China’s increasing repressiveness took another dark step over the weekend when it arrested and detained over 100 human rights lawyers and activists, branding them as criminals who organized disturbances and spread false online rumors. It is as preposterous as it sounds but the government doesn’t care. The strongly worded accusations mean the state is seriously intent on silencing the lawyers and activists.
These arrests were also the latest in a series of arrests of journalists, activists and academics that worsened last year. The arrests of the lawyers and activists took place across 15 provinces and major cities, starting with a Beijing law firm that has defended high-profile prisoners like Uyghur economist Ilham Tohti who was sentenced to life last year. The majority of them were released by Monday but the repercussions are still to be determined as the state will certainly follow up with heavyhanded measures that may include putting some of these lawyers on trial.
As if this wasn’t enough, there’s also a small matter of a stock market crisis that came to a head last week.
China also faced down a massive two-week drop in its stock markets last week with desperate measures, launching new rules and orders and measures to free up credit and investment. The Shanghai stock exchange had risen 150% since the beginning of the year, only to drop by 30% from the middle of June.
Nothing worked until the government made over 1,400 firms, up to half of all listed companies, stop trading while declaring an investigation on “malicious” short-sellers and having police visit the securities regulator. The authorities also ordered major shareholders to stop selling shares of their companies for 6 months and basically banned brokerages from selling shares while urging them to buy. All these measures worked because on Thursday the market (Shanghai and Shenzhen exchanges) rebounded by over 5%, then continued to rise Friday and Monday.
However, if you’re thinking that some of these moves don’t really make sense, such as ordering half the market to halt trading and preventing companies and traders from selling their shares, you are right. WSJ listed 5 peculiar (dodgy) things about the stock market meltdown.
The government’s intervention seemed effective but at a cost. The central government showed it has a lot of power in what they can do when they want and however they want. But with its almost daily intervention and desperation, it also showed it has little credibility.
It also doesn’t fix the problems with the stock market which had been rising rapidly since earlier this year despite overvalued stocks and companies with sketchy business operations and revenues.
The stock drop also raised fears about China’s economy, with some people saying it was even worse than Greece’s continuing economic woes for the global economy. The truth is China’s economy is in trouble and the stock market crash would only exacerbate the problems, not cause them.
I know I criticize and complain about China a lot but going beyond personal bias, there are some really negative things going on in this country and the crackdown of over 50 lawyers and activists even at a time of serious economic problems really causes me to wonder about the near future.