Timor poll results; Indian editor quits over Adani. By Hamish McDonald.

Xi Jinping moves against rival

Chinese president  Xi Jinping in Hong Kong.
Chinese president Xi Jinping in Hong Kong.
Credit: DALE DE LA REY / AFP / Getty Images

It will be a nervous group of China’s top communists who don their floaties and take to the muddy waters of the Bohai Gulf next week during their yearly retreat at the Beidaihe resort to mull over strategies and lobby for promotion in the Communist Party.

Xi Jinping, the party general secretary and state president, has just carried out a couple more of his trademark strikes on potential rivals and alternative pillars of power. Two weeks ago, he suddenly removed the high-flying party chief in the great central China metropolis Chongqing, Sun Zhengcai, and had him put under investigation by the party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection.

This is usually a prelude to trial and imprisonment for grand-scale corruption. It recalls the arrest of another ambitious Chongqing party boss, Bo Xilai, removed in 2012 after his wife killed the British businessman Neil Heywood, and Chongqing’s top security official sought refuge three months later in the nearest American consulate dressed as a woman.

Nothing as colourful for Comrade Sun, as the official media still refer to him. But it completes a manoeuvre by Xi to put relatively mediocre figures in control of all of China’s big municipalities ahead of the party’s five-year congress in October. In recent times, party leaders have promoted an heir apparent by the end of their first term. Xi seems likely to keep everyone guessing as he starts his second term, suggesting that, like his pal Vladimir Putin, he has no retirement plans.

Xi has also cracked down on China’s moneybags. The richest man in Asia, Wang Jianlin of the Dalian Wanda Group, has been hit with investigations and blocks on his borrowing, joining the Fosun and Anbang groups under the lamps. Aside from the potential political influence of big business, the practice of transferring assets overseas and leaving the borrowings in China is starting to worry Beijing.

Xanana appeal falls in Timor-Leste

Results are in from Timor-Leste’s election last Saturday, and the change is that the former socialist revolutionaries of Fretilin are back in the ascendancy, just overtaking their partner party in government, the National Congress for Timor Reconstruction (CNRT) led by Xanana Gusmão.

The CNRT had a big fall in its vote, from 37 per cent in 2012 to 29.45 per cent. Seventy-one-year-old Gusmão’s aura as the hero of the independence struggle as guerilla leader, political prisoner and first president is being eclipsed by a younger former guerilla chief, military commander and former president Taur Matan Ruak, 60. His recently formed Popular Liberation Party (PLP) got 10.6 per cent of the vote. Two other opposition party’s also fared comparatively well: the conservative Democratic Party with 9.8 per cent, and the new Kmanek Haburas Unidade Nacional Timor Oan or KHUNTO, based on Timor’s large martial arts clubs with 6.4 per cent, double its 2012 tally.

Ruak and especially KHUNTO appealed to Timor-Leste’s unemployed and restless young people in a country where 60 per cent of the population is under 25 and the voting age is 17. “The rise of both the PLP and KHUNTO could be a sign of shifting voter alignments as Timor-Leste’s demographic ‘youth bulge’ enters political life, with some 20 per cent of the roll voting for the first time in 2017,” notes election observer Michael Leach of Swinburne University. “If so, the PLP vote could be one to watch in the future.” As opposition leader, Ruak will attack Gusmão’s grandiose plans for petroleum-based industry along the south coast.

However, the likely continuance of a Fretilin–CNRT government means Canberra can expect no let-up in Dili’s push for a redrawing of the maritime boundary line in the conciliation proceedings supervised by the International Court of Arbitration, targeted to reach agreement by September 19.

Leach notes that Australia’s browbeating and 2002 withdrawal from international jurisdiction is regarded negatively in Washington defence circles. The United States House Armed Services Committee amended current budget legislation to express encouragement of a resolution of the boundary dispute. With the South China Sea disputes clear in mind, it said this would send “a positive signal to other states in the region regarding adherence to a rules-based international order”.

Breach of trustees

Two years ago, Indian investigative journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta was in touch about an old episode in the career of your world editor: the efforts of the late Indian polyester tycoon Dhirubhai Ambani to suppress publication of my biography of him.

An Indian court obliged, though Allen & Unwin’s Patrick Gallagher nobly persevered with the Australian edition of The Polyester Prince, which was extensively pirated in India anyway and sold at Mumbai traffic lights along with hashish and other illegal delights. An account of this battle provided a chapter in Thakurta’s co-authored book Sue the Messenger about the growing tendency of Indian business houses to use threats of defamation action to head off criticism. Thakurta had plenty of material from his own battles over his exposé of questionable manoeuvres by Ambani’s son Mukesh, which he eventually self-published in the face of threats that intimidated established publishers.

By the time Sue the Messenger appeared last year, Thakurta had been made editor of the Mumbai-based Economic and Political Weekly, a journal that combines academic articles with reviews of contemporary affairs. He presumably had been appointed to this prestigious job on the strength of his brave investigations.

Now in the face of the first test from none other than Gautam Adani of Queensland’s contentious coal project, the trustees of the foundation that owns EPW have gone to water. Thakurta had written and published two articles alleging Adani’s companies had received some 15 billion rupees or $294 million as a result of favours under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government. Modi and Adani are close.

An Adani company sent a letter declaring the articles defamatory and asking for them to be taken down from the EPW website. Thakurta hired a lawyer to draft a letter and the trustees rebuked the editor for doing this without their knowledge or directions, and ordered him to take down the articles and stop writing under his own byline. Thakurta has resigned. The stink continues, with scores of eminent Indians including Nobel laureate economist Amartya Sen berating the EPW trustees. Adani is the guy seriously asking our politicos for a $1 billion subsidy for his coal project.


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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on July 28, 2017 as "Xi sets the controls for the heart of Sun".

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Hamish McDonald is a Walkley Award-winning foreign correspondent.

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