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Chinese politics has become even more of a black box under Xi Jinping

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Chinese President Xi Jinping attends the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, on Sept. 16.Sergei Bobylev/The Associated Press

It should be easy to prove a coup hasn’t taken place.

Over the weekend, however, as unfounded claims Chinese President Xi Jinping had been deposed spread first from Chinese dissident outlets to Indian media and then across Twitter – based on non-existent or willfully misinterpreted evidence – even respectable China watchers were cautious in their debunking: This almost certainly isn’t happening, but we can’t say for sure.

“The inherent opacity of the system just gives these rumours more room to spread, even if not based on reality,” said Washington-based analyst Bill Bishop.

Mr. Xi hasn’t been seen for a few days, most likely because he is in quarantine after returning from a trip to Central Asia last week – he similarly disappeared from public view after a visit to Hong Kong in July. On Sunday, state news agency Xinhua included him in a list of senior cadres attending next month’s Communist Party Congress.

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At that meeting, far from being overthrown, Mr. Xi is expected to secure an unprecedented third term as leader. There are no serious challengers, and he could yet stay in power for another decade.

Even that prediction, however – while the consensus view among analysts – is ultimately a guess based on pronouncements in Chinese state media, Mr. Xi’s own actions and perceived Party norms – many of which have already been broken during Mr. Xi’s decade in power.

“This is analysis imposed on a system by people who have no experience inside the system,” said Drew Thompson, a senior fellow at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore. “It’s a political black box at the top.”

Mr. Xi’s fate ultimately rests with the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee and a handful of retired Party grandees. Outside that circle, few others know what is going on, whether Mr. Xi is truly in the position of strength he appears to be or frantically making deals and compromises to stay the course.

We may get some clarity at the Party Congress itself, but what goes on behind the scenes will remain shrouded in secrecy.

This applies both to foreigners and ordinary Chinese, who often have scant insight into how key decisions are made on their behalf. But as China faces growing challenges and the spectre of conflict rises with its neighbours and rivals, the lack of transparency becomes more dangerous.

“Beijing’s radical opacity has real-world consequences,” Richard McGregor, an expert on Communist Party politics at the Lowy Institute in Sydney, wrote recently. “How would Xi, for example, make any decision to invade Taiwan? What would happen if the military pushed back? Could the politburo vote to overrule Xi? Does Xi feel pressure from the public to take the island?

“Almost anything China does has global fallout these days, but its internal debates and its decision-making processes are almost entirely hidden,” he added.

Mr. Thompson, a former U.S. Defence Department official, said that even during the Cold War, Washington and other Western powers had greater insight into how decisions were made in the Kremlin, and what to look out for, but “we don’t have any of that with China.”

“So we’re ripe for misperception, for misunderstandings and miscalculations, because we don’t know how they’re signalling,” he said.

Nigel Inkster, a former director at British spy agency MI6, now an analyst with London-based Enodo Economics, agreed Chinese politics can be remarkably hard to parse, even for those who make a career of it.

“We have a number of areas where China seems to be saying one thing and doing another and it can be genuinely be very difficult to work out what their intentions are,” he told The Globe.

Because of the opaque nature of Chinese elite politics, theories about the Party’s functioning depend on historical analyses, which are not always good at predicting the future, or even elucidating the present.

During Mr. Xi’s predecessor Hu Jintao’s two terms as Chinese leader, there was much focus on supposed factions within the Party, and a perceived tussle for power between Mr. Hu’s Communist Youth League allies and the “Shanghai gang” around former leader Jiang Zemin.

But Mr. Xi upended this model. Many of his key allies have been linked to factions believed to be in fierce opposition to each other – either he has negotiated (or forced) a peace between warring sides, or the divides were never as great as outsiders once believed.

David Shambaugh, a long-time scholar of the Communist leadership, favours the latter interpretation.

“Since 1989, I don’t think factions have been a very useful or even identifiable thing when it comes to studying Chinese politics,” he said. “We just can’t clearly identify them.”

Even settled history when it comes to China often isn’t as certain as is presented.

Former paramount leader Deng Xiaoping is often credited – by both Chinese and foreign sources – with kick-starting capitalist reforms and encouraging collective leadership within the Party in the 1980s and ‘90s.

Recent research has challenged both claims. Not only do many now credit Mr. Deng’s predecessor Hua Guofeng with key economic policies, but, as academic Joseph Torigian writes, “the Deng era was emphatically one of continued strongman rule.”

If we are only now understanding one of the most scrutinized periods of modern China – that which followed Mao Zedong’s death – hope of gleaning what is currently happening within the Party’s top ranks can sometimes seem next to impossible.

So inevitably, in the run-up to major events like the Party Congress, we enter the “silly season” of Chinese politics, when rumours abound – and people start shouting coup just because Xi Jinping stayed inside for a few days.

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Two Liberal MLAs depart New Brunswick politics – New Brunswick | Globalnews.ca – Global News

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Two Liberal MLAs are leaving provincial politics.

Daniel Guitard and Denis Landry are trading in their trips to Fredericton for a spot closer to home, as mayors of their prospective municipalities. The two of them have put in three and half decades in provincial politics.

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Landry one of the longest-serving MLAs

Denis Landry is one of the longest serving MLAs left, and the only remaining one to have served under former Liberal premier Frank McKenna.

He was first elected in 1995 and was most recently representing Bathurst East-Nepisiguit-Saint-Isidore.

During his 27 years, he’s been minister of Natural Resource and Human Resource, minister of Justice and Public Safety, and acting minister of Transportation and Infrastructure.

Over the years, he’s seen many changes, but mostly changing faces, he said in an interview on Nov. 25.

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“All of the faces I started with are no longer here,” he said. “There are not many young people entering politics.”

Landry was quick to point out it is very difficult for young people, especially women to enter politics. There are many reasons for it, he said, including childcare while they would be in Fredericton.

“It depends what support you have home or what support you can have here,” he said. “But for (a) young person who wants to get involved in politics, men or women, it’s not easy.”

He credited his wife Johanne for playing a key role during his time as a politician, taking care of their children.

Reflecting on the big moments

“I remember one day, 1999, I got home,” he said. “My son was leaving with the car, my youngest son, I said to my wife, where is he going … he’s going to register at UNB. And I said, ‘holy jeez, like those four years, I didn’t (see) them. I mean work, work, work and my reason to be in politics then, is the same today, is to help as many people as I can, but not maybe watching my family as I should have.

There was also that quick trip to jail.

Landry, who described himself as a social activist, spent about two weeks in jail during his time as Justice and Public Safety minister under Frank McKenna.

He was protesting changes to the forestry industry, mainly the introduction of technology that was causing people to lose their jobs.

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“I decided to defend my colleagues and workers at that time,” he said. “The demonstrations were in the woods, sometimes at night time.”

He demonstrated with large groups along the New Brunswick-Quebec border. He said the police did an inquiry and he was identified as a leader of a group.

“Then the RCMP pressed some charges against me,” he said. “Public mischief. I had to go to trial and defend myself and I won.”

Through all it though, including serving under eight different premiers, he has one singular piece of advice:“patience.”

Historical speak of the house

Daniel Guitard was first elected in 2014 and represented Restigouche-Chaluer.

He’s served as deputy government whip during his first term, and as the speaker of the house during the first minority government since 1920.

It’s one of his favorite moments of his time in the legislative assembly.

“When I was a speaker (there were) no questions. It was historical because it was the first minority government in 100 years.”

He said he was grateful for how all the parties agreed to give him the wiggle room to learn on the fly.

“We proved over those two years that we could make it work,” he said on Nov. 25.

Guitard said there are different ways to make changes, and certain things went his way.

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“At the end of the day, you have to adopt a strategy that fits your personality,” he said. “Stay within the team. You win some, you lose some.

He said he feels confident leaving the party in its current form and under the leadership of newly-elected leader Susan Holt.

Members of the opposition parties spoke highly of Guitard and Landry, setting aside the sometimes partisan rhetoric. Premier Blaine Higgs was one of those politicians.

“He (Landry) just has a balance about him. I guess I would have met with him more than anyone else, so that’s why I can speak to Denis a little more. I think both of them are fine gentlemen.”

Kevin Arsenault, who is a Green MLA, said he shares a common background with Landry, who has ties to the forestry industry and union leadership.

“He told me, ‘I wish you’re here as long as me,’” Arsenault said Friday. “That was pretty cool …coming from Denis, you know, I don’t know if I’ll have his patience but it was touching.”

Denis Landry has been acclaimed mayor in Hautes-Terres and Daniel Guitard is in a three-way race for mayor of Belle-Baie. Election results are expected Nov. 28.

&copy 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Fauci says ‘we need to keep the politics out of’ investigating COVID origins – The Hill

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Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s outgoing chief medical adviser, on Sunday urged officials to “keep the politics out of” investigating the origins of COVID-19 in China.

Speaking with moderator Margaret Brennan on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Fauci said he is keeping an open mind, but he reiterated that the evidence is “quite strong” that the virus occurred naturally.

“They’re very suspicious of anybody trying to accuse them,” Fauci said of the Chinese government. “We need to have an open dialogue with their scientists and our scientists, keep the politics out of it.”

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Republicans have indicated they plan to investigate the origins of the pandemic upon taking the House majority in January as well as Fauci himself, suggesting COVID-19 instead originated from a laboratory.


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“All of my colleagues, keep an absolutely open mind,” Fauci said on CBS. “We’ve got to investigate every possibility because this is too important not to do that. That’s not incompatible with saying the scientific evidence still weighs much more strongly that this is a natural occurrence. You must keep your mind open that it’s something other than that.”

But Fauci pushed back on the notion that the Chinese Communist Party covered up the pandemic’s origins. 

“Not necessarily the scientists that we know and we have dealt with and collaborated with productively for decades, but the whole establishment — a political and other establishment in China, even when there’s nothing at all to hide — they act secretive, which absolutely triggers an appropriate suspicion,” Fauci said.

He went on to criticize former President Trump’s accusatory comments against China during the early months of the pandemic, although Fauci acknowledged a need for more data.

“What happens is that if you look at the anti-China approach, that clearly the Trump administration had right from the very beginning, and the accusatory nature, the Chinese are going to flinch back and say, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, we’re not going to talk to you about it,’ which is not correct. They should be,” Fauci told Brennan.

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Twitter's time in Canadian politics began with an apology — and then it got worse – CBC.ca

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This is an excerpt from Minority Report, a weekly newsletter on federal politics. If you haven’t subscribed yet, you can do that by clicking here.

The first reference to “tweeting” in the House of Commons came during an apology.

Shortly after question period on the afternoon of October 20, 2009, then-Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh stood on a point of order.

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“I wish to inform you and the House that I inadvertently tweeted about matters that I ought not to have tweeted about, that is, the in-camera proceedings of the defence committee,” Dosanjh told the Speaker. “That was an error on my part and that entry will be deleted at the earliest possible opportunity, which is right after I get out of here.”

This, apparently, was before MPs realized they could have their staff manage their Twitter accounts.

Ujjal Dosanjh in the House of Commons. The then-Liberal MP apologized to the House in 2009 for tweeting out details of in-camera committee proceedings. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

“I thank the honourable member,” responded Peter Milliken, Speaker at the time. “I assume that ‘tweeting’ means it went on Twitter.”

Dosanjh’s point of order marked the arrival in Canada of a social media platform that promoted both dialogue and excess — a tool that both enriched debate and created new ways to do things we would later regret.

Thirteen years later, Twitter seems to be teetering on the brink of collapse. Even if it carries on in some shape or form, its time as one of the predominant forums in public life may be nearing an end. Many users have already withdrawn from the platform or reduced their presence.

Whenever and however the Twitter era comes to an end, its impact on Canadians politics will have been great — but not entirely good.

Small audience, big impact

There is a decent chance that you’re not a regular user of Twitter. Most Canadians aren’t. But the platform has an outsized impact on the political life of this country because most Canadian politicians, journalists, pundits, political strategists, pollsters, lobbyists and partisans do use Twitter — along with a significant number of academics, policy wonks and subject matter experts.

Canada is hardly the only country with this dynamic, of course. Consider, for instance, the United States — Twitter played an integral role in Donald Trump’s rise.

Nothing so seismic has happened here (at least not yet) but the impact has not been small.

It also hasn’t been all bad. It gave politicians a new way to communicate with voters and it created a new way for voters to hold politicians to account. It facilitated the spread of news and information with incredible speed and breadth.

It elevated new and underrepresented voices and those voices enriched the wider dialogue. In certain ways, Twitter helped bring more nuance to the political debate. Think of every academic or historian who has used a Twitter thread to illuminate a complicated topic.

That, sadly, isn’t all that might be said about Twitter’s performance as a modern public square.

Amping up the extremes

As much as it has helped expose users to important information and valuable voices, it also has spread misinformation, disinformation, harassment and general nastiness. It prizes and rewards snap judgments, hot takes, outrage, condemnation, mockery, doomsaying and disagreement.

It sped up the news cycle to a dizzying degree. It elevates the most extreme opinions, offers ample opportunity for bad-faith actors and it is a terrible proxy for actual public opinion.

If previous media eras reduced politics to sound bites, Twitter reduced it even further — to hashtags. At times, the House of Commons seemed to be little more than a fancy studio for recording video clips to be pushed out on MPs’ Twitter feeds.

For all these reasons, it might be tempting to think Canadian politics would be better off without Twitter. But even if Twitter were to disappear tomorrow, there is no going back to a time before social media — just as there is no going back to a time before television or radio or newspapers.

If Twitter ceases to be a significant forum, some new platform (or platforms) will take its place. The era of social media is far from over.

There is something to be said for the argument that the problem with Twitter is not the platform itself but the way it is used, and the ways in which it is allowed to be used. In that sense, Twitter offers valuable lessons in how social media can work and how it can go wildly wrong.

Whether those lessons will be heeded is another matter entirely. The question of government regulation still looms on the horizon.

The indisputable truth is that, 13 years after Ujjal Dosanjh found a novel way to betray the confidence of in-camera committee discussions, everyone is still trying to figure out how to make the social media era work out for the best — or to at least minimize the harm it does.

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