Asia in Review Archive 2019 (January – June)

China (People’s Republic)

Date of AiR edition

News summary

Web links

11 Jun 2019

China-USA relations: Trump threatens to slap new tariffs

(dql) In a latest escalating move in the ongoing trade war between the USA and China, President Trump has threatened to impose large tariffs on 300 billion USD in imports if Chinese President Xi Jinping did attend the G 20 summit in Japan at the end of this month. [Express]

Prior to this move the Trump administration raised tariffs on 200 billion USD worth of Chinese goods exported to the U.S. and issued an effective ban on American companies doing business with Chinese telecom giant Huawei in May. Beijing retaliated with new tariffs hitting 60 billion USD worth of US goods and the announcement of the release of list of “unreliable” firms “that run against market rules and violate the spirit of contracts, cut off supplies to Chinese firms for uncommercial reasons, damage the legitimate rights of Chinese companies, or threaten China’s national security and public interests.” [AiR 1/6/2019] [The Independent]

11 Jun 2019

China: Advancing space technology

(dql) Signaling the country’s advancement in space technology, China last week successfully launched its first rocket from a sea launch platform. The Long March 11, a solid-propellant carrier rocket, lifted off from a mobile launch platform in the Yellow Sea carrying seven satellites into 600-kilometer altitude orbits. With this mission China becomes the third country to conduct an offshore rocket launch catching up to the USA and Russia, and the first to do so from an indigenously launched platform since the platform used by the U.S. and Russia was created as a collaboration between four nations. [Space News] [Futurism]

Meanwhile, a report of the Center for a New American Security, a Washington DC-based think tank specializing in the United States’ national security issues, warns that given “what the Chinese military has accomplished technologically in little more than two decades and what they plan to do in the decades to come”, China “appears increasingly close to achieving technological parity with U.S. operational systems and has a plan to achieve technological superiority.” The USA must “at least consider the possibility that the U.S. Joint Force is close to becoming the victim of a deliberate, patient, and robustly resourced military-technical offset strategy” which includes industrial and technical espionage and civil-military fusion, systems destruction warfare, attacking effectively first, “Assassin’s Mace” capabilities, and exploiting Artificial Intelligence for Military Superiority. [Center for a New American Security]

11 Jun 2019

China and Russia agree to elevate relations

(dql) Close relations between China and Russia have reached a new height, after both countries to upgraded their relations to a “comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination for a new era” during a meeting between visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin. [Moscow Times]

The agreement is of high symbolic nature, reflecting intensified efforts of China and Russia to demonstrate unity and to close ranks against the USA. In his speech commemorating the 70th anniversary of Sino-Russian diplomatic ties Xi hailed the countries’ relationship and friendship which, after70 years during which the ties have been “all the more matured, stable, firm and tenacious”, are “standing at a new historic starting point and facing a new historic opportunity” “to join hands to safeguard global peace and tranquility”. [Xinhua, in Chinese] Putin echoed Xi’s remarks by confirming that “Russian-Chinese relations have certainly reached an unprecedentedly high level”, with both countries now seeking to “make an important contribution to solving the world’s most pressing problems and countering new challenges and threats, speak out jointly in favor of forming a new, fair world order, based on multipolarity, strict compliance with the international law, the UN Charter, equality and mutually beneficial cooperation.” [TASS]

Furthermore, Xi and Putin witnessed the signing of an agreement between Huawei and the Russian telecoms company MTS on the development of a 5G network in Russia over the next year. The agreement which counters Washington’s crackdown on Huawei was one among a number of other deals in areas of nuclear power, natural gas, automobiles, hi-tech development, and e-commerce totaling 20 billion USD and clearly. [South China Morning Post]

Noteworthy in this context are news on the trend towards the fragmentation of the internet and the related potential of creating domestic internet control of new dimension, with Russia and Iran reported spearheading efforts to “build isolated, domestic internets” which “represent a new form of internet fragmentation” where citizens will not be able use virtual private networks and other tools to circumvent filters as their domestic internets are disconnected from the global one. [Wired]

11 Jun 2019

China: Huge demonstration against Hong Kong’s pending extradition law turns violent

(dql) Hundreds of thousands of people on Sunday staged a massive rally against Hong Kong’s extradition bill scheduled to pass the legislature of China’s semi-autonomous region this week. The protest turned violent at midnight when demonstrators attempted to storm Hong Kong’s parliament and clashed with police trying to prevent them from doing so.  [Hong Kong Free Press]

The highly contentious bill establishes a system for case-by-case fugitive transfers between Hong Kong and regions with which it does not already have extradition agreements, including mainland China. Critics fear that the proposed law would open the door for extradition requests of political nature from the Chinese government which the pro-Beijing Hong Kong government would not deny to meet. [The Guardian]

Defying these critics and the protest march, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam refused to withdraw the bill insisting that it was necessary “to uphold justice and also ensure that Hong Kong will fulfill her international obligations in terms of cross-boundary and transnational crimes”. She further stressed that legally binding human rights safeguards were in place. [Aljazeera] [BBC]

For footage of the rally see [DW].

11 Jun 2019

China: Blocking of foreign online media outlets continued after Tiananmen Square anniversary

(dql) In a latest signal of the Chinese government’s tightened grip on censorship and control over information on politically sensitive issues online editions of The Washington Post and The Guardian have been blocked in China in the aftermath of last week’s 30th anniversary of the crackdown of the student-led protest at Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989.

In moves earlier last week, CNN’s website, usually accessible in China, appeared to be inaccessible after the publication of a story on the protests on the day of the anniversary, while coverage on the Tiananmen square crackdown by Reuters were taken down. [The Guardian] [Quartz] [Tech Crunch]

Compared with past years, China’s internet authorities this year have intensified censorship efforts ahead of June 4 using powerful software able to block over 10,000 web domains and artificial intelligence algorithms to track VPNs. Users of WeChat, China’s most popular social media service with estimated 900 million daily active users, were prohibited from posting keywords or pictures related to the protests while Wikipedia in all language versions has been blocked since April. So far, only the Chinese language Wikipedia edition had been banned. [South China Morning Post]

4 Jun 2019

Chinese company to build submarine base for Bangladesh in Cox’s Bazar

(jk) A Chinese company is building a submarine base for Bangladesh in the country’s south-eastern part in the Bay of Bengal. The decision to go with a Chinese state-owned enterprise is potentially worrying for India, as it is unclear what kind of access or rights China will have to the base once it is finished. The decision is all but surprising since Bangladesh and China have significant naval links. China has built many of the Navy’s surface ships, as well both of its submarines which Bangladesh has received in 2017. [TribuneIndia]

4 Jun 2019

Philippines, Japan urge cool heads to prevail in trade and South China Sea as tensions escalate

(cl) At a recent conference in Japan themed “Seeking a New Global Order – Overcoming the Chaos”, looking at the deepening global uncertainties as well as military and security tensions in technology and the South China Sea, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte voiced his exasperation with China as he urged her to quickly conclude a code of conduct on the South China Sea with ASEAN. He stated that the South China Sea is on the verge of becoming a “flashpoint for trouble”, given the arms race under way with a military build-up of Chinese ships and those from the West. [Channel News Asia] Previously, Beijing and ASEAN had tried to hammer out a code of conduct to govern the disputed waters, however, the process has been slow. [South China Morning Post]

Mr Duterte, aiming to attract trade and investment from the Asian superpower, mostly withheld his early criticism of Beijing’s expansive claims to the sea. However, in April, he had warned Beijing to not intrude on a disputed island in the sea, implying the possibility of military action otherwise. In a major victory for Manila, an international maritime tribunal had ruled that China’s claims to the area have no legal basis. However, he has largely set aside that ruling and backed off on their once tense territorial dispute, prompting criticism at home that he has been soft on China. [Reuters]

4 Jun 2019

Cross-Strait relations: Taiwan’s military exercises prepare for invasion from China, bill on national referendum on future agreements between Taiwan and China passed

(dql) Last week Taiwan’s military conducted major military exercises simulating an invading Chinese force and involving air, sea and land forces. The drills included fighter jets launching strikes and warships opening fire to destroy an enemy landing on the beachhead as well as jets practicing landing on the country’s main highways while air-raid drills brought its major cities to a standstill. Over 3,000 soldiers took part in the live-fire drill in the southern county of Pingtung. [DW]

Meanwhile, earlier last week, Taiwan’s legislature passed a bill to amend the Act Governing Relations between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area, according to which any potential political agreement  with China will require not only the approval of lawmakers, but will also need to pass a national referendum before it can be signed and can be signed and put into effect. [Focus Taiwan] 

4 Jun 2019

China-US relations I: Defence ministers clash at Shangri-La Dialogue

(dql) China’s Defence Minister Wei Fenghe warned in aggressive words of any efforts to infringe on China’s rights and interest in his speech at the recent annual Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore.  With regards to international security, which he described as complicated and volatile”, he stressed that while China “does not cast greedy eyes on the interests of other nations and does not envy other nations’ development, it also resolutely does not give up its legitimate rights and interest. No foreign nation should hope that China will swallow the bitter fruit of damaging its own sovereignty, security and development interests.” Referring to Taiwan he added that “to defend the fatherland’s unity, China is ready for war and any costs” [Xinhua, in Chinese]

Wei’s statements came after the Pentagon announced on Friday the sale of 34 ScanEagle drones  Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam for a total of 47 million USD and after Acting US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan at the summit introduced details of a new phase of Washington’s Indo-Pacific strategy and urged China to end “behavior that erodes other nations’ sovereignty and sows distrust of China’s intentions”,  adding in a thinly veiled hint on China that “some in our region are choosing to act contrary to the principles and norms that have benefitted us all.” [Asia Times]

Coinciding with Shanahan’s speech, the US Defense Department released its 2019 “Indo-Pacific Strategy Report” (IPSR) in which it defines “[i]nter-state strategic competition, defined by geopolitical rivalry between free and repressive world order visions” as “primary concern for U.S. national security”, highlighting that China “seeks to reorder the region to its advantage by leveraging military modernization, influence operations, and predatory economics to coerce other nations.” [US Department of Defense]

4 Jun 2019

China-USA relations II: New tariffs on US goods in force and other retaliating moves

(dql) Prospects for an end of the Chinese-US trade dispute remain bleak. Following Washington’s raise of tariffs to 25% on 200 billion USD of Chinese goods imposed earlier in May, new Chinese tariffs ranging from 5% to 25% and hitting 60 billion USD worth of US goods came into force on June 1. [BBC]

At the same time, Beijing announced that it would issue a blacklist of “unreliable” foreign firms “that run against market rules and violate the spirit of contracts, cut off supplies to Chinese firms for uncommercial reasons, damage the legitimate rights of Chinese companies, or threaten China’s national security and public interests.” [Tech Grunch] The list is a retaliatory move against Washington’s listing of Huawei and affiliates of the company as firms considered a risk to national security earlier in May which requires Huawei to seek approval from the US government before purchasing US-American parts and technologies. [DW] [AiR 3/5/2019]

4 Jun 2019

hangri-La Dialogue from the host’s view: discussions on the Sino-United States relationship and the importance of investing in defence capabilities for smaller countries

(cl/jk) During the Shangri-La Dialogue held in Singapore on Saturday, Defence Ministers from China, Malaysia, Britain and the US discussed three main security challenges for the region: the US-China relationship; instability on the Korean peninsula and the threat of nuclear weapons; and the “clear and present” danger of terrorism and returning foreign fighters. [South China Morning Post]

Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee pointed to the worrying trend in the Sino-United States relationship, with attitudes on both sides hardening towards the other party, identifying the mutual lack of strategic trust as the fundamental problem between the US and China. He added that while it would be up to the countries’ political leaders to avoid a conflict which would inflict serious damage across the globe, it is hard as leaders on both sides are facing powerful domestic pressures. [Straits Times]

On another note, Singapore’s Defence Minister emphasised that smaller countries in the region like Singapore have to invest in their own defence capabilities even as they try to resolve disputes through peaceful means because the cost of any potential conflict is prohibitively high. [Channel News Asia] On Friday, Singapore’s Defence Minister and US Acting Defence Secretary had welcomed the renewal of the 1990 Memorandum of Understanding for the US Use of Facilities in Singapore, as they reaffirmed the excellent and longstanding bilateral defence relations. [ASEAN Breaking News]

Singapore and China have in the meantime agreed to a “substantial programme” to deepen military ties after a meeting between the two countries’ defence chiefs. Among the proposed enhancements to existing defence cooperation agreement is a second bilateral naval drill to be held next year, after the countries held a similar drill in 2015. [The Diplomat]

These exercises are significant given few other Southeast Asian countries, especially those maintaining strong security ties with the US, such as Singapore, engage with the People’s Liberation Army Navy on a bilateral basis. [Asia One] According to one point of view, “such military-to-military outreach is part of China’s diplomatic efforts as it seeks to counter suspicion about its intentions and the pressure it is facing from a strain in ties with the US.” [South China Morning Post]

4 Jun 2019

China: All silent in the country on 30th anniversary of Tiananmen Square protest crackdown

(dql) As people around the world have commemorated or prepare to commemorate today’s 30th anniversary of violent crackdown of the student-led protests at Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989 [CNN], all is silent in China as the government in Beijing has intensified censorship and control of information related to the protests.

According to Chinese Human Rights Defenders, a Washington DC-based non-government organization of domestic and overseas Chinese human rights activists and groups, more than a dozen people have been arrested or have disappeared in the weeks and months ahead of the anniversary. Among them is an outspoken musician who has disappeared since February and whose entire concert program, including 23 appearances in the Southwestern province Sichuan, has been declared cancelled due to the singer’s “improper conduct” by the province’s culture department. Furthermore, the artist’s social media accounts were taken down and his music was removed from all of China’s major streaming sites.  [South China Morning Post] [AiR 4/5/2019]

Days ahead of the anniversary, popular video-sharing and social media sites in China, such as Bilibili, AcFun and Douban E Zu, have also suspended real-time commenting sytsems and internet forums, claiming a need for “system maintainance”. [Tech Crunch]

In a latest development, Twitter Inc last week issued a public apology to users for suspending accounts, both inside and outside China, critical of Chinese government’s response to the June 4 protests. [Reuters] Earlier in May, Wikimedia announced that every language version of Wikipedia was blocked in China, instead of just the Chinese-language version as had been the case in the past. [AiR 3/5/2019]

Meanwhile, reflecting the government’s unyielding stance on the crackdown China’s Defence Minister justified in the interview on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore at the weekend the crackdown of the protests as a “correct” action against “political turbulence” that “ensured stability” in the country. [The Telegrapgh]

For an overview about those 21 students leaders of June 4, 1989, most wanted by a circular of Beijing Public Security Bureau in the immediate aftermath of the crackdown, see [South China Morning Post 2].

28 May 2019

China: Arrests and censorship ahead of 30th Tiananmen Square protest anniversary

(dql) Ahead of the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests on June 4, independent documentary filmmaker and activist Deng Chuanbin was arrested for tweeting a photo of a bottle of liquor labelled “64” alluding to the month and day of the Tiananmen Square protests: June 4, 1989. Authorities also confiscated his cell phones, computers, cameras, and memory cards. [Hong Kong Free Press]

His arrest comes after in April four Chinese men, who were detained in 2016, were sentenced to two three-year prison terms, suspended for four years, one three-year prison term, suspended for five years, and a three-and-a-half-year jail sentence with no suspension for making bottles of liquor commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests Deng was referring to in his tweet. [AiR 2/4/2019]

For a report on an unprecedented scale and accuracy of AI-supported online censorship of information and content on the 1989 crackdown and other sensitive issues ahead of this year’s a Tiananmen Square protest anniversary see [Reuters].

28 May 2019

China, USA harden their positions over Huawei

(dql) In the latest development of the US crackdown on Chinese tech giant Huawei, which peaked with the blacklisting of the company and its affiliates earlier this month, Washington and Beijing hardened their positions over Huawei.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reiterated last week that Huawei is not truthful about its relationship with China’s government, describing the company as “s deeply tied not only to China but to the Chinese communist party”. [CNBC]

In response, China blamed Pompeo for failing to provide evidence for his claims and accused him of fabricating rumors. [South China Morning Post] China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi denounced Washington’s move as “economic bullying” and said that China was ready to “fight to the very end” in its trade war with the USA. [Global Times] [Enca]

28 May 2019

China delivers overhauled JF-17 fighter jet to Pakistan

(jk) The long-standing JF-17 fighter jet project between China and Pakistan led to the two countries jointly developing and manufacturing the jet. Delivering an overhauled version of it was China’s responsibility and its success and recent delivery underlines the ever closer defence cooperation between the two. China has turned into a major supplier of arms to Pakistan and in addition to the jets as well as other arms, it is also currently building four naval warships for Pakistan. [Economic Times]

28 May 2019

Chinese intelligence agencies believed to be operating in Sri Lanka/exporting surveillance

(jk) In addition to diplomatic sources claiming that Chinese intelligence operates in Sri Lanka with or without the direct knowledge of the Sri Lankan government, it has been reported that Sri Lankan President has been offered military support in terms of software and other surveillance equipment when he was visiting China last week. According to a Sri Lankan governor “the package made available is well over Rs. 5 billion (USD 28 million), out of which Rs. 100 million (USD 0.5 million) is a grant.”   [Colombo Gazette]

28 May 2019

Malaysia and China committed to strengthening ties, says Mahathir, fuelling discontent amongst opposition parties in Malaysia

(cl) Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has stressed that his Pakatan Harapan government is committed to strengthening ties with China, following the “meteoric” growth in trade and investment between the two countries in recent years. He paid tribute to the efforts of the Malaysia-China Friendship Association in elevating the friendship between both countries, recalling that the partnership between both countries had remained constant through the years despite leadership changes as both nations strived to be good neighbours and had adhered to the principle of non-interference in each other’s internal affairs. [The Star]

Mahathir also said that Malaysia had given its support to China’s Belt and Road Initiative as it saw the benefits as being mutually shared and distributed, adding that Malaysia saw the project as a continuation of the ancient trade between both countries. [ASEAN Breaking News] He expects that there will be more opportunities for cooperation between the two countries in the areas of tourism, science and technology as well as cultural exchanges. [Xinhua Net]

However, this has fuelled discontent amongst opposition parties, who allege that the Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party is in control of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government, causing the PH government to “go against Malay interests”. [Straits Times]