Political Imperatives

A lot of big news today on China's continuing economic problems. One thing I've been thinking about is the interesting news that China's football team was made to watch the confession video of their former coach.

On the eve of the tournament, China’s players were sat down to watch a television programme in which their former coach, Li Tie, said he had paid bribes to get the job and was involved in domestic match-fixing.

The political requirement that Li Tie be rejected by the players harkens back to the Cultural Revolution. I suppose the players were monitored during the viewing, to make sure they harbored no love for Li Tie. The players no doubt watched with stone faces, everyone in China knows the drill.

The conceit that these videos are free from coercion should be laid to rest, and none of the players would have had any doubt that Li was forced to make the video. They also will be aware that the coach and his boss will spend decades in jail, be stripped of their assets, if they even survive the next few years.

I wonder to what extent the players are required to dance the political line, or how far they are tested on their loyalty. Seems all the political classes didn't help the team play better.

This really highlights the intense political moment we are in, still. The political necessity of this action shows that political needs (as perceived by the party) truly usurp everything else. A huge sector of the economy in freefall, but political needs trump everything else. It was more important to deliver this message to the football players than it was to get a win.

If nothing else, the continued failure of the state to produce a quality football team despite unimaginable resources and a huge population shows the limits of state management.

Still, a scapegoat will be chosen and little will be said about the whole affair going forward, as state media is highly likely to find some other story that makes China look powerful. This is another way that people are swept into the maelstrom quite by accident. The players will certainly keep their heads down now that they've been ejected from the tournament.

They will no doubt remember how the media sometimes decides to attack individual athletes during the Olympics.

When Chinese table tennis players Liu Shiwen and Xu Xin lost the mixed doubles final to Mizutani and Ito, they both made public apologies as nationalist users criticized their performance on the microblogging site Weibo.

All the relevant officials need to do is let the anger build on Weibo. One of the consequences of the constant media monitoring and control in China is that, when this sort of online anger is not deleted, that effectively means the message is sanctioned, and everyone (to an extent) can go ahead and pile on. Eventually the censors will delete the posts, but only long after it could matter.

Even a simple selfie can get an athlete in hot water. From the same WaPo link:

Yang Qian, a shooter who clinched China’s first gold at these Games, was briefly attacked for an old Weibo post showing off her collection of shoes from Nike — a brand that nationalists have sought to boycott for expressing concerns over forced-labor practices in Xinjiang.

That story references one of the pseudo-boycotts China likes to do, in this case Nike. They are pseudo-boycotts because they exist only in the media, in this case creating the impression of pushing back against the sanctions put in place due to China's use of forced labor. Complaining about forced labor deeply hurts the Chinese people's feelings, but not for the reason one would hope. These pseudo-boycotts come and go to little long-term effect, and often little short-term effect.

When an athlete of national stature posts a picture of her shoes, that's political.

A credible storyline going forward would be that the fault must lie with the foreign coach, and then whoever chose or supported that foreign coach might have problems as well, based on their now-questionable political allegiances. That is how the entire economy gets paralyzed, where decisions can't be made because of the potential political consequences. It is not always necessary to blame someone for the party's failure, but certainly the party is never incorrect.