being repeatedly told that the American election process is deeply corrupted.

In fact, Mr. Mastriano’s candidacy has from its inception been propelled by his role in disputing the 2020 presidential election lost by Mr. Trump.

county by county, but election experts say they do not reflect factors as benign as changes in addresses.

“They’re in search of solutions to a problem that doesn’t exist,” Kyle Miller, a Navy veteran and state representative for Protect Democracy, a national advocacy organization, said in an interview in Harrisburg. “They are basing this on faulty data and internet rumors.”

Some Republican lawmakers have leaned on false claims to call for changes to rules about mail-in ballots and other measures intended to make it easier for people to vote. Several counties have already reversed some of the decisions, including the number and location of drop boxes for ballots.

Mr. Miller, among others, warned that the flurry of false claims about balloting could be a trial run for challenging the results of the presidential election in 2024, in which Pennsylvania could again be a crucial swing state.

In Chester County, a largely white region that borders Delaware and Maryland that is roughly split between Republicans and Democrats, the effort to sow confusion came the old-fashioned way: in the mail.

Letters dated Sept. 12 began arriving in mailboxes across the county, warning people that their votes in the 2020 presidential election might not have counted. “Because you have a track record of consistently voting, we find it unusual that your record indicates that you did not vote,” the letter, which was unsigned, said.

The sender called itself “Data Insights,” based in the county seat of West Chester, though no known record of such a company exists, according to county officials. The letters did include copies of the recipients’ voting records. The letters urged recipients to write to the county commissioners or attend the commission’s meetings in the county seat of West Chester, in September and October. Dozens of recipients did.

The county administrator, Robert J. Kagel, tried to assure them that their votes were actually counted. He urged anyone concerned to contact the county’s voter services department.

Even so, at county meetings in September and October, speaker after speaker lined up to question the letter and the ballot process generally — and to air an array of grievances and conspiracy theories.

They included the discredited claims of the film “2000 Mules” that operatives have been stuffing boxes for mail-in ballots. One attendee warned that votes were being tabulated by the Communist Party of China or the World Economic Forum.

“I don’t know where my vote is,” another resident, Barbara Ellis of Berwyn, told the commissioners in October. “I don’t know if it was manipulated in the machines, in another country.”

As of Oct. 20, 59 people in Chester County had contacted officials with concerns raised in the letter, but in each case, it was determined that the voters’ ballots had been cast and counted, said Rebecca Brain, a county spokesman.

Who exactly sent the letters remains a mystery, which only fuels more conspiracy theories.

“It seems very official,” Charlotte Valyo, the chairwoman of the Democratic Party in the county, said of the letter. She described it as part of “an ongoing, constant campaign to undermine the confidence in our voting system.” The county’s Republican Party did not respond to a request for comment.

Disinformation may not be the only cause of the deepening partisan chasm in the state — or the nation — but it has undoubtedly worsened it. The danger, Ms. Valyo warned, was discouraging voting by sowing distrust in the ability of election officials to tally the votes.

“People might think, ‘Why bother, if they’re that messed up?’”

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China’s Communist Party Congress: What It Means for Business

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At a Communist Party congress starting in Beijing on Oct. 16, Xi Jinping is expected to be named to a third five-year term as the country’s top leader, paving the way for him to consolidate power to an extent not seen in decades.

Under Mr. Xi, China has become the world’s dominant manufacturer of everything from cement to solar panels, as well as the main trading partner and dominant lender for most of the developing world. It has built the world’s largest navy, developed some of the world’s most advanced ballistic missiles and constructed air bases on artificial islands strewn across the South China Sea.

in a tailspin. Its property market, which over the last ten years contributed about a quarter of the country’s economic output, is melting down. Foreign investment has faltered. And widespread lockdowns and mass quarantines, part of China’s zero-tolerance approach to Covid-19, have hurt consumer demand and stalled businesses.

At the same time, Mr. Xi has worked to turn China into a more state-led society that often puts national security and ideology before economic growth. He has cracked down on Chinese companies and limited their executives’ power. Some of China’s best-known entrepreneurs have left the country and others, such as Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma, have largely disappeared from public view.

All of this has hurt China’s economy, which was just 0.4 percent larger from April through June than during the same period last year. The growth was far below the government’s initial target for growth of about 5.5 percent this year. For the first year since the 1990s, China’s economic growth is expected to fall below the rest of Asia’s.

at the start of the last party congress, in 2017, lasted more than three hours. But buried in that jargon are likely to be some important messages. Here’s what finance leaders and corporate executives around the world want to know.

One of Mr. Xi’s favorite economic policy initiatives in recent months has a simple, innocuous-sounding name: “common prosperity.” The big question lies in what it means.

Common prosperity, a longtime goal of the Communist Party, has been defined by Mr. Xi as reining in private capital and narrowing China’s huge disparities in wealth. Regulators and tax investigators cracked down last year on tech giants and wealthy celebrities. Beijing demanded that tycoons give back to society. And Mr. Xi has strongly discouraged speculation in housing, pushing instead for government subsidies for the construction of more rental apartments.

A regulatory crackdown on tech companies and after-school education companies contributed to a wave of layoffs that left one in five young Chinese city dwellers unemployed by August. Lending limits on China’s highly inflated housing sector have triggered a nosedive in the number of fresh construction projects being started and a wave of insolvencies among real estate developers. Many Western hedge funds that bet heavily on the real estate developers’ overseas bond issues incurred considerable losses.

The term “common prosperity” was seldom used by top officials last spring during those setbacks. But Mr. Xi conspicuously revived it during a tour of northeastern China in mid-August. The Politburo subsequently mentioned common prosperity when it announced on Aug. 30 the starting date and agenda for the party congress.

first put forward in May 2020, is a theory of what he calls “dual circulation.” The concept involves relying primarily on domestic demand and innovation to propel the Chinese economy, while maintaining foreign markets and investors as a backup engine for growth.

Mr. Xi has pushed ahead with lavish subsidies to develop Chinese manufacturers, especially of semiconductors. But the slogan has attracted considerable skepticism from foreign investors in China and from foreign governments. They worry that the policy is a recipe for replacing imports with Chinese-made goods.

China’s imports have indeed stagnated this year while its exports have soared, producing the largest trade surpluses the world has ever seen. Those surpluses, not domestic demand, have sustained China’s economic growth this year.

Chinese officials deny that they are trying to discourage imports, and contend that China remains eager to welcome foreign companies and products. When the Politburo scheduled the party congress for Oct. 16, it did not mention dual circulation, so the term might be left aside. If it goes unmentioned, that could be a conciliatory gesture as foreign investment in China is already weakening, mainly because of the country’s draconian pandemic policies.

China’s zero-tolerance approach to Covid-19 has prevented a lot of deaths and long-term infections, but at a high and growing cost to the economy. The question now lies in when Mr. Xi will shift to a less restrictive stance toward controlling the virus.

in Tiananmen Square, on the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party, when he reiterated China’s claim to Taiwan, a self-ruled island democracy. President Biden has mentioned four times that the United States is prepared to help Taiwan resist aggression. Each time his aides have walked back his comments somewhat, however, emphasizing that the United States retains a policy of “strategic ambiguity” regarding its support for the island.

Even a vague mention by Mr. Xi at the party congress of a timeline for trying to bring Taiwan under the mainland’s political control could damage financial confidence in both Taiwan and the mainland.

The most important task of the ruling elite at the congress is to confirm the party’s leadership.

Particularly important to business is who in the lineup will become the new premier. The premier leads the cabinet but not the military, which is directly under Mr. Xi. The position oversees the finance ministry, commerce ministry and other government agencies that make many crucial decisions affecting banks, insurers and other businesses. Whoever is chosen will not be announced until a separate session of the National People’s Congress next March, but the day after the congress formally ends, members of the new Politburo Standing Committee — the highest body of political power in China — will walk on a stage in order of rank. The order in which the new leadership team walks may make clear who will become premier next year.

a leading hub of entrepreneurship and foreign investment in China. Neither has given many clues about their economic thinking since taking posts in Beijing. Mr. Wang had more of a reputation for pursuing free-market policies while in Guangdong.

Mr. Hu is seen as having a stronger political base than Mr. Wang because he is still young enough, 59, to be a potential successor to Mr. Xi. That political strength could give him the clout to push back a little against Mr. Xi’s recent tendency to lean in favor of greater government and Communist Party control of the private sector.

Precisely because Mr. Hu is young enough to be a possible successor, however, many businesspeople and experts think Mr. Xi is more likely to choose Mr. Wang or a dark horse candidate who poses no potential political threat to him.

In any case, the power of the premier has diminished as Mr. Xi has created a series of Communist Party commissions to draft policies for ministries, including a commission that dictates many financial policies.

What do you think? Let us know: dealbook@nytimes.com.

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Chinese Banking Scandal Tests Faith in Communist Party’s Leadership

BEIJING — The saving opportunity with the rural bank in central China looked, to Sun Song, a 26-year-old-businessman, like a great find. It would be linked to his existing account at a large, reputable state-owned bank. The rural bank was also offering high interest rates, making it seem like an ideal place to park his roughly $600,000 in savings.

Then the bank abruptly froze his account this year, and officials said they were investigating potential fraud. “I owe money on my credit card and have to repay my car loan,” he said. “I have two sons. They’re all waiting.”

The financial scandal ensnaring Mr. Sun and thousands of others across the country could pose a serious test to the ruling Communist Party, which prizes stability and its ability to control any threats to it. While the amount of money at risk is small relative to China’s economy, it strikes at the core promise of the party that it will provide a better future for the people.

slowest rate of growth since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.

physically attacked by a mob of men while police officers stood by. Many protesters have since reported being harassed by the police.

“The government takes our taxpayer money and then beats us,” Mr. Sun said in a phone interview before the authorities warned depositors against speaking to the media. “My worldview has been destroyed.”

tested by the economic slowdown, born in part of the government’s draconian campaign against the coronavirus and a regulatory crackdown on the once-booming real estate industry. This banking scandal has exposed more systemic issues in China’s financial system, including potential corruption and weak regulatory oversight at rural banks.

Zhiwu Chen, a professor of finance at the University of Hong Kong. “The extent of this anxiety shared by people is increasing very fast. It’s not good for social stability.”

surveillance apparatus, it is facing growing unease about the lack of safeguards to prevent the theft or misuse of personal data. Beijing’s move to censor news about one of the largest known breaches of a Chinese government computer system showed keen awareness of how security lapses can harm its credibility.

Immediately, officials tried to silence them. Censors shut down protesters’ messaging groups. The local authorities manipulated depositors’ mobile health codes — digital indicators that China uses to track coronavirus infections — to bar them from entering public spaces. But after the manipulation attracted widespread condemnation, local officials retreated, and protesters continued to gather, including on July 10.

Many of the demonstrators presented their demands as appeals, rather than challenges, to the Communist Party’s authority. Some waved Chinese flags. Others invoked Mr. Xi’s slogan of the “Chinese Dream” or carried a portrait of Mao Zedong. They were met with ferocity all the same. Men in plainclothes began hitting and kicking the protesters.

promised last week to repay the depositors — but only those who had put in less than 50,000 yuan, about $7,500, with details for the rest to be announced later. They also said they would not repay anyone who had used “additional channels” to obtain higher interest payments or those suspected of dealing with “illegal funds.”

Those stipulations were seemingly a nod to the police’s announcement about the suspected criminal gang. According to the police, the gang’s scheme included setting up illegal online platforms to solicit new customers.

Huang Lei, a lawyer in the eastern city of Hangzhou who has worked on fraud cases, said people who had unknowingly participated in an illegal scheme should still be entitled to repayment. But he acknowledged that, in reality, they might have little recourse.

“The other party is eager to characterize it as illegal — they’ve described it four or five different ways — because they don’t want to take responsibility,” he said of the authorities. Even if the depositors sued for repayment and won, he added, the bank might not have adequate assets to make them whole, and it was unclear if the state would make up the difference.

Indeed, the scandal has raised broader questions about who is accountable for the lost money, besides the suspected criminals.

the deteriorating economy has put more pressure on those same institutions. As a result, Professor Chen said, “I expect to see more rural banks having to face the same kind of problems as the Henan rural banks.”

There are most likely hidden debts spread across China’s financial sphere. The country’s seemingly unstoppable growth over the past few decades had encouraged speculative borrowing and lending behavior by everyone from online lenders to major real estate companies.

The government has sought to downplay concerns about a broader problem. China’s central bank said last week that 99 percent of China’s banking assets were “within the safe boundary.”

Still, it will now be up to the government to decide how to address the losses both in Henan and those yet to be revealed, said Michael Pettis, a professor of finance at Peking University. Officials could allow institutions to default, hurting lenders; they could squeeze workers; they could print more money, leading to inflation. In the end, Professor Pettis said, “somebody’s got to absorb the loss.”

For the Henan depositors, the fear is that it will be them.

Wang Xiaoping, a 39-year-old software industry employee from Hangzhou, said she had put about $95,000 into one of the rural banks. But all she had to show for it was an injured chin, from being attacked by a man wearing black at the Zhengzhou protest. She tried to report the assault to the police, but they told her to go to another district, she said.

“I told the police, I’m willing to die here,” she said in an interview on July 10. “This is my entire net worth, this is all of my paychecks put together, and it’s gone just like that.”

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How China Is Policing the Future

The more than 1.4 billion people living in China are constantly watched. They are recorded by police cameras that are everywhere, on street corners and subway ceilings, in hotel lobbies and apartment buildings. Their phones are tracked, their purchases are monitored, and their online chats are censored.

Now, even their future is under surveillance.

The latest generation of technology digs through the vast amounts of data collected on their daily activities to find patterns and aberrations, promising to predict crimes or protests before they happen. They target potential troublemakers in the eyes of the Chinese government — not only those with a criminal past but also vulnerable groups, including ethnic minorities, migrant workers and those with a history of mental illness.

They can warn the police if a victim of a fraud tries to travel to Beijing to petition the government for payment or a drug user makes too many calls to the same number. They can signal officers each time a person with a history of mental illness gets near a school.

automating systemic discrimination and political repression.

to quell ethnic unrest in the western region of Xinjiang and enforce some of the world’s most severe coronavirus lockdowns. The space for dissent, always limited, is rapidly disappearing.

“Big data should be used as an engine to power the innovative development of public security work and a new growth point for nurturing combat capabilities,” Mr. Xi said in 2019 at a national public security work meeting.

ChinaFile, an online magazine published by the Asia Society, which has systematically gathered years of records on government websites. Another set, describing software bought by the authorities in the port city of Tianjin to stop petitioners from going to neighboring Beijing, was provided by IPVM, a surveillance industry publication.

China’s Ministry of Public Security did not respond to requests for comment faxed to its headquarters in Beijing and six local departments across the country.

The new approach to surveillance is partly based on data-driven policing software from the United States and Europe, technology that rights groups say has encoded racism into decisions like which neighborhoods are most heavily policed and which prisoners get parole. China takes it to the extreme, tapping nationwide reservoirs of data that allow the police to operate with opacity and impunity.

Megvii, an artificial intelligence start-up, told Chinese state media that the surveillance system could give the police a search engine for crime, analyzing huge amounts of video footage to intuit patterns and warn the authorities about suspicious behavior. He explained that if cameras detected a person spending too much time at a train station, the system could flag a possible pickpocket.

Hikvision, that aims to predict protests. The system collects data on legions of Chinese petitioners, a general term in China that describes people who try to file complaints about local officials with higher authorities.

It then scores petitioners on the likelihood that they will travel to Beijing. In the future, the data will be used to train machine-learning models, according to a procurement document.

Local officials want to prevent such trips to avoid political embarrassment or exposure of wrongdoing. And the central government doesn’t want groups of disgruntled citizens gathering in the capital.

A Hikvision representative declined to comment on the system.

Under Mr. Xi, official efforts to control petitioners have grown increasingly invasive. Zekun Wang, a 32-year-old member of a group that for years sought redress over a real estate fraud, said the authorities in 2017 had intercepted fellow petitioners in Shanghai before they could even buy tickets to Beijing. He suspected that the authorities were watching their communications on the social media app WeChat.

The Hikvision system in Tianjin, which is run in cooperation with the police in nearby Beijing and Hebei Province, is more sophisticated.

The platform analyzes individuals’ likelihood to petition based on their social and family relationships, past trips and personal situations, according to the procurement document. It helps the police create a profile of each, with fields for officers to describe the temperament of the protester, including “paranoid,” “meticulous” and “short tempered.”

Many people who petition do so over government mishandling of a tragic accident or neglect in the case — all of which goes into the algorithm. “Increase a person’s early-warning risk level if they have low social status or went through a major tragedy,” reads the procurement document.

When the police in Zhouning, a rural county in Fujian Province, bought a new set of 439 cameras in 2018, they listed coordinates where each would go. Some hung above intersections and others near schools, according to a procurement document.

Nine were installed outside the homes of people with something in common: mental illness.

While some software tries to use data to uncover new threats, a more common type is based on the preconceived notions of the police. In over a hundred procurement documents reviewed by The Times, the surveillance targeted blacklists of “key persons.”

These people, according to some of the procurement documents, included those with mental illness, convicted criminals, fugitives, drug users, petitioners, suspected terrorists, political agitators and threats to social stability. Other systems targeted migrant workers, idle youths (teenagers without school or a job), ethnic minorities, foreigners and those infected with H.I.V.

The authorities decide who goes on the lists, and there is often no process to notify people when they do. Once individuals are in a database, they are rarely removed, said experts, who worried that the new technologies reinforce disparities within China, imposing surveillance on the least fortunate parts of its population.

In many cases the software goes further than simply targeting a population, allowing the authorities to set up digital tripwires that indicate a possible threat. In one Megvii presentation detailing a rival product by Yitu, the system’s interface allowed the police to devise their own early warnings.

With a simple fill-in-the-blank menu, the police can base alarms on specific parameters, including where a blacklisted person appears, when the person moves around, whether he or she meets with other blacklisted people and the frequency of certain activities. The police could set the system to send a warning each time two people with a history of drug use check into the same hotel or when four people with a history of protest enter the same park.

Yitu did not respond to emailed requests for comment.

In 2020 in the city of Nanning, the police bought software that could look for “more than three key people checking into the same or nearby hotels” and “a drug user calling a new out-of-town number frequently,” according to a bidding document. In Yangshuo, a tourist town famous for its otherworldly karst mountains, the authorities bought a system to alert them if a foreigner without a work permit spent too much time hanging around foreign-language schools or bars, an apparent effort to catch people overstaying their visas or working illegally.

In Shanghai, one party-run publication described how the authorities used software to identify those who exceeded normal water and electricity use. The system would send a “digital whistle” to the police when it found suspicious consumption patterns.

The tactic was likely designed to detect migrant workers, who often live together in close quarters to save money. In some places, the police consider them an elusive, and often impoverished, group who can bring crime into communities.

The automated alerts don’t result in the same level of police response. Often, the police give priority to warnings that point to political problems, like protests or other threats to social stability, said Suzanne E. Scoggins, a professor at Clark University who studies China’s policing.

At times, the police have stated outright the need to profile people. “Through the application of big data, we paint a picture of people and give them labels with different attributes,” Li Wei, a researcher at China’s national police university, said in a 2016 speech. “For those who receive one or more types of labels, we infer their identities and behavior, and then carry out targeted pre-emptive security measures.”

Mr. Zhang first started petitioning the government for compensation over the torture of his family during the Cultural Revolution. He has since petitioned over what he says is police targeting of his family.

As China has built out its techno-authoritarian tools, he has had to use spy movie tactics to circumvent surveillance that, he said, has become “high tech and Nazified.”

When he traveled to Beijing in January from his village in Shandong Province, he turned off his phone and paid for transportation in cash to minimize his digital footprint. He bought train tickets to the wrong destination to foil police tracking. He hired private drivers to get around checkpoints where his identification card would set off an alarm.

The system in Tianjin has a special feature for people like him who have “a certain awareness of anti-reconnaissance” and regularly change vehicles to evade detection, according to the police procurement document.

Whether or not he triggered the system, Mr. Zhang has noticed a change. Whenever he turns off his phone, he said, officers show up at his house to check that he hasn’t left on a new trip to Beijing.

Credit…Zhang Yuqiao

Even if police systems cannot accurately predict behavior, the authorities may consider them successful because of the threat, said Noam Yuchtman, an economics professor at the London School of Economics who has studied the impact of surveillance in China.

“In a context where there isn’t real political accountability,” having a surveillance system that frequently sends police officers “can work pretty well” at discouraging unrest, he said.

Once the metrics are set and the warnings are triggered, police officers have little flexibility, centralizing control. They are evaluated for their responsiveness to automated alarms and effectiveness at preventing protests, according to experts and public police reports.

The technology has encoded power imbalances. Some bidding documents refer to a “red list” of people whom the surveillance system must ignore.

One national procurement document said the function was for “people who need privacy protection or V.I.P. protection.” Another, from Guangdong Province, got more specific, stipulating that the red list was for government officials.

Mr. Zhang expressed frustration at the ways technology had cut off those in political power from regular people.

“The authorities do not seriously solve problems but do whatever it takes to silence the people who raise the problems,” he said. “This is a big step backward for society.”

Mr. Zhang said that he still believed in the power of technology to do good, but that in the wrong hands it could be a “scourge and a shackle.”

“In the past if you left your home and took to the countryside, all roads led to Beijing,” he said. “Now, the entire country is a net.”

Isabelle Qian and Aaron Krolik contributed research and reporting. Production by Agnes Chang and Alexander Cardia.

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Who Is the Real China? Eileen Gu or the Chained Woman?

Two women have dominated Chinese social media during the Beijing Winter Olympics.

One is Eileen Gu, the 18-year-old skier born and raised in California who won a gold medal for China. The other is a mother of eight who was found chained around her neck to the wall of a doorless shack.

The Chinese internet is exploding with discussions about which of the two represents the real China. Many people are angry that the government-controlled algorithms glorify Ms. Gu, who fits into the narrative of the powerful and prosperous China, while censoring the chained woman, whose deplorable conditions defy that narrative.

The two women’s starkly different circumstances — celebrated vs. silenced — reflect the reality that to the Chinese state, everyone is a tool that serves a purpose until it does not.

Whether she wants it, Ms. Gu has become a powerful propaganda tool for Beijing to demonstrate its appeal to global talent and the benefits of being loyal to China. She represents the successful China that Beijing would like the world to admire.

inconvenient truth.

“Does Eileen Gu’s success have anything to do with ordinary Chinese?” goes the headline of one viral article that was censored later.

“Can we remember these women while cheering for Eileen Gu?” asks another headline.

“To judge whether a society is civilized or not, we should not look at how successful the privileged are but how miserable the disadvantaged are,” the article said. “Ten thousand sports champions can’t wash away the humiliation of one enslaved woman, not to mention tens of thousands of them.”

The Chinese government doesn’t like where the debate is heading. The juxtaposition of the two women highlights that underneath the glamorous surface of one of the world’s largest economies lie jarring poverty and widespread abuse of women’s rights.

It defeats the purpose of recruiting star athletes like Ms. Gu: to showcase a powerful China with global appeal.

little pinks, posted a quote from a famous Chinese novel: “I love the country. But does the country love me?”

The story of the chained woman — whose name, according to the government, is Xiaohuamei (little flower plum) — has captivated the Chinese internet since a short video went viral in late January. In it, a middle-age woman with a dazed expression stood in the dark shack with a chain on her neck. Subsequent videos revealed that she had lost most of her teeth and seemed to be mentally disturbed.

conflicting statements in the following two weeks. In the latest statement on Thursday, the authorities reported that Xiaohuamei could be a victim of human trafficking and that her husband was under investigation for false imprisonment. The government had denied both earlier.

Chinese princess.” Ms. Peng accused a retired top Chinese leader of sexual assault in November, and her name remains strictly censored on the Chinese internet.

Because she avoids sensitive issues, Ms. Gu is hailed as the model athlete for the others of Chinese heritage to learn from. She’s also cited as evidence of the superiority of China’s governance model over that of the United States.

“It’s so great that the beautiful, talented Eileen Gu came back to compete for China and won,” wrote Hu Xijin, a former editor in chief of The Global Times who still writes for the Communist Party tabloid, “while the blind, disabled Chen Guangcheng went to the United States to ‘seek brightness.’” Mr. Chen is the blind human rights lawyer who was put under house arrests for years before moving to the United States in 2012.

Mr. Hu wrote that China welcomed more scientists, athletes and businesspeople. “Let China be the place to get things done,” he wrote.

Some social media users criticized Mr. Hu’s post, saying it revealed how the system thought of the disabled and the disadvantaged like Xiaohuamei.

“This is life in China,” the writer Murong Xuecun posted on Twitter. “On one side is a Winter Olympic champion who cannot be criticized. On the other side is the chained woman who is being censored. One has a bright future. The other has come to a dead end.”

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Xi Jinping Is Rewriting China’s History

The glowing image of China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, greets visitors to museum exhibitions celebrating the country’s decades of growth. Communist Party biographers have worshipfully chronicled his rise, though he has given no hint of retiring. The party’s newest official history devotes over a quarter of its 531 pages to his nine years in power.

No Chinese leader in recent times has been more fixated than Mr. Xi on history and his place in it, and as he approaches a crucial juncture in his rule, that preoccupation with the past is now central to his political agenda. A high-level meeting opening in Beijing on Monday will issue a “resolution” officially reassessing the party’s 100-year history that is likely to cement his status as an epoch-making leader alongside Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping.

While ostensibly about historical issues, the Central Committee’s resolution — practically holy writ for officials — will shape China’s politics and society for decades to come.

The touchstone document on the party’s past, only the third of its kind, is sure to become the focus of an intense indoctrination campaign. It will dictate how the authorities teach China’s modern history in textbooks, films, television shows and classrooms. It will embolden censors and police officers applying sharpened laws against any who mock, or even question, the communist cause and its “martyrs.” Even in China, where the party’s power is all but absolute, it will remind officials and citizens that Mr. Xi is defining their times, and demanding their loyalty.

Geremie R. Barmé, a historian of China based in New Zealand. “It is not really a resolution about past history, but a resolution about future leadership.”

Mr. Xi, the decision will fortify his authority before a party congress late next year, at which he is very likely to win another five-year term as leader. The orchestrated acclaim around the history document, which could be published days after the Central Committee meeting ends on Thursday, will help deter any questioning of Mr. Xi’s record.

Mr. Xi, 68, is China’s most powerful leader in decades, and he has won widespread public support for attacking corruption, reducing poverty and projecting Chinese strength to the world. Still, party insiders seeking to blunt Mr. Xi’s dominance before the congress could take aim at the early mishandling of the Covid pandemic or damaging tensions with the United States.

Especially after the resolution, such criticisms may amount to heresy. In the buildup to this week’s meeting, articles in People’s Daily, the party’s main newspaper, have praised Mr. Xi as the “core” leader defeating the pandemic and other crises. Commentaries have exalted him as the unyielding leader needed for such perilous times, when China’s ascent could be threatened by domestic economic risks or hostility from the United States and other Western powers.

article from Xinhua, the official news agency, about the forthcoming resolution.

The resolution is likely to offer a sweeping account of modern China that will help to justify Mr. Xi’s policies by giving them the gravitas of historical destiny.

common prosperity,” lessening China’s reliance on imported technology, and continuing to modernize its military to prepare for potential conflict.

Mr. Xi’s conception of history offers “an ideological framework which justifies greater and greater levels of party intervention in politics, the economy and foreign policy,” said Kevin Rudd, a former Australian prime minister who speaks Chinese and has had long meetings with Mr. Xi.

For Mr. Xi, defending the Chinese Communist Party’s revolutionary heritage also appears to be a personal quest. He has repeatedly voiced fears that as China becomes increasingly distant from its revolutionary roots, officials and citizens are at growing risk of losing faith in the party.

Mr. Xi has said, quoting a Confucian scholar from the 19th century.

Mr. Xi’s father, Xi Zhongxun, served as a senior official under Mao and Deng, and the family suffered years of persecution after Mao turned against the elder Mr. Xi. Instead of becoming disillusioned with the revolution like quite a few contemporaries, the younger Mr. Xi remained loyal to the party and has argued that defending its “red” heritage is essential for its survival.

Asia Society.

Mr. Xi has also often cited the Soviet Union as a warning for China, arguing that it collapsed in part because its leaders failed to eradicate “historical nihilism” — critical accounts of purges, political persecution and missteps that corroded faith in the communist cause.

The new resolution will reflect that defensive pride in the party. While the titles of the two previous history resolutions said they were about “problems” or “issues,” Mr. Xi’s will be about the party’s “major achievements and historical experiences,” according to a preparatory meeting last month.

The resolution will present the party’s 100-year history as a story of heroic sacrifice and success, a drumroll of preliminary articles in party media indicates. Traumatic times like famine and purges will fall further into a soft-focus background — acknowledged but not elaborated.

Joseph Torigian, an assistant professor at American University who has studied Mr. Xi and his father. “He’s also someone who sees that competing narratives of history are dangerous.”

1.4 billion visits to revolutionary “red” tour museums and memorials, and Mr. Xi makes a point of going to such places during his travels. A village where Mr. Xi labored for seven years has become a site for organized political pilgrimages.

“Instruction in revolutionary traditions must start with toddlers,” Mr. Xi said in 2016, according to a recently released compendium of his comments on the theme. “Infuse red genes into the bloodstream and immerse our hearts in them.”

In creating a history resolution, Mr. Xi is emulating his two most powerful and officially revered predecessors. Mao oversaw a resolution in 1945 that stamped his authority on the party. Deng oversaw one in 1981 that acknowledged the destruction of Mao’s later decades while defending his revered status as the founder of the People’s Republic. And both resolutions put a cap on political strife and uncertainty.

“They were creating a common framework, a common vision, of past and future among the party elite,” said Daniel Leese, a historian at the University of Freiburg in Germany who studies modern China. “If you don’t unify the thinking of people in the circles of power about the past, it’s very difficult to be on the same page about the future.”

531-page “brief” history of the party.

Susanne Weigelin-Schwiedrzik, a retired professor at the University of Vienna who studies the party’s use of history.

“He is like a sponge that can take all the positive things from the past — what he thinks is positive about Mao and Deng — and he can bring them all together,” she said of the party’s depiction of Mr. Xi. In that telling, she said, “he is China’s own end of history. He has reached a level that cannot be surpassed.”

Liu Yi contributed research.

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Why China Is the World’s Last ‘Zero Covid’ Holdout

The trip began in Shanghai, where the couple, both former professors, joined a tour group of other retirees. They traveled through Gansu Province and Inner Mongolia, staying at a bed-and-breakfast and eating three times at the same lamb chop restaurant. Flying south to Xi’an, they dropped into a 1,300-year-old temple. Their fellow tour group members checked out an art museum, strolled through parks and visited friends.

Then, on Oct. 16, the day they had planned to visit the Terracotta Warriors, the couple tested positive for the coronavirus.

Since then, China has locked down a city of 4 million, as well as several smaller cities and parts of Beijing, to contain a fresh outbreak that has infected more than 240 people in at least 11 provinces and regions. The authorities have shuttered schools and tourist sites. Government websites have detailed every movement of the unlucky couple and their sprawling web of contacts, including what time they checked into hotels and on which floors of restaurants they sat.

The no-holds-barred response is emblematic of China’s “zero Covid” policy, which has served the country remarkably well: China has reported fewer than 5,000 deaths since the pandemic began. The scale of the new outbreak, while tiny compared to many other countries, is large for China.

Lynette Ong, a political scientist at the University of Toronto. “At a huge cost, though.”

at-times strident nationalism.

Other countries that adopted “zero Covid” policies were hailed as models of competent governance that prioritized saving lives over convenience and economic growth.

As the virus has dragged into its second year, and with the onset of the far more contagious Delta variant, countries are again reconsidering their strategies. Australia, which was home to the world’s longest lockdown, is scrapping quarantine requirements for vaccinated residents returning from overseas. New Zealand formally abandoned its quest for zero this month. Singapore is offering quarantine-free travel to vaccinated tourists from Germany, the United States, France and several other countries.

attacked viciously online as a lackey of foreigners. A former Chinese health minister called such a mindset reckless.

Zhang Jun, an urban studies scholar at the City University of Hong Kong.

In addition, though China has achieved a relatively high full inoculation rate, at 75 percent of its population, questions have emerged about the efficacy of its homegrown vaccines.

And, at least for now, the elimination strategy appears to enjoy public support. While residents in locked-down areas have complained about seemingly arbitrary or overly harsh restrictions on social media, travel is relatively unconstrained in areas without cases. Wealthy consumers have poured money into luxury goods and fancy cars since they’re not spending on trips abroad.

reinstated them in September amid a spike in infections. (Still, the government is moving forward with travel lanes.)

But experts agree that the costs of expecting zero cases will hit eventually. China’s economic growth is slowing, and domestic travel during a weeklong holiday earlier this month fell below last year’s levels, as a cluster of new cases spooked tourists. Retail sales have proven fitful, recovering and ebbing with waves of the virus.

The country may also suffer diplomatically. Mr. Xi has not left China or received foreign visitors since early 2020, even as other world leaders prepare to gather in Rome for a Group of 20 summit and Glasgow for climate talks.

China’s hard-nosed approach is also trickling down to Hong Kong, the semi-autonomous territory and global financial hub. In trying to align their own Covid prevention policies with the mainland’s, Hong Kong’s leaders have introduced the world’s longest quarantine, ignoring escalating warnings from business leaders about an exodus of foreign firms.

said in a recent interview with Chinese media that once the country reached an 85 percent vaccination rate, “why shouldn’t we open up?”

Until then, those stranded by the lockdowns have been trying to make the best of their situations. State news outlets have reported that roughly 10,000 tourists are trapped in Ejin Banner, a region of Inner Mongolia, after the emergence of cases led to a lockdown. As consolation, the local tourism association has promised them free entry to three popular tourist attractions, redeemable within the next three years.

Liu Yi and Joy Dong contributed research.

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Lithuania vs. China: A Baltic Minnow Defies a Rising Superpower

VILNIUS, Lithuania — It was never a secret that China tightly controls what its people can read and write on their cellphones. But it came as a shock to officials in Lithuania when they discovered that a popular Chinese-made handset sold in the Baltic nation had a hidden though dormant feature: a censorship registry of 449 terms banned by the Chinese Communist Party.

Lithuania’s government swiftly advised officials using the phones to dump them, enraging China — and not for the first time. Lithuania has also embraced Taiwan, a vibrant democracy that Beijing regards as a renegade province, and pulled out of a Chinese-led regional forum that it scorned as divisive for the European Union.

Furious, Beijing has recalled its ambassador, halted trips by a Chinese cargo train into the country and made it nearly impossible for many Lithuanian exporters to sell their goods in China. Chinese state media has assailed Lithuania, mocked its diminutive size and accused it of being the “anti-China vanguard” in Europe.

In the battlefield of geopolitics, Lithuania versus China is hardly a fair fight — a tiny Baltic nation with fewer than 3 million people against a rising superpower with 1.4 billion. Lithuania’s military has no tanks or fighter jets, and its economy is 270 times smaller than China’s.

met with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who pledged “ironclad U.S. support for Lithuania in the face of attempted coercion from the People’s Republic of China.”

European Council on Foreign Relations indicate that most Europeans don’t want a new Cold War between the United States and China. But they also show growing wariness of China.

“There is a general shift in mood,” said Frank Juris, a researcher at the Estonian Foreign Policy Institute who tracks Chinese activities in Europe. “Promises have not materialized and countries are tired of being constantly threatened with the whip.”

That whip is now being brought down hard on Lithuania, a member of the European Union and also NATO.

Particularly galling for Beijing was Lithuania’s announcement in July that it had accepted a request by Taiwan to open a “Taiwanese representative office” in Vilnius.

by Lithuania’s Defense Ministry Cyber Security Center was yet another provocation. The hidden registry found by the center allows for the detection and censorship of phrases like “student movement,” “Taiwan independence,” and “dictatorship.”

The blacklist, which updates automatically to reflect the Communist Party’s evolving concerns, lies dormant in phones exported to Europe but, according to the cyber center, the disabled censorship tool can be activated with the flick of a switch in China.

The registry “is shocking and very concerning,” said Margiris Abukevicius, a deputy defense minister responsible for cybersecurity.

The maker of the Chinese phones in question, Xiaomi, says its devices “do not censor communications.”

In addition to telling government offices to dump the phones, Mr. Abukevicius said in an interview that ordinary users should decide “their own appetite for risk.”

The Global Times, a nationalist news outlet controlled by the Chinese Communist Party, derided the Lithuanian report as a “new trick” by a small “pawn” in Washington’s anti-China agenda.

China has steadily ramped up pressure on Lithuania, last month recalling its ambassador from Vilnius and urging Lithuania’s envoy in Beijing to go home, which she did. It halted a regular cargo train to Lithuania, though it still lets other trains transit through the Baltic country filled with Chinese goods destined for Germany.

While not announcing any formal sanctions, China has added red tape to block Lithuanian exporters from selling goods in China.

Lithuania’s economy minister, Ausrine Armonaite, downplayed the damage, noting Lithuania’s exports to China accounted for only 1 percent of total exports. Losing that, she said, “is not too harmful.”

A bigger blow, according to business leaders, has been the disruption in the supply of Chinese-made glass, electronic components and other items needed by Lithuanian manufacturers. Around a dozen companies that rely on goods from China last week received nearly identical letters from Chinese suppliers claiming that power cuts had made it difficult fulfill orders.

“They are very creative,” said Vidmantas Janulevicius, the president of the Lithuanian Confederation of Industrialists, noting that the delays were “targeted very precisely.”

Lithuania has made “a clear geopolitical decision” to side decisively with the United States, a longtime ally, and other democracies, said Laurynas Kasciunas, the chairman of the national security and defense committee. “Everyone here agrees on this. We are all very anti-communist Chinese. It is in our DNA.”

Tomas Dapkus in Vilnius, Monika Pronczuk in Brussels, and Claire Fu contributed reporting

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Evergrande’s Struggles Offer a Glimpse of China’s New Financial Future

HONG KONG — Xu Jiayin was China’s richest man, a symbol of the country’s economic rise who helped transform poverty-stricken villages into urbanized metropolises for the fledgling middle class. As his company, China Evergrande Group, became one of the country’s largest property developers, he amassed the trappings of the elite, with trips to Paris to taste rare French wines, a million-dollar yacht, private jets and access to some of the most powerful people in Beijing.

“All I have and all that Evergrande Group has achieved were endowed by the party, the state and the whole society,” Mr. Xu said in a 2018 speech thanking the Chinese Communist Party for his success.

China is threatening to take it all away.

The debt that powered the country’s breakneck growth for decades is now jeopardizing the economy — and the government is changing the rules. Beijing has signaled that it will no longer tolerate the strategy of borrowing to fuel business expansion that turned Mr. Xu and his company into a real estate powerhouse, pushing Evergrande to the precipice.

Last week, the company, which has unpaid bills totaling more than $300 billion, missed a key payment to foreign investors. That sent the world into a panic over whether China was facing its own so-called Lehman moment, a reference to the 2008 collapse of the Lehman Brothers investment bank that led to the global financial crisis.

struggles have exposed the flaws of the Chinese financial system — unrestrained borrowing, expansion and corruption. The company’s crisis is testing the resolve of Chinese leaders’ efforts to reform as they chart a new course for the country’s economy.

If they save Evergrande, they risk sending a message that some companies are still too big to fail. If they don’t, as many as 1.6 million home buyers waiting for unfinished apartments and hundreds of small businesses, creditors and banks may lose their money.

“This is the beginning of the end of China’s growth model as we know it,” said Leland Miller, the chief executive officer of the consulting firm China Beige Book. “The term ‘paradigm shift’ is always overused, so people tend to ignore it. But that’s a good way of describing what’s happening right now.”

speech accepting an award for his charitable donations.

He went to college and then spent a decade working at a steel mill. He started Evergrande in 1996 in Shenzhen, a special economic zone where the Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping launched the country’s experiment with capitalism. As China urbanized, Evergrande expanded beyond Shenzhen, across the country.

Evergrande lured new home buyers by selling them on more than just the tiny apartment they would get in a huge complex with dozens of identical towers. New Evergrande customers were buying into the lifestyle associated with names like Cloud Lake Royal Garden and Riverside Mansion.

annual report was Wen Jiahong, the brother of China’s vice premier, Wen Jiabao, who oversaw the country’s banks as head of the Central Financial Work Commission.

elite group of political advisers known as the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

“He could not have gotten so big without the collaboration of the country’s biggest banks,” Victor Shih, a professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego, said of Mr. Xu. “That suggests the potential help of senior officials with a lot of influence.”

Mr. Xu was also a power broker who socialized with the Communist Party’s elite families, according to a memoir by Desmond Shum, a well-connected businessman. In his book, “Red Roulette,” published this month, Mr. Shum recounts a 2011 European wine-tasting and shopping spree in which Mr. Xu took part, along with the daughter of the Communist Party’s fourth-ranking official at the time, Jia Qinglin, and her investor husband.

The party flew to Europe on a private jet, with the men playing a popular Chinese card game called “fight the landlord.” At Pavillon Ledoyen, a Paris restaurant, the party spent more than $100,000 on a wine spree, downing magnums of Château Lafite wines, starting with a vintage 1900 and ending with a 1990. On a trip to the French Riviera, Mr. Xu considered buying a $100 million yacht owned by a Hong Kong mogul, Mr. Shum wrote.

To supercharge Evergrande’s growth, Mr. Xu often borrowed twice on each piece of land that he developed — first from the bank and then from home buyers who were sometimes willing to pay 100 percent of the value of their future home before it was built.

property grew to account for as much as one-third of China’s economic growth. Evergrande built more than a thousand developments in hundreds of cities and created more than 3.3 million jobs a year.

cool down, the damage caused by Evergrande’s voracious appetite for debt became impossible to ignore. There are nearly 800 unfinished Evergrande projects in more than 200 cities across China. Employees, contractors and home buyers have held protests to demand their money. Many fear they will become unwitting victims in China’s debt-reform campaign.

Yong Jushang, a contractor from Changsha in central China, still hasn’t been paid for the $460,000 of materials and work he provided for an Evergrande project that was completed in May. Desperate not to lose his workers and business partners, he threatened to block the roads around the development this month until the money was paid.

“It’s not a small amount for us,” Mr. Yong said. “This could bankrupt us.”

Mr. Yong and others like him are at the heart of regulators’ biggest challenge in dealing with Evergrande. If Beijing tries to make an example out of Evergrande by letting it collapse, the wealth of millions of people could vanish along with Mr. Xu’s empire.

protested on the streets and complained online about delays in construction. The central bank has put Evergrande on notice.

And China’s increasingly nationalistic commentators are calling for the company’s demise. Debt-saddled corporate giants like Evergrande were given the freedom to “open their bloody mouths and devour the wealth of our country and our people until they are too big to fall,” Li Guangman, a retired newspaper editor whose recent views have been given a platform by official state media, wrote in an essay.

Without proper intervention, Mr. Li argued, “China’s economy and society will be set on the crater of the volcano where all may be ignited any time.”

Michael Forsythe reported from New York. Matt Phillips contributed reporting from New York.

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How China Plans to Avert an Evergrande Financial Crisis

“The government can place them under watch and pressure them through their employers or relatives not to make trouble,” said Minxin Pei, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College who is writing a study of China’s domestic security apparatus.

China has a lot riding on its ability to contain the fallout from an Evergrande collapse. After Xi Jinping, China’s most powerful leader in generations, began his second term in 2017, he identified reining in financial risk as one of the “great battles” for his administration. As he approaches a likely third term in power that would start next year, it could be politically damaging if his government were to mismanage Evergrande.

But China’s problem may be that it controls financial panics too well. Economists inside and outside the country argue that its safeguards have coddled Chinese investors, leaving them too willing to lend money to large companies with weak prospects for repaying it. Over the longer term, though, China’s bigger risk may be that it follows in the footsteps of Japan, which saw years of economic stagnation under the weight of huge debt and slow, unproductive companies.

By not forcefully signaling an Evergrande bailout, the Chinese government is essentially trying to force both investors and Chinese companies to stop channeling money to risky, heavily indebted companies. Yet that approach carries risks, especially if a disorderly collapse upsets China’s legions of home buyers or unnerves potential investors in the property market.

An abrupt default by Evergrande on a wide range of debts “would be a useful catalyst for market discipline, but could also sour both domestic and foreign investor sentiment,” said Eswar Prasad, an economics professor at Cornell University who is a former head of the China division at the International Monetary Fund.

Some global investors worry that Evergrande’s problems represent a “Lehman moment,” a reference to the 2008 collapse of the Lehman Brothers investment bank, which heralded the global financial crisis. Evergrande’s collapse, they warn, could expose other debt problems in China and hit foreign investors, who hold considerable amounts of Evergrande debt, and other property developers in the country.

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