For China, Tokyo 2020 is Just The Start of A Very Busy Two Years.

                              by David Parmer / Tokyo

There are a lot of expressions to explain the situation surrounding the Tokyo Olympics (Rescheduled) 2020. For example “up in the air”  “undecided”  “unclear” “murky” “fuzzy” “hazy” etc.

From all the news that is available from Japan and the IOC it seems that the rescheduling of the 2020 Olympics will be decided in the spring of 2021. And it seems clear that summer 2021 is “it” i.e. it is either next summer or not at all.

The other news for the Tokyo Olympics 2020 (Rescheduled) is that even if it is held, it will be scaled down in terms of fewer spectators at events and scaled-down opening and closing ceremonies. All well and good, we will just have to wait and see. But for China, there is a problem caused by this rescheduling, and it has to do with events that China will host post-Tokyo 20230.

China has a “full plate” of hosting major international sporting events in the 2021-2022 timeframe. All of these events, to one extent or another, will be affected by the postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Summer games, and the threat of COVID-19 contamination.

The events in question are:

China 14th National Games, (Xian Xiaanxi). China’s internal Olympics are directly affected by the dates of the Tokyo games. While the schedule cannot be confirmed, the dates of August 28-September 9, 2021 have been mentioned. This timeframe would put a strain on China’s athletes who would have to compete in two major international sporting events only 10 days apart.

World Summer University Games in (Chendu, Sichuan). As many as 10,000 student athletes would compete in the games which will be held August 18-29 2021. Again, this event like the China National Games is, just 10 days after the closing of the Tokyo Olympics. Organizers are moving forward with preparations despite the uncertainty surrounding both Tokyo and the threat of continued COVID-19.

Beijing winter Olympics (Beijing and Vicinity). The winter games are a bit farther down the timeline, scheduled to be held from February 4-20, 2022. China has a lot to do to get ready to host the winter games. Also, by this time, a model for the Olympics in the time of COVID-19 should have been established at the Tokyo games. So China and the International Olympic Committee will have a “template” to work from for the winter games.

19th Asian Games 2022 (Hangzhou, Zhejiang). To be held from September 10-25, 2022. Athletes from around Asia will be competing in 37 sports in venues in one of China’s most beautiful cities. The slogan for the 19th Asian Games is “Heart to Heart,@Future” which is a tip of a hat to the digital age being able to connect people.

For the next two years China will be planning and coordinating four major sporting events with thousands of athletes and their teams and many tens of thousands of visitors from around the world. What China learns not only from managing such events, but also in holding mega-events in the post-pandemic world will be lessons well worth learning and well worth sharing.






Photo: Du Kong, via flickr

The Future of Hong Kong and One Country, Two Systems.

                                    by David Parmer / Tokyo


For the past half-year the daily and nightly news has featured the ongoing unrest in Hong Kong.

Scenes of peaceful mass protest are followed by those of police response and film of radical elements among the protesters causing extensive and gratuitous property damage to the businesses and infrastructure of Hong Kong in the name of democracy.

Since this situation is ongoing there is no answer as to how it was resolved, for it has not yet been settled to anyone’s satisfaction. Having said that, we will first give a brief background of the situation. Then we will examine how the situation as it is now framed is at an impasse, and examine possible ways forward beyond the dynamic stalemate which characterizes this situation. Finally, we will look at one very important aspect that is on the periphery, but very much connected to the current situation, and that is the question of Taiwan and the possibility of it someday adopting a version of the One Country, Two Systems (OCTS) re-forged in the fire of the 2019 protests.

The Protests

Protest is a fact of life in Hong Kong going all the way back to 1956. The current protests, growing out of the proposal and withdrawal of the Fugitive Offenders Law (extradition law) are calling for “democracy” neglecting the fact that there have been more than 17 major protests over the years, and almost countless minor protests.

Were there no “democracy” in Hong Kong, protests like the 2014 Umbrella Movement and the current ongoing and extensive protests against the Fugitive Offenders Law would not be possible. Put simply: protest is almost a way of life in Hong Kong as exhibited by its frequent and vibrant occurrence, and it is often supported by tens of thousands of Hong Kongers. This is clear evidence of the existence of democracy in Hong Kong.

As far back as 2010 there have been calls for universal suffrage, or the direct election of officials.

While universal suffrage may be an ongoing issue for some, and a key part of the present protests, its absence alone can not be considered a lack of democratic avenues for political expression as the right to protest itself and the holding of fair and democratic elections are intact and in full use. (This can be seen by the pan-Democrat camp winning a massive victory over pro-Beijing candidates in local 2019 elections where there were no allegations of fraud or vote rigging or any other irregularities.)


Causes for the current protests can be directly related to the proposed extradition bill of 2019 put forward by the Hong Kong government and its brief life and eventual withdrawal.

Underlying this is the common perception that Hong Kong’s freedoms are being slowly eroded and Beijing’s influence is growing and growing. This influence is seen as a malign factor and not a benign one by many people. Another factor said to be fueling the unrest is the sense of hopelessness among young people regarding buying a home or apartment or getting public housing in a reasonable length of time. (It is reported that the wait for public housing is in excess of 5 years.)

It is not only the perceived erosion of freedom and growing influence by Beijing that is at stake, but also a fundamental and pervasive distrust of the PRC itself among a large segment of Hong Kong’s population. The rendition of 5 booksellers to the Mainland in 2015 and the continuation of the incident into 2016 did nothing to increase trust of the Beijing government among Hong Kongers.

What’s more, friction between Mainlanders and the people of Hong Kong is ongoing. This can most easily be seen in the issue of “parallel traders” where individuals buy goods in Hong Kong and sell them in the Mainland for a profit. Hong Kongers claim that this causes shortages of goods as well as social disruption.

Surveys show that a very high percentage of people in Taiwan do not see themselves as part of China but rather see themselves belonging to a country called “Taiwan.”

This same attitude appears to be pervasive among many people in Hong Kong. They seem to see themselves as citizens of a small, but independent country like Vatican City, Monaco or Lichtenstein.

While a unique product of history and circumstance, Hong Kong is not an independent country, rather it is a territory of China that was seized by the British in the 1840s and administered by the British for just over 150 years. The fact is that Hong Kong is part of China and always has been.

Now, both parties are faced with the re-integration of Hong Kong into greater China in such a way that acknowledges the unique history and culture of Hong Kong and at the same time leverages the rule of law and level playing field set up by the British resulting in vast economic advantage to both Hong Kong and to the Mainland. An attempt to build on and preserve these opportunities was the creation of the One Country, Two Systems (OCTS) scheme.

And just as a space vehicle is subject to extreme forces in the early stages of its journey, or an undersea vessel must withstand massive crushing forces when operating at depth, so too must the OCTS find a way to function during periods of extreme stress and pressure such as those that are now taking place.

Protests–Five Demands and Stalemate

As of December 2019 protests continue but are somewhat scaled down. More protests are scheduled for early 2020.

The situation now can best be described as a stalemate, with neither side making any concessions.

Five demands (and not one less!) have emerged from the protesters camp:

  • Withdrawal of the extradition bill
  • Investigation into alleged police brutality
  • Change of language to exclude the word “riot”
  • The implementation of universal suffrage
  • Amnesty for arrested protesters

A somewhat belated withdrawal of the extradition bill did nothing to mollify protesters. As for the other four demands, no government action has been taken to accomodate them.

As for police brutality, all incidents should be investigated if the public is to maintain trust with the police. There should be a clear distinction made between the use of force and the use of excessive force.

Toning down or modifying the language used to describe protesters should be done, and a clear distinction should be made between peaceful protest and the employment of violence that raises the level from protest to riot. 

Buried in the five demands is the return of the call for universal suffrage, which, on face value, is not likely to get the support of the Hong Kong government, nor the government in Beijing.

In the wake of violence and property damage to public and private venues as well as infrastructure, it is highly unlikely that amnesty will be granted to protesters.

The five demands are made of the Hong Kong government, and by extension, it upstream master, Beijing. The question is first; whom would the government negotiate with in a “leaderless” coalition even if it wanted to? There are supposedly two groups of protesters, violents and moderates. Except for a few familiar faces (e.g. Joshua Wong) there is no one to negotiate with. Or is there?

In the last round of Hong Kong Council elections, protesters, or “pan-Democrats” won seats in 17/18 districts, soundly defeating pro-Beijing candidates. Many saw this as a mandate on the protest movement. While it could be interpreted this way, it could also be a symptom of “protest fatigue.”

A similar phenomenon could be seen recently in British politics where the Labour party was handed a sound defeat and the Conservatives won by a large margin. It could be considered a second vote for LEAVE (the Euro) or it might simply be “Brexit fatigue” where the British people wanted to get on with their lives and have Brexit settled.

Perhaps many people in Hong Kong did the same kind of thing and expressed their opposition to government policies at the ballot box instead of on the street. Maybe many people felt that by voting they had “done their duty” or shown their feelings and now could get back to normal life after a half a year of massive social and economic disruption.

A coalition of “new pan-Democrats” would be someone for the government to negotiate with if negotiation were considered an option by the Lam government and by Beijing.

Moreover, a coalition of new pan-Democrats could first invite, and then distance itself from the violent wing of the protest movement. The next election of a Chief Executive will be held in 2022 and the next Election Committee election will be held in 2021. Negotiations to implement a major change to elections, i.e. bring about universal suffrage could be started immediately.

The government could “ignore” protester demands for an independent inquiry, but conduct an independent inquiry of its own in a way to save face and not “give in” to protester demands. If there were any further “face saving” to be done, the government could say that it was the results at the ballot box during the Council elections and not the protests that brought about change in the OCTS scheme.

 Amending the Basic Law promulgated July 1, 1997 would show Hong Kong and the world that OCTS was in fact a living concept, flexible, and able to respond to new realities not imagined in the Deng Xiaoping era of the 1980s.

The End of All of Hong Kong’s Problems?

Getting at the root of public frustration which resulted in the demonstrations of 2019 would not solve all of Hong Kong’s problems. The question of affordable housing would still be on the table. As a point of irony, it is the capitalistic system in Hong Kong which sets the land prices and prices of home ownership which are such a burden to young people and not the socialist system of the Mainland. Still, some solution to this problem must be aimed at, if nothing else than to give some hope to the young people of Hong Kong.

In a sense, Hong Kong’s “magical time” has passed. With the increase in special economic zones and the rise of second-tier cities the face of China is changing, and Hong Kong does not have the shine it once had. Having said that, Hong Kong is still a key waypoint for the inflow and outflow of capital to China. Stabilization of Hong Kong’s social system could do much to reassure markets and investors and possibly attract new capital to Hong Kong.

A Good Outcome Regarding Taiwan?

Dealing flexibly and creatively with the challenges of 2019 as suggested above (i.e. negotiation, amendment of the Basic Law ) would do much for the PRC’s image and soft power.

In this half year, despite what some might consider considerable provocation (destruction of public property, targeting of Mainland business and individuals, disruption of infrastructure and damage to the economy) Beijing has resisted the use of maximum force, i.e. use of People’s Armed Police or the People’s Liberation Army to deal with the social disruption caused by the ongoing demonstrations.

Strategically it would have been counterproductive to do so as demonstrations are an example of “asymmetric warfare” and are not responsive to massive force. (Although they can certainly be impacted by it.) More importantly, much “soft power” face was gained by not using maximum force and relying on the Hong Kong government to deal with the situation. This could also be interpreted as Beijing’s good faith, patience, and belief in the OCTS scheme.

Why is this important? The answer is simple: Taiwan.

The OCTS scheme was originally designed for Taiwan but implemented in Hong Kong (and Macau). As it now stands, many in Taiwan reject any suggestion that One Country, Two Systems would work there. China considers Taiwan its territory and is determined that it should become part of greater China. There are only two ways that this can happen, either a military intervention or a gradual economic and social integration based on the OCTS scheme. In the mind of the PRC, the situation in Hong Kong and Taiwan are two historical anomalies that must be rectified in the name of China’s sovereignty. A vibrant and dynamic Hong Kong operating under a flexible and democratic OCTS would be a powerful sales point for Beijing when dealing with Taiwan.

A Thorny Problem for Beijing

China has one huge problem that it must settle when dealing with both Hong Kong and Taiwan. And it is a question of the perception of value.

In ancient times Chinese culture was of such power and magnetism that could exert tremendous cultural influence to the peoples surrounding it. Even when China was conquered barbarians and invaders succumbed to the power of Chinese culture in the form or arts, science, philosophy, language, literature, dress etc. China was the dominant culture, and its magnetism decided the outcome.

In the case of Hong Kong and Taiwan due to the historical anomalies mentioned above, both Hong Kong and Taiwan have a culture that is at its root Chinese (language, art, history, cuisine etc.) but each has a culture that is on a timeline that is divergent from the Mainland. In the distant past, the magnetism of mainstream culture would have been the stronger of the cultures and prevailed. These days, this is not so. People in Hong Kong and Taiwan are not swayed by the Mainland culture, rather it seems they feel that their own culture is superior.This is important because they feel that the Mainland has not much to offer them that they don’t already have. Some in China suggest “patriotic education” as a way to correct this, but what is really being discussed is more like indoctrination than education.

China has made unbelievable progress since 1949, rising out of poverty, imperialism, and war to become the second leading economy in the world and a space-faring nation. China needs to frame its progress and its dreams in such a way that it becomes a beacon for those in Hong Kong and Taiwan to aspire to be connected with. China needs to shine so brightly that its culture again calls peoples and nations to participate in its greatness. When this happens, “patriotic education” will not be necessary.


The Hong Kong protests of 2019 can be seen as a period of painful social disruption costing millions in damage and lost income. It can be seen as an indication that One Country, Two Systems doesn’t work and never will. Or it can be seen as a great opportunity to modify One Country Two Systems for the 21st Century to make it more responsive and serve the needs of both the country and the systems until 2047 and beyond. There is only one choice, and this is to deal with this situation using creativity and imagination resulting in positive outcomes for all parties concerned.

Photo: Studio Incendo via flickr






















Asian Waters–The Hai River and North China Water Supply.

                       by David Parmer / Tokyo

The concept behind Professor Joseph Needham’s massive work, Science and Civilization In China, was that in ancient times China was at the leading edge of technology while the rest of the world more or less muddled along. As for water management, records show that water management technology was known and practiced some 1500 years ago during the Sui Dynasty (581-618).

During the Sui, measures were already being taken to control and channel the Haihe or Hai River. Although we can say that the Hai River flows from Beijing to Tianjin and then to the Bohai Sea and that it is more than 1300km in length, this “linear” description would seriously miss the point.

For the Hai is not “a” river, but five bodies of water including the North Canal, the South Canal, the Yongding River, the Daqing River and the Ziya River that flow through Sandong, Hebei, Beijing and Tianjin. And more appropriately, this whole conglomeration can be seen as the Hai River basin encompassing an area of some 318km2


The Hai River in Tianjin is a pretty sight as it flows through the city under a series of attractive low-rise bridges. At night the banks of the river are illuminated, and colorful boats ply the river making for a festive scene.  For the greater Bohai basin however, things are not quite so attractive.  As with many of China’s other water sources, the twin problems of water pollution and water scarcity also affect the Hai River basin.

Water pollution has increased over the years due to uncontrolled economic development and the use of ground water for agriculture has led to varying degrees of water scarcity. Stakeholders including industry, shipping agriculture and recreation vie for Hai water resources and have all contributed to the water management problems facing the Chinese government.

Efforts to deal with the problems of water scarcity and water pollution were addressed in 2016 by an initiative called the Hai River Basin Project. Those involved were the Chinese government, the World Bank and the Global Environment Facility (GEF). The World Bank advanced US$9.5 billion for the project to create an integrated water and environmental approach to the problem. The project not only examined to Hai River basin, but also its relation to the Bohai Sea. The target for all concerned was to come up with plans to upgrade the water quality and ecosystem sustainability in the Hai River basin.

At the same time, and to the south the government of China was engaged in a civil engineering project of staggering proportions– the South North Water Transfer Project. This scheme called for the transfer of 44.8 billion m3 of water from the Yangtze River to North China. This audacious project called for water resources from southern China to be pumped north via three separate and unique routes.

The Eastern Route

This route is basically an improvement on the venerable Grand Canal. Work began in 2002 and after delays was finished in 2014. The water transfer involves 13 pumping stations and a tunnel under the Yellow River traveling 1150 km before finally reaching the Tianjin area.

The Central Route

This route was started in 2003 and completed in 2014. It travels 1246km from the Danjiangkou Reservoir on the Han River to the Beijing area. While this route had the force of gravity on its side and did not require the pumping stations found on the eastern route, it did have serious environmental impacts in the form of the necessity to relocate 300,000 people.

The Western Route

Planned, but yet to be built, the Western route is the most ambitious and most audacious of the three routes. The plan is to divert waters of the upper Yangtze River to the Yellow River. It will cross the Tibetan and Yunnan Plateaus through a combination of dams and tunnels and then cross the Bayankala Mountains to northwest China. Besides being the most challenging of the three routes, the Western route also creates challenges in the areas of transboundry waters. Water diversion for this route would affect the great rivers of China’s neighbors; the Mekong, the Brahmaputra and Indus rivers.

There has been criticism of the South North Water Transfer Project in terms of sustainability, environmental damage and the displacement of peoples. In spite of this water flows north to Beijing, Tianjin and the Hai River basin where it is needed for agriculture and industry. The challenge now that water scarcity has been addressed is to keep water quality high in other areas so they can enjoy the benefits of fresh, clean water, as do the inhabitants of Tianjin on a regular basis. More needs to be done in terms of water conservation and wise water use and tough enforcement of water pollution rules, but attention will have to stay focused on this vital resource, not just for the Hai River but also for all water resources throughout China.

Photo: Tianjin Docsteacher Hai River

Illustration: Hai River Basin Wikipedia

Illustration: South North Water Transfer Project Ran Xin

Big Story 2019 #1 – Evolution of “One-Country, Two Systems.”

This year has seen severe testing of the One Country Two Systems (OCTS) principle in Hong Kong. While there have been demonstrations in the past (e.g. Umbrella Movement, 2014) there has been nothing on the scale of the protests in 2019 sparked by the government’s proposed extradition bill. And while the bill was later withdrawn, widespread and sustained protests have been ongoing for the second half of 2019.

Protests have been both peaceful and violent with clashes between demonstrators and Hong Kong police. Social unrest and widespread property damage have marked the protests, and some elements have targeted Beijing-affiliated businesses.

The real question raised by these protests is whether OCTS can survive and adapt. The former Portuguese territory of Macau is under OCTS and continues to function without major problems. For strategic reasons it would be to the benefit of Beijing for OCTS to work, as this would be the most painless way that Taiwan could be integrated back into greater China.

For a resolution of the Hong Kong question it seems that Hong Kong people must acknowledge that the former British territory is in fact part of China. For Beijing and its 70-year-old one party system, it might be time to re-think how the system can adapt to this new challenge. Historically China has always found a way to Sinicize peoples and systems and to make appropriate adjustments to new realities. Can Beijing do this with OCTS?

RG-21 will soon be publishing several reports on this topic. In the meantime, please feel free to give us your opinion on this very important matter.

Photo: Etan Liam via flickr

Asian Waters—China’s Venerable Grand Canal

 The Grand Canal represents the greatest masterpiece of hydraulic engineering in the history of mankind, because of its very ancient origins and its vast scale, along with its continuous development and its adaptation to circumstances down the ages. It provides tangible proof of human wisdom, determination and courage. It is an outstanding example of human creativity, demonstrating technical capabilities and a mastery of hydrology in a vast agricultural empire that stems directly from Ancient China.   (UNESCO World Heritage List)

                 by David Parmer / Tokyo

Unlike China’s other great treasure, the Great Wall, the Grand Canal is not only an historical relic, but it is also a vibrant part of China’s culture and economy, important today as it was in the 13th century. The 1776 km Hangzhou-Beijing canal, or the Grand Canal, runs from Hangzhou in Zhejiang province through Jiangsu, Shandong, and Hebei provinces. In the North, its route passes Tianjin and ends up in Beijing.


The Grand Canal was started in the late Spring and Autumn period (770-470 BC). The officially agreed upon date seems to be 486 BC. Various sections were linked together during the Sui Dynasty (581-618 AD) and the project reached completion and its near 2,000km length during the Yuan dynasty (1279-1386 AD). Today only the section from Hangzhou to Jining (see illustration above) is navigable. Some sections in the North have dried up and become impassable or are severely polluted. Historically the canal was used to transport grain from southern China to northern China. The bricks for the Forbidden City in Beijing and the timbers for the Ming Tombs also came north along the canal. Since the end of WWII it has been used to transport building materials and fuel. Estimates are that some 100,000 vessels ply the waters of the Grand Canal every year.

China’s rivers generally flow from west to east, and this is one reason why the south to north flow of the Grand Canal is so important. It not only permits the transport of goods from south to north, but also links five of China’s rivers. In addition to the Yangtze and Yellow rivers, it also links the Huaihe, Haihe and Qiantang rivers.

The Grand Canal is indeed an engineering marvel; it is 10 times longer than the Suez Canal and 22 times longer than the Panama Canal. It is also the longest artificial river in the world. The canal is 1.0m below sea level in Hangzhou but 38.5m above sea level in its modern navigational terminus and Jining in Shandong province. There are 24 locks along the river that make this possible.


In 2014, the once-neglected Grand Canal was declared an UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is valued for its cultural value as well as its ongoing contribution to China’s economy. Throughout history the canal has brought goods and culture from one part of vast China to the other. Efforts are ongoing to improve not only the maintenance of the waterway but also the communities along its way. It is clear that the Hangzhou-Beijing canal will continue to have a major influence on the region and the country in this century and for centuries to come.


UNESCO World Heritage Centre

China Daily: Multi-part video series on Grand Canal in Chinese with English subtitles



Top: China Discovery

Map: Wikipedia

Bottom: CNTO