such issues, the articles I mentioned tend to take a longer view. They point out the need for both short-term and long-term policies that will deal with the immediate problems but not forget the deeper issues that need to be addressed. From a Chinese perspective, the fundamental human right is the one to economic wellbeing, with the others (civic, political and religious) following.

Two overlapping articles in the China Daily outline clearly the main Chinese position in relation to the Korean Peninsula (here and here). Apart from pointing out the uselessness of U.S. threats and sanctions, as well as the reasonableness of the freeze-freeze proposal (freezing US provocations and DPRK nuclear development), the articles also understand the perspective of the DPRK. Further, a simple point is made: the United States is not interested in a settlement. Thus, it is not interested in dialogue, adopting the Chinese-Russian proposal (freeze-freeze), or even the DPRK’s long-standing position concerning reunification: a bilateral system that recognises a communist north and a capitalist south, without international interference. Why? If a solution was found, people would ask: why is the United States is this part of the world, occupying another country?

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