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Actress's 'disappearance' in China puts focus on 'alien' judiciary system

In this March 21, 2017, file photo, Chinese actress Fan Bingbing poses after winning the Best Actress Award of the Asian Film Awards in Hong Kong. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung, File)

China took its first step to become a trading giant paralleling the United States when it joined the World Trade Organization in November 2001. Back then in China, a buzzword was "guo ji jie gui," meaning "linking up with the international track." The expression represented the rationale that commercial customs and product quality that were only acceptable in China should be aligned with international standards.

Last year, China's total global trade exceeded 4 trillion dollars -- eight times the figure recorded 17 years ago. This can be said as an achievement coming out of "guo ji jie gui." This linkup with international standards, however, is not proceeding in the fields of politics and justice.

One recent reminder of this in China is the "disappearance" of Fan Bingbing, a famous Chinese actress active in Hollywood and elsewhere.

Fan appeared in Chinese films playing the role of Yang Guifei, an eighth century imperial consort known for her exceptional beauty. She is also featured in the X-Men series of U.S. science fiction films and Japanese TV commercials.

Fan was chosen as one of the jurors in the Cannes Film Festival in France last year, and showed up in this year's festival in May in a gorgeous dress. But later in the month, online criticism began to pop up about her alleged failure to report massive performance fees to tax authorities, and new entries on her blog stopped appearing. Fan turned 37 on Sept. 16, but she still remains in a state of incommunicado.

CNN reported on the incident saying it was like an Academy-award winning actress vanished completely with no word about where she was. "It might sound ludicrous, or terrifying, but it's a reality in China," the network said on its website.

This month, a Chinese media outlet reported online that Fan was detained on suspicion of tax evasion and was being questioned by authorities, but the article was soon deleted. A spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry dodged a question from a foreign reporter about Fan by asking back: "Do you think this is a diplomatic issue?"

But this is a serious issue affecting China's international image.

The judicial process in China is vague and arbitrary. Several people have been detained without clear charges and vanished. The media cannot report on these cases without clearance from authorities. The reality about the Fan affair is that the alien nature of the Chinese judiciary system came to light once again because the target this time was an internationally known actress.

Next year, China will introduce a revision to the income tax code for individuals and some people are complaining that the change may result in tax hikes for some workers. Since Fan's "disappearance," a policy of cracking down on the huge incomes earned by movie stars and their tax evasions was introduced. Speculation is spreading that Fan became a scapegoat to appease an angry public.

The sense of mistrust coming out from the perceived lack of transparency in the judicial process and failure to protect foreign companies' rights in China are behind the growing criticism in the United States against China's intellectual property rights violations. Discourse on "an alien China" will not vanish easily unless a linkup with the global norm proceeds not only in the economic field but also in its judiciary system.

(Japanese original by Kenji Bando, Expert Senior Writer)

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