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China cracks down on social media pushback against Xi Jinping

A deeper dive into the day's most notable stories with The National newsletter's Jonathon Gatehouse.

Newsletter: A deeper dive into the day's most notable stories

Chinese President Xi Jinping claps while introducing new members of the Politburo Standing Committee at Beijing's Great Hall of the People on Oct. 25, 2017. His second five-year term as China's leader is expected to be confirmed next week. (Ng Han Guan/Associated Press)

Welcome to The National Today newsletter, which takes a closer look at what's happening around some of the day's most notable stories. Sign up here and it will be delivered directly to your inbox Monday to Friday.


  • Social media pushback against Xi Jinping and his bid to be allowed to rule for life is being squashed by Chinese government
  • Civilian death toll in Syria climbs, while​ Russia offers to establish a "humanitarian corridor" into the besieged Eastern Ghouta suburb of Damascus
  • The National's Andrew Chang gets a look behind the scenes at the new Overwatch League, which aims to make professional video gaming into a mainstream sports spectacle
  • Donald Trump's global brand is being hit by issues related to his commercial properties

President for life?

Chinese President Xi Jinping is now set to rule his country for life, and not everyone is thrilled.

The Communist Party yesterday unveiled an official proposal to alter China's constitution and do away with the two-term limit for the president and vice president.

Xi, 64, is nearing the end of his first five-year stint at the helm, and will be rubber-stamped for a second term next week. But the proposal signals that he intends to stick around much longer.

The Communist Party has made an official proposal to alter China's constitution in a way that would allow Chinese President Xi Jinping to rule indefinitely. (Greg Bowker/Getty Images)
The move comes on the heels of a decision last October to enshrine 'Xi Jinping Thought' into the party constitution, putting the president's pronouncements on the same level as Mao Zedong, the founder of the People's Republic.

Xi had already established himself as the most powerful Chinese president since the 1970s, being declared a "core leader" and creating an official cult of personality.

But there are signs that prosperous, modern China is not exactly overjoyed about the old-style power grab.

China's censors have been working overtime since the news broke, removing social media posts from Weibo, the country's state-monitored answer to Twitter.

Mao Zedong, Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party from 1935 until his death in 1976, delivers a speech 'about correctly handling contradiction among the people' at the standing committee of the State Council in Beijing in 1957. (AFP/Getty Images)
The BBC compiled a list of words and phrases that have been taken offline since yesterday, including, "proclaiming oneself an emperor,"  "I don't agree," "re-election" and "migration."

Posts that referred to Yuan Shikai, a 19th century warlord, have also been blocked, as have all references to Winnie the Pooh, a pithy nickname for the Chinese president.

A Disney cartoon picture of the bear embracing a honey pot and declaring "Find the thing you love and never let go," went viral yesterday. But now all that comes up on Weibo searches is a terse message: "According to relevant laws, regulations and policies, results are not displayed."

Another meme, riffing on the "Attention! The vehicle is reversing" announcements that Chinese delivery trucks automatically play when backing up, has also been blocked.

People walk past a poster of Chinese President Xi Jinping beside a street in Beijing on Monday. Xi Jinping's tightening grip on China had already earned the leader comparisons to Mao Zedong, but they came into even sharper focus after the party paved the way on the weekend for him to assume the presidency indefinitely. (Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images)
In a world that is becoming increasingly used to authoritarian regimes flexing their political muscles in places like Turkey, Russia and Poland, there has been little outside criticism of Xi's enthronement.

But the move has stoked fears in Hong Kong.

Xi has taken a hardline stance against a push to bring more democracy to the former British colony, drawing what he called a "red line" about Beijing's control during a visit last year.

Now with Xi set to rule well beyond 2023, it seems that the crackdown will continue for the foreseeable future.

No end to Syria's fighting

Russia says it will establish a "humanitarian corridor" into the besieged Eastern Ghouta suburb of Damascus, and engineer a "daily pause" in the fierce aerial bombardments in order to prevent civilian deaths.

More than 520 people have died over the past eight days as the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and its Russian allies advance on the rebel-held district.

A man runs after an air raid in the besieged town of Douma, Syria, on Friday. (Bassam Khabieh/Reuters)
The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights today reported 23 more deaths, including nine members of a single family, from overnight airstrikes. There were also reports of another chlorine gas attack, with one child killed, and 16 other people hospitalized by the toxic fumes.  

On Saturday, the United Nations Security Council — of which Russia is a permanent member — unanimously adopted a resolution calling for an immediate, 30-day ceasefire in Ghouta.

Syrians walk past destroyed buildings in Arbin in the rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta on Sunday. (Abdulmonam Eassa/AFP/Getty Images)
But 24-hours later, Vladimir Putin, brought forward a much more modest proposal — a daily break from the airstrikes and shelling, lasting from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., local time.

It's still unclear how the Russian "humanitarian corridor" would work, and whether any of the close to 400,000 civilians trapped in the suburbs would be allowed to leave.

The Kremlin's sudden interest in the welfare of civilians comes after its diplomats delayed the Security Council resolution for several days by demanding multiple changes to the resolution's wording.

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Andrew Chang on assignment

Fans in the Overwatch League's Burbank, Calif., studio watch as the Los Angeles Gladiators take on the LA Valiant in head-to-head video game action. (Ousama Farag/CBC)
In a past life, Blake Panasiewicz worked in mental health, primarily with drug addicts.

These days, he's still preoccupied with the human mind, but his clientele has changed.

Now he works exclusively with professional gamers.

"Imagine their beforehand," he tells me from the team house of the L.A. Gladiators, a professional esports team that plays a computer game called Overwatch. "They were at home, they were alone, or they were at their parents, and they had to play only by themselves. Then all of a sudden they got really good at something, got put with five other guys who were also really good at it, but their socialization skills were never there, because they never had to."

"That's why my role is important, because there's no getting around that idea of 'hey, I need to work with these people now' ... whereas with professional sports, from the age of, like, 6, you're constantly forced to work with people.

"Big difference between the two."

But there's another element to Panasiewicz's uphill battle: Persuading the people he's working with to take all of his suggestions seriously.

Gamers aren't exactly known for their discipline or ability to take direction.

Considering what's at stake, Panasiewicz is seen as an integral and indispensable part of the team.

He's on the payroll. And Panasiewicz's contribution to growth of esports is just a sliver of what this industry has become.

Read more about the life of professional video gamers in this CBC feature, and watch for Andrew's report on The National tonight.

Trump's business slump

The old maxim is that you should never mix business and pleasure.

Donald Trump's presidency is proving that politics and commerce aren't always a great match either.

U.S. President Donald Trump's global brand is taking some hits over issues with his company's property developments and golf courses. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
This weekend, the former Apprentice star's fading global brand took another couple of hard knocks.

n Panama City, investors in Trump's only Latin American hotel are seeking a court order to force the Trump Organization and its employees off the premises and out of the business.

Their months-long effort to rebrand the Trump International Hotel Panama — and halt a steep drop in bookings and revenue — took a dramatic turn late last week, when investors stormed the facility and tried to fire the hotel management. Power to the 369-room, ocean-front tower was disrupted for several hours during the very hostile takeover, and eventually police were called in to restore order.

A woman walks in front of the Hotel Trump Ocean Club in Panama City, Panama, on Friday. (Bienvenido Velasco/EPA-EFE)
Meanwhile in Florida, the Trump National Golf Club has quietly settled a class action lawsuit brought by former members who accused the U.S. president of changing the rules and cheating them out of out their deposits.

The $5.45 million US payout to 65 ex-golfers comes a year after a judge ruled that Trump was in breach of contract when he took over the club in 2012 and instituted a new cancellation policy that effectively meant he got to hold onto their money until replacement members were found — a process that sometimes takes years.

The entrance of Trump International Hotel in downtown Washington. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)
It's not the first time that Trump has been involved in a dispute over such initiation fees, which can range from $14,000 to $450,000 per golfer.

Last month, the New York Times reported the president's claims that then-FBI Director Robert Mueller quit Trump's club in Sterling, Va., in 2011, because he was upset about the high cost. Trump cited the purported "conflict of interest" when he pushed to fire Mueller from his current job — special counsel probing Russian interference in the 2016 election — this past summer.

These are just the latest in a lengthening list of business setbacks for Trump:

  • A public movement to block construction of a second 18-hole Trump course in Balmedie, Scotland. So far, more than 32,000 people have signed a petition asking the local Aberdeenshire Council to kill the project over environmental concerns and a general distaste for the Republican's politics.
  • Formal appeals by an Irish heritage agency and several activist groups to stop plans for a 38,000-tonne rock seawall at Trump's Doonbeg Golf Resort in County Clare. The Trump Organization argues that the coastal defences are needed to hold back the rising waters and preserve the course's viability.
  • A report that Trump's new Washington hotel, just down the street from the White House, had an average monthly occupancy rate of 50 per cent over its first 11 months of operation — about one-third less than comparable luxury hotels in the U.S. capital. Which might be explained in part by the fact that he is asking $559 US a night, on average, per room — almost 40 per cent higher than his competitors.

Last November, the U.K.'s Telegraph newspaper reported that average room rates across Trump's 13 luxury hotels had dropped by as much as 63 per cent in the months following his inauguration.

That same month, Crain's New York Business ranked the Trump Organization as the 40th largest privately held company in the city, down 37 spots from the year before. The change came after the paper used the president's federal financial disclosures to determine that his firm had been making 10 times less than he publicly claimed.

The president saw a similar tumble in his ranking among U.S. billionaires, with Forbes magazine slicing its estimation of his net worth by $600 million, dropping him down to 248th spot on its list of richest Americans and anointing Trump as its "most notable loser."

Donald Trump plays a stroke as he officially opens his multimillion dollar Trump International Golf Links course in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, on July 10, 2012. (Andy Buchanan/AFP/Getty Images)
However, Trump can take solace in one recent business win.

Last week, the State of Mississippi awarded his a new, luxury hotel project — the Scion West End in Cleveland, Miss. — a $6 million tourism tax break.

The 100-room hotel, which will be designed to look like an antebellum plantation, will be located in one of the poorest parts of the Mississippi Delta.

Quote of the moment

"[The staff] called it the spa. There was a shower, then there was a vanity in between with a mirror. Then there was a bathtub with a shower in there too. And then at end of my bed, there was the toilet, where my head was."

- Leo Seguin, a Sudbury, Ont. septuagenarian, who spent 10 days in a hospital bathroom due to overcrowding.

What The National is reading

  • Australian payroll fiasco foreshadowed Phoenix failure in Canada (CBC)
  • More than a dozen companies cut ties with the NRA (CNN Money)
  • Nigerian government acknowledges 110 girls still missing after Boko Haram attack (CBC)
  • Afghan government approves trans-Eurasian oil pipeline, but not the Taliban (Asia Times)
  • Calgary mayor plays coy about a 2026 Olympic bid (CBC)
  • Ontario family trying to solve mystery of wedding dress found on the side of the 401 (CTV)
  • The cuttlefish, a master of camouflage, reveals a new trick (New York Times)
  • Millennials 'set to be fattest generation' (BBC)

Today in history

Feb. 26, 1982: Funny man Eugene Levy

The SCTV star breaks out some Bobby Bittman, explains the inspiration for the Sammy Maudlin Show, and hates on Jerry Lewis for a bit in this McLean at Large interview. Where did the cast get all their ideas? "We watch a lot of TV," says Levy.

Eugene Levy joins host Bob McLean in 1982 to talk about his start in show business and his work on the television series SCTV. 7:08

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About the Author

Jonathon Gatehouse

CBC Investigative Journalist

Jonathon Gatehouse has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, covering seven Olympic Games and authoring a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey. He works for the national investigative unit in Toronto.