Asia in Review Archive 2021 (May-August)
China (People’s Republic)
Date of AiR edition
31 August 2021
PLA Tibet Military Command holds large-scale joint drills in plateau region
(lm) The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Tibet Military Command recently organized large-scale joint exercises on a peak in the Himalayas, in which the troops operated some of the PLA’s latest weapons and equipment and practiced multidimensional tactics with the goal of target elimination.
The Exercise Snowfield Duty-2021 featured more than 10 brigades and regiments affiliated with the PLA Tibet Military Command and set the theme of joint, multidimensional combat in plateau and mountainous regions, China Central Television (CCTV) reported on August 25. [Global Times]
31 August 2021
Russia seeks to assure India of partnership as Moscow, Beijing align positions on Afghanistan
(lm) Against the larger backdrop of a rapidly deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on August 24 held a phone conversation, with both sides agreeing to set up a joint team of foreign affairs and national security officials for bilateral consultations. [Reuters]
For Russia, the Taliban’s return to power has opened a path to increase its influence in South and Central Asia. Despite naming the Taliban a terrorist group, Moscow appears willing to engage with the militants if it can prevent Islamist extremism from spilling over the borders into central Asian allies such as Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. [AiR No. 33, August/2021, 3]
India, by contrast, has so far kept its distance from the Taliban, given its proximity to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, although there have been unconfirmed reports of backchannel talks taking place in June [see AiR No. 24, June/2021, 3]. This reluctance has left New Delhi with little leverage in the emerging situation, and is believed to be the reason why it was again left out when Russia earlier this month convened an “extended troika” meeting in Doha with the United States, China and Pakistan to discuss the future of Afghanistan. [South China Morning Post]
India and Russia define their ties as a “strong strategic partnership”, and earlier in April agreed to establish a two-plus-two meeting between the two nations’ foreign and defense ministers to further deepen bilateral ties [see AiR No. 18, May/2021, 1]. In addition, both countries are expecting to conclude a Reciprocal Exchange of Logistics Agreement (RELOS), which will simplify interoperability and enable support to military platforms like warships and aircraft, as well as a Navy-to-Navy cooperation Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) when Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu visits India later this year. [The Hindu]
But New Delhi’s concerns about Moscow’s commitment to their partnership were recently shaken when Russia earlier this month took part in a major joint military exercise with Beijing in China’s Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region [see AiR No. 32, August/2021, 2]. Shortly thereafter, three of China’s most advanced military aircraft made their debut at the Russian-run International Army Games [see AiR No. 33, August/2021, 3].
31 August 2021
US Vice President Harris urges Vietnam to join US in opposing China ‘bullying’
(ct/lm) US Vice President Kamala Harris met Vietnam’s top leaders on August 25, offering support in several key areas and to upgrade bilateral relations to a strategic partnership, in an effort to prove that Washington is refocusing on the region and on a broader strategy of countering China.
Harris’ visit to Hanoi capped a high-stakes seven-day tour to Southeast Asia, during which the vice president met with top officials in Singapore – including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong – and unveiled a number of new US agreements and aid in areas including cyber-defense cooperation [see AiR No. 34, August/2021, 4].
Speaking at a meeting with Vietnam’s President Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Harris said there was a need to “raise the pressure” on Beijing’s actions “and to challenge its bullying and excessive maritime claims.” Harris also pledged Washington’s help in boosting the Southeast Asian nation’s maritime security, offering more visits by US warships as well as the donation of a third US Coast Guard cutter – subject to congressional approval. [Associated Press]
Further, Harris unveiled an array of new partnerships and support for Vietnam in areas including climate change, trade and the coronavirus pandemic. She announced that Washington will send 1 million additional doses of COVID-19 vaccines to Vietnam, on top of about 5 million shots already provided from the US supply. Additionally, the US will provide $23 million to help Vietnam expand distribution and access to vaccines, combat the pandemic and prepare for future disease threats. [South China Morning Post 1]
Speaking a day after her conversations with Vietnamese leaders, Harris told reporters she had raised issues of human rights abuses and restrictions on political activism. When asked if she received any commitments to secure the release of Vietnamese dissidents, the vice president said the issue was discussed “both with the leaders of the Vietnamese government, as well as with civil society leaders — because it is a real concern for the United States.” [Associated Press] [The Hill]
Harris trip to Hanoi, the first-ever visit by a sitting US vice-president since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, sought to build on US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin’s successful visit last month, during which the two countries a memorandum of understanding that expands support to Hanoi’s efforts to locate and identify Vietnamese killed or missing during the Vietnam War. [AiR No. 31, August/2021, 1]
The two-nation tour – Harris’ second international trip in the role – had gained heightened urgency, coming as it did against the larger backdrop of chaotic effort’s by Washington to evacuate Americans and Afghan allies from Kabul. [Al Jazeera]
But it also provided Harris a taste of the intensifying rivalry between the United States and China. Beijing has seized on the turmoil in Kabul to taunt the US and label it an unreliable partner: Commenting on Harris’ visit to Singapore, China’s Foreign Ministry on August 24 said the United States “arbitrarily launched military intervention in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, while claiming to defend the interests of smaller countries.” [Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China] [The New York Times]
Moreover, a three-hour delay in Harris’ schedule handed China a window of opportunity to quickly facilitate a meeting between its envoy and Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh, during with the ambassador pledged a donation of 2 million vaccine doses, undercutting the subsequent US announcement. The Vietnamese prime minister, thanking the envoy, said his country “does not ally with one country to fight against another,” according to state media. [The Washington Post] [VietnamPlus]
Also at the meeting, the two sides discussed tensions in the East Sea. Chinh emphasized that both countries needed to maintain peace and stability, and properly settle disagreements at sea in the spirit of high-level common perceptions, and reach an agreement on basic principles guiding the settlement of sea-related matters and compliance with international law. [South China Morning Post 2]
For an analysis of China’s wedge strategy towards the US-Vietnam partnership – which is geared towards reinforcing Hanoi’s neutrality – please consider [The Diplomat].
31 August 2021
China to gain access to India Ocean through rail line via Myanmar
(nd) The recent opening of a rail line through Myanmar provided China with access to the Indian Ocean. The rail line was opened on August 25 and goes from Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province, to Lincang, in China’s Yunnan Province opposite Chin Shwe Haw, which borders with Myanmar’s northeastern Shan State. This is the first link for western China to the Indian Ocean and will significantly reduce time to ship cargo from Yunnan Province, enabling to ship from Singapore via Myanmar, to Yangon Port.
As part of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a border economic cooperation zone in Chin Shwe Haw shall be developed as an economic hub for Yunnan Province’s imports and exports. The rail line will be central for Chinese and Burmese international trade while providing a source of income for the military.
As part of the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor, a deep seaport in Kyaukphyu Township in Rakhine and a Special Economic Zone is also underway, in an effort to bypass the congested Strait of Malacca.
Since the rail line crosses areas controlled by ethnic armed groups, it has been delayed due to fighting with the military following the February coup. [The Irrawaddy]
Myanmar’s military seized power from the government on Feb. 1 in response to what it said was a fraud-tainted victory by the National League for Democracy (NLD) in the country’s November 2020 election. The junta has yet to provide evidence of its claims and has violently repressed anti-coup protests, killing 1,038 people and arresting 6,033, according to the Bangkok-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP).
31 August 2021
China, Pakistan, Mongolia and Thailand to hold military exercise
(nd) China, Pakistan, Mongolia and Thailand will hold joint live exercise next month. The first, multinational peacekeeping exercises “Shared Destiny-2021” are organized by the People’s Liberation Army and will include drills, involving units of infantry, fast response, security, helicopter, engineering, transportation and medical services. All four countries will dispatch more than 1,000 troops for the joint exercise, which is a response to the United Nation’s “Action for Peacekeeping” initiative, promoting practical cooperation and enhance joint peacekeeping capabilities. [The Economic Times] [Nagaland]
31 August 2021
Philippines to file diplomatic protest with China
(nd) Following China’s firing of flares to warn off Filipino surveillance planes in the contested South China Sea, the Philippines has filed a diplomatic protest. As Filipino military planes overflew the disputed waters, Chinese outposts located on islets in the Union Banks fired five warning shots in mid-June, according to an internal military report that was made public last week. In the report included were images showing that China continued to expand developing islands in the South China Sea.
It is unclear why the incident was made public this late, but it coincided with then-reports on the Filipino navy stepping up patrols in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), accompanied by announcements to file diplomatic protest with China over the continued presence of Chinese ships. In March, the Philippines first flagged a presence of over 200 Chinese fishing boats, allegedly manned by Chinese militia.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea for itself, overlapping with EEZs of Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan. Indonesia does not regard itself as party to the dispute, but China claims historic rights to parts of that sea overlapping Indonesia’s EEZ as well. In an International Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruling from 2016, the court rejected China’s claims in favor of the Philippines, which was ignored by China. In January, China passed a law, allowing its coast guard to fire at ships intruding in the claimed area. [Radio Free Asia]
31 August 2021
Taliban takeover a ‘challenge’ for India, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh says
(lm) Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on August 29 called Taliban’s return to power a “challenge” for India that had forced the South Asian giant to shift its strategic priorities. In remarks delivered at the Defence Services Staff College, the minister highlighted the formation of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), as underlying this shift in India’s strategy. [India Today]
Timing and context of the remarks assume added significance, coming as they do less than a month after Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and his US counterpart Antony Blinken jointly reiterated a commitment to flesh out the Quad, a nascent strategic coalition that is increasingly seen as a Washington-led effort to counter China’s influence in the Indo-Pacific [see AiR No. 31, August/2021, 1]. They also come hot on the heels of the four member countries of the Quad – India, the United States, Japan and Australia – concluding a large joint naval exercise off the coast of Guam. [see entry in this edition]
Further, Singh said his ministry was seriously considering the formation of Integrated Battle Groups (IBGs), self-sufficient combat formations with the elements of every of the three branches of the Indian Armed Forces combined as per the terrain and operational requirements. [Hindustan Times]
The sudden collapse of the Western-backed government in Kabul and the Taliban’s accompanying return to power has erased India’s presence in Afghanistan: its consulates and embassies have shut, its diplomats were evacuated and the future of more than $3 billion invested in development projects is uncertain.
Moreover, Indian intelligence agencies in recent months identified the renewed threat of the Taliban, reportedly flagging its cooperation with Pakistan-based groups Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Jaish-i-Mohammed, which have been linked to violence in the Indian-administered part of Jammu and Kashmir. New Delhi’ National Security Advisor raised the issue of cross-border terrorism in a virtual encounter with his counterparts from Brazil, Russia, China, and South Africa (BRICS) last week. [National Public Radio] [see entry in this edition]
Additionally, the possibility of China moving into Afghanistan to fill the vacuum left by the United States has further alarmed India, even though Beijing has its own interests in ensuring stability: In particular, Chinese policymakers believe that Afghanistan, which shares a border with China, could be used as a staging point for minority Uyghur separatists in the sensitive border region of its Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. Beijing also fears that instability in Afghanistan could spill over into Pakistan and Central Asia, destabilizing countries on China’s periphery and putting its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) at risk [see AiR No. 33, August/2021, 3].
From New Delhi’s perspective, ties between Beijing and the Taliban, along with Pakistan’s increased influence in Afghanistan, add up to an expanded Chinese presence in the region: Afghanistan became a formal member of the BRI in 2016 and China remains committed to the BRI’s signature undertaking, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). [South China Morning Post]
By contrast, the Indian government has so far been mostly reluctant to engage with the Taliban, given the insurgent group’s proximity to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, although there have been unconfirmed reports of backchannel talks taking place in June [see AiR No. 24, June/2021, 3]. This reluctance has cost New Delhi – which in late July still did not buy into the narrative of Kabul’s impending fall and the Taliban’s immanent return to power – a role in the reconciliation process, and ultimately left it with little leverage in the emerging state of affairs. [AiR No. 30, July/2021, 4]
Compelled to adapt to changing dynamics on its western front – encompassing Pakistan and Afghanistan – New Delhi may need to further de-escalate its ongoing border stand-off with China in its northeast. Prior to the fall of Kabul, New Delhi in July redirected at least 50,000 additional troops to three distinct areas along the Line of Actual Control, in a historic shift toward an offensive military posture against Beijing [see AiR No. 27, July/2021, 1].
Forced to grapple with renewed security threats from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, New Delhi may also reassess its relationship with the United States, which has been reinforced until now by shared efforts to counter China’s influence. Sanjaya Baru, a policy analyst and media advisor to former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, wrote in the Deccan Chronicle that Washington had not given due consideration to India’s concerns and thereby had “dealt a blow to Indian national security and to the India-US partnership”. [Deccan Chronicle]
It comes as no surprise that just hours before Singh’s presentation, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar spoke to his US counterpart Antony Blinken about the latest developments and continued coordination in Afghanistan in a phone conversation. [The Times of India]
31 August 2021
Quad members conclude 25th edition of Malabar maritime exercises
(lm) India, the United States, Japan and Australia last week conducted a large joint naval exercise – Exercise Malabar – off the coast of Guam, seen as part of efforts to balance China’s vast military and economic power in the region.
For the second year in succession, the trilateral naval exercise involving the United States, Japan and India had been expanded to include Australia to include all members of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), an informal group of the four largest democracies in the Indo-Pacific. [Nikkei Asia] [The Diplomat]
Canberra’s participation last year – following 13 years of absence – was considered by many a clear sign of the increasing strategic convergence of the four countries in the face of Beijing’s assertiveness in Asia [see AiR No. 43, October/2020, 4].
The four-day joint maneuver, held between August 26 and 29, featured “complex surface, subsurface and air operations including live weapon firing drills, anti-surface, anti-air and anti-submarine warfare drills, and joint manoeuvres and tactical exercises”, an Indian Navy spokesman told The Hindu. [South China Morning Post]
For a Chinese perspective on the Malabar exercises, see the editorial piece in [Global Times] which assumes that “[m]ost probably the four countries have no bravery to head into a showdown with China, nor are they prepared to do so. They conduct joint military exercises not because they believe there will be an imminent marine conflict with China, but because they want to show off their “unity” and comfort themselves by displaying their strength to China.”
31 August 2021
Group of European Parliamentarians Supports Taiwan and Lithuania facing China
(nds) The Formosa Club, a group of pro-Taiwan European parliamentarians, has been supporting the Taiwan-Lithuania relationship at the European Commission, the European Council, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
Recently Taiwan and Lithuania announced plans to establish representative offices in Taipei and Vilnius, angering China. China responded with threats and economic sanctions against Lithuania.
According to the Formosa Club’s deputies, China’s coercive actions are a flagrant violation of international diplomatic norms, noting that 15 other European countries have already established representative offices in Taiwan. As Chinese pressure mounts in the Taiwan Strait, more states are supporting Taipei. [Taipei Times]
31 August 2021
Japan-Taiwan relations: Lawmakers from ruling parties hold talks
(dql) In a move angering China, Japanese and Taiwanese lawmakers from the respective ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) held an online meeting on August 27 to discuss how to handle the rising challenge from China as well as possible military exchanges. The topics covered semiconductors, Beijing’s military activities in disputed waters and possible cooperation between Taiwan, Japan and the United States, as well as cooperation between Coast Guards on both sides. [Straits Times]
The meeting is the latest in a string of signals of a hardening stance of Japan towards China on the Taiwan issue. Earlier this month, Japan’s defense minister Nobuo Kishi called on the international community to pay more attention to “Taiwan’s survival” in the face China’s military build-up and moves “that work to envelop Taiwan.” [Taiwan News]
In this year’s defense white paper, Japan’s Defense Ministry made a direct link between its security and Taiwan. [Taiwan News]
31 August 2021
China to demand foreign vessels’ report in “territorial waters”
(dql) Under regulations taking effect this Wednesday, a range of foreign vessels entering what Beijing sees as its “territorial waters” are required to report ship and cargo information to China’s maritime authorities.
The reporting requirements apply to submersibles, nuclear vessels, ships carrying radioactive materials, ships carrying bulk oil, chemicals, liquefied gas and other toxic and harmful substances and other vessels that are seen as posing a threat to China’s maritime traffic safety. [South China Morning Post]
31 August 2021
China-US tensions over Covid-19 origin report
(dql) A report compiled by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and submitted to President Joe Biden by the US intelligence community last week is inconclusive on the origin of the coronavirus, with intelligence agencies being divided on whether the pathogen was transmitted from an animal to a human as part of a natural process, or escaped from a lab in central China in an accident. The agencies, however, agreed that “the virus was not developed as a biological weapon.” [CNBC] [CNN]
Commenting on the report, Biden vowed that the US and allies would not stop to exert pressure on China for “critical information” on the origin of the virus, accusing China of withholding that information in defiance of calls for transparency. [DW]
China, in turn, denounced the report, accusing the US of “political manipulation” and “scapegoating China.” [Aljazeera] [Global Times]
Since the completion of an investigation conducted by a team of the World Health of Organization in China earlier this year which also proved inconclusive [see AiR No. 14, April/2021, 1], Beijing has rejected calls for a second origin probe.
31 August 2021
China-US relations: US destroyer, cutter transit Taiwan Strait
(dql) On August 28, the guided-missile destroyer USS Kidd, accompanied by a Coast Guard National Security Cutter, transited the Taiwan Strait. It was the eighth of such a transit this year by a US warship. [USNI News]
On the same day, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) held drills on both sides of the strait, reflecting signals of an intensified tit-for-tat pattern of show of force between both countries’ militaries in the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea. [Global Times]
Prior the those drills in Friday, China had conducted a series of naval exercises from Tuesday to Thursday in the South China Sea, the Yellow Sea and the Bohai Strait. [South China Morning Post 1]
The naval activities came on the heels of reportedly successful tests of new missiles by China’s PLA Rocket Force. The missiles are believed to be capable of overcoming “complex electromagnetic interference” to destroy facilities in a “fast-reaction” operation and to be aimed at Taiwan. [South China Morning Post 2]
They also came amid US Vice President Kamala Harris’ trip to Vietnam and Singapore during which she reiterated longstanding US criticism of China’s actions in the South China Sea where “Beijing continues to coerce, to intimidate and to make claims to the vast majority of the South China Sea, […] underm[ining] the rules-based order and threaten[ing] the sovereignty of nations.” [New York Times]
In a latest development, Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense confirmed that a PLA Air Force reconnaissance plane entered Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ) on Sunday, marking the 13th intrusion in August. [Taiwan News]
31 August 2021
China set to surpass Russia as US top nuclear threat, US senior military official says
(dql) U.S. Air Force Lieutenant General Thomas Bussiere, the deputy commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, which oversees the country’s nuclear arsenal, has warned in an online forum that China is about to replace Russia as the top nuclear threat for the US in the next few years, arguing that his assessment was not based on China’s nuclear stockpile, which is far behind those of the US and Russia, but on how China’s nuclear forces are “operationally fielded.” He added that unlike with Russia, the US has no framework for negotiations with China on arms limits. [Reuters] [Air Force Magazine]
Bussiere’s remarks follows recent reports on over 100 new silos for intercontinental ballistic missiles China has begun to build. [Washington Post]
For critical Chinese perspectives on Bussiere’s statements see opinion pieces in [Global Times 1] and [Global Times 2] accusing the US deputy commander of “sinister” intentions of sowing discord between China and Russia and arguing that China is forced to increase its nuclear capacities to maintain deterrence against US coercion at a minimum level.
31 August 2021
China-US tensions over Afghanistan
(dql) Against the backdrop of last week’s deadly suicide bombings in Kabul, for which ISIS claimed responsibility, the retaliatory attack of the US on ISIS and the withdrawal of the last troops from Afghanistan, China on Monday abstained from voting on a key resolution passed by the UN Security Council on Afghanistan while making the US responsible for creating “chaos” in the country because of its disorderly withdrawal. The resolution demanding that the Afghan territory “not be used to threaten or attack any country or to shelter or train terrorists,” was adopted after 13 countries voted in favor of it with Russia also deciding to abstain from voting. [Republic World]
The move points to a potential new front of Sino-US tensions and is the latest in a string of recent diplomatic efforts of China to position itself as a leading actor in the re-building of the country. In July China hosted two days of consultations with a delegation of nine Taliban leaders in the northeastern Chinese city of Tianjin, significantly raising the group’s international stature at a time when the group’s military ascendancy in Afghanistan has grown [see AiR No. 31, August/2021, 1].
In a phone call on Sunday between China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken about Afghanistan, the former alluded to US failures saying that the withdrawal of the US and NATO troops after the Taliban’s takeover of the country “are very likely to offer opportunities for a resurgence of all terrorist groups inside Afghanistan.” He urged “all sides to contact and proactively guide the Taliban,” but warned at the same that coordination between China and the US would depend on Washington’s giving in in policies towards Beijing in other areas. [South China Morning Post]
Meanwhile, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed on the phone recent developments in Afghanistan and agreed to work together and “to use at maximum the potential of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization,” to prevent security threats spilling over from Afghanistan in their first talks since Kabul fell to the Taliban. [AA]
For a perspective on why China is “best positioned” to support Afghanistan’s reconstruction see [Global Times] which argues: “In the Afghanistan situation, China and Russia have maintained close communication and have shared interests in peace and development in Afghanistan, which makes the two countries the main players and partners in Afghanistan’s rebuilding efforts, in stark contrast to the US’ intention to sow chaos in the country.”
31 August 2021
Pakistan: Suicide bombing aimed at convoy of Chinese engineers
(lm) A deadly suicide bombing targeting Chinese engineers in Pakistan’s southwestern province of Balochistan has renewed concerns in Beijing over a worsening security situation in the region, and cast doubt on the future of China’s ambitious projects in Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan. [South China Morning Post]
On August 20, a motorcade carrying Chinese personnel working on an expressway supporting in Gwadar, the fulcrum of $50 billion in projects linked to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), was attacked by a suicide bomber, with two local children killed, and one Chinese worker and two other Pakistanis injured. [Reuters]
Hours after the bombing, the separatist Baloch Liberation Army, an outlawed militant organization that wages a violent armed struggle for separation of Balochistan from Pakistan, claimed responsibility for the attack.
China on August 23 called on Pakistan to “severely punish” the perpetrators and “earnestly protect the safety of Chinese nationals, organisations and projects” in the country. [Hindustan Times]
This attack followed another suicide attack on July 14 that targeted a two-bus convoy transporting Chinese and Pakistani workers to the World Bank-funded Dasu Hydropower project in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, killing nine Chinese nationals [see AiR No. 29, July/2021, 3]. Islamabad later said the country’s leading Taliban group Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan had carried out the attack, but also claimed to have data evidence proving that India’s Research and Analysis Wing and Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security had also been involved [see AiR No. 33, August/2021, 3].
The July 14 attack had already deepened concerns among Chinese companies and workers, particularly amid the instability in neighboring Afghanistan and the then-immanent Taliban takeover. Two weeks after the bombing, China on July 28 hosted nine-member Taliban delegation in the city of Tianjin and sought a commitment from the militants to “make a clean break” with the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, a Muslim separatist group founded by militant Uighurs in Xinjiang [see AiR No. 31, August/2021, 1].
31 August 2021
China: Xi Jinping thought to be incorporated into national curriculum
(dql) China’s Ministry of Education has issued new guidelines under which “Xi Jinping Thought” will be added to the country’s national curriculum and be taught from primary school level all the way to university. The move is aimed at strengthening China’s youth’s “resolve to listen to and follow the Party,” supported by new teaching materials that “cultivate patriotic feelings.”
The move is the latest in a string of recent steps of the party to strengthen its role and power in China’s educational system and in the Chinese society at large. [Reuters]
In a separate development, the Ministry announced that written exams for six and seven-year-olds will be scrapped in a bid to reduce pressure on parents and students in the country’s highly competitive educational system. [BBC]
31 August 2021
China: CCP limits online gaming time for minors
(dql) China’s National Press and Publication Administration, the country’s agency responsible for regulating and distributing news, print and Internet publications, has issued new rules ordering the country’s online gaming companies to further limit the services provided to young gamers, in a move aimed at tackling the problem of “youth video game addiction.”
The restrictions under the new rules include allowing young gamers to spend only an hour playing online games on Fridays, weekends and holidays from 8pm to 9pm local time, while online gaming companies would be prohibited to provide gaming services to minors in any form outside those hours and be required to ensure that real name verification systems are in place. Thus far, minors were allowed to spend 90 minutes on gaming on weekdays and three hours a day on weekends.
The new strict rules demonstrate an effort of the Chinese Communist Party to combat addictive habits among young people as well as to sanction companies which provide what the party sees as “spiritual opium,” with online gaming replacing ‘religion as the opium of the people’. [New York Times] [The Guardian] [Tech Crunch 1]
They are also to be seen as part of a broader development reflected in a series of recent regulatory measures taken by various Chinese regulators to place limits on numerous sectors and businesses in the name of protecting national security and social stability to prevent the forming of any power group outside the party. This includes as latest example President Xi Jinping’s call for “common prosperity,” and his pledge to redistribute wealth, which targets first and foremost country’s wealthiest business tycoons and high-earning celebrities and stars. Toeing the party line, here, resembles tributary practices and symbolic acts of subordination in imperial China. [CNN] [AiR No. 34, August/2021, 4]
In a latest related development, China’s Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) proposed new guidelines prohibiting companies from deploying algorithms that “encourage addiction or high consumption” and pose a danger to national security or disrupt the public order. [Tech Crunch 2]
Furthermore, China’s Securities Regulatory Commission, the country’s top securities regulator, vowed on Monday to crack down on mismanaged private funds and eliminate fake ones. The pledge comes against the backdrop of efforts of the government to channel more savings of households into the capital markets to fund innovation and supports the country’s economic recovery and to reduce the economy’s reliance on bank lending. China’s fund industry is currently worth $9.28 trillion. [Reuters]
31 August 2021
China: New five-year economic prioritizes job creation and employment
(dql) China’s State Council, the country’s government cabinet, has issued a new five-year economic plan aimed at increasing employment, as well as wage growth and expansion of the vocational education system to spur domestic demand and upgrade industry.
Under the blueprint, the government seeks to create 55 million urban jobs by 2025 while the official urban unemployment rate is capped at 5.5%. In a first, the new plan also seeks to increase the share of wages in terms of GDP, while setting a compulsory goal of an average of 11.3 years of education for the working-age population by 2025, compared with 10.8 years in 2020.
Emphasizing stabilizing and expanding employment as top priority macroeconomic policy goals, the plan follows the so-called dual circulation strategy which the Politburo Standing Committee of the Chinese Communist Party put forward in May 2020 in the wake of the fallouts of the pandemic and the trade conflict with the US. The strategy refers to an inter-play between ‘domestic circulation’ of production, distribution, and consumption and export-oriented ‘international circulation’, with the weight now shifting to the former after the latter had been prioritized under Deng Xiaoping’s reform and opening up policy. [South China Morning Post] [Bloomberg]
The economic plan comes on the heels of the five-year blueprint of the State Council and the Communist Party’s Central Committee which calls for greater regulation of strategic sectors including technology, healthcare, market supervision, and environmental protection, suggesting Beijing’s unprecedented crackdown on private enterprise could last for some time [see AiR No. 33, August/2021, 3].
24 August 2021
Indonesia’s reluctance to encourage more Chinese language proficiency
(nd) Despite China being Indonesia’s largest investor and trading partner and the approximately 7 million ethnic Chinese in the country, a 3.3% of the total population, there is seems to be no increased incentive for Indonesians to learn Mandarin, which can be attributed to political reasons.
Historically, president Suharto cut ties with China in 1957 to fight the spread of communism, during which a regulation foresaw the forced naturalization of Chinese defendants, which created a social stigma. During the still tabooed mass killings 1965-66, ethnic Chinese formed a large group of victims. Likewise, ethnic Chinese were prominently targeted in the May 1998 riots following the Asian Financial crisis of 1997 that were leading to the downfall of President Suharto and the democratic transition period. While interest in learning Mandarin increased since 1999, after the naturalization regulation was abolished, some education institutions offered Mandarin but often failed to provide sufficient standards due to a lack of teachers and respective university-level language education.
Since 2000, the Chinese community in Indonesia has supported Indonesia’s Ministry of Education to bolster Chinese language classes, eventually leading to the implementation of Confucius Institutes (CI) as a Chinese-Indonesian joint initiative with the first having been established in 2011. As part of scholarships, students travelled to China. Despite a stipulation in their contract obliging them to teach upon their return, most graduates, however, opted to work for Chinese companies in better paid positions instead. Still, however, Chinese language proficiency stays behind the potential. [Jakarta Post]
24 August 2021
North Korea-China relations: work underway on Sino-Korean oil pipeline
(nds) Beijing and Pyongyang have been carrying out work on the Sino-Korean pipeline since June, according to Daily NK.
The Sino-North Korean oil pipeline, which was completed in 1975, is old and in poor condition. Thus, it is regularly causing excessive leakage and distributing poor quality oil. In recent years, the state of the structure has deteriorated as China has only sent enough oil to prevent the pipeline from clogging. Beijing had decided to reduce the oil supply due to UN sanctions. Following North Korea’s sixth nuclear test and ballistic missile launch, the United Nations (UN) Council passed resolutions 2375 and 2397 restricting the supply of oil products to the North.
As tensions between China and the United States intensify, Beijing and Pyongyang move closer on political, security, and economic issues. The pipeline project reflects this trend. Last June, China supplied about 10,000 barrels of refined oil to North Korea, the most significant monthly amount in 11 months, according to Chinese data provided to the UN. The volume was the largest monthly shipment since July of last year. Improving the oil facility that connects the two countries would allow China to move oil more efficiently and allow more exports. [Agence de presse Yonhap in french]
The pipeline represents a strategic advantage for Beijing, which uses it to consolidate its ties with Pyongyang and punish or pressure it. While a possible easing of sanctions has been mentioned several times by US authorities, some speculate that China is preparing to extend its support to the North accordingly. It can be expected that the XI administration will continue to increase the amount of oil flowing to North Korea without exceeding the 500,000-barrel threshold allowed by the UN. [Daily NK] [Agence de presse Yonhap in french]
24 August 2021
China, Japan to compete over Indonesian auto market
(nd) China and Japan are increasingly likely to compete over Indonesia’s growing automotive market. After an aborted attempt in the early 2000s, China’s Chery Automobile Co. Ltd. has announced last week to re-enter Indonesia in 2021, with a wider range of products and besides investing in a production facility in Indonesia. Wuling and Dongfeng Sokonindo (DFSK) are other Chinese manufacturers increasingly popular, for they all cater successfully to the Indonesian need for reliable after-sales service assurance. Indonesia has both recently built the infrastructure to stimulate demand for cars and a still low ratio of car ownership of 99 cars per 1,000 people in 2021. Also, as part of President Joko Widodo presidential regulation on electric cars in 2019, it was announced to collaborate with Chinese manufacturers, who relocated to Indonesia.
In this market, however, Japan has operated successfully since the 1970s, with a 2016 report stating the majority of cars in Indonesia are Japanese, who are also determined to produce electronic vehicles. In comparison with the Japanese, the Chinese electric models are cheaper while offering a comparable quality, also due to China being the world’s leading producer of electric vehicles, and the manufacture of many components. In 2020, China had 93 battery factories, granting privileged access to materials and hosts production plants.
CATL, China’s largest producer of lithium-ion batteries, plans to establish a component production site in Indonesia in 2024, while the world’s two largest plants for nickel processing, the Weda Bay Industrial Park and Morowali Industrial Park, are located in Indonesia, and majority owned by Chinese firms.
Recently, Japan and China also competed bidding for the construction of a railway between Jakarta and Bandung, which China won. [The Diplomat]
24 August 2021
Sri Lanka, China sign $308 million loan agreement as rupee falls to record low
(egm/lm) Sri Lanka on August 17 signed a $308 million loan agreement with China to combat the strain produced by the coronavirus pandemic on its economy. The loan comes as the second installment of the $1.2 billion bailout which Sri Lanka first received in March of last year and again in April 2021 [see AiR No. 15, April/2021, 2]. [NDTV]
For the past year, Sri Lanka has battled against a severe economic crisis generated by the pandemic which decreased its exports, tourism earnings and foreign remittances. The country’s foreign reserves were at $2.8 billion at the end of July, down from $7.8 billion in late 2019 when the government of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa came to power promising robust growth. The rupee has lost nearly 20 percent of its value against the US dollar in that time, according to data from private banks.
To combat the financial strains Sri Lanka previously secured a $1.5 billion currency swap line from China in March, and is expecting inflows including a $250 million swap facility from Bangladesh’s monetary authority and a $500 million loan from South Korea [see AiR No. 20, May/2021, 3]. The country also sought a $400 million facility from the Reserve Bank of India, which Colombo settled earlier in February; however, this facility has not been extended.
But early last month, ratings agency Moody’s Investors Service (Moody’s) announced it had placed cash-strapped Sri under review for a downgrade, citing the risk of default due to falling foreign exchange reserves. [AiR No. 30, July/2021, 4]
The first test came on July 27, when the South Asian nation had to repay a $1 billion bond to investors [see AiR No. 28, July/2021, 2]. Two more payments – a $500 million bond and $1 billion of debt – become due next year, with Colombo saying arrangements have been made for the transactions. [The Bharat Express News]
Against this backdrop of a looming currency shortage, Sri Lanka’s central bank on August 19 raised its deposit and lending rates for the first time in nearly three years as the rupee hit a record low amid a crippling foreign exchange shortage. [France24]
24 August 2021
China halts rail freight to Lithuania as feud deepens over Taiwan
(lm) China’s train state train operator has suspended direct freight operations to Lithuania “until further notice”, in the latest gambit in a simmering geopolitical feud over Taiwan, although there has been no official confirmation as of August 18. [South China Morning Post]
The apparent suspension of service comes after hostilities between the two countries had ratcheted up earlier this month, with China recalling its ambassador from Lithuania and asking Vilnius to do the same, over plans by the European country and Taiwan to establish reciprocal diplomatic offices. [AiR No. 32, August/2021, 2]
Lithuania does not yet have formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, but it maintains increasingly friendly relations with Taipei. Vilnius has been an increasingly vocal critic of China’s actions towards Taiwan, as well as in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, has withdrawn from China-led multilateral groups and has announced vaccine donations to Taiwan.
Trade volumes between Lithuania and China are relatively low, with many analysts saying that the country’s lack of economic exposure to Beijing has helped sharpen its tongue.
24 August 2021
US Vice President to visit Singapore, Vietnam
(nd) As part of her visit to Southeast Asia in an effort to rebuild regional ties, US Vice President Kamala Harris met Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to enter a series of agreements, including cybersecurity, climate and public health and economic cooperation, including a dialogue to boost cooperation on supply-chain resilience. They also discussed the role of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), as well as China and Myanmar. Amid the current crisis in Afghanistan, Harris emphasized US commitment to the region and reiterated strategic and economic interests. [Bloomberg]
Following the fall of Kabul to the Taliban and the chaotic troop withdrawal, the US has faced global criticism, urging Chinese state media to draw a line to Taiwan not being able to depend on the US and being a “weak and unreliable power” [CNBC]. Similar fears rose with respect to South Korea and Japan. While such comparisons are too simplistic, it is still likely to leave a mark on regional ties with Southeast Asia. Even before the withdrawal, many regional governments questioned US commitment to the region. The recent events highlight all the more that the US will prioritize its own interests over those of its allies and partners. With respect to security, for example, the withdrawal has an effect on Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines, fighting against a growing presence of the Islamic State, with Afghanistan possibly once again becoming a safe haven for extremist groups. [See article below] Even if the US refers to strategic interests in the region, such are primarily perceived as referring to containing China, prioritizing security and defense relations.
Other experts argue the withdrawal is likely to free up much needed resources to counter China in the region, not only with respect to the South China Sea. Also, with respect to economic regional economic dependency, China looms over the visit, which is why it was considered central to establish trust in the region. To highlight that, a US official was quoted saying Harris’s trip is to show that the US was in Southeast Asia “to stay”, another official commenting she “will make clear throughout the trip that we do have an enduring commitment to the region”.
After three days in Singapore, Harris will visit Vietnam on Tuesday for two days. Her visit is part of a recent diplomatic charm offensive by the Biden administration in Southeast Asia, following Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman’s visit in May and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s trip to Singapore in July. [See also AiR No. 31, August/2021, 1, AiR No. 23, June/2021, 2] The Biden administration is the third to promise a renewed focus on this region. Barack Obama’s “pivot” was supposed to redirect US diplomacy away from the Middle East towards the Asia-Pacific, while Donald Trump’s ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific’, was directed against Chinese influence. Analysts argue the current US strategy should include economic aspects, given the recent passage if the China-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, and be framed positively, to not be perceived as purely confronting China. [Channel News Asia] [South China Morning Post] [Al Jazeera] [BBC] [Bloomberg] [The Diplomat]
24 August 2021
Malaysia: Navy to present its capabilities in exercise
(nd) Malaysia’s Navy successfully tested three live anti-ship missiles last week, demonstrating preparedness amid Chinese intrusions into its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the South China Sea. The exercise was conducted after the intrusion of 16 Chinese military planes into Malaysia’s maritime airspace in May, making it a sign to show China Malaysia’s operational capabilities and will to defend. In May, a Chinese military aircraft flew 60 nautical miles from Kuala Lumpur-administered Beting Patinggi Ali –known as Luconia Shoals – which China claims as part of its territories in the maritime region. Additionally, Chinese coast guard ships have been pressuring Malaysian oil and gas projects in the South China Sea off Sarawak state on Borneo Island since early June, according to Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, a US-based think-tank researching ship-tracking data.
The six-day exercise involved 1,000 soldiers, nine ships, five Fast Combat Boats, a submarine, two Super Lynx helicopters, four Royal Malaysian Air Force F/A-18D Hornet fighter jets, and was the first one conducted since the start of the pandemic. The anti-ship missiles are made by French defense manufacturer MBDA Systems, with a target reach of 35 and 22 miles, respectively.
Other claimant states to the South China Sea, which China claims almost entirely, are Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan; Indonesia does not consider itself as party to the dispute but China claims historic rights to parts of that sea overlapping with Indonesia’s EEZ.
Earlier this month, Malaysia also participated in the annual multilateral exercise Southeast Asia Cooperation and Training (SEACAT) with the US and 20 other countries earlier this month, as an effort to deter Chinese assertiveness and strengthen regional security. [Radio Free Asia]
24 August 2021
India and Vietnam to conduct naval exercise in the South China Sea
(ct) On August 18, India and Vietnam carried out bilateral maritime exercise in the South China Sea. Accordingly, the VPNS Ly Thai To missile corvette of the Vietnamese navy and INS Ranvijay and INS Kora of the Indian navy carried out joint drills in the South China Sea with formation content and communications under the Western Pacific Navy’s Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES). The exercises included surface warfare exercises, weapon firing drills and helicopter operations. According to the Indian Ministry of Defense‘s statement,
frequent interactions between the navies of Vietnam and India over the years have enhanced the interoperability and adaptability of the two countries’ forces. [India Today]
Both Vietnam and India are wary of China’s aggressive behaviour in the Indo-Pacific. In a webinar between the defence ministries of the two countries in April, New Delhi offered to assist Vietnam in the construction and maintenance of warships, building upon its earlier assurance of further assisting the country in modernizing and training its armed force. Also, India is in advanced talks with Vietnam to sell Brahmos hypersonic missiles and Akash surface-to-air missile defence systems. But its export remains undecided since selling Brahmos missiles to Pacific countries can be seen as a challenge to China. [The Times of India] [The Times of India 2] [The Wire] [Naval Post]
24 August 2021
China prepares to build airport on reclaimed land near Taiwan
(lm) China is gearing up to build an airport on land claimed from the sea in the contested Taiwan Strait, Minxi Daily reported on August 17, as Beijing moves ahead with plans to integrate development with the Taipei amid rising tensions and near-constant drills by its military forces. [South China Morning Post] [The Times]
The $463 million project would be between the isles of Dasha and Xiaosha near Pingtan Island, which is the nearest territory to Taiwan controlled by the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
The plan, which was disclosed a day after Chinese military began its latest round of live-fire war games near Taiwan [see AiR No. 33, August/2021, 3], seamlessly links with the ambitious infrastructure-building guidelines announced by the southeastern Fujian Province earlier this month.
According to the development plan, local authorities will continue to push forward the study of land connectivity with Taiwan while accelerating construction on the mainland side of bay bridge projects linking with the Kinmen groups of islands. Located off the southeastern coast of mainland China, Kinmen is close to Fujian Province but under the control of Taiwan.
All these plans share the goal of using transportation infrastructure to convert the PRC’s coastline opposite Taiwan into a leading conduit for trade, investment and travel between mainland China and Taipei. Beijing intends for this increased engagement to promote the integration and eventual unification of Taiwan-controlled territories with mainland China.
In the past decade alone, the push to build out Pingtan’s transportation infrastructure has resulted in several new and improved linkages, with still more in the construction or planning stages. The opening of the Pingtan Strait Road-Rail Bridge — first to automobile traffic in October of last year and then to high-speed rail traffic in two months later — marked the island’s connection to the PRC’s integrated transportation system.
24 August 2021
Afghanistan implications for Taiwan
(nd) Amid the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban, the rapid collapse of the Afghan National Army and the US military’s hasty withdrawal, the US’s commitment to defend Taiwan has been put into question, following a respective Global Times article, potentially in an effort to draw Taiwan closer to China. [CNBC] The Chinese comments coincided with China’s latest military exercise near Taiwan last Tuesday. [Reuters, See also AiR No. 33, August/2021, 3]
Premier Su Tseng-chang commented Taiwan would not collapse like Afghanistan, warning “foreign forces” not to be “deluded” they can invade the island, indirectly addressing China. Additionally, President Tsai Ing-wen said Taiwan needs to be more united and more resolute in defense said Taiwan needs to be united and focus on its military capabilities, bolstering their commitment to defense. Currently, Tsai Ing-wen conducts an ambitious military modernization program to boost capabilities of the Taiwanese army with advanced, highly mobile weapons to make a Chinese invasion as difficult as possible.
Earlier voiced concerns if the US would be willing and able to defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack, have been refueled with the fall of Kabul. With respect to the comparison, a US State Department spokesperson said Taiwan and Afghanistan are two “very different” policy issues. While the US went to Afghanistan “with a mission to deal with the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11,” its policy on Taiwan emphasizes maintaining “peace and stability” in the Taiwan Strait, according to the spokesperson. Also, analysts say Taiwan and Afghanistan are incomparable, with Taiwan at the core of US interests. In a recent spat between China and Lithuania over Taiwan, US President Joe Biden referred to the US commitment in Taiwan as “rock solid”. [See also AiR No. 32, August/2021, 2] Following the victory of the Taliban, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan called Washington’s commitments to its allies, including Taiwan, as “sacrosanct”, and White House press secretary Jen Psaki rejecting conflicting reports by Chinese and Russian outlets as propaganda. President Biden said the US would “respond” if Taiwan was attacked or invaded by China, verbally expanding NATO protection mechanism over Taiwan and South Korea.
The US and Taiwan have no formal defense treaty, the current Taiwan Relations Act of 1979 does not guarantee US defense in the event of an attack, but provides for the supply of arms. Biden’s promise seems like a departure from official US policy and long-term position of “strategic ambiguity” over Taiwan, while a senior official was quoted saying that Washington’s “policy with regard to Taiwan has not changed”, citing analysts as suggesting that Biden had “misspoken.”
Nevertheless, according to analysts, the current global situation is likely to embolden China to test the US over Taiwan, due to the much referred to decline of the US and a possibly overconfident China. Yet, according to a recent analysis for the East Asia Forum, Chinese leaders till rather doubt Chinese capability to conquer Taiwan and fight the US. Additionally, taking over Taiwan forcefully would arguably have detrimental effect on China’s economy, foreign relations and global image. Also, Chinese leaders are more likely to continue to hope for a “peaceful reunification” while pursuing its decades-long military modernization process and thereby grow in strength.
According to another analysis for Politico, the withdrawal demonstrates the US seriousness with respect to security challenges from China, which in turn, when recognized as peer competitor, leads to a more mutual, strategic stability seeking approach to such conflicts, stressing a need for cooperation. Still, this take would happen against the backdrop of a stronger-growing China, frequently demonstrating its military capabilities and preparedness.
As part of its “One-China” policy, China claims Taiwan as part of its territory and has recently ramped up military and diplomatic pressure on Taiwan. Like most other countries, the US has no official diplomatic ties with Taiwan, but is its most important international supporter and arms supplier. [Taipei Times] [Taiwan News 1] [Reuters] [Taiwan News 2]
24 August 2021
China conducts anti-terror drill with Tajikistan, as Afghan spillover worries grip central Asia
(lm) China started a two-day joint anti-terrorism exercise with Tajikistan on August 18, as growing security concerns in the region following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan push Moscow, Beijing and Central Asian governments toward closer cooperation. [South China Morning Post]
The latest maneuvers, taking place just outside the Tajik capital of Dushanbe, came only three days after the Taliban had swiftly ousted the Western-backed government in the Afghan capital, Kabul, stirring deep concerns that the country could once again become a base of operations for modern Islamist terrorist organizations that could carry out attacks on neighboring countries. [AiR No. 33, August/2021, 3]
The joint exercises also follow on a visit to Tajikistan by Chinese Defence Minister General Wei Fenghe on July 27, which saw both sides agreeing jointly combatting the “three evil forces” – terrorism, separatism, and extremism.
Three of the five central Asian states – Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan – have been rendered particularly vulnerable to a possible rising instability next door, as each they share a long border with Afghanistan.
For China, in turn, no issue is as pressing as ensuring that Afghanistan does not become a staging point for minority Uyghur separatists in the sensitive border region of its Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, which also shares a border with Tajikistan.
Earlier this month, Tajikistan hosted troops from Russia and Uzbekistan in trilateral military exercises staged in close proximity to the Tajikistan-Afghanistan border, while China and Russia carried out joint military drills focused on counterterrorism in China’s Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region [see AiR No. 32, August/2021, 2].
The situation in Afghanistan is also expected to be high on agenda when Tajikistan hosts the leaders of the eight-member Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) next month. The foreign ministers of the SCO –China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and India – on July 14 had called for an end to violence in Afghanistan against civilians and the authorities, and urged the Afghan government to strengthen its position for the sake of stability [see AiR No. 29, July/2021, 3].
24 August 2021
China’s Xi Jinping pledges support to Iran and Iraq
(lm) China continues its efforts to entrench its foothold in the Middle East, with President Xi Jinping engaging his Iranian and Iraqi counterparts with pledges of help, as the United States executes a hasty, haphazard withdrawal from Afghanistan and remains in a deadlock with Tehran.
In a phone conversation with Iranian President Ebrahim Rais on August 18, the Chinese leader reiterated his country would support Tehran’s “legitimate demands” in negotiations over its nuclear program, and remained committed to developing friendly relations with the country irrespective of changes in the regional and international landscape. [Global Times] [The Straits Times]
The phone conversation came after the two countries earlier in March signed a 25-year, $400 billion trade and military partnership which included Chinese investment in exchange for regular, heavily discounted oil and a strengthened cooperation between the military, security and defense departments [see AiR No.12, March/2021, 5].
Later the same day, President Xi used a similar language as when talking on the phone with Iraqi President Barham Salih, saying Beijing would support the country’s reconstruction effort. [South China Morning Post]
The calls were the latest push by Beijing for a more prominent role in the region: Over the past few months, China has offered to help Middle Eastern nations battle the COVID-19 pandemic, and pushed for talks on a free-trade deal between Beijing and the six-nation Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf.
As for Iran, Beijing is seeking close ties with Tehran because it is key to China’s multibillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative: Situated between the Caspian Sea and Arabian Gulf, it is the only viable land bridge out of Central Asia for China.
Notably, both phone calls coincided with the launch of the fifth China-Arab States Expo in China’s Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. The main objective of the four-day event is to increase cooperation and trade volume between the two sides, especially in the fields of science-technology and medicine. [Foreign Brief]
In a congratulatory letter, President Xi said China was ready to work with Arab states to jointly build the Belt and Road with high quality and advance the China-Arab States Strategic Partnerships to a higher level. [People’s Daily Online]
24 August 2021
China: PLA Hong Kong Garrison conducts comprehensive military exercise
(dx/lm) The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Hong Kong Garrison has conducted a joint exercise involving ground, sea and air operations to test its capability in performing various military missions.
According to a video that was uploaded to the garrison’s official social media account last week, the drills took place in the third quarter of this year. However, no information was provided on where or when the exercise was staged, how long it took, or the number of personnel involved. [South China Morning Post] [The Standard]
Article 14 of Hong Kong’s Basic Law, the city’s de facto constitution, states that the People’s Republic of China is responsible for the defence affairs of the Special Administrative Zone, while local authorities are in charge of maintaining public order.
The garrison includes elements of the PLA Ground Force, PLA Navy, and PLA Air Force; these forces are under the direct leadership of the Central Military Commission in Beijing and under the administrative control of the adjacent Southern Theater Command.
24 August 2021
China: Hong Kong police arrest four university students over motion mourning police assailant
(lm) Hong Kong’s national security police arrested four University of Hong Kong (HKU) undergraduates on August 18 on charges of advocating terrorism, with Chief Secretary for Administration John Lee later saying the city had to find its way back to developing a “law-abiding culture”.[The Straits Times]
The four suspects, aged 18 to 20, were among more than 30 members of HKU’s student union who attended a meeting last month during which a controversial motion was passed mourning and “appreciating the sacrifice” of a man who stabbed a police officer in the back before killing himself. Under Article 27 of the national security law, anyone convicted of advocating terrorism or inciting terrorist acts faces a mandatory sentence of five to 10 years.
Speaking on the sidelines of a Legislative Council meeting the same day, Secretary for Security Chris Tang Ping-keung dismissed concerns that the arrests constituted part of a wider crackdown on critics of the government. [South China Morning Post]
The arrests come on the back of a spate of disbandment of groups said to have links to the 2019 unrest, including the Civil Human Rights Front and the city’s largest educators’ group, the Professional Teachers’ Union. Both groups had cited diminishing civil liberties and a shrinking public sphere as the reasons behind their disbandment. [AiR No. 33, August/2021, 3]
24 August 2021
China: Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam tells solicitors’ group to stay out of politics
Hong Kong’s government may cut ties with one of the city’s key professional legal associations if it gets involved in politics, the city’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam said on August 17, as authorities in the territory continue to ramp up pressure on civil society and professional organizations.
The chief executive’s comments come before an election on August 24 for five of the 20 seats on the council of Hong Kong’s Law Society, the professional association and regulator for the city’s 12,000 solicitors. There appears to be concern from Hong Kong’s leadership that potential candidates with liberal and pro-democracy views may get elected. [The Straits Times]
In April, another of the city’s legal organizations, the Bar Association, was warned by Lam, after the body’s chairman Paul Harris was labelled an “anti-China” politician by top Beijing officials after he spoke out about jail terms handed to some pro-democracy politicians. [Deutsche Welle]
The comments come on the back of a spate of disbandment of groups said to have links to the 2019 unrest, including the Civil Human Rights Front and the city’s largest educators’ group, the Professional Teachers’ Union. Both groups had cited diminishing civil liberties and a shrinking public sphere as the reasons behind their disbandment. [AiR No. 33, August/2021, 3]
24 August 2021
China: Beijing postpones vote on adding anti-sanctions legislation to Hong Kong’s charter
(dx) China’s top legislative body has postponed a vote on a proposal to introduce a far-reaching anti-sanctions law into Hong Kong’s Basic Law, delaying a move that could leave many foreign entities and their employees caught in rising tensions between Washington and Beijing.
The National People’s Congress Standing Committee ended a closed-door session on August 20 without announcing the passage of a resolution adding the legislation to Hong Kong’s charter. The central government “hopes to listen to further views on the matter,” the South China Morning Post reported, citing a person familiar with the matter. [South China Morning Post]
Beijing adopted its own “anti-foreign sanctions law” in June in response to sanctions imposed on the country by the United States and Europe. The legislation authorizes the Chinese government to take countermeasures against foreign individuals and entities in discriminatory restrictive measures that “violate international laws and basic norms”. [AiR No. 24, June/2021, 3]
Earlier this month, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam expressed her support for the implementation of an anti-sanctions laws in the former British colony, sending the strongest signal yet that the financial hub was set to adopt the legislation. [AiR No. 32, August/2021, 2]
The latest decision to postpone the vote puts on hold one source of concern for the city’s financial markets, which have been battered by a wave of Chinese government crackdowns on sectors from technology to education [see AiR No. 33, August/2021, 3]. While much about the legislation is left vague, if implemented robustly, it could force companies to navigate two contrary regulatory requirements, leading to a bifurcation of Chinese and US operations in Hong Kong. [Bloomberg] [Reuters]
24 August 2021
China: State media calls for cleanup of online fan behavior
(lm) An editorial published in the official newspaper of the ruling Communist Party on August 17 condemned irrational and undesirable online fan behavior in China, which would interfere with the socio-economic and cultural order in the country, and should therefore be addressed and corrected. [The Straits Times]
The commentary in the state-owned People’s Daily observed Chinese regulators had achieved some success in “rectifying undesirable fan culture”, closing more than 4,000 illegal social media accounts, removing more than 150,000 pieces of what it termed negative and harmful information, and closing down groups and topics of discussion.
But it added that fan groups presented a considerable challenge to governance given “intertwined chains of capital and interests” as well as “undesirable tendencies” including money-worship, noting that fan groups mostly comprise teenagers in need of positive guidance.
The editorial is the latest in a string of similar commentaries recently published in People’s Daily calling on regulators to rein in the over-promotion of celebrities, and for crackdowns on industries such as gaming and alcohol – which it condemned as “spiritual opium” for teenagers.
Last month, China’s internet watchdog, the Cyberspace Administration, said it had ordered some of the country’s biggest online platforms, including microblogging website Weibo, to “rectify” and “clean up” child-related content deemed inappropriate.
24 August 2021
China: Communist Party expels internet censor who ‘lost faith in party’
China’s ruling Communist Party (CCP) has expelled a former leading internet censor – Peng Bo – and accused him of a range of crimes and rule-breaking, including corruption and failure to properly guide public opinion, the party’s disciplinary watchdog body said on August 17.
Peng had been deputy head of the Leading Group for the Prevention and Handling of Cults, a body set up after the CCP launched a sweeping crackdown against the spiritual practice of Falun Gong that it viewed as a threat to its authority. Later, he had direct responsibility for regulating the internet industry as deputy head of the Cyberspace Administration, China’s central internet regulator, censor, oversight, and control agency. [South China Morning Post]
In March the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) announced that Peng was under investigation. His case has now been referred to state prosecutors, after an investigation found that his “ideals and beliefs collapsed, and that he had been disloyal to the party, deviated from the Party Central Committee decisions on the online public opinion struggle (and) gave up on positions taken on managing the internet,” the CCDI said on its website. [Associated Press]
24 August 2021
China: Three-child policy formally passed into law
(dx/lm) China’s top legislative body has formally passed a legal amendment that will allow couples to have up to three children, marking a key move to legalize a major policy shift announced in May to tackle the nation’s ageing-population challenge. [BBC]
Against the larger backdrop of growing concerns over the nation’s rapidly ageing population, a key meeting of the Politburo of the ruling Communist Party on May 31 put an end to the country’s existing two-child policy – which had failed to lead to a sustained upsurge in births – and replaced it with a three-child limit. [AiR No.22, June/2021, 1]
As the decision was yet to be legislated, the draft amendment to the Population and Family Planning Law was submitted to an ongoing session of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC) for its first reading on August 17. [The Straits Times]
In a document published in late July, central authorities set out a number of supportive policies to encourage couples to have more children [see AiR No. 31, August/2021, 1]. Many of the policies – which include reducing the cost of giving birth, raising a child and education, and abolishing the country’s fines for violating birth control policies – were now included in the amendment.
24 August 2021
China: Top legislature passes new law to tame big tech, protect ‘legitimate rights’ on personal data
(dx/lm) China has passed a far-reaching privacy regime that curbs the collection, storage usage and sharing of personal information in China, according to state media, a move that is expected to push forward authorities’ campaign to further limit big tech’s influence. [CCTV, in Chinese]
China’s top legislative body, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee on August 20 passed the Personal Information Protection Law (PIPL). The law will take effect November 1, China’s official state-run press agency, Xinhua News Agency reported.
The PIPL is widely seen as Beijing’s interpretation of the world’s most robust framework for online privacy protections, the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation. But unlike European governments, which themselves face more public pressure over data collection, China is expected to maintain broad access to data under the new PIPL. [The Wall Street Journal, $]
Details of the new legislation were not immediately released but earlier drafts – first issued in October of last year – included the ban on “algorithmic discrimination” – a common practice among Chinese internet companies where a platform charges different prices to different users based on how much it thinks they are willing to pay. [South China Morning Post]
The legislation is also expected to ban entities from automatically collecting personal data, which can longer be used for “unreasonable” price discrimination. Users will likely also be able to seek clarification as to how their personal data will be used and given the option to opt out of the data collection process.
Companies found breaking the rules could face fines of up to $7.7 million or 5 percent of their annual revenue. [Bloomberg]
One of the most challenging aspects of the law for businesses is its exterritorial jurisdiction: The PIPL expressly expands the jurisdiction to overseas domiciled companies that target the mainland China market.
The National People’s Congress Standing Committee passed a related piece of legislation – the Data Security Law – in June that also contains provisions regulating the usage, collection, and protection of data in mainland China. Violations of the law, which will take effect on September 1, will trigger penalty fines and even suspension of business and revocation of license or permits.
Both legislations, in addition to local data regulations, come at a time when frustration grows within the government, and in Chinese society at large, over online fraud, data theft and data collection by Chinese technology giants.
China under President Xi Jinping has been cracking down on its most powerful tech stars, including Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., Tencent Holdings Ltd and Didi Global Inc. [see AiR No. 52, December/2020, 5], in a bid to ensure its grip on society.
24 August 2021
China to set up state conglomerates focusing on new strategic sectors
(dx) The tougher stance on private big business as reported above is complemented by the decision to set up new central state-owned enterprises (SOEs) focusing on strategic emerging industries at an appropriate time, the State Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC) announced on August 19. [Reuters]
Founded in 2003 through the consolidation of various other industry-specific ministries, the SASAC is a special commission directly under the State Council, China’ chief administrative authority. It currently oversees nearly 100 centrally owned companies with a combined estimated stock value of $7.6 trillion, making it the largest economic entity in the world.
In last week’s statement, the SASAC proposes that central SOEs should step up innovation and strengthen tech research for industrial machines, high-end chips, new materials and new energy vehicles. They should also replenish and strengthen the industrial chain, strengthen the coordination of upstream and downstream industries, and actively promote the development of micro, small and medium enterprises. [State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission of the States Council, in Chinese]
24 August 2021
China: President Xi goes after big money, calls for wealth redistribution
(lm) President Xi Jinping last week put China’s wealthiest citizens on notice, calling for stronger “regulation of high incomes” in the latest sign that a 10-month campaign targeting the country’s largest technology companies is rapidly expanding.
A meeting of the Communist Party (CCP)’s Central Financial and Economic Affairs Commission on August 17 emphasized the need to “regulate excessively high incomes and encourage high-income groups and enterprises to return more to society”. [Xinhua News Agency, in Chinese]
Significantly, the meeting was the first publicly chaired by Xi since late July. Party leaders traditionally retreat to the seaside resort of Beidaihe in early August for policy deliberations, although there has been no official confirmation of the annual retreat in recent weeks. [Financial Times]
The commission agreed that while the CCP had embraced Deng Xiaoping’s famous words in allowing some people and regions to “get rich first” in the early decades of China’s reform and opening period, it was now prioritizing “common prosperity for all”.
Deng´s phrase carries a lot of historical significance in China, and President Xi’s use in the context of wealth redistribution calls to mind its use by Chairman Mao Zedong in the middle of the last century as the country’s founding father advocated for dramatic economic reforms to take power away from rich landlords and farmers, the rural elite. [CNN]
Noteworthy enough, the government identified the eastern province of Zhejiang, home to Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and known for its robust private sector, as a pilot zone for the new initiatives. [The Straits Times]
Economists say the development suggests Beijing may be moving closer toward taxes on property and inheritance. Authorities have long talked about a property tax and have tested taxing residential property in Shanghai and Chongqing since 2011. A high-level meeting in May indicated officials may be making a renewed push to implement it. [The Guardian]
The directive is the latest in a series of regulatory measures unveiled in recent weeks by various Chinese regulators to place limits on numerous sectors and businesses in the name of protecting national security and social stability. The State Council and the Communist Party’s Central Committee earlier this month released a five-year blueprint calling for greater regulation of strategic sectors including technology, healthcare, market supervision, and environmental protection [see AiR No. 33, August/2021, 3].
The development can be seen as another step towards both even tighter party control and an attempt to increase Xi´s support by the broader population at the expense of certain economic elites.
17 August 2021
Indo-Pacific forces from 21 partner nations kick off SEACAT
(lm) Maritime forces from Indo-Pacific partner nations on August 10 began the 20th iteration of the Southeast Asia Cooperation and Training (SEACAT) naval exercise in Singapore and virtually. [Al Jazeera] [NavyTimes]
Signifying the largest iteration to date, this year’s exercise involves ten ships and more than 400 personnel. 21 nations participate, including Australia, Bangladesh, Brunei, Canada, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Maldives, New Zealand, Philippines, South Korea, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Timor-Leste, United Kingdom, United States, and Vietnam.
This year’s also presents a new element by incorporating international organizations and nongovernmental organizations, whose objective is to create an even more realistic scenario to “enhance understanding and adherence to accepted rules, laws, and norms,” the US Navy said in a statement. Participants include United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC), EU Critical Maritime Route Wider Indian Ocean (CRIMARIO), and International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). [Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet]
The SEACAT exercises commenced just a day after more than 10,000 troops from China and Russia began a major exercise, West-Interaction 2021, in China’s Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. [AiR No. 32, August/2021, 2]
Last year, the event was conducted as part of a virtual symposium amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
17 August 2021
Japan resumes meeting with five Mekong countries
(lm) Japan held a virtual foreign ministerial meeting on August 13 with five Southeast Asian countries along the Mekong River, to reiterate its commitment to the subregion and to reinforce its foreign policy objective of pushing back against Chinese attempts to widen its sphere of influence. [South China Morning Post]
Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi met virtually with his counterparts from Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam under the 14th Mekong – Japan Foreign Ministers’ Meeting.
While this Japan-Mekong meeting takes place annually, it was postponed from its original March date as Tokyo feared that holding it would be seen as recognizing the Myanmar’s military junta which seized power from an elected government. But Japan decided to go ahead after China hosted a meeting with the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) – including Myanmar – in June [see AiR No. 23, June/2021, 2], and the United States also met virtually with the bloc’s foreign ministers on July 14 [see AiR No. 29, July/2021, 3]. [Kyodo News 1]
Last week’s virtual encounter saw Japan pledging additional medical support for the five Mekong River countries – all of which are battling with COVID-19 surges due to the highly contagious Delta variant – on top of around 5.6 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine and $68 million worth of medical equipment including oxygen concentrators.
Foreign Minister Motegi expressed full support for the appointment of Brunei Second Foreign Minister Erywan Yusof as ASEAN special envoy to Myanmar to mediate between the military and pro-democracy protesters [see AiR No. 32, August/2021, 2]. Further, conveying concerns about the military’s nullification of the country’s November general election, the Japanese top diplomat called for a dialogue among all parties concerned and “expressed his strong expectations for a constructive response from Myanmar”. [Kyodo News 2]
17 August 2021
Pakistan: Bus attack that killed Chinese workers was a suicide bombing, authorities say
(lm) An attack on a bus in northern Pakistan last month that killed 13, including nine Chinese nationals, was a suicide bombing by Islamist militants, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said on August 12, placing the blame for the bombing on the Indian and Afghan intelligence agencies.
The suicide attack on July 14 targeted a two-bus convoy transporting Chinese and Pakistani workers to the World Bank-funded Dasu Hydropower project in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province. Shortly after the attack, China sent criminal investigation specialist to Pakistan and urged Islamabad to ensure the safety of Chinese personnel and projects in the country. [AiR No. 29, July/2021, 3]
The Pakistani top diplomat said that the country’s leading Taliban group Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan – an umbrella movement of militant groups linked to al-Qaeda and Islamic State – carried out the attack. But he also said that his country had data evidence proving that India’s Research and Analysis Wing and Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security were also involved. [Reuters]
The Indian Ministry of External Affairs rejected Pakistan’s allegation and called it an attempt at “peddling lies and propaganda”, saying that Islamabad had made similar accusations repeatedly in the past. [South China Morning Post]
17 August 2021
China to fund development projects in Myanmar
(mt/lm) China will transfer more than $6 million to Myanmar’s military junta to fund development projects, in a sign of cooperation resuming under the military junta that overthrew the elected government earlier in February. [The Diplomat] [The Straits Times]
According to China’s official state-run press agency, Xinhua News Agency, the agreement was signed by Myanmar’s Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin and Beijing’s Ambassador to Myanmar Chen Hai on August 9. The funds will finance 21 projects under China’s Lancang-Mekong Cooperation (LMC) framework, an interstate cooperation initiative comprising of the six countries located along the Mekong River. [LMC China] [Xinhua News Agency]
Unlike Western countries that have condemned Myanmar’s military junta for cutting short democracy and the killing and imprisonment of its opponents, China has embraced a softer approach, with the opening of oil and gas pipelines that cross the country, in addition to plans for economic zones and a major port development.
Myanmar’s military junta earlier this month invited bids to provide legal services to two crucial infrastructure projects under the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC), a 1,700-kilometer infrastructure route that promises to connect the Indian Ocean oil trade to China’s remote and underdeveloped Yunnan Province. [AiR No. 32, August/2021, 2]
The Chinese aid dispersal came just a day before the United States announced on August 10 it was giving Myanmar more than $50 million in aid to support relief groups dealing with a worsening humanitarian crisis in the Southeast Asian country. [U.S. Department of State]
17 August 2021
United States, China stress importance of dialogue and communication to resolve issues
(lm) Meeting with US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, China’s newly appointed Ambassador to Washington, Qin Gang, said on August 12 that he is committed to promoting a “rational, stable, manageable and constructive” Beijing-Washington relationship. [The Straits Times]
Qin Gang – a diplomat whose record of vigorously contesting Western criticism suggests that Beijing is bracing for a period of extended tensions with Washington –struck an optimistic tone as he arrived in the US in late July to take up his post, saying “the door of US-China relations, which is already open, cannot and should not be closed”. [AiR No. 31, August/2021, 1]
Two days prior to Qin’s arrival in Washington, Sherman held high-level talks in China, meeting with her Chinese counterpart Xie Feng and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in the city of Tianjin for talks that ended with both sides signaling that the other must make concessions for ties to improve. [AiR No. 30, July/2021, 4]
During last week’s meeting, Qin said the bilateral relationship was at a new crossroads, and he would follow the spirit of the telephone conversation between President Xi Jinping and President Joe Biden on February 11 to enhance communication and dialogue with the US side and work to promote that relationship [see AiR No. 7, February/2021, 3].
Details of the meeting were not immediately available. The only issue to be directly mentioned in reporting by China’s official state-run press agency, Xinhua News Agency, was Chinese-claimed Taiwan, which the Chinese diplomat described as “the most important and sensitive issue in Sino-U.S. relations”. [CNBC]
17 August 2021
Lithuania to reiterate decision to open representative office named “Taiwan”
(nd) Following diplomatic reactions from both sides after Lithuania announced to have a representative office named “Taiwan” in Lithuania, [See also AiR No. 32, August/2021, 2] Lithuania President Gitanas Nauseda said they were independent and able to decide which countries to develop a relationship with. He added that the “one China” policy was implemented after Lithuania established diplomatic relations with China in 1991. In the document signed for the establishment of diplomatic relations with China, however, Lithuania agreed not to establish or encourage any official relationship with Taiwan. [Taiwan News 1] The Taiwanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) supported the Baltic nation for its “resolute will” to defend its national dignity and freedom and stand up to China. [Taiwan News 2]
US State Department spokesman Ned Price condemned China’s reaction towards Lithuania and reassured that the US stands in solidarity with Lithuania. [Nikkei Asia] During a call, US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman reiterated the US’s support to Lithuania’s foreign minister Gabrielius Landsbergis, referring to China’s “coercive behaviour”. [Reuters]
French conservative newspaper Le Figaro commented, Taiwan may be viewed as a province by China, but it is a state for everybody else. The opening of this de-facto embassy in a European capital would be the first in 18 years. [Taiwan News 3]
On Monday, non-profit US Council of State Governments passed a resolution on Monday encouraging each state to establish representative offices in Taiwan to strengthen bilateral trade and economic relations and to enter driver’s license reciprocity agreements to ensure mobility. The latter exists already with 35 US states since 2013. The resolution also reiterated support for Taiwan’s participation in international organizations, like the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL). [Focus Taiwan]
17 August 2021
China announced drills off Taiwan
(nd) Accusing the US and Taiwan of “collusion” and “provocations” targeting “Chinese sovereignty”, China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has dispatched warships, anti-submarine aircraft and fighter jets to conduct drills southwest and southeast of Taiwan. Since last year, China has been sending its airplanes into Taiwan’s air defence identification zone (ADIZ) in an effort to intimidate Taiwan and pressure it to accept Chinese sovereignty. Additional to seeking air supremacy, PLA is also conducting frequent electronic reconnaissance and electronic interference operations, for what Taiwan believes to gather electronic signals from U.S. and Japanese aircraft in order to paralyse such reinforcing aircraft.
China referred to its drills as necessary to balance the tensions created in the Taiwan Strait by the US and Taiwan. While no location was given in the PLA’s statement, China often exercises near the Taiwan-controlled Pratas Islands at the top part of the South China Sea, and around the Bashi Channel off southern Taiwan.
Last week, the US approved an artillery system sale valued at up to $750 million to Taiwan. [AiR No. 32, August/2021, 2]
Amid recent threats and looming use of force to bring Taiwan under Chinese control, the US has said their commitment to Taiwan was “rock solid”, prompting Chinese Global Times to compare Taiwan to Afghanistan, referring to empty promises by the US. [Taiwan News] [Nikkei Asia] [Bloomberg]
17 August 2021
South China Sea: China ends fishing moratorium in disputed waters
(lm) Thousands of Chinese trawlers headed out into the South China Sea on August 16, as the 3.5-months long fishing memorandum in waters hotly contested by Beijing and its neighbors ended. [Global Times] [South China Morning Post]
China on April 27 had announced an annual fishing moratorium in the waters it claims in the South China Sea, which constitute a vital fishing area crucial for the country’s food security. Imposed since 1999, Beijing claims the restrictions a part of the country’s efforts to promote sustainable marine fishery development and improve marine ecology.
This year’s moratorium, which came into effect on May 1, was considered the toughest ever, with a number of new technologies such as satellite positioning, video surveillance and big data management used for maritime law enforcement.
The trawlers will be competing for catches with fleets from the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan, which also lay claims to the South China Sea.
Other countries have accused China of mobilizing fishermen and their boats as part of a “gray-zone” strategy — coercive force short of war — to occupy reefs in the disputed waterway – claims that Beijing denies. Analysts say China maintains the sea’s most obvious maritime militia, although it had in recent years reduced the involvement of civilians in its maritime disputes, in favor of enhancing its coastguard and other official law enforcement forces [see also AiR No. 20, May/2021, 3].
17 August 2021
PLA’s advanced fighters, transport aircraft ready for Russian debut in sign of growing mutual trust
(lm) Three of China’s most advanced military aircraft will make their debut at the Russian-run International Army Games next week, in the latest sign of growing military trust and cooperation between Beijing and Moscow.
The People’s Liberation Army (PLA)’s Air Force has dispatched 11 aircrafts, as well as a team of airborne troops to Russia to participate in the military sports event, China’s official state-run press agency, Xinhua News Agency, reported on August 13. Significantly, the Chengdu J-10 and Shenyang J-16 multirole fighters, as well as the Xi’an Y-20 military transport aircraft will be making their debuts in the competition. [Global Times] [Xinhua News Agency]
This year’s iteration of the International Army Games follows a major, five-day joint military exercise by Chinese and Russian forces in China’s Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, closely watched by the world as a sign of the two countries’ expanding military ties with an eye on their common rival – the United States. [AiR No. 32, August/2021, 2]
Analysts say the debut of the three advanced military aircraft also reflects a shift in China’s military publicity strategy, to one that is more open-minded, confident and transparent. [South China Morning Post]
17 August 2021
China fires back at ‘shameless’ United States over Xinjiang human rights abuse claims
(dx/lm) China promised to expose the United States’ “ugly intentions” over claims of human rights abuses in its western region of Xinjiang, accusing the US of hypocrisy as it went on the offensive on August 12.
In its latest campaign against Washington, the regional government of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region shifted focus away from arguing against allegations of forced labor and mass detention of Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in the region. Instead, it put emphasis on the US’ own human rights issues such as racial discrimination and mass surveillance. [Global Times] [South China Morning Post]
The remarks come against the larger backdrop of Western countries increasing scrutiny of forced labor of Uyghur and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang, the world’s leading producer of cotton and raw materials used in solar panels. [AiR No. 25, June/2021, 4]
In the United States in particular, lawmakers and Biden administration officials are stepping up pressure on American businesses to stop imports from the region. Imports of cotton and tomato products have already been effectively banned since January, and penalties on purchases of some solar materials were implemented in June.
But tougher restrictions are afoot: Last month, the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act was passed unanimously by the US Senate. It now moves to the House, where it is expected to pass easily. The legislation seeks to prohibit imports of all products from Xinjiang unless the importer can prove their items are free of forced labor — a high bar. [The Wall Street Journal, $]
In related news, China’s State Council Information Office (SCIO) last week issued a white paper on the country’s human rights record, hailing achievements in reaching “all-around moderate prosperity”, or “xiaokang”. Titled “Moderate Prosperity in All Respects: Another Milestone Achieved in China’s Human Rights”, it was the second white paper released by the State Council Information Office in 2021 [see AiR No.26, June/2021, 5]. [State Council Information Office]
17 August 2021
Chinese court sentences Canadian Michael Spavor to 11 years for spying
(lm) A Chinese court sentenced businessmen Michael Spavor to 11 years in prison on espionage charges in the first of two national-security cases involving Canadian citizens that sit at the center of a fierce standoff with both Canada and the United States. [France24] [The Wall Street Journal, $]
On August 11, the Dandong Intermediate People’s Court in northeastern Liaoning province announced Spavor had been found guilty of “probing into and illegally providing state secrets” to foreign actors. In addition to his jail term, he was also sentenced to confiscation of personal assets, and fined 50,000 yuan ($7,715). The court said Spavor would also be deported, without specifying whether it was before or after he served his prison sentence. [BBC]
The Canadian will have ten days to appeal the court’s decision.
Authorities in China have yet to announce a date for the verdict or sentencing of the other detained Canadian, Michael Kovrig. A former Canadian diplomat who worked for the International Crisis Group (ICG), Kovrig is accused of “stealing sensitive information and intelligence through contacts in China since 2017.”
Both men have spent 975 days in detention and were tried separately in secret in March. Canadian diplomats were denied access.
The Spavor verdict comes a day after a Chinese court rejected the appeal of a third Canadian, Robert Schellenberg, on a drug smuggling conviction. Schellenberg’s initial 15-year jail term was changed to a death sentence at a retrial in December 2018 after the prosecution said it had uncovered new evidence. [AiR No. 32, August/2021, 2]
All three cases are suspected to be linked to the ongoing extradition hearing in Canada of Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Chinese tech giant Huawei. For the detention of Spavor and Kovrig came just days after the arrest in Vancouver of Meng over allegations the company violated United States sanctions on Iran, drawing accusations by critics of “hostage diplomacy”. [The Guardian]
Meng, whose extradition hearing is now in its final stages, has been held under house arrest in Vancouver since 2018. Her hearings are due to end on August 20, but no decision is expected for several months. Moreover, while the final decision on whether to surrender Meng to the US rests with Canada’s Justice Minister David Lametti, legal experts expect the ruling will be appealed, potentially dragging out the case for years. [South China Morning Post]
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has repeatedly refused to consider any trade of Spavor and Kovrig for Meng, whose detention has seen relations plunge between the two countries hit rock bottom, with Beijing also accusing Ottawa of politicizing legal cases. [CNN]
17 August 2021
China, Korea hit out at Japan over ministers’ visit to controversial shrine on war-end anniversary
(lm) China and South Korea have called on Japan to face up to its wartime past to build trust with its neighbors, after a series of visits by Japanese cabinet members to a shrine that remains a potent symbol of its Tokyo’s wartime legacy in East Asia and a flashpoint for regional tension.
Established in 1869, Yasukuni Shrine is a Japanese Shinto to war dead who served the Emperor of Japan during wars from 1867 to 1951. Since 1978 those honored have included 14 World War II leaders convicted as “Class A” war criminals by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East in 1948, among them the wartime prime minister, Hideki Tōjō. China, South Korea and North Korea consider the shrine a microcosm of a revisionist and unapologetic approach to Japanese crimes of World War II. [Reuters 1]
Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi visited Yasukuni Shrine on August 13 – the first visit by a defense minister since 2016 – two days prior to the anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War II. [Reuters 2]
Later the same, the South Korean Foreign Ministry summoned the deputy chief of mission at the Japanese Embassy in Seoul to lodge a protest over protest Kishi’s visit, which it called “beyond deplorable.” China, in turn, urged Japan to “seriously reflect on its history of aggression, keep in mind the historical lessons, correct its mistakes and gain the trust of its Asian neighbors and the international community through concrete actions.” [The Japan Times] [The Korea Times]
On August 15, however, at least three more Japanese Cabinet members, including Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi and Education Minister Koichi Hagiuda; as well as former prime minister Shinzo Abe, paid what they said were personal respects at the shrine. Abe – the older brother of Defense Minister Kishi – had visited Yasukuni Shrine as prime minister in 2013, sparking outrage from Beijing and Seoul and an expression of “disappointment” from the United States. He did not go again in official capacity, thereafter, sending ritual offerings instead [see AiR No. 16, April/2020, 3].
Later the same day, China’s Foreign Ministry expressed “strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition” over what it called “the desecration of historical justice” by the Japanese officials. [South China Morning Post]
South Korean President Moon Jae-in, in turn, said his government remained open for dialogue with Japan to step up cooperation, while seeking to resolve historical rows that had long frayed bilateral ties. Moon, in his Liberation Day speech marking the anniversary of the peninsula’s independence from Japan’s colonial rule, said the two countries should work together to “surmount difficulties” and foster cooperation based on shared values of democracy and market economy. [Al Jazeera] [Bloomberg]
Moon’s speech came weeks after he scrapped a plan to visit Tokyo for the Olympics and hold his first summit with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. The South Korean leader called the meeting off after what his office called unacceptable remarks by a Seoul-based Japanese diplomat. [AiR No. 29, July/2021, 3]
Meanwhile in Tokyo the same day, Japanese Prime Minister Suga pledged that his country would not wage war again. But he did not offer an apology to the Asian victims of Japanese aggression across the region in the first half of the 20th century – a precedent set by his predecessor Shinzo Abe, who was frequently accused of trying to whitewash his country’s past. His comments were echoed by Emperor Naruhito who expressed “deep remorse” for Japan’s wartime past, as he has previously done. [The Straits Times]
Ties between South Korea and Japan are at their lowest point in decades in recent years, following a string of diplomatic, historic, and economic issues, including disagreement over the handling of wartime forced labor, the planned disposal of Fukushima wastewater into the Pacific Ocean, and Japanese export curbs on materials vital for South Korea’s semiconductor industry. [AiR No. 28, July/2021, 2]
17 August 2021
United States reaches out to China and Russia on Afghanistan
(lm) US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on August 15 spoke with his counterparts in China and Russia about the security situation in Afghanistan. [France24] [The Hill]
The calls come as both Beijing and Moscow have signaled an openness to recognizing and working with the Taliban, which over the weekend swiftly ousted the Western-backed government in the Afghan capital, Kabul. [see entry in this edition]
In a flurry of diplomatic phone calls, the US top diplomat also spoke with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, the European Union’s High Representative Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, as well as his counterparts from Pakistan, the United Kingdom and Turkey.
In their discussion on how their countries could work together to achieve a “soft landing” for Afghanistan, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told Blinken that the hasty pullout of United States troops from the country had a “serious negative impact”. He also said that the facts on the ground proved that a foreign model could not be arbitrarily applied to a country with different cultural and historical conditions, according to China’s state broadcaster CCTV. [Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China 1] [The Straits Times]
The Chinese top diplomat pledged to work with the United States to help prevent a new civil war or humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan, but warned that Washington should not count on Beijing’s cooperation while it was deliberately working to contain the country and hurts its interests. [South China Morning Post 1]
Wang also urged Blinken to reverse the Trump administration’s decision to remove the East Turkestan Islamic Movement – a Muslim separatist group founded by militant Uighurs in China’s Xinjiang region – from its list of designated terrorist organizations.
Prior to his phone call with US Secretary of State Blinken, Wang had spoken to his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, with both sides agreeing that Beijing and Moscow should step up their communication and coordination over Afghanistan, according to a readout from the Chinese Foreign Ministry. [Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China 2]
Similarly, in his phone call with the Russian foreign minister, Blinken discussed US efforts to bring American citizens and vulnerable Afghans to safety. [TASS]
The abrupt fall of Kabul saw Chinese official media play up the rhetoric about the US’ decaying global hegemony, with daily tabloid newspaper Global Times calling the chaos in Afghanistan “a lesson that Taiwan needs to learn”. [Global Times] [South China Morning Post]
17 August 2021
China, Pakistan, and Russia set to increase Afghanistan influence
(lm) Regional powers will see their influence increase dramatically in Afghanistan as the United States executes a hasty, haphazard withdrawal and the Taliban seize control over the country two decades after being toppled from power by Washington. [Associated Press]
Russia, Pakistan and China have all signaled a readiness to transition smoothly into engaging with Taliban authorities with varying levels of enthusiasm. But the insurgents’ return has also stoked fears in those countries that Afghanistan will once again become a base of operations for modern Islamist terrorist organizations that could carry out attacks on their own soil. [The Guardian]
Of all its regional neighbors, Pakistan – long accused of being a major force behind the Taliban – appeared the most exuberant in welcoming the Islamist militants’ return to power.
Prime Minister Imran Khan said the Taliban had “broken the chains of slavery”. The prime minister was not alone in portraying the Taliban’s victory as a triumph: Siraj ul Haq, the chief of Jamaat-e-Islami, an Islamic political party, said in a speech it was a “historic win over a superpower” and would create “an exemplary Islamic government in Afghanistan”. [Al Jazeera 1]
The strategic calculus for Islamabad is that it would enjoy more influence and leverage in Kabul under Taliban rule, giving it a strong regional ally aligned with its Islamic values. However, many fear the strength of the Taliban’s resurgence will further embolden Pakistan’s leading Taliban group, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, thereby deepening insecurity, especially in the tribal areas along its conflict-prone western border [see AiR No. 27, July/2021, 1].
Despite naming the Taliban a terrorist group, Russia appears ready to engage if it can ensure security for its own diplomats and prevent Islamist extremism from spilling over the borders into central Asian allies such as Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. [Al Jazeera 2]
The Russian Presidential envoy to Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, even dangled the possibility that Moscow would recognize the Taliban government based “on the behaviour of the new authorities”, a major prize for the insurgents that would also indicate Russia sees itself as a potential intermediary as the West completes its troop withdrawal.
For now, the Russians are staying put. Taliban forces have “taken the external perimeter of the Russian embassy under protection”, Kabulov said on August 16, adding that Russia was among a number of countries to receive assurances from the Taliban that their embassies would be safe. [The Moscow Times]
Moscow last week moved tanks to the Tajikistan-Afghanistan frontier for military drills, and conducted separate exercises with China, which were aimed at “demonstrating the determination and ability of Russia and China to fight terrorism” [see AiR No. 32, August/2021, 2]. The timing, as the Taliban raced to victory, was no coincidence.
For China, in turn, the Taliban’s takeover opens a strategic door laden with both risk and opportunity. [Bloomberg]
Last month, the group said it welcomes Beijing as a “friend” to Afghanistan and expressed their hope to quickly engage in talks with China about investing in reconstruction work. [AiR No. 28, July/2021, 2]
On July 28 then, Foreign Minister Wang Yi welcomed a nine-member Taliban delegation to the northeastern city of Tianjin as the group made gains against the administration of President Ashraf Ghani. Wang’s endorsement of the Taliban’s important role in the process of peaceful reconciliation and reconstruction” of Afghanistan significantly raised the international stature of a group that has long been a global pariah due to its support of terrorism and the repression of women. [AiR No. 31, August/2021, 1]
Perhaps no issue is as pressing for Beijing as ensuring that Afghanistan does not become a staging point for minority Uyghur separatists in the sensitive border region of its Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. Foreign Minister Wang pressed Taliban negotiator and co-founder of the group Mullah Baradar Akhund during their meeting to make a “clean break” with the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, a Muslim separatist group founded by militant Uighurs in Xinjiang.
China is also showing its pragmatism in its approach. “What China could do is participate in the postwar reconstruction and provide investment to help the country’s future development,” the Global Times quoted a senior Chinese government expert as saying on August 15. [Global Times]
And on August 16, China’s Foreign Ministry said it was ready to develop “friendly and cooperative” relations with Afghanistan, but also noted Taliban promises that Afghanistan would not serve as a staging ground for “acts detrimental to China”. [ABC News]
17 August 2021
Geopolitical Shifts: Eurasia´s Sino-Russian axis, the fall of Kabul, and the “Summit of Democracies”
(hg) Events over recent days are indicating that the Eurasian equation of power is shifting further away from the West. Instead, large parts of Eurasia could soon emerge as an increasingly coherent power structure opposing Western interests and aspirations. The Sino-Russian strategic partnership at the heart of this structure has just fully revealed its character as a de-facto or proto- alliance by the major joint military exercises Russia and China concluded in Northeast China last Friday only two days before the fall of Kabul to the Taliban. With it, the emerging Russian-Chinese axis has gained substantially including chances of future advancements on the Eurasian chessboard.
Both, deepening relations between Beijing and Moscow and the implementation of an Islamic Emirate in Afghanistan with friendly relations to the two leading Eurasian powers, deserve great attention.
The Sino-Russian military drills, whose start has been reported in the last AiR issue, have been hailed with full right after their conclusion by both participating powers as a milestone event.
With joint command centers not only at the tactical but the strategic level at the two forces´ highest echelons of command, the exercises displayed an unprecedented level of cooperation and coordination between the two countries´ forces almost on an alliance-like level. Critically was the objective to familiarize the participating forces with each other´s key weapons to achieve interoperability and to coordinate both country´s armed forces at a strategic level. A noteworthy detail is the familiarization with technical features and tactical concepts of key weapon systems that included also particularly sensitive technology such as China´s 5th generation stealth fighter jet J-20 proving a considerable degree of mutual trust among the de-facto allies whose declared major adversary is the US.
According to China`s Global Times “The drills displayed not only on a strategic level, but also on tactical and technical levels that China and Russia are no allies but better than allies, and are capable of jointly tackling regional security issues including terrorism as well as global challenges brought up by countries like the US [Global Times, see also Asia Nikkei, Defense News]”
Essentially, the Sino-Russian strategic partnership lacks, however, not only a treaty that is legally stipulating a binding commitment in case of a military aggression against one of the treaty parties but also lacks any institutional structure that would even remotely remind of those integrating the thirty NATO member states. Such a joint structure could, for instance, include a governance body, a headquarter, and differentiated command structure which all is far away from materializing between Russia and China at the moment yet.
Still, the Sino-Russian advancement develops as a significant advancement and at a critical juncture with regard of the geostrategic implications of the Taliban take-over in Afghanistan.
If the Taliban leadership is able to avoid the megalomaniac autism many warriors of faith have developed before them and if it is able and willing to be a reliable partner in exchange for foreign support and diplomatic reinforcement, China and, albeit to a lesser degree, Russia could turn out to be the major winner of another round of the Great Game lost this time by the West.
It remains to be seen though if the Taliban leadership is strong enough to integrate and discipline not only the various factions and groups of its own quite heterogeneous organization but also the country´s numerous multi-ethnic armed groups beside the Pashtuns that dominate the Taliban. If the constructive talks the Taliban leadership had in recent months and weeks especially with Moscow and Beijing will be duly followed up by the Taliban´s Islamic Emirates leadership, Afghanistan might, however, align with the Sino-Russian alliance. It could then firmly integrate in the Eurasian institutional set-up dominated by Russia and China with the Eurasian Economic Union and – in particular – the Belt and Road Initiative as its two most important elements.
To not be mistaken, neither Russia and China nor Afghanistan and its new Eurasian friends might be easy partners for each other. Partly diverging interests, difficulties in cooperation and risks emerging out of cooperation have, however, always characterized alliances and never prevented allies and partners to stand and fight together as long as the alternative was even worse. A case in point is Pakistan that supported the Taliban operating in Afghanistan while fighting their brothers in arms in Pakistan itself, which has its own Taliban movement that uses to fiercely attack the Pakistani forces that lends support to the Afghan Taliban. NATO is for instance experiencing its own problems with diverging interests, difficulties and risks attached to its cooperation with NATO member state Turkey under President Erdogan.
Experiences of such contradictory and yet maintained cooperation projects should be kept in mind when the emerging Eurasian partnerships get counted by observers from the beginning.[see for instance a Foreign Affairs´ piece on Russia and China, and a CNN article on China´s opportunities and risks in Afghanistan]
Contrary to the more sceptic outlooks, the best case scenario for China would be the full integration of a mineral rich and geostrategic important Afghanistan in its BRI network including a BRI route connecting China and Iran through Afghanistan.
Noteworthy, Iran´s President Ebrahim Raisi has been sworn in earlier this month as an Islamic hardliner who is seen to be in favor of an entrenchment of Sino-Iranian relations. [Xinhua]
Now, on Monday this week, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and the Chinese Special Envoy for Afghan Affairs held a meeting in Tehran to talk about the latest developments in Afghanistan. [Tasnim News, for a skeptical voice on the outlooks of Sino – Iranian relations see Eurasia net]. A problem for Iranian – Afghan relations is the sectarian divide between the Shiite regime in Tehran and the Sunni Taliban.
Would both Iran and Afghanistan develop significantly increasing ties with China and its partner Russia ‘in the middle’ however, this could change the geopolitical equation of the Middle East to the core. Given Iran´s heft as a regional power and the patron state of the region’s Shiite countries which are forming a crescent from Iran over Iraq, Syria and Lebanon to Yemen, Chinese – Syrian advances last month are gaining further weight with the fall of Kabul.
When Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Damascus last month, both countries not only pledged to deepen cooperation in the BRI framework but Wang Yi also stressed that China opposes any attempt to seek regime change in Syria “reaffirming China’s strong support for Syria in safeguarding national sovereignty, territorial integrity and national dignity”, and supporting Syria in opposing unilateral sanctions. [Global china Daily] If these dynamics of a Eurasian integration under Sino-Russian signs consolidate, while India is deepening ties with partners on the Arabic peninsula, the Sino-Russian advancement and the disastrous Western experience in Afghanistan offer an interesting opportunity to grasp a possible geostrategic future that would lead to increasing pressure and volatility on the global system in its entirety.
For Europe, the looming possibility of a deepening Eurasian integration under Sino-Russian signs are relevant also concerning its own borders. If this integration would consolidate, China would get more than Russia, increasing its influence in Central Asia and the Middle East way more than its partner. While this would increase tensions over territories forming rather the
Russian than the Chinese backyard, these disadvantages for Russia would likely not be enough to leave it the de-facto alliance but support a redirection of Moscow’s geostrategic focus to its European borders and interests.
In any case, it is likely that the fall of Afghanistan will overshadow US President Biden`s “Summit of Democracies” in December which is badly needed to restate the Western vision and commitment to global order. What still will be remembered then are three things. First, Western military power appeared far less impressive than it has been around twenty years ago when Kabul was taken. Second, Western nation building efforts with their intrinsic normative code have failed badly in Iraq and now also in Afghanistan despite all the money, blood, and knowledge that has been invested over a period of two decades. One of the reasons for this failure are, however, not necessarily these normative aspirations but their comprising by bad alliances, double standards, and hypocrisy. Third, instead of lamenting a battle lost in the war for freedom and acknowledging those who paid, who pay and who will pay the price as other Presidents might have done, US President Biden blamed exactly those who had trusted their Western partners and are likely to suffer for having done so in the coming days and weeks. Arguably one of the most challenging subject of a Summit of Democracies in our times and against this background is the problem to maintain the West´s normative identity and proactive diplomacy with regard of the temptations of a hypocrisy that undermines both the West´s integrity and its attractiveness for others to partner up with it. [For the summit of democracies see “Summit of Democracies”, The White House, Forbes, for the consequences of also inviting Taiwan see South China Morning Post]
17 August 2021
Laos-China Railway scheduled to open in December
(ct) During the 10th Laos-China Railway Project Construction Committee Meeting in Vientiane Capital, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Planning and Investment, Mr Sonexay Siphandone announced the Laos-China Railway is scheduled to officially open in early December this year. Sonexay said that as of July 25, the construction of the railway was 93.82 per cent complete and will be completed in November. Authorities are resolving several final issues, including compensating individuals who have been affected by the railway project and dealing with areas where the railway crosses highways. Additionally, the Laos-China railway project will bring in locomotives, electric multiple unit (EMU) trains and other equipment to conduct the first trial run of the railway in October. [Laotian Times 1] [Vientiane Times]
The Lao-China railway, which is part of six international economic corridors under China’s China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is an integral part of the China Economic Corridor. China remains the largest foreign investor in Laos. [Laotian Times 2] According to a 2018 report of the Washington-based Center for Global Development, Laos was the one Southeast Asian country risking significant debt distress as a result of loans from China, in large part due to large infrastructure project, like hydropower dams and railways. [The Diplomat] [Radio Free Asia]
17 August 2021
Mongolia: Mandatory Mandarin language in classrooms
(nd) In an effort to what critics and rights groups refer to as “cultural genocide”, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) extends compulsory Mandarin teaching to pre-schoolers in the Northern region of inner Mongolia as of the fall semester 2021, according to a recent directive from the ministry of education. To ensure sufficient staff, the government launched a nationwide “batch training” scheme for kindergarten teachers. According to the directive, the move aims at “enabling pre-school children in ethnic minority and rural areas and rural areas to gradually acquire the ability to communicate at a basic level in Mandarin, and to lay the foundations for the compulsory education phase.”
Critics say it is yet another step in CCP general secretary Xi Jinping’s plan to extend the party’s political agenda from cradle to grave, his two pillars being to China from poverty and to unify the nation. For Mongolia, this process was initiated last year with the suppression of opposition voices, when state security policy cracked down on street protesters and boycotters in fall 2020, after announcing to cease teaching Mongolian language at schools. An estimated 8,000 to 10,000 people were arrested.
Similar curricula changes were introduced to Korean-language teaching schools in northeast China, which inhabits about 2.3 million Koreans, to schools in China’s North-western Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), as well as for Tibetans.
Rights advocates have emphasized the meaning of language for a national identity as well as history and culture to be transported, not automatically giving rise to separatism. Also, according to the Chinese Constitution as well as the Ethnic Autonomous Region Law, ethnic groups have the right and freedom to preserve and develop their own languages.
The “education for national unity” policy has been rooted to a speech of Xi Jinping in September 2019, asserting: “The Chinese nation is one big family, and we will build the Chinese dream together.”
The New York-based Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center (SMHRIC) commented that the CCP is implementing “wholesale cultural genocide” in Inner Mongolia and called for an international boycott of the 2022 Olympics in China. [Radio Free Asia] [UCA News]
Still, Mongolia does not take sides amid the recent tensions between the US and China but maintains good relations with both countries and others, as seen recently with a string of diplomatic visits to respectively from the US, China, Japan, and South Korea [See also AiR No. 30, July/2021, 4] While their respective counterpart had strategic visions in mind, the Mongolian side was sure to emphasize the economic and trade part of the high-level talks. [The Diplomat]
17 August 2021
China: Hong Kong’s population shrinks by 89,000 in just 12 months
Hong Kong’s population has fallen for the third consecutive six-month period after more than a decade of growth, as people left the city in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and following China’s political crackdown. With an outflow of 89,200 residents, the population of the former British colony now stands at 7.39 million, down 1.2 percent from the same time last year, government data released on August 12 shows. [The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region]
The decline marks the biggest drop in at least six decades for the city. Hong Kong, which swelled in the post-war era amid waves of mass migration from the mainland, has suffered only two bouts of population decline since 1961. Both came amid political unrest and disease, including when the overall population shrank by 0.2 percent amid the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and protests against national security reform in the 2002-03 period. [Bloomberg]
The city’s government explained the territory’s falling population by pointing to pandemic travel restrictions and a 37 per cent decline in the number of people making use of a scheme that allows mainland Chinese to settle in the city. Experts say low fertility rates exacerbated by the pandemic were also contributing to the statistics. [Financial Times]
Last year, the British government opened a pathway to citizenship for as many as 5.4 million Hong Kong residents who hold or are eligible for British National (Overseas) travel documents. In the first quarter of this year, the United Kingdom received more than 34,000 applications and granted 7,200, according to Home Office data. [The Times, $]
In related developments, the latest annual report from the Mandatory Provident Fund Schemes Authority showed the total amount of early fund withdrawals on the grounds of permanent departure from Hong Kong last year reached a record US$850 million, a 27 per cent jump from the previous financial year. [South China Morning Post]
17 August 2021
China: Record number of uncontested seats for Hong Kong Election Committee polls
(dx/lm) More than 75 percent of the 1,500 seats in Hong Kong’s powerful Election Committee (EC) are set to be filled uncontested after a one-week nomination period for the polls ended last week, reflecting the impact of Beijing’s overhaul of the electoral system.
Elections for the EC mark the first polls to be held under the revamped electoral system imposed by Beijing in March to ensure “expected” results. Previously only tasked with selecting the city’s Chief Executive (CE), the EC has been expanded to 1,500 members under Beijing’s sweeping overhaul of the electoral system, and will for the first time also fill 40 seats in the city’s parliament, the 90-member Legislative Council (LegCo) [see AiR No.13, March/2021, 5].
A one-week nomination period had opened on August 6, and authorities received a total of 1,056 nominations over the course of the seven next days, competing for about 1,000 seats.
Specifically, only thirteen of the 40 subsectors representing the different professions and trades in Hong Kong – each with a different number of seats on the EC – will face competition. A poll for these subsectors, which carry a total of 527 seats, will be held on September 19.
The state of play stands in stark contrast to the polls five years ago when 25 of 38 subsectors faced competition and a total of 246,000 voters – already a mere fraction of the city’s 7.5 million residents — registered to cast ballots. Now, the number has been cut to 7,900, as most individual votes have been by corporate voting.
Consequently, because more than a third of the seats on the EC will either be hand-picked by pro-establishment chambers or groups, or appointed as ex-officio members, at least 1,193 seats in the 1,500-strong EC will go uncontested [AiR No. 32, August/2021, 2]
Analysts also noted the changing of the guard in business-related sectors, with several prominent tycoons – including Li Ka-shing – not throwing their hat into the ring this time. Instead, their children were joining the race, mostly in the real estate and construction subsector — along with a number of mainland China-affiliated businessmen, signaling a new and rising presence on the EC. [South China Morning Post]
17 August 2021
China: Hong Kong’s biggest teachers’ union announces its disbandment after authorities cut ties
Hong Kong’s biggest teachers’ union on August 10 announced its disbandment, citing “enormous pressure” from the authorities as a factor in a decision that came just days after education authorities formally severed ties with the group and warned that law enforcement could “take appropriate action” against it if necessary. [Nikkei Asia] [South China Morning Post 1]
In an unprecedented step, the city’s Education Bureau (EDB) earlier this month said it would no longer recognize the Professional Teachers’ Union (PTU), which represents more than 90 percent of Hong Kong’s teachers. The EDB’s announcement on July 31 came just hours after two of China’s state-media outlets had called for the union to be “eradicated”, saying it was a “poisonous tumor”. [AiR No. 31, August/2021, 1]
On August 7, then Senior Counsel Ronny Tong Ka-wah emerged as the first pro-establishment heavyweight to insist on the innocence of the PTU. In an interview with the South China Morning Post, the top adviser said that none of the group’s past comments or actions – including the union’s longtime alliance with groups that organized peaceful pro-democracy protests and annual Tiananmen vigils – could be construed as falling foul of the national security law. [South China Morning Post 2]
Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung, however, was more cautious in taking a stance, instead urging teachers to have a “thorough rethink” on their relationship with the PTU. Both remarks came after a pledge by Commissioner of Police Raymond Siu Chak-yee two weeks ago to “definitely investigate” the union for any potential national security violations.
The PTU is the latest group to be targeted by both the Beijing and local governments in a continuing overhaul of Hong Kong’s education sector, citing the need to promote national security in schools and universities.
International Human Rights organizations called the PTU’s disbandment an example for “the level of fear permeating the city’s education sector and wider civil society amid a relentless crackdown on dissent.” [Amnesty International]
17 August 2021
China: Hong Kong’s biggest protest group disbands amid police pressure
(dx/lm) In the latest blow to the opposition movement in Hong Kong, the umbrella group behind many of the city’s largest protests has announced it was disbanding, as it faces increasing pressure from police. [Reuters] [The Straits Times]
The Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF) announced its closure on August 15, saying no members were willing to perform secretariat duties after its convener, Figo Chan Ho-wun, was jailed for 18 months in May alongside other high profile Hong Kong activists over their involvement in a protest in October 2019 [see AiR No. 20, May/2021, 3]. The group also said its $205,577 of assets would be donated to other appropriate organizations.
Established in 2002, the CHRF has been a significant presence or organizer of protests in Hong Kong. For successive years it ran the annual July 1 protests, held to observe the 1997 handover of the former British colony to China. But it was the anti-extradition bill protests in June 2019, that propelled the group to another level, breaking the record for Hong Kong’s largest ever demonstration with nearly two million participants. The mass marches organized by the CHRF began as peaceful demonstrations – but clashes with police soon tipped the protests into a six-month-long political crisis that often turned violent. [AiR (2/6/2019)]
In an interview published the Ta Kung Pao newspaper on August 13, Hong Kong’s police chief suggested that past rallies organized by the CHRF may have violated the national security law, despite the group obtaining permits and repeated reassurances from authorities that the 13-month-old law is not retroactive. [The Guardian]
Police have been investigating CHRF’s finances since April, and on August 15 the South China Morning Post cited a government-connected source saying police would acknowledged the group’s dissolution but would not absolve the CHRF of any potential criminal liability. [South China Morning Post] [The Straits Times]
CHRF is just the latest in a string of organizations and groups that have chosen to disband or leave Hong Kong in recent months, citing diminishing civil liberties and a shrinking public sphere. Earlier last week, the city’s largest educators’ group, the Professional Teachers’ Union, similarly announced its disbandment amid political pressure, after it was criticized by Chinese state media and Hong Kong authorities.
17 August 2021
China: Two activists who posted censored COVID-19 articles to be released
(dx/lm) Two Chinese amateur computer coders swept up in a crackdown against reporting on the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic are set to be released next week after spending more than a year in detention.
In 2018, the two young men launched an archive where they kept hundreds of articles censored on Chinese media outlets and social media platforms. Entries documented China’s early pandemic response after the initial outbreak in the central city of Wuhan. The site had also archived censored articles on China’s #MeToo movement and its crackdown on labor activists. [The Washington Post]
But after only a year of operation, in April of last year, the two activists were detained and charged with “picking quarrels and provoking troubles” – a catch-all offence often used by police to muzzle dissent.
Court proceedings began earlier in May, and on August 13, the court handed down a sentence of one year and three months, to be applied retroactively, after the two activists had pleaded guilty. [South China Morning Post]
17 August 2021
China unveils five-year policy map, signals greater economic regulation in coming
(dx/lm) China has released a five-year blueprint calling for greater regulation of strategic sectors including technology, healthcare, market supervision, and environmental protection, suggesting Beijing’s unprecedented crackdown on private enterprise could last for some time. [CNN]
The policy map – jointly released on August 11 by the State Council and the Communist Party’s Central Committee – highlighted an “urgent need” for legislation in China to govern the education sector and resolve antitrust issues. It also called for legal frameworks for the digital economy, artificial intelligence, big data and cloud computing. [The State Council of the People’s Republic of China]
The wide-ranging document also included promises to strengthen rules that would clamp down on monopolistic behavior. But it was vague on the specific instructions or measures that authorities want regulators to take. [The Straits Times]
The directive comes during a time of massive upheaval for Chinese industries ranging from tech and financial services to private tutoring. Global investors have been seeking to make sense of a series of regulatory measures unveiled in recent weeks by various Chinese regulators to place limits on numerous sectors and businesses in the name of protecting national security and social stability. [Bloomberg] [Financial Times]
As a case in point, China’s education authorities terminated 286 cooperative programs between Chinese and foreign universities last week as part of a routine assessment of collaborative arrangements with foreign institutions. The move comes less than a month after the State Council issued new sweeping regulations for the private education industry, forcing companies to register as non-profit organizations, banning approvals for new companies, and barring them from accepting foreign investment. [South China Morning Post]
Over the past year Chinese authorities have launched anti-monopoly probes into some of the nation’s largest tech companies such as Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. [see AiR No. 52, December/2020, 5], while also mandating cybersecurity reviews for foreign listings.
10 August 2021
Taiwan to ban all Chinese I.T. and communications products
(nds)The Cabinet has asked all government agencies in Taiwan to phase out all Chinese-made information and communication technology products by the end of the year to protect the country’s national security. [Taiwan News] The Taiwanese authorities had initially planned to establish a blocklist of Chinese products to be banned. However, the complexity of defining and updating information on these products made the government decide to ban such products by 2021. Undercover a prior approval, the establishments that do not respect the deadline can postpone it. Huawei devices will be banned because of the company’s links with the Chinese army. Hikvision could be subject to the same measures. [Taiwan News]
It has been several years since the Tsai administration began this fight against telecommunications products. In January 2019, the Taiwanese authorities had already decided to prohibit state organizations from using Chinese technological products because of the risk for national security. [Taiwan Info in French ]
10 August 2021
US national security veterans warn Senate panel of pervasive Chinese influence
(lm) Veteran national security officials warned a key Senate panel on August 4 that the Chinese Communist Party had gained alarming influence over the United States’ private sector and graduate schools, with one former top official describing the situation as “an existential threat”. [The Hill]
The rare public hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee featured two hours of discussions between Senators and former officials about just how much influence the Chinese government has managed to gain over certain sectors of US society. [The Washington Times]
The threats, according to the officials, include Chinese counterintelligence activities such as cyberattacks against US companies and critical organizations, malign influence and stealing billions of dollars in American intellectual property.
The committee leaders noted that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has been able to influence American companies and policies due to the desire by US companies to have access to the Chinese market, and due to the CCP’s tendency to pressure Chinese students and researchers in the States to steal data and research.
The hearing was the latest sign not only of the unusual bipartisan agreement on Capitol Hill on China policy, but also rare sense of continuity on the issue from the Trump era to the administration of incumbent President Joe Biden. [South China Morning Post]
10 August 2021
US administration to approve arms deal with Taiwan
(nds) On 4 August, the US State Department approved a deal to sell arms to Taiwan for $750 million. The agreement includes 40 M109A6 155mm medium self-propelled artillery systems.
The Taiwanese foreign ministry thanked the United States and stated it was the first significant arms sale since Joe Biden took office in January. [Reuters]
Meanwhile, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs called on the United States to immediately cancel the deal to not further damage Sino-US relations. According to the Chinese authorities, this agreement is contrary to the “one China” principle and would undermine the country’s sovereignty. In addition, Beijing criticizes Washington for interfering in what it considers to be its national affairs. [Taiwan News 1]
The Biden administration has yet to respond to the Chinese statement. However, it is expected that this agreement will become a reality if Congress approves it, as it represents a US strategic interest. The tactical objective of this agreement is to thwart a possible invasion of China by allowing the Taiwanese army to fire directly at troopships and raids on the beaches. The Chinese air force has recently increased incursions into Taiwan’s airspace, and the People’s Liberation Army has also conducted manoeuvres to simulate an invasion of Taiwan. At the Aspen Security Forum, US Indo-Pacific Command Commander Admiral John Aquilino reiterated that the Indo-Pacific region is the most important to the United States and is Washington’s most significant security challenge. While Aquilino believes the US can defend Taiwan, this arms deal could allow the Taiwanese military to act faster to deter the People’s Liberation Army before American intervention. [Taiwan News 2]
10 August 2021
China aims to provide 2 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses to world in 2021, President Xi says
(lm) Chinese President Xi Jinping said his country would provide two billion COVID-19 vaccine doses to the world this year, matching commitments by Group of Seven nations amid warnings about inoculation shortages in the developing world. [The New York Times, $] [The Straits Times]
President Xi made the announcement on August 5 in a written message to an international COVID-19 vaccine forum chaired by the Chinese government. But he did not specify whether the two billion doses were donations or sales, or whether they consisted of new supplies or included those already sold.
The pledge would represent a huge increase in the pace of Chinese exports, with the Foreign Ministry telling reporters on August 6 that the country had sent delivered 770 million doses to foreign countries since September of last year, mostly under bilateral deals. [Associated Press]
Xi also promised to donate $100 million to COVAX, a global initiative backed by the World Health Organization to provide vaccines to low- and middle-income countries. The donation would give the organization much-needed financing to strike deals with vaccine makers at a time when it has been struggling to close a funding gap of $16.6 billion. [World Health Organization]
The provision of both vaccines and money would give Beijing an opportunity to rebuild international prestige, which has taken a beating in the West in the aftermath of the first outbreak in the city of Wuhan. They also place Beijing in direct competition with Washington, which earlier last week said it had sent 110 million doses abroad and purchased another 500 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine— worth about $3.5 billion — to be distributed globally through COVAX. [Bloomberg]
10 August 2021
Cambodia, Chinese dam construction dire consequences, says HRW report
(nd) According to a recent Human Rights Watch (HRW) report, Cambodia’s largest hydropower project, a China-backed joint venture and part of the Belt and Road Initiate (BRI), has caused mayor social and environmental destruction. The Lower Sesan 2 dam in northern Cambodia is supposed to generate 400 megawatts at peak capacity and about 1,998 gigawatt hours per year, just over 15% of Cambodia’s annual electricity production. The HRW report said capacity was likely just a third of that. Also, the construction had reduced fish catches and taken away agricultural land vital for the mostly indigenous ethnic minority communities living in the area, according to interviews with the affected between 2019 and 2021. Some families were compensated, but far from adequate, according to HRW HRW linked the issues with Sesan 2 to the other five large China-funded hydropower dams, as well as the global perspective of BRI, suggesting more similar problems to arise from those infrastructure projects, infamous for their poor human rights protections.
Lower Sesan 2 was part of a 1999 Asian Development Bank-funded report and deemed “unattractive for investment due to its marginal financial viability” and “heavy environmental and social impacts” in a 2009 report. The project went ahead initially led by state-owned electricity giant Electricity of Vietnam (EVN), which was taken over by China’s Hydrolancang International Energy later, which holds 51% ownership. The local partner, Cambodian conglomerate Royal Group, owns 39% and EVN retained 10%. For now, the dam is privately run but will return to government ownership after 40 years. Hydrolancang is a subsidiary of state-owned China Huaneng Group. Upon its operation start in 2017, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen claimed the project would lower electricity prices, dismissing environmental concerns. [Nikkei Asia] [Asia Times]
10 August 2021
China to recall its ambassador to Lithuania over Taiwanese representative office
(nd) China has recalled its ambassador to Lithuania, and demanded the Lithuanian government in turn to recall its ambassador to China. China was thereby responding to Lithuania’s decision to allow Taipei to open a representative office in Vilnius, bearing the name “Taiwan”. In an announcement by China’s foreign ministry, it said the decision “brazenly violates the spirit of the communique on the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Lithuania and severely undermines China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity” and therefore the “Chinese government expresses its categorical opposition to this move.” The announcement continued urging the “Lithuanian side to immediately rectify its wrong decision, take concrete measures to undo the damage, and not to move further down the wrong path” and continued to “warn the Taiwan authorities that ‘Taiwan independence’ is a dead end and any attempt at separatist activities in the international arena is doomed to fail.”
According to its one-China policy, China claims Taiwan as part of its territory. The diplomatic outpost in Lithuania would be the first such de facto embassy in Europe to have the name “Taiwan”. Lithuania also plans to open a representative trade office in Taiwan by the end of the year.
Lithuania’s foreign ministry commented to regret China’s decision but was determined to continue bilateral relations with Taiwan. This most recent decision forms part of a year-long development of Lithuania to move away from China and towards Taiwan. [see also AiR No. 31, August/2021, 1] Earlier, Lithuania left the China-led “17+1” group to engage Central and Eastern European countries by funding infrastructure and other projects. The Lithuanian ambassador to China said this move was because their expectation for an improved access to the Chinese market did not materialize, saying imports from China continued to noticeably outweigh exports to China, leaving a negative trade balance. According to the Chinese Ministry of Commerce, trade value between China and Lithuania was US$1.35 billion in 2019. [South China Morning Post] [Taiwan News]
10 August 2021
North Korea: High-ranking officials undergoing traineeship with China
(nds) High-ranking officials of North Korea’s Ministry of Social Security are undergoing training on the operational-level systems of China’s Ministry of Public Security, according to a Daily NK source. Initially scheduled in China, this formation is now taking place online due to the COVID-19 pandemic and is expected to end on 15 August.
The training is centered around two main themes: the Chinese Ministry of Public Security’s criminal justice system and disaster response strategy. China teaches North Korea its law enforcement systems, suppression of illegal acts and investigation, arrest, detention, and trial of criminals. Also, North Korea is often affected by natural disasters like China. Beijing has the experience, means, and resources to respond effectively and quickly to such incidents, which is why North Korean cadres receive intensive training in rescue operations during disasters such as typhoons, monsoon rains, and fires.
The recently amended Anti-Reactionary Thought Law is said to be the reason for the Ministry of Social Security’s Judicial System reform. This law codified means of controlling people and intensified punishments. In addition, the Ministry of Social Security is responsible for enforcing the law. The North Korean authorities are reportedly planning to implement parts of the Chinese legal system into their system. [Daily NK] [The Diplomat]
10 August 2021
Germany charged wife of alleged German double agent for also having spied for China
(lm) Federal prosecutors in Germany have charged a German-Italian woman with espionage, alleging she assisted her husband, a semi-retired think tank head, in feeding information to Chinese intelligence for years. [South China Morning Post] [Generalbundesanwalt, in German] [The Washington Post, $]
The man was arrested last month on suspicion that he conducted “intelligence agent activities” for China for almost a decade, starting in 2010.
At the time of his arrest, however, the man had also been an informant for Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), for half a century, leading a “double life.” He was well-connected with senior officials in the spy agency and worked for the BND as an “intelligence liaison”, according to German public broadcaster ARD.
Publicly, the man was a political scientist, working for the Hanns Seidel Foundation — a political research foundation closely associated with the Christian Social Union, the Bavarian sister party of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union — from the 1980s until retirement. He has also run a think tank since 2001, according to the indictment filed in May.
German authorities allege the pair was recruited members of a Chinese intelligence service while on a lecture tour in Shanghai in mid-2010. Between mid-2010 and November 2019, both of them regularly provided Chinese secret service officials with information in the run-up to or after state visits or multinational conferences, prosecutors allege, adding they also offered information on pertinent “current issues.”
The couple procured this information from their numerous “high-level political” contacts obtained through the think tank, prosecutors said. The couple were financially compensated, prosecutors allege, and received paid-for trips to meet with Chinese intelligence employees.
The fact that the man was only formally charged this year is a sign of how complex the case is, the ARD report said – he apparently did not deny that he was spying for China, but instead insisted that he informed his BND handlers at the time of his recruitment by Chinese agents.
10 August 2021
China conducts large military exercise, according to observers
(lm) Observers say they found references to a large exercise in southeast China, which involves thousands of troops, including special operations forces. These troops are practicing amphibious landings and the exercise is described as a joint exercise. [Breaking Defense]
Experts say they were unable to find any reference to fixed wing aircraft, which would normally be required to consider an exercise as truly joint. But there is a good case to believe that the People’s Liberation Army is muddying the waters on the scope and scale of the exercise to make it more difficult for observers.
10 August 2021
Taiwan to massively produce missiles soon
(nds) Taiwan will soon produce an extended-range version of the successfully tested Tien Chien II “Sky Sword” missile. The Taiwanese Air Force has ordered 250 to 300 upgraded Tien Chien II missiles at the cost of US$1.07 million each, and they will be mounted on the 129 Air Force’s Indigenous Defense Fighter. These aircraft have been modified to carry four Tien Chien II missiles instead of two, significantly increasing their firepower. [Focus Taiwan 1]
According to a source of Focus Taiwan, the purpose of the new acquisition is to deter China from violating the Taiwanese ADIZ effectively, most recently this week [Taiwan News]. The Taiwanese military is far less powerful than China’s, and much of its weaponry is aging or even obsolete. Therefore, it is necessary to modernize the Taiwanese army. [Focus Taiwan 2]
Meanwhile, the Tawainese authorities are also multiplying military exercises. The government plans to deploy 292 Kestrel anti-armor rockets to the two territories it controls in the South China Sea to bolster its defense against increasing Chinese military incursions. In addition, the Coast Guard Administration has scheduled two rounds of live-fire exercises on Pratas Island in the South China Sea in September. Besides, they will also test an indigenous anti-tank rocket. The live-fire practices will be held from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. on 5 and 12 September. [Focus Taiwan 3]
10 August 2021
China’s new mystery submarine: what we know
(lm) The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN)’s newest submarine has created lots of analysis, and some wild speculation, for it could potentially be used to insert and extract special operation forces. [South China Morning Post]
The Type-039 class and derivatives are also known as the Yuan-class. The first of the class, the Type-039A, first made its appearance in a Chinese shipyard in 2006 and caught many naval experts by surprise. Since the class’s introduction into PLAN service, several variants have subsequently been introduced with the most significant external difference between them being the sub’s sails.
The new variation, tentatively dubbed the Type-039D or -D, features a distinctively stealthy sail – an angled upper section with an angled chine running along it – and was first pictured and posted on Chinese social media platforms on May 12, days before its launch at a shipyard in the city of Wuhan.
One potential application for a submarine with a “stealthy” sail could be special operation forces insertion and extraction when a submarine on the surface would be particularly vulnerable, though this remains somewhat speculative. Given the dearth of information, experts say it may be too early to say if the new submarine represents the new Yuan-class standard, a one-off design, or a research platform for testing new technology.
10 August 2021
US concerned about China’s growing nuclear ambitions, Secretary of State to Asian counterparts
(lm) US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Asian counterparts on August 6 that the United States had “deep concerns” over China’s growing nuclear arsenal. Speaking virtually at the annual ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) foreign ministers’ meeting, the American top alleged that Beijing had “sharply deviated from its decades-old nuclear strategy based on minimum deterrence”. [U.S. Department of State]
Blinken’s remarks came against the larger backdrop of two reports by the Federation of American Scientists suggesting that Beijing appears to be constructing two nuclear missile silo fields, marking the most significant expansion of the Chinese nuclear arsenal ever. [South China Morning Post]
The US official also called on China to “abide by its obligations under the international law of the sea and cease its provocative behavior in the South China Sea”. He also urged all ARF member states to press Myanmar’s military government to end violence and support the people of the country as they work to return to democratic governance. [Bloomberg]
The meeting was one out of five virtual encounters between the American top diplomat and his counterparts of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) last week, seen as a coordinated effort by the Biden administration to show the region is a priority while also addressing the ongoing crisis in Myanmar. [AiR No. 31, August/2021, 1]
10 August 2021
String of Sino-Russian military exercises to follow on pandemic-induced lull
(lm) Joint military exercises between China and Russia are poised to get back into full swing, according to announcements that observers say indicate that ties between Beijing and Moscow have matured to the point of a “de-facto military alliance.” [Financial Times, $] [South China Morning Post]
Earlier in June, the two countries celebrated the 20th anniversary of their Treaty of Good Neighborliness and Friendly Cooperation, with Presidents Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping hailing the close relationships between their countries as “an example of intergovernmental cooperation in the 21st century,” and as “model example of a new type of international relations”. [AiR No. 26, June/2021, 5]
More than 10,000 troops from both countries will be taking part in a major exercise, West-Interaction 2021, in China’s Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region from August 9 under the theme of jointly safeguarding regional security and stability. The joint exercise is meant to test, validate, and augment their capabilities to undertake joint reconnaissance, early warning, electronic information attack, and joint strike capabilities, according to China’s Defense Ministry. [The Diplomat]
The drills assume added significance, for they mark the first joint exercise hosted by China since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. But even during the pandemic, the People’s Liberation Army managed to participate in the Kavkaz 2020 strategic command-post exercise in Astrakhan in southern Russia last September [see AiR No. 38, September/2020, 4], the third high-profile Russian military maneuver joined by China, after Vostok 2018 and Tsentr 2019.
Later this month, the Chinese military will host some events under the Russian-run International Army Games, a form of military Olympics in which various national militaries engage in contests profiling specialized skills. Next month, then, China is expected to participate in the joint military anti-terrorist command and staff exercise of the member states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization PEACE MISSION-2021, which is scheduled to take place at Russia’s Donguzsky training ground in the Orenburg Region in the Urals.
In his report for the [Center for Strategic & International Studies], Richard Weitz reviews the evolving Chinese-Russian military exercises, assesses their purposes and results, forecasts their future evolution, and evaluates the policy implications for United States’ military planners.
Writing for the [U.S. Naval Institute], Alec Blivas in his report argues that these Sino-Russian military exercises signal a growing military-to-military alliance.
As a sidenote, Russia has released its new S-500 surface-to-air missile system, an advancement of its state-of-the art S-400 around three weeks ago.
10 August 2021
With China as its door, India plans to upgrade air operations capability in eastern Ladakh
(lm) India is reportedly considering expanding its capability to operate its fixed-wing aircrafts from at least three facilities near its unsettled border in the Himalayas with China. [mint]
Reports about New Delhi’s plans come after news reporting earlier this month suggested that China was upgrading an airbase in its Xinjiang autonomous region, which borders India’s union territory of Ladakh, for fighter aircraft operations.
While the People’s Liberation Army Air Force significantly outnumbers its Indian counterpart, the Indian Airforce enjoys a distinct terrain advantage in combat potential. For all existing Chinese airbases facing India are located at high-altitude, which severely limits the weapon and fuel-carrying capacity of the fighter jets. [The EurAsian Times]
Last month, eight new Rafale fighter jets were formally inducted at the Hasimara Air Force Station, the closest Indian air base to the tri-junction between the Indian state of Sikkim, Bhutan and the Tibet Autonomous Region.
Since March, the first squadron comprising 18 omni-role fighters has been fully operational at the Ambala Air Force Station [see AiR No. 12, March/2021, 4]. The remaining 10 of the overall 36 planes, contracted under a $9.2 billion deal inked with French defense manufacturer Dassault Aviation in 2016, are expected to arrive in batches before the deadline of April next year.
10 August 2021
China, India to disengage from third friction point along LAC
(lm) China and India have withdrawn troops from another friction point along their disputed Himalayan border after a meeting of top military commanders from both sides last week, Bloomberg reported, citing senior Indian officials familiar with the discussions. [The Straits Times]
On August 4 and 5, soldiers pulled back from Patrolling Point 17A – Gogra Post – located in the Galwan Valley area where at least 20 Indian and four Chinese soldiers were killed in June 2020 in one of the deadly brawls between the two neighbors in more than 40 years [see AiR No. 24, June/2020, 3]. A demilitarized zone will be created after the troops and artillery withdraw and the area will not be patrolled by either side to prevent rival soldiers from coming face to face. [The Indian Express]
The agreement was reached during the 12th round of Corps Commander-level talks, which both sides in a joint statement described as “constructive”, suggesting the rivals had found some common ground after more than a year of tensions. However, there is no statement from Beijing relating to the troop disengagement. [South China Morning Post]
The pullback from the Gogra Post is the third friction area from which soldiers of the Indian Army and the People’s Liberation Army have disengaged so far to end the military standoff along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). [The Diplomat]
In July of last year, both sides completed disengagement at the site of the clash, albeit deploying additional weapons and troops to other strategic locations along the LAC [see AiR No. 30, July/2020, 4]. In February, then, soldiers pulled back from their positions on the southern and northern banks of Pangong Lake, marking out a zone that neither side patrols [see AiR No. 8, February/2021, 4].
But China is yet to show inclination to withdraw from other newly occupied areas, namely Patrolling Point 15 at Hot Springs, and the Depsang Plains in eastern Ladakh, both of which did not feature in the piecemeal disengagement process [see AiR No. 45, November/2020, 2].
10 August 2021
Vietnam demands China to stop violations in Paracel islands
(ct) Vietnam urged China to stop and not repeat military drills on its Hoang Sa (Paracel) Islands, asserting that they violate Vietnam’s sovereignty. The Maritime Safety Administration of China’s Hainan Province has announced plans to hold military exercises near Vietnam’s Paracel (Hoàng Sa) archipelago and southeast of Hainan Island from 6 August to 10 August. In their response, the Foreign Ministry asserting drills on Vietnam’s Paracel Islands violate Vietnam’s sovereignty over the islands, which is in violation of the Declaration on the Conduct of the South China Sea (DOC), further creating tensions, also with respect to current negotiations between China and ASEAN on the Code of Conduct for the South China Sea (SOC), as well as the maintenance of peace, stability and cooperation at the SEA. Moreover, the Foreign Ministry reiterated that Vietnam has full legal basis and historical evidence to assert its sovereignty over the Paracel and Spratly (Truong Sa) islands in accordance with international law. Meanwhile, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi last Tuesday claimed during the ASEAN-China session, which is part of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting and related meetings, that the situation in the East Vietnam Sea has been stable thanks to the joint efforts of China and ASEAN. [Vietnamnews] In March this year, the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs had handed over a diplomatic note demanding China to respect its sovereignty over Hoang Sa (Paracel) and Truong Sa (Spratly) archipelagoes, also opposing China’s live-fire drills and construction plan in Hoang Sa. [Vietnamnet]
10 August 2021
Chinese Foreign Minister Wan Yi urges Southeast Asian counterparts to safeguard peace in South China Sea
(lm) China’s desire to expand its influence in Southeast Asia was on display last week at the region’s latest ministerial talks, where State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi warned against “external interference” in the South China Sea. [South China Morning Post] [The Straits Times]
Addressing virtually the ASEAN Regional Forum – which gathers foreign ministers from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and its partners, including the United States, China and Japan – Wang said interference by countries outside the region constituted the biggest threat to peace and stability in the South China Sea. [Nikkei Asia]
While Wang did not name the United States outright, his warning came as Washington tries to rally European allies into a coalition to isolate China. Ahead of the meeting, the British Royal Navy’s aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth arrived in the disputed waterway, while Germany deployed one of its frigates to the Indo-Pacific region. [AiR No. 31, August/2021, 1]
Wang also played up his country’s readiness to conclude a “code of conduct” for the South China Sea, announcing that both sides had completed the preamble for the nonaggression pact the two sides have been negotiating since 2017. He also said China would never make further claims in the disputed waterway and promised that his country would not take any unilateral moves to intensify disputes in the region.
After wrapping up his virtual encounter with his ASEAN counterparts, Wang held talks with foreign ministers from four Southeast Asian countries – Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines – over three days in the southern city of Nanping. [Associated Press]
10 August 2021
India deploys warships in South China Sea to expand security ties with friendly countries
(lm) India is sending four warships into the South China Sea on a two-months deployment that will include exercises with friendly countries, signaling New Delhi’s intent to play a bigger role in regional efforts to counter China. [Reuters]
The task force, which includes a guided-missile destroyer, guided missile frigate, anti-submarine corvette and guided-missile corvette, will depart India early this month, the country’s Defense Ministry announced on August 2, without giving a specific departure date. [CNN]
As part of their deployment, the warships will take part in the annual Exercise Malabar, along with the United States, Japan and Australia. The four countries make up the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue a loose strategic coalition that is increasingly seen as a potential counterweight to growing Chinese influence and alleged assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific. [South China Morning Post]
In other bilateral exercises during the deployment, the Indian warships will work with naval units from South China Sea littoral states, including Singapore (SIMBEX), Vietnam, Indonesia (Samudra Shakti), and the Philippines. [Voice of America]
The South China Sea has become a hotbed of naval activity in recent weeks. Earlier this month, a British aircraft carrier strike group led by HMS Queen Elizabeth transited the disputed waterway, while an American surface action group, and forces from China’s People’s Liberation Army staged exercises in it. [AiR No. 30, July/2021, 4]
Last week, Germany also sent a frigate to the South China Sea for the first time in almost two decades, as part of efforts by Berlin to show an “increased presence” in the region and demonstrate solidarity with allies and “like-minded” partners. [AiR No. 31, August/2021, 1]
10 August 2021
Myanmar: Junta expedites work on China-backed Kyaukphyu port
(mt/lm) Myanmar’s military junta has invited bids to provide legal services to two crucial infrastructure projects under the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC), a 1,700-kilometer infrastructure route that promises to connect the Indian Ocean oil trade to China’s remote and underdeveloped Yunnan Province. [The Economic Times]
Theoretically designed to upgrade the deep-water port at Kyaukphyu, the CMEC passes through Myanmar’s major economic hubs — first Mandalay in central Myanmar, then east Yangon and west to the Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone (KPSEZ) in Rakhine State.
The junta’s invitation to tenders comes as China is pressing Myanmar’s military junta to implement its ambitious infrastructure projects under the CMEC, despite the political turmoil created by the putsch and a surging number of COVID-19 cases. [The Irrawaddy]
Beijing considers the KPSEZ and the deep-sea port vital to its international infrastructure strategy known as the Belt and Road Initiative. For they both provide Beijing a direct access to the Indian Ocean, allowing Chinese trade to bypass the congested Strait of Malacca near Singapore, while boosting development in landlocked Yunnan Province, which borders Myanmar. Oil and natural gas pipelines are already functioning between Kyaukpyu and Kunming in Yunnan province.
The military regime’s governing body, the State Administration Council (SAC), has made several efforts to expedite work on China’s infrastructure projects in Myanmar since their takeover in February. In March, for example, the SAC reorganized three crucial committees related to the implementation of the CMEC [see AiR No. 21, May/2021, 4].
10 August 2021
China: Hong Kong Election Committee nominations kick off
(dx/lm) Hong Kong last week entered a season of elections, with a one-week nomination period for candidates of the powerful Election Committee (EC) opening on August 6. Elections for the EC will mark the first polls since Beijing drastically reformed the city’s electoral system in March to ensure only “patriots” could run the territory.
Previously only tasked with selecting the city’s Chief Executive (CE), the EC has been expanded to 1,500 members under Beijing’s sweeping overhaul of the electoral system, and will for the first time also fill 40 seats in the city’s parliament, the 90-member Legislative Council (LegCo) [see AiR No.13, March/2021, 5].
The same expansion that granted the pro-Beijing groups their place at the table also saw the elimination of all 117 seats once held by district council members, among the few EC members directly elected by local voters. Those seats were to be replaced with appointed advisor bodies and groups representing people from Hong Kong in mainland China. [AiR No. 30, July/2021, 4]
Elections for the LegCo will be held in December, and the race for the city’s next CE is expected to kick off in March next year. Anyone who hopes to contest the LegCo polls will have to secure at least two nominations from each of the five sectors in the EC: business, social, professional, political, and patriotic. This allows the EC to act as a gatekeeper for any would-be lawmaker.
Together, these five sectors divide into 40 subsectors, each assigned a different number of seats. More than a third of these seats – 518 – will not be selected by election but will either be hand-picked by pro-establishment chambers or groups, or appointed as ex-officio members. The remaining number of about 1,000 seats will be filled via “contest”, in which only specified organizations or companies can vote for these representatives.
But there will also be drastic changes in this area: 300 seats have been reserved for the newly created “patriotic sector”, 110 of which will be filled with members from “national organizations” subsector, which includes previously little-known bodies such as the All-China Women’s Federation, All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce and the All-China Youth Federation.
By contrast, the remaining 190 seats reserved for the “patriotic sector” will be appointees chosen by elite members of the Chinese legislature – National People’s Congress – or another advisory body to Beijing. Yet, the line-up of voters for the subsector has taken some by surprise, upending the prevailing assumption it would be filled entirely with conventional pro-Beijing politicians. [South China Morning Post 1]
The overhaul has also vastly reduced the public vote. Previously, about 240,000 voters – already a mere fraction of the city’s 7.5 million residents — could choose EC members through a mix of individual ballots and ones cast by groups. Now, the number has been cut to below 8,000, as most individual votes have been eliminated.
Hong Kong’s business, professional and political leaders have vowed to pack EC with talents to push officials into solving some of the city’s most entrenched problems, including tackling the housing crisis, improving prospects for young people, and reforming the judicial system. [South China Morning Post 2]
But key players in the opposition camp have told the South China Morning Post that most of its members were unlikely to join the race not only due to the disadvantages they have to deal with, but also because they did not want to subject themselves to a vetting process, they believe is stacked against them. [South China Morning Post 3]
Any potential candidate will first be investigated by the national security department of Hong Kong’s police and the city’s national security committee, a body created by Beijing last year which includes the central government’s chief representative in Hong Kong. Their reports will be handed to the Candidate Eligibility Review Committee, a new vetting committee whose decisions on qualifying candidates are final and cannot be appealed in court. [Hong Kong Free Press]
10 August 2021
China: Hong Kong leader Lam backs local version of anti-sanctions law
(dx/lm) Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam said on August 10 she supports the implementation of an anti-sanctions laws in the former British colony, sending the strongest signal yet that the financial hub is set to adopt the legislation. [South China Morning Post]
Beijing rushed through its own “antiforeign sanctions law” in June in response to sanctions imposed on the country by the United States and Europe. The legislation authorizes the Chinese government to take countermeasures against foreign individuals and entities in discriminatory restrictive measures that “violate international laws and basic norms”. [AiR No. 24, June/2021, 3]
Lam’s comments follow reports last month that China’s top legislative body, the National People’s Congress (NPC) Standing Committee, was preparing to formally declare that the anti-sanctions law applied to Hong Kong and Macau during a closed-door session next week. [AiR No. 31, August/2021, 1]
Speaking ahead of her weekly Executive Council meeting, Lam said she would opt for a local legislative process that sought to add the law to an annex of Hong Kong’s Basic Law, and thus, would allow for adaptations that would suit the city’s circumstances.
Using a similar language, Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng – who is one of several Hong Kong officials sanctioned by the United States over the implementation of the national security law – told a news conference on August 3 that the new law would only be used to counter unreasonable sanctions imposed on the city by foreign governments. [The Straits Times]
Separately, the US State Department on August 10 dismissed as inaccurate a report in The Global Times, a Communist Party newspaper, alleging that American diplomats in Hong Kong had pressured their country’s companies to withdraw from the city. [Global Times]
10 August 2021
China: Lawyers detained over courtroom video with prosecutor admitting errors
(dx) Two Chinese lawyers have apparently been detained over a courtroom video posted online more than a year ago showing a prosecutor admitting to several procedural errors. [Shangyou Xinwen, in Chinese]
The Public Security Bureau (PSB) in the country’s northeastern Liaoning province declared to have detained investigative journalist-turned-lawyer Zhou Xiaoyun as well as lawyer Nie Min on suspicion of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”, an ill-defined crime frequently used by authorities to muzzle dissent.
Zhou’s detention is apparently connected to his role as a defense lawyer for a group of men accused by the PSB of being loan sharks. The case, which opened in June 2020, drew public attention after the prosecutor during the trial admitted several procedural errors. The statement was recorded and uploaded to the Chinese courts’ official website for live-streaming trials. [South China Morning Post]
10 August 2021
China: Campaign against ‘fake news’ and to limit role of algorithms in content distribution
(dx) China has launched a new campaign to crack down on “fake news”, putting further pressure on the country’s social media platforms to screen out unsanctioned information. [South China Morning Post 1]
Jointly carried out by ten government departments – including the General Administration of Press and Publications, the central propaganda department of Chinese Communist Party – the campaign will target “illegal news activities” as well as any individual, social organizations and communication platforms that help in the publication.
The campaign comes short after China last month accused British national broadcaster BBC of disseminating “fake news” over its coverage of devastating floods in central parts of the country. [AiR No.31, August / 2021, 1]
It also comes on the heels of a new policy push from the top state propaganda organs, which urged last week for better “culture and art reviews” in China, partly by limiting the role of algorithms in content distribution. [South China Morning Post 2]
According to analysts, the move is more than reactions to online public criticism over the authorities’ handling of the flood disaster. There is a good case to believe, that is, that it is supposed to lay the groundwork for the 20th Party Congress in 2022 by strengthening controls on public speech, eliminating unwanted voices, and ensuring that only “authoritative information” can be heard. [Radio Free Asia]
10 August 2021
China: Court rejects Canadian’s appeal against death sentence for drug smuggling
(lm) A Chinese court on August 10 upheld a death sentence against Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, a Canadian convicted of drug smuggling in China, in a 2018 case which many have labelled “hostage diplomacy” by Chinese authorities over an ongoing extradition hearing in Canada for a Huawei executive wanted in the United States. [The Guardian] [The Straits Times]
Schellenberg had been detained in China since December 2014, when he was accused of attempting to smuggle methamphetamine to Australia. In December 2018 he was sentenced to 15 years. But a high court ordered a retrial later the same month when the prosecution said they had uncovered new evidence to prove Schellenberg’s principal role in the case. He received the death sentence just a month later. [CNN]
According to The Globe and Mail, the decision is expected to be reported to the Supreme People’s Court for approval. [The Globe and Mail]
Separately, Chinese courts are also expected to deliver a sentence against another Canadian, Michael Spavor, a businessman who was charged with espionage alongside former diplomat Michael Kovrig and tried in secret in March after more than 830 days in detention. Canadian diplomats were denied access to the trial. [AiR No. 11, March/2021, 3]
The arrest of the two men and the retrial of Schellenberg have been linked to Canada’s above mentioned arrest of Chinese Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, who was arrested at Vancouver airport on a US warrant in late 2018 over allegations she committed bank fraud by allegedly concealing the company’s business dealings in Iran.
The detained chief financial officer appeared in court last week, with her lawyers making a final push to convince the court not to extradite her to the United States. A judgement is expected later in the year. [BBC]
Meng’s arrest – and China’s subsequent detention of Spavor and Kovrig – has sent Canada-China relations plummeting, with Beijing condemning the arrest as a politically motivated move and as a violation of international law. [see latest AiR No. 28, July/2021, 2]
The issue was also raised in high-level discussions between senior US and Chinese diplomats in recent weeks, including a meeting in July between US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister Xie Feng [see AiR No. 30, July/2021, 4].
3 August 2021
China calls on Berlin as German warship begins six-months deployment to Indo-Pacific region
(nd/lm) China said on July 3 it would not consider a port call request from a German warship to stop at Shanghai until Berlin until Berlin “clarifies its intentions” in sending the frigate through the South China Sea. [South China Morning Post]
The frigate “Bayern” began its mission to the Indo-Pacific region on July 2 – the first such deployment in almost two decades – as part of efforts by Berlin to show an “increased presence” in the region and demonstrate solidarity with allies and “like-minded” partners.
The six-month deployment follows the government’s overall Indo-Pacific strategy, approved almost a year ago, for dealing with regional challenges. For Germany, that has entailed a delicate dance around the subject of China, which government leaders believe is a would-be adversary in the security arena and an ally in other domains, like fighting climate change.
The sending of the frigate is a sign Berlin is getting more involved in the geopolitically central and disputed region, while at the same time emphasizing a non-confrontational approach, using the usual trade routes and asking permission to visit the Shanghai port. [Naval News]
However, Beijing on Tuesday said it would not consider a port call request from the German frigate until Berlin “clarifies its intentions” in sailing through the South China Sea.
According to Germany’s Ministry of Defense, the frigate will dock in the ports of Germany’s allied partners and participate in joint exercises with Australia, Singapore, Japan and the United States. It will also help enforce UN sanctions on North Korea; and support the NATO and EU missions Operation Sea Guardian and Atalanta, respectively. As a show-of-presence and training mission, the ship’s deployment does not fall under the country’s laws requiring parliamentary approval for military operations. [Deutsche Welle] [JANES]
3 August 2021
Japan calls for greater attention to ‘survival of Taiwan’
(lm) Japan’s Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi has called on the international community to pay greater attention to the “survival of Taiwan” as he warned that China’s military build-up was enveloping the island, the Financial Times reported. [Financial Times, $]
Kishi, the younger brother of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, is known for his close relations with politicians in Taipei and is regarded as both a conservative and a hawk on China.
His comments mark a further uptick in rhetoric after Japan broke with years of precedent and for the first time directly linked Taiwan’s security with its own and with regional stability more widely, in its latest defense white paper, released last month. This followed even firmer language from Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso, who said earlier last month that Japan “would have to defend Taiwan” alongside the United States if it was invaded by China. He later retracted the statement. [AiR No. 28, July/2021, 2]
China reacted with predictable fury to the statements, both through official channels and its more bellicose media outlets. In a video aired earlier this month – reportedly with approval of the Chinese Communist Party – Beijing warned that it would use nuclear bombs against Tokyo, if the country were to intervene intervene in a future Taiwan conflict. [AiR No. 30, July/2021, 4]
3 August 2021
Russian state-owned news agency to show Taiwan’s flag on the Olympic medal table
(nds) During their coverage of the Olympics, Russian press agency RIA Novosti depicted the Taiwanese flag. Athletes must be part of a national Olympic committee attached to an independent state recognized by the international community and the International Olympic Committee to participate in the Olympic Games. However, there are a few exceptions, such as Taiwan, which carries the Olympic rings instead of their flag because of China’s claims. Due to their state-backed doping program, Russian athletes are competing under the acronym ROC (Russian Olympic Committee) and a modified flag, a possible motivation for this move. The governmental run news outlet, which therefore respects the “One China” principle, has maintained the name of Chinese Taipei to designate Taiwan on the Olympic medal table, nevertheless. [Taiwan News 1]
Italy’s most widely read newspaper used the name and flag of Taiwan in its Olympics coverage. Despite China’s attempts to use the Olympics to assert its claim of ownership over Taiwan, there has been a growth in international news agencies using the Taiwanese flag. [Taiwan News 2] Meanwhile, the US House of Representatives passed the “Department of State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Appropriations Act 2022”, a foreign assistance bill, with a vote of 217 to 212. One of the bill’s amendments prohibits using funds to create, acquire or display maps depicting Taiwan as part of the People’s Republic of China. The five Republican representatives who introduced this amendment argued that Taiwan is sovereign, democratic, and independent of communist China. Moreover, they declared that the principle of one China is misleading. [Taipei Times]
The bill is a harbinger of stronger ties between Washington and Taipei. [ See also AiR No. 28, July/2021, 2] Such encounters have become more frequent since the US State Department updated its guidelines for exchanges with Taiwan in April, encouraging more contact between US and Taiwanese officials. Meanwhile, China’s mission in Geneva criticized the US for the most recent meeting in Geneva, asking it to “cease all official interaction with the Taiwan region” and respect the “one China” principle.[Taiwan News]
3 August 2021
Lithuania, Taiwan to move closer
(nd) Following a series of small diplomatic incidents, including a data leak in September revealing a Chinese company gathered information on over 500 prominent Lithuanian citizens, the Baltic nation grew increasingly wary towards China.Lithuania pulled out of China’s “17+1” cooperation bloc with Central and Eastern Europe in spring last year, a prelude to establishing closer ties with Taiwan through vaccination donations and an agreement to open mutual representative offices, naming it somewhat provocatively “Taiwan representative office”. In the following October, a center-right coalition came to power promoting a “values-based foreign policy” under Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis, the grandson of a prominent post-Soviet independence leader.
According to political observers, with respect to viable economic relations, Lithuania aims to primarily cooperate with democracies for their higher level of predictability.It remains unlikely that Lithuania’s dropout will trigger a wave of similar action. Since it triggered a discussion, though, there is a possibility of countries to slowly drift away or send lower-level envoys.After all, the majority of Chinese direct investment in infrastructure was made to the Western Balkans, and outside the region, mostly to Poland and Hungary. Total Chinese investment in Lithuania was calculated about 82 million euros in 2020. With China facing increased criticism for its growing aggression — both NATO’s counterintelligence reports taking note, and the EU including the issue in its Indo-Pacific Strategy — Taiwan gained momentum to expand presence in Europe, most notably with its praised management of the current health crisis. The changing views of China in Europe, also in connection with the situation in Hong Kong, were insofar favorable for Taiwan: According to researchers, this led to more frequent exchanges with respect to medical supplies and vaccines during the pandemic. Amid that, Lithuania’s move is the most pronounced and a sign to Brussel of remaining very independent domestic policies. [Nikkei Asia]
3 August 2021
Indonesia, US to hold joint drills
(nd) Indonesia and the US started joint drills on island defense on Sunday with over 4,500 service members, making it the largest exercise ever conducted by the two countries. It is part of the annual Garuda Shield exercises and conducted on Sumatra, Sulawesi, and Kalimantan for two weeks. A similar exercise is scheduled in the US later this year, following the beginning of the construction of a joint maritime training center in Batam, in the Strait of Malacca. Such efforts are seen by Indonesia as deterrence against Chinese aggression in the disputed sea, recently referred to by US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin during his address in Singapore as to have “no basis in international law.” China is Indonesia’s second largest trading partner, with lately partnerships between their provinces having increased in various sectors, and infrastructure projects as well as the development of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) as part of the Belt and Road Initiative won ground, deepening economic ties. Likewise, China has donated vaccination jabs. [The Diplomat] Still, Indonesia frequently clashed with China on its military assertiveness in the South China Sea. Both countries held joint naval exercises last May in an effort of Indonesia to remain a balance between the two super powers. In July, the Indonesian navy conducted a large drill in the southern part of the South China Sea. [Nikkei Asia]
3 August 2021
Chinese President Xi Jinping calls for greater focus on military development
(lm) In a speech given two days prior to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA)’s 94th anniversary, Chinese President Xi Jinping has called for a greater focus on national defense and the military. [South China Morning Post]
The remarks were delivered during a study session of the 25-member Politburo, the decision-making body of the Communist Party of China (CPC). In his recently published analysis, Brian Hart notes that “Politburo group study sessions […] provide unique insights into the interests and priorities of the [CPC]’s elite,” and thus, allow to identify “significant changes in the party leadership’s priorities”. Interestingly, President Xi has held more than twice the number of study sessions focused on military and security affairs than his predecessor Hu Jintao, according to Hart. [The Jamestown Foundation]
Thus, Xi’s most recent remarks assumes added significance, not least because they come at a time when the country is facing heightened security risks: On China’s western borders, the withdrawal of American and NATO combat forces from Afghanistan has led to a resurgence of the Taliban and instability in the region, which Beijing fears could give Uygur separatists a base from which to conduct attacks in its Xinjiang province. [see also article in this edition]
To the east, tensions are growing as the United States and its allies conduct more naval operations on waters China claims as its own. On July 30, US Marine Corps jets were pictured on the British Royal Navy’s aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, which is currently leading the UK’s Carrier Strike Group 21 on its maiden visit to the region. The 28-week deployment to Asia assumes added significance, for it marks the largest concentration of maritime and air power to leave Britain in a generation [see AiR No. 26, June/2021, 5]. [CNN]
3 August 2021
New Chinese ambassador arrives in Washington amidst worsening China-US ties
(lm) China dispatched its new ambassador to the United States last week — Qin Gang, a diplomat whose record of vigorously contesting Western criticism suggests that Beijing is bracing for a period of extended tensions with Washington. Qin arrived in the United States on July 28 to fill the post vacated last month by long-time ambassador Cui Tiankai, who has passed the retirement age for senior Chinese ambassadors. [Bloomberg] [The New York Times] [The Straits Times]
Unlike nearly all of China’s ambassadors to Washington since the 1980s, Qin Gang has never specialized in dealing with the United States, nor has he been posted there previously. But as the head of the information office of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, and later the chief of protocol, he appears to have won the trust of President Xi Jinping and has regularly accompanied him during trips abroad and in meetings with foreign leaders. [The Diplomat]
In his new role, Qin will instantly become China’s most important overseas envoy, charged with navigating an increasingly thorny and politically charged relationship. He will most likely convey to Washington that President Xi expects his country to be treated as a great power, reflecting a confidence that stems in part from China’s success in controlling the coronavirus epidemic. But in his first remarks in the US Qin struck a cordial note, saying that “the door of US-China relations, which is already open, cannot and should not be closed”. [QUARTZ]
Chinese diplomats showed that emboldened posture last week in rare high-level talks in the northern Chinese city of Tianjin with the Deputy Secretary of State Wendy R. Sherman [see AiR No. 30, July/2021, 4], and in March, when they publicly sparred with Biden administration officials in an unusually rancorous opening encounter in Anchorage [see AiR No. 12, March/2021, 4].
Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden still has not installed an ambassador in Beijing. Former Ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns has been seen as a favorite for the post.
3 August 2021
China hosts Taliban delegation, expects group to play ‘important’ role in Afghanistan peace talks
China offered a high-profile public stage to the Taliban on July 28, declaring that it expected the insurgent group rapidly retaking large parts of Afghanistan would play “an important role in the process of peaceful reconciliation and reconstruction” of the country. [Reuters]
Foreign Minister Wang Yi began two days of consultation with a delegation of nine Taliban leaders in the northeastern Chinese city of Tianjin, significantly raising the group’s international stature at a time when the group’s military ascendancy in Afghanistan has grown. Wang also said that he hoped the Taliban would crack down on the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, a Muslim separatist group founded by militant Uighurs in China’s Xinjiang province, which he called a “direct threat to China’s national security”.
While the Taliban have a political office in Qatar where peace talks are taking place, they have been on a regional diplomatic blitz over the last month, visiting Tehran, Moscow and the Turkmenistan capital Ashgabat for talks with officials. [The New York Times]
However, the visit to Tianjin was the Taliban’s most significant diplomatic coup yet. For Chinese officials have met with the insurgents’ envoys before, including a meeting in Beijing in 2019, but not at such a high level and in such a public way. The delegation, led by Taliban negotiator and co-founder of the group Mullah Baradar Akhund, was also meeting China’s special envoy for Afghanistan.
Earlier this month, the Taliban said they welcome Beijing as a “friend” to Afghanistan and expressed their hope to quickly engage in talks with China about investing in reconstruction work. [AiR No. 28, July/2021, 2]
3 August 2021
Chinese embassy blasts US Defence Secretary Austin for ‘attack and smear’ in Singapore lecture
(lm) The Chinese Embassy in Singapore on July 29 cut up US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin for his comments during a lecture in the city state last week on Taiwan, the South China Sea and Uygur Muslims that it deemed an “attack and smear” on Beijing. [South China Morning Post]
Austin, who had arrived in Singapore earlier last week for his first visit since taking up his post, was speaking on July 27 at an event organized by the International Institute of Strategic Studies, when he outlined his vision of “integrated deterrence.”
In his lecture, the US official devoted a substantial amount of time to addressing Washington’s relations with Beijing, saying that while his country sought “constructive, stable” ties with China, it “will not flinch” if its interests are threatened. The Pentagon chief, however, couched the somewhat conciliatory comments by listing various concerns including Beijing’s hardened Taiwan policy; its claim to the vast majority of the South China Sea; and the treatment of Uygur Muslims in Xinjiang. [Defense News]
Two days thereafter, the Chinese Embassy in Singapore responded to Austin’s speech with a statement, in which it claimed the US official had “distorted facts and created falsehoods” to serve US geopolitical goals. The Embassy also claimed Austin had played up the “so-called China threat” in an attempt to drive a wedge between China and its neighbors. [The Straits Times]
3 August 2021
United States pulls India closer amid challenges in Afghanistan, China
(lm) The United States will give India $25 million to vaccinate against the coronavirus, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced last week during a two-day stop in New Delhi as part of the Biden administration’s effort to strengthen ties with a diplomatic partner wedged between two countries that mark some of the United States’ most notable geopolitical challenges, Afghanistan and China. [South China Morning Post] [The Straits Times 1] [The Washington Post]
Blinken’s visit to New Delhi was the second high profile visit of a member from the Biden administration, following on a visit to India by US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin in March [see AiR No. 12, March/2021, 4]. Later last week, Blinken travelled to Kuwait to discuss regional issues including Iran and the ongoing conflict in Yemen.
China loomed large as Blinken and his Indian counterpart S. Jaishankar jointly reiterated a commitment to flesh out the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), a nascent strategic coalition comprising of four democracies that is increasingly seen as a US-led effort to counter China’s influence in the Indo-Pacific. Hailing Washington’s relationship with India as one of the “most consequential” in the world, Blinken also announced that the United States will give India $25 million to vaccinate against the coronavirus.
Regarding India, Blinken described New Delhi and Washington as largely in lockstep on the need to find a peaceful solution to the Afghan conflict and offered an assurance that his country will remain “very much engaged in Afghanistan.”
The Indian government has been wary of a full military takeover by the Taliban, believing that this is likely to pose a threat to its security and strategic interests, as it may shift the balance of power in the region towards its nemesis Pakistan and its regional competitor China. [see article in this edition]
Significantly, however, Blinken used an earlier meeting with civil society leaders to express what might be seen as a veiled concern about a democratic backsliding and erosion of civil liberties under Indian Prime Minister Modi’s government: “We view Indian democracy as a force for good in defense of a free and open Indo-Pacific,” he said, adding that the United States would “also recognize that every democracy, starting with our own, is a work in progress.” [Deutsche Welle] [The Straits Times 2]
Last month, Washington urged New Delhi to “respect the vital role of human rights activists in healthy democracies”, following the death of a 84-year-old rights activist and Jesuit priest, who had been detained for nine months without trial under Indian anti-terrorism laws. [AiR No. 27, July/2021, 1]
3 August 2021
Taiwan to restrict its citizens from working in critical industries in China
(nd) Taiwan announced to impose heavy fines ranging between NT$2 million (US$71,532) and NT$10 million on citizens trying to work in China involved in “critical industries” in an effort to protect the country’s core technologies. According to the amendment to the Act Governing Relations between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area proposed by the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), individuals, corporations, and organizations working related to defense, diplomacy, technology, intelligence, and Chinese affairs have to seek government approval before entering into the Chinese market. [Taiwan News]
3 August 2021
Taiwanese retired general urges military Coup to surrender to China
(nds) A retired Taiwanese general urged the country’s military to overthrow the democratically elected government in a video titled “Letter from ‘General An-Kuo’s Unification Forum’ to Brothers in the Army, Navy and Air Force,” to pave the way for a Chinese take-over of Taiwan. Moreover, he accused the Taiwanese authorities of being responsible for the outbreak of covid cases by refusing the Chinese vaccine. The video sparked an outcry in Taiwanese social networks urging politicians and legal experts to investigate the soldier for treason and violating the National Security Act. In addition, the general could be charged under Article 153 of Taiwan’s criminal code, which prohibits inciting another to commit an offense, break the law, or disobey an order. Furthermore, the general filmed himself wearing the official military uniform without authority, which violates Article 159 of the law. [Taiwan News] [Taipei Times]
3 August 2021
China: Confusion over three-children policy shift
(dx) China’s top health authority has confirmed that all mainland citizens are allowed to have up to three children, amid confusion over when the major policy shift would take effect. [South China Morning Post 1]
Against the larger backdrop of growing concerns over the nation’s rapidly ageing population, China earlier this year put and end to its existing two-child policy –which had failed to lead to a sustained upsurge in births – and replaced it with a three-child limit [see AiR No.22, June/2021, 1].
The move, which was approved by President Xi Jinping at a meeting of top Communist Party officials, was announced on May 31. But the decision has not yet been legislated and the amendment of Population and Family Planning Law is yet to be submitted to the legislature.
The country’s National Health Commission confirmed that couples who want to have a third child can do so and have been able to do so since May 31. Apparently, the May announcement had caused confusion among local governments, which have taken different approaches to implementing the policy change. [South China Morning Post 2]
Besides revising the law on population and family planning, the government will roll out a range of incentive policies to encourage couples to have more children. These measures include reducing the cost of giving birth, raising a child and education; abolishing the country’s fines for violating birth control policies; primary and middle schools will extend the school day; low-cost childcare places will be added and nursery schools for children will be expanded. Still, health authorities remain cautious about prospects for a baby boom. [Global Times] [South China Morning Post 3]
3 August 2021
China: Outspoken tycoon jailed for 18 years
(dx) Sun Dawu, a rural tycoon and outspoken critic of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, was sentenced to 18 years in prison in a close-door trial on July 28, the latest in a string of punishments against corporate bosses. [South China Morning Post]
Sun had been detained in November of last year, along with 20 relatives and business associates, over a land dispute with a government-run farm. Prosecuted in a trial alongside 19 family members and employees, he was convicted of a range of crimes, including organizing people to attack state agencies, obstructing public affairs and provoking quarrels. He was also fined 3.11 million yuan ($478,697). [BBC]
The Dawu Agricultural and Animal Husbandry Group, a conglomerate that bears the tycoon’s name, was fined more than 30 million yuan ($4.6 million).
Long a thorn in the side of Beijing, Sun has in the past spoken out about human rights and politically sensitive topics. In 2015, he voiced his support for those caught up in the “709 crackdown”, when over 300 human rights lawyers and activists were detained. He also publicly criticized the Hebei authorities in 2019, accusing them of covering up the extent of the damage done by African swine fever outbreaks. [AiR No.29, July/2021, 3]
The sentence comes amid broader efforts by Chinese President Xi Jinping to muzzle outspoken business leaders and bring the private sector to heel. In 2018, Wu Xiaohui, a Chinese tycoon who rose to prominence after he bought the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, was sentenced to 18 years in prison for defrauding investors. Last year, Ren Zhiqiang, a retired real estate mogul, was given an 18-year prison term after he called President Xi a clown in an essay. [The New York Times]
The harsh sentences are likely to have a discouraging effect on other private entrepreneurs.
3 August 2021
China accuses BBC of ‘fake news’ over floods reporting
(lm) China on July 29 accused British national broadcaster BBC of disseminating “fake news” and claimed the media outlet was “naturally unpopular” over its coverage of devastating floods in central China. [The Straits Times 1]
Meanwhile, correspondents of international outlets covering the aftermath of a severe flooding in China’s central province of Henan reported harassment by locals, who accused them of being “rumour mongers”. Reporters from the Los Angeles Times and German outlet Deutsche Welle were physically confronted by angry crowds, who filmed and questioned them, on July 24. Other journalists have been targeted with death threats, with a specific focus on the BBC. [The Guardian] [The Straits Times 2]
According to China Digital Times, Chinese media, which are strictly monitored and controlled by authorities, were ordered to only report “authoritative information” about casualties and property damage, and instructed not to “take an exaggeratedly sorrowful tone or hype or draw connections to past events” without permission. [World Politics Review, $]
The incidents come against the larger backdrop of rising hostility towards foreign media in China, which have made reporting increasingly difficult and risky for foreign outlets. In the past 18 months at least a dozen US journalists have been expelled in a tit-for-tat with Washington, and at least four journalists were forced to flee. Two others were arrested and detained on undefined national security accusations.
3 August 2021
China to impose anti-sanctions law on Hong Kong, Macau
(lm) China’s top legislative body is planning to introduce anti-sanctions laws in Hong Kong and Macau, a move that could leave many foreign entities and their employees caught in rising tensions between Washington and Beijing. [The Wall Street Journal][The Straits Times]
The move comes after Beijing rushed through its own “antiforeign sanctions law” last month in response to sanctions imposed on the country by the United States and Europe. The legislation authorizes the Chinese government to seize assets from and deny visas to individuals and groups who formulate or implement sanctions against the country. It also empowers individuals and companies to sue “individuals and organisations” to seek compensation for discriminatory practices in Chinese courts. [AiR No. 24, June/2021, 3]
While much depends on how strictly Beijing chooses to enforce the legislation, the measure could create new headaches for thousands of foreign companies that operate in the two Chinese territories, especially in the financial hub of Hong Kong as it could force firms to deal with potentially incompatible US and Chinese rules. [Nikkei Asia]
3 August 2021
China: Hong Kong man arrested for allegedly booing Chinese anthem while watching Olympics
(dx/lm) Hong Kong police have arrested a man on suspicion of insulting the national anthem, after he allegedly waved a colonial-era Hong Kong flag and booed during a mall screening of an Olympic event at a mall. [Hong Kong Free Press] [South China Morning Post]
Hong Kong passed a law in June of last year that criminalizes any actions that insult the national anthem. Anyone found guilty of flouting the national anthem law could be jailed up to three years and fined $6,400. Moreover, China’s central government criminalized actions that insult the national flag and emblem in amendments made to a law in October 2020, which is also applicable to Hong Kong. [The Guardian]
3 August 2021
China: Hong Kong cuts ties with teachers’ union, saying it incited protests
(lm) In an unprecedented step, Hong Kong’s government has cut ties with the city’s largest teachers’ union, stripping it of its status as a professional body, in the latest attempt to change an education system that Beijing blamed for fueling social unrest and dissent among students. [The Wall Street Journal, $]
The Education Bureau (EDB)’s announcement on July 31 came within hours after two of China’s state-media outlets called for the Professional Teachers’ Union (PTU) to be “eradicated”, saying it was a “poisonous tumor”. Both outlets also called for an investigation into the union’s role in inciting unrest in Hong Kong, even though the PTU had already distanced itself from two groups that have been accused by Beijing of violating the national security law. [Global Times]
Using similar language, the EDB in its announcement then accused the PTU of engaging in political propaganda under the guise of an education organization, saying it had urged teachers to launch class boycotts and incited students to join “violent and unlawful activities” during the widespread 2019 protests.
The move means the government will no longer meet or consult with the educators’ group. Any member of the union will also be stripped of their positions on government advisory bodies while its teacher’s training courses will also no longer be recognized. [Hong Kong Free Press]
In response, the PTU – which represents some 95,000 members –said in two statements that it did not incite student protests and has opposed separatism since its foundation more than four decades ago. It also said the EDB had already significantly reduced its meetings with the union in recent years, adding that the full termination of ties would be a loss for the teaching industry. [South China Morning Post 1]
The decision comes at a time when Hong Kong’s education sector is experiencing ongoing reforms to promote national security in schools and universities, as required by the Beijing-imposed national security law. Students from at least three publicly funded Hong Kong universities will have to undergo education in the topic as a requirement for graduation from the coming academic year. [South China Morning Post 2]
3 August 2021
China: Radio host’s sedition trial watershed moment for Hong Kong as authorities stamp out dissent
(dx/lm) A pro-democracy Hong Kong radio host went on trial on July 29 for sedition in the first use of the colonial-era law since the city’s handover to China as authorities broaden their criminalization of dissent.
The online talk show host faces eight sedition charges for slogans he either uttered or wrote between January and July of last year. [The Straits Times]
The trial is seen as manifestation of a legal watershed as it sets a precedent for what political phrases and views are now deemed illegal in China’s attempt to stamp out political dissent in HK following the pro-democracy protests two years ago.
Sedition is a colonial-era law that until last year had not been used since Hong Kong’s 1997 handover to China. It carries up to two years in jail for a first offence. Police and prosecutors are now regularly using it alongside the national security law to clamp down on political speech and views.
Earlier this month, the new national security police unit, which is spearheading a sweeping crackdown on dissent, arrested five members of a Hong Kong union behind a series of children’s books that try to explain the city’s democracy movement to children on similar charges. [The Guardian]
Most of those arrested for such crimes are denied bail.
27 July 2021
Singapore, China to compete with respect to bunker fuels
(nd) With China boosting its capacities, dominant marine fuel supplier Singapore will face significant competition. Ports and refining facilities were rapidly expanded, attracting more ships, which resulted in a five-fold increase in sales over the last five years. The main area for Chinese bunker fuels is Zhoushan, an archipelago south of Shanghai, feature the country’s biggest facilities, made more competitive by governmental tax incentives. Singapore supplies about a fifth of the global total in bunker fuel, totaling to 50 million tons in 2020. According to an estimate, Chinese sales rose to 16.0 million tons. Bunking facilities in China are quickly expanded and pumping volumes increased, for which global rules demand the use of cleaner fuels. The government has issued more than 10 bunkering licenses in Zhoushan. While China’s pricing is very competitive, Singapore has a geographical advantage and is more reliable with its efficient and timely delivery of fuel, according to experts. [South China Morning Post]
27 July 2021
US boosting efforts to repair its ties with ASEAN
(nd) The upcoming visit of Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to ASEAN this month is in line with efforts of Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the Biden administration to enhance estranged relations with ASEAN nations. While Blinken emphasized cooperation with respect to security in the Indo-Pacific, rejecting once again “unlawful” Chinese claims in the South China Sea, he urged the bloc for a coordinated response to the coup in Myanmar. The mission of Austin highlights the US’s commitment to counter Chinese activity in the disputed waters, visiting frontline states Vietnam and the Philippines, and the regional hub of Singapore, where he is expected to elaborate on US military strategy in the South China Sea. Contrary to Trump, who participated in 2017 but sent lower-level representatives for the following years, Biden will participate in the ASEAN summit later this year. As a mixture of Trump’s neglect of the region and the necessity for aid amid the global pandemic, regional states became more dependent on China. [Channel News Asia]
Yet, an annual survey by the ISEAS Yusof-Ishak Institute found that 61.5% of respondents preferred closer ties to the US than to China. Therefore, the US has been vocal on resolving the situation in Myanmar, has stepped up efforts for its own version of vaccine diplomacy by donating vaccinations, and reassured its commitment to a “free and open Mekong region”, accusing China of destabilizing downstream countries and harming the environment. Reactions by regional leaders after the US-ASEAN summit earlier this month were very positive, calling it a sign of “refreshed commitment” to the region. President of long-time ally Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, has long been criticized for his China-friendly stance, which he has modified subsequently with respect to upcoming elections, most notably with reference to the 2016 Arbitration Tribunal award rejecting Chinese maritime claims as well as with frequent actions by the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) chasing away Chinese ships operating within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone. This raises the hope of the full restoration of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), a large-scale, rotational American military presence in the Philippines, before he leaves office. [Asia Times]
27 July 2021
China, Pakistan foreign ministers hold third round of Strategic Dialogue
(lm) Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi held the third round of the China-Pakistan Foreign Ministers’ Strategic Dialogue in the Chinese city of Chengdu on July 24. [South China Morning Post]
On his two-day working visit to China, Qureshi was being accompanied by Foreign Secretary Sohail Mahmood and other senior officials, including the Pakistan’s military intelligence agency, General Faiz Hameed. [Dawn]
The meeting between the two top diplomats came just days after a potential terrorist attack killed 13 people, including nine Chinese nationals, in northwestern Pakistan. No organization claimed responsibility and a Chinese team was sent to Pakistan to investigate. Islamabad initially blamed mechanical failure and a gas leak, but after pressure from Beijing pointed to terrorism as the cause [see AiR No. 29, July/2021, 3].
The suspected suicide attack had accentuated Beijing’s concerns about the security of Chinese installations, projects and personnel in Pakistan. Various Chinese officials in their statements after the incident underscored the importance Beijing ascribes to the security of its citizens in Pakistan and urged authorities in Islamabad to bring to justice the perpetrators of the attack and prevent recurrence of such incidents.
Stability in Afghanistan was also high on the agenda. Both neighbors to Afghanistan, China and Pakistan were “most directly affected by situations” in the war-torn country, where the US troop withdrawal had created nothing but “a new security black hole”, Wang said, adding that preventing another round of domestic conflict in Afghanistan would be the top priority. He also said Beijing and Islamabad would “join hands with Afghanistan and push the major Afghan forces to draw a clear line under terrorism”.
Discussion on China-Pakistan Economic Corridor also featured in the discussion. The 10th meeting of the CPEC’s principal decision-making body, the Joint Cooperation Committee, was originally scheduled for July 16, but was postponed in the aftermath of the bus explosion.
27 July 2021
China and the US reach out to Mongolia
(dql) Over the weekend, US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman met leading Mongolian officials including Speaker of the Mongolian Parliament Gombojav Zandanshatar, Foreign Minister Batmunkh Battsetseg, and Deputy Foreign Minister Munkhjin Batsumber. During the meetings Sherman stressed the importance of the US-Mongolian Strategic Partnership. Discussions, meanwhile, touched upon strengthening Mongolia’s democratic institutions, enhancing the country’s sovereignty, and diversifying its economy. The visit to Ulaanbaatar was part of her East Asia tour which included stops in Japan, South Korea and China. [Mirage]
Only two days later, Battsetseg arrived in China to meet Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Tuesday. During their meeting both ministers agreed to deepen cooperation and bilateral relations between both countries in various fields. [CGTN]
On Monday, meanwhile, Chinese Defense Wei Fenghe and his Mongolian counterpart Gursed Saikhanbayar vowed to intensify pragmatic cooperation between their countries’ militaries. [China Org]
27 July 2021
China: Foreign Minister Wang Yi decries color revolutions
(dql) Wrapping up his four-day and three-country tour in the Middle East and North Africa [see AiR No. 29, July/2021, 3], Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi confirmed that all three countries agreed with China “strengthen strategic communication and coordination to promote bilateral relations,” and to deepen cooperation in various areas including infrastructure, industrial parks, energy, transportation, information and communications, aviation and aerospace, and personnel training. In a thinly veiled criticism against the US and its western allies, Wang warned that the “practice of trampling on the sovereignty of other countries in the name of democratic transformation is unpopular, and staging color revolutions and forcing regime change is even more harmful.” He added the demand that US and the West immediately lifts sanctions against Syria. [CGTN] [South China Morning Post]
Wang’s remark signal that China is positioning itself in the Middle East as a key player involved in economic, political and security issues of the region.
27 July 2021
China threatens to use nuclear bombs against Japan if it intervenes in Taiwan conflict
(dql) A video aired last week – reportedly with approval of the Chinese Communist Party – warned that China would use nuclear bombs against Japan if the country would intervene in a future Taiwan conflict. Showing images of World War II, the comment in the video said: “When we liberate Taiwan, if Japan dares to intervene by force – even if it only deploys one soldier, one plane or one ship – we will not only return fire but also wage full-scale war against Japan itself,” and: “We will use nuclear bombs first. We will use nuclear bombs continuously. We will do this until Japan declares unconditional surrender for the second time.” [Zee News]
The threat comes as tensions between Tokyo and Beijing over Taiwan have reached new heights in recent weeks. Japan’s Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso earlier this month warned: “If a major problem took place in Taiwan, it would not be too much to say that it could relate to a survival-threatening situation [for Japan],” adding that in the case of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, Japan and the United States would have to defend Taiwan together. [AiR No. 28, July/2021, 2]
It comes also as the US, Japan and South Korea during a meeting between US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Takeo Mori and South Korea’s Choi Jong-kun on Wednesday reaffirmed their opposition to any unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the East China Sea and in the Taiwan Strait, with Sherman saying: “When countries take actions that run counter to the United States’ interests or that threaten our partners and allies, we will not let those challenges go unanswered.” [Japan Times] [AP]
For a discussion on what kind of US and Japanese military response to a Chinese invasion of Taiwan would be needed to succeed, see Scott W. Harold and Satoru Mori in [The Diplomat] who suggests that “[s]ince there is no guarantee that the United States and Japan will be able to detect, disrupt, deny, and defeat China’s intended crippling first strike against U.S. and Japanese bases, maximizing a retaliatory strike capacity could prove crucial for maintaining deterrence.”
27 July 2021
Already strained China-UK relations to worsen over aircraft carrier presence in the South China Sea
(dql) Reflecting the UK’s determination to establish a strong and persistent military presence in the Indo-Pacific, the United Kingdom aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth entered the South China Sea and arrived in Singapore on Tuesday, in defiance of warnings from Beijing to stay out of the region. The HMS Queen Elizabeth is leading a Royal Navy’s carrier strike group visiting over 40 countries as part of a 28-week global deployment which began in May. The strike group involves – among other foreign warships – also the US destroyer USS The Sullivans, the Dutch frigate HNLMS Evertsen and the U.S. Marine Corps Fighter Attack Squadron. [Newsweek] [Defense News]
On Monday eight ships of the carrier strike group conducted for the first time a passage exercise with the Republic of Singapore Navy. [Straits Times]
Earlier last week, the Queen Elizabeth and the carrier strike group conducted complex maritime exercises with the Indian Navy in the Bay of Bengal, followed by a joint military exercise with the Royal Thai Navy over the weekend. A series of multinational exercises in the Philippine Sea is next on the agenda as well as the participation in the Exercise Bersama Gold, together with Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand. [Hindustan Times] [Bangkok Post] [Navy Recognition]
Also last week, London announced a permanent deployment of two warships in Asian waters after the Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier and escort ships after sailing to Japan in September. [Aljazeera]
Meanwhile, British Ministers are looking into ways to block China’s involvement in future UK nuclear power projects, possibly affecting the Sizewell C project, a project to construct a nuclear power station in Suffolk, in which state-owned China General Nuclear is set to play a key role. [The Guardian]
27 July 2021
Sino-US battle over narrative on Covid-19 origin: Next round
(dql) In the ongoing Sino-US battle over (the narrative of) the origins of the coronavirus, Global Times, the Chinese Communist Party’s newspaper has cited 15 million signatures for petition to call for an inquiry into the role Fort Detrick, home the US biological weapons program, might have played in spreading the coronavirus, arguing that “the virus has been circulating in the US before the outbreak in Wuhan last year,” and reinforcing the hyper-thesis that an Army reservist brought the virus from Fort Detrick to the Military World Games in Wuhan in October 2019. [Global Times]
The call is seen among observers as a counter to the narrative propounded outside China – most vocally by the US under the Trump administration – that the pandemic may have been caused by a virus escape or accident at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, one of the world’s leading research labs into bat coronaviruses, the same family of pathogens that caused Covid-19. [South China Morning Post]
The call comes shortly after Beijing rejected a World Health Organization (WHO) proposal to audit Chinese labs as part of further investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic. [France 24]
Citing the WHO-China mission in January that failed to conclude that the virus leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the Chinese Health Ministry decried the plan as showing “disrespect for common sense and arrogance towards science.” But that mission has drawn criticism following complains of some members of the WHO investigation team about the level of access that was given to them by Chinese authorities. [Deutsche Welle]
27 July 2021
China, US exchange mutual accusations of cyber espionage activities
(dql) China hit back against claims of China supporting a global hacker campaign made by the US and its allies [see AiR No. 29, July/2021, 3]. Citing unnamed sources, state-run media outlet Global Times accused the US of hacks into the networks of Chinese universities and sensitive government and party facilities during August and October last year. [South China Morning Post]
In turn, a report of the US Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and the FBI concluded that China-backed cyber actors were behind attacks targeting more than 20 US oil and natural gas pipeline companies a decade ago for two years, beginning in 2011. [The Hill]
For discussion on the chances of allies joining US sanctions as response to Chinese cyberattacks see Erica Borghard in [Carnegie Endowment] who cautions that the US might not have “sufficient political capital to convince European states to sign onto Chinese sanctions.”
27 July 2021
China-US relations: Congressional task force warns of US defense’s overreliance on Chinese rare earth elements
(dql) A US Congressional bipartisan task force has drawn attention to the US reliance on Chinese rare earth minerals in the country’s industrial defense sector. In a recently released report, the task force calls on the defense ministry to “deploy the full range of American innovation to secure the supply chains involving rare earth elements,” which are critical to – among others – producing semiconductors and precision-guided bombs. [Politico]
27 July 2021
China-US relations: Barbs traded at latest senior-level meetings
(dql) During the latest Sino-US senior-level talks between US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and her Chinese counterpart Xie Feng and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Tianjin on Monday, both sides traded barbs. Sherman fired a salvo at China accusing it – among others – of undermining international norms, committing a genocide in Xinjiang and refusing cooperation with an international investigation into the origins of Covid-19 and criticizing Beijing for its actions in the South China Sea and the East China Sea.
Wang, for his part, accused the Biden administration of continuing “its predecessor’s extreme and erroneous China policy,” urging Washington to abstain from questioning or attempting to subvert the Chinese governance model and demanding that the US lift sanctions imposed over Xinjiang and Hong Kong, and respect the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Xie, meanwhile, in his separate meeting with Sherman handed two lists over to her containing “US Wrongdoings that Must Stop,” and “Key Individual Cases that China Has Concerns,” covering inter alia lifting of US sanctions against Chinese officials and their families and revoking Washington’s judicial request to Canada to extradite Huawei’s chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou, in the first list, and the rejection of Chinese students’ visa, as well as the unfair treatment of Chinese citizens and harassment of the Chinese consulates and Embassy in the US.
Despite the aggressive stance, both sides expressed also conciliatory tones, with Sherman making clear that while “stiff competition” between the two countries is welcomed by the US, conflict is not sought, and Wang saying China has “a clear view on where China-U.S. relations are headed, that is, to find a way for two major countries with different systems, cultures and stages of development to coexist peacefully on this planet through dialogue.” [CNN] [Ministry of Foreign Affairs, China] [South China Morning Post] [Deccan Chronicle]
Sherman’s meetings with Wang and Xie were the second face-to-face exchange between senior US and Chinese officials since Joe Biden took office. In March the countries’ top diplomats Antony Blinken and Yang Jiechi publicly quarreled in front of the cameras in Alaska insisting on their own demands and red lines [see AiR No. 12, March/2021, 4].
The meetings came on the heels of Sherman’s talks with her Japanese and South Korean counterparts in Tokyo last week during which the allies on reaffirmed their joint position on the importance of the respect for international law, including maintaining freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea, and their opposition to any unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the East China Sea and in the Taiwan Strait. They also agreed on close coordination of their countries’ policy towards North Korea. [AP]
They also came after China imposed sanctions on US individuals and organizations, including former US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and the Congressional-Executive Commission on China and the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission among others. Under former US President Trump, Ross expanded the list of Chinese with which US firms were only allowed to do business on if they obtained a prior license, including Chinese telecom giants Huawei and ZTE. The sanctions were a retaliatory response to a recent latest US sanctions on Chinese officials over Hong Kong. [Aljazeera] [see also AiR No. 29, July/2021, 3]
27 July 2021
Myanmar: Chinese vaccine arrives to mitigate devastating third wave of COVID-19 cases
(mt) A first batch of 736,000 doses of the Chinese-made Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine arrived in Myanmar on July 22 to help fight a growing outbreak in the border area. [Channel NewsAsia]
As cases surge in the coup-wracked country, Myanmar has bought four million doses from China, and Beijing has pledged to donate a further two million.
Beijing has also supplied more than 10,000 COVID-19 vaccines to the Kachin Independence Army, an ethnic armed organization operating in Myanmar’s far north near China’s southern border. The type of vaccines is unknown, but the donation testifies Beijing’s commitment, as a spike in infections in the Southeast Asian country has already spilled over into parts of southern China. [Frontier Myanmar]
Earlier this month, state media reported junta leader Min Aung Hlaing had agreed to buy two million vaccines from Russia – another major ally – without specifying which shot. However, widespread anti-junta sentiment is keeping civilians away from military-run hospitals, grounding the country’s inoculation drive to near halt [AiR No. 29, July/2021, 3].
Meanwhile, the Shan State Progress Party (SSPP) – whose armed wing sporadically fights against the military – is now vaccinating people in northern Shan State with doses also imported from China. The vaccination program was initiated after the military left the state out of support in fighting the virus outbreak. [The Irrawaddy]
27 July 2021
China: Bail denied for ex-Apple Daily executives in Hong Kong
(dx) Four former senior Apple Daily editorial employees detained under the national security law for allegedly colluding with foreign forces have been denied bail, despite offering to cut off any contact with the press and overseas politicians. As reported last month, the pro-democracy Hong Kong tabloid newspaper Apple Daily was defunct following police raids, the arrest of executives and asset freezing. These senior employees are accused of colluding with foreign forces and held accountable for reports calling for foreign sanctions against Hong Kong and mainland China. [see Air No. 25, June/2021, 4]
The joint charge faced by the four accuses them of conspiring with media tycoon Jimmy Lai Chee-ying, Apple Daily Limited, Apple Daily Printing Limited, AD Internet Limited and two other former employees in calling for the imposition of “sanctions or blockade or engage in other hostile activities” against the city or mainland China. The offences allegedly occurred between July 1, 2020 – the day after the National Security Law was imposed – and April 3, 2021. [South China Morning Post]
27 July 2021
China: Rules of electoral rule book changed ahead of Election Committee polls in Hong Kong
(dx) Hong Kong’s Electoral Affairs Commission has made more than 60 rules changes to its elections rule book – including shortened opening hours of polling stations, a new queuing system, special arrangements for feverish voters – ahead of the polls for the 1,500-member Election Committee on September 19, the first Hong Kong polls since Beijing endorsed drastic reforms of the city’s electoral system in March. Among the major changes is the reduction of the number of directly elected seats in Legislative Council (LegCo), the city’s parliament, from 35 out of 70 to 20 out of 90, prompting criticism that the reform aims at curbing the power of the opposition. [see AiR No. 13, March/2021, 5] [Deutsche Welle]
The Election Committee was previously tasked only with selecting Hong Kong’s leader, but under the revised electoral system it has gained more power as it is now also responsible for sending 40 representatives to the LegCo and nominating all LegCo candidates. Even though the number of members of the Election Committee will increase by 300 from 1,200, the electorate for the contest has been slashed from more than 200,000 previously to just less than 8,000, with some individual votes – mostly in sectors deemed sympathetic to the opposition movement – having been turned over to organizations. [South China Morning Post] [Hong Kong Free Press]
27 July 2021
China: Hong Kong’s district councils not functional anymore
(dx) The recent resignation of more than 200 of Hong Kong’s 452 elected district councillors over a new oath-taking requirement under the national security law, has hollowed out district councils, leaving many without chairperson, or with too few members to continue running effectively. Chief Executive Carrie Lam conceded that the municipal-level bodies were no longer “fully functional” but she also confirmed that Hong Kong will hold no by-elections to fill the vacated seats.
Stepping in to fill the void are three relatively low-profile committees made up mainly of community leaders appointed by the government – the area committees, the district crime-fighting committees and district fire safety committees. These groups are now seeking the power and funding to shadow or replace the depleted district councils.
Area committees were formed in 16 districts in 1972 primarily to promote public participation in the Keep Hong Kong Clean and Fight Violent Crime campaigns. There are now 71 committees in the 18 districts, tasked with encouraging public participation in district affairs and helping to organise community activities and government campaigns. [South China Morning Post 1] [South China Morning Post 2] [AiR No.28, July / 2021,2]
27 July 2021
China: Government to strengthen support for Xinjiang
(dx) Senior officials attended a meeting on “paired assistance” – a decades-old practice under which China’s coastal provinces and municipalities are “paired up” with cities and counties in Xinjiang to send investment and personnel directly to those areas – and signaled that Beijing is committed to pouring more resources into Xinjiang. Beijing also called for stronger “intellectual aid” to Xinjiang through attracting more talents and deeper cultural exchanges to strengthen the recognition of Chinese culture among different ethnic groups in Xinjiang at the meeting.
Tensions over Xinjiang continue to grow between China and its critics over claims of human rights abuses and over US and Western sanctions targeting companies and industries in the region. [South China Morning Post]
27 July 2021
China: Xi Jinping’s reaffirms control over Tibet
(dx/dql) President Xi Jinping visited Tibet to reaffirm Beijing’s control over the remote and mainly Buddhist region. In his speech to the mark the 70th anniversary of the founding Lhasa as the administrative and religious capital of the Tibet autonomous region, Xi stressed that as “China has embarked on a new journey of comprehensively building a modern socialist country, the development of Tibet also stands at a new historical starting point,” calling on the region to follow the Chinese Communist Party’s guidelines on this path. On various occasions during his visits, he also made clear the need for Tibetan Buddhism to “adapt to the socialist society,” as well as to strengthening national unity and patriotic education to counter separatism. [South China Morning Post]
It was the first visit of a Chinese President in more than three decades to Tibet, where the Chinese government is accused of suppressing cultural and religious freedom. Xi was accompanied by the vice chairman of China’s Central Military Commission and a senior general in the People’s Liberation Army. [BBC] [Radio Free Asia]
20 July 2021
Sri Lanka: Three experts resign from advisory committee after Chinese vaccine is green-lighted
(lm) Three members of an expert panel of Sri Lanka’s drug regulator resigned on July 17, a day after the regulatory body cleared the Chinese-made Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine, citing disregard to their advice against the approval. [NewsFirst]
The Expert Advisory Panel — an eight-member body for COVID-19 vaccines — had “agreed” during a previous meeting that the Sinovac vaccine was the “least effective vaccine” against the Delta variant, which may very soon be the dominant variant in Sri Lanka. The experts therefore advised the National Medicines Regulatory Authority to grant only limited approval by putting a cap on the import quantity. [The Sunday Times]
20 July 2021
Cambodia to chair ASEAN in 2022
(nd) For the upcoming Cambodian chairmanship of ASEAN, some core issues were identified in a recent analysis, which in part had been already identified for its last chairmanship in 2012. Back then, Cambodia was criticized for siding with China over conflicting territorial claims at the South China Sea. Cambodia is a non-claimant state to the disputed waters and repeatedly referred to its neutrality, yet ASEAN has to address the desperately needed Code of Conduct issue, which needs a central and united approach of the bloc.
Similarly, the aftermath of the coup and the situation in Myanmar are yet to be solved, with the violence continuing amid a spike in Covid-19 and unlikeliness of a successful implementation of ASEAN’s five-point consensus reached during its special summit in April. Additionally, Cambodia itself is criticized for its poor human rights record and has a less strict attitude towards the coup than other bloc members. Another unsolved cross-border issue is the environmental situation in the Mekong Delta region caused by a multitude of big dam projects at the Upper Mekong River.
With all three issues, the growing US-China rivalry is putting even more pressure on the bloc’s members, driving division within and making a united stand harder to achieve. This applies especially given Cambodia’s high economic and military involvement with China. For months, tensions were simmering due to the alleged establishment of a Chinese military base in Cambodia opposed by the US. While Chinese vaccinations have come under criticism and some bloc members have stopped using Sinovac, Cambodia is exclusively using Chinese vaccinations, showing their high dependence on China. [East Asia Forum]
20 July 2021
Cambodia to ask China for a construction loan
(nd) For the creation of a bridge and a road to cross the Tonle Sap River, connecting Kampong Chhnang to Kampong Thom provinces, Cambodia has asked China for a loan. Delays to the $200 million project were already announced in 2019. Approval is expected due to the good relations between the country and precedent of infrastructure building support. [Phnompenh Post]
20 July 2021
Philippines probes alleged waste-dumping, maintains patrols in South China Sea
(lp) The US-based geospatial intelligence company Simularity reported that hundreds of ships were dumping raw sewage in the Spratlys, which is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone. Philippine Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana announced to investigate the allegations. [Reuters]
For months, the government has been criticized for allowing China to intrude and exploit Philippine territory. Just recently, China dismissed the 2016 Hague Arbitral Award to the Philippines as ‘nothing more than a piece of waste paper’, which remained uncommented by the Filipino side. At the beginning of his presidency, Rodrigo Duterte did not exert the rights granted to the Philippines in the award but reasserted China has been a generous friend. This contrasts with to a recently much higher level of monitoring and interference by the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and has prompted the director of the University of the Philippines (UP) Institute for Maritime Affairs on Law of the Sea (IMLOS) to suggest that these efforts were motivated by the upcoming presidential elections. [Philippine Star] [Radio Free Asia] [Manila Bulletin]
20 July 2021
United States urge ASEAN members to act on Myanmar, rejects China maritime claims
(mt) Addressing a video conference with foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on July 14 urged the group to take joint action to help end violence, restore a democratic transition and release those “unjustly detained” in Myanmar. [The Irrawaddy] [The Straits Times]
The virtual session marked the first such high-level meeting between the two sides under the administration of US President Joe Biden. Both sides were scheduled to hold their first foreign ministers’ encounter via videoconference on May 25, but Blinken, who was touring the Middle East at the time, cancelled over technical difficulties after keeping his counterparts waiting.
Laos, which coordinates the bloc’s “dialogue relations” with Washington, had wanted the session to be held back-to-back with the ASEAN Regional Forum on security next month, but Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia were persuasive in preponing it.
The meeting comes amid rising concerns that the Biden administration has done little to engage ASEAN since taking office in January, focusing instead on the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, a loose strategic coalition comprising of France, the United States, India and Australia, which is increasingly seen as a potential counterweight to growing Chinese influence and alleged assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific.
During the virtual meeting, Blinken urged his counterparts to take “immediate action” on the so-called “Five-Point Consensus” reached by the bloc’s leaders in earlier in April and appoint a special envoy to Myanmar. The ASEAN has been showing limits in firmly doing so both due to internal disagreements among group members, but also key foundational principles of the group of non-interference and consensus [see AiR No. 28, July/2021, 2]. The US official also asked for the release of all those “unjustly detained” in the country, and the restoration of Myanmar’s democratic transition. [Voice of America]
Blinken also emphasized his country’s rejection of China’s “unlawful maritime claims” in the South China Sea at the meeting and said Washington “stands with Southeast Asian claimants in the face of (Chinese) coercion”. [The Diplomat]
The remarks assume added significance, coming as they did hot on the heels of the fifth anniversary of the international tribunal ruling on the South China Sea [see also AiR No. 28, July/2021, 2]. On July 12, 2016, an Arbitral Tribunal established in accordance with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) found that Beijing’s claim to “historic rights” or “maritime rights and interests” established in the “long course of historical practice” in the disputed waterway were inconsistent with UNCLOS and, to the extent of that inconsistency, invalid.
20 July 2021
China sends team to Pakistan to investigate ‘terrorist’ bus attack
(ra) China has sent criminal investigation specialist to Pakistan to look into a potential terrorist attack that killed 13 people, including nine Chinese nationals, in northwestern Pakistan last week. The suspected suicide attack on July 14 targeted a two-bus convoy transporting Chinese and Pakistani workers to the World Bank-funded Dasu Hydropower project in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. [South China Morning Post]
While the Pakistani Foreign Ministry initially said in a statement the blast was caused by mechanical failure resulting from a “leakage of gas”, Chinese officials were quick to blame a “blast” for causing the deadly incident. The following day, then, after traces of explosives were found on the vehicle, Pakistan also said it would not rule out a terrorist attack. [Deutsche Welle] [Voice of America]
No one has claimed responsibility for the recent attack, but Chinese observers said it could also be linked to Pakistan’s leading Taliban group, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), or insurgents in the country’s restive Balochistan province. In April, the Afghanistan-based TTP claimed responsibility for a suicide blast at a hotel hosting the Chinese ambassador in the province’s capital, Quetta. The diplomat was not hurt. [see AiR No. 17, April/2021, 4].
20 July 2021
India tells China continuing border tensions not in either side’s interests
(lm) A meeting last week between India’s Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi made clear that both sides still have starkly different views on their disputed border in the western Himalayas, where 200,000 troops have built up on both sides of the frontier. [The Straits Times]
The two top diplomats were meeting on the sidelines of a gathering of foreign ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation in the capital of Tajikistan, Dushanbe, on July 14 [see article in this edition].
The talks marked the first high-level meeting in months between the Indian and Chinese foreign ministers to address the ongoing border aggressions, they had reached a five-point consensus during their last face-to-face meeting in Moscow in September of last year [see AiR No. 36, September/2020, 2].
Jaishankar said the withdrawal of troops and artillery from the southern and northern banks of Pangong Lake in February had created the conditions needed to resolve the stand-off. But the Indian diplomat also emphasized that it was only with Beijing’s de-escalation and disengagement from other newly occupied areas in eastern Ladakh that formerly cordial bilateral ties could be resumed. [South China Morning Post]
Wang, however, said that “the responsibility does not lie with China” to resolve the issue, and appeared to call on New Delhi to accept the current status quo in the interest of good relations. According to Wang, despite the heavy troop presence, “the situation in the China-India border area has generally been easing”. He also added that neither side should interfere in the other’s domestic affairs, and they should respect territorial integrity.
Talks between the two foreign ministers to place against the larger backdrop of both sides having resumed patrols into forward areas along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), while also strengthening logistics and adding infrastructure along the de facto border. In a sign of the shift in Indian military priorities, some of the additional troops on three distinct areas along the LAC have come from the border with Pakistan, which for decades was India’s most turbulent frontier.
Further, Indian army officials allege the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is becoming more aggressive with every passing day. Though recent skirmishes between the two sides have been denied by the Indian government, army officials told British daily newspaper The Guardian that the situation in areas of eastern Ladakh including Galwan Valley and Hot Springs remained extremely tense. [The Guardian]
20 July 2021
China-Mongolia relations: Presidents hold a phone ahead of trip of US high level official to Ulaanbaatar
(dql) In a phone call with his Mongolian President Ukhnaagiin Khurelsukh on Monday, Chinese President Xi Jinping urged both countries “to respect each other’s independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and independent choice of development paths chosen by the two peoples and accommodate and support each other’s core interests and major concerns.” He also called for strengthening cooperation in various areas including minerals, infrastructure and the environment. Khurelsukh, for his part, rassurred that his country “stands ready to conduct close exchanges with China, advance practical cooperation in all fields, actively join the Belt and Road cooperation, and strengthen coordination and cooperation in multilateral affairs.” [Foreign Ministry, China] [South China Morning Post]
The phone call comes days ahead of the trip of US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman to Mongolia, signaling the strategic importance of the country for both China and the US. Sherman’s visit to Mongolia is part of her East Asia trip covering also Japan and South Korea. [The Diplomat]
20 July 2021
China: Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s Middle East trip
(dql) Reflecting China’s growing efforts to increase its engagement in the political and security affairs of the Middle East in the wake of the US withdrawal, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi made his second trip to the Middle East within a few months after his first in March when he visited six countries. This time’s trip included three countries: Syria, Eqypt and Algeria.
During his meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damaskus on Saturday, Wang reassured that China opposes any attempts to seek regime change in Syria and offered Beijing’s support for the fight of the Syrian government against terrorism. He also offered to step up cooperation with Damaskus on projects of the Belt and Road Initiative. [Straits Times]
In Egypt, Wang met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi on Sunday and confirmed that China further firmly supports Egypt in its efforts for comprehensive development and in combating terrorism and achieving security and stability in the region. He also confirmed the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s agreement to accepted Egypt as a dialogue partner. [All Africa]
At the same day, he also spoke with Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit and expressed his support for a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine. According to a joint statement, released on Monday on the Chinese foreign ministry’s website, China and the 22-member Arab League reached agreement on strengthening cooperation on the production of Chinese Covid-19 vaccines in the region and on opposing any political manipulation of inquiries into the coronavirus’ origins, while stressing the importance of “maintaining the unity and territorial integrity of Arab countries, particularly Syria, Libya and Yemen.” [South China Morning Post]
On Monday in Algeria, Wang reassured his Algerian counterpart Ramtane Lamamra of China’s willingness to work with Algeria “to translate their high-level political mutual trust into tangible results of cooperation, help Algeria accelerate the pace of industrialization, and enhance its capacity for independent development.” [Xinhuanet]
For insights into the growing role of China as player in the arms trade in the Middle East, see Alvite Ningthoujam in [The Diplomat] who suggests that “defense industrial cooperation and technology transfers will likely come to form a pivotal component of China-Middle East engagements,” which are “likely to raise more eyebrows in the Western capitals, particularly in Washington.”
Vivek Mishra and Mark S. Cogan in [Indian Express], meanwhile, critically discuss the “realpolitik on Uighurs” in Middle East and other Islamic countries and warn that with Muslim countries shifting their allegiances to China, “Uighur Muslims have legitimate fears that the religious ties that once bound their societies together are fading and that they will become targets no matter where they flee.”
20 July 2021
China-Australia relations: Chinese surveillance ships spy on Talisman Sabre exercise
(dql) China has dispatched two high-tech surveillance ships to Queensland as the 2021 Talisman Sabre exercises are conducted last week involving Australian and American as well as Japanese, Canadian, South Korean, New Zealand and British forces. [ABC News]
The Chinese Navy, meanwhile, has begun conducting a six-day drill in the East China Sea that will last until July 21. The sudden military exercise comes in response to the brief stop of a US military aircraft at Taipei’s Songshan Airport on July 15. [South China Morning Post]
20 July 2021
China-France relations: President reveals plan for South Pacific Coast Guard network
(dql) Speaking at video conference with the leaders of Australia, the Marshall Islands, Papua New Guinea and representatives of New Zealand and other Pacific nations, French President Emmanuel Macron announced that France and South Pacific nations will establish a network of South Pacific coastguards, in an attempt to “better cope with the predatory logic we are all victims of.” While Macron did not name China as target of the planned network, an adviser said it was aimed at illegal fishing.
The announcement comes as the US and allies, including France, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, are actively expanding their maritime activities in the Pacific to counter China’s influence. France has island territories spanning the Indo-Pacific including Reunion in the Indian Ocean and French Polynesia in the Pacific. [CNN]
20 July 2021
US and allies accuse China of global cyberespionage campaign
(dql) The US, the UK, the EU, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Japan and NATO have accused China of sponsoring and protecting “cyber actors” responsible for a massive hack of the Microsoft Exchange email server. The hack was discovered earlier in March and compromised tens of thousands of accounts across the world, belonging to both public and private entities.
China rejected the accusations, calling them fabricated accusing, in turn, the US of “gang[ing] up with its allies to make unwarranted accusations against Chinese cybersecurity.” [Aljazeera] [BBC]
20 July 2021
China-US relations: US House committee passes Eagle Act
(dql) The US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee has passed the “Ensuring American Global Leadership and Engagement Act,” (Eagle Act) that aims at boosting America’s competitiveness vis-à-vis China and targeting China on multiple fronts, including a call on diplomats to boycott the Beijing Olympics in 2022, strengthening ties between the US and Taiwan, and cracking down on researchers in the US believed to be linked with the Chinese military. The omnibus-style legislation also encourages to establish a Quad Intra-Parliamentary Working Group tasked with promoting relations between lawmakers of the US, Japan, Australia and India. It, furthermore, includes the House version of the Uygur Forced Labour Prevention Act, a bill that says that any goods coming from Xinjiang is presumed to be tainted by forced labor, and that therefore entry into the US would be prohibited unless US importers are able to prove otherwise. [South China Morning Post] [Times of India]
The Eagle Act is one in a recent string of legislative moves of US legislators aimed at boosting US responses to challenges posed by China. In June, the Senate passed the “US Innovation and Competition Act,” aimed a meeting Beijing’s challenge in the field of technology and authorizing some 250 billion USD in funding for technology research, semiconductor development and manufacturing, as well as subsidies for robot makers and chipmakers [see AiR No. 24, June/2021, 3].
20 July 2021
China-US trade relations: WTO dispute over grain imports revived
(dql) Amid strained Sino-US trade relations, the US is reviving a long-running dispute between with China over Beijing’s import controls on grain with a complaint at the World Trade Organization (WTO) accusing China of continuing to use a tariff-rate quota (TRQ) system for rice, wheat and corn and of failing to comply with a WTO ruling in Washington’s favor back in 2019.
Washington added a warning to Beijing that it would take “countermeasures”, including imposing new tariffs on Chinese products, in case Beijing would leave the complaint unaddressed. [South China Morning Post]
20 July 2021
China-US relations: Biden administration sanctions Chinese officials and warns US companies of doing business in Hong Kong
(dql) The US sanctioned seven Chinese officials who, according to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, “have systematically undermined Hong Kong’s democratic institutions, delayed elections, disqualified elected lawmakers from office, and forced officials to take loyalty oaths to keep their jobs.” Along with the sanctions the Biden administration also issued an advisory warning saying that US companies doing business in Hong Kong are exposed to “growing risks” posed by the governments in Beijing and Hong Kong, including “data privacy risks; risks regarding transparency and access to critical business information; and risks for businesses with exposure to sanctioned Hong Kong or PRC entities or individuals.” [CNN]
Citing evidence of genocide and other human rights abuses in Xinjiang, a similar advisory was issued earlier last week with regards to Xinjiang warning that American companies with supply chain and investment ties in the region could risk to break US law. [BBC]
20 July 2021
China: University of Hong Kong student union derecognized
(dx) The University of Hong Kong announced that it no longer recognizes the institution’s students’ union (HKUSU). The announcement came hours after Chief Executive Carrie Lam demanded action against student leaders over a motion expressing condolences for the suicide of Leung Kin-fai, a 50-year-old Hong Kong man who died after knifing a policeman and stabbing himself on July 1. Executive Councillor Ronny Tong, furthermore, threatened legal actions against HKUSU’ members who approved the resolution.
The students’ union’s derecognition adds to growing worries that the authorities will root out opposition voices and instill mainland-China-style controls on campus, given that out of eight public universities in Hong Kong five have already stopped to collect student union fees. Additionally, faculty members and administrators at universities are concerned about academic freedom and self-censorship, staff retention and recruitment, and students’ well-being under Beijing’s tight control. [Radio Free Asia] [South China Morning Post 1] [South China Morning Post 2] [The Atlantic]
20 July 2021
China: Lower threshold for prosecution under Hong Kong’s new anti-doxxing law
(dx) Hong Kong is preparing to tighten its legislation on doxxing and cyber harassment, with a bill expected to go before the Legislative Council by October.
In its Personal Data (Privacy) (Amendment) Bill 2021 proposal, Hong Kong’s government has lowered the threshold for defining the crime of doxxing, removing a requirement that prosecutors prove victims suffered psychological harm. It also provides two years in prison as punishment for deliberately leaking individuals’ personal information with the intent to threaten or harass them.
In response, Singapore-based Asia Internet Coalition, an alliance that includes tech giants such as Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Twitter and LinkedIn, criticized that the proposed law was too expansive and excessive, likely to curtail free expression, and would discourage tech companies from investing and offering services in Hong Kong. The government dismissed the coalition’s concerns, saying that the proposed law only targets unlawful doxxing and would empower privacy commissioners to carry out investigations and prosecute wrongdoers. [South China Morning Post 1] [South China Morning Post 2] [CNET]
Since the Hong Kong anti-government protests of 2019, doxing has become a heated debate in the former British colony. After police officers stopped wearing identifying markers during the protests, protesters begun to expose their identities on social media, to which pro-government groups posted information about protesters.
20 July 2021
China: Agriculture tycoon faces decades in jail for criticizing the government
(dx) Outspoken businessman Sun Dawu is standing a closed-door trial on multiple charges including “provoking trouble and disturbing public order” and illegal fundraising. He faces punishment up to 25 years in prison.
Sun is billionaire owner of Dawu Agricultural and Animal Husbandry Group, an agriculture empire with some 9,000 employees. He has been vocal in criticizing the government, including over its rural policies and handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and the so-called “709 crackdown” in 2015, when more 300 human rights lawyers and activists were arrested. [South China Morning Post]
20 July 2021
China: Tech giants sign voluntary antitrust “self-discipline” pledge amid Beijing’s growing regulatory pressure
(dx) Chinese tech companies, including the largest such as Alibaba Group Holding, Tencent Holdings, ByteDance, Huawei Technologies Co, Baidu and JD.com, have collectively signed a convention on fair competition, consumer protection and strengthening innovation. The convention, drafted by tech companies and the Chinese Academy of Information and Communications Technology (CAICT), a subordinate to the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), prohibits tech companies from engaging in different types of monopolies.
The action is the latest success in Beijing’s recent push to rein in the country’s big tech firms which so far have been allowed to massively expand under comparatively lax regulations and oversight, most prominently reflected in April, when Alibaba was fined 2.8 billion USD after an investigation fund the company guilty of abusing its market dominance. [Air No.15, April/2021, 2]
In a related development, the State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR), the country’s market regulator, blocked Tencent’s planned merger of its two units Huya and Douyu International Holdings, China’s two biggest video game live-streaming platforms, dealing a blow to the world’s biggest games publisher. The merger “may have the effect of excluding or restricting competition, which is not conducive to fair competition and may damage the interests of consumers,” SAMR said in the statement. [South China Morning Post 1] [South China Morning Post 2]
20 July 2021
China: Communist Party to reform grass-roots governance
(dx) China is set to reform its local governance system following a directive jointly issued by the Communist Party Central Committee and the State Council. Under the directive, the authority of rural townships and urban subdistricts will be strengthened to become an important part in the governance system as they are now granted powers to oversee village and neighborhood committees. So far, they have been functioning as dispatch agencies relaying orders from the higher level to the lower.
At the same they are put under more direct leadership of the party as the directive provides guidance on how to tighten the party’s control of community workers, improve efficiency of data collection and usage, and distribute public goods for residents.
This move is seen by observers as the ending of China’s decade-long experiment on village autonomy, with the party reestablishing its full control over governance at local level. [South China Morning Post] [The Sixth Tone]
The full text of directive is available at [Xinhuanet, in Chinese].
20 July 2021
China: White paper on human rights progress in Xinjiang
(dx) China’s State Council, the country’s central government, issued a white paper on the progress of human rights in Xinjiang over the past seven decades since the founding of the People’s Republic of China, documenting achievements in seven areas – civil, political, economic, cultural, societal, women’s and children’s, and religious rights – to improve the lives of Xinjiang’s ethnic minorities.
Major outcomes identified in the report include: no terrorist attacks in Xinjiang for the past four the representation of Xinjiang’s ethnic minorities in local and national governing bodies, accounting for more than 60% of the region’s delegates at the national legislature; rapid improvements in the region’s economy and living standards; improvement of school enrolment rate for ethnic minorities, with students entitled to study their own language. The white paper also highlights health insurance, retirement pensions and other state financial support. Additionally, it stresses that women will play an increasingly important role in their communities.
On the controversial issue of religious freedom amid reports of a crackdown, the white paper claims there are efforts being made to preserve religious culture in Xinjiang and that several mosques in the region are being renovated by the government.
Coming at the heels of the white paper on the Chinese Communist Party’s practice of “respecting and protecting human rights,” [see AiR No. 26, June/2021, 5] this white paper is another countermeasure against accusations of human rights abuses in the region. China has consistently dismissed these claims as “[…], rumors, distortions and complete fabrications being spread by some foreign media and politicians,” and as “a calculated campaign to undermine the Chinese government’s enormous efforts to protect ethnic equality […] and the historic progress that has been made on human rights in the region.” [ECNS] [South China Morning Post]
The full text of the white paper is available at [China.org.cn].
13 July 2021
Philippines eyes new law measuring legitimate territories in South China Sea
(lp) Retired Supreme Court (SC) associate justice Francis Jardeleza, along with international law consultant Melissa Loja, professor Romel Bagares proposed a new measure to clearly identify by name and coordinates at least one hundred features being claimed and occupied in the South China Sea. This law would increase clarity for the country’s maritime law enforcers to protect national territory. [Manila Bulletin]
Unlike other cases where confrontation was avoided, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) issued a radio challenge which drove away five Chinese, two Vietnamese vessels from Marie Louise Bank. Just like in May, when the PCG called out and forced some Chinese vessels to disperse from Sabina Shoal. [Rappler]
Moreover, the House Committee on Natural Resources approved House Bill No. 36, which declares a portion of the Philippine Rise as a protected area. However, a fisher’s group protested that this bill is insufficient to uphold territorial rights because it covers less than a quarter of the Philippine Rise and does not provide a concrete plan for the future of this area. Moreover, this bill allegedly would prevent local commercial fishing fleets from fishing, while leaving the area exposed to foreign industrial fishing vessels. [Business World]
Meanwhile, the United States reaffirmed their commitment to the Philippines against armed attack in the South China Sea, according to their 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT). Similarly, Canada aired concern over China’s actions in the South China Sea. [CNN] [Mirage News]
13 July 2021
Malaysia-China relations: Chinese vessels contest Malaysian oil and gas development
(dql) According to findings of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI), vessels of the China Coast Guard (CCG) have been contesting new Malaysian oil and gas development of the Kasawari gas field, located off the coast of Sarawak since early June. The activity, coinciding with a Chinese military planes’ patrol by near Malaysia, is at least the third time since last spring that the CCG has harassed Malaysian energy exploration, the report says. [AMTI]
Discovered in November 2011, the Kasawari field is believed to contain approximately three trillion cubic feet (tcf) of recoverable gas resources. [NS Energy]
13 July 2021
Vietnam, Canada hold bilateral defense consultation
(lm) The 2021 Vietnam-Canada defense consultation took place virtually on July 7, with both sides agreeing to maintain the annual defense consultation and defense policy dialogue, increase high-level meetings, while also strengthening ties in personnel training, UN peacekeeping operations, and maritime security. [VietnamPlus]
Significantly, Vietnam is one of only two countries in Southeast Asia with Canadian resident defense attaché positions. The two countries signed a Memorandum of Understanding on defense cooperation in 2019 and Canadian naval ships visited Vietnam’s Cam Ranh International Port for the first time in June the same year.
Even though Ottawa seeks to maintain a healthy separation from US policy – the Royal Canadian Navy does not engage in US freedom of navigation operations (FONOPs) – its naval presence in the South China Sea is unmistakably higher compared to years past. A case in point, a Canadian frigate passed by the Spratly Island during a trip from Brunei to Vietnam earlier this year in March, raising the ire of China.
Canada has also upped its partnerships with countries and regional intuitions that govern the South China Sea. In early November of last year, Canadian Minister of Defense Harjit Sajjan presented to the 12th South China Sea International Conference in Hanoi, where he noted that his country “opposes unilateral actions that have escalated tensions in the region and undermined stability in the South China Sea”.
13 July 2021
Indian Prime Minister Modi send birthday wishes to Tibet’s Dalai Lama amid strained ties with China
India Prime Minister Modi on July 6 openly sent his well wishes to the Dalai Lama on his 86th birthday, in a move some observers say indicating a shift in New Delhi’s adherence to Beijing’s “One China” policy amid the protracted border stand-off in eastern Ladakh. [South China Morning Post]
China regards the 14th Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso, who has lived in northern India ever since he exiled himself in 1959, as a dangerous “splittist”, or separatist, and frowns on any engagement with him. India, in turn, recognizes Tibet as an autonomous region of China, and its leaders have generally been circumspect about public contact with the spiritual leader to avoid upsetting Beijing.
But more recently – against the larger backdrop of a manifesting stand-off along the Sino-Indian border – a number of retired Indian security officials has begun publicly voicing support for the Dalai Lama. Former National Security Advisor M.K. Nayaranan, for example, in an op-ed for The Hindu in August of last year claimed that restoring the Dalai Lama to his previous level of eminence “should be an important plank in India’s anti-China policy”.
The call could also herald the beginning of improved ties between the Indian federal government and the Tibetan community in the country. For this was the first time that and Indian prime minister has publicly greeted the Dalai Lama on his birthday, and thus, sends a strong message that India backs the Tibetan people.
13 July 2021
Cross-strait relations: Taiwan tightens regulations on China exchanges
(nds) Taiwan’s Ministry of the Interior has amended the “Measures for Permitting People from the Mainland Area to Enter the Taiwan Area.” Under the amendment, Taiwanese companies or organizations will now have to be registered in the country for at least three years before inviting Chinese professionals, compared with one year previously. In addition, Chinese nationals and Taiwanese companies will have to provide documents, including budget and expense reports for the past three years. To prevent fraudulent applications the documents will be reviewed by an interagency to be convened by the Ministry.
The amendment applies to Chinese corporations, non-governmental organizations, temples, and churches taking part in science and technology research, art and literature activities, or providing training assistance to Taiwanese national sports teams. [Taiwan News] [Taipei Times]
13 July 2021
Taliban sees China as welcome friend of Afghanistan
(dql) As China is preparing to fill the vacuum in Afghanistan left by US and NATO troops, with authorities in Kabul reportedly considering an extension of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor to Afghanistan [see AiR No. 27, July/2021, 1], the Taliban said that they welcome China as a “friend” to Afghanistan and expressed their hope to quickly engage in talks with Beijing about investing in reconstruction work. Claiming that 85% of the country was under their control, they assured that they would guarantee the safety of Chinese investors and workers if they were to return. Furthermore, they assured that China’s Uyghur separatist fighters would no longer allowed to enter the country and that al-Qaeda or any other terrorist group would be prevented from operating there. [South China Morning Post]
It has seldom been so easy to gain a foothold in the backyard of an empire.
13 July 2021
EU launches global infrastructure plan to compete China’s Belt and Road Initiative
(dql) The Foreign Ministers of the European Union (EU) agreed Monday to launch an ambitious global infrastructure plan linking Europe to the rest of the world, designed to rival China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The European Commission and High Representative are tasked with “identify[ing] and implement[ing] a set of high impact and visible projects and actions globally, preferably by the end of the first quarter of 2022.” Other steps to be taken by the Commission and High Representative include presenting “coherent and streamlined financing schemes to incentivise sustainable connectivity investments,” mobilizing “the private sector to finance and implement projects,” as well as ensuring “visibility of the EU’s global connectivity actions through coherent strategic communication.” [Council of the European Union]
Commenting on the plan German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said: “We see China using economic and financial means to increase its political influence everywhere in the world. It’s useless moaning about this, we must offer alternatives.” [Reuters]
The launch coincides with the conclusion of a deal between Montenegro and three US and French banks enabling the Balkan state to restructure its Chinese loan of nearly 1 billion USD and to reduce the interest rate on the loan from 2% to 0.88% through a hedging arrangement.
The loan refers to a highway project for which Montenegro – a NATO member and in negotiations to join the EU – borrowed 944 million USD from the Exim Bank of China in 2014 to finance the first stretch of the planned 165km highway. The loan has been criticized by Western officials as example of China’s “debt-trap diplomacy” in the frame of its BRI. [South China Morning Post] [VoA]
China, for its part, earlier last month signed with Ukraine an agreement to deepen cooperation in the field of infrastructure [see AiR No. 27, July/2021, 1], with both countries agreeing to encourage domestic enterprises and financial institutions to actively cooperate on road, bridge and rail transit projects, and provide necessary assistance in implementing joint projects.
13 July 2021
China-EU relations: European Parliament adopts Hong Kong resolution calling for boycott of Winter Olympics in Beijing
(dql) In an overwhelming vote, the European Parliament adopted a resolution condemning the recent forced closure of the government-critical Apple Daily newspaper in Hong Kong and the arrest of its journalists [see AiR No. 26, June/2021, 5] as another step to undermine free society and abolish media freedom and freedom of expression in Hong Kong. It calls on the European Commission and the Council of the EU as well as the member states “to decline invitations for government representatives and diplomats to attend the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics,” as long as the Chinese government fails to show “a verifiable improvement in the human rights situation in Hong Kong, the Xinjiang Uyghur Region, Tibet, Inner Mongolia and elsewhere in China.” It also urges the member states to impose sanctions against individuals and entities in Hong Kong and China for “serious violations of human rights and international law in Hong Kong.” [European Parliament] [France 24]
The resolution is the latest sign in strained China-EU relations over tit-for-tat sanctions over human rights issues that prompted the suspension of the ratification of the China-EU investment deal. [see AiR No. 12, March/2021, 4] [see AiR No. 21, May/2021, 4]
Responding to the resolution, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi underscored in a video conference with his EU counterpart Josep Borrell China’s uncompromising stance towards Hong Kong opposing all kinds of “hypocritical preachers.” He urged the Brussels to clear all obstructions and advance bilateral ties. [Global Times]
13 July 2021
China-Canada relations: Canadian judge rejects new evidence in Meng Wanzhou extradition case
(dql) Amid already strained China-Canada relations, a Canadian judge last week refused to accept new evidence believed to help Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou, who is fighting extradition to face fraud charges in the US. The new evidence consists of more than 300 pages of internal HSBC documents which her lawyers received from the bank through a court on Hong Kong and which according to the defense would disprove the basis for the US’ extradition claim. The extradition case is due to begin on 3 August.
Meng was arrested in December 2018 in Vancouver at the behest of American officials accusing her of misleading HSBC about the Huawei’s business in Iran, which is under US economic sanctions. China has since condemned the arrest as a politically motivated move and as violation of international law. [The Guradian]
13 July 2021
China-US trade relations: More Chinese companies added to US Commerce Ministry’s blacklist
(dql) The US Department of Commerce added 23 Chinese companies to its trade blacklist of which 14 are accused of being directly involved in human rights abuses in Xinjiang while five of supporting the Chinese military’s “modernization programs,” and four of violating previous US sanctions by doing business with blacklisted companies. [South China Morning Post] [Quartz]
13 July 2021
China and US spar over 2016 international tribunal SCS verdict
(dql) Ahead of the fifth anniversary of the international tribunal on the South China Sea on Monday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken sent a warning to China, reassuring that any Chinese attack on the Philippines would be responded under a US-Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty of 1951. He called on Beijing “abide by its obligations under international law (and) cease its provocative behavior” in the South China Sea. [CNN]
In response, China’s Foreign Ministry reiterated its stance that “China will not accept or participate in this tribunal, will not accept or acknowledge this ruling,” calling the tribunal a “political farce,” and the US the “initiator and mastermind of the farce,” seeking to smear China. [CGTN]
The statements come as the USS Benfold destroyer on Monday passed through the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea. [VoA]
13 July 2021
South Korea: New opposition party leader indicates tougher stance towards China
(nm) The new leader of South Korea’s main opposition People Power Party (PPP), Lee Jun-seok, has caused some debate as he is indicating a tougher stance towards China, while sharply criticizing Seoul’s unification ministry. In an interview with Bloomberg, Lee said his fellow millennials will push against Chinese “cruelty” in places like Hong Kong, further stating “We’re definitely going to have to fight against the enemies of democracy.” Lee is the youngest ever selected leader of a major South Korean Party and participated in the 2019 pro-democracy protests in Hong-Kong. The Moon administration has been trying to balance its relationship with China as it seeks to strengthen its ties with the US while being on friendly terms with its largest trading partner.
Further causing controversy, Lee also recently made comments advocating for the abolishment of the unification ministry, as well as the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family. Members of his own conservative party, however, showed opposition towards this stance. In an interview, Lee criticized the separation of the foreign affairs ministry and the unification ministry – which is responsible for inter-Korean ties – as this allegedly led to the inefficiency of the ministry.
As incumbent President Moon Jae-in’s five-year term ends in March 2022, Lee will be tasked with finding a conservative candidate for the PPP’s campaign. [Bloomberg] [Korea Times]
For an analysis of Seoul’s US-China dilemma and its stance towards the US “free and open Indo-Pacific” strategy, please see [The Diplomat].
13 July 2021
China: First local data use legislation adopted in hi-tech hub Shenzhen
(dx) Lawmakers of the city of Shenzhen, China’s hi-tech hub and home of many Chinese internet and tech giants such as Huawei, Tencent and DJI, adopted a new law on data use, marking the first comprehensive legislation for data protection in China.
The new law, which will take effect in January, includes provisions limiting the use of personal data by app developers and prohibiting them from withholding services if consumers do not give consent to their personal data being used. Additionally, a person has the right to decline data collection requests and has the right to know, copy, correct and delete data held online.
Experts believed that the data use legislation was meant to facilitate the development of the digital economy and other cities in China could be encouraged to introduce similar legislation. [South China Morning Post 1] [South China Morning Post 2]
The new law is the latest step taken by China to rein in the country’s big tech companies amid an increasingly digitalized economy. Earlier this month, Cyberspace Administration of China, the country’s internet watchdog, banned Didi, China’s largest ride-hailing service, from app stores after citing illegal collection and use of personal information. In April, Alibaba was hit with a record antitrust fine of 2.8 billion USD after an investigation fund the company guilty of abusing its market dominance. [CNN] [see AiR No. 15, April/2021, 2]
13 July 2021
China: District councilors’ exodus in Hong Kong
(dql) Some 170 district councilors resigned over the past week following local media reports suggesting that those who are later disqualified after the oath-taking will be required to repay their wages since taking office. The resignations come ahead of the introduction of mandatory oath-taking to the government for district councilors later this month, with Hong Kong authorities maintaining a hardline approach that will unseat any who posted slogans connected to the 2019 anti-government protests on their office walls. [Standard] [South China Morning Post]
13 July 2021
China: Hong Kong plans to extend senior counsel eligibility to government solicitors despite of barristers’ strong opposition
(dx) Hong Kong’s justice minister is pushing ahead with a controversial plan to allow government solicitors to qualify for promotion to senior counsel. The Department of Justice revealed that the Legal Practitioners (Amendment) Bill 2021, which would extend senior counsel eligibility, will be tabled in the Legislative Council (LegCo). The Bar Association, which represents the city’s barristers, voiced its strong objections, arguing the change is a threat to their profession’s independence and doesn’t serve public interest.
Under the current system, Hong Kong’s chief justice can appoint barristers to be senior counsel in recognition of their ability and standing in the profession, as well as their knowledge of law. Solicitors are not eligible to be appointed. [South China Morning Post]
13 July 2021
China: Arrests over bomb plot by Hong Kong pro-independence group amid Beijing’s new to-do list to advance city’s national security law
(dx) Hong Kong’s national security police arrested five more people on Monday in connection with last week’s alleged bomb plot by pro-independence group “Returning Valiant”. In a earlier action last week, nine people were arrested on the same suspicion. [AP] [VoA]
Meanwhile, Beijing top officials, speaking at the National Security Law Legal Forum, have laid down a new to-do list for Hong Kong, spelling out judicial, administrative and law enforcement officers’ obligation to enforce the city’s National Security Law and warning that there is “no excuse for anyone not doing their job properly, or doing it wantonly.” Legislators are urged to catch up on formulating and amending related local laws for a more holistic approach covering every aspect of safeguarding China’s sovereignty. They are asked to focus on possible loopholes in Hong Kong’s existing laws and are called for further follow-up legislation. [South China Morning Post] [Ecns]
In a separate development, Hong Kong’s government announced details of its real-name registration scheme under which Hong Kong SIM card users will be required to register with their real names, date of birth and ID numbers. The scheme has sparked privacy concerns among the public while officials sidestepped questions on whether the new policy would assist police probes into potential violations of the national security law. [Hong Kong Free Press]
13 July 2021
China: Opposition members disqualified for upcoming legislative election
(dql) Macau’s Electoral Commission has banned 21 opposition figures from the coming legislative elections in September, citing the candidates’ disloyalty to the Semi-autonomous Region Macau and its Basic Law. Among the banned are veteran pro-democracy activists, sitting lawmakers and former lawmakers.
The legislative assembly of the 600.000 people city consists of 33 member 14 of them are elected by the public, while the remaining 19 are indirectly elected from professional sectors and appointed by the city’s chief executive. The pro-democracy camp won four seats in the 2017 election. [Macau Business]
13 July 2021
China: More research centers dedicated to Xi Jinping Thought
(dx) The Chinese Communist Party last week launched two new research centers dedicated to branches of Xi Jinping Thought, namely the “Research Center for Xi Jinping Economic Thought” and the “Research Center for Xi Jinping Thought on Ecological Civilization.” The move brings the total of such research centers to 18, reflecting a further cementing of Xi’s position and power
Other prominent research centers on “Xi Thought” established over the recent years include the Research Center for Xi Jinping Thought on Rule of Law, the Research Center for Xi Jinping Thought on Diplomacy, and the Research Center for Xi Jinping Thought on a Strong Military. [China Media Project 1] [China Media Project 2]
13 July 2021
China: WeChat shuts LGBT accounts
(dx) WeChat, China’s most popular social media service, has deleted dozens of public accounts on LGBT topics run by university students and nongovernment groups. As the accounts were shut at the same time, observers believe that the action was “planned and coordinated,” prompting concerns concerns over tightened government control over gay and lesbian content.
WeChat public accounts have been an effective venue for Chinese LGBT communities to advocate for their rights, as they are facing the difficulty of carrying out public debates and demonstrations when mainstream society has increasingly excluded them. Although homosexuality has been decriminalized since 1997, same-sex marriage still remains illegal and socially taboo.
Chinese media censorship has grown in recent years across a wide range of organizations, not just LGBT groups, with a particular focus on anything deemed to pose a risk to national security. Under President Xi Jinping, the government has increased control over civil societies in general, in a push to promote the Communist Party’s core socialist values including patriotism and traditional Chinese culture. [AP] [South China Morning Post]
Earlier this year, several Chinese feminist channels on popular social networking forum Douban were also abruptly shut, with the platform reportedly citing extremism, and radical political views and ideological content. [Air No.16, April/2021, 3]
6 July 2021
India’s second aircraft carrier is getting ready fast
(lm) The Indian Navy is set to start sea trials of its first indigenous aircraft carrier, in a move that experts say will allow New Delhi to achieve some sea control at a time when China is quickly making inroads in the Indian Ocean. [eletimes] [South China Morning Post]
The INS Vikrant, which was first sanctioned by the Indian government in 2003, is now being readied for its maiden contractor sea trials which are expected to begin as early as next month, with Defence Minister Rajnath Singh saying last week that the warship would be fully operational in the first half of 2022. Once commissioned, it will be India’s second aircraft carrier. The Navy’s only aircraft carrier now is the INS Vikramaditya, which was acquired from Russia for $2.35 billion in 2004 and entered service in 2013.
Experts said the new carrier would help India project power in a region that has come increasingly under China’s influence. In May, Kenya inaugurated a Chinese-built port on Lamu island, on the country’s Indian Ocean coast, while last week, Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan said the country might revive a plan with China to build a $10 billion port in Bagamoyo. [Nikkei Asia]
Moreover, construction of China’s third aircraft carrier – known as Type 003 – has made “significant progress”, according to the latest images released by a commercial satellite. The vessel – expected to be the largest surface combatant in the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy — is scheduled to be launched before the year-end. What is more, Beijing is said to be further seeking to add at least two more carrier vessels. [The Week]
Analysts said the new aircraft carrier would also help New Delhi pursue strategic and foreign policy goals, such as stepping up engagement with the other members of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue – a loose strategic coalition comprising of France, the United States, India and Australia – which is increasingly seen as a potential counterweight to growing Chinese influence and alleged assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific.
The Indian government has repeatedly stressed that it was “fully committed” to a strong Navy with an expanded operational reach and prowess. But a proposal by the Navy for a third carrier is yet to get the initial “acceptance of necessity” approval from the government. Nor has the Navy’s requirement for 36 new multi-role fighters that will operate from the INS Vikramaditya and INS Vikrant got the nod.
6 July 2021
India designates China as country’s “primary threat”, talks up infrastructure near Chinese border
(lm) Within the past four weeks, Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh has undertaken two highly-publicized visits to inaugurate 63 new bridges and 12 roads across seven states which border China, signaling a changing approach towards the disputed border. [South China Morning Post]
Singh’s trips coincided with unconfirmed media reports that New Delhi had redirected at least 50,000 additional troops to three distinct areas along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), in a historic shift toward an offensive military posture against Beijing. The reports emerged after India’s Chief of Defence Staff, General Bipin Rawat, weeks earlier stated that China and not Pakistan was now India’s “primary threat”.
Observers say these developments reflect how New Delhi is changing its approach towards the LAC that stretches from Ladakh in the west to Arunachal Pradesh in the east.
With at least 11 rounds of senior military commander-level talks to resolve the stand-off not achieving its aim for disengagement at three friction points – Gogra, Hot Springs and the Depsang Plains in eastern Ladakh – India’s strategy is to now publicize its actions and intentions to strengthen its military posture and border infrastructure, notwithstanding objections from Beijing.
6 July 2021
China-Australia relations: Canberra accused of sabotaging Chinese vaccines, Beijing of undermining Australian universities
(dql) Australia has denied accusations of “sabotaging” China’s aid programs with Pacific nations and using “political manipulation” to interfere in Covid-19 vaccine rollouts in the region. Chinese state-owned media articles claimed that Canberra has been “planting” consultants in Papua New Guinea and instructed them to obstruct the authorization of Chinese-supplied vaccines. [ABC]
China, meanwhile, is facing fresh accusations of undermining academic freedom at Australian universities. Human Rights Watch has released research findings revealing that Chinese pro-democracy students in Australia experience harassment and fear punishment for speaking out on sensitive issues. [Human Rights Watch] [BBC]
6 July 2021
China, Ukraine agree to boost infrastructure cooperation
(dql) China and Ukraine have signed an agreement to strengthen cooperation in the infrastructure sector. Under the accord, the two countries will encourage domestic enterprises and financial institutions to actively cooperate on road, bridge and rail transit projects, and provide necessary assistance in implementing joint projects. [South China Morning Post]
The agreement was concluded days after the Ukraine withdrew its signature from a statement initiated by Canada at the 47th session of the UN Human Rights Council, backed by over 40 countries and expressing concerns over repressive actions of the Chinese government in Xinjiang, Hong Kong Tibet and demanding free access to Xinjiang for an inquiry into reported human rights violations. [see AiR No. 26, June/2021, 5]
6 July 2021
China-Russia relations: Xi and Putin again demonstrate unity against US
(dql) In a joint statement following a virtual summit between Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin last week – their second within six weeks – both leaders sent out a swipe against the US. Without naming the US, the statement criticized that “[s]ome countries use ideology to draw lines, brutally interfere in the internal affairs of sovereign countries, impose unilateral sanctions at every turn, shake the legal foundation of the international relations system, including the arms control field.” It added that the “more turbulent the world, the more it is necessary for China and Russia to strengthen strategic cooperation.”
Days after the summit, Putin endorsed Russia’s new national security strategy which in a thinly veiled attack on the US states that “growing geopolitical instability and conflict is a result of a redistribution in global development potential, with countries that are losing their unconditional leadership said to be trying to prevent this from happening by hoping to dictate their own rules, to use unfair means of competition, to apply unilateral sanctions or to openly interfere in the internal affairs of other nations.” It further identifies as goals a further expansion of the country’s strategic cooperation with India, while concurrently developing comprehensive partnerships with China, as well as a reduction in the use of the US dollar in international transactions. [The Print]
6 July 2021
Beijing responsible for current tensions in China-EU relations, European diplomats say
(dql) European diplomats have expressed a hardened stance towards China at the World Peace Forum (see above), holding Beijing responsible for the current tensions in relations between China and the European Union (EU). Nicolas Chapuis, the EU’s top envoy to Beijing, criticized Beijing for an increasingly aggressive attitude – including claims of a superiority of the Chinese political system over Western liberal democracies – that has harmed mutual understanding and mutual trust. Caroline Wilson, the UK’s ambassador to China, insisted that human rights were not a
“geopolitical game,” but “foundational matters”, while Italian ambassador to China Luca Ferrari warned that “[t]he risk, if China does not open, is that Europe starts closing up, ” [South China Morning Post]
The remarks come after in May EU lawmakers suspended debate on the ratification of a landmark investment deal with China – the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment. The suspension came in response to Beijing’s sanctions against members of the bloc with which Beijing retaliated sanctions imposed by the EU on China over alleged human rights abuses on Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang. [see AiR No. 21, May/2021, 4]
They also come amid findings of the latest Pew Research poll which show that large majorities in the world’s 17 most advanced economies hold unfavorable views of China, with the median standing at 69%, compared to 25% with favorable views. Japan tops the list with 88%, followed by Sweden (80%), Australia (78%), South Korea (77%) and the US (76%). Greece and Singapore are the two countries in which the majority holds favorable views of China, with 52% and 64%, respectively. [Pew Research]
Meanwhile, Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday held a video call with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel to discuss a range of issues, including Eu-China relations, international trade, climate protection and biodiversity, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic, global vaccine supply, and international and regional issues.
During the conversation Xi expressed hope that China and Europe would expand cooperation to better respond to global challenges, with Europe playing a more active role in international affairs, achieving strategic independence and offering a fair, transparent and unbiased environment for Chinese firms and enterprises. [Reuters]
6 July 2021
China blasts US for role in Afghanistan and other issues
(dql) Speaking at the World Peace Forum, an international relations conference hosted by Tsinghua University and the Chinese People’s Institute of Foreign Affairs, a government-run policy group, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi hit out against the US for its role in Afghanistan. Identifying the US as “the origin of problems in Afghanistan,” Wang called on Washington to bear responsibility “for making sure the transition in the country will be stable. The U.S. cannot evade responsibility, and cannot cause instability or war by withdrawing troops.” He added that while China as a “friendly neighbor” stands ready to support a peaceful transition in Afghanistan, the US should “stop pretending to be a ‘defender’ of the Afghan people.” [Newsweek]
Wang’s remarks come as China is preparing to fill the vacuum left by US and NATO troops, with authorities in Kabul reportedly considering an extension of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor to Afghanistan. [Daily Beast]
The US role in Afghanistan was only one of several issues Wang touched upon in his speech to question US positions and policies – including the global pandemic, counterterrorism, North Korea, the Iran and Taiwan – and to demonstrate China’s growing self-confidence in its own strength. Referring to the centenary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party Wang said that “[t]day’s China is no longer the same country of 100 years ago,” adding the warning that “[n]o individual or force should underestimate the determination and capacity of the Chinese people to uphold the country’s sovereignty, security, and development interests.” [Straits Times]
6 July 2021
China: Millions of court rulings removed from official database
(dx) China’s online database of Chinese court rulings, China Judgments Online, has just shrunk by over 9%, with 11 million court cases inaccessible. China Judgments Online, launched by the Supreme People’s Court in 2014, stated in a notice on its website that the situation was due to the files “being migrated” for “technical reasons.”
The removal of the court rulings has been first discovered by a Chinese activist who has been archiving speech crime cases. It has raised concerns among Chinese lawyers, stressing that making the judgments available online is important for safeguarding justice and calling the removal a setback for the Chinese judiciary. [China Judgments Online, in Chinese] [China Digital Times] [Los Angeles Times]
6 July 2021
Chinese President Xi’s party centenary address: celebrating the role of party, warning foreign powers of new Great Wall of steel, and calling for advancing security in Hong Kong
(dx) In his address, delivered on July 1 on the occasion of the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the foundation of Communist Party of China (CPC), Chinese President Xi Jinping hailed the outstanding role and achievements of the party for the country. Xi highlighted that “[ov]er the past 100 years, the Party has united and led the Chinese people […] in writing the most magnificent epic in the Chinese nation’s millennia-long history.” He added that under the leadership of the CPC absolute poverty has been eradicated and China has become a “moderately prosperous society,” realizing the first of the two centenary goals set by the party. The second goal – making China a ‘strong, democratic, civilized, harmonious, and modern socialist country’ – is supposed to be realized in 2049, the centenary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, towards which party and people “are now marching in confident strides.” In pursuit of this goal Xi called for upholding and enhancing the party’s leadership, advancing party building and tightening party organization as well as accelerating the modernization of the country’s military.
Towards foreign countries Xi offered a strong warning. While emphasizing on the one side that China “will continue to champion cooperation over confrontation,” he made clear on the other: “As a nation, we have a strong sense of pride and confidence. We have never bullied, oppressed, or subjugated the people of any other country, and we never will. At the same time, we will never allow any foreign force to bully, oppress, or subjugate us. Anyone who would attempt to do so will find themselves crushed by a Great Wall of steel forged by the blood and flesh of over 1.4 billion Chinese people.” [State Council, China, in Chinese] [Nikkei Asia]
With regards to Hong Kong, where July 1 marks the handover of the former British colony to China, Xi called protecting national security the top priority, urging the city to focus next on its legal and enforcement aspects under Beijing’s “comprehensive jurisdiction”. The president’s message for Hong Kong was widely seen as a reminder to the city’s leadership that the task of restoring order to prevent a recurrence of the 2019 anti-government protests was far from over. [South China Morning Post 1]
In a related development earlier last month, the State Council, China’s central government, appointed Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu as Hong Kong’s Chief Secretary for Administration, the second highest ranking public official in Hong Kong. Lee’s appointment marks the first time a former police officer from the security branch of the government takes up a top role in the administration. [The Standard] [South China Morning Post 2]
For insights into Beijing’s preparation of the takeover of Hong Kong since 2014, when a policy paper for the first time used the term “comprehensive jurisdiction” with regards to the city, see Chris Buckley, Vivian Wang and Austin Ramzy in [New York Times].
29 June 2021
Growing presence of private security companies in Mekong region
(dql) According to findings of the Washington-based Center for Advanced Defense Studies (C4ADS), Chinese businesses with risky investments in economic development zones in the Mekong region are increasingly turning to China-based private security firms for protection. Among the 49 foreign private security firms operating in Cambodia and Myanmar, 29 are China-based ones.
Given the range of services these companies provide to Chinese businesses and tourists – including running safety trainings for companies, developing security apps for tourists, and providing armed guards for individuals or property as well as even conducting pandemic control activities – the report concludes: “Chinese private security companies are increasing China’s soft power in Mekong countries. They also, down the line, could serve as vectors of hard power.” [C4ADS] [The Diplomat]
29 June 2021
Growing presence of private security companies in Mekong region
(dql) According to findings of the Washington-based Center for Advanced Defense Studies (C4ADS), Chinese businesses with risky investments in economic development zones in the Mekong region are increasingly turning to China-based private security firms for protection. Among the 49 foreign private security firms operating in Cambodia and Myanmar, 29 are China-based ones.
Given the range of services these companies provide to Chinese businesses and tourists – including running safety trainings for companies, developing security apps for tourists, and providing armed guards for individuals or property as well as even conducting pandemic control activities – the report concludes: “Chinese private security companies are increasing China’s soft power in Mekong countries. They also, down the line, could serve as vectors of hard power.” [C4ADS] [The Diplomat]
29 June 2021
Philippines: One hundred more Chinese ships in Philippine territory
(lp) A report by the US-based geospatial intelligence firm Simularity reported that Chinese vessels increased from 129 in mid-May to 238 in mid-June. As of late, not much debate has happened regarding China’s continuous incursion into the Philippines’ exclusive economic zones. But Senator Risa Hontiveros recently called on the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to summon China’s ambassador to the Philippines once again to inquire about their increasing presence. [Manila Bulletin]
29 June 2021
India shifts 50,000 troops to China border, indicates shift towards strategic offensive principle
(ad/lm) Over the past few months, India has reportedly redirected at least 50,000 additional troops to three distinct areas along its border with China, in a historic shift toward an offensive military posture against Beijing. All in all, New Delhi now has roughly 200,000 troops focused along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), which constitutes an increase of more than 40 percent from last year. [The Straits Times]
Whereas previously India’s military presence was aimed at blocking Chinese moves, the redeployment will allow Indian commanders to use helicopters to airlift soldiers from valley to valley along with artillery pieces, as part of a strategy that favours a strong offensive action over a passive attitude.
Indian media outlets reported earlier this month that New Delhi was pressing on with infrastructure in the border area, building roads, tunnels and bridges to narrow the gap with China [see AiR No. 21, May/2021, 4]. On the Chinese side, in turn, a new high-speed railway line began operating in Tibet on June 25. taking passengers from the regional capital Lhasa to the eastern city of Nyingchi, close to the border.
Reports about the move were first published on June 28, the same day when India’s Defense Minister Rajnath Singh in a thinly veiled reference to China said his country would seek resolve disputes with neighboring states through dialogue, but also asserted that India’s safety and security would not be compromised at any cost. Singh was on a three-day visit to eastern Ladakh, where he also visited troops and veterans and inaugurated 63 infrastructure projects by the Border Roads Organisation. [Economic Times] [The Indian Express]
The remarks assume added significance, coming as they did a week after India and China held the 22nd meeting of the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on India-China Border Affairs. The latest round resulted in both sides agreeing to hold the next round military commander talks at an early date to achieve “complete disengagement” from “all the friction points” in the Line of Actual Control (LAC)’s Western Sector, the site of the 2020 China–India skirmishes.
Singh’s comments also come after India’s Foreign Minister Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar last week said persistent uncertainty over whether China will fulfil its promise on troop reductions would remain a challenge for relations between Beijing and New Delhi.
During an interview conducted on the sidelines of the Qatar Economic Forum on June 22, India’s top diplomat said China is yet to show an inclination to withdraw from Hot Springs, Gogra Post and the Depsang Plains in eastern Ladakh, which did not feature in a piecemeal disengagement process agreed upon in February [see AiR No. 45, November/2020, 2]. [South China Morning Post]
Against the larger backdrop of fears that the warmer weather in the Himalayan heights could reignite conflict between India and China, the foreign minister also cited bilateral relations built upon “mutual sensitivity, mutual respect and mutual interest” as a premise for a normalization in ties with China. [The Wire]
In response, China’s Foreign Ministry the following day dismissed the remarks, while also referring to the military deployment along the country’s western section as a “normal defense arrangement aimed at preventing and responding to encroachment and threat on China’s territory by relevant country”. [Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China]
29 June 2021
China holds Belt and Road conference
(dql) China held on June 23 a virtual conference on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Attending countries include Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, Chile, China, Colombia, Fiji, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Malaysia, Maldives, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Thailand, Turkmenistan, the United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam. Unlike the two previous conferences in 2017 and 2019 when heads of state and heads of government took part, this year’s forum was held at ministerial level.
Equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and ensuring climate-friendly growth in the post-pandemic era topped the conferenced agenda. Among the major outcomes of the conference were two initiatives: first, the Belt and Road Partnership on COVID-19 Vaccines Cooperation” which addresses especially developing countries in boosting international cooperation in vaccine research and development, production and distribution, and improving accessibility and affordability of vaccines globally; and second, the Initiative for Belt and Road Partnership on Green Development, which seeks to strengthen cooperation among BRI countries in several areas including as green infrastructure, green energy and green finance, and promote green, low-carbon and sustainable development.” [The Diplomat]
29 June 2021
China-Russia relations: Extension of friendship treaty
(dql) Taking another step to cement Sino-Russian ties, the two countries extended the Treaty of Good Neighbourliness and Friendly Cooperation for five years. The treaty was signed in 2001 between Vladimir Putin and then Chinese leader Jiang Zemin, with both sides agreeing to resolve their historical border disputes and laying out strategic cooperation in areas including military and defence. Expiration was due next month.
During a video call arranged on the occasion of the treaty extension, both Presidents Putin and Xi Jinping hailed the close relationships between their countries as “an example of intergovernmental cooperation in the 21st century,” and as “model example of a new type of international relations” respectively. [South China Morning Post]
29 June 2021
China accuses UK of “colonial mindset” over Falklands
(dql) Amid Sino-British tensions over London’s accusations of human rights violations in Xinjiang and a crackdown on political rights in Hong Kong, China expressed its support for Argentina’s sovereignty claim over the Malvinas Islands, also known as the Falklands, at a session of the UN Special Committee on Decolonization, warning that “[t]oday in the 21st century, the days when Western colonialists had free rein are long gone.” [South China Morning Post]
Argentine Foreign Minister Felipe Sola, for his part, called on both countries to resume negotiations over the islands, while insisting: “Our claim to sovereignty is an imprescriptible constitutional mandate.” [Express]
As a British overseas territory, the Falklands have internal self-governance, while the UK responsibility for their defense and foreign affairs. Argentine military forces invaded the islands in April 1982. However, two months later at the end of the Falklands War British administration was restored. Neither country is willing to relinquished its claim over the islands.
29 June 2021
China-Canada relations: Tensions flare up over allegations of human rights violations and seeds
(dx/dql) At the 47th session of the UN Human Rights Council, Canada led a group of over 40 countries to release a joint statement expressing concerns over repressive actions of the Chinese government in Xinjiang, Hong Kong Tibet and demanding free access to Xinjiang for an inquiry into reported human rights violations. Ottawa’s move comes amid highly strained Sino-Canadian relations over conflict on several fronts including human rights, trade and allegations of ‘hostage diplomacy’. [The Guardian]
Interestingly, Ukraine withdrew its signature form the Canada-sponsored statement. Diplomats believe that Kyiv’s move was due to Beijing’s threat to hold back Chinese-made Covid-19 vaccines prepared for Ukraine. [AP]
Hitting back, China called on the UN to investigate crimes against Indigenous people in Canada, accusing it of “robb[ing] the Indigenous people of the land, kill[ing] them and eradicate[ing] their culture.” A related address, issued by Belarus and rejecting “politically motivated and groundless accusations against China based on disinformation,” was backed by 65 countries. [CBC] [Newsweek]
In a separate development, China has blocked a first request of Canada to establish a World Trade Organization (WTO) panel to probe Beijing’s restrictions placed on imports of Canadian canola seeds.
In March 2019, China suspended imports of canola seeds from a Canadian agricultural and food industry company and also made shipments from other Canadian firms subject to enhanced inspections, claiming that inspectors detected pests. [South China Morning Post]
29 June 2021
China-US relations: Ban on Chinese solar panel materials, legislation to boost US competitiveness against China, and proposal for a “NATO for trade”
(dql) The Biden administration has banned imports of polysilicon, a key solar panel material, from Chinese firm Hoshine Silicon Industry and put trade restrictions on four other Xinjiang companies. All are believed by Washington to use forced labor and to be implicated in human rights violations and abuses in the region.
China dominates the global supply chain for solar power, with nearly 50% of the world’s polysilicon used in solar panels coming from Xinjiang. Hoshine imports are estimated worth 150 million USD over the past 30 months. [CNBC] [South China Morning Post]
Furthermore, the US House of Representative passed legislation in attempt that to strengthen scientific research to increase US competitiveness vis-à-vis China. The two bills – the National Science Foundation for the Future Act and the Department of Energy Science for the Future Act – will provide the National Science Foundation with 7% more funding annually and establish a new directorate for science and engineering to expand research opportunities. It also authorizes research funding for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science. [The Hill]
Meanwhile, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a Washington, DC-based US non-profit public policy think tank with links to the US government and big tech companies, and the China Research Group, a group of conservative British politicians and China hawks, have come up with a proposal suggesting Western allies to establish a “NATO for trade” to counter what they see as China’s “weaponisation of policy tools to punish any nation that does not kowtow to Beijing”. Similar to the NATO, where members agree to defend any one of them that is attacked, the proposed Democracies’ Alliance Treaty Organisation (DATO) would retaliate in response to coercive measures taken by China against any member. For example, DATO nations would ban Chinese students if Beijing would withdraw its students from a member country that relies on income from Chinese overseas students [South China Morning Post]
29 June 2021
China: Pressure on Hong Kong’s Apple Daily continues
(dx) As reported last week, the pro-democracy Hong Kong newspaper Apple Daily was shut down following police raids, the arrest of executives and asset freezing last week. The executives are accused of colluding with foreign forces and held accountable for reports calling for foreign sanctions against Hong Kong and mainland China. [see Air No. 25, June/2021, 4] [Reuters]
Currently, the parent company of Apple Daily, Next Digital, is weighing a Security Bureau request to hand over a list of employees and other “sensitive information” to have frozen assets released. Meanwhile, a senior editorial writer of Apple Daily was arrested at the airport while attempting to flee to Britain. The editorial writer was the seventh Apple Daily senior executive to be arrested in two weeks. [South China Morning Post1] [South China Morning Post2]
In a related development, the pro-democracy web media Stand News, announced its decision to suspend subscriptions and remove older commentaries for now, citing concerns that “speech crimes” have arrived in Hong Kong. Stand News is an independent online media outlet founded in 2014, which has mainly focused on political and court news in the wake of the 2019 anti-government protests. [Global Voices]
29 June 2021
CPC’s white paper on human rights in China amid new report on secret prisons
(dx/dql) Shortly ahead of this week’s celebration of the centenary of the founding of the Communist Party of China (CPC), China’s State Council issued a white paper on the country’s human rights practice and record. Summarizing the development and implementation of the Chinese concept of human rights and human rights protection “[e]mbedded in [g]overnance” over the past seven decades since the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), the report identifies successes in ensuring economic, social, cultural and environmental rights, and in establishing “integrated law-based governance with human rights protection.”
The white paper, furthermore, insists on a country-specific way of advancing rights protection, closely connected with securing development: “There are no ready models to copy in respecting, protecting and developing human rights. China must proceed from its prevailing realities and go its own way,” adding that “[based on its prevailing realities, the CPC considers the rights to subsistence and development to be the primary rights; this is the secret of China’s progress in human rights. The right to subsistence comes before any other right, and the right to development is closely connected to the right to subsistence.”
The report concludes that under the party’s leadership “China has won the battle against poverty, and achieved major strategic results in building a moderately prosperous society in all respects,” predicting that further progress will be made in the course of the realization of the Chinese dream by 2049, the centenary of the PRC, with “all rights of the Chinese people […] safeguarded at a higher level.” [State Council, China] [Global Times 1] [Global Times 2]
Meanwhile, human rights NGO Safeguard Defenders has published a report on the secret prison system in China, known as “residential surveillance at a designation location (RSDL).” Citing testimonies of RSDL victims, the report concludes that RSDL is an extra-judicial measure, exposing victims to “physical and psychological tortures including sleep deprivation, food deprivation, extended time in combined shackles and cuffs (sometimes for weeks), beatings, forced medication, denial of medical treatment, sexual abuse, stress positions held for extended periods (such as being hung by the wrists) and threats of physical harm to them and their loved ones.” [Safeguard Defenders] [The Guardian]
22 June 2021
Taiwan strengthens defense capabilities amid Chinese military activities
(nds/dql) Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense has signed two contracts with the US to purchase multiple M142 high mobility artillery rocket systems and Harpoon coastal defense systems, worth nearly three billion USD. Delivery of the systems is expected for 2027 and 2028 respectively. In addition, the Ministry announced that the Taiwanese Army has installed a new variant of its Thunderbolt-2000 multiple launch rocket systems with a range of 100 kilometers, more than double of its previous maximum range. [Taiwan News 1] [Apple Daily]
The deals come as Taiwan’s military confirmed that three Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) vessels, including one destroyer, one corvette and one replenishment oiler, sailed through the Pacific Ocean off the coast of eastern Taiwan’s outlying Green Island on last Friday, only a few days after 28 Chinese military aircraft, entered Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ) on Tuesday. [Focus Taiwan 1] [Focus Taiwan 2]
Meanwhile, the Penghu Defense Command last week conducted live-fire exercises aimed at maintaining combat readiness and involving firing procedures, tactical maneuvers, and gun placement procedures. In an earlier development, the Ministry of National Defense had decided to postpone the Han Kuang exercise, Taiwan’s largest military drills involving all military branches, to September due to the recent surge in Covid-19 cases on the island. [Taiwan News 2] [Focus Taiwan]
22 June 2021
8th ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting-Plus
(pr/lm) China’s Defence Minister General Wei Fenghe last week reiterated that his country will not bend when it comes to Taiwan, the South China Sea and other “core interests.” Commenting on the growth of China’s military power, Wei suggested it should be considered “part of the growth of the world’s peace forces”.
Speaking at the 8th ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting-Plus (ADMM-Plus), held online and hosted by Brunei, Wei acknowledged other countries’ “legitimate concerns” on unspecified matters but said China’s national interests must be fully respected and safeguarded. He listed not only Taiwan and the South China Sea – where China has overlapping claims with several Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) members – but also Xinjiang and Hong Kong. [Nikkei Asia 1]
The meeting brought together defense ministers from the ten member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and their counterparts from the six so-called “plus countries” outside the group: the United States, South Korea, India, Russia, Australia and New Zealand. These gatherings have been held since 2010, but the latest session marked the first since US President Joe Biden took office.
The remarks assume added significance coming as they did a day after Taiwan reported the largest-ever air incursion by Chinese forces. The also came just a week after advanced economies, at the Group of Seven summit, had also urged Taiwan Strait stability and encouraged “the peaceful resolution of cross-strait issues”.
Significantly, ADMM-Plus members also welcomed the expansion of the ASEAN Direct Communications Infrastructure (ADI) in the ADMM Process to the Plus Countries. The ADI aims to enable a dialogue to promote de-escalation of potential conflicts and to defuse misunderstandings and misinterpretations during crisis or emergency situations. In 2019, the ASEAN’s defense ministers adopted a concept paper to expand the ADI to the eight so-called “plus countries” outside the group. [South China Morning Post] [The Straits Times 1]
The day before the ADMM-Plus meeting, Indonesian Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto told an ASEAN-only meeting that the bloc needs to solidify its own Indo-Pacific strategy to preserve its “unity and centrality.” During the virtual gathering, defense ministers from ASEAN also called for an early conclusion of a code of conduct for the South China Sea. [Nikkei Asia 2]
The ASEAN-only meeting also approved the establishment of a new Cybersecurity and Information Centre of Excellence in Singapore to better facilitate exchanges among ASEAN defense establishments and protect against the threats of cyber-attacks, disinformation, and misinformation. This center will complement the ASEAN Cyber Defence Network in promoting regional exchanges, interactions, and cooperation on cyber-security matters. [The Straits Times 2]
22 June 2021
House of Commons’s bill to strengthen Canada-Taiwan relations
(nds) On 17 June, a bill to create a legal framework for strengthening Canada-Taiwan relations passed the first reading in the Canadian House of Commons. Since 1970, there has been no formal relationship between the two countries, even if they have strong economic and cultural ties. The Canada-Taiwan Relations Framework Act will establish an “orderly mechanism” to conduct relations between the two countries.
Beijing rejects Taiwan as a sovereign state independent of China and urges other countries to do the same. The Canada-Taiwan Relations Framework Act was drafted in a way that is consistent with the “One-China” policy. The joint Canada-China communiqué that defines this policy states that the Canadian government “merely takes not” of Beijing’s assertion of “one China.”
The terms “merely” and “take note” mean that Canada does not expressly support the one-China claim but does not contest it either. This deliberate choice of language allows Canada greater flexibility in its dealings with China and Taiwan. [theepochtimes.com] [ Focus Taiwan] [ Taiwan News ]
22 June 2021
Japan calls for stronger European military involvement in Indo-Pacific
(dql) Speaking to the European Parliament’s subcommittee on security and defence and citing China’s “unilateral attempts to change the status quo,” in the East China Sea and the South China Sea, Japan’s Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi called on the European Union to be stronger militarily involved in the Indo-Pacific to counter growing influence of China in this region.
His call comes as the British aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth will visit Japan on its maiden deployment this year, whereby leading a flotilla of Royal Navy ships in a high-profile tour through Asian waters, and conducting drills with forces from Japan, Australia, Canada, South Korea, New Zealand, and a number of European states including France, Denmark, Greece, Italy and Greece. [South China Morning Post]
In a latest related development, Japan’s Coast Guard confirmed that two Chinese coast guard ships sailed into Japanese territorial waters off the Senkaku Islands in the early hours of Tuesday, shortly after two other Chinese vessels had stayed in the waters until late Monday for about 42 hours. [Japan Times]
22 June 2021
Australia takes China to WTO over wine tariffs
(dql) Amid frosty Sino-Australian relations, the Australian government has filed a formal complaint with the World Trade Organization (WTO) in response to China’s decision to impose up to 218% tariffs on Australian wine last year. At the same time, Canberra affirmed that it remains open to engaging directly with China to resolve the issue.
It is Australia’s second appeal to the WTO within half a year, after it launched a formal appeal in December seeking a review of China’s decision to slap tariffs on imports of Australian barley. [Reuters]
Relations between China and Australia begun to plummet after Canberra banned Huawei from its 5G broadband networking in 2018, and subsequently worsened since it called for an international investigation into the origins of the coronavirus last year. In response, China imposed tariffs on Australian commodities, including wine and barley and limited imports of Australian beef, coal and grapes. [BBC] [Reuters]
22 June 2021
China-UK relations: Beijing accused of “creeping capture” of multilateral organizations
(dql) Amid already strained Sino-British relations, the UK parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee has released a report in which it accuses China of attempts “to seize control of strategically important [multilateral] organisations and fundamentally redefine the once universally agreed principles on which they are based,” citing the World Health Organization (WHO), World Trade Organizations (WTO), the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Human Rights Council (HRC) as examples. The report also concludes that China “increasingly uses aggressive means, including bilateral economic leverage to coerce states to back their position or their candidates and then uses the organisations to shift policies away from the cooperation the organisations were created to promote.” [Foreign Affairs Committee, UK Parliament] [Republic World]
For further insights into China’s growing influence in UN organizations, see the study in [Gateway House], in which the authors argue that China holds a “dominant position in several critical multilateral bodies, in both personnel and funding,” with the most important being the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), the International Civil, Aviation Organisation (ICAO), the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), and the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).
22 June 2021
Chinese astronauts begin occupation of space station
(dql) Showing the country’s growing confidence and capacity in the space domain, China has successfully launched a mission to send three astronauts into orbit and to begin occupation of the country’s new space station Tiangong, expected to be completed by the end of 2022.
With the US-led the International Space Station (ISS), a multinational collaborative project involving five participating space agencies: NASA (United States), Roscosmos (Russia), JAXA (Japan), ESA (Europe), and CSA (Canada), expected to be decommissioned in 2024, China’s Tiangong would be the only game in town for some time. [BBC]
For concerns among US observers and politician over challenges posed by China’s ambitions and capabilities in a “new phase” of US-China competition in space, see Nectar Gan and Ben Westcott in [CNN] and Jared Thompson in [Space News] The latter argues that “Washington does not need to dominate space but instead needs to prevent Beijing from realizing its troubling zero-sum ambitions to control space resources and become a space-power hegemon. […] The moon and Mars are not disputed islands, nor should they become one. Beijing’s revisionist agenda must not leave Earth.”
In a separate development, China and Russia unveiled at the Global Space Exploration (GLEX) conference in St. Petersburg a roadmap for a joint International Lunar Research Station (ILRS) aimed at guiding collaboration and development of the project. The ILRS, expected to become operational in 2036, is planned to be developed concurrently but separate to the US Artemis lunar exploration program. [Space.com]
For insights into prospects of Sino-Russian space cooperation, see Andrew E. Kramer and Steven Lee Myers in [New York Times] who argue that space has become a “natural extension of the two countries’ warming ties, given increasingly fraught relations with the United States.”
22 June 2021
China: Apple Daily executives arrested on national security charge in Hong Kong
(dx) Hong Kong police have arrested the editor-in-chief, and four other executives of the regime-critical newspaper Apple Daily. They are accused under the national security law for Hong Kong of colluding with foreign forces and held accountable for reports calling for foreign sanctions or hostile actions against Hong Kong and the central government.
The arrests, which marked the second raid on Apple Daily since the national security law came into force on June 30, 2020, reinforce concerns over erosion of press freedom and effects on self-censorship among reporters for fear of flouting the national security law. [South China Morning Post] [Global Times] [Air No. 32, August/2020, 2]
22 June 2021
China: Hong Kong district councillors face disqualification
(dx) At least 150 Hong Kong district councillors could be removed from their posts over their roles in an unofficial primary election in July 2020 [see AiR No. 28, July/2020, 2] when they will be vetted next month under the Public Offices Ordinance 2021, also known as the oath-taking legislation, which was passed by the city’s parliament in May.
They face disqualification not only for joining the opposition camp’ s primary, organized to select the opposition’s candidates for the election to the city’s parliament, which was scheduled for September and later postponed. They will also be disqualified for providing their district offices as polling stations. Those councillors, who signed a statement before the primary in 2020, in which they promised to vote down the government’s budget if they were elected and camp’s demands were failed, will also be unseated.
With 150 councillors removed, the total number of opposition representatives in district councils would decrease by more than 40%. [South China Morning Post] [Macau Business]
22 June 2021
China: Chinese researchers challenge claims of forced labor in Xinjiang
(dx) Chinese researchers from the Southwest University of Political Science and Law published a paper rejecting accusations of forced labor in Xinjiang’s cotton industry, citing increased large-scale mechanization and arguing that financial incentives, not coercion, were reasons for Uyghurs choosing cotton-picking.
The research reflects recent growing efforts of Chinese scholars to question the Western narrative about human rights abuses in Xinjiang. A widely circulated paper, published by German researcher Adrian Zenz, analyzed Chinese government data and documentation and concluded that Xinjiang’s cotton-picking industry was heavily reliant on the forced labor of Uyghurs. His theory was supported and spread through Western media. [South China Morning Post 1][Air No.15, April/2021, 2]
Meanwhile, according to China’s 2020 national census, the Han majority population grew faster than the Uyghurs minority over the past decade. Xinjiang’s government claims that the reduction in Uyghurs’ population growth rate was due to economic development, and ethnic minorities choosing to get married later and having fewer children. Beijing faces accusations of implementing a campaign involving sterilizations and long-term birth control for Uyghur and other ethnic minority populations in Xinjiang where the third-highest number of sterilizations and second-highest use of intrauterine devices in China are recorded. [South China Morning Post 2]
In a latest development, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said that she is in discussion with China about a visit to the country in this year, including meaning access to Xinjiang. [Aljazeera]
15 June 2021
Cross-strait relations: Chinese warplanes in Taiwan’s air defense identification zone
(nds) Tawain’s Ministry of National Defense confirmed that a Chinese Shaanxi Y-8 anti-submarine warfare plane flew into the southwest corner of Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ) on 12 June. In response, Taiwan’s government issued radio warnings, sent aircraft, and deployed air defense missile systems to track the plane.
It is the third time this month that the People’s Liberation Army Air Force has violated Taiwan’s ADIZ. [Taiwan News]
In a latest development, China sent 28 warplanes into Taiwan’s air defence identification zone on Tuesday. The move comes a day after the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carried out maritime security operations, strike exercises and coordinated tactical training in the South China Sea. [South China Morning Post 1]
Meanwhile, the Chinese military has reportedly deployed additional surveillance forces in the air and waters near a disputed South China Sea archipelago, including a Type-815G spy ship, a navy Y-8Q maritime patrol aircraft and a KJ-500 airborne early warning and control plane. [South China Morning Post 2]
15 June 2021
Philippines: No escalation of territorial dispute, xxtension of cooperation agreement with the United States.
(lp) Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian said this week that the dispute over the Philippines’ exclusive economic zones in the South China Sea is not too important to undermine bilateral relations between these countries. Moreover, Chinese President Xi Jinping celebrated the 46th anniversary of diplomatic ties between China and the Philippines, all while ignoring the latter’s diplomatic protests with Chinese ships on Philippine territory. In turn, President Rodrigo Duterte did not mention the territorial dispute, but rather celebrated, hoped for long-lasting diplomatic ties with China. [ABS-CBN] [Philippine Star 1]
Meanwhile, the Department of Agriculture (DA) claimed that the increased presence of Bureaus of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) and the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) operatives in the South China Sea boosted the confidence of Filipinos to catch fish in the area. Moreover, the Chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) visited Pagasa Island, which is eyed to convert into a logistics hub for their forces deployed in the area, to assert the Philippines’ claims over the territory. Furthermore, the alliance of activist fisherfolk groups PAMALAKAYA held a protest in front of the Chinese Embassy to denounce China’s incursion into Philippine territory. [Philippine News Agency] [Reuters] [SupChina]
Besides a bill to identify the Philippines’ maritime zones, some Filipino officials are pushing for increased strength of the AFP maritime forces, preservation of coral reefs, protection of the deep sea. [South China Morning Post] [Philippine Star 2] [Rappler] [Manila Bulletin 1]
During a recent assembly, the ten-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China vowed to avoid activities that could escalate tension in the contested South China Sea. Meanwhile, Duterte extended the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the US for six more months so that he can review it more closely. He had previously demanded the US to explain their inaction in the 2012 Panatag standoff, when China took islands from the Philippines, before discussing the VFA. [Manila Standard] [Manila Bulletin 2] [Radio Free Asia]
15 June 2021
Malaysia: Maritime agency confirms Chinese vessel encroached on Malaysian waters
(tcy) Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) confirmed that a China Coast Guard (CCG) vessel had been detected encroaching Malaysian waters off the coast of Miri on June 4 at Beting Patinggi Ali, also known as Luconia Shoals, which is one of the largest and least-known reef complexes in the South China Sea. [Malay Mail]
The incident comes shortly after an airspace incursion where 16 aircraft from the People’s Liberation Army-Air Force (PLAAF) were detected flying into the Malaysian Maritime Zone (MMZ) airspace and close to Malaysia’s national airspace on May 31. [Bernama 1]
Analysts have noted that Malaysia’s response to this incident and to the recent airspace incursion has been uncharacteristically outspoken, pointing to Malaysia’s growing dissatisfaction, given that Malaysia normally refrains from protesting in public view when Chinese ships pass into its waters due to the deep economic relationship it has with China, who is also much stronger militarily. Experts say that the increased frequency of such incursions is likely to be China’s signal of unhappiness towards Malaysia for joining the United States, China’s rival superpower, for military air exercises in the South China Sea in April. [Voice Of Asia]
15 June 2021
Indonesia: Indonesian Minster for Maritime Affairs and Investment meets with Chinese Foreign Minister as South China Sea region receives ASEAN attention
(sa) Indonesian Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment, Luhut Pandjaitan, met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in China for the inaugural meeting of the China-Indonesia high-level dialogue cooperation mechanism, with both sides signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to enable a “platform for closer dialogue” between the two governments.
Beyond the MoU, the dialogue between the two sides sought to bolster collaboration a number of areas including healthcare and Covid vaccines, Belt and Road initiative projects, maritime issues as well as cultural and civic exchanges.
While the dialogue might pay the way for a stronger Sino-Indonesian relations, the South China Sea issue and in particular China’s claims of parts within Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone around the Natuna Islands may prove to be a stumbling block in the relationship, with Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi calling the region “a test” for Sino-ASEAN relations. [South China Morning Post] [Jakarta Post]
15 June 2021
Singapore’s prime minister advises Australia to engage with China
(tcy/lm) During a meeting on June 10, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong advised his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison to try and engage with a rising and assertive China. The Australian prime minister arrived in Singapore late on June 9 in a brief stopover on the island nation en route to the G7 Plus summit in the United Kingdom, where he met US President Biden. [see article in this edition] [The Sydney Morning Herald]
The two leaders signed a Memorandum of Understanding on health care and health technology and agreed to start talks on a “fintech bridge” which would make it easier to cooperate on financial technology. They also agreed to begin developing the infrastructure for a travel bubble between the countries, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison declaring he wants the South-East Asian nation to be the next cab off the rank for quarantine-free travel after New Zealand. [abc News]
When exchanging views on how best to handle the increasing strategic competition between the US and China, said Beijing’s substantial presence means countries like Australia will have to work with it on areas of mutual interest rather than ideological differences. The remarks clearly echoed Lee’s previous statements, in which he had argued that Southeast Asia must not be forced into choosing on whether to side with the US or China. [The Diplomat]
Implicit in Lee’s comments to the Australian prime minister was a criticism of an increasing combative rhetoric under Morrison’s coalition government, some of whose officials have in recent months begun speaking openly of war with China.
Importantly, a joint published after the meeting included a passage about the importance of upholding freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea. Yet, it did not go as far as the joint statement issued the previous day by the Australian and Japanese foreign affairs and defense ministers, who voiced “serious” or “grave” concerns about a range of issues involving China, including the situation in the East and South China seas, Xinjiang and Hong Kong. [Prime Minister of Australia]
15 June 2021
China, Pakistan to set up joint media outlet to counter West’s ‘info dominance’, according to report
(ra) A new media organization to counter Western-centric narratives promoted in the news is in the works by China and Pakistan. Both countries hope to create a television channel to promote narratives that view Pakistan and China in a positive light.
Chinese President Xi Jinping reiterated the importance of giving China a more trustworthy image in the eyes of the world. While China has reportedly agreed to fund the new organization, Pakistan has considered setting up the new organizational headquarters within its borders. [WION]
While China’s internal political and media culture does not allow for open media, Pakistan’s seems favorable for a media outlet to begin its work. However, Pakistan’s lack of financial resources can be overcome with China’s financial wealth – making for a synergistic collaboration between both countries. The new media channel hopes to mirror Qatar’s Al-Jazeera or Russia’s RT network, aiming to include journalists at an international level. [Hindustan Times]
15 June 2021
China-Pakistan-Economic-Corridor enters second phase
(lm) Less than two months after top leaders of China and Pakistan agreed to accelerate the completion of projects under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) [see AiR No. 21, May/2021, 4], subtle signs of unease between the two sides over the future direction and subsequent funding of the major infrastructure agreement have increased.
Since it was launched six years ago, the far-reaching project has come to represent Beijing’s wider geopolitical ambitions, with CPEC forming the backbone of China’s presence in Pakistan and symbolizing the “all-weather friendship” between the two countries. Over the years, however, CPEC has morphed in size and scope. Though often valued at $62 billion, only about $25 billion worth of CPEC projects have so far been developed, giving rise to concerns that the alliance has been exacting on Pakistan’s resources, people and international reputation. [AiR No. 10, March/2021, 2]
More recently, Pakistani government officials have raised concerns over Beijing’s reluctance to provide new loans for the construction of Mainline-1, a $6.8 billion project to upgrade railway infrastructure in the Peshawar – Lahore – Karachi corridor [see AiR No. 32, August/2020, 2]. [The Express Tribune]
Work on the first phase of the project was scheduled to commence in January and be completed in 2024. Earlier in April, Pakistan indicated its approval to a revised Chinese loan proposal, agreeing to borrow $6 billion in both Chinese and US currencies. The remaining $800 million were supposed to be provided by Islamabad as equity. [AiR No. 17, April/2021, 4]
But Pakistan has only allocated approx. $39.6 million for the project in its proposed budget for the next fiscal year, which is almost 40 percent less than what it had indicated at the initial budget approval stage. Pakistani officials said they hopes to secure funding from China for the major railroad project in next fiscal year.
Moreover, a subsidiary of Pakistan’s largest Independent Power Producer (IPP) is facing liquidity issues because of unpaid government subsidies. Islamabad’s circular debt grew to almost $15 billion before the government two weeks ago paid more than $550 million to 20 IPPs under renegotiated power purchase agreements [see AiR No. 18, May/2021, 1]. [Dawn]
15 June 2021
South Korea-China relations: G7 summit exposes Seoul’s balancing act in US-China conflict
(nm) As the Group of Seven (G7) leaders met for their annual summit last week, the need for South Korea to carefully balance the interests of the United States and its allies on the one hand and Chinese interests on the other hand has been exposed. In a joint statement issued after the summit, the G7 nations urged China to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, but South Korea’s vice foreign minister claims no such topics were discussed in the meetings South Korea partook in, dismissing claims that Seoul’s participation in the gathering could lead to Seoul siding with the United States. In a phone call prior to the summit, Chinese foreign minister Wany Yi reportedly told his South Korean counterpart Chung Eui-yong, Seoul should not become trapped in a “biased” way of thinking and that both nations needed to maintain a “political consensus”. China is South Korea’s largest trading partner while the US functions as Seoul’s most important military ally. [Korea Times 1] [Korea Times 2] [Korea Herald 1]
On the sidelines of the summit, President Moon Jae-in further met the leaders of several nations, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, and US foreign minister Antony Blinken. Blinken and Moon discussed follow-up measures to their nations’ May 21 summit, stressing multilateral efforts in the region, a speedy vaccine distribution, and the Myanmar conflict, while reaffirming their commitment to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Following the summit, Moon also travelled to Austria as the first Korean president to make a state visit to the country since the establishment of bilateral ties in 1892. [Korea Herald 2] [Korea Herald 3] [Korea Herald 4] [Korea Herald 5]
15 June 2021
China-US relations: US Senate passes massive spending plan to counter Chinese technology challenge
(dql) In a rare bi-partisan move, US Senate lawmakers from both political parties approved a bill to boost technology research and production to counter China’s technology challenge. The bill authorizes 250 billion USD in funding for technology research, semiconductor development and manufacturing, as well as subsidies for robot makers and chipmakers. [BBC]
The bill’s passage comes as the US and European Union are expected to announce the creation of a new joint technology body, the US-EU Trade and Technology Council, aimed at setting up new global trade standards for emerging technology, promoting democratic values online and identifying ways for both sides to cooperate in cutting-edge research and development. [CNBC]
Meanwhile, Sino-US tensions over human rights and the origin of the coronavirus flared up in a phone call between China’s top foreign policy adviser Yang Jiechi and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. While the latter reiterated concerns over the erosion of democratic norms in Hong Kong and over “genocide and crimes against humanity” and demanded a second investigation of the origin of the virus in China, the former denounced “any despicable acts that use the epidemic as an excuse to slander China and to shift blames,” as well as US-fabricated “lies about Xinjiang in an attempt to sabotage the stability and unity in Xinjiang.” [AP]
15 June 2021
China poses “systemic challenges”, NATO says
(dql) The 30 leaders of the NATO allies agreed at their summit in Brussels on Monday to send a strong signal to China. Their communiqué, which touches in 79 points on a wide range of issues including also Russia, Iran, Afghanistan, and climate change to outer space, states with regards to China that “China’s stated ambitions and assertive behaviour present systemic challenges to the rules-based international order and to areas relevant to Alliance security.” It, further, cited Beijing’s coercive policies contradicting “fundamental values enshrined in the Washington Treaty,” the NATO founding treaty, as well as its “rapidly expanding its nuclear arsenal,” as sources of the NATO’s security concerns. At the same time, the NATO “remains NATO maintains a constructive dialogue with China where possible,” welcoming “opportunities to engage with China on areas of relevance to the Alliance and on common challenges such as climate change.” [NATO]
The communiqué demonstrates the alliance’s robust stance towards China. However, remarks of European leaders also reflect reluctance to see Europe and their countries dragged into a outright confrontation and showdown with China. French President Macron cautioned that “NATO is a military organization, the issue of our relationship with China isn’t just a military issue,” stressing the importance “that we don’t scatter ourselves and that we don’t bias our relationship with China.” Similarly, German Chancellor Merkel demanded a “right balance” in dealing with China, underscoring that on many issues it is not possible to ignore China. [Reuters] [New York Times][Politico] [DW]
US President Joe Biden, meanwhile, used the NATO summit (and the G7 summit) for a successful and forceful demonstration of his determination to reclaim US leadership in global governance under his motto “America is back.” [Washington Post]
Biden is scheduled to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday in Geneva for bilateral talks amid frosty US-Russian relations.
15 June 2021
G7 Summit 2021: Key takeaways and plans for the future
(ad) This year’s G7 Summit took place in Cornwall in the United Kingdom from 11th June to 13th June, with discussions over climate change, the pandemic and international relations. The meeting included the leaders of the G7, as well as representatives of European Commission and European Council and three guest nations, Australia, India and South Korea.
The Summit had three important focuses.
First is to donate 1 billion vaccines to poorer nations to help combat COVID-19. However, this pledge falls extremely short of the actual doses needed, up to 11 billion doses. Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown called the summit “an unforgivable moral failure” and that these efforts will still leave millions of people unvaccinated.
The second item on the agenda was on the environment. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson stated that the G7 wanted to “drive a global Green Industrial Revolution”. The G7 leaders all committed to reducing their carbon emissions by 50 percent by 2030. They also pledged to stop using coal and end support for the fossil fuel sector. Their ultimate goal is to use wind, solar and other renewable sources of energy. However, they never agreed on a date to stop using coal. Greenpeace International Executive Director Jennifer Morgan voiced her disappointment over this, “This was a moment when the G7 could have shown historic leadership, and instead they left a massive void”. [CNA] [Singapore Tattler] [Deutsche Welle]
The third and perhaps the most important agenda for the summit was how the G7 as a whole could combat China’s rising influence. Prior to the summit, Chinese Embassy’s spokesperson in London stated, “The days when global decisions were dictated by a small group of countries are long gone”, specifically targeting the G7 Summit.
For most G7 countries, dealing with China has proved to be a paradox, whereby they needed China to cooperate with them over climate change and simultaneously, maintain a strong stance against China’s human rights violations and exploitative methods.
Biden’s Indo-Pacific policy director described this as “complex coexistence paradigms”. President Biden has proposed plans for a western belt and road initiative, designed to counter China’s growing dominance. The Build Back Better World (B3W) initiative is created to provide infrastructure to low- and middle-income nations. Council of Foreign Relations representative Jennifer Hillman stated that B3W was created not to get rid of the Belt and Road initiative, but instead to provide an alternative competitor to balance the power struggle. [The Guardian] [White House]
15 June 2021
Singapore: Individual detained under Internal Security Act for spying for China
(tcy) A Singaporean academic who had previously been jailed in the United States on charges of spying for China has been detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) since January, according to the island nation’s intelligence agency, the Internal Security Department (ISD). [South China Morning Post] [The Straits Times]
The ISD stated that the man was recruited by Chinese agents during a trip to Beijing in 2015 and was tasked to source information and provide political reports on issues of interest to his foreign handlers, including information relating to the US and Singapore, in exchange for monetary gains.
He was arrested in Singapore in December of last year, following his deportation from the US, where he had served a 14-month prison term.
The ISA authorizes the home affairs minister to detain individuals without trial for two-year terms that can be renewed at the minister’s discretion. In recent years, the colonial-era law has been used against suspected militants.
15 June 2021
China: Films in breach of national security law to be banned in Hong Kong
(dx) New censorship guidelines were introduced in Hong Kong to make the city’s filmmakers toe a new line under the Hong Kong national security law. Under the amended Film Censorship Ordinance, censors are now authorized to ban movies that are deemed “endorsing, supporting, promoting, glorifying or inciting” acts which are stipulated in the security law as offenses including subversion, secession, terrorism or collusion with foreign forces.
The legislative move has deepened concerns among filmmakers over growing political censorship and erosion of media freedom and freedom of expression in Hong Kong.
In a related development, the screening of “Far From Home”, which portrays political divisions following the 2019 anti-government protests, was withdrawn from 15th Fresh Wave International Short Film Festival after if failed to obtain approval from censors. [South China Morning Post] [Associated Press] [China Digital Rights] [VoA]
15 June 2021
China: Law banning defamation of military personnel passed
(dx) Chinese lawmakers passed a law on the protection of status, rights and interests of military personnel banning defamation of members of the armed forces and the desecration of plaques in honour of military personnel. [Xinhua]
Indicating the sensitivity of the issue, a popular Chinese internet blogger with more than two and a half million followers was sentenced in May to eight months in prison for suggesting that the number of Chinese casualties during last year’s border clash with India was higher than the government’s count. [DW]
15 June 2021
China: Anti-foreign sanctions law adopted by top legislature
(dx) The Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress (NPCSC), the top decision-making body of the country’s legislature, adopted an anti-foreign sanctions law to “counter, fight and oppose unilateral sanctions on China imposed by foreign countries, safeguard its national sovereignty, security and development interests as well as to protect the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese citizens and organizations.”
The law, which codifies a number of retaliatory actions against Western sanctions already in place, targets those who interfere in China’s internal affairs and “smear, contain and suppress China.” Specified measures include: refusing visa issuance, banning entry into China, invalidating visas and deportation; sealing up, seizing and freezing property in China; prohibiting from conducting related transactions with domestic organizations or individuals. [Xinhua] [South China Morning Post]
The law, immediately effective, comes at the heels of China’s counter-sanctions in retaliation to sanctions against it from the US, the European Union, the UK and Canada over Beijing’s tightened control over Hong Kong and treatment of ethnic minority groups in Xinjiang. [see AiR No. 12, March/2021, 4]
An unofficial translation of the law is available at [China Law Translate].
8 June 2021
Cambodia and Switzerland cooperate on Mekong Region Cooperation Programme
(ad) Last week, the Cambodian-Swiss Governmental Consultation was organized to oversee the Swiss Mekong Region Cooperation Programme 2022-2025, where representatives from Cambodia and Switzerland met to discuss progress on preserving the Mekong River.
The discussion was predominantly focused on governance and economic development. They also exchanged inputs on climate change impacts and better natural resource management. The Swiss government is set to grant $13 million per year between 2022 and 2025. Since 2002, Swiss government has given grants worth $142 million to Cambodia for its development. [Agence Kampuchea Presse]
8 June 2021
US Deputy of State visits Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, amidst Chinese push
(pr/ad/lm) United States Deputy Secretary of State Wendy R. Sherman last week concluded an 11-day diplomatic tour that included stopovers in Indonesia, Cambodia and Thailand, signaling that Washington is finally turning its diplomatic focus to Southeast Asia to counter a rising Chinese clout in the region. [Nikkei Asia] [The Diplomat] [U.S. Department of State]
Sherman was the first senior State Department official in the administration of US President Biden to visit member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Both sides were scheduled to hold their first foreign ministers’ encounter via videoconference on May 25. But US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who was touring the Middle East at the time, canceled over technical difficulties after keeping his counterparts waiting. Many ASEAN officials viewed the technical glitch as a political slight, a sign Washington had not invested sufficient effort in planning for the meeting and was once again putting off the pivot to Asia by prioritizing other regions in the world—in this case, the Middle East. [Foreign Policy]
Against this backdrop, commencing her three-nation tour, Sherman visited Indonesia on May 31 for talks with Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi. While in Jakarta, the US top diplomat also met with officials from the ASEAN Secretariat and the ASEAN Committee of Permanent Representatives to discuss expanding and deepening the US-ASEAN strategic partnership.
On June 1, then, Sherman travelled to Cambodia where she promised Prime Minister Hun Sen $11 million in COVID-19 aid. There were also discussions on future opportunities in the oil and gas sector for bilateral cooperation and investment in water and green energy. Another key topic was Cambodia’s debt settlement to the US. Prime Minister Hun Sen proposed a gradual repayment scheme as well as converting 70 percent of the debt into aid towards education and mine removal throughout Cambodia. [Agence Kampuchea Presse]
Importantly, Sherman’s visit – the first by a US official of her rank or above in years – came against the larger backdrop of concerns by Washington about rapid construction of two buildings at Cambodia’s Ream Naval Base, just north of where United States-funded facilities were demolished by Phnom Penh last year. [see article in this edition]
On June 2, then, Sherman met with Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha in Bangkok, where she announced $30 million in coronavirus assistance to Thailand. The two also exchanged opinions on the situation in neighboring Myanmar, with Sherman saying she believed Bangkok and the ASEAN are taking constructive approaches to achieve peaceful solutions. [Thai News Agency]
8 June 2021
United States flags ‘serious concerns’ over Cambodia’s China-backed navy base
(lm) In a meeting with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on June 1, United States Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman expressed concerns about the presence of the Chinese military in the Southeast Asian nation, urging Cambodia’s leadership to “maintain an independent and balanced foreign policy”. [Reuters]
Sherman’s visit – the first by a senior US official to Phnom Penh in years – coincided with a column from Cambodia’s state-owned news agency highlighted on social media by Prime Minister Hun Sen. Indicating a desire by Phnom Penh to shift out of the shadow of Chinese patronage and pursue a closer relationship with Washington, it said it was “time for the US and Cambodia, in China’s shadow, to reset ties”. [The Sydney Morning Herald]
During the meeting, Sherman specifically sought clarification about rapid construction of two buildings at Cambodia’s Ream Naval Base, just north of where United States-funded facilities were demolished by Phnom Penh last year. At the time, Cambodia said it had razed the building to allow for further expansion and would relocate the demolished facility, denying reports of Chinese involvement [see No. 45, November/2020, 2].
Ream faces the Gulf of Thailand that lies adjacent to the South China Sea, where China has aggressively asserted its claim to virtually the entire strategic waterway. Washington has refused to recognize Beijing’s sweeping claims, and the Navy’s 7th Fleet routinely sails past Chinese-held islands in what it terms freedom of navigation operations.
After the meeting, Cambodia authorized the visit of US military attaches to the naval base, as requested by Sherman. Prime Minister Hun Sen, who agreed to the visit, also suggested that the officials should be accompanied by journalists to clear the doubt of alleged government plans for hosting Chinese military assets and personnel. [Khmer Times]
The inspection may also provide an opportunity for Cambodia to verify that the Ream Naval Base maintains its neutrality, if it wants to benefit from US assistance under a $2.3 trillion COVID-19 stimulus relief and omnibus spending bill, which then US President Donald Trump signed into law last December. [AiR No. 52, December/2020, 5].
However, the US embassy in Phnom Penh has not confirmed when its officials would visit the naval base.
On June 2, then, Cambodia’s Defense Minister Tea Banh said that his country had reached out to China to request help with modernizing and expanding Ream Naval Base, adding that China would not be the only country given access to the facility. [Channel NewsAsia]
8 June 2021
Pakistan seeks closer ties with China, Afghanistan to promote peace
(ra) Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi expressed his desire for increased cooperation with Afghanistan and China in order to achieve stability in Afghanistan and the region. Qureshi raised this during a meeting held as part of the fourth iteration of the China-Afghanistan-Pakistan foreign ministers’ dialogue mechanism. [Dawn]
The forum was formed four years ago and has since emerged as the primary channel for Beijing to advance strategic dialogue, counter-terrorism security consultations, and cooperation dialogues among the three sides. The latest session was also attended by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and the Foreign Minister of Afghanistan, Muhammad Haneef Atmar.
The meeting comes against the backdrop of US President Joe Biden’s announcement to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan and Beijing’s offer to host peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government. The latter is widely seen as an attempt of China to put itself in a more active role in the region to prevent that the US withdrawal will lead to chaos in the country and the creation of a sanctuary for Islamist militants bordering to Xinjiang. [VoA] [The New Humanitarian] [The Print]
For a comprehensive analysis of China’s views on the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, please consider Yun Sun’s commentary on [War on The Rocks].
8 June 2021
China hosts ASEAN foreign ministers
(dql) As part of the 30th anniversary of the ASEAN-China Dialogue Relations, China hosted this week a special China-ASEAN foreign ministers’ meeting in Chongqing.
High on the agenda was the ongoing crisis in Myanmar, with Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia expressing disappointment over Myanmar failure to keep the “five-point consensus” agreed by ASEAN leaders at a special summit in April with de-facto leader Min Aung Hlaing.
Other issues discussed during the meeting included the reopening of borders, even as several South-east Asian nations deal with a surge in Covid-19 infections, and the tensions in the South China Sea. [Straits Times]
With reference to the South China Sea, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi urged to “reach the COC at an early date,” and reassured that China stands ready “to work with directly concerned parties of the South China Sea to increase dialogue and consultation, properly manage differences, and continuously enhance mutual trust.” According to the readout of the meeting released by the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Foreign ministers of ASEAN countries attributed peace in the region to “important and fruitful relations,” between China and ASEAN, and suggested to “maintain the momentum of COC consultations, and jointly maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea.” [Ministry of Foreign Affairs, China]
8 June 2021
China-Indonesia relations: Joint Covid-19 vaccine production plan
(dql) During a meeting on Saturday with the Indonesian president’s special envoy Luhut Binsar Panjaitan, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi announced that Beijing plans to jointly produce Covid-19 vaccines with Jakarta, as part of a deepened Covid-19 cooperation between the two countries. The announcement comes as Indonesia seeks to step up its vaccination drive after a slow roll-out.
The bulk of Indonesia’s 92.2 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines has so far come from China, while Indonesia was the first country outside China to authorize the Sinovac jab.
During their meeting, Wang and Luhut also vowed to strengthen their cooperation on Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative, in particular getting the Jakarta-Bandung high speed rail completed on schedule. [South China Morning Post]
For a discussion of the latest developments of Indonesia “quietly warming up to China”, see Derek Grossman in [Foreign Policy] who argues that the US “will have to live with significantly improved Chinese-Indonesian ties since the Natuna Sea standoff,” complicating Washington’s efforts to counter Beijing in the Indo-Pacific.
8 June 2021
China-Russia relations: Sharp anti-US rhetoric in phone call between foreign ministers
(dql) During a phone conversation with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov Beijing, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi called on both countries to close ranks to fend off “perverse” US actions, including “form[ing] small groups under the guise of democracy, us[ing] human rights as an excuse to interfere in countries’ domestic politics, and exercise[ing] unilateralism under the banner of multilateralism.” Lavrov, for his part, reassured Russia’s commitment to “close strategic coordination with China on international and regional issues,” while “firmly support[ing] each other on issues concerning their core interests,” and “resolutely oppos[ing] hegemonism.” [South China Morning Post] [CCTV]
The exchange between Wang and Lavrov comes as Russian President Vladimir Putin is scheduled visit the US later his month for difficult talks with US President Joe Biden amid frosty US-Russian relations.
For a discussion on the current status of the China-Russia-US triangle, see in Vu Le Thai Hoang and Huy Nguyen [The Diplomat] who argue that “[s]hould countries in the triangle manage to compete with restraint, to clash while accepting each other’s legitimate interests, and to fight for influence yet also facilitating cooperation for the common good, a new concert of powers might be in the works.”
8 June 2021
Chinese illegal fishing in Argentina’s waters
(dql) According to recent findings of Oceana, a Washington, DC.-based nonprofit ocean conservation organization, hundreds of boats have hidden their movements close to Argentinian waters in the past three years, raising speculations over illegal fishing in one of the world’s most lucrative fishing grounds.
About 800 vessels, more than half of them Chinese, logged almost 900.000 hours of visible fishing activity via the Automatic Identification System (AIS) within 20 nautical miles of Argentina’s waters between January 2018 and April 2021. Over half of those boats “went dark” more than 6,200 times when their AIS was turned off for at least 24 hours. [Republic World]
8 June 2021
China-Canada relations: Trudeau calls on global community to press Beijing over human rights at Olympic games
(dql) Amid already frosty relations between China and Canada, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called on the global community to come together and use the 2022 Olympics in Beijing as occasion to address human rights abuses China is accused of. [Reuters]
A harder stance was suggested by Canada’s largest opposition party which urged Trudeau to call for the 2022 Winter Olympics to be moved from Beijing at the G7 Summit this week. [CTV News]]
Meanwhile, a group of politicians, spanning 11 countries and parliaments from countries across Europe and North America launched coordinated legislative actions, calling for a diplomatic boycott of the games on grounds of “gross violations of human rights” by the Chinese government and aiming to mount pressure on governments, elected officials and heads of state to decline Beijing’s invitation to the games. [South China Morning Post]
8 June 2021
US vows to tackle “unhealthy parts” of trade relationship with China
(dql) US Trade Representative Katherine Tai expressed her dissatisfaction with the current US-China trade relationship, citing ‘unhealthy parts’ of it, which “have over time been damaging in some very important ways to the US economy,” adding that the US is committed to “bring balance back to the US-China trade relationship,” in terms of performance, opportunity and openness of both countries’ markets to each other. [South China Morning Post]
Her remark comes shortly after China’s Vice Premier Liu He and US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen spoke for the first time since President Joe Biden took office, with both confirming to have “frankly” discussed issues of concern. Neither side, however, disclosed further details on the conversation. [CNBC]
In a latest development, Biden administration announced to set up a new “strike force” to combat China’s unfair trade practices and strengthen US supply chains. Led by the US trade representative, the “supply chain trade strike force” will identify specific violations that have contributed to a “hollowing out” of supply chains that could be addressed with trade remedies. Furthermore, the Department of Commerce is reportedly considering launching an investigation into the national security impact of neodymium magnet imports used in motors and other industrial applications, which the US largely sources from China. [Reuters]
8 June 2021
China’s dominance in rare earths to be broken, think tanks says
(dql) According to a report of the London-based think tank Overseas Development Institute (ODI) China’s dominance in the rare earths sector “is likely to erode in the near term,” due to efforts in “the US and the European Union to expand their processing capacity and reduce their rare earth elements reliance on China,” which could lead to an intensified competition for access to the resources.
China presently dominates the extraction and processing of rare earths, holding world’s largest share of rare earth element (36.7%), and a national production quota of 140,000 tons marking nearly 60% of the global production in 2020, way ahead of next two largest producers in the US (15.8%) and Myanmar (12.5%). [ODI] [South China Morning Post]
For insights into recent US efforts to strengthen its rare earths supply, reflected in Presidential Executive Orders in late 2017 and in late 2020, see Ariel Cohen in [Forbes], who argues that in order to make up leeway on China “American policy makers must treat the security of rare earth supply chains in the same way that we once treated our crude oil and natural gas imports in the pre-shale era: a matter of vital national security.”
8 June 2021
China: Uyghur “people’s tribunal” set to investigate allegations of genocide, rights abuses
(dql) A “people’s tribunal” established to assess whether China’s alleged rights abuses against the Uyghur people constitute genocide has opened in London, with witnesses claiming inmates at detention camps are routinely exposed to humiliation, torture and abuse.
Consisting of lawyers, academics and businesspeople, the tribunal lacks the backing of the UK government backing and does not have powers to sanction or punish China. Organizers, however, believe that laying out evidence publicly will lead to international action against the human rights abuses against the Uyghurs China is accused of. [ABC News]
8 June 2021
China: 40 million in digital currency handed out to Beijing residents as part of trials
(dx) China will hand out 40 million renminbi (RMB) of its digital currency to citizens in Beijing in a lottery. Citizens can use two banking apps to win one of 200,000 so-called red packets containing 200 yuan each. China has been developing digital currency since 2014 but has yet to do a national rollout. The trials in the form of lotteries were conducted in different cities around the country, such as Shenzhen last year and Chengdu in February 2021. [CNBC]
For a brief overview of the Chinese government’s steps to introduce the digital yuan since 2014, see Karen Yeung and Andrew Mullen in [South China Morning Post].
Meanwhile, US lawmakers seeing China’s digital currency as a long-term attempt to challenge US dollar as the world’s dominant reserve currency, have introduced in the House of Representatives the 21st Century Dollar Act which aims to enshrine the dollar as the “primary global reserve currency,” and would require within six months a report of the Treasury on efforts to develop a digital US dollar. [Barron’s].
8 June 2021
China: Human rights activist barred from leaving China to attend sick daughter
(dx) Tang Jitian, a prominent human rights activist, was barred from leaving China to take care of his daughter, who is ill with tuberculosis meningitis in a Japanese hospital. Law enforcement authorities cited national security concerns as reason.
Tang worked as a human rights lawyer and represented vulnerable and persecuted clients before he was permanently disbarred in 2010. [South China Morning Post]
8 June 2021
China: Hongkongers arrested for commemorating the Tiananmen crackdown
(dx) Though police banned the annual mass gathering “Tiananmen Vigil” at Victoria Park citing Covid-19 restrictions, Hongkongers still staged small protests by lighting candles or flashing their mobile phones on June 4th, groups of black-clad demonstrators also shouted pro-independence slogans.
According to the police, as of 10 p.m., at least 6 people were arrested on suspicion of inciting others to participate in an unauthorised assembly, ordinary assault, disorderly conduct in a public place and obstruction of police, the force said. Twelve people were fined for flouting the coronavirus-related ban on public gatherings of more than four people. [South China Morning Post 1] [South China Morning Post 2]
In a related case, Chow Hang-tung, vice-chair of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China and a food delivery person were arrested for allegedly promoting the “Tiananmen Vigil” on social media. [Hong Kong Free Press]
8 June 2021
China: High-level leading group steers toward carbon-neutral goal
(dx) China has set up a high-level leading group on tackling peak emissions and carbon neutrality, underscoring Beijing’s determination on climate issues. The first plenary meeting was held on May 26th and was chaired by Han Zheng, China’s first vice-premier and a member of the Politburo Standing Committee. Though the members of the leading group haven’t been announced, Xi Jinping’s trusted aides and at least 17 ministry chiefs attended the meeting, suggesting the top leadership’s seriousness about achieving the goals “carbon neutrality by 2060 ” and their hopes of coordinating central and regional policies as well as addressing international concerns. [State Council, China, in Chinese] [South China Morning Post]
In September 2020, Xi announced at the UN General Assembly in New York that China will aim to hit peak emissions before 2030 and for carbon neutrality by 2060. [BBC]
1 June 2021
Myanmar: Tribunal orders 20-year jail term for torching Chinese-financed factories
(lf) A military tribunal has sentenced 28 people to 20 years in jail with hard labour for torching two factories during unrest in the city of Yangon in March. During the unrest in the city’s suburb area, a total of 32 Chinese-invested factories were vandalised, with property losses reaching $36.9 million. [Reuters]
1 June 2021
Sri Lanka: Lankans express fears of Chinese cultural hegemony, as mandarin replaces Tamil on sign boards
(lm) Sri Lankans have begun expressing fears of China silently imposing its cultural hegemony on the island nation, after two back-to-back incidents in which Mandarin replaced Tamil on signs related to government projects. [Swarajya]
Sri Lanka’s Attorney General’s Department on Saturday removed a plaque at a recently opened library on its premises following a social media uproar over the omission of Tamil, an official language, while including Mandarin in the text. The incident came a week after a Sri Lankan lawmaker shared on Twitter an image a sign board of the “Central Park” project coming up at the China-backed Colombo Port City, with text in Sinhala, English and Mandarin. [The Hindu]
1 June 2021
Philippines increases protests, patrols against China’s presence in the South China Sea
(lp) During President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration, the Philippines has already lodged one hundred diplomatic protests against China for the latter’s repeated, continuous incursion into the Philippines’ exclusive economic zones in the South China Sea. Despite their numbers, these protests have hardly kept Chinese vessels in line. On the other hand, the Philippines has recently boosted patrols in the area, thereby, at least, increasing the country’s monitoring capacity. [The Star] [South China Morning Post]
Despite these protests and patrols, the income of Filipino fisherfolks has dramatically plummeted due to, at least partially, the continued presence of Chinese vessels in fishing grounds in the South China Sea. Meanwhile, Senator Risa Hontiveros warned that amendments to the Public Service Act (PSA), which would permit complete foreign ownership of public utilities, could facilitate China’s control over critical infrastructure in the Philippines. [Manila Bulletin] [ABS-CBN]
1 June 2021
China is gradually invading Bhutanese territory to gain military advantage over India, says report
(lm) A new report, published by Foreign Policy, has claimed that China has built a village eight kilometers within territory belonging to its Himalayan neighbor, Bhutan, as part of its move to expand and develop its infrastructure in the border regions of Tibet.
The new village is located in Bhutan’s northern district of Lhuntse but has been marked as being part of Lhodrak in the Tibetan Administrative Region (TAR) by China. The report says that Beijing has been gradually and stealthily seizing chunks of lands from Bhutan for years, following a 2017 drive flagged off by Chinese President Xi Jinping to fortify the Tibetan borderlands. Thus, the researchers argue that China is following the same piecemeal, step-by-step approach in Bhutan it previously used in the South China Sea, that is, shifting the status quo without triggering a major conflict with its neighbors or the United States. [Foreign Policy]
China reportedly claims roughly 12 percent of Bhutan’s territory – four areas in the west of Bhutan, three in the north, and one in the east – with no mutual understanding between the two nations on what constitutes the border. In July of last year Beijing for the first time publicly put on record that is has a border dispute with Bhutan over the country`s eastern sector, and – in a tangential reference to India – said that “a third party should not point fingers” in the Sino-Bhutan border dispute [see AiR No. 28, July/2020, 2]. During a four-day meeting of experts between China and Bhutan this April, then, the two sides agreed to resume long-delayed talks on their disputed boundary [see AiR No. 16, April/2021, 3].
Importantly, the report suggests does not actually need the land it is settling in Bhutan but rather is planning to use it as a security to force the Bhutanese government to cede other territory that may give it a military advantage in its struggle with India. [Bloomberg] [The EurAsian Times]
For China has tried building roads into Bhutan before—but mainly in its western areas and with limited success. In 2017, China’s attempt to build a road across the Doklam plateau in southwestern Bhutan, next to the trijunction with India, resulted in a 73-day military standoff between India and China. Consequently, China had to put its road construction through Doklam on hold. Back then, New Delhi – which has historically close ties and considerable influence over Bhutan – supported Thimphu’s claims, in part because the area is close to the Siliguri corridor, a narrow stretch of land also known as the ‘Chicken’s Neck’ that connects India’s north-east with the mainland. [The Week]
In November of last year, then, an Indian media outlet reported that Beijing had set up a village more than two kilometers within Bhutanese territory and built a road in the same area. China denied the claim, but it is possible, as some analysts have speculated, that Bhutan had quietly ceded that territory to China but not announced it to the outside world. [AiR No. 48, December/2020, 1]
It is also possible that Beijing wants to use the territory as leverage to pressure Bhutan to open full relations with China, which would allow Beijing to have a diplomatic presence in Thimphu. This would offset India’s influence in Bhutan, an aim that China has largely achieved in Nepal.
1 June 2021
China-India border dispute: As snow thaws, could conflict reignite?
(ad/lm) As the snow melts in the Himalayan heights, analysts and military officials warn that the warmer weather could lead to renewed conflict between India and China, as both sides have resumed patrols into forward areas along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), while also strengthening logistics and adding infrastructure along the de facto border. [South China Morning Post]
After several rounds of talks, both sides in February began withdrawing troops and artillery from their positions on the southern and northern banks of Pangong Lake. But China has shown no inclination to withdraw from the other newly occupied areas from Hot Springs, Gogra Post and the Depsang Plains in eastern Ladakh, which did not feature in the piecemeal disengagement process [see AiR No. 45, November/2020, 2]. The situation was best summarized by Indian Army chief General M.M. Naravane, who earlier this month said there had been “disengagement but no de-escalation” [see AiR No. 21, May/2021, 4].
India, on its part is poised to approve the construction of a new tunnel, which will allow all-weather access connecting the states of Ladakh and Himachal Pradesh [see AiR No. 21, May/2021, 4]. The army has also reportedly accelerated construction of all-weather outposts for additional troops to be deployed along the border.
China, in turn, has been seeking to strengthen its deterrent measures against India. Specifically, the Xinjiang Military District, which is part of the Western Theater Command, is receiving greater attention in terms of upgrades with new equipment, including combat vehicles and self-propelled rapid-fire mortars. According to observers, there is a good case to believe that China would prefer to maintain the status quo as it is currently dealing with a range of geopolitical challenges, and thus does not want to open multiple battlefronts. [Asia Times] [The Diplomat]
1 June 2021
Japan-US relations: Strengthening security alliance against China
(dql) Adm. John Aquilino met with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga in Tokyo on his first overseas trip in his new capacity of the new commander of the US Indo-Pacific Command. During the meeting both affirmed their countries’ strong opposition to China’s unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the Indo-Pacific region. Aquilino and Suga further agreed to strengthen the Japan-US security alliance and pursue a free and open Indo-Pacific together.
In a separate conversation with Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi, he affirmed the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. [Kyodo News]
1 June 2021
Cross-strait relations: Taiwan accuses China of obstructing purchase of German vaccine
(dql) Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen has accused China of being instrumental in preventing Taiwan signing a deal to purchase Covid-19 vaccines from German firm BioNTech. Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical Group signed a deal with BioNTech last year to supply its vaccines to mainland China, and in March offered to supply some of those doses to Taiwan. Under the deal, Fosun was given the exclusive rights to develop and commercialize the vaccines in mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. [The Guardian]
1 June 2021
China-Russia relations continue to deepen
(dql) During the latest round of the Sino-Russia strategic security consultations last week, held in Moscow and attended by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, both countries reaffirmed their commitment to strengthen their strategic relations, with Russian President Vladimir Putin reassuring that relations between the two countries are “the best in history”. [South China Morning Post 2]
In an earlier development, Russian state-run space agency Roscosmos announced that it will incorporate a Chinese superheavy launcher into its home-grown manned spacecraft for future moon-landing missions. Along the with the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the joint construction of an autonomous lunar permanent research base, signed in March between the China National Space Administration (CNSA) and Roscosmos, the announcement reflects the growing Sino-Russian space cooperation. [South China Morning Post 2] [The Diplomat]
1 June 2021
China-Europe relations: Foreign Minister Wang Yi holds talks with counterparts from Serbia, Hungary, Ireland and Poland
(dql) Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi past weekend met with his Serbian, Hungarian, Irish and Polish counterparts Nikola Selakovic, Peter Szijjarto, Zbigniew Rau and Simon Coveney to discuss bilateral relations. The meetings signal China’s efforts to push for a stabilization Sino-European relations after tensions between Beijing and the European Union over tit-for-tat sanctions over accusations of human rights abuses in Xinjiang, the European Parliament’s suspension of debates on the EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI) as well as Lithuania’s withdrawal from the Cooperation between China and Central and Eastern European Countries.
Wrapping up the talks, Wang confirmed that all ministers agreed to “pay attention to and calmly reflect on the current difficulties in China-Europe relations,” adding that the China’s successful cooperation with these four countries serves a “real models” to make policymakers in Europe review their own policies on China. [Global Times]
Echoing this, Serbian Foreign Minister Nikola Selakovic in a separate interview with Chinese state media, reassured that his country won’t impose any sanctions against China arguing that “Serbia is a militarily neutral country. Serbia unlike some other states, which are on the European path, won’t ruin its relations and has great relations with China […].” Rejecting accusations of China using vaccine diplomacy to expand its international influence, Selakovic described China’s distribution of vaccines as “an issue of humanity and an issue of saving people’s lives.” [South China Morning Post 1]
Serbia, which is expected to finalize negotiations on its accession to the European Union in 2024, so far has vaccinated 45.3% of its adult population with Sinopharm vaccines and received last week the final batch COVID-19 vaccines from China. [Xinhua]
Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto, meanwhile, announced after speaking with Wang that Hungary would open a planned vaccine plant in Debrecen. His statement came at the heels of the Hungarian government’s announcement of plans to produce the Chinese-developed Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine locally. [Deutsche Welle]
Hungary is the only EU member state that has authorized and deployed Russian and Chinese shots before approval by the EU drugs regulator. In April, Chinese shipments to Hungary surpassed 2 million vaccine doses as part of a contract under which Hungary will import 5 million doses from China. [Reuters]
For Poland, Zbigniew Rau confirmed that his country would make active efforts to support the development of healthy EU-China relations, adding that Warsaw welcomes Chinese investment and would not adopt discriminatory measures against its companies. [Bloomberg]
Coveney, finally, agreed with Wang to deepen economic and social relations in various fields including technological innovation, high-quality agriculture, higher education and cultural industries. Ireland is one of the few member states of the EU which has been able to maintain a trade surplus with China. On the EU-China investment deal, Coveney expressed his conviction that it “serves the common interests,” and urged both sides to “overcome the current difficulties through candid dialogues.” [South China Morning Post 2] [Foreign Ministry, China]
In a separate conversation with French Minister Delegate for foreign trade Franck Riester, Chinese Commerce Minister Wang Wentai called on France to help reinstate discussions on the EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI) after the European Parliament voted last week to freeze talks until Chinese sanctions on European lawmakers were dropped. [South China Morning Post 2]
1 June 2021
China-UK relations: Phone talk between foreign ministers hardens differences on human rights issues
(dql) In a phone call with his British counterpart Dominic Raab, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi reaffirmed that China stands ready to discuss with Britain “sensitive issues”, but also called on the British government to “respect China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” Wang defended Beijing’s Hong Kong and Xinjiang policies as necessary to safeguard the city’s stability and its “one country, two systems” model of semi-autonomy, and to combat separatism and violence, respectively.
He urged both sides to cooperate in addressing global challenges, adding that trade ties between the countries demonstrated their “potential and resilience”, with China replacing Germany the UK’s largest goods trading partner in the first quarter of the year.
Raab, on his side, reiterated Britain’s concerns over the situation in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, demanding that Beijing provides UN human rights experts with “unfettered access” to Xinjiang. [South China Morning Post]
1 June 2021
Confucius Institutes at Australian universities the next casualties in strained China-Australia relations?
(dql) The Australian government is considering whether the Confucius Institutes are compatible with a foreign policy increasingly wary of Beijing. As part of a system enabling Canberra to vet agreements between foreign governments and subnational bodies, 13 Australian universities are given time until June 10 to submit their contracts to host the Confucius Institutes. Under a law passed last year, Australia’s foreign minister is authorized to terminate those agreements in case they are deemed undermine the federal government’s policy towards China. [Sydney Morning Herald]
Confucius Institutes have been a source of international controversy in recent years, with critics claiming the institutes are used by the Chinese Communist Party as Trojan horses to spread propaganda across the world.
1 June 2021
China-Australia relations: Chinese Defense Ministry accuses Canberra of fomenting confrontation over Taiwan
(dql) Already strained Sino-Australian relations have been further complicated after China’s Defense Ministry has labelled the Australian government’s warnings on the threat of war over Taiwan as irresponsible and accused it of inciting confrontation over the island.
The comment comes in response to a flurry of warnings from Australian leaders in April and May, including Home Affairs Secretary Michael Pezzullo whose remark that “the drums of war” are beating have been widely interpreted as referring to the situation in the Taiwan Strait. They were followed by Defense Minister Peter Dutton who warned not to discount the possibility of conflict. [Sydney Morning Herald]
Former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, meanwhile, called on countries to unite against China’s growing economic and geopolitical coercion. Otherwise, they could risk being singled out and punished by Beijing. [BBC]
1 June 2021
China-US relations: Biden orders new inquiry into Covid-19 origin
(dql) In a move likely to further heighten Sino-US tensions, US President Joe Biden last week ordered US intelligence agencies to follow up with an investigation into the origins of the coronavirus after receiving a report, requested in March, earlier this month. In the related statement, Biden said that the US Intelligence Community has not reached a definitive conclusion whether virus was accidentally leaked from a lab or transmitted by an animal to humans outside a lab. [White House, USA]
It also follows criticism of a report delivered by an international team of experts of the World Health Organization that largely dismissed the possibility that the virus had accidentally escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. [New York Times]
In response to the order, China’s Foreign Ministry accused the US of “us[ing] the pandemic to pursue stigmatisation, political manipulation and blame shifting,” and of being “disrespectful to science, irresponsible to people’s lives and counter-productive to the concerted efforts to fight the virus.” [BBC]
1 June 2021
China: Xi Jinping pushes for massive investments in science and technology to prepare for global power rivalry
(dql) In a speech on the occasion of China’s national day for science and research on Sunday, Chinese President Xi Jinping called on the country’s scientists to be prepared for “unprecedented” scientific and technological competition, which he described as “the main battleground” of global power rivalry. Xi added that the country needed to speed up its efforts to eliminate technological barriers to breakthroughs in core areas including artificial intelligence, semiconductors, quantum technology, life science and energy. He also pledged to increase investment in science and innovation and to reduce red tape for scientists and grant them greater autonomy. [South China Morning Post]
Xi call comes shortly after the US Senate voted to advance a massive package of legislation aimed at boosting the country’s ability to compete with Chinese technology. The US Innovation and Competition Act of 2021 would authorize some 190 billion US to strengthen U.S. technology in general, and 54 billion USD specifically to increase production of semiconductors, microchips and telecommunication equipment. [Reuters]
1 June 2021
China-US trade relations: First trade talk under Biden administration, ban on seafood of an entire Chinese fishing fleet
(dql) Amid tense Sino-US relations, US Trade Representative Katherine Tai and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, the two countries’ top trade negotiators, held their first telephone talk since US President Joe Biden assumed office. Statements, published after the conversation, confirm that the exchange was “candid and constructive”, with both sides stressing the importance of improving Sino-US trade relations. In a separate remark, Tai, however, confirmed that the US still is confronted with “very large challenges” in its trade and economic relationship with China that require the Biden administration’s attention across the board.
The previous time the two sides’ top trade negotiators talked was in August during Donald Trump’s presidency after the US and China signed a partial trade deal in January 2020.
The Biden administration is currently reviewing all available options for enforcing the trade agreement when Washington vowed to cut some tariffs in exchange for China committing to buy an additional 200 billion USD worth of American goods and services over the following two years, compared with 2017 levels. [South China Morning Post]
In a separate development, the US Customs and Border Protection has imposed a new import ban on seafood from an entire Chinese fishing vessels fleet. The ban against Dalian Ocean Fishing Co., Ltd., a fishing company based in Dalian, a port city near China’s border with North Korea, comes after a year-long investigation revealed what US officials described as signs of forced labor within the fleet’s operations, “including physical violence, withholding of wages, and abusive working and living conditions.” [NPR]
1 June 2021
China allows citizens to have three children
(dql) In a major policy shift to address the challenges of China’s ageing society, the Chinese Communist Party has announced that it will allow parents to have three children.
In October 2015, China replaced its one-child policy with a two-child policy, but the change proved to have only a marginal effect on the greying of the country’s population. According to the national census conducted at the end of last year and released in May, China’s overall population rose to 1.412 billion in 2020, from 1.4 billion a year earlier. However, annual births have continued to plummet to 12 million in 2020, down from 14.65 million in 2019, marking an 18% year on year and continuing the descent to a near six-decade low. The fertility rate in 2020 was at 1.3 children per woman, which is below the replacement level of 2.1 needed for a stable population. [South China Morning Post] [AiR No. 20, May/2021, 3]
For skeptical voices on the prospects of success of the new policy, see [New York Times] and [Reuters].
1 June 2021
China: Hong Kong’s June 4 vigil banned
(dql) For the second straight year, Hong Kong’s police have banned the city’s June 4 vigil commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, citing Covid-19 related restrictions on public gatherings. [Deutsche Welle]
The ban has been criticized by the organizers of the annual vigil, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, which accuses the government of using the Covid-19 pandemic as an excuse for suppressing political assemblies. [South China Morning Post]
1 June 2021
China: Hong Kong’s new election law approved
(dql) Hong Kong’s Legislative Council (LegCo), the city’s legislature, has approved a bill to revise the city’s electoral system. The revision includes changes viewed by critics as a Beijing-masterminded move to rein in chances of the pro-democracy camp to form a strong opposition in the city’s parliament.
One major change is the establishment of a vetting committee to review candidates for elected offices to ensure that they are sufficiently “patriotic”. Candidates will be approved by national security agents selected from the Hong Kong police force.
Furthermore, the number of seats in the LegCo, directly elected by Hong Kong voters, will be reduced from currently 40 to 20, which means a drastic decrease in influence in the legislature from 57% to 22%. Of the remaining 70 seats 30 will be assigned to the functional constituency consisting of professionals and industry leaders, and 40 to the pro-Beijing Election Committee, which is also to select the Hong Kong Chief Executive.
The amendment was passed in a near-absence of opposition lawmakers, with 40 lawmakers voting for the bill and only two against. In November last year, pro-democracy legislators had resigned en masse to protest against the ousting of four colleagues deemed insufficiently loyal to Beijing. [The Diplomat] [Reuters] [AiR No. 46, November/2020, 3]
25 May 2021
Nepal: Army forges deal with Chinese companies on expressway, ignores parliamentary committee
(lm) The Nepalese Army (NA) has awarded contracts to build sections of an expressway scheme to two Chinese companies despite a ruling from a parliamentary committee that the project should be halted over irregularities in the procurement process. [The Kathmandu Post]
The deal was to build tunnels and bridges for the Kathmandu-to-Terai Fast Track motorway, a $1 billion highway that will link the Nepalese capital Kathmandu with Nijgadh in the southern plains and cut travel time by about a third.
Last month, Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee directed the scrapping of the entire process after it had found the deal violated the competitive bidding process set out in the country’s 2015 Public Procurement Act. Some 22 companies expressed interest in bidding for the project, but the army considered only Poly Changda for the second package of work. The first package, which also involves tunnels and bridges, was awarded to China State Construction Engineering Corporation. The company bid unsuccessfully for the second package. [Global Construction Review]
25 May 2021
Philippines, China to ease tensions in South China Sea
(lp) During the sixth meeting of the Bilateral Consultation Mechanism (BCM) on the South China Sea, the Philippines and China committed to ease tensions in the South China Sea through dialogue, to increase cooperation in fisheries, marine research and protection. However, it is highly unlikely that China will respect the Philippines’ maritime claims, especially because multiple investigations have confirmed the continuous expansion of Chinese maritime militia in the area. Moreover, talks regarding the payment to Filipino fishers whose boat was sunk by a Chinese vessel in 2019 are scheduled for June 2. [Philippine Star 1] [Radio Free Asia] [ABS-CBN 1]
Though avoiding direct confrontation, the Philippines has been signaling its intent to protect the country’s waters. The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) installed lighted ocean buoys to assert sovereignty over the Philippine Rise area, which might be a site for oil exploration. Moreover, the PCG said it has intensified its training exercises in the South China Sea. Furthermore, the National Security Council (NSC) signed an agreement with the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) to implement satellite technology which will provide continuous, detailed monitoring of the country’s exclusive economic zones. The Philippines is also to acquire Israeli missile-capable patrol boats. [Business Mirror] [Manila Bulletin 1] [Inquirer 1] [The Defense Post]
Meanwhile, President Rodrigo Duterte considered meeting with the country’s ex-presidents to discuss issues pertaining to the South China Sea, as an alternative to a National Security Council (NSC) meeting, which he deemed inconsequential. However, Duterte might drop both meetings because he prefers not to antagonize China that explicitly. Duterte is also still undecided whether to renew the Visit Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States this year. [Manila Standard] [Philippine Star 2]
25 May 2021
Malaysia and China to strengthen cooperation in multiple areas
(tcy) After a video conference with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin affirmed the close bilateral ties between Malaysia and China and announced that the two countries are exploring new areas of common interest to strengthen bilateral collaboration, after seeing the need for closer and more proactive cooperation to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic and drive the recovery process. [Bernama 1]
Following this, the Malaysian government announced that it would be acquiring a total of 8.2 million doses of China’s Sinovac vaccine by the end of June. [Bernama 2] The Malaysia-China Chamber of Commerce (MCCC) also recommended the setting up of a joint special committee with the People’s Republic of China to strengthen the interaction and exchanges between official agencies and pandemic experts in both countries. [Malay Mail] In addition, the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council (MHTC) also signed two memorandums of understanding with China’s International Medical Exchange and Cooperation Committee (IMECC) and Hangzhou Rende Maternity Hospital respectively with the aim of collaboratively improving patient experience for healthcare travelers from China. [Bernama 3]
Apart from healthcare, other areas of bilateral cooperation discussed include collaboration in the fields of electronic commerce, high technology and digital economy, agriculture and agrofood, as well as the development of food security and poverty eradication programs. The two leaders also touched on international issues involving the situation in Palestine and Myanmar, with both agreeing on the need for international pressure to settle the conflicts.
25 May 2021
Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen defends close ties with China, points at Beijing’s financial lifeline
(ad) Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen has defended his close relationship with China after facing criticisms of being too dependent on Beijing. While attending the “The Future of Asia” conference through video channel, the premier on May 20 called concerns that Phnom Penh has become over-reliant on, and a proxy for, Beijing “unjust.”[Nikkei Asia]
The following day, the Chinese Foreign Ministry also stated that China reciprocated Cambodia’s relations and perceptions, saying that Beijing’s help was to facilitate Cambodia’s development in a “win-win” cooperation. [Agence Presse Kampuchea]
The Cambodian prime minister also remained defiant about European Union (EU) trade sanctions imposed on the country last August, saying that EU’s assessment “did not conform with reality” and that his government would not seek to overturn the decision.
Back then, Brussels partially suspended the “Everything But Arms” trade privileges granted to the EU bloc for 20 percent of Cambodia’s exports, over what it called persistent human rights abuses and anti-democratic repression in the country [see AiR No. 33, August/2020, 3]. The move was a blow for the country’s $10 billion garment manufacturing sector, which relies on the European market.
25 May 2021
Pakistan, China celebrate 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations
(lm) Top leaders of Pakistan and China last week exchanged a series of letters on 70 years of diplomatic ties, highlighting mutual trust and pledging to further strengthen bilateral ties. Both sides also agreed to accelerate the completion of projects under the multibillion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) agreement. [Dawn] [Global Times]
In related news, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan on May 23 approved the establishment of a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in Karachi, the country’s largest city and capital of Sindh province. At present, a total of nine SEZs are planned under the CPEC, including three priority SEZs in the provinces of Sindh, Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
Since being officially launched in April of 2015, the CPEC has been one of the most watched set of projects under the aegis of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s international infrastructure strategy known as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). For an in-depth analysis of into the mechanics of how the BRI is unfolding on the ground in Pakistan, please consider a newly launched research project at the [Carnegie Endowment For International Peace]
25 May 2021
India, China yet to de-escalate simmering border tensions along LAC
(ad/lm) Indian Army Chief General Naravane said on May 19 that his country would continue to maintain an enhanced troop presence along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Eastern Ladakh, as de-escalation with China is yet to take place.
After almost a year of skirmishes along the disputed Himalayan border, both countries in February began withdrawing from their positions on the southern and northern banks of Pangong Lake as part of a phased, synchronized military disengagement [see AiR No. 8, February/2021, 4]. According to the Indian army chief, no transgression has taken place since.
But Beijing and New Delhi are yet to resolve other “friction points”, including Gogra, Hot Springs and the Depsang Plains in eastern Ladakh, which did not feature in the purported disengagement plan [see AiR No. 45, November/2020, 2]. As of now, India, still has between 50,000 and 60,000 troops in Eastern Ladakh near the LAC. [The Indian Express 1]
Two days after delivering the remarks, General Naravane commenced a two-day visit to India’s northeastern region to review the army’s operational readiness along the northern border of the state of Arunachal Pradesh, a major part of which is claimed by both China and Taiwan as part of the region of South Tibet.
The visit assumes added significance, coming as it does just days after China completed the construction of a strategic highway through a canyon along the Yarlung Tsangbo (Brahmaputra River) in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR). Construction on the highway, which began back in 2014, sparked concerns in India, partly because the highway is believed to accelerate Chinese efforts to construct dams and a hydropower plant on the lower reaches of the River, which would significantly affect water supplies downstream in the Indian states. Against this backdrop, in December of last year, New Delhi announced it was considering to build a 10-gigawatt (GW) hydropower project in its remote Arunachal Pradesh state [see AiR No. 48, December/2020, 1]. [The EurAsian Times] [The New Indian Express 2]
Furthermore, India’s Ministry of Defense last week cleared a proposal to allow its Border Roads Organisation (BRO) to build a tunnel under a mountain pass on the border between the states of Ladakh and Himachal Pradesh. [Hindustan Times] [The Times of India]
25 May 2021
South Korea-US relations: Moon and Biden hold summit
(nm) South Korean President Moon Jae-in and US President Joe Biden met for their first bilateral summit in Washington last Friday, concluding a five-day visit by Moon to the US. Both sides reaffirmed their commitment to cooperate on issues including North Korea, Covid-19 vaccination efforts, semiconductor manufacturing, and regional peace and security. They further agreed to terminate guidelines restricting Seoul’s missile development. However, no stance was taken on how to deal with China and the related issue of South Korea’s cooperation with the Quad alliance.
Biden and Moon secured partnerships in their Covid-19 vaccination efforts and in the semiconductor industry. South Korea agreed to produce US-developed vaccines, while the US will help to vaccinate about 500,000 South Korean service members. South Korea has recently struggled to obtain enough vaccine doses for its population and had first been left out as the US sought cooperation with other allies, including the Quad forum. In the business realm, they further agreed to cooperate in the electric battery and semiconductor industry “through the promotion of increased mutual investments as well as research and development cooperation.” Four major South Korean companies, including Samsung, simultaneously announced plans to invest about 39 billion USD in the US. Biden is currently seeking to strengthen US domestic chip production amid growing technological challenges from China and a global chip shortage during the pandemic, which turned the widely-used technology into a topic of geopolitical salience. [Korea Times 1] [Nikkei Asia 1]
On China, both sides avoided any direct remarks, but the joint statement made references to peace in the Taiwan Strait, freedom of navigation in the South China Sea and beyond, as well as a “free and open Indo-Pacific.”
China reacted to the statement on Monday with Chinese Ambassador Xing Haiming claiming Beijing was aware it was targeting China, while China’s Foreign Ministry condemned it for interfering in domestic affairs and violating basic norms governing international relations.
Seoul is facing the sensitive task of balancing US and Chinese interests due to their strategic and economic importance to Korea, respectively. Although some observers believe the statement indicates a tip in Washington’s favour, others believe it shows that Washington and Seoul have yet to agree on how to deal with China. [Korea Times 2] [Korea Herald] [Nikkei Asia 2]
Alongside the summit, Moon also visited a White House Medal of Honor ceremony, honoring a Korean War veteran and highlighting the countries’ longstanding military alliance. On Thursday, Moon further held talks with US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on how to promote bilateral relations. After a meeting with US Vice President Kamala Harris, Moon reaffirmed his country will be standing with the US in “defending liberal democratic order,” strengthening the alliance while avoiding a tough stance on China. [Korea Times 3] [Korea Times 4] [Nikkei Asia 3]
The full text of the Moon-Biden joint statement is available at [Korea Times 4].
For commentaries on the importance of the US-South Korea alliance, please visit [Carnegie Endowment] and [The Diplomat].
25 May 2021
Japan to drop 1% GDP limit of annual defense spending to cope with China
(dql) Japan’s Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi has signaled a shift in the country’s defense spending saying in an interview that Tokyo is ready to “allocate the funding we need to protect our nation,” indicating to give up Japan’s longstanding 1% GDP cap on annual defense spending in response to a security environment that he described as “changing rapidly with heightened uncertainty.” Citing advancements of China’s military in new areas of warfare such as space, cyber and electromagnetics, he acknowledged the need to boost the country’s defense capabilities “at a radically different pace than in the past.” [Japan Today]
Since the 1990s, Japan’s defense budget has consistently not exceeded 1% of the country’s GDP, with the only exception in 2010 due the impact of the financial crisis. The 2020 defense spending stood at 49.1 billion USD, equaling 1.0 % of the country’s GDP. [Sputnik News] [SIPRI]
Meanwhile, four Chinese coast guard ships entered on Monday Japanese territorial waters off the Senkaku Islands, which controlled by Japan and claimed by China and Taiwan. It was 16th intrusion in this year, coming on the heels of last week’s live-fire drills conducted by Navy fleets of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) attached to the Eastern, Northern and Southern Theatre Commands. [NHK] [South China Morning Post]
For an account of the current status of efforts of the Japanese Defense Ministry to build new “Aegis Equipped Ships”, see Yoshihiro Inaba in [Naval News].
25 May 2021
China-Vietnam relations: President Nguyen calls on President Xi to handle maritime issues according to international law
(dql) In a phone with Vietnamese President Nguyen Xuan Phuc on Monday, Chinese President Xi Jinping has called for greater bilateral cooperation, suggesting to expand trade and promote high-level infrastructure connectivity through the Belt and Road Initiative. Xi, furthermore, assured that China was ready to provide Vietnam help in combatting the pandemic. [Ministry of Foreign Affairs, China]
Nguyen, meanwhile, proposed to strengthen the two countries’ cooperation against Covid-19 and to increase the quality of trade and investment ties. At the same, he also suggested that both sides “handle maritime issues “in accordance with the law and based on international rules such as the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and continue to coordinate at multilateral forums.” [VN Express]
25 May 2021
Cross-strait relations: Possibility of China-Taiwan war at “all-time-high”, Chinese research institute says
(dql) According to a report of the Hong Kong-based China Cross-Strait Academy, the possibility of a full-scale war between China and Taiwan has reached an ‘all-time high’, identifying the risk level at 7.21 for 2021 on a scale of 10, compared with 6.7 in the early 1950s, when the Nationalist forces escaped from the mainland to Taiwan, above 6.5 for much of the 1970s, 4.55 in 1978 when the US established diplomatic ties with Beijing, and again over 6 during the Trump administration. The report cites for its assessment of the two sides being “on the brink of war” two “destructive factors”: a shifting political dynamic across the Taiwan Strait and closer ties between the US and Taiwan.
The academy’s head Lei Xiying, who is also a committee member of the Communist Party-backed All-China Youth Federation, added that ‘[i]f the current trend continues … China’s unification of Taiwan by force will only be a matter of time.” [Express] [South China Morning Post]
Meanwhile, the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG 54) the Taiwan Strait last week. It was the fifth time a US warship has navigated the waterway since US President Joe Biden assumed office in January. [Taipei Times]
In another move, equally angering Beijing, the US mission in Taipei together with the Australian and the Japanese mission issued a joint statement in support for the participation of Taiwan as an observer in the World Health Assembly (WHA). The statement came a day after the opening of the virtually held annual meeting of the WHA, the decision-making body of the World Health Organization (WHO). Taiwan, excluded for the fifth consecutive year, criticized the WHO for its “continued indifference to the health rights of Taiwan’s 23.5 million people,” and urged it to “maintain a professional and neutral stance,” and to “reject China’s political interference.” [Focus Taiwan] [Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Taiwan]
25 May 2021
China-Iran relations: Xi pledges support for Tehran’s demands concerning reviving nuclear deal
(dql) During a phone call on Monday, Chinese President Xi Jinping assured his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani of Beijing’s support for Theran’s demands in efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear deal as well as its commitment to safeguarding both countries’ common interests. [CGTN]
Xi’s assurance comes amid uncertainties about the future of the nuclear deal from which the US withdrew in 2018. Subsequent US sanctions imposed on Iran have since then deepened the rift between Tehran and Washington and its allies.
In a latest development, Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the global nuclear watchdog, have agreed to extend a technical agreement reached in February for one month until June 24, providing an important window for the ongoing negotiations in Vienna aimed at reinstating the nuclear. Under the agreement the IAEA is allowed to maintain its monitoring equipment at Iranian nuclear sites, while Iran will keep the tapes until the nuclear deal is restored and the US sanctions are lifted. [Aljazeera]
25 May 2021
China-Russia relations: Agreement on deepening nuclear cooperation
(dql) In a latest sign of increasingly close relations between China and Russia, both countries have agreed to deepen cooperation on nuclear energy and pledged to play a bigger role to combat climate change. The pledge was made during the launch of the construction of four new reactors at two nuclear plants in China, witnessed via video link by Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.
Using Russian technology, the reactors along with the plants – Tianwan in Jiangsu and Xudapu in Liaoning – are part of a 2.9 billion USD nuclear energy deal concluded in 2018. The reactors are expected to produce 37.6 billion kilowatt-hours annually in full capacity by 2026, cutting carbon dioxide emissions by 30.7 million tonnes per year. [South China Morning Post] [Asia Times]
25 May 2021
China-EU relations: EU Parliament freezes investment deal, Lithuania withdraws from China+17
(dql) With overwhelming majority, the European Parliament has The European parliament has voted suspend any further consideration of the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI). With 599 votes for, 30 votes against and with 58 abstentions, the lawmakers passed a resolution to demand “that China lift the sanctions before parliament can deal with the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI),” referring to sanctions Beijing imposed in March on EU politicians, think-tanks and diplomatic bodies, in response to the EU’s sanctions against Chinese officials accused of being implicit in mass detentions of Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang. [The Guardian] [Reuters] [AiR No. 12, March/2021, 4]
The decision is a setback for Sino-EU relations in general and for the investment deal in particular, agreed on in principle between leaders of the EU and China in December after seven years of negotiations and since then awaiting its ratification by the assembly.
In another blow for China’s ambitions in Europe, Lithuania has decided to withdrawn from the 17+1 cooperation mechanism between China and Central and Eastern Europe Countries (China-CEECs). Commenting on this decision, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis sharply said: “”There is no such thing as 17+1 anymore, as for practical purposes Lithuania is out,” adding a call on the EU to urgently “move from a dividing 16+1 format to a more uniting and therefore much more efficient 27+1.” [Politico]
25 May 2021
China-UK relations: Boris John sends warning towards Beijing ahead of aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth’s historic maiden deployment to Asia
(dql) Ahead of the maiden deployment of the Britain’s flagship aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth to Asia, Prime Minister Boris Johnson sent a warning towards China saying that the aircraft carrier’s deployment signals the UK’s believe in the international law of the sea, adding: “One of the things we’ll be doing clearly is showing to our friends in China that we believe in the international law of the sea, and in a confident but not a confrontational way, we will be vindicating that point.”
The UK will be sailing its largest and most powerful aircraft carrier, along with a fleet of warships, in what the Royal Navy calls its “most significant deployment” for the past 25 years. The 65,000-ton warship will carry eight British F-35B fighter jets and 10 US Marine Corps F-35s, with a 1.700-strong crew including 250 US Marines. On its journey over the next seven months, it will lead the flotilla alongside two destroyers, two frigates, a submarine and two support ships, to be joined later by a US Navy destroyer and a Dutch frigate.
The group will sail through the Mediterranean Sea, the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea, on its way to the Philippine Sea, visiting and interacting with 40 nations, with stops in India and Singapore. [Reuters] [CNN]
25 May 2021
China-US relations: US lawmakers hit out against Beijing Olympics
(dql) US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called for a US diplomatic boycott of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, citing an “a genocide that is ongoing” in China, while warning that global leaders who attend would lose their moral authority. [Reuters]
Echoing Pelosi’s stance, Massachusetts Democrat Representative Jim McGovern suggested: “If we can postpone an Olympics by a year for a pandemic, we can surely postpone an Olympics for a year for a genocide,” adding that this “would give the IOC time to relocate to a country whose government is not committing atrocities.” [South China Morning Post]
25 May 2021
China-US relations: Biden administration extends deadline of ban on Chinese-military linked securities
(dql) The US Treasury Department has announced that it has extended the deadline to ban American investors from certain Chinese companies by two weeks allowing them to trade securities in subsidiaries of blacklisted Chinese companies until June 11.
In November last year, former president Donald Trump signed an executive order which prohibited US investment in companies the US Defence Department claimed were linked to the Chinese military. More than 40 Chinese firms have been put on the list. [South China Morning Post]
25 May 2021
China: Xi promises to support Covid-response of developing countries with 3 billion USD
(dql) Underscoring China’s claim to leadership in global health governance, Chinese President Xi Jinping has pledged 3 billion USD in aid over the next three years to help developing countries recover from the coronavirus pandemic at last week’s G20 Global Health Summit, co-hosted by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi. Xi also proposed to establish an international forum on vaccine cooperation. [South China Morning Post]
The pledge comes only days after US President Biden announced plans to distribute some 80 million doses of the vaccine overseas by the end of June. Earlier in February Biden announced at G7 virtual summit that the US would provide up to 4 billion USD to COVAX, the World Health Organization-backed initiative aimed at ensuring equitable access to vaccines around the world. [AiR No. 20, May/2021, 3] [US Today]
25 May 2021
China: Institutional expansion of Hong Kong Office
(dql) Beijing is reported set to expand the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office (HKMAO), China’s top office overseeing Hong Kong affairs, and create two new departments to be charged with national security and propaganda. The move is seen by observers as signal of the central government’s determination to prevail in the “ideological battle” in the former British colony.
Currently, the HKMAO is overseeing seven departments including secretary and administration, general affairs, policy and research, liaison, exchange and cooperation, law, and institutional party committee (personnel). [South China Morning Post]
25 May 2021
China: Advancing ‘sinicization’ and deepening CCP’s leadership in Tibet
(dql) The secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in Tibet has called for continued efforts to further ‘sinicize’ Buddhism and to crack down on separatism in the region.
The call comes as China marks the 70th anniversary its seizure of control in Tibet in 1951 and shortly of the State Council, the country’s government, released its latest white paper on the region which concludes that after seven decades of CCP-led “peaceful liberation”, a “thousand years of darkness have dissipated,” and “Tibet has broken free from its backward, autocratic, isolated past to embrace prosperity, democracy, and an open future.”
Criticizing foreign interference in Tibetan affairs and calling Tibetan independence a “product of imperialist aggression against China in modern times,” the report added that “only by following the Party’s guidelines for governing Tibet in a new era can the region transform into a modern and beautiful new socialist Tibet characterized by unity, prosperity, civility, and harmony.” [South China Morning Post] [State Council, China]
For a sharp criticism of the white paper decrying it as an “attempt to whitewash [China’s] colonial crimes like genocide, cultural annihilation, loot of natural resources, and blatant denial of human rights to the Tibetan people,” see [The Tibet Post]. Echoing this, recently elected leader of the Central Tibetan Administration, Tibet’s government in exile, Penpa Tsering warned of an “urgent threat” of “cultural genocide” in Tibet, while at the same time confirming that he will seek to resume talks with China. [Business Live] [Big News Network]
Led by the US, international support for the Tibetan community has grown over the past year, including rights groups and international governments accusing China of increased restrictions on Tibetan religious practice and language education. The US Congress in December approved the Tibet Policy and Support Act, which calls for the selection the next Dalai Lama by Tibetans, as well as for the establishment of a consulate in Lhasa. [Reuters]
18 May 2021
Mekong River Commission receives French grant to improve river monitoring network
(ad) The French government has donated $1.82 million to the Mekong River Commission (MRC) to improve and expand its monitoring program along the mainstream and key tributaries of the Mekong river. The funding, made available through the Agence Française de Développement (AFD), will span four years from 2021 to 2025. [Mekong River Commission]
The MRC is a regional/intergovernmental organization, consisting of member states Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. Since 2007, MRC has established 60 hydro-meteorological stations along the river to improve recording and forecasting the river dynamics.
The new funding is a follow-up to two other grants of EUR 4 million France had donated for the first two phases from 2007 to 2022. Since 2006, France has granted the MRC over 10 million euros to support river monitoring, flood and drought management, climate change, and environmental management. [Agence Kampuchea Presse]
18 May 2021
Vietnam expands fishing militia in South China Sea, according to Chinese research organization
(lm) Vietnam is building up its maritime militia in the South China Sea in an apparent response to Chinese efforts to dominate the disputed waterway, according to research by the China-based National Institute for South China Sea Studies. [Voice of America]
While the European Union has estimated that about 8,000 fishing boats and 46,000 fishermen are part of Vietnam’s maritime militia, the Chinese research organization numbers the militia between 46,000 to 70,000 personnel. It says 13 platoons with a combined 3,000 people operate near the sea’s contested Paracel Islands and another 10,000 people operate armed fishing boats off southern Vietnam.
When not catching fish, these trained fishermen participate in a broad range of paramilitary work, sometimes in cooperation with the Vietnamese navy. In fact, in 2009, Vietnam had passed a law that authorizes its maritime militia to conduct sea patrols and surveillance and confront and expel ining foreign vessels in defense of Vietnamese-controlled islands and reefs.
Both Beijing and Hanoi have a long history of maritime militia and proficiency in mobilizing fishermen and their boats as part of a “gray-zone” strategy —coercive force short of war— to occupy reefs in the South China Sea. Analysts say China maintains the sea’s most obvious maritime militia, although Beijing had in recent years reduced the involvement of civilians in its maritime disputes, in favor of enhancing its coastguard and other official law enforcement forces.
18 May 2021
The Philippines pushes the US away as Chinese vessels tighten control
(lp) Even though President Rodrigo Duterte has at times expressed a defeatist stance against China’s continuous intrusion into the Philippines’ exclusive economic zones, he emphasized that he will not withdraw the country’s patrol ships from the South China Sea. There are almost 300 Chinese Maritime Militia ships scattered across the area, some of which have obstructed Filipino fishers and coastguard patrols away from resource-rich Scarborough Shoal and other traditional fishing grounds. The Philippine government encouraged Filipino fishers to defy this fishing ban imposed by China. [Kyodo News] [Radio Free Asia] [ABS-CBN 1] [South China Morning Post 1] [Taipei Times]
Duterte emphasized that he will not allow any foreign intrusion into the Philippine Rise area, days after former Senator Juan Ponce Enrile and Senate President Vicente Sotto III suggested allowing China to conduct oil exploration in the area. Last month, Duterte said he would confront China if the latter extracted oil from the Philippines’ exclusive economic zones. On the other end, Chinese President Xi Jinping had warned Duterte years ago against exploring for oil in the contested area. [Cebu Daily News] [Manila Bulletin 1]
Meanwhile, the Philippines and the US have finished a month-long training to strengthen maritime law enforcement. This comes just days after Duterte asked the US to leave the Philippines out of any armed conflict, reiterating his disapproving stance that it was the US who arranged a deal in 2012 to pull out from Scarborough Shoal and allowed China to take possession of this disputed territory. [Philippine Information Agency] [Philippine News Agency]
The Philippines attempts to increase its arms capacity to defend itself from China. For instance, officials are planning to procure attack submarines. However, Duterte also said that it would be ‘fine’ if the US does not provide arms to the Philippines. The US, though, recently approved Turkey to sell a military helicopter to the Philippines. Still, if no new Visiting Forces Agreement is signed, the US would have to pull out troops involved in counter-terrorism missions, which the Philippine government has been intensifying as the end of Duterte’s administration approaches. [Business Mirror] [ABS-CBN 2] [Manila Bulletin 2] [Middle East Eye] [South China Morning Post 2]
Duterte also expressed reluctance to seek help from the United Nations because China could veto any action to validate the Philippines’ claims to their exclusive economic zones. Most recently, Duterte instructed his Cabinet members to refrain from talking about the South China Sea issue in public. [Philippine Star] [Reuters]
18 May 2021
Comments from Chinese envoy illustrate Beijing’s concerns on possible expansion of Quad
(lm) A recent statement by China’s Ambassador to Bangladesh, Li Jimming, and subsequent remarks from the Chinese Foreign Ministry have again shed light on Beijing’s trepidation over a possible expansion of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), a loose strategic coalition comprising of France, the United States, India and Australia. [The Diplomat]
The Chinese envoy on May 10 had told Bangladeshi and Chinese reporters that Bangladesh participating in the Quad – which Li called a “narrow-purposed” grouping – would “substantially damage” ties between Dhaka and Beijing. To observers, the remarks came as a surprise, for Dhaka’s navy can hardly be considered consequential player in Indo-Pacific security. The comments of the Chinese ambassador were thus considered a pre-emptive move to caution Bangladesh from drawing too close to the US. [South China Morning Post]
Li’s comments prompted a rebuke from Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen, who said Li’s message was “regrettable” and “aggressive”. Momen also said that Bangladesh, as a sovereign nation, would decide whether to join any alliance.
Li, in turn, later clarified that he had been expressing his personal views in response to a question asked by a journalist, and he was not making any suggestion to the Bangladeshi government. The Chinese Foreign Ministry, however, on May 12 defended the envoy’s remarks, calling the Quad an “exclusive clique” against Beijing and saying Li had made Beijing’s position “clear” on the issue. [The New Indian Express]
18 May 2021
China a conflict mediator in Iran and the Middle East?
(dql) Signaling its claim to become a conflict mediator on global stage, China has offered to host talks between the parties in Afghanistan and pledged to support its anti-terrorism effort during a call between Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Afghan national security adviser Hamdullah Mohib on Monday.
The call came one day after Wang made a similar offer to the Israelis and Palestinians at a virtual UN Security Council meeting convened to discuss the ongoing deadly hostilities in the Middle East. [Newseek] [VoA]
18 May 2021
China-US relations: Senate pushes anti-China tech bill, Blinken reiterates genocide allegations
(dql) The US Senate has voted with overwhelming majority to move forward on a bill – the Endless Frontier Act –, aimed at countering China’s economic pressure. Centerpiece of the bill is a fund of 100 billion USD to be invested over five years in basic and advanced tech research, including artificial intelligence, semiconductors, quantum computing, advanced communications, biotechnology and advanced energy. In addition, 10 billion USD would be authorized to develop tech hubs across the country. [South China Morning Post]
Meanwhile, the US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken reiterated harsh criticism of China’s treatment of Muslim Uighurs, saying that Beijing “broadly criminalizes religious expression and continues to commit crimes against humanity and genocide against Muslim Uyghurs and members of other religious and ethnic minority groups.” [US Department of State 1]
Blinken made this statement in his introduction to the release of the US Department of State’s 2020 International Religious Freedom Report, in which cites “reports of deaths in custody and that the government tortured, physically abused, arrested, detained, sentenced to prison, subjected to forced indoctrination in CCP ideology, or harassed adherents of both registered and unregistered religious groups for activities related to their religious beliefs and practices.” [US Department of State 2]
The US was among a group of more than 15 mostly Western United Nations member states that has demanded that China provide “immediate, meaningful and unfettered access” to Xinjiang to the UN Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet in order to inspect alleged abuses of Uighurs and other Muslim minorities there. [Canberra Times]
18 May 2021
China: WHO approves Sinopharm’s vaccine
(dql) In a boost for China’s role and standing in the global combat against the pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) approved for emergency use a COVID-19 vaccine developed by state-owned drugmaker Sinopharm, confirming that the vaccine is “easy to store, making it suitable for locations with limited resources, and proved 79 per cent effective in clinical trials.” [UN News]
One of two main Chinese coronavirus vaccines and already given to hundreds of millions of people in China and elsewhere, Sinopharm’s vaccine is the first developed by a non-Western country to obtain the WHO’s backing. Vaccines, previously approved for emergency use, include those developed by AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech. [Reuters]
The WHO’s approval comes as China has offered the Central Asian states Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan to deepen regional cooperation on Covid-19 vaccines and the development of Chinese-funded infrastructure projects during a meeting between Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his counterparts last week in China’s northwestern Shaanxi province. Wang Yi also offered cooperation on security, in the face of potential resurgence of terrorism in neighboring Afghanistan following the withdrawal of US troops from the country in September. [South China Morning Post 1] [South China Morning Post 2]
US President Joe Biden, meanwhile, announced plans to distribute some 80 million doses of the vaccine overseas by the end of June, assuring that the US “is going to be the arsenal of vaccines for the world. [NPR]
18 May 2021
China lands on Mars
(dql) China landed a spacecraft on the Mars for the first time on Saturday, making it the third country after the US and Russia to accomplish such a feat and marking a further major advancement in China’s ambitious goals in space exploration. [Space.com]
For insights into China’s plans to challenge US dominance in outer space, see Steven Lee Myers in [New York Times] who argues that China’s space station Tiangong could be the only game in town for some time, given the possibility of a decommissioning of the International Space Station (ISS), jointly developed by the United States, Russia and others China’s, after 2024 and Russia’s announcement that it intends to withdraw from the ISS by 2025.
18 May 2021
China: 90 Apps ordered to be removed from app stores
(dql) China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) has ordered domestic app stores to remove 90 apps over allegations of “irregular collection of personal information.” Popular apps among the affected apps include Damai, China’s largest entertainment ticketing website, online travel booking app Tuniu, and Maimai, the country’s biggest rival to LinkedIn.
The move comes two weeks after a new regulation that defines what types of user data apps can collect and what is off limits entered into force on May 1, reflecting the government’s determination to scrutinize the data management of the tech companies. [South China Morning Post] [AiR No. 12, March/2021, 4]
18 May 2021
China: Hong Kong introduces anti-doxxing bill
(dql) Hong Kong’s government has proposed legal amendments to the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance under which anyone engaged in doxxing – the practice of leaking others’ personal information “with the intent to threaten, intimidate, harass or cause psychological harm” – can be punished with up to five years in prison and a fine of as much as nearly 130.000 USD. The proposal also suggests the Office of the Privacy Commissioner with investigative powers allowing it to compel people to assist in inquiries and request the removal of offending content.
The legislative push comes against the broader backdrop of the common practice of doxxing during the during the 2019 anti-government protests which targeted especially police officers and their supporters, with more than 5,700 doxxing-related incidents reported or uncovered between June 2019, the month in which the first big protests begun, and April 2021. [South China Morning Post] [Variety]
18 May 2021
China: Outspoken Beijing critic, activists archiving censored pandemic articles plead guilty
(dql) Hong Kong media tycoon and outspoken critic of Beijing – along with nine other former lawmakers and veteran activists – on Monday pleaded guilty to organizing an unauthorized assembly in October 2019 in the former British colony that descended into a violent clash between protesters and police. The semtencing is expected for next week. [Bloomberg Quint]
In earlier move last week, the Hong Kong Security Bureau froze Lai’s shares in his media company Next Digital as well as his other bank assets, marking the first time that the Hong Kong police froze personal property under the national security law for Hong Kong [Global Times]
Observers raised concerns over the chilling effect the decision to block Lai’s assets will further have on the already pressurized press and media freedom in Hong Kong. [South China Morning Post]
In a related development, the Taiwan arm of Apple Daily – founded by Lai and part of Next Digital – announced it would stop publishing its print version, citing declining revenues in advertising and more difficult business conditions in Hong Kong linked to politics. [Reuters]
Two Chinese activists, meanwhile, pleaded guilty of archiving censored articles about Covid-19 and running an online discussion forum. They were arrested in April last year over charges of “picking quarrels and provoking troubles.” The two are among at least a dozen people known to have been prosecuted, detained or fined for defying the official narrative on the outbreak. [Channel News Asia]
18 May 2021
China: Tightening control over private schools
(dql) China announced new laws to reform its private education system for compulsory education. Among others, they ban the teaching of foreign curriculums in schools from kindergarten to grade nine (K-9) and prohibit foreign entities from owning or controlling any private K-9 schools by foreign entities. Furthermore, the supervisory body of private schools are required include representatives of grassroots organizations of the Chines Communist Party, with more than one-third being faculty members, while public schools for compulsory education are prohibited from participating in the running of private schools and from converting to private schools.
To come into effect on September 1, the laws are part of the government’s efforts to tighten control of the country’s fast-growing education sector. [Council of State, China] [Channel News Asia]
18 May 2021
China: Latest census reveals dropping birthrate and continued ageing
(dql) China’s National Bureau of Statistics has published the results of the latest once-a-decade census, conducted at the end of last year, with some seven million census collecting information door-to-door Accordingly, the average annual growth rate was 0.53% over the past 10 years, down from a rate of 0.57% between 2000 and 2010, marking a total population at 1.412 billion, an increase of about 72 million compare with 2010.
12 million Chinese babies were born in China in 2020, down from 14.65 million in 2019, marking an 18% drop. This is a fertility rate at 1.3 children per woman, which is below the replacement level of 2.1 at which a population exactly replaces itself from one generation to the next.
The number of Chinese children 14 years or younger increased to 253.38 million or 17.95% of the population. However, the country’s working-age population – people aged between 16 and 59 – has also declined. 894.38 million people were recorded in this group making up for 63.35%of the population. Compared with 2010, it is a drop of 6.79%.
Meanwhile, the share of Chinese senior citizens, aged 60 and older, rose to 264.02 million, equivalent to 18.70% of the he population, 5.44 percentage points higher than in 2010. Of the latter group, there were 190.64 million people aged 65 or older, 13.50 per cent of the population, the NBS said, without giving a comparison to 2010. [National Bureau of Statistics, China]
The data are reinforcing concerns over the country’s ageing and shrinking labor force, along with critical questions on their impact on economic growth and pension system. [South China Morning Post] [Sydney Morning Herald] [CNBC] [New York Times]
In a related development, the Chinese leadership is reportedly working out plans to cope with demographic challenges, including offering social and financial support to encourage childbearing while removing birth restrictions only over the next 3-5 years for fear of unleashing imbalanced population developments in rural areas. [Reuters]
11 May 2021
China-Indonesia relations: Joint naval exercise
(dql) Part of the PLA Navy’s annual training program, China and Indonesia held a joint naval exercise in waters off Jakarta, involving guided-missile frigates from both countries and including communication drills, search and rescue operations and formation maneuvers. [CGTN]
The exercise comes on the heels of Beijing’s announcement that it was sending three rescue ships to assist Jakarta in recovering the Indonesian submarine which sank in late April. It comes also amid tensions over fishing rights near the Natuna Islands in the South China Sea. Indonesia regards the waters off the Natunas as part its exclusive economic zone, while Beijing claims it has historical rights to fish there. [South China Morning Post]
11 May 2021
EU and India to boost trade, Indo-Pacific partnership
(lm) The European Union and India have agreed to resume long-stalled talks on a free trade deal, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced on May 8. Brussel and New Delhi will also launch negotiations on reciprocal investments and on the protection of so-called geographical indications. [South China Morning Post]
Earlier on May 8, the first EU-Indian Leaders’ Meeting brought together all 27 heads of the EU member states and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Considering that previous EU-India summits have involved only the Indian prime minister and the heads of the European Commission and the European Council, the recent summit signals the bloc’s renewed interest in the Indo-Pacific region. [Reuters]
Last month, the EU Council asked the European Commission and high representatives to draw up the bloc’s Indo-Pacific strategy by September this year. In doing so, the Council unveiled the strategy’s main thrust, which included exploring closer economic ties with India and pledging to foster a rules-based order with “free and open maritime supply routes in full compliance with international law”, without naming China.
Earlier last week, the EU also said that efforts to ratify the proposed EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI) with China had been suspended after Beijing imposed sanctions on several high-profile members of the European Parliament, three members of national parliaments, two EU committees, and several China-focused European academics.
For a comprehensive examination of the decision, please consider Chris Devonshire-Ellis’ comment for [China Briefing].
11 May 2021
India attends G-7 foreign ministers meet in London as Russia, China top agenda
(lm) Foreign ministers of the Group of Seven (G-7) industrialized nations met in London last week, with climate change, Russia and China among the challenges topping the agenda. It was the first face-to-face G-7 meeting in two years, following a coronavirus-extended pause. [Voice of America]
The United Kingdom, which holds the G7 rotating presidency, has been hosting representatives from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States. Representatives of the European Union were in attendance, as were delegates from Australia, India, South Korea, South Africa and the chairman of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN).
London’s intention to increase its presence in the Pacific was illustrated in December of last year, when the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson invited Australia, India and South Korea to attend the summit as guests – a move that had caused raised eyebrows among some of the other attendees [see AiR No. 51, December/2020, 4].
11 May 2021
Japan-UK relations: Foreign Ministers share concerns over China
(dql) In a meeting on the sidelines of last week’s gathering of the Group of Seven, Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and his British counterpart Dominic Raab affirmed security cooperation to promotie a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” and shared “grave concerns” about China’s unilateral attempts to change the status quo in regional waters and the human rights situation in Xinjiang and Hong Kong. Both Ministers also agreed on deepening cooperation in battling climate change.
Motegi, furthermore, welcomed Britain’s scheduled dispatch of the aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth and its strike group to Japan and the Indo-Pacific later in the year. [Japan Times]
11 May 2021
China-EU relations: European lawmakers to put investment agreement ‘on ice’
(dql) In a setback for the China-EU investment agreement, members of European Parliament (MEPs) plan to introduce a motion this month to freeze the deal by banning debate on it, until Beijing removes sanctions it has imposed against EU entities and individuals, in response to EU sanctions against China over human rights abuses in Xinjiang. [Deutsche Welle]
The deal, concluded in December between Brussel and Beijing and aimed at ensuring a stable framework of conditions for trade and investment in each other’s markets, must be ratified by the European Parliament to enter into force.
Meanwhile, the EU commission has proposed new rules to provides EU competition authorities to more power to vet foreign companies seeking to snap up EU businesses or assets or biding for public contracts should they be recipients of state subsidies. While the proposed rules don’t mention any country, they are seen as targeting China. [Naharnet] [South China Morning Post]
For insights into China’s struggle to revive its weakening influence in eastern Europe, see Nickolay Kapitonenko in [International Politics and Society].
11 May 2021
New Zealand’s parliament motion on human rights abuses in Xinjiang
(dql) New Zealand’s parliament unanimously passed a motion which recognizes severe human rights abuses against Uyghur people in China’s Xinjiang region. The passage came after the word “genocide” was removed from the revised version of motion which was submitted by a minor opposition party. [Reuters]
11 May 2021
China-Australia relations: Beijing suspends economic dialogue with Canberra
(dql) Further worsening already strained Sino-Australian relations, China’s National Development and Reform Commission, the country’s macroeconomic management agency, has announced to “indefinitely” suspend all economic dialogue between the two countries. The agency cited Canberra’s launch of a series of measures to disrupt the normal exchanges and cooperation between China and Australia out of Cold War mindset and ideological discrimination.” [Reuters]
11 May 2021
China, US trade mutual allegations of undermining multilateralism
(dql) At the latest virtually held meeting of the UN Security Council, China and US accused each other of undermining multilateralism, without naming the rival. While Chinese Foreign Minister warned that “[s]plitting the world along the ideological line conflicts with a spirit of multilateralism, and is a regression in history,” US Secretary of Anthony Blinken emphasized the need to uphold international rules, arguing: “When U.N. member states – particularly permanent members of the Security Council – flout these rules and block attempts to hold accountable those who violate international law, it sends the message that others can break those rules with impunity.” [South China Morning Post] [Reuters]
In another remark, Blinken has called on the World Health Organization (WHO) to allow Taiwan to participate as an observer in the annual meeting of the World Health Assemble (WHA), the WHO’s decision-making body, later this month, citing Taiwan’s “valuable contributions and lessons learned from its approach” to global health and global health security challenges. He added the warning that “excluding the interests of 24 million people at the WHA serves only to imperil, not advance, our shared global health objectives.” [The Hill]
In a latest development, China’s Foreign Ministry has blamed the Biden administration’s announcement to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan by September 11 for bomb attacks at a girl’s school in Afghanistan which killed at least 60 people, accusing the US of “worsening the security situation and threatening peace and stability as well as people’s lives and safety.”
11 May 2021
G7 pull no punches on China at latest meeting
(dql) The Group of Seven (G7) has expressed a hardened stance towards China on multiple fronts at their first face-to-face meeting in two years in London last week. In their joint statement after the meeting, the foreign Ministers of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US, along with the High Representative of the European Union, called on China to “respect human rights and fundamental freedoms,” in accordance with the country’s obligations under international and national law, adding continued deep concerns over human rights violations and abuses in Xinjiang and in Tibet.
Furthermore, the group criticized the erosion of democratic elements in Hong Kong’s recently adopted electoral reform as well as over “practices that undermine […] free and fair economic systems, including on trade, investment and development finance.”
With regards to Taiwan, the group expressed its support for “Taiwan’s meaningful participation in World Health Organisation forums and the World Health Assembly,” as well as its “serious concerns about reports of militarisation, coercion, and intimidation,” in the South China Sea, stressing “the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, and encourage the peaceful resolution of cross-Strait issues.” [EEAS]
It was the first time that the EU and its leading member states aligned with the US over the highly sensitive issue of Taiwan, and comes amid warnings of high-ranking US military officials of a takeover of the island by China by force by 2027 or sooner. [Politico] [The Guardian]
Grant Newsham in [Center for Security Policy], raises the question whether China – in an assault on Taiwan – could follow Russian President Vladimir Putin’s example of the seizure of “large swaths of Ukraine with a hybrid technique utilizing both local insurgents and military forces,” in 2014.
Taiwan, meanwhile, has not been invited to participate in the World Health Assembly (WHA) later this month May 24 to June 1. It is the fifth straight year in which the country has been excluded from the forum. [Focus Taiwan]
The decision over an invitation lies with 194 member states of the World Health Organization.
11 May 2021
China: Shenzhen set to massively invest in R&D
(dql) Shenzhen, China’s technology and innovation hub hosting more than 14.000 hi-tech firms – among them Tencent and Huawei – will invest over 100 billion USD in hi-tech research and development over the next five years, with focus on the areas of artificial intelligence, 6G, quantum technology, driverless vehicles, and intelligent networks. [South China Morning Post]
11 May 2021
China: Joshua Wong sentenced to three years in jail
(dql) Prominent Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong was among four activists who were sentenced last week to jail for taking part in in an unauthorized candlelit vigil last to commemorate the crackdown on the 1989 Tiananmen protest. Wong was handed down a 10-month jail term, adding to already 13 and a half months for organizing and inciting another unauthorized assembly in 2019. [Hong Kong Free Press]
Meanwhile, Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), Hong Kong’s prominent opposition group known for organizing mass protests, announced to refuse to cooperate with government authorities in an investigation into its legality and financial activities. The decision risks the ban of the organization. [South China Morning Post]
11 May 2021
China to prevail and become invincible, Xi says
(dql) With China’s development facing “unprecedentedly rising domestic and international risks,” Chinese President Xi Jinping is convinced that the country will persevere through the current times of “turmoil,” as “times and circumstances” are on the country’s side. According to Xi, to be able to weather the storm of “profound and unprecedented changes” requires two conditions. First, a strong and performing Chinese Communist Party, which continues to be “modest, prudent and hardworking,” “mobilize[s] all positive factors that can be mobilized, unite[s] all forces that can be united, do[es] its best to do its own thing, and persevere[s] in achieving our stated goals.” The second factor is the country’s self-reliance, as Xi made clear: “As long as we can stand on our own and be self-reliant, and maintain a vibrant flow of goods and services domestically, then we will be invincible no matter how the storm changes internationally. We will survive and continue to develop, and nobody can beat us or choke us to death.” [Qiushi, in Chinese]
Xi made these remarks in a lengthy speech at the beginning of the year at the Central Party School, the party’s elite training center. The speech has been now published in the party’s major theoretical periodical Qiushi.
The publication of Xi’s speech comes ahead of the celebrations for the Communist Party centenary in July, and is also widely seen as embedded in recently accelerated efforts of the party to promote the narrative on China’s rise and the West’s decline, with particular reference to the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. [South China Morning Post 1] [New York Times] [The Economist]
In a related development, the Cybersecurity Administration of China (CAC), the country’s internet regulator, confirmed that it has overseen the deletion of over 2 million posts containing “harmful information with historical nihilism.” “Historical nihilism” in the terminology of the Chinese government refers to discussions or research questioning its official version of history. [South China Morning Post 2]
Earlier last month, the CAC launched a hotline allowing people to report those spreading unapproved sentiment about history. [Reuters]
4 May 2021
Japan, India, Australia, formally launch Supply Chain Resilience Initiative
(lm/dql) Against the larger backdrop of simmering trade and political tensions, the trade minister of Japan, India and Australia on April 27 formally launched the Supply Chain Resilience Initiative (SCRI) in the region. [South China Morning Post]
During the first phase, the three nations will share best practices on supply chain resilience, hold investment promotion and buyer-seller matching events for diversification of their supply chains. To quickly take forward the trilateral effort, the ministers explored convening the Trilateral Ministerial Meeting, once in four months.
After the coronavirus pandemic had brought to the fore the importance of diversification away from trade and supply chain dependence, informal talks had been ongoing since Japan first broached the idea with India in July of last year [see AiR No. 34, August/2020, 4]. In September, then, the three nations initiated high-level consultations [see AiR No. 36, September/2020, 2].
The proposal centers around a two-stage plan, which aims at attracting foreign direct investment to turn the Indo-Pacific into an “economic powerhouse” by linking up all the separate existing bilateral relationships, such as the recently established Indo-Japan Industrial Competitiveness Partnership. Moreover, the 10 member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) may be brought into the loop