John Oliver highlighted China’s authoritarian bent under President Xi Jinping by outlining the leader’s human rights abuses and crackdown on citizen dissent. “The era of ‘hide and bide’ is over, and the era of ‘do as we say’ may be dawning,” said Oliver on ‘Last Week Tonight.’ “Because China has significant economic leverage, and it has been using that to silence criticism, even when criticism is very much warranted.”
The host focused on the dichotomy between the Chinese president’s cuddly “Uncle Xi” public persona and the alarming policies he’s implemented. China recently voted to abandon term presidential term limits, potentially allowing Xi to stay in office for life. The government also pursued a massive anti-corruption initiative, leading to the investigation and punishment of hundreds of thousands of government officials – many of whom happen to be his political rivals and have been subjected to torture in attempts to elicit confessions.
In a move that Oliver said demonstrated a “weird insecurity,” Xi also temporarily banned the online usage of phrases like “personality cult,” “my emperor” and mocking references to the animated character Winnie the Pooh, whom some citizens have claimed resembles the president. “I’m not sure it’s that strong a resemblance, to be honest, but the fact that he’s annoyed about it means people will never stop bringing it up,” Oliver said.
China has experienced record-breaking economic growth in the last four decades at “nearly 10 percent a year,” allowing over 800 million people to escape poverty. That rate is gradually slowing, which Oliver spotlighted as one of Xi’s numerous political concerns. “[He is also] reportedly haunted by the specters of the Arab Spring and the Soviet Union’s collapse, and that paranoia may be why he’s so anxious to micromanage Chinese daily life,” he said. “The government has a list of ‘untrustworthy people,’ which can restrict citizens’ ability to travel, buy a house and take out loans.”
Over the next few years, Xi plans to increase scrutiny: Each Chinese citizen will be assigned a “social credit score,” which fluctuates based on a range of behaviors deemed positive (community service, buying Chinese-made products) and negative (fraud, tax evasion, smoking in non-smoking areas). If a person’s social score drops too low, they can lose the ability to purchase plane and train tickets, real estate, cars and high-speed Internet.
China has also persecuted citizens based on religion. Upwards of 800,000 people have been incarcerated in reeducation camps, which The Associated Press reported aim to “rewire the political thinking of detainees, erase their Islamic beliefs and reshape their very identities.”
“China knows no matter how badly they behave, the world will still want to do business with them,” Oliver said. “They’re like Facebook: ‘Oh, I’m sorry, you don’t like us mining your data and undermining your democracy? What exactly are you fuckers gonna do about it? Mail people printed-out photos of the meals you ate? Call your friends and tell them ‘happy birthday’ in out-loud words? I don’t think so – go fuck yourself!'”
Oliver warned that the U.S. needs to be strategic and tactical in dealing with China. As part of that strategy, Last Week Tonight created a satirical propaganda video featuring happy kids singing about the less flattering public image of the Chinese government. “This it the China Xi doesn’t want you to see,” one actor sings. “He’d rather shield from you the shitty things they do.”